It’s an old truth

Buzzfeed is shutting down the “news” part of their service and continuing the part with quizzes and listicles and such.

They’re realizing a very old truth, which pre-TV newspapers and radio understood well. Facts are not commercially valuable. Normal people don’t want to pay for facts because normal people have eyes and ears and neighbors. People are willing to pay for ENTERTAINMENT because plain old reality doesn’t provide much entertainment, especially in terrible times.

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My bedtime OTR playlist has changed its form over the years, partly from available material and partly from my tastes. In the ’90s when I started pulling away from current toxic crap and seeking older and better entertainment, the only available tape cassettes carried the Big Shows like Fibber and Jack Benny. After the early web brought together groups of serious collectors and preservers, a much wider variety appeared. I was still sticking with the Big Shows at first, then gradually tried out the more obscure local and regional shows and short syndicated features. The latter IMMEDIATELY dominated my preferred playlist. These short items (5 to 15 minutes) didn’t have the time or budget to develop Complex Moral Conundrums. They mainly covered odd historical facts and unexpected human interest stories.

Today I wondered if there was an equivalent in print. Easy answer: Yes to both 5 and 15. Newspapers used to have Fillers, about one inch tall, and Human Interest Stories, about 3 inches tall. Fillers occupied the bottom of a column when the Big Shows didn’t quite fill the space. Human Interest Stories usually occupied the middle of a column, substituting for an advertisement block when no ad was available.

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Radio had three categories of quiz. Most were passive, with no invitation to participate. You just heard the celebrities or “experts” answering the questions. Local stations had active quizzes, where you could win a little prize for calling in with the correct answer. A few were quasi-interactive in the same way as BuzzFeed. The listener was invited to participate with paper and pencil, but there was no way to call in and win.

The brief feature shows often had listicles. Here’s one from the supershort Ripleys. The announcers seemed to enjoy these lists, treating them as a sort of virtuoso quasi-poetic performance.

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Contra: The local newspaper used to send out a weekly shopper’s special for non-subscribers. It was absent during the three years of NAZI TORTURE. Today it showed up on the lawn for the first time since 2019. Out of curiosity I opened it, and found several interesting quiz features, and two separate Ripley-type features, both entertaining. So the newspapers haven’t forgotten the old skill! This little weekly would be worth paying for, because it DOESN’T include the partisan nastiness and condescension of the “news” in the “real” paper.

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