MailOnline and children, again

This week saw Daily Mail picture editor Paul Silva face the Leveson inquiry. During the questioning he was asked about the privacy of children, here is a summary from the free speech blog:

Silva agreed with a celebrity asking for privacy for their children, and that he “would go along with whatever they ask”. He said it was the paper’s policy that images of children would be pixellated, and when asked by Lord Justice Leveson whether it was questionable that photographers should be taking such pictures in the first place, he responded, “possibly, yes.”

When the inquiry came to talk about MailOnline Silva made it clear that he only deals with pictures for the print edition of the newspaper, not the website. Which begs the questions: who is responsible for the pictures used on the Mail website, and why are they also not appearing in front of the inquiry?

The trouble with the Mail website is that children aren’t merely shown in pictures without any attempt to remove them or pixellate their faces, it is that they often are the story. Take this, for example:

This is just one example of a story that appears daily on the Mail website. The MailOnline business model is based around photo-led (the article contains 5 pictures) ‘stories’ in which photographers stick their long lenses into the private public life of a celebrity. We have a media model that thinks it is perfectly normal to photograph children, babies and families whilst they play in the park, walk down the street, get in a car, eat in a restaurant, play on a beach or perform even the most mundane task. How is profiting from the constant harassment of young children and families acceptable?

Just because we live in a society that provides a willing and paying audience for this invasive drivel, doesn’t mean we have to allow amoral websites like the MailOnline to provide it.

Children of famous parents and their right to privacy

Another thing I would like to see from the Leveson Inquiry is the conclusion that plastering the faces of young children across newspapers and their websites simply because they have been born to famous parents is utterly unacceptable. The PCC code of practice does mention Children and states:

Editors must not use the fame, notoriety or position of a parent or guardian as sole justification for publishing details of a child’s private life.

However, perhaps it should address the celebrity-driven nature of newspapers now and state specifically that it is not acceptable to publish lots of photos of them either – unless they are specifically engaged in a public appearance with their parents. Of course, whatever replaces the PCC will have to have relevant enforcement powers.

It troubles me that so many of the activities a family might want to engage in take place in public and that means the press have a never-ending supply of easy stories involving the children of celebrities. Like this published on the Mail website today: ‘Fun and hugs: Doting Olivier Martinez has a beach playdate with Halle Berry’s daughter Nahla’. The article includes 8 close-up long lens photos of Nahla who is not yet four years old – also rather disturbingly the sub-editor who writes the photo captions has a habit of pointing out that young girls look older than their years, today is no exception:

Growing up fast: Nahla will turn four years old in March, but already looks older than her tender years

This kind of article shouldn’t exist – let alone with such disturbing captions; people have the right not just to privacy in their own homes, but also the right to a certain level of privacy in public – unless you really want to argue that as soon as someone famous steps outside their house the press has every right to harass them with long-lens cameras and then publish beach snaps of 3-year-old children worldwide to make a few quid. The press constantly talk about privacy as if respecting it stamps on some kind of sacred right that the press has, yet the reality of 99% of press intrusion is the morally and ethically bankrupt pursuit of celebrity gossip.

This not only ends up with vulnerable young children being exploited, it also means that things of real importance are being ignored because the media have decided instead to focus on feeding us non-stop celebrity drivel.

Press reform: the challenge of addiction

It’s becoming increasingly clear that a substantial section of our press is no longer serving to report the news, but rather functions as a full-blown arm of the entertainment industry. Accuracy, journalistic integrity and moral decency have been replaced by the overwhelming desire to sell as many newspapers and as much advertising space in those newspapers as possible. Whilst it could be argued that printing and selling newspapers has always been about the bottom line, Nick Davies in his book Flat Earth News makes a convincing argument that the bottom line used to go hand in hand (at least most of the time) with the basic tenets of journalism.

Perhaps the main driver for moving away from the traditional concept of what a newspaper is (you could easily argue that the name no longer accurately describes what is still known as a ‘newspaper’) is the slow decline in sales caused in part by the Internet, but also by Television and in particular the notion of 24-hour rolling news channels. People can dip in and out of news at their own convenience on their smartphones – with the freedom to choose from any supplier (except, perhaps, The Times which has moved behind a paywall). People don’t need to subscribe to newspapers anymore and the freedom to pick articles from different newspaper websites destroys the idea of traditional brand loyalty, or the expectation that we have to choose the one newspaper that best matches our own outlook.

