LONDON, United Kingdom — If you’re from outer space and have stumbled across the internet as a means of finding out what the deal is with this Earth place, you might have discovered there’s a wedding happening — and absolutely nothing else.
Sure, there have been a couple of revolutions, some wars, and that nuclear thing in Japan, but those are barely blips on the radar compared with the noise about the human we call Prince William and his fiancee, Kate Middleton.
Such is the surge in web traffic they have generated, dear space visitor, you can be forgiven for assuming the royal couple’s destiny is to rule the entire planet, with sights set on the galaxy beyond.
But no, this is what we Earthlings consider a reasonable amount of attention to pay to two people who will simply spend the rest of their lives sequestered in large, draughty houses, occasionally emerging to wave politely at strangers.
So, yes, we might have gotten a little carried away with the royal wedding. Over the past two months online media organizations have been publishing a story about the wedding every 10 seconds, according to one study which itself appears to have generated 125,000 of these posts. Print and broadcast outlets have followed suit.
As the final hours until Friday’s big event tick down, this incessant drum beat of news about William and Kate is likely to rise to such a deafening crescendo that nothing short of an alien invasion will silence it. The reason it is getting so much attention is not because editors are hopeless romantics — although some may be — but, for reasons that in time will baffle historians, because more royal wedding coverage equals more viewers and readers.
In this chase for better ratings, quality and sanity sometimes go out the window. It is with this in mind that we at the GlobalPost have decided to create our own Pulitzer-style royal reporting awards (to honor the madness, yes, but also to hoover up some of the royal wedding audience for ourselves).
First up: The Golden Satellite Dish Award for most preposterous live coverage plan has attracted some strong contenders. Early favorite CNN was later discounted after claims it was dispatching 400 reporters to cover the big day proved false. The channel is still pulling out the stops with a 125-strong team, but this is no match for the BBC’s 550 or Fox-affiliate Sky TV’s 160. Absurd, perhaps, but not as absurd as our winner — the Weather Channel — which is sending an entire team to the United Kingdom so that breakfast show presenter Al Roker can broadcast “Wake Up With Al” all week from London. Let’s hope the Discovery Channel isn’t planning to sail a fleet of Alaskan crabbing trawlers down the River Thames for a live royal wedding edition of “Deadliest Catch.”
It takes a brave news organization to admit, even as it is ceaselessly flinging pointless royal trivia in the face of its viewers, that it might be overdoing it a bit. Which is why our Guilty Conscience Award goes to ABC. In a video package titled “Royal Wedding Overkill,” correspondent Nick Watt — tongue planted firmly in cheek — takes time out from an in-depth look at the queen’s horses to ask: “Have we all gone too far in covering the wedding of the century?” Watt does, however, stretch the overkill a little further by not simply answering “yes” and calling it a day.
Now to what is probably our most hotly contested title: the Non-Story Award. To mangle the words of Winston Churchill, never in the field of journalism was so much written by so many to so little purpose. If someone seized control of the internet, highlighted the vast acres of text covering the wedding and pressed delete, it’s fair to say society would be no worse off. The world will certainly not miss the many stories in the British press speculating whether Kate Middleton’s mother has snubbed her hat designer, or whether Prime Minister David Cameron will be wearing traditional morning suit or not (he wasn’t at first because he didn’t want to appear too posh, then he changed his mind because he didn’t want to look like he was trying too hard not to appear posh). All, however, pales when compared to the Kate Middleton jelly bean story, picked up by just about every news outlet worldwide (including GlobalPost), detailing how the future princess made a Shroud of Turin-like appearance on a piece of mango-flavored confectionery. The story actually developed a life of its own, triggering a minor internet scandal. Buckingham Palace offered no comment.
The Talking Head Award recognizes services performed by so-called royal experts. Such has been the demand for authorities on regal matters that most go-to specialists in arcane matters of etiquette are now too busy, leaving the game wide open to people with much more tenuous royal connections — glimpsing Prince Charles across a polo field perhaps, or lending money to Sarah Ferguson. Most news outlets have recruited their own pet “experts” for the wedding. Fox has Princess Diana’s former butler Paul Burrell. Katie Nicholl, author of a book about William and Harry, was snapped up by NBC. But while some are doing the rounds between media organizations, our favorite has to be “royal watcher” Dr. R.S. Klein, who appears in one Yahoo news article to give a much-recycled quote about regal waves before vanishing completely. Internet searches reveal a Dr. Robert S. Klein teaching about Infectious Diseases at New York’s Mount Sinai School of Medicine. Could he be moonlighting? If so, this is clearly an expert of higher value than most.
Which brings us to our final presentation: the GlobalPost Crown of Shame Award for most tawdry attempt to shoehorn a royal wedding mention into an unrelated “news” item. As you may be aware, most internet news articles these days (including this one) are search engine optimized, in other words tricked out with tags and references to help them pop into your browser when you perform an online search. Including a popular search term like, say, “royal wedding” or “sex” can arguably boost a story’s audience. Using both should work wonders for your ratings, if not your reputation. Step forward David Moye, a contributor to AOL’s news service whose shameless recruitment of William and Kate into a feature on sex toys is a thing of internet journalism beauty. Not that this should detract from enjoyment of Moye’s piece which, like much of his work, is an entertaining and informative eyebrow raiser. Certainly up there with another classic: “Retired Air Force major predicts UFO sightings at royal wedding.”
So, perhaps you are from outer space after all.