Sorting through the news

Here’s a screenshot of YouTube a few hours after there was “an incident” at Oxford Circus in London today:

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This kind of sensationalism drives clicks and views, but the reason isn’t as obvious as I think it appears. From the thumbnail it looks like intense stuff is going down in London, with armed police looking all serious business. When I saw the lede start with “No evidence of…” I figured it’d end with “terrorism” and the incident was something else–instead, it turns out nothing happened at all! I clicked on the video to see if they got to that point right away, but the first thirty seconds of the video was meandering and I couldn’t stomach the boredom anymore.

The video description sums it up right away though:

To date police have not located any trace of any suspects, evidence of shots fired or casualties.

So there you have it: fucking nothing happened. But the news presenters, the YouTube thumbnail, and the BREAKING NEWS headers imply the opposite. You’d think there was a shooting in central London, but instead someone probably set off a bottle rocket that was a bit loud.

Maybe something more nefarious happened, but with this kind of reporting how will I know? The only way to tell if something is serious or not is apparently to spend all my time consuming news clips and filtering out what’s breaking and what isn’t. I thought that was the job of journalists. I’m sick of doing their job for them–just tell me when things actually happened! If they didn’t, just say that and let me get on with my day!

Users of software (rightly) get angry when the developer makes them do extra work, especially technical work when that isn’t there job. I don’t want to spend time tweaking my email settings–I just want to do my job.

I’m frustrated in a similar way with journalists–it feels like they present everything as the end of the world not even to sell clicks (the BBC doesn’t run ads in Scotland), but because they’re just lazy. I don’t think it’s clickbait, I think it’s a mess that as consumers we’re told to sort through ourselves.

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