TL;DR: The reader may not be interested in reading about Beirut, but that does not absolve the (online) media of not giving it the right coverage in its unending lust for numbers.
Before I start, it is really important to read this fantastic piece in Vox — Did the media ignore the Beirut bombings? Or did readers? — that covers one side of the story on the “gap” in media coverage of the recent terror attacks on Beirut and Paris.
The other side to this story is that the gap is very very real, at least in an increasing number of online newsrooms, in the race for bigger numbers on analytic screens (i.e. more reader traffic).
And this gap is growing everyday, spear-headed by one shit argument: “this is what people want to read”
Now, this is just ridiculous, because, what are we? Curators customised for readers’ news-reading pleasure?
We’re ‘journalists’. We’re supposed to have ‘news sense’, we’re supposed to be ‘unbiased’. Can any seasoned journalist here tell me if analytics should play a role in developing news sense? Or is what we report really unbiased if it is defined by a lust for higher reader traffic?
The argument is also a blatant lie, because, we’re basically stuffing our readers’ faces with stories we expect them to lap up so that we can earn our advertising revenues and salaries.
Why do we bother with news at all? Let’s just spend the rest of our lives reporting on entertainment, lifestyle, Twitter and Facebook trends, and trending Tweets and Facebook posts. No? Why not? Because we’re also hypocrites and like to call ourselves “leading daily news websites”?
Let’s please stop kidding ourselves. We just filed that Beirut story under the ‘world section’ and left it to rot in some corner until people irked by our west-centric coverage called us out. We probably joked about it in the newsroom saying “who cares? people there die everyday”. Maybe we even said “I’m too caught up with Paris right now to give a shit about this”.
The truth is, we didn’t ‘report’ on Beirut at all, we just “filed it for record”.
How many follow up stories did we publish about it? Reactions? “Harrowing” survivor accounts? Anything?
Sure, you can say politicians only talked about Paris or monuments only lit up for Paris. But WE are not spokespersons for governments and we probably shouldn’t get swayed by what monuments do or don’t do.
Finally, “giving readers what they want” is a cheap argument because all we’re trying to do is save our desensitised derrières. What about the stories we get EVERYDAY from Syria, Gaza, Lebanon, Afghanistan, Africa, Turkey, Kuwait and more. How do we treat them?
We can splash them all over our homepages and front pages, make galleries and picture essays on their decimated buildings and torn apart bodies and terrified and grieving people.
Maybe, we can share these stories more than once on Facebook and Twitter… Or use #Breaking while sharing them as many times as we did for Paris.
But. We. Don’t.
We are the “gatherers, assessers and presenters of news and information” not potato vendors who are dictated by demand.
We are/have been investigators; we have access to people, organisations, facts, resources that are inaccessible to our readers; the information we have is our privilege, and it is so ONLY because of one tag:
A tag that has earned its salt with stories that shook governments, brought criminals under the purview of law and brought a semblance of justice to those with no power or ‘backing’.
A former editor of mine used to say journalism is a “farzi” (fraud) profession. Initially it angered me, but two years into online journalism sent me into an existential crisis… he seemed more right than ever.
But hundreds of journalists, who have lost lives, year-on-year, reporting from conflict areas, would probably have disagreed with him; pitied the current state of their profession and cursed us for bringing it to this pitiable position.
Let’s take a moment and think about giving our dead bretheren the “not sexy enough” argument.