Matt Smith's End of the Spectrum

Melbourne-based writer and journalist. Purveyor of finally crafted radio plays. A Muppet of a man.

The news we want versus the news we get

First published on The Punch on 17 August, 2010

Did you hear the news about the stripper from the Gold Coast whose breast implants exploded while wrestling a crocodile? No? That’s probably because it never happened, and the story was never written. But rest assured, if it was a story, most of the traffic that goes through news sites in Australia would have read it.

It’s rather telling that days before a federal election, most of the news that the country seems to be interested in relates to sex, violence, and celebrity gossip. This isn’t an attempt to be judgmental about it at all – I’m guilty of clicking on the ‘interesting’ links as much as anyone else is – its simply an examination of the facts.

Let’s have a look at Sunday’s takings. In their top five stories, Australian news sites boast 10 stories out of 55 that are vaguely politics related, with half of those belonging to The Australian (which seems to be the sanctuary for those interested in politics). Other offerings include a top sex story at the Daily Telegraph (an alarmingly precise ‘I’ve had sex with 5000 men in 3285 days’), a similar enticement at news.com.au (worse ways to go with ‘”death by hooker” for sacked city banker’) and the colourful Adelaide Now temptation (‘bikie in bottle shop rampage’).

Brisbane Times thought fit to dabble in all aspects of distracting news, with sports (a contrast at that, with football and gay swimmers), sex (looking at incest porn in an internet cafe is a sure fire way to make the headlines), and a rather out of place but just as distracting ‘God botherers infiltrate Brisbane high school’.

News services have long since caught on to the trend and attempt to maximise on it where possible, and examples that leap out include WA Today (crowbarring an unrelated Tiger Woods reference into the story ‘WA hostie and the Danish golf star’) and the Daily Telegraph (almost desperate to remind us of the good times, with violent crime in Melbourne reminding us that ‘shooting reignites underbelly violence’).

It’s not like news services aren’t trying their best to interest us in politics – most have some kind of interactive voting service, every day brings new political news developments and offerings, and there are helpful pages specifically set up to show voters where the candidates lie on the big issues. But looking at the most popular stories in the last month, you could be forgiven for not knowing there was an election on – but you would know about the Obamas on vacation, free metro travel for a day in Melbourne, and a flight attendant leaving his job in creative fashion.

While news websites are only one of a number of political reporting offerings available, how telling are these kinds of trends when the Gillard vs. Abbott debate is bumped to avoid Masterchef? Are we accessing our political news through a different vice, or are many turning past the front page of the newspaper and declaring this a boring, distracting election, being willing to vote on just preconceived notions?

Chances are that if you have read this far through the article you are likely to make an informed decision on the election. Of course, it’s completely possible you’ve read this far hoping that I was, at some point, going to come back to the cracking yarn about the Gold Coast stripper wrestling the crocodile (and that possibly a shark sighting could be involved in there well). Well as luck would have it, it just so happens that she was running for a marginal Queensland seat…*

*May or may not be a complete fabrication

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This entry was posted on August 20, 2010 by in politics and tagged , , , , .
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