Why Robert Downey Jr Is Ruining Britain

24/02/2015 12:14 GMT | Updated 22/04/2015 10:59 BST

On 26 January 2015, the Mail Online published the following headline:

"Biting off more than he can chew? Robert Downey Jr. puts receipt in mouth while carrying three heavy shopping bags."

It featured, unsurprisingly, three photos of the actor Robert Downey Jr carrying three brown paper grocery bags as he walked from the store to his car.

That was it. No story, unless you consider such exclusives as he is 49 years old, the bags looked heavy, and a repost of his tweet last November about becoming a father. It was like a self-styled parody, only it wasn't. This is what modern internet-led journalism has become.

I don't want to live in a world where Robert Downey Jr going grocery shopping is news, and I'm pretty sure Robert Downey Jr doesn't either. In fact I know he doesn't because he openly mocked the story on his own Facebook page, thus ensuring the story was reposted 1500 times in less than an hour. It's now over the 6,600 mark in shares.


For anyone over the age of 25, they will be able to remember a time when pictures were used to illustrate the news, now the pictures are the story. No matter how lacking of interest that photo might be, a "story" will be hastily crafted around it.

A few days ago the same site also carried a story about a reality tv star narrowly avoiding a puddle. A "story" which appears to have been created wholly to get you to shop at the newspapers own online shopping site.


According the Mail's reporter:

"There's nothing worse than ruining your shoes in a puddle."

Which makes you wonder, if it rained more in Syria would it give them a better perspective on life.

The same story, after listing various fashion items for the feet, then re-informed us that the reality tv star had admitted she spent £6,000 on a breast surgery last year to combat "the pressures of yo-yo dieting."

And to think she could have got them done for free if only she'd have done a couple of celebrity endorsements for Barnado's.

The Daily Mail are not the only offenders but, to reference an old beer advert, this was the two bottles of sherry which broke the ute's suspension.

Because the internet is seemingly infinite, there is a belief that so too are the number of stories a news site can carry. However, the budget of a newspaper is not. Someone actually got paid for posting these stories and a paparazzo was handsomely paid for the image rights, meaning that actual news on those day was kept out.

Advertising used to drive the number of pages a newspaper could produce. More advertising meant it could carry more news. Now though, advertising dictates the very stories which are published. Whether it's the Mail trying to get us to shop at their store, or The Telegraph watering down or simply not bothering at all to report a story for fear of losing lucrative advertisers.

Actual reporting is expensive. It requires the time of trained and experience journalists, and time is cost. A rehashed press release, and quoting a spin-doctor isn't. It's cost effective, and if there is also a way to plug a product alongside it, then all the better.

I'm certainly not anti-advertising. It has been the birthplace of much creative talent. Advertising has it's place in the media for sure, but it should never be the story. Which, in these cynical times, it often is.

Though something much more worrying is going on. A wholesale manipulation of the news we receive, and we are all too willing to play the game by spending our clicks on such stories.

Newspapers are so desperate to interact with their readers. They'd rather interact with us than inform us, because interaction means they can gauge what we read and give us more of it in order to sell more advertising space next to those stories.

I understand why fluff news proves so popular. Austerity is a grim reality of longer working hours for lower pay. It's only natural to want something which doesn't require too much effort for the brain. Celebrity news is much easier to consume, than trying to get your head around why the 1% are doing so phenomenally well after a financial crisis. What many of us fail to realise it is our predilection for these puff pieces which is actually contributing to keep us, the 99%, in its place.

The only real way out of it is through the ballot box. We have the numbers, but if people are not informed properly how can they make an informed decision. Political parties prey on such things. Older people are more inclined to vote so they get the financial benefits when they are liberally handed out before a general election, and it's far easier to whip people up about immigration and benefits cheats than it is to take on the financial institutions, and those who avoid paying tax but make nice contributions to the political parties. If Westminster appears to only serve itself, then it's because we have shown an disinterest in changing it.

The media has an important role to play. It should be there to keep the government and the opposition honest. It should focus attention on the corruption and incompetence in the financial sector. And yes it should also tell us when a charity is paying a "celebrity" to front its campaign. It should hold football to account for how it spends its £5.1 Billion, and not just add superlatives for fear of losing access to players and exposing a defrocked emperor.

We won't have Watergate every week, but we won't have it at all if newspapers aren't devoting more of their resources towards actual news. They aren't because for now they make more money showing actors grocery shopping and reality tv stars with the ability to walk around water.