Writing is a socially acceptable form of schizophrenia

EL Doctorow

Jul 31, 2015

The weird and wacky world of online journalism

The predictable and wholly unpredictable on Mail Online

Whatever you think of its politics, The Mail is regarded by journalists as the standard and trend setter. It knows its market inside out and pitches its stories at that market with pinpoint precision. In its writing, design, photography and copy-tasting, other papers – and journalism schools – study The Mail and seek to learn from it.

We should, therefore, take seriously its website, which – predictably – is one of the most successful newspaper sites.

But this is baffling, for the principle seems to be to take anything – and I mean anything – and stick it on there.

Having said that, apart from the usual fare to be found in the dead tree version of the paper, there are certain Mail website regulars. These include:

  • Some kid sent home from school for irregularities in clothing, hair etc
  • Something unpleasant found in a packet of supermarket food
  • Photographs of a long derelict building
  • Some terrible injury/hideously deforming disease/grotesque birth defect tagged `warning graphic content’
  • Story about an unruly aeroplane passenger
  • Ludicrously expensive London building
  • Latest ISIS outrages
  • Foods that make you fat/cause cancer/make you live for ever
  • Slimming success story
  • Spider bite story
  • Cruel treatment of an animal
  • Cute picture of an animal

But then there are stories, which, while they may still be in one of these categories, are so bizarre that they stand out, or at least the genius of the website’s headline writers makes them stand out.

Here are some recent ones:

  • Eating elderberries can help you to avoid catching a cold on long flights, new trial reveals. What kind of trial could that possibly be? You have to read on.
    • Can't wait for the weekend? Then you probably hate your job, study reveals. Yep, I think I can believe that, but as for that rumour about the Pope being a Catholic…
    • Trick or treat! Humorous footage captures pranksters stuffing 11 Twizzler sweets into their friend’s mouth as he sleeps in a car. Every picture tells a story
    • Blame it on Wonderbra? Lingerie poll reveals men prefer push-up styles and skimpy thongs on women. Bears do what in the woods..?
    • Horrified patient wakes from hysterectomy to find two teeth missing…but so far no one can tell her why. Words fail me
    • Homeless man sets up a shanty town shack made out of a crate, planks, bricks and a sheet in London street (and it even has its own flagpole). Surprised they don’t tell us it’s worth twice the price of a semi in Stanley
    • Ozzy the cat is left cross-eyed and looking like hypnotised Jungle Book panther Bagheera after falling off a windowsill. Left looking like what?
    • Grown man returns his speeding fine in a colourful BAMBI envelope borrowed from his mum…and he even makes sure to dot the i’s with love hearts. Er…I don’t care.