In an age where click-hungry online publishers are looking for their next hit, a celebrity death is basically manna from heaven. Philip Seymour Hoffman was the last major case (The Sydney Daily Telegraph got a telling off for this headline). And Robin Williams was found dead in his house this morning, so, unsurprisingly, the story has been dominating many of the world's major news websites. So is it a case of a bottom-feeding media doing everything it can to increase its audience, or a concerned media attempting to offer a fitting tribute? Or both?
While the live coverage offered by both APN and Fairfax in New Zealand was deemed over the top by some, the stream of Tweets and other statements does give a sense of the reverence people have for Williams and his work. ABC News in the US, however, took it too far with a banner promoting the aerial views of his house. This was juxtaposed with the statement below where his family had asked for privacy as they grieve. And a bunch of social media users were not pleased, with this screenshot seen as evidence of "everything wrong with the modern media today".
Of course, celebrities are chased—and profited from—when they're alive too. And The Mail Online is renowned as the best/worst of the lot. In the media world, it is often held up as an example of how print publishers can adapt to the digital world. But among others, its often sensationalised, celebrity-heavy content is often seen as a blight on humanity.
Despite the many who seem to revile it, it's hugely popular (Wikipedia calls it the most visited newspaper website in the world with over 189.5 million visitors per month, and 11.7 million visitors daily, as of January 2014). And as a business strategy, it seems to be working.
As The Guardian wrote: "Mail Online increased its revenues by 45% to £28m in the six months to the end of March, offsetting the decline in sales and advertising at the Daily Mail and Mail on Sunday. The Mail Online juggernaut shows no sign of slowing – thanks in part to an expected doubling in revenues at its US business – with revenues about 60% up in April and May."
So, like a drug dealer whose customers keep on coming back for more, even though they probably know it's bad for them, it keeps delivering the 'news'. And publishers that invest in quality content continue to struggle, because, as this story details, advertisers increasingly buy audiences rather than brands, and appear to have little concern about the type of content their ads are shown beside..
Having grown tired of this approach, a group of self-professed philosophers founded a new news media outlet called The Philosopher's Mail that aims to offer a different take on the issues that usually pervade the tabloids. Part satirical, part insightful, the stories published reimagine seemingly meaningless events as moments of newsworthy importance.
Vagenda Magazine also struck back against the lengthy and overblown headlines of the Mail Online recently and asked its Twitter followers to turn a snarky headline into a normal headline.