Sunday, 21 July 2013

Sidebar of shame

Never let it be said I am not a resourceful person. This week I've decided to make the most of my despicable addiction to the Daily Mail's 'Sidebar of Shame', recycling my knowledge of it into a how-to guide for any budding journalists hoping to one day write for this gossip juggernaut. 

For those of you that don't know, the Sidebar of Shame is a column of bitesize celebrity news stories featured on the Daily Mail website, updated throughout the day (and as I was to discover to my horror - the night) for a showbiz-hungry audience. 

The Sidebar of Shame has been a great boon for their website, securing one of the highest daily visitors for a newspaper, along side the New York Times amassing a whopping 50 million visitors per month. I should imagine SBoS has also put a massive dent in the sales of magazines such as gossip stalwarts Heat and Reveal - where I tempted for a couple of weeks during its launch.

I proffered my best poker face as I earwigged negotiations with Rachel Hunter's management as she point-blank refused to sell details of her relationship with Robbie, while  Kerry Katona, high on prawn rings, was  flogging everything. 

At Reveal I had the rude awakening from my naivety, that celebrity life stories are a commodity and the more you're willing to sell, the more money you make, and the juicier the gossip, the higher the price. One can't help but feel, however, that the real price is the one the vendor and not the purchaser pays. There must be days when some celebs wish they could claw back a modicum of privacy they lost when they sold their soul to the devil and the tawdry details of their divorce to  the press. 

It'd be easy to believe that the blame for the rise in this type of intrusive non-journalism (which is about as much in the public interests as what my mum had for breakfast) is entirely the fault of the newspapers and that we the viewing and reading public are being force fed this material like a fois gras duck having grain funnelled into their gut. We have a choice and are choosing to consume these stories. In the finest traditions of sale and demand, they are providing what there seems to be a near-insatiable demand for. 

Gorging ourselves on celebrity tittle tattle is not a new phenomenon but our ability to access updates 24 hours a day is. I hate to admit it but on those rare restless nights I'm unable to sleep, its not a Ted Talk I search for on my phone (though many of them would be a great cure for insomnia), it's the (bookmarked)  Sidebar of Shame. It is McDonald's for the soul. I try and get through it as quickly as possible, I feel no sense of satisfaction afterwards and I go round pretending I partake a lot less than I actually do.

On the surface the SBoS looks like innocent fun, an indulgence that kills a few minutes between checking Facebook and Twitter (though I don't know why I have the impulse to check it quite so frequently. It's like picking up your copy of Heat in the afternoon to check if the pictures have changed since this morning.... except with the SBoS, they have). 

But what gives me the sense of unease is, of course, not the frequency of the updates (that if anything is to be applauded though a slightly more rigorous proofread wouldn't go amiss), its the misogynistic, sensationalist, non-story editorial they palm off as journalism. ("Well don't read it!" I hear you yell at your mobile device you are reading this on. Its not that easy. I'm not strong enough I tell you. I'm not! It's like me saying, don't look at Facebook for a week, or avoid Twitter or whatever on-line rituals you indulge in).

Look, I know it's insanity to expect anything more than this from The Daily Mail but, should the human race face extinction tomorrow, this type of journalism would not be listed in the pluses column of humanity's legacy and if they took away the Sidebar of Shame I wouldn't miss it. I'd be grateful. 

I know this whole thing is woefully contradictory but it is what it is, people. I enjoy and despise the SBoS in equal measure. Go with it! and so in the spirit of this grand contradiction, below is my guide to making it as a SBoS hack.  

The female form
Take every  opportunity to denigrate women by discussing them in reference to their bodies. All shapes and sizes are welcomed as long as they're young, slim and tanned. Our objective at SBoS is, of course, to make anyone that doesn't adhere to our image of female perfection to feel inferior. Ideally, at the end of your article, women should feel like despicable worthless scum who should be ashamed to leave the house. 

