How bad is the Daily Mail for you?

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All of us have our dirty little secrets – people lie, are deceitful, treacherous, gluttonous, cruel, or quietly mad.

And many of us, millions upon millions of us in fact, have a just-safe-for-work secret. If you peer over our shoulders at around mid morning on a week day, you’ll see grainy images of a drug dependent celebrity in excruciating collapse licking the face of their Bichon Frise in public or sucking the last nano-glob of narcotic from in between their fingernails.

I’m talking of course of the Daily Mail.

A selection of the Daily Mail offerings.

A selection of the Daily Mail offerings.

The Daily Mail’s website is in fact the world’s biggest dirty little secret – late last year officially ousting the New York Times and BBC as the most visited news site globally.

In the print age, the competition between newspapers called for polypacked jandals, offensive front pages, and close haul stories that every morning walked the libel tightrope to try and draw in readers at the main point of sale – the cash register.

Joseph Pulitzer’s The World on Sunday set the gold standard for excess – a mammoth full colour tabloid that in its heyday weighed as much as a ‘small roast beef’.

Later The Sun started running topless women on page three, and reached the historic nadir of print news front pages with the ‘Gotcha’ headline – tastelessly celebrating the killing of 323 naval officers on the General Belgrano during the Falklands War. Other papers, like German goliath Bild Zeitung (exposed by Günter Wallraff) simply fabricated stories to gain audience.

But the print age is over, and from the rubble one victor has emerged – the Daily Mail.

 This peculiar website has transformed a tabloid newspaper that in print form is a kind of curmudgeons handbook for Middle England into an incredibly addictive, disturbing and mysterious experience: a discombobulating mix of celebrity gag shots, you-have-to-see-it-to-believe-it videos, animal stories about briefly famous zoo exhibits, hysterical political coverage, scaremongering about benefits rorts, in between fat shaming of tweens, and a pervasive ANTI stance that flirts continuously with misogynyracism, and homophobia.

The Mail Online cherry picks from science to provoke controversy, selectively edits government policy to generate division, and quotes out of context to manufacture hate.

So far so tabloid. 

But what is fascinating about the Mail Online, what makes it world beating, is process not content.

To start with, the site is run with no visual hierarchy. Big and small images appear jumbled together all down the page, and the layout of articles might best be described as embracing and aesthetic of deliberate ugliness in common with the Drudge Report.

It’s sidebar of shame – a never-ending, thin column of what are known in the industry as ‘horizontal journeys’ – offers you hundreds of alternative articles no matter what page you’re on. It drowns you in a neon-tinged sea of clickbait.

In other words, the Daily Mail’s site defies every principle of clean, good looking design. 

Why?

It’s important to understand how a site like the Daily Mail is run. The introduction of analytic tools like Chartbeat now allow web editors to view predictive histograms for traffic flows to news articles. Within 20 minutes an editor can tell whether an article is a hit or a flop, and move the article up or down the page. He or she can also see, given regressive analysis of previous traffic trends, when audience will get bored with the article, and consequently when the news tidbit should be banished to the lower reaches of the front page.

Their front page is responsive to traffic, responsive to us

In other words, the Daily Mail’s online editors are dangling a honey stick over the internet bear pit and asking us  – do you like it? Throaty growls see ‘news’ pumped up and silence sees it ellipted from view.

Recently Rolf Dobelli wrote an article about how news is bad for you.

‘[N]ews is to the mind what sugar is to the body,’ he said. 

‘Today, we have reached the same point in relation to information that we faced 20 years ago in regard to food. We are beginning to recognise how toxic news can be.’

The Daily Mail barely passes as news, but exemplifies that trend.

It’s a mirror board for global desire, that short circuits deep thinking and traps readers in a shallow sweat of news onanism, of guilt and fear and disgust. 

Russell Brand once described the paper as: 'distilled evil and cruelty, designed to make you feel utterly afraid, full of self-loathing and unwilling ever to leave your house.'

Others have called it online heroin. In reality, whatever the site represents, it represents something from inside us. This chameleonic, adaptive abyss is what millions of us each day stare into searching for meaning.

We click through and click through to look at cellulite shots and tantrums and the private parties of celebrities, or the miserable deaths of teenagers, or the latest terrifying factoids from science, medicine, economics, sociology. But we can’t stop. There is a masochistic switch that gets flicked and we want more misery and humiliation – ours and theirs. The more we feel miserable and humiliated, the more we want to punish ourselves by clicking through. The more we wallow in negativity, grime and paranoia.

