A new report confirms what many of us in the media have suspected for years. When browsing news websites more people are hooked on what the rich and famous are up to and on sensational crime stories and not news about politics or the economy.

Readers are more likely to click-through to stories that use more tabloid and subjective language, rather than the accurate but less juicy BBC-style of reporting.  Winners include celebrity, crime, fashion, entertainment, disasters and weather stories.  But business, economics and politics all prove to be far less popular.  Sex and celebrity sells.

Kim Kardashin at "Style Your Sim" fa...

Kim Kardashin at “Style Your Sim” fashion show. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Column of Shame

I have an insatiable appetite for news and regularly scan websites including BBC, Guardian, Daily Mail, Daily Telegraph, Daily Mirror and Evening Standard.  I’ll also check Reddit and Digg if there’s time. Mail Online is one the most successful, but I never really noticed until recently the website’s right hand column: the Sidebar of Shame. It’s almost entirely celebrity gossip.

Today it reports, for example, that Kim Kardashian has banned sweets from her bedside as she begins her post baby weight lost programme. Wow. I really needed to know that? Clearly for many people they do and in some ways I can understand why.  Gossip has always made the world go round.

A gift to the corrupt and self-serving

If I was a conspiracy theorist, it would be easy to believe that the powers-that-be are quite glad for us to gorge on celeb gossip rather than holding politicians and big business to account.  Let them eat cake, or at least celebrity news and that way the public will be nice and docile. It will be easier to sweep things under the carpet or avoid taking the step necessary to improve life for the majority, not just the few.

Britain has the longest working hours in Europe.  I suspect we treat the few moments we get to log on and see what’s going on the world as an escape away from the daily duties and lists of things to do. Maybe most people simply do not care about `real’ news. Is this harmless? Well today it may not seem that way. But as a trend it could be worrying.

I don’t want to sound holier-than-thou on this subject. The Daily Mail is extremely well written and knows how to pander to its readers’ prejudices by the bucket load. I like reading about a bit of scandal, but an endless diet of celebs and disasters is a bit too McNews for me. Whilst it clearly pulls in the readers, I fear in the long run it could be a slippery slope, which the powerful will be happy to exploit.

The Palace of Westminster

The Palace of Westminster (Photo credit: Alexis Birkill)

A damaging distraction

Maybe our celebrity obsession has always existed, but with the rise of online we can now indulge ourselves as never before. Celebrity is a nice little distraction. It’s now the religion of choice for some, but it won’t help encourage leaders to improve job opportunities, education, health, transport or the environment.

On the surface our obsession with the sensationalism and celebrities seems innocent. Of course, there’s a place for celebrity news. But in the wrong hands, it’s a gift for those who hold the reins of power. It enables them to quietly maintain the status quo. It allows them to slip through and make changes that suit only them. And the danger is that once we finally realise what they have done, it will be too late or too difficult to turn the clock back, but at least we now know what Kim Kardashian is eating for breakfast.

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