Old Turbo Mouth Clarkson and the clickbait culture that harms newspapers…

BEFORE writing this blog I often have a quick laptop-surf to see what news foam catches the eye.

Jeremy Clarkson’s row with an employee at Stuttgart airport distracted me for a moment. Old Turbo Mouth claimed in the Sun yesterday that he and his fellow onetime Top Gear presenters were refused on to a flight by an Argentinian worker.

The newspaper reported Clarkson’s claim that Manuel Pereira had shouted: “I’m from Argentina so fuck you!” during a dispute over James May, Richard Hammond and himself being barred from boarding a flight to London.

Clarkson characterised this as revenge for his Top Gear row over the Falklands (the presenters and crew had to flee the country in October 2014 after a rumpus over an apparently provocative number plate on Clarkson’s car).

Now Stuttgart airport has challenged Clarkson’s account, saying the employee was Spanish rather than Argentinian. Further details need not detain us, other than to observe that Clarkson’s new show, The Grand Tour, debuts on Amazon on Friday.

What we have here is another of those self-promoting rows that follow Clarkson around. Behaving badly is how he keeps himself in the public eye, and if he hasn’t been in the headlines for a while, he stirs up a storm over something or other.

In this case, whatever the details might be, if the worker isn’t Argentinian then the whole story is nonsense. It’s nonsense anyway, but without the Argentinian angle it’s not even a story. Just the usual egotistical rantings of an ageing toddler trying to be noticed by throwing things out of his pram.

Now to the next bit of news foam. A letter to the Guardian on Saturday, signed by various academics and the National Union of Journalists, called for a one per cent levy to be imposed on Google and Facebook “with the resulting funds redistributed to non-profit ventures with a mandate to produce original local or investigative news reporting”.

The letter described the likes of Google and Facebook as “digital intermediaries” that were amassing “eye-watering profits and paying minimal tax in the UK”, but also “bleeding the newspaper industry dry by sucking up the advertising revenue”.

One paragraph read: “As national and local newspapers try to cut their way out of trouble by slashing editorial budgets and shedding staff, journalistic quality is becoming a casualty” – and if that wasn’t written by the NUJ, then I’ll eat the trilby I used to wear to work.

The letter adds that public interest journalism has been hit hardest as newspaper are “lured into a clickbait culture which favours the sensational and the trivial”.

All of this is true. As I suggested yesterday in a different context, Facebook has become an accidental provider of news by passing on reports generated elsewhere. As a user of Facebook, this is useful in that your digital friends – who sometimes but not always overlap with your flesh-and-blood friends ­– pass on stories and snippets you might not have seen.

The obvious downside to this is that Facebook doesn’t pay for the journalism it shares, which is why the letter to the Guardian uses the phrase “digital intermediaries”.

Facebook benefits from news written elsewhere by journalists being paid (if they are lucky) by someone else. The social media giant gets the benefit of the news without paying for it, and then hoovers up all the advertising money that used to be spent on newspapers.

It’s a tricky modern mess, and I say that as a fan of old-fashioned newsprint, digital newspapers and Facebook. But, sadly, there won’t be much or any news to put on Facebook if all the journalists have been laid off by cost-cutting newspapers.

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