2016 was riddled with casualties to culture. Many long-standing icons from film to music left us this past year, however the real loss to culture, the one that we’ll feel for quite a while, wasn’t the unique talent of individuals such as Prince, Bowie or Cohen (not taking away from their cultural reach), but instead the journalistic sphere that surrounds culture as a whole. How it’s documented and ultimately what dictates what is, and isn’t, culturally fashionable.
Trashy headlines are as part and parcel of modern journalism as rain in January. Stories that are there to reel people in have been around for decades, but instead of being sat on the table in the barbers waiting to distract the next anxious customer waiting on a cut, misleading and outrageous headlines have made their way into the pocket of nearly every bored and impatient individual looking for a cheap hit of entertainment. Of course, the phenomena of clickbait is something that quietly crept into digital society but can now be, for the most part, recognised by the majority of mobile news consumers.
At the same time, the major problem with online journalism, is its symbiosis with social media. Papers, magazines and websites put more effort into perfecting their social media accounts rather than their sites themselves, as they’re now reached almost solely via social media. Since the internet has nullified the monetary value of physical copies, most if not all journalistic sources have made their nests online. Advertising is the main source of income and clicks mean ad views and those views generate money. Sites don’t care whether you’ve read the press release on whatever event in the life of a celebrity whose talent lies in their ability to be famous. For a long time, these stories lay happily in the ‘Entertainment’ news section. Trivial nuggets to make you giggle about some eejit’s new stunt. Now, so-called eejit’s stunts get them big checks from TV-execs and generate clicks for whichever site that has recycled the story from another site and flooded it throughout their Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat.
Online journalism wasn’t a total meat market for clicks until each social media site, one by one, decided to ditch the chronological order of their feeds and replaced them with algorithmic systems based on users’ supposed preferences. This meant that if someone liked your page or followed your account but don’t interact or spend time with your posts, they’ll see posts they interact with more, more frequently. This has led to sponsored posts along most sites which pages have to pay for in order to garner more views, even if they have huge numbers of likes/followers.
Now that the journalistic sphere has all but totally committed itself online, it seems to be only a step or two away having its symbiotic relationship with social media transformed into a parasitic one, if it hasn’t become so already. It’s not only ‘Entertainment’ sites but News, Sports and now even Culture and Music sources that are pumping out pointless ‘news’ on the daily. Even the most specialist of sources of information have to rely on Drake’s new relationship or the next blog/Tumblr sensation to generate some clicks. Real stories are quickly becoming a thing of the past. An interview solely about music or anything that doesn’t involve a personal scandal is considered ‘boring’ and links containing new music are too much effort to open. Facebook videos even have subtitles for people too lazy to click into them! Social media has presented a business model to Journalism and it signed the contract with an invisible gun to its head.
Three thumb-flicks through my news feed at time of writing will further reinforce this:
I didn’t know why Childish Gambino had won a Golden Globe, that Ed Sheeran had actually released two new songs, or that Embiid’s star teammate Ben Simmons was on the verge of recovery from a long term injury.
There is a lack of real information. Sure, it’s great to see Ed Sheeran showing Ireland love but can I hear the songs that are actually out first?
Of course, it’s not all trashy, throw away content, there are plenty of deeply insightful articles and interviews on the go and even though social media has more sites roaring at consumers for clicks than Moore Street does for strawberries. New upstart sites and magazines hold a hopeful torch for real info and truth. While they too may have to jump on a bandwagon, commit the act of empty journalism, it’s all to garner new readers, to open them up to what’s really going on in the particular sphere in question, they aren’t the culprits of the literary asphyxiation at hand. The responsibility lies in the hands of the big dogs. Stop giving minute by minute updates on a possible fight between Soulja Boy and Chris Brown.
If 2016 was so shit, then don’t start off 2017 by focusing on more shit when there is real news; Ray BLK is the first unsigned artist to win the BBC Sound of the Year award. Why are we talking about Mike Tyson’s diss track about Soulja Boy? These guys are pushing the scraps of their fame at us and we’re eating it all up: promoting them to pump out as much fake news as possible. This is where the reader, the second responsible party, must at some point, stop consuming this spoon-fed ‘information’ and go and look for real stories. So you can actually know why Birdman won’t let Lil’ Wayne release any music, rather than know Lil’ Wayne’s on-stage outburst about it word for word.
This is a plea to stop being slaves to empty information.
The more that people read the more they’ll write, so start reading real articles while they still exist, before it’s too late, before someone like Donald Trump becomes the president of the US, before Migos get the #1 spot a month after Lil’ Yachty.