Grey Cardigan

Someone made a local newspaper website and you’ll never guess what happened next

SO WHAT do you want from your local newspaper’s website? Local news would seem to be the obvious answer. Bit of traffic, bit of courts, bit of weather, bit of crime, bit of council. What you almost certainly don’t want is the sort of clickbait bollocks that already turns up on your timeline from a thousand other worldwide sources.

I’ve written about this before (remember the Giant Chip of Gloucester?) but now other people are noticing the prevalence of pointless listicles and puerile content. Press Gazette this week ran a piece headed “Local World websites plumb new depths” after the Maidstone & Medway News was caught running a story about the leaking of nude photographs online which had no possible local angle whatsoever while the Exeter Express & Echo last week posted a ‘story’ headlined “EASTENDERS: What time is tonight’s who killed Lucy Beale episode on?”

Now, says PG, the Crawley News has hit on the new wheeze of randomly papping people out shopping and sticking them online as an image gallery under the heading “PHOTOS: Crawley’s 89 best-dressed shoppers”. The reaction on the Crawley News Facebook page was not entirely positive. “Have you finally run out of things to do? This just smacks of sheer desperation and I’d be mighty peed off if I was one of these people,” wrote one reader while another said “More like 89 random people we photographed and made a stupid article about it to fill this space”.

On my own patch my local newspaper website this week treated me to a survey on divorce from the University of Virginia, some random nonsense about Wolf Hall and, of course, that fucking black and blue dress. (Yes, black and blue. No, I don’t care what colours you can see.) And meanwhile the Worcester News informed me that brown sauce is the favourite condiment to accompany a bacon sandwich.

The blame doesn’t lie entirely locally. Editors, or those who pass for editors these days, are under enormous pressure from head office to get the clicks so that the suits can boast about the massive growth in their online traffic while cocking a blind eye to the plummeting newspaper sales figures. The fact that 90% of their revenue still comes from print while some weirdo clicking on a nonsense story just because it has the word ‘naked’ in the headline brings nothing to the party, being unlikely to go on and purchase a three-piece suite from the mug who’s been conned into buying the banner ad on the web page.

There is also the question of credibility. I want to believe what I read in my local paper; I want it to have authority. It’s a bit difficult to be taken seriously when your investigation into council wrongdoing sits between a gallery of pictures of kittens that look like Hitler and a list of Britain’s 37 top dogging spots. And don’t think for one minute that someone might see sense and call a halt to this madness. Local World has just announced that it is recruiting for a national digital team based in Kensington to produce “must-read, highly shareable content” for the group’s existing websites and future new product launches. I can hardly wait.

IT’S NOT just our local media that has become obsessed with Twitter: the national media is just as guilty. That’s why two significant items on the main BBC news on Friday were the runaway llamas in Arizona and a pseudo-scientific investigation into, yep, that fucking dress.

Meanwhile the publicly-funded thieves were at it again by excitedly announcing that “the BBC has learned that the IS militant known as Jihadi John is Mohammed Emwazi from London”.

Learned? Yes, learned by reading the Washington Post, which broke the story in the first place.

I HAVE a funny feeling that Wolfgang Blau, one of the internal candidates for the Guardian editor’s job, won’t be summoned for a Scott Trust interview. Addressing the newspaper’s staff at a hustings meeting he seemed to suggest that he wanted to close the Monday to Friday print edition before bravely declaring “I am not a woman”.

Thanks for that, Wolfgang. We’d have never noticed.

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Grey Cardigan

Written by Grey Cardigan

The Grey Cardigan has been in newspapers since the days of hot metal and expense accounts. After a lengthy career as chief sub on several regional newspapers, plus a multitude of shifts on the nationals, he was appointed editor of the Evening Beast in 2009 before being ignominiously 'rationalised' last year. He is currently collecting gas in jam jars in case the Russians cut us off. @thegreycardigan

  • Sunny up North

    Well said Grey. There are still a few of us who know which side our bread is buttered and still publish first with the web coming along later when someone has a spare five minutes. And since we spruced up our little old weekly putting in even more LOCAL content generated by trained reporters who spend as much time out on the patch as possible, we’re doing quite nicely, thank you very much.

  • Joahn

    I’ve noticed this with my local newspaper since it moved to online only, Get Reading.

    There are now articles titled ’10 things you said about a previous article’ which just is a list of Facebook comments, ‘check out this view from a tall building in town’ and so forth.

    There’s still some good content but it’s just depressing to see really.

  • moaning mike

    The phrase ‘The BBC has learned’ drives me nuts. How else is a story going to be broadcast by the BBC if the BBC does not know about it?

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