Saturday, May 07, 2005

Here's a Quiz:

In which English newspaper was the following the list of the most-read stories for the previous week? (try and guess without following the hyperlinks just yet).

1) European Cup quarter-finals: Juventus vs Liverpool
2) Archaeologist finds 'oldest porn statue'
3) Japan's virgin wives turn to sex volunteers
4) European Cup quarter-finals: Chelsea vs Bayern
5) Sea life 'killed by exploding star'
6) European Cup quarter-finals: Bayern vs Chelsea
7) Scientist calls for world DNA database
8) Daniel Craig picked for Bond
9) Howard refuses to sack candidate over doctored photo
10) Pope laid to rest

The answer is not The Sun or The Daily Mail, but the venerable Guardian Online. Just goes to show that, while we may prefer a higher tone, better writing, insightful analysis and a range of international perspectives, readers are still drawn to the same old topics as the tabloid-reading masses: football, sex, dramatised popular science and celebrity. The week's serious political scandal is down at number 9, and the Pope's funeral number 10 (though to be fair, that story may already have been getting old). The list fits almostperfectly with the online Sun's self-summary: "NEWS SPORT BIZARRE LIFE FUN TV"

It's worth noting that, while the Champions League quarter-final beat out the sex-related stories that week, the top-rating story for the *three* prior weeks was "Necrophiliac duck ruffles research feathers". This gem from the Guardian's science pages retained top spot long after the front-page link was removed; readers clicked through from the link in the top 10 list itself.

While it's not that surprising that what most grabs people's attention doesn't change much between low-brow and high-brow, what is interesting is that the list also looks a lot like the contents page of a lad's magazine. The topics are what are normally thought of as being classic "boy's stuff".

What's the explanation? Are there less females accessing the Guardian's pages? There's no evidence for that, nor reason to believe it likely. Restricted choice of subject? Hardly. While it's probably fair to say that the British tabloid media can be savagely misogynistic, the Guardian is full of intelligent material by for women. From moralistic Polly Toynbee to hip and snarky Zoe Williams, there's lots of good writing by women, and plenty of news and stories on things that women are interested in (I don't presume to define what these are, but the Guardian's got most topics covered off). Yet we never saw Andrea Dworkin's obituaries make it into the top 10 list.

Maybe the answer is that woman readers are more individual and have more subtle preferences. What they read covers a wide range of topics, so that no individual story collects that many "votes". In contrast, us blokes have short circuits in our forebrains, causing little light bulbs to sparkle whenever we see "Bayern vs. Chelsea" or "Japanese virgin wives".

Possibly. Or maybe we just all like the same stuff; despite their distinct and sometimes impenetrable approach to conversing in public, girls are interested in the same things we are. This could mean that Cosmopolitan, which I always assumed had a largely male readership, really is a women's magazine. Only maybe they need to put in more articles on football and exploding stars.

1 comment:

Susan said...

Very interesting point - I must monitor what stories I click on and notice what they are. Or could it also be that more men than women read the Guardian online. Or indeed that more women than men are busy running round after the men and children in their lives so that that they don't get round to getting on the Internet (probably taken up in the evenings by their children anyway) to read the stories. And I must say I wasn't even tempted to read Andrea Dworkin's obituary in the newspaper - somehow just didn't appeal.