What Does The Daily Mail’s Internet Success Mean for Pagans?

British tabloid The Daily Mail’s website has become the most-visited newspaper site in the world, surpassing The New York Times (though the Times disputes those numbers). Analyzing the rise of the Mail Online, Will Oremus at Slate.com notes that the site drifts away from the xenophobic nativism of its print version to focus on anything that will generate more hits.

“This is not news, really. It’s click bait, the stuff pageviews are made of. There’s no parochialism, no xenophobia, no mock outrage, and almost no politics—nothing that could limit the potential audience for these pieces, which is, in short, the entire English-speaking online world.”

The Mail’s online publisher, Marin Clarke, attributes the site’s rise to just publishing the news “that people want to read.” But the vision of a scrubbed and inoffensive Mail posited by Oremus isn’t quite true. The site has no trouble whatsoever taking regular aim at modern Pagans on their website, often distorting facts and writing lurid headlines to generate outrage (which generates hits). Some example headlines involving Pagans include: “Pagans are on the march – but are they harmless eccentrics or a dangerous cult?,” “God save us from the crazy religious privileges in jails that cost the taxpayer millions,” “How to cure a witch: Catholic Church issues guide in Britain to turn the tables on Harry Potter,” and “Pagan prisoners given time off to worship the Sun God.”

Typical Daily Mail headline about Pagans.

Typical Daily Mail headline about Pagans.

The Mail’s lurid sensationalism in regard to Paganism is longstanding, and often I found myself responding to, and correcting, their shoddy “reporting”. There was the “British schools teach Paganism” distortion, the “BBC is too Pagan friendly” pile-on, the “museums are changing their policies because they are afraid of Pagans” exaggeration, and the scathing anti-Pagan vitriol from Melanie Phillips when The Druid Network won charity status. It  reached a point where I simply had enough, vowing to never link them again, and urging others to do the same.

“So that’s it. To quote a famous Bond villian: Once is happenstance. Twice is coincidence. The third time it’s enemy action. Five times in the span of three months? It’s a paranoid unhealthy obsession. They can’t seem to actually write something fair-minded about our faiths, as if the mention of Paganism, Druidry, or Wicca sparks some sort of Pavlovian urge to cast themselves as Sgt. Howie in The Wicker Man (sans the ending, of course). They are an unwitting parody of conservative thinking, a reactionary journalistic Chicken Little constantly warning of the sky falling, knowing that eventually something they scream about will be correct.

I’d call for a boycott, or angry letters, but that just feeds the beast. They thrive, crave, our attention. The outrage-baiting headlines, the choppy barely-rewritten-from-the-newswires prose interspersed with distortions and clumsily obscured personal opinion, it’s all an attention-generating machine. So it stops here. No more links. No more attention. Let’s stop pretending they are “news”, and deny them the page-views they so desperately desire. Don’t forward them, respond to them, Tweet them, or share them on Facebook. If you must comment on a story they do, find the kernel of a real story and report on that. Dig deeper. Don’t provide them with any more fuel. They are a parody of the news, but that joke isn’t funny anymore.”

For the most part, I’ve kept my promise to not link them. Though exhortations to my fellow Pagans haven’t really taken hold, and their articles are often forwarded through social media sites, and linked to on Pagan blogs. I can’t really blame them, the Mail Online works very hard to titillate or infuriate, making it hard to not engage.

The point, however, is not to simply renew my call for Pagans to deny the Mail linking oxygen, but to ask a larger question. If the Mail Online is now the most popular Internet paper in the world, how does that affect how people see modern Paganism? I posit that it reinforces the opinion that Pagans are strange outsiders who make unreasonable demands on government, undermine society, aren’t to be taken seriously, and are a symptom of societal collapse. Even when they aren’t openly villainizing Pagans, and simply rewriting reporting from other papers, it’s balanced out with stories about “black magic rituals” forcing the closure of woodland caves. In short, Pagans are only paid attention to when its a controversy.  To the Mail, we are either “harmless eccentrics” or a “dangerous cult,” there’s no in between.

When we interact with, and create, media, Pagans need to be more savvy than ever before. We have to think about how a story will play out in all kinds of outlets, and what the ramifications of our every word will be. We can’t control the hits-hungry amoral ethic of the Mail, but we can refuse to participate in their business model, deny them pull-quotes for their sensationalism, and work instead with outlets that have built a track record of responsible reporting. Better still, we can continue to work on lifting up our own media, so that there are strong advocates for Pagan voices on the Internet.

