A little navel-gazing this week as we raise a couple of issues with our colleagues in the national media (they’re distant relatives, rather than close cousins).
With election fever mounting across the land, (except with voters), and UKIP winning a Parliamentary seat thanks to a popular Tory MP changing sides, it’s worth reflecting on that vote in Scotland the other week.
While pundits and the media revelled in predicting a close-run contest, the people with actual money at stake, the bookies, were paying out on a “no” result, ahead of the actual vote.
As we all know, the “Nos” had it, with 55.3% voting against independence, in a massive 84.6% turnout. But while various polls put the vote neck and neck, bookies were 80% sure of the “no” vote.
It reminded us of Barack Obama’s last election win, which was expected to be close, unless you looked at predictions from people who weren’t politicians, the media or pollsters.
Clearly the media, which has a product to sell, likes a close battle. A result that’s settled weeks ahead of the vote wouldn’t sell more papers, and it can be surmised that politicians will report a tight battle because it will mobilise voters into action.
Opinion pollsters in their turn need to work, and close polls are in their interest, as a close battle needs constant monitoring. While the pollsters varied slightly, the “poll of polls” ran at about a 51/49 split. In other words: wrong.
We can expect a lot more polls as the General Election approaches, but you’d clearly be better listening to Paddy Power or William Hill than MORI or YouGov.
We’d guess UKIP’s fortunes are going to be talked up by everyone, because it’s in everyone’s interest for people to predict a high UKIP vote. The party itself will obviously want this, the Tories and Labour because they want to energise their supporters to turn out and vote.
Politicians would be better saving their money and just looking at what William Hill are predicting than paying pollsters but we guess they’d figure it might look a bit amateur.
Meanwhile, elsewhere in the media the buzzword is click bait, which is what excites internetty types but which history may look back on differently.
Click bait are those annoying headlines you see everywhere, in which normal life is reduced to hyperbole: “He took off his hat and what happened next was the most amazing thing since Jesus invented sliced bread and will leave you in tears…”
The aim is to get you to click on the link and see an advert somewhere along the way, which is the only way of making money from this stuff. The stories themselves often compare unfavourably with paint drying.
In a related move, on-line headlines (written American style, With Capital Letters For Every Word) now tend to encapsulate the news story in on-line, so if we did that sort of thing, we’d have on-line headlines like “Man From West Heath in Hospital After Hitting A Swaledale Sheep with his BMW”.
The idea is that anyone searching for any relevant detail in the story will find the link and go to the website, creating traffic — and it’s traffic that’s important to news websites, not the news itself.
As with click bait, the idea is that people are funnelled towards a website and see the paid adverts.
The trouble is, it seems counter-productive.
People often tell us bits of news, and we might go to the local paper website to find out more.
Often, when you get there, you’re faced with a barrage of pop-up adverts, or, if you’ve disabled pop-ups, videos that start playing whether or not you want them.
Either way, the thing you’ve gone to the site for — news — is made hard to access by annoyances, in the shape of adverts.
It would be like going to a pub for a quiet pint and the pub forcing a man wearing a sandwich board to come and sit with you, to tell you about his products.
The trouble is that some people are making a lot of money from the internet and newspapers are hoping that they can do the same. Which is fine, but no-one wants to pay for news, unless it’s niche. The current model is thus silly long headlines and deluging readers with adverts.
We’d guess a lot of this will fail, and at some point in the near future a bright spark will realise that printing news next to neatly laid-out adverts is a good idea.
Click bait aside, the other thing that always does well on the internet is porn. (Though ironically not for porn itself, as the millions of free porn movies that are now available hit the paid-for porn sites badly).
The Mail on Line is the most successful website in the world but it’s partly because of its infamous sidebar, which is mainly scantily dressed women.
Any stories that mention sex or porn mentioned in the tags for search reportedly get loads more hits, which we will try when we post this column on line, mentioning as it does porn, more porn and hot porn.
It’s all a bit depressing and a long way from our sensible reports of WIs and junior football.