Clickbait, speculation and Bruce Springsteen at Croker
Why bother with hard reporting when you can fabricate a story and watch your web traffic soar?
Towards the end of his interview with Ray D’Arcy on RTE Radio One yesterday, promoter Peter Aiken was asked about the stories which a lot of outlets ran last week about Bruce Springsteen playing Dublin’s Croke Park this summer. The stories were complete rubbish and totally foundless, as most of us who had any sense knew when they started to appear.
Aiken told a story about meeting Springsteen and his manager Jon Landau at the MusiCares tribute to Bob Dylan in Los Angeles at the weekend. Hey, said Landau to the man behind the company who have promoted every single Springsteen show in Ireland over the last 30 years, I hear we’re playing some shows for you this summer. Aiken didn’t add if he chuckled or frowned when Landau said this.
The origin of this ridiculous story appears to be this piece. You’d love to know what the reporter did to the source in the first place to have him/her burn her in this way. You have to assume that the source, the one who told her that “a well-known American musician whose songs include ‘Born in the USA’ and who appeals to all ages” was to be announced for Croker, was having a huge laugh at her expense.
There was nothing in the report to suggest that the reporter had followed up with a call to the act’s management, record label or longstanding promoter in this country to ascertain the validity of this revelation. There’s nothing to suggest that she consulted a second or third source about this tale. She didn’t even take a look at Springsteen’s touring schedule which indicates that he’s largely taking 2015 off. Nope, she took her source’s word for it and ran with the story. Now there’s an anonymous source who has well and truly stiffed the reporter.
Naturally, everyone else bailed in on the story for fear of being left out or left behind. Most outlets ran stories about the rumours or combined the rumours into a story with a few quotes from the residents or Lord Mayor (sadly, no-one contacted the Mexican ambassador for a comment). The usual crew of bookies created lists of acts who might, just might, tempt fools to part with their money and various publications cut-and-pasted these lists into their news pieces. The story kept on trucking
All Irish media outlets know that stories about concerts at Croker are gold after stetsongate so away they went. Politically correct folks like to talk about how certain articles should come with trigger warnings for sensitive souls and certainly, the rash of stories last week should have come with one for Springsteen fans and Croke Park area residents.
Again, as with the original nonsense which provoked all of this, no-one bothered to pause, make a few calls or do some online checking to put two and two together and get four. Instead, everyone ran Springsteen-in-Croker stories or variations thereon because they knew people were going to click on them and push up the view count.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not against running some bouts of informed speculation (both real and tongue-in-cheek) on occasion. There are now 16 posts marked “speculation” on this blog and all of them which didn’t involve me clearly making up stuff about Morrissey – from Tom Waits playing Dublin to the arrival of Longitude – appear to have come to pass. But you’ll notice that there wasn’t a scintilla here from this fanboy last week about Springsteen at Croker. The story just did not stand up in any way, shape or form. It still did not stand up when nearly every single Irish media outlet carried the same story. The amount of eejits tweeting and emailing me last week about this beggared belief. Just because you say something is going to happen and want something to happen does not mean it will come to pass. We’re in the realm of magical thinking here.
A week on, of course, most people have forgotten about the Springsteen-at-Croker story. We have a 24 hour news cycle for a story like this. If it doesn’t happen, ah well, move onto the next rumour or speculation. Don’t worry about apologising to the readers for carrying a piece which had absolutely no susbtance bar a reporter’s source pulling her leg and keep on trucking. Stay calm and carry on making up stories. Is it any wonder that the public perception of media folk is so damn low?
The music and entertainment beat seems particularly susceptible to this kind of carry-on. You get stories speculating on folks and events in the sector all the time. On occasions, you can see when the story has been clearly placed to raise a profile, but it’s often simply the case that it’s there to get people to click on a link. The story gets some attention for a nanosecond and then, unless there’s a court case or an indignant response from the person in question, the story is completely forgotten about in a few hours. Sure, what harm was done?
It’s no wonder then that entertainment stories are simply seen as fluff to fill the pages with photos of celebs and would-be celebs. If something of real hard news value occurs on the showbiz beat, it won’t be the showbiz hacks who’ll be covering it. I remember commenting on this when when the Swedish House Mafia in Phoenix Park story went off: when the going gets tough, the lads and lasses from the crime desk are sent in.
As we’ve found out again and again over the years, there are numerous “hard” stories to be found on the music and entertainment beat which don’t necessarily have to involve the crime desk, usually involving delinquent promoters. It’s always struck me as strange that few other journalists who write about music pursue these tales. I always figured that they didn’t bother to go there because they wanted to keep their cosy relationships with promoters intact to ensure a steady flow of free tickets for gigs and shows.
But then again as we saw with Springsteen-at-Croker last week, why bother doing all the due diligence and groundwork with a harder story when you can quote a source about “a well-known American musician whose songs include ‘Born in the USA’” and enoy a field day of clicks, views and traffic? Yet again, it seems as if I’m doing it all wrong. I must change my modus operandi. Any of my sources care to make something up today about an Irish show in 2015 for U2 so I can run that one?