This week saw the Daily Mail's website claim top spot among the world's newspapers. Critics may call it a victory for quantity over quality, but top spot is top spot. And what does the Mail attribute this success to?
Drawing upon the strengths of the Daily Mail newspaper...MailOnline has re-invented popular journalism for the digital era.
Now this is where the Mail is being far too modest. The runaway success of the website owes very little to piggy-backing on "the strengths of the newspaper".
The newspaper's success is based on targeting a very specific audience. It writes for the predominantly white, middle-aged, middle class of middle England, pushing a news agenda intended to create, then exploit fears about health scares, hoodies, liberals and the impact of multiculturalism. The paper's parochialism is the reason it is successful. It is also the reason it is so loathed.
At the last count, the Daily Mail's parish was around 1.9 million strong.That's a lot of readers but it goes no way towards explaining the current success of the Mail's website. Not least because the MailOnline has taken a completely different approach to finding readers.
It set about attracting readers by following the agenda of others, rather than trying to set its own. It is dedicated to serving content people were already searching for online. As such, much of the success of the Daily Mail website is the result of a focus on US reality TV, celebrity, pop music and naked flesh. Lots and lots of naked flesh:
Of course the newspaper content does make it onto the website but clearly the focus for growth is not on the paper's traditional constituency or content. After all, how many readers of the Daily Mail newspaper know or care who Kim Kardashian is? Yet alongside Lady Gaga and Rihanna, Kardashian is an ever-present on the Daily Mail website.
The real engine room of the Mail's online success is the picture desk. If somebody famous is spotted in public wearing a revealing dress or a bikini the pictures will be on the Daily Mail's website the next day.
If a model takes part in a shoot for a new line of lingerie or poses for a glossy magazine, the Mail will run the pics. If a celebrity falls out of a dress or reveals a little too much when stepping out of a car, a full upskirt or down cleavage record of the event will be available in the right hand column of the Mail's website:
The Daily Mail's modesty no doubt prevents it from saying it has become the go-to online destination for pictures of famous ladies in tight dresses, bikinis and underwear, but it has aggressively and successfully cornered that market by flooding its website with content promising Google users that is exactly what they'll find.
There is no denying the Mail's orchestrated success in courting pure online numbers and although it is a model which advertisers are less excited about now than they were in the dot-com boom of the late nineties, the Mail is clearly confident this remains a recipe for success.
Much of the web-only content is base commodity, aimed at drawing in any traffic it can, though the focus is clearly on the US. The majority of the photos are bought from picture agencies and the lion's share of the web-only copy is cut and pasted from US wire services. In fact, the prolific 'Daily Mail Reporter' is now cutting and pasting so much US wire copy - irrespective of how trite the news appears -they no longer bother trying to keep pace with changing US words such as 'sidewalk' or 'cell phone' to the English equivalents.
This may seem a small point, but for a newspaper to disregard its style guide - as crucial a part of its identity as the masthead - in pursuit of traffic is clear evidence its website and paper are being run as very different properties:
None of these observations are intended as a criticism of the Daily Mail. It has set out to sell cheap commodity content based on titillation and US celebrities in various states of undress and it does it to great success. But the Mail really is being unnecessarily modest - or deliberately disingenuous - when it claims the runaway success of its website is an extension of its success in print. The two could hardly be more different and whatever it says, the Mail clearly wouldn't have it any other way.
The People has claimed reality TV judge Amanda Holden may not have held her baby yet.
You could, of course, add that claim to an almost infinite list of claims about things Holden may not have done. Or may have done for that matter should you be trying to invade her privacy through the medium of guesswork.
The word 'may' tells us The People doesn't have a clue whether its story is true. It is merely speculating on a very private and sensitive situation that it would clearly love to intrude upon further, despite there being no public interest angle.
For the record, it's not just a misleading headline, the story itself is little better. It hinges on a quote from "a friend":
A friend said: "Every new mum's natural instinct is to hold her baby...and it's no different for Amanda."
That's classic tabloid filler. The value of that quote in moving the story on is zero but it's in there to make us think The People did at least speak to Holden's friends, so their speculation may be informed speculation. Of course they can't name the friend, or use a quote which might be challenged in any way, so they opt for something totally safe and neutral.