About Jason Pitzl-Waters
  • http://twitter.com/aliguana Al Iguana

    to be honest, I’d say the majority of links to the Mail’s website (and I see dozens every day) are like “omg how stupid is this story” or “how idiotic is this newspaper” or “are people that dumb?” etc.

    So it could be #1 because people think it’s the British equivalent of The Onion rather than a paper to be taken seriously..

    • Chris Vermeers

      Yes, people are that dumb. Dumb enough to link to a site with stupid stories so that it makes more money. That makes them dumb enough to pay people to be stupid.

  • Baruch Dreamstalker

    I worry less about the slanders of the Daily Mail than those of the Vatican. The latter puts some thought into theirs.

  • Anonymous

    It’s not referred to as the Daily Fail for nothing…

  • Mojavi

    I always thought The Daily Mail was akin to The Sun or OK!…Tabloid impulse buys at the check out line. Their headlines are equal to “(celebrity couple) breaking up over (celebrity’s) child by another (celebrity)”.

  • http://egregores.blogspot.com Apuleius Platonicus

    The Daily Mail deserves all this and more. But lets not forget possibly the single most important anti-Pagan journalist at work in the UK, Damian Thompson, who happens to work for the Telegraph.

    It was Thompson who initiated the attack on the BBC for “Sucking Up To Pagans“, and it was the Telegraph who followed up Thompson’s blog post (in his blog hosted by the Telegraph) with a straight “news story” that “reported” on “raised eyebrows” over the BBC’s too-friendly coverage of Paganism. Whose eyebrows were raised? Why, none other than the Christian Legal Centre and the Christian Institute (both hardcore fundamentalist groups that Sarah Palin and Glenn Beck would feel very much at home in).

    • Anonymous

      Palin, yes, Beck not so much. Beck’s a Mormon, and the fundies like them only slightly more than they like atheists and Pagans. It’s what makes our current primaries such an entertaining circus – albeit a rather scary one.

      • Anonymous

        Our current primaries mimics the tittle of an album by KISS… Psycho Circus

  • http://www.facebook.com/jacquiemg Jacquie Minerva Georges

    I agree with the previous commenters. I don’t take it seriously. At the same time I don’t even click or read anything they write about religion or science (I head straight to Femail). Doesn’t bother me for I do have trust that there are more people with logical (they know the Daily Mail is tabloid not credible news-news) than those who believe in everything they read. Even when other post Pagan topics from them, I don’t read it or read those my page comments/comment box.

    • Baruch Dreamstalker

      Jacquie, my remark did not mean I don’t take the Daily Mail’s paganophobia seriously, just less so than some other, better-articulate paganophobes. When the top web site on the Net in terms of hits is slandering one’s religion, that’s serious.

      But I see it in the same context as supermarket checkout-line tabloid headlines. There’s a part of the population that, more or less harmlessly imho, sucks that stuff up along with saucer aliens in the White House and end-of-the-world forecasts, and seldom bothers anyone. Evidently some of them are on line.

    • Chris Vermeers

      The Mail doesn’t care if you take it seriously or not. It only cares that you click through to it. It is by site views that it makes money. It is a monetized internet attention whore.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100002162704205 Lori Dake

    I read all news sources, including the Onion and TMZ! :)

    • Chris Vermeers

      The Mail is not a news source. It is a troll that has figured out how to monetize trollishness.

  • kenneth

    The one thing we can do that will ultimately deny their power to scandalize us is to make ourselves as widely known as pagans, as everyday people, as we possibly can. Once we get to the tipping point where everybody knows a real pagan, all of the Jack Chick schlock horror propaganda will fail to titillate any longer. It will marginalize its publishers, not us. That strategy has worked for the gay community and essentially every other minority which has tried it.

  • Nakedwomaninrags

    It’s the Daily Mail. No one is surprised and most people only visit the site to laugh at it. To be honest I’m surprised there’s not more in the way of “Satan Worshippers? In MY Britain?!” crap.

    Download Tea and Kittens as a browser add-on, it will be good for your blood pressure.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=685041384 Fanny Fae

    Good article, Jason. I definitely agree and would put the Daily Mail and the Huffingtom Post right about at the same level in terms of internet sensationalism. They give headlines that are meant to troll for a reaction on both sides and feed off of the clicks that they get from the process.

    It doesn’t help any, however, when candidates like Newt Gingrich hold up the idea of gay marriage and Paganism as something to be shunned and/or ridiculed and the media jumps all over it.

  • A.C. Fisher Aldag

    We at Magickal Media link to everything for and about Pagans, without editorializing, because we know that Pagans and Polytheists can think for themselves. Occasionally we’ll put “Satire” or “Highly Sensationalized” as a disclaimer for younger or less educated readers.