In Flat Earth News Davies charts the downfall of real journalism as newspaper owners dealt with declining revenues by cutting staff and reducing money spent on investigative journalism. All of this could be easily replaced by making the remaining journalists produce more copy – gleaned largely from Wire services or simply re-written from other news sources. As the numbers of journalists declined so the the workload of those remaining increased until very often bylines indicated little more than who had copy-and-pasted a Press Release or straight copy from a wire service – without checks with regards to accuracy. Thus the notion of churnalism was born.

But this wasn’t the only consequence of declining revenues. Another significant consequence was the change in the product itself. News was no longer the exclusive domain of the newspaper. People could get it quicker, brighter and louder through their TV, radio or picked up on their PCs or smartphones via a social networking site or via the newspaper websites themselves. By the time the newspaper is printed it is already old: it is telling people very little they don’t already know. This meant that the newspaper had to change the nature of the what they did. They became not the breakers or news, but the masters of news commentary (or spin, as it is better known).

Newspapers became concerned far more with opinion – rather than tell us the news they thought they would tell what to think of the news that we had already heard about. Newspapers have abandoned any subtle pretence of neutrality in favour of essentially becoming one giant editorial. People choose newspapers as a filter, they pick the one that bests skewers the news around them to fit their own prejudices. It is, essentially, a slightly more adult way of putting your fingers in your eyes and screaming ‘la-la-la I can’t hear you’ to the rest of the news world.

The final consequence of the new business model is that any money spent by a given newspaper / editor must generate tangible profits for the newspaper. This means that given the choice between spending £3,000 on sending a journalist to a location for what could possibly be an important, newsworthy story (the kind of journalism the press always like to talk about when they tell us how important it is for them to have absolute freedom because they are out there, being journalists to act as a check and balance to the rich and powerful etc) and spending £3,000 buying a photo of Hugh Grant broken down in his car the editor will spend the £3,000 on the Hugh Grant picture every time. Celebrity drivel sells.

It’s expensive, but cheap at the same time. Whilst it might cost a fair bit for paparazzi photos of celebrity-x frolicking on the beach, the price is fixed and clear – all the time, equipment, plane tickets and incidental expenses etc have already been dealt with by the individual pap – the pap takes on the risk and the newspaper gets a guaranteed story for a fixed price.

This is where the addiction begins.

The evidence suggests that reporting on celebrities doing even the most inane things (going to the gym, washing hair, putting out bins, leaving home, arriving home, eating out, looking fat, looking thin, wearing clothes, wearing clothes they have worn before, walking their dogs, leaving a night club and generally doing anything at all that can be photographed) is big business. Sadly, there is a market for this drivel and it is growing. You only have to look at the massive growth the Daily Mail website has enjoyed – which is largely driven by celebrity stories and American web traffic. The Mail have even set up offices in LA to maximise the celebrity crap they can churn out.

Celebrity drivel is the new business plan for a lot of newspapers (like the Daily Star trying to shoehorn Jordan onto the front page of every edition with ever more elaborate inventions or their amazing run of front pages about Ryan Giggs) and it is becoming an addiction for both editors and readers alike. The editors need the sales that celebrity drivel can generate, and it seems enough of the public need celebrity to drivel to fill some kind of vacuum in their obviously meaningless and shallow existences.

Call me a snob if you want, but I kind of find it pretty depressing that the Mail website is currently running this story: ‘Kate Middleton: We’ve seen that dress before, Kate…on Sarah Jessica Parker in 2006!’. It is depressing thinking that a lot of people will probably be quite excited by this news story, or at least interested enough to click and have a look. It is even more depressing to think that at some point in the construction of this story someone who had perhaps wanted to be a journalist had somehow found themselves going through reams of images to find this obscure match and then having to write an article around these two pictures.

But all of this is irrelevant. All that matters is that this stuff does generate page views and shifts newspapers. Editors generally don’t print want no-one wants to read.

So here we are, trapped in a mutual addiction. The drive of newspapers to out-dig and out-titillate TV news led to phone-hacking becoming a standard technique and although it may have originally intended to be used for good it was soon being used to track the relationships of celebrities and eventually to eavesdrop on the grief of families (allegedly) and even to obstruct the Police in their investigations.

Bad journalism isn’t neatly isolated into pockets that we can cut out, it is rather a systematic product of an addictive pattern of selling us what isn’t actually any good for us. The press have become no better than a drug dealer, selling us cheap highs, quick fixes, dishonest scares and above all celebrity gossip. We know it’s bad for us, we know we should be doing something more worthwhile with our lives, but like any addiction it is hard to tear ourselves away from turning the same old pages for the same old content.

