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Black fingerprints

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Black fingerprints
Photo: kellerabteil / flickr (CC BY-NC 2.0)
17:24 CEST+02:00
In the first of a regular series of commentaries by a media insider, The Local takes a curmudgeonly look at life in Austria - starting with the "boulevard press".

Have you ever noticed how it leaves black on your fingers? That’s the cheap ink. That’s the blood of a dying industry from the surviving few who have claimed their immortality through means of being unscrupulous and brazen.

You can find them all over Vienna - black finger prints. It’s a mark of where the Heute and the Österreich readers have been. Useful in determining when to avoid conversation of any meaning or depth with any person in close proximity - especially if they bear black fingerprints.

Print media is dying and these are the survivors. And they survive merely because they are free, and they are there. How ridiculous – we read something because it is free, because it is there.

Would we read an account of an elderly man’s battle with haemorrhoids if it were conveniently handed to us upon boarding the U-Bahn? A book on bunions, perhaps?

Of course not! We ignore the old guy handing out Good News Bibles on the street - that’s brainwashing liquid, our ‘enlightened’ instincts cry. Or those Ausländers wearing head scarfs, handing out Korans on Mahü – that’s terrorist chick lit, people whisper below their breaths.

To pronounce it clearly with rounded vowels would be intolerant and xenophobic. Saying it under one’s breath is behaving like the modern citizen of a cosmopolitan society.

A person’s mind is their temple somebody once said and over half a million ‘educated’ people in this wedding cake city are filling that temple with cheap plastic furniture on the U-Bahn every morning.  And it’s safe to say that a large percentage of them consume no other morsel of news daily.

It’s common knowledge the Heute has as much to do with journalism and news as a five-year-old’s finger painting.  It doesn’t even make the cut as a tabloid - while there’s no shame in being a tabloid, there's a shitload of shame in reading one.

So what is the Heute and why are the stacks of them in the red boxes in the U-Bahn stations gone before the day’s out?  Why, as I stand on the U-Bahn platform, are there are so many people with their noses (and minds) hidden in the Heute?

When I see them I imagine the newspaper snapping shut on their noses like a bear trap, me watching and laughing as they jump around in agony. Just to wake them up and have them spit out the shit they're being fed.

But the shit has a recipe resembling the same nourishing goodness as potato chips and cola and any other junk food. This is junk journalism.

I pull out a folder and some paper from my bag and pretend I’m doing a survey, and ask around why people are reading it. Guerrilla journalism is the best kind.

A young guy in a suit tells me the bikini chick on page three is always nice in the morning. He laughs. Well, free soft porn is certainly delightful and demoralizing, I reply.

My second subject is an old Viennese lady who simply tells me in the Wienerisch equivalent to piss off.

I ask another man resembling a regular looking middle-aged guy. He tells me he doesn’t take it seriously. He reads it because it’s free and easy to read when bored on the metro. I ask him if he reads any other news and he replies – “ When I have the time.”

When did education become a hobby for grown-ups and ignorance become the life-long pursuit?

His claim that it's easy to read slaps me in the face with the truth that it’s actually the perfect newspaper for this cut and paste, Wikipedia-world we’re running here. It fits perfectly into our disposable shrinking attention spans.

Speaking of disposable, the U-Bahn rumbles in and kicks up the discarded copies of the Heute sending them floating like urban tumbleweed.

I ask one more - a girl who looks like she’s on her way to Uni. She tells me she likes to read the Horoscopes at the end. “They’re always positive.” I ask her if she doesn’t get suspicious when she continually doesn’t run into money or meet that guy of her dreams that her Horoscope keeps telling her about.

Of course they’re happy horoscopes – after all that depressing news in the pages before. Nobody would read it, even if it is free, if their horoscopes would tell them their boyfriend was sleeping with their mother who only has three months to live.

False hope mixed with ignorance allows the poor bastards to survive in such a world where Israel is exchanging missiles with Palestine, and children are dying. 

But how does the Heute’s horoscope look in the age of the smartphone? Bleak I’d say. All that’s left is for online publications to work out how to make advertising fit in a pretty and unobtrusive format for the smartphone.

Companies will come scrambling, the likes of Heute will die the death they deserve, and the future will have people walking into street signs (as they do today) while staring into their smartphones.

Or perhaps they’ll invent a sensor system on smartphones like they have on cars that indicate when the person is nearing a collision. This is evolution.

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