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Strategic analysis
The Value of News vs. Cat videos

Written by on April 20, 2011

Last night, I noticed an articled titled "Air Traffic Controllers Nearly Blow Up Michelle Obama" and I kind of had a fit. It's misleading, a complete waste of everyone's time, and symbolizes how irrelevant the media industry has become.

The article is about a fairly common phenomenon, in which aircrafts have to keep a 5 mile separation between them. So when one airplane lands, the next has to be 5 miles behind it. The plane Michelle Obama was on happened to get too close. So, the air traffic controller told the pilot to swing round.

It is a routine procedure. And, while it shouldn't happen in the perfect world, it does. There is no risk involved. No near fatal crash, no near miss, or anything like it.

The FAA had this to say about it:

FAA controllers at Andrews Air Force Base instructed an incoming Boeing 737 on approach to Runway 19 to perform a "go around" on Monday, April 18, 2011, just after 5 p.m. because the plane did not have the required amount of separation behind a military C17. The FAA is investigating the incident. The Boeing 737 landed safely after executing the go around. The aircraft were never in any danger.

In essence, there is nothing to see here. There is no story, and absolutely no value for the public.

Despite that, many newspapers and media sites have been reporting the story as if Michelle Obama nearly crashed. There are more than 1,900 news articles about it already on Google News, from newspapers all over the world. Many of which contains widely misleading and exaggerated stories.

As a result of this, I tweeted:

We are quickly moving towards a point in which news has the same value as cat videos. You don't want that to happen!

To put it into perspective, let's compare this video of a cat having fun in a bag, with the article about Michelle Obama's near fatal plane crash.

Obviously, the cat video is completely and utterly pointless. But it makes you smile. It gives you a warm fuzzy feeling inside. It alleviates stress.

The article, in comparison, is also completely and utterly pointless. But instead of making you smile, it increases you level of anxiety. It makes you uncomfortable. Once you realize that the story has been blown widely out of proportion, you get angry that it wasted your time.

Which of these two would you prefer? A warm and fuzzy feeling inside? ...or an anxious and upset feeling?

Newspapers are asking why people do not want to pay. This is your answer. Your readers are your most valuable asset. The last thing you want to do is to mislead them, to waste their time, or to make them the feel miserable.

Here is a quick tip. Go to BlogWorld!

Professional bloggers know that success is a combination of 3 elements:

  1. Providing valuable content
  2. Focus on making sense of things, instead of just reporting. Help people understand.
  3. Community

Many newspapers are doing exactly the opposite:

  1. They are providing crappy content.
  2. They focus on writing as many stories as possible, instead giving people the big picture.
  3. There is little or no real community.

I think Alan Cooper said it best in "The Inmates are Running the Asylum" from 2004. In it, he writes about how people are turning into apologists and survivors.

The apologists say, "Look at this! A dancing bear!" The survivors say, "I need something that dances, so I guess a bear is the best I'm gonna get."

Alan Cooper wrote about software experiences, but we see exactly the same thing happen to news. The regular news reader has turned into survivors. They say, "I want news, so I guess these low-value articles are the best I'm gonna get!"

News sites are supposed to bring you valuable news, not content that is worth less than a cat in a bag.

Ohh...and I know what many people are thinking. They are thinking, "Not all news is a bad as this. They are providing good news too." Exactly! If you think like that, you have turned into an apologist. Defending a bad practice, under the excuse that it is not all bad.

Stop being an apologist.

If you want people to pay for your content, you first have to prove that you are worth it. That means treating your most valuable asset - your readers - as someone you truly care about.

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Thomas Baekdal

Thomas Baekdal

Founder of Baekdal, author, writer, strategic consultant, and new media advocate.


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