On Sept. 17, at 9:35 a.m., a pipe-bomb style device exploded in a garbage can at a Marine Corps charity race in Seaside Park, New Jersey. Then at 8:30 p.m., a bomb exploded in a neighborhood in New York City, causing 29 injured victims. Domestic terrorism affected one of America’s largest cities, and people were rightfully terrified.
Three days later, on Sept. 20, more news came out that shook the world to its core. Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie, married since 2014, had called it quits after 12 years together. “Brangelina” had come to a bitter end, amid rumors of Pitt’s infidelity.
The two stories have directly competed for press coverage over the last few days. Many people associate strongly with Jolie and Pitt, as they are one of the most prominent of Hollywood’s powerful couples and both have been among the most popular actors for the last two decades. On the other hand, the bombing in New York City obviously frightened not only New Yorkers, but the American people as a whole.
Social media picked up on the “Brangelina” divorce and held on tightly, creating memes featuring Brad Pitt’s ex-wife Jennifer Aniston, expressing disbelief in the news that the couple had broken up after such a long time and joking about the nature of the split. The New York Post even dedicated the entire front page to the divorce, displaying a laughing Aniston seemingly mocking Pitt and Jolie. Social media also ran with the bombings, as people throughout the world took to the internet in search of information and to express grief and solidarity with those involved in the attacks. The bombings had a short shelf-life on social media and the internet, as most people had moved on from the event within a day. On the other hand, the “Brangelina” divorce spent days as a huge topic on Twitter and Facebook alike. Given the short attention span and Hollywood obsession of the majority of the population and social media in particular, it’s not surprising that social media favored one of these stories over the other.
However, it actually is more surprising that news organizations seemingly followed suit. Throughout the days following the attack, more information continued to come to light about the perpetrators of the bombings and the events as a whole. Despite this, many news sites featured huge stories about the Pitt-Jolie divorce, forcing new information about the bombings to the background and out of easy access.
As a newspaper or news source, clicks are important in terms of making money. The more traffic a website can generate, the more likely advertisers are to be interested in their business, and the more money they can potentially make. It’s crucially important, but not so at the expense of journalistic integrity.
News sites have the responsibility to prioritize the more important content to present to their readers, and it’s clear that information about a series of attacks that injured dozens of people should have been prioritized over two millionaires divorcing. Social media will likely continue to have skewed perceptions of the importance of news, but journalistic integrity must overcome the desire to attract pure views when running a publication online or in print.