It’s just like the food industry packing everything with sugar, making us crave more and more of it as we encounter it in more and more products. If a food company now tried to market a healthy alternative to this they’re stuffed because everyone is addicted to products stuffed with sugar. We know such products are bad for us, but we buy them all the same. To rid ourselves of any addiction takes a lot of willpower, and it also takes a brave producer to try to sell us a product that they can only sell to those of us who want to go cold turkey.

Sadly, the reality of business dicates that an alternative product will only be offered once the original product is abandoned by the consumer. So, the question is, therefore: are we ready to give up the newspapers we currently happily consume?

‘Recycling’ or how extreme capitalism works

One of the frequently recycled stories that appear on the Mail website that really bothers me is the one where person x wears item x of clothing for a second time. Sometimes this is referred to as a fashion ‘faux pas’ (one of the favourite phrases of Mail hacks), sometimes as recycling but it is always looked at as if such behaviour is absolute madness. It seems to me that the Mail Online team must have a massive database of celeb photos that they check each day to see if the new photos coming in demonstrate any clothes matches. If a match is found the Mail Online team have some kind of twisted Eureka moment and start hammering away at the keyboard about how celebrity x also wore this item of clothing whilst opening a village fete in 1995 so they’re some sort of freak for wearing it again.

I’m not quite sure what pleasure people get from reading this kind of article – again, it comes back to this modern freak show in which we are encouraged to laugh at such fashion faux pas (for in order to sell endless tat fashion must always change way before one season’s clothes have worn out from any kind of wear) yet surely we wear our own clothes more than once? How can people not see the extreme version of capitalism that jumps off the pages, slaps you around the face and calls you a disgusting pauper if you dare even think about wearing the same item of clothing a second time? As the world heads swiftly into the complete destruction and depletion of natural resources it is an insult that a: the Mail Online exists solely to deliver an endless stream of celebrity drivel and b: that this comes with huge helpings of obscene consumerism.

Today’s pointless story is this: ‘First Kate Middleton and now Katherine Jenkins is recycling her clothes. The classical star dazzles (again) in a stunning red gown’. The idea that wearing an item twice is ‘recycling’ is just obscene – even more so when you actually consider the cost of such clothes in the first place. The mocking tone of the article and the idea that in wearing an item of clothing twice:

She clearly wants to get her money’s worth out of the stunning floor length dress

Is just strange. Yet it seems to work.


Facebook puts vulnerable children at risk of depression, warn doctors‘ [istyosty link]. From the article:

‘A lot of what’s happening is actually very healthy, but it can go too far,’ [Dr Megan Moreno] said…

Parents shouldn’t get the idea that using Facebook ‘is going to somehow infect their kids with depression,’ she said.

Too late, if people actually believe what they read on the Mail Online website.

In other news: ‘Isn’t it a bit early for that? Britney Spears films free concert for Good Morning America (and what a raunchy wake-up call it will be)‘ [istyosty link, has to be seen to be believed]. The article sees fit to demonstrate just how raunchy the routine is by accompanying it with 21 photos and 2 Youtube videos. This really is anti-journalism in action.

The Family Paper

I don’t think this screengrab needs much of an introduction because it’s become so typical of what you can expect to find on the wall of flesh that makes up the Mail Online ‘Femail’ section:

The question in particular is a very unsavoury reminder of the recent Mail coverage [link takes you to No Sleep ‘Til Brooklands excellent post on the subject] of the gang-rape of two twelve-year-old girls and the sympathy given to the perpetrators because it was implied that they couldn’t tell the real age of the girls and believed them to be sixteen. I really do wonder if the person responsible for asking it could provide any logical justification for putting it under the headline?

It also needs to be asked how such Mailbait coverage – which clearly seems to be aimed at men – can justifiably be put into the Femail section of the website?

An unhealthy obsession

The Daily Mail seems obsessed with Suri Cruise. A quick search of MailOnline returns 420 matches for ‘Suri Cruise’, here are the top ten results:

  1. Weary Suri Cruise snuggles up in her favourite pink ‘blankie’
  2. Suri Cruise holds on tight to mum Katie Holmes – and her make-up bag
  3. Suri Cruise looks even cuddlier than her pet toy as she acts up on set with Katie
  4. Suri Cruise totes £500 designer bag to match mum Katie Holmes
  5. Cheeky Suri Cruise pokes her tongue out at photographers
  6. Suri plays hide and seek in the park as Tom Cruise agrees to send her to a Catholic school
  7. Suri Cruise ventures out on a chilly night with bare legs
  8. Suri Cruise shows off her personalised accessory: Toddler has handbag at the ready for mother Katie’s Broadway debut
  9. Totally on trend: Suri Cruise steps out in furry coat and statement boots for trip to the shops and the film set
  10. Little Suri Cruise steals the show on a day out with Tom and Katie

And it goes on like this for page after page of results. Suri Cruise is just four years old, that means the Daily Mail has averaged over 100 articles a year about her since she was born. The PCC’s Editor’s Code has a little bit to say on the privacy of children:

i) Young people should be free to complete their time at school without unnecessary intrusion…

v) Editors must not use the fame, notoriety or position of a parent or guardian as sole justification for publishing details of a child’s private life.

