Peaches Geldof’s death is extremely sad. Bob Gelfof’s words are so poignant and non-celebrity, it is uncomfortable reading, which feels as if you are encroaching on his grief. “Writing ‘was’ destroys me afresh. What a beautiful child. How is that possible? How is that bearable?” he writes.
But encroach we have, because in a matter of minutes, you could feel journalists and bloggers scrambling to their keyboards to rush the story up online, and start to publicise it. I checked, some networks did break the story with just ‘Peaches Geldof has died, aged 25. BBC reports.’ @channel4news, containing no links to their online story or hashtags. But most news networks now wait a few seconds to whack the story together so that their tweets, which when a huge story breaks like that, will be retweeted around the globe has links back to their post. The importance of having YOUR link on the tweet, with YOUR hashtags means the sharing is like a seismic force moving around the globe with waves of traffic hitting your website.
It feels clinical doesn’t it? The sheer sadness that the first thing when a celebrity dies could be, let’s post the story and cash in on the SEO! Think of the traffic! That is sad, I say that with a heavy heart because I know the bind we’re in. Celebrities sell, happiness sells, but death wins them all in cash terms. And it’s not just online, magazines and newspapers can be pulled at the 11th hour and a cover story altered if something huge happens, and that will be a straight forward calculation of how many extra copies you’ll sell vs the time and money to change the publication.
Lea Michelle’s tweet about Corey Monteith’s death was the most retweeted last year with 403,000 retweets from 133 countries. This was closely followed by the official twitter announcement of Hollywood actor Paul Walker’s death. Newspaper and magazine circulations see a boost when they have a sensational cover. Singles and albums of dead artists shoot back into the charts like a rocket, Michael Jackson, Whitney Houston to name but a few.
So blaming the magazine and newspaper outlets doesn’t really add up, because we’re buying it. We’re supporting it. We’re driving it. Hashtags and all. These days, the biggest news outlets have journalists covering news around the clock from around the world. They cannot afford to miss a beat. They have to stay on top of their game which means being the first on the scene. This is why on some of the more sensational outlets, you’ll see frequent spelling mistakes in huge rush to publish the story. Even the great BBC will link to a short newsflash which is constantly updated with more breaking news as it goes along and all supplied with a relevant hashtag. There first Peaches Geldof BBC Breaking News tweet has now been retweeted 23,000 times. The original link was tweeted three hours ago, but the article was updated less than half an hour ago.
And in the same breath I marvel at how magazines often use their evergreen celebrity content. The holy grail of SEO. Every magazine will have a ‘Peaches Geldof Style File’ or such the like, that can be updated with new images every couple of months and rolled out when something significant happens – her birthday, her marriages, and sadly her death. The use of social media has created a wealth of first hand information making it easy pickings for the media. Picking up the final tweets ‘her final tweet was 10.17am’ and deconstructing them, using the images of ‘the last Instagram post’, it even happens to normal people. Anyone who has a social media presence could have the same thing happen to them. We’re creating a virtual statement, address book and photo album with every single post. Even if you’re just tweeting something mundane.
The searching around for clues isn’t surprising, especially with young, unexplained deaths. Any nugget of information can be sensationalised into a headline. This must be the hardest thing of all for the family. And Bob Geldof’s statement about his daughter has been carved up into bite sized tweets and shared across the networks. Not to mention the editing of events into the shortest possible number of words – ‘Peaches, dead 25’.
The other sure fire content filler is ‘celebrity tributes’, using all the tweets and comments from everyone from the A list to the Z list to fill the column inches. ‘Celebrity tributes flood in’ and so on. You just have to hope that there isn’t a PR somewhere counting the coverage from the mentions…or even drafting the heartfelt statements, even though I know this is probably happening.
And what am I doing? It’s taken me half a day to jump on the bandwagon, write this blog and tweet about it. And there’s nothing I can say to change the situation, but I think we all play a part in the sensationalisation. Because if we really did want to leave the family in privacy, we’d stop reading and writing about it all in the first place. And for that I really am sorry.