The People also claims to have quizzed Holden's spokeswoman:
Yesterday the star's spokeswoman stressed her condition had improved, adding: "I can confirm that Amanda is now out of danger." But she was unable to say whether the beauty was out of intensive care and if she had held baby Hollie yet.
That inability - or unwillingness - to comment left The People with no choice but to speculate on what the spokeswoman may not have been telling them.
And then, because it was their own baseless speculation and nobody else's they stuck an EXCLUSIVE badge on it.
Snickers is being investigated by the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) following complaints about the brand's use of four celebrity Twitter accounts, The Telegraph reports.
Footballer Rio Ferdinand, boxer Amir Khan, reality TV star Jordan, X Factor contestant Cher Lloyd and cricketing legend Sir Ian Botham all took payment in return for letting Snickers advertise to their followers. But the ASA and the Office of Fair Trading appear to have taken issue with the fact the series of Tweets weren't immediately flagged as adverts.
Whatever action the ASA sees fit to take, if any, the stunt may well go down as one of the crassest attempts to date to exploit the popularity of those celebrities willing to hawk their Twitter followers to big brands.
Out of the four, Cher Lloyd can probably be forgiven for trying to make hay while the fleeting sun of X Factor celebrity shines but as one follower asked of Ferdinand:
The folks over at GroSocial have compiled this Infographic which claims to show every service and feature ever rolled out on Facebook since it opened to the public in September 2006. It also charts growth in user numbers, such as marking the 500 million user milestone which it hit in July 2010, less than a year after passing the 250 million user mark:
If you've been on Twitter over the past 24-hours you may well be familiar with the case of an Essex couple whose story, covered by The Guardian, has caused a well deserved headache for gym chain LA Fitness who were refusing to let the couple out of a 24-month contract despite some very extenuating circumstances.
In the end LA Fitness caved in and waived the couple's fees but only in the face of overwhelming criticism on Twitter. That was enough for many observers to call it a victory for Twitter, though The Guardian understandably clung to the idea that it was a victory for the paper's Consumer Champions, not least because the vast majority of the most influential tweets linked to the original Guardian article.
The truth of course was somewhere in between. It's impossible to separate the source of the story and the scale of its distribution. But there is also no ignoring the fact that LA Fitness comfortably withstood four days of the Guardian's article being live, but only withstood four hours of it trending on Twitter.
But what got it trending?
The Guardian article appeared online at 22:58 on 20 January. It also appeared in the newspaper on Saturday. The journalist who wrote it, Lisa Bachelor, then tweeted about it on Saturday. It was retweeted just three times:
In fact, by the time LA Fitness head office staff returned to work on Monday they could be forgiven for thinking they'd got away with this. No doubt that was the result they were hoping for when they declined to cave in to The Guardian's initial pressure, preferring instead to take their chances and ride out the relatively short shelf life such articles often have.
But then on Tuesday things began to change. The Guardian's article began getting more interest. The first major mention which really began to reverberate - the tipping point of the Twitterstorm - appears to be this tweet from Kath Viner, deputy editor of The Guardian, posted at 16:47 on the afternoon of 24 January:
That tweet began to connect with a series of similarly well-connected people, each in turn seeing high volumes of retweets, until in one 10 minute period, between 18:00 and 18:10 on 24 January there was an overwhelming flurry of tweets and retweets (forgive me for rather self-indulgently including the tweet from The Media Blog's own @TheMediaTweets feed which I admit was by far the least eloquent of the bunch):
Heavyweight tweeters such as Caitlin Moran and Ben Goldacre wading in within two minutes of one another set a ball rolling that became impossible for LA Fitness to ignore - not least because its brand began trending on Twitter and hundreds of angry tweets were being directed at its own account.
By 21:37 the company had tellingly deleted an earlier tweet of its own claiming "We do not comment on individual cases" and began commenting quite a lot on this particular case, including the announcement that it would be waiving the fees (a decision it claims to have made earlier in the day).
So a happy ending, then.
And a victory for The Guardian.
Granted, the paper's article failed to land a meaningful blow before Twitter got involved. But those tweets - including, importantly that 'tipping point' tweet from its own deputy editor - needed a source. And in turn that source, needed scale to have impact.
