Garth versus Gaza
The uncomfortable truth about what readers actually read
There was a line in one of the hundreds of comments under one of the dozens of pieces which this paper has published about the G**** B***** omninshambles in the last fortnight which many people would probably agree with. It is time to take this nonsense off the front page, the commentator said, because there are people dying in Gaza.
It’s a clumsy, awkward comparison but it’s undoubtedly true: there are a lot more important news stories out there than 400,000 discombobulated country and western fans. Be it the bombs and rockets which fly between Israel and Gaza (and vice-versa) or any other number of local or global stories, there’s a lot more pressing sagas than a cancelled series of concerts in an Irish stadium.
But there is also no denying the fact that the number of people reading stories about the Brooks’ omnishambles far outnumbered those paying attention to any other news event online in Ireland over the last 10 days. It may be an uncomfortable and unpalatable truth, but it’s a fact and it’s why there has been so much attention on this story involving the assorted cowboys and indians looking for scalps (a story which is not over yet as, God between us and all harm, there is now apparently talk of a judicial review.
The data and metrics available to every publication about the numbers reading articles and posts do not lie. If the numbers showed that more people were interested in Gaza or Boko Haram than Garth, it would be a different matter in terms of placement and priorities. But a huge number of readers wanted more Brooks so they got more Brooks. You could – and may will – argue that this is not fair and lessens the many great human tragedies which are happening worlwide at present against a saga which has already taken the gong for WTF news story of the year.
But newspapers without a generous, deep-pocketed benefactor happy to pay all the bills need a mass of readers. Of course, there are stories other than bloody Brooks which have been published in the last fortnight and, of course, there are plenty of stories which get covered all the time for reasons other than attracting online eyeballs (until the Brooks’ saga blew up or another live music mess like the Swedish House Mafia occured, how many people were really interested in the comings and goings of the event licence process?). However, every single day for the past while, it was the stories about Croke Park which dominated what readers wanted to read and, thus, it became a bit of a self-fulfilling prophecy.
In the old days before you’d a scoreboard on the office wall offering real-time numbers about the numbers viewing pieces, editors and reporters didn’t really have a clue if the carefully written articles (and carelessly rewritten press releases in some cases) were actually gaining readers or traction. The pieces were published, the stories were prioritised by the page’s editor and off you went. You kind of assumed that the stories which got the most promenience on the page were the ones people were more interested in and a general collective value system about this set in. People would talk about some stories and the others would pass unnoticed. It’s telling that when you review some of the Irish scandals which have come to light in recent years that there are clippings to provide some trace element of what was going on back in the day. The stories were covered to some extent and in some way, but other stories took promenience at the time.
I find it fascinating to look at how stories which get a lot of traction online – as in comments, shares and views – are placed in the print version of a newspaper. Many times, the story is well below the fold and given less promenience on the page than you’d expect from the online uptake. Yet this is the story that readers rooted out and decided was the one they wanted to read, share and spread and to hell with what the page editor thought when he or she was putting it to bed the previous night. You may have shunned the rodeo, but your fellow readers were not so high-minded.