Infortainment vs news

NOTE: The following is my intended final version of this post. A draft version appeared due to a versioning error. As I believe in transparency, that draft version remains publicly visible in the revision history.

There was an interesting public debate I conducted on Twitter with The Hamilton Spectator yesterday afternoon.

The debate started when I questioned the importance of the Amanda Knox trial verdict to a Hamilton audience. The Spectator felt it was of the highest importance and took the unusual step – for them – of manually tweeting the “breaking news”.

I’ll be the first to admit I’ve taken little interest in the Amanda Knox trial (note that it’s not commonly called the Amanda Knox and Raffaele Sollecito trial).

There are issues of importance involved in the trial, as with all capital crime cases. This is not in dispute.

Does it qualify as important to a local newspaper in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada?

Is there any direct connection to Hamilton, Ontario, Canada?

My answer to both is no.

The case is classic infotainment material.

We have an attractive young woman accused of a horrific capital crime with a sexual component, a passionate dispute about evidence against the young woman, and the attractive young woman accused of the crime is being held in a foreign country. The tabloid coverage followed the classic story narrative of the damsel in distress.

Oh yeah, there’s Raffaele Sollecito but he’s a minor character in English-language coverage of the case.

We trivialise Ms. Knox painting her as a damsel in distress, she should be portrayed as an adult facing the tribulations of being accused of a capital crime. She has been found by the Italian appeals court to be innocent of the crime meaning she and Mr. Sollecito are the victims of an earlier injustice when they were found guilty of the crime.

The media focus on this case may have assisted to make ensure the fairness of the appeal hearing and increased the accountability of the justice system. This is a side benefit, not a goal, of infotainment.

With the verdict yesterday, the infotainment side of the journalism industry went into overdrive interrupting coverage to bring us this earth-shattering “breaking news”.

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The newspaper rarely uses a human hand with their account, preferring to use twitterfeed to place their RSS feed onto the network.

They did not consider the municipal election breaking enough to use Twitter, nor was the Ivor Wynne renovation breaking enough either.

In the judgement of @thespec, this verdict was important enough locally for The Spectator to rush to be the first to tell Hamilton about it.

I expressed my surprise at their decision and questioned the importance of this tweet. What followed was an interesting back and forth between myself and The Spectator’s editor who manages their social media policies and strategies.

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My comparison is valid. The market problems this week are of greater importance to Hamilton. There was no coverage of the markets on yesterday. They choose to “cover” the infotainment story when they could run a more substantive story.