#Scandal: Why the Telegraph’s ‘Peak Avocado’ Clickbait Represents Everything Wrong with Modern Journalism

16 July 2015

Warren Buffett once said “it takes 20 years to build a reputation and five minutes to ruin it. If you think about that, you’ll do things differently.” While reading this post, please keep in mind that we are talking about The Daily Telegraph here. A newspaper of record, with a circulation of over 500,000 that has built a reputation for accuracy and attention to detail over 150 years.

This article, ‘Eight reasons we have reached peak avocado’ is a modern masterpiece. Not in the traditional sense of course – it’s appallingly written and fails the most basic conventions of clear, interesting or relevant writing – but rather because it manages to combine every single attribute that is odious about modern journalism in such a small piece.

1. Meaningless celebrity gossip

The piece begins by discussing what is probably the least important development in world affairs – Miley Cyrus’s new tattoo. I won’t cover it further, but readers can decide for themselves whether this is a development that should be afforded space in a national newspaper of record.

1. Lazy clichés

The joke often told about journalists is that ‘we avoid clichés like the plague’. This article, in its paltry 240 words of copy still manages to give us a smorgasbord of clichés- ‘wild child’, ‘turning in their graves’, ‘getting out of hand’, the eponymous ‘-gate’ suffix to denote not presidential corruption but a minor disagreement over preferred recipes, ‘went bonkers (or crazy, mental, loony etc.) to describe nothing of the sort, and using “Really.” as a self contained sentence. This is the kind of thing that wouldn’t make it into a high school newsletter.

2. Advertising to content ratio

Outside of Instagram photos, tweets and headlines, this article contains precisely 240 words of copy (generously including what has been taken verbatim from another company’s website or another journalist’s report.)

The webpage which the piece is on contains no less than twenty-four individual pieces of advertising; banner ads, videos, ‘sponsored features’, Google ads etc. One advertisement for every TEN words of copy written by the journalist. By contrast, I picked a generic Guardian article and could find six pieces of advertising.

3. ‘Reporting’ entirely from social media

Social media has many great advantages for journalists – the ability to develop a personal brand, interact personally with audiences, develop a much wider reach. It also allows journalists to be lazy: rather than getting opinions by speaking to real people, or doing the reporting yourself, you simply say that people ‘took to social media’ to express outrage/anger/enthusiasm. Then you simply copy and paste a tweet to back it up.

This article’s ‘comments’ are simply three Instagram posts, three Tweets, a sentence ripped off a local retailer’s website and a description from a local food writer’s reports.

But there is something very condescending about this sentence describing avocado beer: “Apparently, a local food writer called the beer “subtle” and with a “creamy finish.” We’ve got some other words for it.”

Going and drinking a beer and then writing about it is not difficult. But at least that is doing a journalist’s job – going somewhere, doing something or talking to people, and then writing about it. The undisguised sneer against a mere ‘local writer’ given by a hack writing clickbait from a posh London office is unmistakable. But why do your job when typing a few hashtags into Twitter will provide you with just as much copy?

5. Numbering

Astute readers will have noticed by now that the numbering of this list is a little out of sequence. Congratulations if so; you are now better qualified than the online sub-editors of The Daily Telegraph. The ‘eight reasons’ are actually only seven – they just forgot to put a number six in.

Readers notice these things, and every mistake slowly chips away at the trustworthiness and reliability of the Telegraph’s other work.

8. It doesn’t make any sense

I have absolutely no idea what this means. The ‘journalist’ who contributed this piece didn’t bother to provide an explanation. The only thing I can work out is that the headline, helpfully reinforced with “Really” as a standalone sentence, doesn’t actually reflect the Instagram post it is reporting from. Forgive the nitpicking, but to ‘nearly cry’ isn’t to ‘really’ cry.

Some of these points are quibbles. But others are quite egregious failures of writing and editing – and this is the Telegraph we are talking about, not a teenager’s tumblr (though many of those are more informative than this ‘Peak Avocado’ piece). 

The Telegraph had a reputation for accuracy and attention to detail built over 150 years. It is taken far less time than that for the paper to throw this away. What is most upsetting about this nosedive in standards is that the Telegraph contains a great many respected, accomplished and talented journalists who want to provide their readers with quality journalism. Instead, those readers get this.

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