It's this relationship between source and scale which perhaps best sums up the way the 'traditional' media stand to benefit from the conversations on Twitter, but not as much as the conversations on Twitter still stand to benefit from 'traditional' media.
The Radio Times has been caught not so much with its pants down, but with a commando's flies open:
"It has come to our attention that an apparently innocent photo of the Royal Marines’ 42 Commando unit – printed by Radio Times in good faith... contains the sight of one of the marines playing a prank... What we took to be the marine's finger proved, on closer inspection, to be another part of his anatomy."
The apology became the subject of a Twitter trend, but the best tweet by far came from within the ranks of the Radio Times and the account of editor Ben Preston:
Former X Factor contestant Cher Lloyd and Premiership footballer Rio Ferdinand are the latest people to take part in Snickers' Twitter advertising campaign. If you missed Jordan, Ian Botham and Amir Khan over the weekend, the idea is they send tweets about something Snickers thinks would be out of character. Then an hour later they reveal they weren't feeling themselves because they hadn't eaten a Snickers recently.
That tweet is accompanied by a picture of them holding a Snickers - at which point a little bit of the internet's soul dies.
For example, Ian Botham claimed to be taking up the cello, Amir Khan claimed to be a stamp collector and reality TV star Jordan claimed to be intelligent. Cher Lloyd's tweets were about reading some books.
I have no idea whether Cher Lloyd reads books but I do know that Snickers thinks it unlikely. And the women in this campaign seem to be coming off a lot worse. After all, 'the public would be surprised to hear you play the cello' seems far less insulting than 'the public would be surprised to hear you're intelligent' or 'the public would be surprised to hear you read books'.
Rio Ferdinand meanwhile claimed he had taken up knitting:
It looks like reality TV star Jordan (aka Katie Price) wasn't the only person to rent out her Twitter account to Snickers this weekend. Boxer Amir Khan also joined in the 'fun' of sharing some unusual messages with his followers before the big reveal...
As did cricketing legend Sir Ian Botham who generated just two retweets with his product shot...
The Daily Mail has reported on reality TV star Jordan's string of unusual tweets about the economy. Strangely, the Mail reported on it more than an hour and a half after the unusual tweets were revealed to be part of an online advertising campaign by Snickers, without mentioning that detail:
Instead, the Mail questions whether Jordan's Twitter account was hacked (as many people had guessed before the truth emerged), even questioning her denial in their caption (below):
But given the Mail clearly saw Jordan's tweet denying she had been hacked, and her one about quantitative easing, it seems odd they missed the one in between:
Update, 21:45: The Daily Mail has now deleted its story from the website
Jordan flashes her Snickers
Reality TV star Jordan (aka Katie Price) raised a few eyebrows this afternoon when her Twitter stream started offering economic insight to her 1.5 million followers:
Instantly people started suggesting her account had been hacked, or that a friend was just having a laugh at her expense. Certainly nobody thought it was her. And it almost certainly wasn't. It appears it was an ad campaign for Snickers, as a subsequent tweet and accompanying photo revealed. The idea being that she hadn't been herself with those previous tweets because she was hungry:
Putting aside the fact Jordan is willing to rent out her Twitter account in this way, or let a chocolate company craft a joke about the public's apparently widespread perception of her as a dunce, it also appears Snickers was claiming that hunger made Jordan briefly more intelligent, but one sugary snack would return her to normal. This is a point picked up by a number of people on Twitter:
Mobile phone operator Vodafone has become the latest company take advantage of George Lucas's willingness to sell out his iconic characters from the Star Wars films to appear in TV adverts.
The latest features Jedi master Yoda evesdropping on a couple in a restaurant whose relationship appears to be grinding to a loveless halt. She makes a passive aggressive commment about his lack of emotional maturity, suggesting he'd rather play with his new phone than hold down an adult relationship. Meanwhile he is staring into the bottomless void of the mobile internet rather than engage in conversation. Cue Yoda:
This of course follows Darth Vader selling Volkswagen cars:
And C3-PO and R2-D2 advertising electrical retailer Currys...
