When you get to what is hopefully the middle section of your life, you tend to reassess stuff. All the time. Not that I wasn’t a reassessing kind of person in earlier life too, but it doesn’t usually end up well – at least when I do it. I’ve been contemplating my so-called profession. At the weekend I met up with a fellow journalist and we had a bit of a moan. Mainly about infographics because this is my current pet hate. To me, it sums up the state of journalism, being that it is not in fact anything like journalism.
Infographics, for those who haven’t had the pleasure of being introduced to them, are those things that appear on social media with lots of pretty pictures and a few statistics. I get sent a lot of infographics. I do look at them, but then I think what on Earth is the point of a whole lot of statistics with no actual context. They tell you precisely nothing, but they look very nice. They are designed for a more visual age, an age of Instagram and the like. I feel a bit like a grumpy old woman, but I find it hard to envisage ever using Instagram. I have no desire whatsoever to take a photo of my lunch or, worse, myself. I find Facebook troubling enough – the big blank space constantly asking what is going on in your head.
I got sent some examples of successful news stories on the web the other day. Quite a lot of them involved either infographics or slideshows or picture galleries. In a world where everything relates to the god of SEO, what gets shared on social media is what matters in news. Going viral is where it’s at. That means quirky stories with pictures of animals doing unpredictable things or a how to list of five bulletpoints gathered from a brief Google search [I blame Powerpoint] or a one-sided rant about something. Or worse, videos of people being killed or hurt or doing something shocking which will get people to click for that all-important hit. It’s all ‘content’. The line between news and entertainment is totally blurred and there is little room for shades of gray in opinion articles or an admission that maybe you can’t solve everything in five bulletpoints.
The thing is that this embrace of the trivial or the vacantly controversial comes at a time when we are facing a glut of very serious, multi-faceted problems around the world and a desperate need for analysis and new ideas. Maybe its the counterpoint to such seriousness. Maybe our brains just can’t take all the bad news and need the illusion that a few bulletpoints or a list of the top 50 celebrity disasters of 2015 will make it all better. But isn’t it a short step from the bullet-point approach to Donald Trump or any other extremist out there implying that there is some sort of simple way of dealing with complex problems? We need serious thought to get us out of the hole we are in not infographics and quick fix lists.
*Mum on the run is Mandy Garner, editor of Workingmums.co.uk.