News is a product. We can all get outraged about what is given a higher priority by tabloids but they do so to sell. A newspaper does not push seemingly trivial news just to give masses of the population something to complain about, they do it because it brings revenue. And that is their business, selling news for an ever increasingly difficult to chase profit. If you want public service news reporting then turn to the BBC, yet even they chase the populous.
There was a time when you’d find out what was happening in the world by reading a newspaper, nowadays much of it is already old before the papers leave the shelves. We already know, we’ve talked about it, debated it, and come to our differing conclusions.
Not many were concerned last week when the phone-hacking story was taking a higher profile than a nurse allegedly murdering patients or parts of Africa suffering with a famine which could approach biblical proportions. It’s the way the media works; they give the people what the people want.
These days it’s much easier to see what the people want, hits on websites and volume of sharing on social networks is instantly available and helps decide what is subsequently pushed our way. Yes, we can saddle up on our high horses and set off for the moral high ground to look down on those we assume are interested in celebrity tittle-tattle but there’s a market. A very big one.
Occasionally though, something happens which makes all of that a bit irrelevant. A story so big and shocking that profit and moral priority become easy bedfellows. Papers will sell this story regardless and all the different outlets can report it in their own way. What happened in Norway on Friday is one of these occasions. I remember being in the car and hearing the initial reports come through, I immediately turned to Twitter where I knew the most up to date reports would be found. A bombing and then a confusing and harrowing sequence of events that continued through the night until in the early hours it was reported that over 80 young people had lost their lives on Utøya.
I was up at that time and was genuinely shocked, nobody had mentioned those figures and from rising in small numbers the death toll had now significantly increased. It was a genuine “Oh my God” moment, where you feel a rush of emotions and bewilderment.
The next day when I heard Amy Winehouse had died I again felt shocked, it was another “Oh my God” moment. Twitter was once more the medium I and many others turned to for news, but when one person has died there’s not really much more news to be had, it’s happened and though you feel a degree of upset yourself and sympathy for the family, there’s not really much more to say, read, or learn.
Part of the Amy Winehouse story was her lifestyle, something that people like Dan Wootton, former News of the World showbiz editor, reported and people like me read, “Have you heard what Amy Winehouse has done now?” is a line that will have been repeated countless times in this country and others when people opened their Sunday papers and read columns by Dan and others.
Dan obviously felt strongly about this as he’d spent years covering the singer’s up and downs. He was obviously irked by the coverage and decided he wanted to debate the news agenda.
Just seen the Sunday Mirror front page at Sky News. They haven't splashed on Amy Winehouse in first edition. Very strange decision.
Amy all the way for me. Norway is a day old. Amy is an icon gone.
This, quite obviously, provoked a Twitter backlash. He didn’t stop there. The broadcast media weren’t leading with the story either, giving more coverage to the previous day’s events in Norway. Dan couldn’t understand this, as he pointed out: this was yesterday’s news. It had happened, Amy Winehouse dying was shiny and new and so he thought that had to be the lead. He made a mistake, judging people in this country and others wrongly. We can all be media magpies but we’re also human and in this instance we were reverting to that most basic state. Dan, judging by his Twitter comments and re-tweets, thought the media were out of touch with the population, he couldn’t have been more wrong. He was out of touch, both with the population and reality.
Amy was dead, we had a rough idea of what had happened and comparatively few people will have been overly interested in the minute details. What had developed in Norway provoked more questions and emotions than the death of a singer ever could. Anger, dismay, bewilderment, empathy, sympathy, the list could make up an article of its own. The questions: Why? How? Who? What next? will be asked for decades to come.
I don’t know if he regrets what he said, I don’t know if he’d ever admit it, but Dan Wootton didn’t do himself or the tabloid media any favours yesterday and although he feels Amy Winehouse was unfairly left as a footnote on the weekend’s news, he must accept that this glaring lack of judgement will leave more than a footnote on his successful career to date.
We may be a country which at times can seem celebrity obsessed but occasionally a cold and difficult reality will strongly take precedent in our thoughts. And rightly so.
Follow Annie Eaves on Twitter @AnnieEaves