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Bad Journalism Part #8274982

Posted 9th February 2014

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1 Comment

I just read two articles. Two articles about two entirely different subjects. Oddly enough, however, they both managed to annoy me in exactly the same way. (Incidentally, congratulations – you’ve just managed to find the only site on the internet to tie together Mrs Brown’s Boys and Flappy Bird.)

Firstly, Rachel Cooke interviewing BBC director of television Danny Cohen:

“Would he explain to me the success of Mrs Brown’s Boys, watched by 9.4 million on Christmas Day? “Yes. There are huge numbers of people – and I’m one – who love studio-based sitcoms. The joy in the room!” Again, I peer at him, trying to work out if he’s being sincere. Oh, Lord. I think he is.”

Secondly, Patrick O’Rourke on Flappy Bird. He starts off with an interesting question:

“After about 10 minutes, I came to the realization Flappy Bird is an absolutely horrible video game and began to wonder why it’s so extremely popular.”

Somehow manages to contradict himself within two sentences:

“It’s Flappy Bird’s simplicity that makes it so addictive. What I don’t understand is how people genuinely seem to be enjoying playing Flappy Bird.”

And then just gives up:

“So do yourself a favour and stop playing Flappy Bird; it sucks.”

Now, what I think about the two topics is irrelevant. (For the record, I really like Flappy Bird, and haven’t seen enough Mrs Brown’s Boys to be able to judge.) What irritates me is the acknowledgement of how successful they both are… and a complete lack of engagement on behalf of the writer as to why.

In the case of Mrs Brown’s Boys, I genuinely don’t understand the interviewer’s response to Danny Cohen’s statement. Which bit is she disagreeing with? That people like studio-based sitcoms? That Cohen specifically likes studio sitcoms? The bit about the “joy in the room”? Or does she think he ducked the specific question and just spoke in generalities, and that’s what she’s perturbed by? It’s not clear at all. It’s just a dig from someone who doesn’t like the show, expecting the reader to happily go along with it without a single further thought.

The Flappy Bird article is even worse. It claims to be a piece where someone who hates the game genuinely tries to find out what people love about it… and yet the writer makes little effort to actually figure it out. The point of the article having now completely disappeared, instead he throws out an order from on-high to tell people to stop playing the game. I would hope that last part at least has some level of irony attached, but it’s still pointless. The entire article is ridiculous.

Let me be clear. I’m not saying that just because something’s popular, you have to like it. You hate something popular, you should write articles in deep and penetrating detail saying exactly what you don’t like about it. (God knows I have.) What annoys me about these two articles is that both specifically bring up the fact that something they hate is popular… and then refuse to engage with any potential answers as to why. Instead, they prefer to sit back and sneer.

My suggestion: have a go. Listen. Engage. Think about why people might like something you don’t. You don’t have to suddenly agree that something is brilliant – but at least have the discussion. You’re more likely to come up with something that’s actually worth saying.

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1 Comment

Matty on 9 February 2014 @ 5pm

I’m actually quite worried about what seems to be happening to journalism as a profession. There are loads of talented writers out there, but far far too many of the ones who are getting paid seem to be utterly mediocre. The two articles you cite are a perfect example of that. The “Flappy Bird” article, for example, reads like it’s been written by someone with precious little interest in videogames. For example, he complains that there are “no instructions”. Some of the best games ever written (e.g. “Space Invaders”, pretty much all of Ultimate’s titles) have no, or precious little, instructions with the player expected to explore the gameplay themselves. The worst thing is that he recognises that the game is addictive but states that he doesn’t see the appeal: it’s the difficulty, combined with the notion that it’s the player at fault rather than the game, that gives these kind of simple games their hook. To me, “Flappy Bird” is interesting because it’s people re-discovering something a lot of videogames have abandoned and that’s the reason a lot of older gamers – especially in the ’80s – played them in the first place: they’re fucking difficult and you have to persevere to get good at them.