Britain is at peak Jeremy Corbyn. There’s no getting away from it or him. From when I sleepily turn on the radio in my bathroom at 7am until I switch off the news at 11pm on my bedroom set (rock ’n’ roll, I know), Mr Corbyn is the topic du jour. The only time Radio Corbyn is interrupted is with news of the mind-boggling refugee crisis – a disaster of such proportions, it could actually split Europe.
We may have emerged from the supposed silly season of summer headlines, but the news still appears to be stuck in a rut.
However, I’m always guaranteed a fresh menu on my Sunday-evening show, The 5 Live Hit List, simply because no one who works in news decides the agenda. Every week I count down the nation’s top 40 news stories of the past seven days. Brilliantly, the chart is created by the UK’s genuine news habits, rather than what journalists have dictated. A team of clever professors compiles the roll-call based on publicly available social media data: what people have been reading and sharing on Facebook, YouTube and Twitter.
The fast-paced programme, which leaves my head spinning and unable to sleep for hours, turns one in a few weeks. And in the 12 months of being on air, the people’s news agenda has taught me a lot. Usually, the top stories are broadly in line with the biggest ones from the regular bulletins – and last week was no different. Corbynistas could rest easy knowing that their man had also secured the top spot in the 5 Live chart, as well as the Labour party. Phew.
However, the other 39 slots are pretty unpredictable. When I began presenting it, some colleagues were worried that a news chart based on the nation’s online reading habits would be all cats on skateboards. But they should have known better. The British public comes through for me and the team, week in, week out.
Of course there’s a smattering of One Direction, YouTube stars and Justin Bieber (and a lot of wrestling – who knew?), but there’s a glut of serious good stuff that often gets overlooked.
Science and foreign news feature heavily. But there’s also a great deal of good news, too. The sharing of stories runs on emotion. It was always thus. Except before the web we couldn’t measure it. Instead your mum would “share” a yarn from the paper by ripping it out and saving it for you.
Now it all happens via social media. The amount of zany wedding proposals and good deeds done for those in need that have made the Hit List in its first year is testament to how much people crave human stories of goodness.
Of course you are going to share the tale of the farmer who proposed using weedkiller to spell out his intent across his wheat field and then flew his girlfriend over to the cries of “Yes!” It lifts the soul on a cold weekday night.
The internet was meant to set information free. And yet, ironically in some ways, the mainstream news agenda has got smaller since its advent, focusing on just one or two big stories at a time, tweet by tweet. It only takes one mistype now for a social media-driven storm to erupt and then that’s it – for the rest of the week, hysteria around one story tryingly dominates.
While Jeremy Corbyn is undeniably big news, politicos and news editors should remember that a nation is often clicking elsewhere – and hungry for a different soundtrack.
The 5 Live Hit List is on Sundays at 7.30pm