Last week’s comment on our own industry was meant to be a one-off but events have combined to force us to be self-indulgent once again.
Only hours after we’d written about click bait — misleading internet headlines that encourage people to click on links to garbage stories in a bid to drive traffic to advertising — came the story of the black-eyed ghost child of Cannock Chase.
In case you missed it, this is the story of the spectral infant with strange black holes for eyes, who allegedly appears on Cannock Chase. (Note on human nature: seeing a ghost is not strange enough, and we have to concoct black eyeholes for added effect).
The legend is that the child appears and tempts people into dangerous situations. Obviously seeing a ghost child with scary black eyes is not enough of an adrenalin rush for some and they just have to follow it into danger. (It’s surprising the child doesn’t have a dog on a lead, slathering the Ebola virus from its yellowing teeth).
The reality is that people claim to have seen it and then carried on with what they were doing. For an evil-doing spectre wandering the wastelands of Cannock, it’s remarkably rubbish at doing what legend demands. Maybe it’s because it has black holes for eyes.
Last week came the story that a woman had taken a photo of her kids playing at Cannock and, lo and behold, the ghost child was in the woods watching. Spooky.
This was picked up by many news outlets, even though a search by Chronicle reader Daryl Layton took about 0.004 seconds to find that the “ghost” was the top Bing (a search engine) image search result for “scary ghost boy”. This was not a case of investigative journalism at its best.
The point is: the news outlets don’t care. The story brings readers in their droves to websites to look at adverts, and that’s all the “news” providers care about.
It really is a case of being careful what you wish for. You want 24-hour, entertaining news on demand? You’ll get it, but it may well be made-up rubbish that even its creators know is untrue.
You don’t get that in print, where publishers are accountable.
Talking of which: last week we also commented on the fact that the bookies successfully predicted the Scottish referendum result while the pollsters did not.
Almost immediately we came across a piece of research saying that newspapers were the primary source of information for Scottish voters during the referendum, well ahead of social media (and the “Yes” and “No” campaigns themselves).
The research which showed that 60% of Scottish voters got a “significant or very large” amount of information about the issues, campaigns and debates about independence from newspapers and their websites, ahead of 54% who said they got a lot of information from social media and 44% who cited the campaign organisers.
It’s clearly not the case that newspapers are the only place where news is accurately reported and it’s equally clear that some newspapers make stories up — the Daily Express is currently developing finely-honed talent at completely making up weather forecasts (blizzard! floods! heatwave! storms in autumn shocker!).
But the regional Press, and particularly weeklies, cannot afford to do anything other than report accurately.
We do make mistakes, and that’s all they are, but if we repeatedly printed inaccurate stories our quality control department — that’s you, the public — would soon take us to task.
If you want made up stories about useless ghost children, that’s fair enough. If you want accurate, fact-checked news, buy your local paper.
EEK! A GHOST . . . .