03 January, 2012

Willy silly nilly all stuffed with fluff

So here's the thing.

I've complained about the Stuff website in the past, criticising their awful advertising campaign about the timeliness of their news coverage, as well as pointing out when they fell short of that target by publishing an article some ten months after it was even vaguely newsworthy.

So imagine how I felt when I loaded up the website yesterday, Monday 3 January 2012, to find this on the front page...

Zooey Deschanel's Disney challenge
Zooey Deschanel has taken on the daunting task to write a song for a Winnie the Pooh movie.

...with a link through to this article.


So, when you talk about "a Winnie the Pooh" film, is there any possibility you could be talking about this "Winnie the Pooh" film with a song from Zooey Deschanel's musical group She and Him? Surely not. Surely this news article from a news website that prides itself on getting the story first is not going to be about a movie that was released in the UK some nine months ago and the US six months ago, right? I mean, for a start, where is the news value in a story about a nine-month old film. You know who also knows about how Zooey Deschanel has taken on the daunting task of writing a song for the film? My three-year old niece, because she's heard the song, because I bought the film for her as a Christmas present.

I mean, really, Stuff. When is the statute of limitations on front page news? What's the next front-page story? George Lucas has taken on the task of making prequels to his hit Star Wars trilogy? Pixar has taken on the task of making an animated film entirely using computer-generate animation? Al Jolson is going to be starring in a film that will miraculously have both pictures and synchronised sound?

So I open up the article, and I read the opening paragraph:

Writing a song for a Disney animated film puts a songwriter into a long and legendary line that has produced 30 nominations and 10 wins going back to When You Wish Upon a Star in 1940.

Really? 30 nominations and 10 wins? Wow... umm... errr... nominations and wins for what, exactly? I mean, I assume you're talking about the Oscars, since there is a reference in the fourth paragraph to her writing "So Long, one of the film's two Oscar entries", and When You Wish Upon A Star did win the Oscar. But you need to actually define what you're talking about. After all, there are a lot of other award shows you could be talking about: indeed, the article could be talking about the Grammys (for which the song in question has actually been nominated, which could would have been newsworthy back when it was announced a month ago). But I don't think that is what they are talking about, since the word "Grammy" is never used in the article. It could be the Golden Globes, but I doubt it since those nominations were already announced and the song wasn't nominated (plus, you know, it's the Golden Globes, and they're entirely worthless). So it must be the Oscars. So why not just say "30 Oscar nominations and 10 wins"? Does adding that one word make the paragraph too unwieldy?

Here's another bit I love:

...actress and singer-songwriter Zooey Deschanel ... couldn't exactly ignore that history when she was drafted to contribute to this year's Disney version of the A.A. Milne stories.

This year's version? Here's a suggestion, Stuff. Take down the "Cute Cats of 2011" calender you still have on your wall, and go out and buy the "Cute Cats of 2012" calender.

I just don't see what's newsworthy about this article that makes it worthy of the front page of your website. I mean, the film is nine months old right now, the article isn't timed to a local release (since the DVD has been available here for a month or two), and while that opening paragraph seems to hint at a connection to the Oscars, it's not a subject that's really revisited in the article, and besides, the actual nominations don't come out for another three weeks (24 January 2012). And who knows, the song she wrote may not even be nominated - after all, there were 39 songs able to be nominated this year. So this is an article that exists solely as a speculative thing - something that they published on the off-chance that it might become relevant at some point in the future.

(Alternatively, and frankly this is the most likely explanation, it's probably a article that Disney had written for the LA press to try and increase the likelihood of getting an Oscar nomination. But again, that makes it promotional, not news, so why is it worthy of space on the front page of your news website?)

Here's another thing. You see that line of three photos I have lining the right side of this post. That is taken exactly as it appeared on the Stuff website. Yes, the Stuff website felt the need to publish three versions of the exact same photo, one above another above another, each with different cropping, complete with captions that involve (a) a repetition of the annoying "daunting task" phrase, (b) an awful Winnie-the-Pooh/Jungle-Book crossover joke, and (c) just a identification of the photo's subject, in case you couldn't work out that it's Zooey Deschanel from the other two identical photos that also identify her. I enjoy looking at Zooey Deschanel as much as the next guy, but even a picture of Zooey gets boring after the third time I look at it. (The Stuff people clearly also realised this - they changed it this morning, so now only one photograph appears.)

Look, I love Zooey Deschanel. She always comes across as having a very winning and sweet personality, managing to somehow be a non-annoying version of a manic pixie dream girl. I own and enjoy the first two She and Him albums (although not even Zooey could get me to buy their Christmas album). And frankly, if I were to ever meet her and somehow retained the power of speech, I suspect the first thing I said to her really would be "When did you first know you were adorable?" So it's not unenjoyable reading about her.

And it's not an awful article - at least, not when compared to that incompetent Chloe Moretz article. Sure, as I have pointed out it has its flaws, but it generally stays on topic, is clear, makes good use of quotations, and is enjoyable to read as far as "vote for us" Oscar puff pieces go.

And I love the 2011 "Winnie the Pooh" film, which is sweet and funny and innocent and faithful to the books, not just in their events but in their tone. (The only thing I didn't like about the film is the character design, which deviates wildly from the idea that these are 1920s-era toys - but that's actually a problem I have with the original 60s-era Disney design decisions, not with this specific film.) I am genuinely sad that the film flopped, and am actually happy with anything that leads people to discover that there is this really good film out there.

But this isn't news. And I don't see what is so unreasonable about expecting a news website to highlight actual news on its front page. Hell, put the story about Russell Brand and Katy Perry getting divorced on the front page. That may be pure gossip, but at least it involves something that actually happened in the past week or so, and can therefore be defensibly described as "current events." But this? As far as "news" goes, this is just a waste of everyone's time.

And yes, I'm aware that as much time as I wasted reading that article looking for news, I've wasted a hundred times as much time writing this post complaining about the article. But what's the point of having an infrequently updated blog if you can't waste time writing about whatever random things I want to write about. That's the point of a blog. Just don't call your blog a news website.