And the people want what the people get …

vma awards 2013

Newsflash for the half-dozen of you who happened to stumble across this blog today: Pop culture ain’t my thing, and it ain’t been my thing for a long, long time.

An example of my indifference to pop culture: I don’t think I’ve ever watched an awards show of any stripe. Not the Oscars, nor the Grammys, certainly not the ESPYs, and especially not anything put on by MTV.

I’ve got no problem with those that enjoy that sort of thing, it’s just not for me.

That said, the most recent hullaballoo over a young strumpet making a fool of herself in public, this time at something called the VMAs, is hardly surprising.

If anything, it’s utterly predictable. Given the seemingly endless parade of puffery and self-promotion that is at the core of today’s awards shows, an “artist” has to work harder and harder to generate publicity.

And you know what – it pays off every time.

The more outlandish the artist, the more notoriety they generate.

Miley Cyrus earned herself millions of dollars of free publicity Sunday evening because Western media no longer wishes to differentiate between news and nonsense.

CNN.com, for example, chose to run Cyrus’s inanity as its top story Monday morning, ahead of the possibility of US military action against Syria, on-going chaos in Egypt and dramatic fires in Yosemite National Park.

Even more astounding is the fact that one of the best explanations of CNN’s decision comes not from respected news sources such as the Washington Post or the New York Times, but The Onion, the news satire operation that more often than not correctly identifies the motivation in bizarre situations through fictional accounts that border on the absurd.

The Onion ran a farcical opinion piece under CNN.com Managing Editor Meredith Artley’s name Monday in which she was said to identify her network’s reasoning behind the decision to make Cyrus’s performance its top news story.

“It’s a good question. And the answer is pretty simple,” Artley says in the fake op-ed. “It was an attempt to get you to click on CNN.com so that we could drive up our web traffic, which in turn would allow us to increase our advertising revenue.”

Now rather than try to sum up the genius of The Onion’s work, I’ll simply include a few paragraphs verbatim, again ostensibly written by CNN.com’s managing editor, in all their glory:

There was nothing, and I mean nothing, about that story that related to the important news of the day, the chronicling of significant human events, or the idea that journalism itself can be a force for positive change in the world. For Christ’s sake, there was an accompanying story with the headline ‘Miley’s Shocking Moves.’ In fact, putting that story front and center was actually doing, if anything, a disservice to the public. And come to think of it, probably a disservice to the hundreds of thousands of people dying in Syria, those suffering from the current unrest in Egypt, or, hell, even people who just wanted to read about the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King’s ‘I Have A Dream’ speech.

But boy oh boy did it get us some web traffic. Which is why I, Meredith Artley, managing editor of CNN.com, put the story in our top spot. Those of us watching on Google Analytics saw the number of homepage visits skyrocket the second we put up that salacious image of Miley Cyrus dancing half nude on the VMA stage. But here’s where it gets great: We don’t just do a top story on the VMA performance and call it a day. No, no. We also throw in a slideshow called “Evolution of Miley,” which, for those of you who don’t know, is just a way for you to mindlessly click through 13 more photos of Miley Cyrus. And if we get 500,000 of you to do that, well, 500,000 multiplied by 13 means we can get 6.5 million page views on that slideshow alone. Throw in another slideshow titled ‘6 ‘don’t miss’ VMA moments,’ and it’s starting to look like a pretty goddamned good Monday, numbers-wise. Also, there are two videos – one of the event and then some bullshit two-minute clip featuring our ‘entertainment experts’ talking about the performance.

Side note: Advertisers, along with you idiots, love videos. Another side note: The Miley Cyrus story was in the same top spot we used for our 9/11 coverage.

Now, let’s get back to why we put the story in the most coveted spot on our website, thereby saying, essentially, that Miley Cyrus’ suggestive dancing is the most important thing going on in the world right now. If you clicked on the story, and all the slideshows, and all the other VMA coverage, that means you’ve probably been on CNN.com for more than seven minutes, which lowers our overall bounce rate. Do you know what that is? Sorry for getting a little technical here. The bounce rate is the percentage of visitors to a particular website who navigate away from the site after viewing only one page. If we can keep that bounce rate low, and show companies that people don’t just go to CNN.com but stay there, then we can go to Ford or McDonald’s or Samsonite or whatever big company you can think of and ask for the big bucks.

So, as managing editor of CNN.com, I want our readers to know this: All you are to us, and all you will ever be to us, are eyeballs. The more eyeballs on our content, the more cash we can ask for. Period. And if we’re able to get more eyeballs, that means I’ve done my job, which gets me congratulations from my bosses, which encourages me to put up even more stupid bullshit on the homepage.

Yes, The Onion’s piece is satire, but it wasn’t written in a vacuum.

The above, sadly, is a whole lot more accurate than most of us realize. And that’s one of the reasons American television news is about is informational as the back of a cereal box.

(Top: Miley Cyrus at 2013 VMA Awards. Don’t ask me what’s going on.)

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16 thoughts on “And the people want what the people get …

  1. I still watch the Oscars only, only because I’m a total film freak, and once in a while somebody on the Oscars shows some class with a speech, or a performer or two–like singers Adele and Shirley Bassey in the last Oscar show–just stand up and perform and show what real talent is. As for CNN leading with MTV travesty–this is pretty much why I follow about as little news–and especially TV broadcast “news”–as I do awards shows (and I’m a former newsman). Scanning the NY Times and a few other sources is enough to find news that really counts or may have something actually interesting, but it just ain’t on TV and never really much was anyway. That’s why Walter Cronkite said “TV news is just a headline service.” Now, whatever “in-depth” coverage there is on 24-hour channels is just mindless Miley or people shouting each other down for those all-important ratings. So much for an informed citizenry.

    • We had two newspapers in town when I was a kid, the conservative one and the liberal one. We read both, in addition to watching the news on television. Today, most people I know get their news from only one internet site, such as Huffington Post or the WSJ or the NYT or MSNBC or Fox. If they read HuffPo, MSNBC, or Fox, they read the first piece published in all its erring glory, never check back for a correction, and rarely follow up to see if the information is accurate or has changed.

      I agree with you…so much for an informed citizenry. It’s sad.

  2. Perhaps, after this slip into pop porn, you will raise your sights.

    As one of your happy readers my disappointment can be assuaged with one word: Bar-B-Que.

    As a respected voice for reason, your avoidance of Bar-B-Que in favor of this slice of rancid pork is disturbing.

    We will give you no more than sixty days to mention Bar-B-Que; preferably in another of your insightful and well supported histories or modern culture reviews.

    Please set the literary table for more palatable fare in the future.

  3. Wow and Ick. They are the first two things that came into my head after a quick google of this event. No, I didn’t give a single news website a hit to look properly. After all, a glimpse was all I needed to be suitably horrified.

    The stuff that garners the most attention in papers or on their associated website are all about the shock headlines aren’t they, and always at the expense of real news. Chemical weapons use in Syria? Who cares! People are clearly more interested in the latest AFL (Australian football) scandal judging what the front pages have been bleating on and on about. No wonder so much of the population is so ill-informed on issues of the world.

  4. I thought the piece from The Onion was one of their better recent ones. As you pointed out, it was the best explanation for why a reputable news source would lead with Miley. It still astounds me that (1) pop starts get any attention for their outrageous behavior or performances, and (2) any news source would cover it. But it is all about the clicks.

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