Love Island: why are my papers covering it?

There’s plenty of things in this world I don’t like – and ITV’s Love Island is firmly on the list.

The programme divides opinion. Of all the ways to find love, it must be among the more questionable options. At one time, though, internet dating struck me as an odd concept and I can no longer convincingly hold such an opinion.

To underline the point, literally, I distinctly dislike Love Island. But from a professional perspective, the latest series threw a spanner in the works.

Worthing woman Amy Hart is seeking the elusive ‘love’ on the hit show, in front of millions of people every night. And the Worthing Herald’s coverage of it is causing a bit of a stir.

‘A stir’ might be over-egging the pudding a bit. There might be more of a stir in the Herald office if I announced a newfound love for peppermint tea.

But it’s undeniable that many of the comments on Facebook underneath updates on Amy’s progress are crystal clear that those readers share the underlined opinion above. Perhaps with an extra line or two.

Naturally, a reader might see this and wonder why the paper persists pushing such news.

Give them their due, it’s probably a fair assumption to make – but part of this blog’s purpose has been to explain a little bit more about life in the newsroom and how decisions are made. So here goes…

It’s a web analytics tool, not a fictional lion…

More than seven years ago when I entered the world of local news, websites were just about a thing – but nowhere near the importance placed on them today.

There was a website and we uploaded news to it – at one point just a handful of stories a day. As time went by, social media became more important, and news was shared on platforms like Facebook, as this significantly helped to boost visitors to the website. Periodically, someone in the corner of the office, perhaps monthly, would update everyone on how many visitors – or ‘hits’ – our websites had generated.

The picture is so much different to all those years ago.

Our websites are now integral to our operation. Print products are hugely important – and without them the business would not survive – but attracting, retaining and increasing online readers is currently also extremely important. Without strong-performing websites, we will struggle.

Behind that ethos, we need to know as much as we can about why and how people visit our pages.

And as a result we now have extremely clever kit which tells us everything from how many people viewed a given story to the average length of time spent reading it and what happened after: did the reader click on another story, or did they think ‘Sod this rubbish, I’m off!’? We have something called Parsely, nothing to do with the similarly spelled fictional lion of my childhood.

Performance is reviewed in real time, as it happens.

Add to that all the usual analytics which are part of social media – net likes on our Facebook page, for example, and we have more data at our fingertips than ever before.

Do stats stop us covering certain things?

Hopefully this gives a flavour of the kind of things we can deduce from uploading a story. There’s other factors, of course. Has a story prompted a pitchfork-wielding mob to march upon our new offices? Should we be covering a story regardless of how well it performs online?

There are many instances where there’s more to it than how many people read the story. As ever, it’s a balance. As a simple example, I wrote a few political stories in my time which, shockingly, never went viral!

There’s a whole code of ethics to follow, the law, tone, variety and much more. Armed with the data, though, we are better placed than ever before to make calls on what our audience wants.

And sometimes it’s a surprise. A surprise in the sense that, traditionally, it’s often something newspapers might have strayed away from.

Love Island is a lovely little example of how the news narrative – in the current online climate at least – is evolving.

So, why cover Love Island?

If Love Island was around 30 years ago, I’d wager the appearance of Amy Hart might have prompted a ‘news in brief’. There were no websites to worry about and editors would have relied largely on their own judgement as to what their readers wanted.

For the news purists (remembering I’m an old head on young…ish…shoulders and have some sympathy) a tale about Amy and her dancer beau Curtis would have no standing alongside an in-depth investigation into the world of knife crime.

Even now, there will be many who believe that such light-hearted news has no place being described as news at all.

But we know that a huge number of readers do value Love Island as news. They far outstrip those who comment negatively underneath stories  – and all those statistics mentioned all feed into the editorial decisions being made.

If there was a measurable and overall negative impact of running stories on something like Love Island, reporters would not be wasting their time. In reality, very little time in the working day has been spent on our updates. Why would we bother?

There is a message beyond the comments section.

A bigger picture than the GIF of a yawning yak

At the risk of repeating myself once again, I have no problem with those who share a common hatred of Love Island.

I have no problem if people wish to reasonably debate the merits or drawbacks of such reality shows. Perhaps there’s wider questions for society to answer in terms of why such shows are so popular.

But it all gets a bit silly, in a social media kind of way, when suggestions are made about why Love Island is getting so much attention locally, apart from the simple reason that it is something readers are reading.

And it’s bonkers to suggest Love Island is the only thing reporters are spending their time on.

Speaking to police about why their helicopter was flying over Worthing on Sunday night – clarifying no end of Facebook rumours over the cause – was just one of numerous other stories pursued in a single day.

In my opinion, there’s a bigger picture to consider than the GIF underneath your story of an animal yawning – and it’s important for those posting pictures of paint drying to understand it’s about more than just their view.

Now, if you need me, I’ll be marooned on an island with a laptop and a copy of Football Manager until the storm passes.

NOTE: As explained in my earlier piece, I now have a new role. While I’m a content editor, I’m no longer the one making calls about frontline news – the section of the team in which this falls. I do, however, fully endorse the rationale. As ever, my take is a personal one shared in the spirit of increasing awareness of life in the newsroom. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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