So what next for this auction of childhood memories...? Jabba the Hutt advertising weight loss programmes? Or maybe Chewbacca and Han Solo could be roped in for some light-hearted pet insurance commercials.
Tonight's Channel 4 News ended on a rather surreal note. Krishnan Guru-Murthy certainly had a hand in it while proving himself to be the mane man etc... In fact the in-studio high-jinx was almost enough to distract from the story of US media weirdness being retold:
The scene could only have been made more surreal by a late piece of breaking news meaning Guru-Murthy was left to report the outbreak of war or the death of the Queen while wearing a lion glove puppet.
Disgraced journalist Johann Hari has resigned from the Independent. Writing on his own blog, Hari explained:
"I'd like to thank the Independent for the privilege of working for them over the past nine years, and for offering me my job back... But after nearly six months living in New York City, and plenty of time to reflect, I've decided to not take them up on their kind offer."
Hari's resignation follows Independent editor Chris Blackhurst's appearance in front of the Leveson Inquiry less than a fortnight ago, when it soon became clear Hari was still seen as damaged goods in the eyes of the media and newspaper readers.
In his post, Hari went on to allude to the continuing criticism of the Independent and its editor over their failure to sack him for a string of offences:
"I'm willing to take the flack [sic] for my errors myself: when you screw up, you should pay a price. But I'm not willing to see other people, who are [sic] played no part in those errors and are unimpeachably decent people, take the flack [sic] too. It's not fair on them. The Independent has been great to me, and we need its principles in the public arena without distractions."
How convenient... but I might not pre-order it just yet.
The Guardian has today unveiled a new look with a dramatic pic above the masthead, however many people commenting on social networks have been drawn to the juxtaposition of the stricken Costa Concordia and the paper's other main story about Michael Gove generously volunteering taxpayer money to buy the Queen a new yacht.
The Guardian's deputy editor Ian Katz said on Twitter the paper was not making a deliberate statement with the coincidence, adding they even considered dropping one to avoid the clash.
Meanwhile, also on Twitter The Times crime editor Sean O'Neill wondered whether a sinking ship might be construed as an unfortunate metaphor for any newspaper relaunch.
Back in September 2011 the tabloids told us...
Nick Berry to return to EastEnders (The Sun, 12 September 2011)
Nick Berry will return to EastEnders (The Daily Mail, 12 September 2011)
Nick Berry returning to EastEnders (The Metro, 12 September 2011)
Wind the clock forward four months...
Nick Berry's SHOCK return to Walford (The Sun, 13 January 2012)
Wicksy makes SURPRISE return to EastEnders (Daily Mail, 13 January 2012)
Nick Berry makes SHOCK EastEnders return (The Metro, 13 January 2012)
So not that shocking or surprising really.
And in honour of the appearance of the Daily Star on the Leveson agenda - and as a homage to the brilliant blog post by Ned Morrell which dissected every Express front page last year - blogger Scott Bryan has done the same for the Daily Star - publishing every front page headline the red top ran last year, with a little commentary to guide us along (read Bryan's post in full here).
Scott's post informs us that in 2011 – a year widely hailed as one of the most-news-packed years in living memory - The Daily Star...
- Ran 130 front pages dedicated to the real or imagined twists and turns in reality TV land. That's more than four months' worth of its annual output.
- 37 of which were dedicated to flogging Big Brother and Celebrity Big Brother over on Daily Star proprietor Richard Desmond's Channel 5.
- The Star also ran 32 front page headlines about former glamour model Jordan and/or her former former-popstar husband Peter Andre - more than a month of headlines dedicated to the couple.
- The Daily Star lead with Ryan Giggs' love life on 33 editions last year.
So that's more than half a year's worth of front page headlines about reality TV and Ryan Giggs. Add to that a dizzying array of deliberately misleading headlines, such as the one about Simon Cowell being dead (TELLY KING COWELL IS DEAD, 2 June 2011, above) which earned a special mention at the Leveson Inquiry, and even the most loyal Daily Star reader could be forgiven for thinking they wasted 2011.
A brilliant skewering here of a million different cosmetics ads and whole swathes of the lifestyle magazine industry, by US film maker Jesse Rosten (it's also not a bad advert for the industry's favourite photo editing software - though I'm sure that wasn't the point):