I was reading the usually erstwhile Scotsman last Friday when I noticed something that made me do a double-take and wonder if I wasn’t in some kind of bizarre dream.
On page 3 of the paper – a prominent slot in any national title – I had expected to find some analysis of one of the main issues of the day but, as I read closer, I discovered a very strange tale masquerading as a so-called news report.
Now, you’d assume that a page lead on one of the front-of-book pages in Scotland’s national newspaper would be a fairly high-profile affair. And given the big stories circulating in the news at the moment – such as the SNP budget crisis, the stranded ferry, the international banking crisis and the fact that staff at the prestigious Gleneagles hotel are facing redundancy due to the credit crunch – you’d expect at least one of these to grace the inside page.
But, in a fairly bizarre move, the Scotsman have decided to shun these stories in favour of giving prominence to some “hilarious” home video footage of two prisoners wrapping themselves around a lamp post as they tried to escape from the cops.
Now, I’m not adverse to the idea of featuring this sort of thing in the press. In fact, when I saw the video in question, I have to admit that I found it incredibly funny and had to suppress the urge to giggle at my desk this morning – drawing some fairly bemused stares from my colleagues.
But at the same time, I worry slightly about the decision to devote a full page story to something that you could equally imagine seeing on You’ve Been Framed, complete with a canned laughter track, some “hysterical” comedy sound effects and the weary voice-over tones of Jeremy Beadle or Harry Hill ringing over it (depending on which series you’re watching…..not that I’d know, of course).
I’ve embedded the footage here, so you can see what I’m talking about:
The story was written by Scotsman reporter Martyn McLaughlin – one of the finest hacks I had the pleasure of studying alongside at the Scottish Centre for Journalism Studies many years ago – and I’m sure that he had great fun writing it. After all, it’s certainly a lot more light-hearted than the usual high-brow, in-depth reports he provides for the paper.
(Incidentally, his investigative articles are something that I’ve always been impressed with. I remember when we were preparing a special series of articles for our post-grad course, Martyn decided to investigate the “dogging” scene in Glasgow and actually coerced some couples to divulge why they enjoyed being watched by strangers in the city’s squalid car parks. I, on the other hand, reported on a road trip I made to find Scotland’s oldest pub – which I don’t think was the kind of serious journalism our tutors were after).
Anyhow, this particular Scotsman article is something that I haven’t seen before in one of the broadsheet titles and I can’t help but wonder if this is a sign of things to come. With publications like the Scotsman, the Herald and the Guardian – to name but a few – all trying to promote their on-line presence, could we be set to see more column inches dedicated to this kind of tenuous world news footage.
Of course, if you’re in charge of a newspaper and want it to start having a good web presence, then its understandable that you’d want some good content to upload in order to attract viewers. Video and audio files are fast becoming as popular to web users as the electronic versions of the main newspaper stories, so it makes sense to have this kind of footage available to your web traffic.
But, then again, I’m in two minds about giving this stuff such prominence in the print edition of the paper. Sure, there are many titles to like to promote a light-hearted story here and there – and TV news bulletins are renowned for their use of quirky “and finally” stories – but I’m not sure it’s the sort of thing that we should come to expect from Scotland’s national newspaper (and I use the word national with good reason here, considering this video footage was actually captured in New Zealand).
Admittedly, the Scotsman still has a long way to go before it reaches the dizzying heights of questionable news that its tabloid brethren enjoy. A quick glance at Friday’s Daily Star, for example, offers a truly earth-shattering front page splash detailing a story that I’m sure most of the population could really have done without knowing at all – namely that Big Brother reject Chanelle Hayes has enjoyed a steamy romp with celebrity midget Verne Troyer. Heavy hitting stuff, indeed…
But I still think there’s a fine line to balance here between what’s newsworthy and what’s popular. If the bumbling escape attempt – which has already received hundreds of thousands of views on You Tube – can find its way into the Scotsman’s front of book pages, how long will it be before other internet phenomenon follow?
Will we start to see in-depth analysis pieces on world peace featuring a powerful message of hope from Dancing Matt, or the sneezing panda highlighting the destruction of the o-zone layer? What are the chances that we’ll see an arts and entertainment guide featuring a review of the latest performance art by the Evolution of Dance man?
And, if it does go this way, just how creative will advertisers, marketing execs and PR agencies have to be when it comes to trying to sell their new clients? Perhaps we should just make our clients’ managing directors stand in front of their company logo and pretend to wield a lightsaber. Well it worked for the Star Wars Kid…..