Not exactly detailed guidance, but surely it is enough to suggest that editors refrain from running hundreds of articles with numerous photos accompanying each of them just because a young girl has famous parents. I wonder how the Daily Mail would justify such intrusion if Tom Cruise actually complained about this constant attention?

Today’s latest Suri Cruise article draws attention to her ‘bare legs’ for at least the second time, as if this is somehow newsworthy and worthy of 5 accompanying photographs: ‘Isn’t it a bit cold for bare legs? Suri Cruise braves the snow in a flimsy dress as she goes for cupcakes with mother Katie’.

As news arrives that MailOnline is fast becoming one of the most visited ‘news’ websites in the world it is clear that much of this traffic is being generated by the sort of invasive, celebrity drivel that the newspaper finds so offensive when it appears on TV. Journalism and the pursuit of real news is being ditched in favour of a business model built on the tireless harassment of the even vaguely famous or infamous by an increasing army of paparazzi. Newspapers might shudder at paying money to employ real journalists, but they certainly have no hesitation in paying photo agencies.


It seems to be a week in which Daily Mail headline writers are competing with each other to create the most offensive headline. Earlier in the week we had that headline on depression, yesterday we had Jan Moir giving her message to students in receipt of EMA:


And today we have a story about how Jonathan Ross’ family are ‘peculiar’ and ‘bizzarre’ as a follow up to him outing one of his daughters as gay:


Maybe I am being oversensitive or reading too much into that headline, but it just sounds as if the writer is taking one ‘peculiar’ behaviour – being gay (in the eyes of the Mail, this is not me speaking) – and then digging deeper to expose the rest of the family as also leading an odd lifestyle – because being gay is a lifestyle choice as far as the Mail is concerned. The full headline is not any better: ‘They talk to each other at home on Twitter, keep sheep and pigs in the garden and have a remote-controlled loo seat. After Jonathan Ross outs his daughter as gay, the bizarre truth about a very peculiar family…’.

Sure, write about the family life of the Ross’ if you want, but why do you feel the need to build it around his gay daughter, as if she was the tip of the ‘peculiar’ iceberg?

Ricky Gervais, Ricky Gervais, Ricky Gervais

He’s just presented the Golden Globes. That is big in America. The Daily Mail websote is big in America. Ricky Gervais is a celebrity. The Daily Mail must therefore take advantage of the Google searches and the interest in Ricky Gervais by writing as many things as possible about Ricky Gervais until the excitement dies down. So not only did they write several articles on his performance at the awards, but they also follow this up with the usual ‘story’ based on nothing more that a photo, posted on Twitter no less: ‘Something to show off Ricky? Gervais reveals trim new physique in ridiculous gold pants’.

The most disturbing thing about this article is the language used by the writer – Sarah Fitzmaurice – to describe the fact that Ricky Gervais has lost a few pounds. Compare and contrast the images:

It is pretty clear that he was never exactly obese and has simply lost a bit of weight and toned up. Sarah Fitzmaurice – obviously having a Daily Mail understanding of what unacceptably fat is – sees things differently and describes Ricky Gervais as being:

quite literally a shadow of his former self after losing an astounding amount of weight

‘Astounding’, ‘literally a shadow of his former self’? The Daily Mail’s attitude to weight is about as healthy as their approach to depression:

Depression: get over it

Come on you depressed clowns, get a grip.

MailOnline most popular website, EVER!

Claims the Daily Mail as Google releases details of the most searched for things online. The article states that:

the list of biggest search terms gives a clue to the hottest celebs and sites around. So there’s no surprise to see MailOnline making an appearance.

So, does ‘MailOnline’ make an appearance on this Google list? Er, no. The word ‘mail’ is in 9th place. Still, the Daily Mail is happy to take credit for part of this success:

In overall searches ‘Mail’ comes in at No.9, thanks no doubt in part to MailOnline, which this year broke the 50million barrier for the number of monthly unique users.

Or the fact that a lot of people check their ‘mail’ online. Still, in the news and current events category the Mail website does do very well, with ‘Daily Mail showbiz’ appearing in fifth place. MailOnline is very proud of this, which is odd, given that MailOnline editor Martin Clarke once said that:

News is far more important to us than showbiz. News is what drives our site.