When that Marketing Word ‘Viral’ Becomes a Virus…

I’m a big fan of the Irish Times and a daily reader. But today I have to question their article regarding why this image was not on their front page. Miller states that the question was debated in HQ but ultimately they decided not to.Last night, was a big moment for many newspapers around Europe and Ireland when decisions had to be made. Should they have run the image front page like many other publications? According to the article no – but in my opinion, the reason for not doing is the wrong one.

In hindsight probably not – by the time we went to press later last night the images had gone viral and were all over news bulletins and Twitter.

The shock element by the time the paper hit the newsstands this morning was gone and most readers would have understood that these heartbreaking images of a dead innocent child, named today as Alyan Kurdi (3), say more about our failure in Europe to deal with the refugee crisis than an acre of print.”

The shock element was gone. Most people had seen the image and thus the ‘viral’ moment, along with its message, was over.

Now I understand that at the end of the day The Irish Times is a business. And one that needs to sell papers. And every day they need to consider the ‘packaging’ of that product over and over, in order to pick up as many sales as possible. ‘New’ news traditionally has done that. But I think we’d all agree ‘being first’ with a story is no longer the force behind the majority of traditional paper sales.

The headlines are no longer what sell papers. The viewpoint does. 

 From podcasts to their online offering, they are doing a phenomenal job of keeping the paper relevant and highly engaging. However, in this instance, the article sort of epitomizes the unhealthy traditional media misunderstanding of the concept of ‘viral’. Screen Shot 2015-09-03 at 17.12.06

Just because an image or a headline has been seen already, does not mean it shouldn’t be the front page news – aka, the most important ‘thing’ the newspaper itself (under its own history, guiding principles and beliefs) thinks everyone should know about, share and debate. The topic that screams for a viewpoint from a trusted force. To me, it implies that this story is no longer relevant 24hrs later. Presumably because the editor believes the moment has been and gone… and we’ve all moved on to the next thing the internet is supposed to get ‘up-in-arms-about-but-ultimately-take-no-direct-action-on’.

It is saying that a story about our need for humanity has an extremely limited shelf life of mere hours to appeal to our, well, humanity.

And by putting it in the foreign affairs it has, overnight, gone back to being just that in the eyes of the paper – a ‘foreign’ affair. Sure, the image makes the moment, but it also represents an ever evolving story and debate going on behind it.

All viral content even in its most atypical format like a meme or – I don’t know – an ice bucket challenge, is evolving as it travels.

As angles, and options and actions (or in this case, inactions) unfold. Images change in meaning. Some, like those of that poor child, even become symbols. And those symbols in turn change contextually. In this sense the word ‘viral’ really has become a virus amongst news platforms – one for which they are only reacting (or rather ‘mirroring’ ) the symptoms instead of going deeper.

Which is essentially throwing away their ace card.

Besides, no news brand should identity itself in terms of platforms. They should be thinking in terms of stories and particularly, what they want their own brand story to be. 

Anyway, perhaps proving them wrong, the reality is that the ‘most read’ list on their homepage today, has this article at the top.

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