I've written before about what I like to call "prolls" - professional trolls who, instead of trying to upset people on internet forums by posting provocative ill-thought-out nonsense with the sole intention of getting a rise out of others, write provocative ill-thought-out nonsense for a bumper pay cheque in mainstream publications.
One saddening aspect of the Jan Moir Twitterstorm earlier this year was the sheer amount of traffic the Mail must have got to boost its stats, albeit at the expense of its brand reputation and a lot of the traffic consisting of outraged or soon-to-be-outraged people who couldn't believe the awfulness of what they were reading.
And it's for that reason that I don't really link to the Mail very often any more. They won't miss the couple of hundred clickthroughs generated by me, I'm sure, and you all know where to get a look at the original article, if you want. I know it goes against the etiquette of blogging, but I've reached a point where I can't be bothered to give these jokers any more traffic than they absolutely need - particularly when there's a lingering suspicion that they're simply trolling for traffic, trying to be as provocative as possible in order to lure in an angry mob of confused and annoyed liberals.
Which brings me to the Mail, where it appears the trolls have creaked into life after Christmas. Leo McKinstry, who must have moved from the Express in a big-money transfer and charmed his new employers with his ability to write not very coherently but quite provocatively on a wide range of subjects, has a bash:
Bollocks, Leo. You're not sorry at all. You fucking love it.
And then there's Liz Jones, ah yes our old friend Liz Jones, with a couple of stabs at rousing fury over homelessness at Christmas.
Part of me thinks that she's a wily old writer, cleverly creating a dimwitted and ignorant persona in order to wind the rest of the world up; but I fear I think that because I don't want to think of a world in which she can really mean what she's saying and really agree with the things she writes. I don't want that world to be true.
And of course, they're just the headlines. But it's not as if they're not representative of the stories beneath. From McKinstry:
Nice try, Leo. Good attempt. But it's fairly predictable, and stumblingly written, and it's so obvious that you're trying to provoke a reaction that it almost inclines you to not be bothered at all with him. So he wants people killed for being drug smugglers, even if there are extenuating circumstances. Yeah yeah. Yawn. Oh and it's all New Labour's fault for not chucking everyone in prison who's ever had half a bifter, and everyone else's fault for Kate Moss being popular somehow. That's why it's OK to shoot someone through the back of the head. Mm.
Can Jones do better?
Not really, but again, a poor effort. "I didn't know poverty really existed in India, but then someone told me it did, and I made a sad frowny face, isn't it terrible what other people have to put up with?" - it's not even fun, or witty; and even if it is an act, which I'd really like it to be, it's still not a particularly good one.
The prolls are trying - so very, very hard, but so very, very ineptly - to get our attention. I just wonder if it's worth giving any attention to them - whether it's even worth writing this, for example, although I've started it now and I might as well finish it. I'm certainly not giving them a link; you know where to go and find their nonsense if you really want to.
There's nothing wrong with provocative, insightful, intelligent writing, of course. I just wish that we were well furnished with it. Look at this article by Matthew Parris for a good example of someone swimming against the tide and challenging received wisdom, but doing so in a way that neither screams for attention nor has to go to extremes in order to make a point, nor cultivates a faux-personality of extraordinary thickness (or just is that thick) in a feeble attempt to entertain. And that's why it's worth linking to.