As I often do while taking breaks from, well, doing whatever it is I’m doing at the time, I look at news headlines. I occasionally click on the technology and science stories because those tend to interest me, and I usually don’t have to worry about the political leanings of a site that reports nothing but that kind of news.
I know Google uses some sort of algorithm to determine what stories get listed and how they’re ranked, balancing clicks and “breaking” stories from the major websites. I don’t really know specifically how it works, but paying attention to their listing gives you a decent idea of how stories bounce around in their listings.
So as I write this, a few minutes after 6pm in the East on Monday, these are the top five “news” headlines:
*Lindsay Lohan Reportedly Seen Accusing Boyfriend of Abuse in Massive Fight After Weekend Drama
*Rob Kardashian Deletes All Signs of Blac Chyna on Instagram
*Katt Williams Arrested in California For Allegedly Assaulting Female Employee
*At least 15 dead, dozens injured in knife attack outside Tokyo
*With Verizon’s Backing, Yahoo’s Longtime Suitor Gets His Prize
Two of those stories are legitimate news items. A mass-murder in a Japan is certainly a major news story, as is Verizon buying Yahoo. (Actually the real story on the Verizon deal is how much money Yahoo turned down from Microsoft years ago, but I digress…). But exactly how is anything that Lindsey Lohan does qualify as news? And the same goes for anyone named “Kardashian”. And who the heck is Katt Williams? They’re on the list because people are clicking on them, and that’s part of our problem.
Now I hate to cut myself off from a good rant, but here seems like the best place to add this part in. I was discussing this upcoming blog post with a buddy (who wants me to call him “Ace” on here, even though no one I know of calls him that) and he was insistent that my clicks was what was rating the news headlines I see. I knew this couldn’t be true because I never click on anything that has to do with Kardashians and, as I noted above, I have no idea who Katt Williams is.
So we both went to Google News, and there is a link called “suggested for you”. When I clicked it the headlines that appeared were exactly what I would expect to see in a link called that. It was full of science, technology, sports, and classic rock headlines. When Ace signed on his “suggested for you” was stuff he expected to see. And our “top stories” were, for the most part, exactly the same headlines.
I texted, and then called, a friend in Illinois and asked her what she saw when she clicked those two links. She admits to clicking on all the gossip links, so her “suggested for you” was completely full of them. Her “Top stories” page was almost identical to ours here, with the different ones being “same subject” stuff linked to newspapers and websites geared for her location.
This means the “Top Stories” links on Goggle News are entirely based on nationwide clicks and not just our own, which means it’s a good place to get back to my original rant.
We, as a society, are obsessed with these so-called “stars”. We follow them on social media, hang on every word that they say, and pay more attention to them than the things that actually affect our lives. Unfortunately for us, “news” has become entertainment. And that’s part of the reason why we’re such a divided country.
Right now Republicans and Democrats are more at odds with each other than the members of Team Edward and Team Jacob (yes, I had to look that up) and the media, such as it is, knows there’s money to be made by keeping the antagonizing going. So instead of actually trying to inform the populace with fair, balanced reporting we end up with FOX News and MSNBC pretending they’re doing that, and everyone else just picking up the scraps hoping for page views.
Which is why “Ozzy Osbourne Calls Cheating Rumors and Split with Wife Sharon ‘a Bump in the Road’” and “Iggy Azalea and French Montana Leave Vegas Club Together After ‘Flirtatious’ Night” somehow rate as “news”.