14/10/2013 - 05:06

More scandal than I can handle

14/10/2013 - 05:06


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Obviously I'm missing something, because it's clear my idea of what constitutes 'the news' is far removed from the views of many of my fellow Australians.

In a week where the US has been crippled by an internecine arm wrestle over debt, our local media has been indulging in its pet proclivities – bikies and billionaires.

The ongoing squabble between the world's richest woman and her children could have been lifted straight from the script of your favourite daytime soapie, and increasingly these salacious tales are elbowing hard news off the front pages.

It's interesting in a voyeuristic, 'my-goodness-how-do-these-people-live' kind of way but no more or no less for me than Prince Harry's whistle-stop visit.

The truth is, in a town like Perth that lacks a gaggle of A-grade celebrities, we have turned our crop of well-heeled business folk, misbehaving footballers and scandal-prone politicians into stars.

And I admit to showing more than a passing interest in all of them, except for the bikies.

I struggle a bit with the bikie culture, but perhaps if I lived next door to one of their highly fortified clubhouses or had a family member heading up a gang I would show a keener interest.

These tales of scandal and excess are increasingly the stock-in-trade of news editors, on and offline.

Log on to any news site and the top-ranking yarns are a curious cocktail of drunken shame, celebrity

romances or, even better, failed liaisons and cultural curiosities.

I'm being polite with that last one.

The top-rating video footage is an even weirder journey into our collective psyche with its mix of pet antics, scantily clad strangers and borderline criminal acts.

In this age of constant connectivity there's no shortage of amateur footage or caught-on-camera clowns to fill out this section of news sites.

But I wonder what the rise and rise of celebrity infotainment means for hard news.

There's no doubt it pushes worthy issues further and further down the running sheet.

Niche publications have capitalised on this trend, and readers with a keen interest in a particular topic such as international politics, business or science can get their fix without a spicy sprinkling of celebrity scandal.

However, most of us news consumers fit somewhere in between celebrity-gossip.net and newscientist.com.

And clicking on a One Direction story or the latest tweet from Warnie doesn't preclude you from venturing into the realm of international politics or financial news once you've satiated your desire for a celebrity fix.

There are just so many distractions on the interweb.

I don't think many of us consciously get online with the intention of watching a cat do the washing up, or a Lego reenactment of your favourite scenes from Star Wars – it just happens.

Just like being an avowed republican didn't stop me watching the nuptials of Wills and Kate.

You see, the two interests aren't mutually exclusive, and I don't buy into the idea that people are less and less interested in real news.

I think many of us just enjoy a quick trip down the sideshow alley of life to see what the freaks are up to this week.

It's a distraction, and for many readers a welcome diversion from the constant clamour of bad news – from global warming to the threat of US debt default.

What I fear is that editors make the mistake of pumping too many resources into this one section of the news to the detriment, and ultimate demise, of investigative journalism.

For all its extraordinary detail, the Rinehart story would not have seen the light of day were it not for the dogged persistence of the journalist concerned.

Let's hope these tabloid tales don't hold back truly worthy stories that would otherwise get greater coverage and command greater prominence.

Many of these stories have an impact on our lives far beyond the reach of outlaw motorcycle gangs or billionaire mining heiresses.

Which explains the increasingly influential role of the public relations consultant, engaged to sell a yarn to a journalist; but that's another story altogether.

And those professionals, ladies and gentlemen, are celebrity brands in their own right.


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