Opinion: Sex and violence

POSTED: 01/16/13 1:05 PM

Serious news is hard to come by these days. Surfing the internet, from Yahoo to the Dutch populist newspaper de Telegraaf and everything in between, it seems that most editors have been impregnated by the mantra: sex sells. Oh, and violence as well. And showbiz.

It is unbelievable how much nonsense web sites and online newspaper produce in these fields. After the breasts of actresses, and nude pictures of Prince William, the way actresses dress is also a favorite subject. On the local level gossip websites have totally lost their way as far as the distinction between reporting and commentary is concerned. The result is a poor and badly informed mixture of a whole lot of nothing.

Even serious newspapers are aware that sex and violence sell. The editor-in-chief at Het Laatste Nieuws in Belgium for instance, says that he always puts something light on his front page because it is read better than serious news. When the paper reported about a breakthrough in the everlasting negotiations for a new government, readers went for a report about a Hollywood starlet first.

In the Netherlands it is no different. While it was a long hot summer in politics, filled with election fever, newspaper readers devoured the non-news about the separation of former soccer-star Ruud Gullit and model Estelle Cruyff and the subsequent controversy about her new boyfriend, kick boxer Badr Hari.

Newspaper publishers have a hard time finding a concept that makes their internet presence valuable for their brand. When in May of last year the Save the Press foundation organized a debate about online quality journalism the sad conclusion was that research-journalism is dead. There is no money in having a reporter work for two or more days on a story that readers then get served for free online. The bottom line: readers don’t want to pay for it – they prefer to gobble up garbage from free websites.

That puts a lot of pressure on newspapers that do make an effort to serve their readers more than the popular menu of sex, violence, gossip and sensation.

While there will always be an audience for a good story, the internet reveals that in general readers tend to turn faster to gossip, sex and violence, there still is a market for serious news. However, people’s attention span is shrinking at an alarming rate. TV-news is snappy, in sound and image bites that seem to become ever shorter, while social media like Twitter are doing a good job at raping the language; in won’t be long before there is a whole generation that thinks l8 is the way to write late and lmaorotf is understood by everyone as laughing my ass off rolling on the floor.

Language is a living thing, but said language seems to be dying at breakneck speed. In spite of all this we are convinced that there is a market for solid information, if only because what our politicians do, what our bankers do, what our entrepreneurs do, is affecting our daily lives. And as our politicians like to say: the people have the right to know. Without serious media those people would be taken for a ride all the time. Now they still have a chance to at least know that they are being taken for a ride – and who is at the controls.

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