Syria or Cyrus? News sites find trivial pursuits deliver hits, money

The Onion has started a long-overdue “discussion” over the tendency of news websites to favor the easily-clickable, trivial news McNuggets over the more serious and substantial journalism that people say they want but — given the choice — tend to ignore.

It started Monday when the satire site posted an “opinion column” under the name of Meredith Artley, managing editor Of CNN.com, which featured a generous helping of Miley Cyrus.

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.

The real Artley has responded via Twitter and is taking it all in stride:

And why would she be in a bad mood? She gave the people what they wanted.

The story on CNN now has over 13,000 comments. That’s 5,000 more than CNN’s story about the coming war in Syria.

  • kevinfromminneapolis

    I don’t like that The Onion wrote it under a real person’s name, but its point is spot-on.

    • andy

      They do that a lot. They’ve even posted “articles” written by the President. I’ve got no problem with it however.

  • Starquest

    But before you lose all faith in humanity, think about this. How many people really want to watch videos or read stories about the gruesome atrocities happening in Syria? Those stories, as Stephen Colbert might say, are super depressing. Now compare that to the people who wouldn’t mind seeing Miley Cyrus in an uber-skimpy outfit thrusting her crotch in the air.

    One news item matters to the world, the other is fluff. Yet the fluff story is more…umm…”positive.” Do you get what I mean?

    Since Depeche Mode are playing the state fair tonight, here’s a quote from one of their songs from 1986:

    Jet airliner shot from sky
    Famine horror, millions die
    Earthquake terror figures rise
    Princess Di is wearing a new dress

    (Satire of how the media covers the day’s stories.)

  • Christin

    Our culture has commodified our humanity. It is depressing that Miley’s dancing takes precendence over Syria in the news but I think that as much as we complain, obviously these choices are consumer driven. At the end of the day, CNN is a business making money. Who should they serve, the bottom line or the public interest?
    Some intersting reflections can come out of this. What does it say about double standards, gender norms, & consumerism that adults are loudly name calling and shaming a 20 yr old? She has handlers, managers, and is essentially a product of Disney and the corp entertainment industry. Why is there silence in the mainstream about Robin Thicke’s role in the performance and the dehumanizing racial appropriation in many of the performances?
    I’m not excusing or demonizing her actions. I’m more interested in our responses to it and the conditions that create this environment in the first place.