Good riddance to News in Briefs, the nastiest part of Page 3

The Sun has ditched its "joke" that attractive, topless women can't possibly have opinions on politics.

Only 20 per cent of the Sun’s bylines go to women and as of yesterday, there’s one fewer column inch staked out for female voices: let us bow our boobs and solemnly remove our tops in honour of page 3’s News in Briefs, which is no more.

Still, don’t let your chest be depressed for too long. This would be a much harder loss for women’s journalism if the Page 3 girls had actually written the News that appeared by their Briefs – but obviously and insultingly, they didn’t.

The naughty nibs started in 2003, when Rebekah Brooks took over as editor of the Sun. Before her ascension, she was reportedly an opponent of Page 3, so maybe the introduction of a jaunty speech bubble containing a short commentary on current affairs was a way of patching over Page 3’s incongruity.

At the beginning, News in Briefs was just a naked echo of the paper’s editorial line. Ruth “hailed yesterday’s court appearance by Saddam Hussein”. Kate “was devastated to hear David Blunkett had quit”.

 

 

 

There’s a theory in anti-pornography circles that violent imagery in erotica is especially concerning because men are most suggestible when tumescent. If there’s any truth in that (and it certainly hasn’t been proven), News in Briefs is a spectacularly cynical example of propaganda, leading millions of man to wank themselves into an orgiastic condition of right-wingery.

But really that’s not the problem with News in Briefs, which for my money has long been the nastiest part of Page 3. The comic disjunct of this section has always been in the assumed unlikeliness of a pretty, smiling, topless woman expressing the opinion attributed to her. The kind of girl who can get a man hard, says the logic of this joke, is the kind of girl who’s soft in the head.

Over time, that joke was cultivated to baroque standards. Over her various appearances in 2010, Peta (23 from Essex) volunteered informed opinions about the price of gold, myoglobin, the Tolpuddle Martyrs and Theodore de Banville.

 

 

The fact that these weren’t really Peta’s opinions doesn’t mean she’s stupid. There are some requirements for a Page 3 girl – most importantly, being under 25 and having big, unaugmented breasts. It isn’t necessary to be dumb.

But redtop journalists are notoriously more educated than the audience they write for, or in this case, the individual they were writing as. There’s something distinctly distasteful about using that advantage to make a sneering joke at a nude woman’s expense.

 

 

It’s a joke that plenty of people enjoyed, though, including the well-educated men of the Conservative party. According to Paul Waugh of Politics Home, when the Tory “Breakfast Club” met each morning, the newest member would be called on to read each day’s News in Briefs, in (oh my lol-wracked sides) the voice of the Page 3 girl.

On Monday, our democratic representatives could have enjoyed ventriloquising Kelly’s ventriloquised thoughts on Andy Murray’s Wimbledon chances: “As Muhammad Ali observed, ‘Only a man who knows what it is like to be defeated can reach into the bottom of his soul and come up with the extra ounce of power it takes to win.’”

But on Tuesday, there was nothing but space next to Lacey, and on page3.com today, India from Reading sits beside an unpopulated box where the News in Briefs would once have been. The joke is up.

That doesn’t mean page 3 is on the way out. The new editor, David Dinsmore, confirmed this morning on LBC that hanging on to the girls in defiance of campaigners is a point of pride for the Sun, and if Brooks didn’t have the will to axe them, it’s hard to imagine an editor who will.

But the end of News in Briefs is reason for a tiny feminist cheer on its own. The Sun still gives more room to docile-looking girls with nice racks than to grown-up women with something to say, but it’s no longer snickering at the very idea of something smart emerging from a pretty mouth. 

 

With thanks to Tim Ireland for the scans of historic Page 3 girls.

The final Page 3 News in Briefs.

Sarah Ditum is a journalist who writes regularly for the Guardian, New Statesman and others. Her website is here.

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The economics of outrage: Why you haven't seen the end of Katie Hopkins

Her distasteful tweet may have cost her a job at LBC, but this isn't the last we've seen of Britain's biggest troll. 

Another atrocity, other surge of grief and fear, and there like clockwork was the UK’s biggest troll. Hours after the explosion at the Manchester Arena that killed 22 mostly young and female concert goers, Katie Hopkins weighed in with a very on-brand tweet calling for a “final solution” to the complex issue of terrorism.

She quickly deleted it, replacing the offending phrase with the words “true solution”, but did not tone down the essentially fascist message. Few thought it had been an innocent mistake on the part of someone unaware of the historical connotations of those two words.  And no matter how many urged their fellow web users not to give Hopkins the attention she craved, it still sparked angry tweets, condemnatory news articles and even reports to the police.

Hopkins has lost her presenting job at LBC radio, but she is yet to lose her column at Mail Online, and it’s quite likely she won’t.

Mail Online and its print counterpart The Daily Mail have regularly shown they are prepared to go down the deliberately divisive path Hopkins was signposting. But even if the site's managing editor Martin Clarke was secretly a liberal sandal-wearer, there are also very good economic reasons for Mail Online to stick with her. The extreme and outrageous is great at gaining attention, and attention is what makes money for Mail Online.

It is ironic that Hopkins’s career was initially helped by TV’s attempts to provide balance. Producers could rely on her to provide a counterweight to even the most committed and rational bleeding-heart liberal.

As Patrick Smith, a former media specialist who is currently a senior reporter at BuzzFeed News points out: “It’s very difficult for producers who are legally bound to be balanced, they will sometimes literally have lawyers in the room.”

“That in a way is why some people who are skirting very close or beyond the bounds of taste and decency get on air.”

But while TV may have made Hopkins, it is online where her extreme views perform best.  As digital publishers have learned, the best way to get the shares, clicks and page views that make them money is to provoke an emotional response. And there are few things as good at provoking an emotional response as extreme and outrageous political views.

And in many ways it doesn’t matter whether that response is negative or positive. Those who complain about what Hopkins says are also the ones who draw attention to it – many will read what she writes in order to know exactly why they should hate her.

Of course using outrageous views as a sales tactic is not confined to the web – The Daily Mail prints columns by Sarah Vine for a reason - but the risks of pushing the boundaries of taste and decency are greater in a linear, analogue world. Cancelling a newspaper subscription or changing radio station is a simpler and often longer-lasting act than pledging to never click on a tempting link on Twitter or Facebook. LBC may have had far more to lose from sticking with Hopkins than Mail Online does, and much less to gain. Someone prepared to say what Hopkins says will not be out of work for long. 

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