    However, the “Daily Fail” has wonderful pictures from their own photographers and from other magazines and news sources… such as today’s “Pagan Sun Worshippers Celebrate Ancient Fire Festival” article. The writing is crap, but the photos are always great.

    And BTW, if a tabloid writes something nasty about Lady Gaga, it doesn’t seem to hurt her music sales. Likewise, the D.M. doesn’t seem to reduce attendance at UK events with Pagan origins or Pagan revivals.

  • Chris Vermeers

    People who choose to read the Mail are feeding the troll. It makes money by getting clicks, as advertisers pay more for sites which get more traffic. Its articles are precisely the definition of attention whoring trollishness. Do not feed the troll. Trolls thrive on the attention you give them.

    For myself, I don’t link the Mail, and if I see that a link is to the Mail, I do not click on it.

  • http://entdinglichung.wordpress.com Entdinglichung

    a funny Irish rebel song about the “quality journalism” of the Daily Mail: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VYALWd–CvI

  • Henry

    “I posit that it reinforces the opinion that Pagans are strange outsiders who make unreasonable demands on government, undermine society, aren’t to be taken seriously, and are a symptom of societal collapse. ”
    I reached that conclusion a while ago, and I don’t even read ‘The Mail’. lol

    • Crystal Kendrick

      Really? Then why are you here? Surely, you have better things to do than lurk around a bunch of outsiders hel-bent on undermining society.

      • AnonGuest

        Lurking around a bunch of outsiders hel-bent on undermining society is way more fun than Starbucks

  • https://plus.google.com/111691454183886288664 Celeste Neumann

    I see there are two ways to deal with this: either take up the torch and take the Daily Mail to court and indict them for every piece of bigotry slander they print; or take it with a grain of salt and console yourself, “America has Fox News” and “The UK has the Daily Mail”. I’ve seen my share of links too. After the incident in Norway, they did a 180° and went from the standpoint of “Dangerous Muslim Hate Speech in the UK” to “Every person who isn’t infatuated with radical Muslim political objectives is really just another closet member of the BNP”. Isn’t it obvious they care less who they trod upon – the main thing is people scoop up their gooey stories into their computer screens like ice cream on a hot summer day?

  • Thelettuceman

    I’m pretty certain that the Daily Mail just goes to /x/ to get most of their stories on Pagans.

  • David

    As a British Pagan, who happens to be liberal, the Daily Mail is well known for its sensationalist claims (BTW, Apuleius Platonicus, just ignore anything the Mail says about Paganism, because I’m sure you’d love its views of Islam, judging by your comments I’ve seen here and elsewhere), but, I just have to wonder why it seems that Americans are taking a vested interested in our (British) Newspapers, I personally don’t give a rats ass about what the New York Times, the whatever other “famous” American Newspapers say or talk about, so, why do a bunch of Americans like to shove their noses into what our media institutions say.

    You know, most people over here take the Mail (and pretty much every other media outlet) with a lot of salt and even use it to make jokes about, but, I guess the persecution/Witchy-poo syndrome seems to be quite common among American Pagans.

    • http://www.wildhunt.org/blog/ Jason Pitzl-Waters

      It’s not about persecution complex, it’s about molding the narrative about modern Paganism. The Daily Fail was brought up because they are now the most popular newspaper site in the WORLD, not simply in the UK. That kind of reach means that lots and lots of people outside Britain are reading it, so our “noses” have every right to intrude.

  • Kilmrnock

    I believe Jason is taking the correct stance on this one . We need not humor these types of publications . No matter how much we talk to these papers , they will still print these kinds of stories.The best thing to do is not link to this rag, adding fuel to thier fire , so to speak.We donot need to help help clearly anti pagan publications . Kilm

    • A.C. Fisher Aldag

      I usually agree with you, but censorship is a bad thing in any form. People have a right to their opinion, even if we disagree with them.

      And do we link to, say, Mr. Gingrich’s statements against Pagans? Sure we do, cuz we wanna read it first-hand, and often make a rebuttal.

      • http://www.wildhunt.org/blog/ Jason Pitzl-Waters

        You do know that not linking to a site isn’t censorship, right?

  • Creeping Critter

    This article is great however ignoring the issue of anti-pagan propaganda won’t make it go away just like the burning of the witches didnt go away by ignoring or hiding from it. “Dumbness” seeks “Dumbness” and the crew that follows them with false propaganda. Theres gotta be some other way to sidetrack them or disprove them. The next thing that will come about is that we will be censored even more. Not good.


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