This is how a police state trains the administrators of torture chambers, how pedophiles learn from their abusers – brutality acclimatises further brutality. The Daily Mail is the online equivalent of comfort eating or psychological transference or any other brain fail where exactly the thing we loath seems to be the thing we're drawn to in a mesmerizing, sick-inducing buzz of confused addiction and cosmological loneliness.

It reduces our celebrity gods just as we have always relished the fallen. Their arses dangling awkwardly from bikinis, their legs splayed in moments of drunken unbalance.

Twisted and degraded – those unfortunate enough to become the subjects of the Mail Online's news articles are cast in epic cycles of death, birth, triumph, failure and transfiguration that speak as much to the ancient mind as the work-shy cubicle slave turning to the Daily Mail for some guilty, silent, brooding, recidivist need.

If pathological gambling can make it into DSM V, perhaps news addiction has a shot at DSM VI.

 

20 comments

  • This is probably the best analysis of the many facets of online news I've read... I too read the Daily Mail, if you've run out of stuff to look at on the internet then go there, it's never ending and there's always something to read. What keeps me coming back mainly is their emphasis on photos, most of their stories have 5-10-20 photos and the words are the sideshow. They blow the photos up nice and big and they're high quality and look great, they really take you there. I'm surprised more Australian news sites don't use it's design and do more photo stories with all the photos they have!

    Commenter
    Keep Turning
    Location
    Sydney
    Date and time
    July 17, 2013, 12:58AM
    • Yes, I thought it was just me. I have a recent addiction. I came across the page whilst googling for something and now visit daily. I thought maybe I was strange being an Aussie being so enthralled with British news but I see I'm not the only one.

      Commenter
      Alldara
      Date and time
      July 17, 2013, 2:02PM
  • As I log onto the SMH site each morning for a quick news hit with my coffee, its ironic that its front centre of page content is but trivial reading. Lets see... Sports stars strip, Johnny Depp, Masterchef. At least there's nothing about those vacuous narcissists Kanye & Kimmy, but they're hardly important home page headlines.

    Commenter
    Timewaster
    Location
    Treechange
    Date and time
    July 17, 2013, 9:26AM
    • Given I can see the following headlines on the SMH.com.au website "Is this the worst yet?"," Is this the right way to do nudity?" and "how to avoid zombie sales staff?", I am assuming this is an ironic article......

      Commenter
      Carstendog
      Location
      Here
      Date and time
      July 17, 2013, 1:03PM
  • Most days the Daily Mail makes me want to scream. But buried somewhere will be a cute animal story that will make me smile. I'm interested in photography and often they will feature some great photography of abandoned buildings, past days which are great social commentaries.

    Commenter
    MJ
    Date and time
    July 17, 2013, 9:33AM
    • Mr Stacey, I accuse you of snobbery. There's always something interesting in the DM, which is more than can be said of this august publication.

      Commenter
      Gav
      Location
      lighten up
      Date and time
      July 17, 2013, 10:00AM
      • leading to the obvious - "why are you here?"... LOL

        Commenter
        martin
        Location
        melbourne
        Date and time
        July 17, 2013, 12:54PM
    • OMG I had no idea The Daily Mail was a big deal in Australia! I have a number of English friends who introduced me to its wonders, but didn't realise that others in this country and come under its ADDICTIVE and shameful spell.

      Daniel that was such a well written piece!

      Commenter
      christina
      Date and time
      July 17, 2013, 10:11AM
      • Funnily enough, I clicked through to a story on the Daily Mail for the first time the other day and was visually assaulted by its chaotic layout and inane "stories". I felt anxious, lost and confused. I would not go back.

        Commenter
        TDS
        Date and time
        July 17, 2013, 10:27AM
        • Thats so funny, I thought it was just me! I read DM every day and can quite frankly say that I'm sadly addicted! I should really get a hobby, eh!!! There is endless reading about interesting and useless stuff. There is also the racist/classist/sexist/homophobic/nationalistic stuff that is clearly designed to generate the most vitriolic of reader comments! It does make you feel sad about humanity though. But I cant stop reading…..please help!

          Commenter
          Tiger
          Location
          Melbourne
          Date and time
          July 17, 2013, 11:08AM

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