Aside from a slew of tragic celebrity deaths, 2016’s legacy may well lie in the booming satirical news industry, much to the chagrin of the public figures who unwittingly find themselves under its spotlight. Masquerading as genuine mainstream news websites, satirical news platforms have become a fixture in the ever-evolving online news landscape and promise to reshape the way we conceptualise the relationship between news and political attitudes.
Characterised by authentic headlines, caustic body text and satirical barbs, websites such as the Betoota Advocate, the Onion, the Shovel and the Chaser are dominating Australian Facebook and Instagram feeds and are increasingly finding their way into mainstream news bulletins.
The booming market for biting satirical news and social commentary represents more than a fleeting trend driven by cynical, keyboard savvy millennials. These platforms are well-organised, clearly branded and attract large followings of engaged readers.
Analysis by Streem realtime news intelligence found that the Betoota Advocate produced an average of three stories per day in January 2016. At their peak they published 10 stories in a single day, each one attracting substantial social engagement.
In recent months the mainstream media establishment has been forced to acknowledge the influence and popularity of these disruptive news sources. In November 2016, the Betoota Advocate attended Australian journalism’s prestigious night of nights – the Walkley Awards.
So is it likely that satire will be incorporated into the mainstream media establishment anytime soon? We can safely establish that satirical news is only likely to increase, but what does it mean for media monitors and their clients? Many are grappling with the challenge of identifying and deconstructing satirical news.
Satirical articles provide an insightful gauge into public sentiment. It’s vital for PR professionals and communications teams to monitor and manage these stories as they develop, because of their ability to generate intense interest and widespread repetitional damage for the politicians and public figures that come under their scrutiny.
The recent media storm triggered by Susan Ley’s political expenses scandal was peppered with biting headlines from satirical sources. “Ley Pauses Briefly During apology to buy must-have Canberra apartment”, proclaimed the Shovel. The Betoota Advocate joined in with the headline: “‘Shhh’ Susan Ley says to party member who asks how she stays so tanned in Canberra”.
Aside from obvious value in tracking crises, scandals and unrest within the political establishment, satire can also help media monitors to take stock of ongoing themes, social issues and trends in the media.
A study published in the Journal of Communication found that people select satirical news which aligns with their pre-existing attitudes, and that consuming satirical news reinforced these attitudes as much as watching mainstream news.
“Satirical news has the same impact as serious news – it reinforces your political attitudes,” said Silvia Knobloch-Westerwick, author of the study and professor of communication at The Ohio State University. “It may be funny, but it has serious effects.”
The power of satirical news lies in its ability to subtly influence audiences and generate vast amounts of engagement. Media monitors can no longer afford to brush off satire as low-brow, trivial and insignificant, but must instead learn to read past the headlines and tap into the wider social relevance of these stories.