I have a shameful secret I’m going to share with you
Ready? Here it is:
I read the comments under news stories.
I know, I know, I’m wilfully putting my own mental health at risk every time I do so, but I can’t seem to help myself! I guess I’m just a glutton for punishment! No good has ever come from me delving into that dank cesspool. I’ve never looked back on a day and thought, ‘I’m really glad I got to read Joe Bloggs semi-illiterate, all caps rant on how climate scientists have somehow concocted a world-wide conspiracy to sell electric cars’. Never… But I keep reading.
Now, I’m not completely irresponsible and careless: I mean, I would never read YouTube comments!
I try telling myself it is all about getting an awareness of how other people think. And it is fascinating how different people react to the same few hundred words and the same set of objective facts. You really get to see people’s thought patterns and reality filters on display! Read the comments under any Donald Trump posts for examples. (Note: not recommended!)
But right now, I want to talk about one particular genre of comment that you will see attached to online news stories everywhere. It is the commenter who feels the need to inform a media outlet that what they’ve just read is ‘not news’. Usually by exclaiming ‘How is this news! Why would anyone write such rubbish!’ et cetera, et cetera.
Now there are many things about this behaviour that intrigues me, but first here is an answer for any of those arbiters of ‘real news’ who’ve ever asked, ‘why would anyone write this story?!’
People read it.
Surprised? That’s strange, because something led you to read it!
Now, more than ever, publishers (and more importantly advertisers) can tell exactly how many sets of eyes have viewed a particular story and have a pretty good idea about what stories will get read. You may not like it, but the fact is other people do.
Which leads me to another thing I want to say to this particular type of commentator: Not everything is about you.
What? I Know! If you didn’t enjoy it, why the hell would anyone! Right?
I certainly don’t care what Meghan Markle is wearing on any given day, but others seem to get enjoyment out of knowing. And I don’t feel the need to complain about someone writing to tell them.
I’ve often wondered if this attitude has been created by the way news is consumed online, where a story is presented as separate, stand-alone piece to be judged. Maybe it gives weight to some pieces that wouldn’t be there on the printed page of a newspaper, lost among other stories.
People seem to forget that newspapers have always been a grab-bag of different stories and opinions and not everything is going to be of interest to every reader. Today, online, there is so much easily accessible content available for people to enjoy, it baffles me that anyone would get angry when they come across something they don’t.
Anyway… see you in the comment section.