The Mail Online’s idea of a ‘New Craze’

There are lots of things that I have never heard of. The Mail Online’s latest warning is about one of them: the ‘salt and ice challenge’. The Mail Online has lifted a report from the Huffington Post (which they credit) about how some teenagers in America (one doctor in Detroit – population over 700,000 – had seen 3-4 cases in the past 6 months) have been trying this challenge and causing themselves various levels of skin burns. I can’t help but think that if the Mail had really wanted to prevent this dangerous challenge they’d probably do the responsible thing and not report on it (complete with several photos of effects and a video showing how the challenge is performed). Let’s not forget that the Mail website is now one of the most visited websites on the planet and can therefore presumably spread a ‘craze’ like few others.

I can’t help but think that for the sake of a few more web hits the Mail website has just given more people a dangerous activity that they’d probably never have heard about otherwise. The Internet is full of crazy stuff and I have no objections to this, but what annoys me is organisations like Mail Online – which pretend to be above the trivialities of the Internet – producing such content and dressing it up as journalism and labeling the writer a ‘reporter’. One of the aspects that Leveson didn’t address what was does the label ‘newspaper’ or ‘journalism’ actually mean? Should it only refer to an organisation that seeks to deliver news in a reliable, factual and unbiased way; or is it fine for anyone to write anything with any bias or factual inaccuracies and label it journalism just as long as they work for one of the established newspapers or their various online spin-offs?

The problem with real journalism is that no-one wants it, or at least that no-one wants to pay for it. We therefore end up with newspapers that only ever chase readers, rather than actual news. What we end up with is the exact thing that socially conservative newspapers like the Daily Mail – on the surface at least – supposedly rail against: the systematic dumbing-down of ‘news’ until newspapers become little more than vehicles for celebrity PR men to create exposure and wealth for those who have some tenuous relationship with fame. We get Mail Online, one of the most soul-destroyingly popular websites on earth.

The Mail website is a cesspit of celebrity drivel, freakshow exposures of anything deemed outside the narrow norms of conservative Western culture and stories taken from across the website which are not news in any traditional sense. Again, I don’t mind that such websites exist – I love the randomness of the Internet – but for the sake of convincing me that humanity has some hope, please stop calling this journalism.

‘Could Spider-Man become a reality?’ asks Mail Online

For some reason the Mail Online editor has filed this article under ‘Science’: ‘Could Spider-Man become a reality? Bizarre white cobweb found on nuclear waste that could have come from a ‘mutant’ spider’.

The article – remember Dacre today telling the Leveson inquiry that the Mail employs some of the finest journalists around – reports that:

In a freakish echo of the Spider-Man comic strip, workers at a U.S nuclear waste facility discovered the growth on uranium last month.

In what way is that ‘a freakish echo of the Spider-Man comic strip’? Sadly, it gets worse. First of all, the Mail explains what has been discovered:

Experts from Savannah River National Laboratory collected a small sample of the mystery material to run tests.

A report filed by the Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board – a federal oversight panel – concluded: ‘The growth, which resembles a spider web, has yet to be characterised, but may be biological in nature.’

The report said the initial sample of the growth was too small to characterise, and that ‘further evaluation still needs to be completed’.

Then the Mail steps back into childish fantasy:

he bizarre growth will stoke fears that nuclear fuel can cause Frankenstein-style mutations.

It echoes the plot of Spider-Man, where Peter Parker becomes a superhero after being bitten by a mutant spider at a nuclear waste laboratory.

Whilst a image caption claims:

Web of intrigue: The discovery means mutant spiders, like the one that bit Peter Parker, could become a reality.

And to think that Paul Dacre genuinely believes his newspaper group does serious, decent journalism and is prepared to argue his case under oath.