Any headline which includes phrases like 'shows off bikini body', 'loses baby weight', 'shamed into losing weight','goes make up free' or variants of these will guarantee you publication. 
An addendum to this is if your name is Liz Jones ignore the above, we'll print any literary vomit you spew forth. 

Keep a handful of celebrities on constant surveillance. Ben Affleck, Brangelina, Tulisa, Paris Jackson, Rita Ora etc. Ideally your articles will include the perfect balance between well-shot, publicity photos and long-distance snaps taken via a telephoto lens. Catch them make up free, taking a trip to their local supermarket, trying on hats in Target or filling up at the gas station, our preference is that they all have the same harrowed look on their face, a cross between bemusement, irritation and confusion. As a  point of reference, it's the look you do when you think someone's farted in a confined space.  Some may say what we do is tantamount to surveillance and that if you were an individual, our quarry could justifiably call police but fear not. Because you have a presscard, what you're doing is in the public's interests and is therefore journalism. Hurrrah!

Non-stories - reality tv shows and images from onset at the movies
To keep up with the demand for new stories, it's really ok to report the goings on in reality TV shows such as TOWIE and Made In Chelsea as though it is news. Simply watch the show, report what happened, supplement the story with some stills from the broadcast and hey presto, one  news story from the comfort of your own lair. 

Oh and if someone's shooting a scene from a movie, write an attention-grabbing headline to make it look it happened in real life. Once the mugs...sorry, readers have clicked on the story, then clarify with a 'not really' paragraph or two. 

Ten stories where one would do
As mention, volume, volume, volume! So remember, why publish one article when you can wring ten out of one story. Take our coverage of the passing of Cory Monteith. Why do one respectful piece when you can stalk, the partner, the family and all the main cast members of his TV show (see above), attribute emotions to the image we've selected (see below) and generate weeks worth of coverage. 

Press releases as stories
If you're particular busy (and you probably will be what with making one story into ten and keeping people on surveillance) you can simply take a press release from the agent of the celebrity you're troubling and issue that under the guise of journalism. Oh and don't worry about the fact that it reads like a press release. Most readers are so used to our regular snivelling sycophancy that they won't be able to tell the difference. 

Holidays - jut one day out of life!
Now, you will have access to a very modest expenses account which if you choose to, can be used to pay the police for stories or (and this is a much better use of funds in the current climate) use it to send a celeb on holiday so you can take a series of not very clandestine photos of them showing off their 'bikini body'.  Even though it's not really a story, you can relate to something that happened months ago and make it look like one!

glum face
Making a story out of facial expression is a corner stone of our output. We're particularly  proud of our work with Kristen Stewart following the breakdown of her relationship. The Daily Mail photographer must cheetah-like, lay in wait for the quarry to look vaguely glum, snap them then you spin this into a story about how miserable they are following their recent break up. It doesn't even have to be a recent photo. We have an extensive archive of glumfaced celebs for when things go a little  awry in their lives.

Keep a close eye on the microblogging site. Any conversation, at any moment can tip over into becoming the hallowed Twitter storm. If you're particularly clever you can instigate one but tattle-taling to start the ball rolling but that's really only something for experienced SBoSers. 

Kardash it
And if all else fails, just write anything, true or not, about a Kardashian. Even if that story is, 'nothing's going on with the Kardashians today' you will definitely secure  a prominent headline. 

In closing, SBoSers, it's a tough world of journalising out there and you are going to have to work tirelessly to create the volumes of material SBoS requires. Previously, to meet our demanding targets, we tried giving an infinite number of monkeys an infinite number of typewriters but it came out too Shakespeary so it's down to you - Good luck!


  1. Be strong, Andi.

  2. My name is Mike, and I am a Side-bar-o-holic.

    I even caught myself wanting to tell them to add a filter that would improve it for connoisseurs like me who are actually too intellectual to read about the Kardashians or Suri Cruise.

    Is there hope?

  3. Mike. You are very brave. People don't understand our struggle (and yes, there totally should be a filter!) ;)


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