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Why news items fascinate us

Why do news items fascinate us?

Documentaries, books, TV shows, podcasts… miscellaneous facts are treated in all forms and appeal to the public. Fascinating, they reveal the darkest sides of humanity.

Through the testimonies of journalists, specialists and enthusiasts, the fascination for news items is explained by the mystery it arouses and what it says about society.

A barometer from the National Audiovisual Institute in 2013 reveals that in 10 years, the number of topics devoted to miscellaneous events in evening television news has increased by 73%. Among the most widely reported subjects are acts of violence against people (assaults, murders, kidnappings, rapes, etc.), which constitute half of the subjects broadcast. Behind them, accidents (shipwrecks, fires, drownings…) followed acts of banditry and anti-social violence.

Since this survey, popular interest in the most morbid crimes has not changed one iota, on the contrary. Big-budget documentaries, television series of all kinds, podcasts… news items have continued to flourish around us. Why ? Because it has always aroused a fascination, placing man face to face with his darkest aspects.

Proof of this is the enthusiasm around Society magazine for the Xavier Dupont de Ligonnès affair, as there are few in the press today: 400 copies, with multiple reprints, out of stock, resale on Leboncoin, release of a book and series adaptation.

The key to success

The journalists of Society unveil an investigation that reads like a real thriller with multiple twists… But that is not enough to explain the success of the two issues of Society. For Sylvain Gouverneur, this news item fascinates because it poses a real mystery, because the main suspect in the killing, Xavier Dupont de Ligonnès, has not been found since 2011.

"Until we find him, people will always fantasize about: is he alive, is he dead. As long as we don't know what really happened, people will remain attached to it, ”he explains. More than curiosity around the disappearance of the author of the Nantes massacre, the author of the investigation is convinced that this news item works because it is also revealing of an era: "This news item tells the 2000s with the arrival of the Internet and these people who want to make a fortune very quickly, the greed of human beings. It also talks about consumer credit, and the whole context of the penniless Versailles nobility…”.

Beyond the crime and what it details about an era, the news item comes to tell a dark part of society. An element according to the journalist that “we don't want to look at, but which explains a lot about the human being. The good news story teaches us a little bit more about the human soul”.

Beyond the horror of business, we must not forget the human

This work on the human in the news item is also at the heart of the podcast Fenêtre sur cour by Élise Costa, legal columnist at Arte Radio and slate.fr. By dint of hanging out in the courts, his view of the news item has evolved. In her podcast, the journalist tells what others do not see. A profession, an atmosphere, a gesture... Its goal: to humanize the protagonists of Justice and get out of the Manichean vision of the darkest cases: "By dint of rubbing shoulders with the actors of the judicial world, the victims, the families of the accused, or the defendants… my relationship to the news item has changed.

An accused does not always represent evil, one can come to feel humanity in him, and in the same way that an accused is not simply evil, there are no victims without faults. And that's how I like to work, to make the human or the inhuman in each of us”.

The news item as a story

Roland Barthes said: “news items interest me precisely because they are not the simple relation of a real fact that has existed, but they are real stories such as can be found in folk tales of the past. ". More than a simple news story, the case becomes a story with its protagonists and the many twists and turns that a story can take. A real soap opera that pushes Internet users to carry out their own investigation.

Among them, a 39-year-old Parisian physicist has been devoting three hours a week to his quest for the truth around the Grégory affair for four years. “This case is much more exciting than any fiction. In all that Agatha Christie could write of more insane, nothing competes with the business Gregory”.

The news item brings together

Patrick Avrane, psychoanalyst and author of the book Les fait divers, underlines the similarity between the fait divers and the fiction: “The fait divers is the unexpected, when reality goes beyond fiction. It fascinates by what it has of strangeness, and by this faculty which it has to push us to seek explanations”. According to him, we keep the miscellaneous unfortunate, criminal, unresolved facts, because we wait for the culprit to be judged. Like the Grégory affair, Patrick Avrane believes that the most intriguing news items are infanticides. “Each time a child dies, explains the psychoanalyst, it is as if we men had failed in our task, and that is why infanticide affects everyone”.

This ability to move the crowds comes to forge a community. According to him, "if we start talking about the Grégory affair on a bistro terrace, everyone will give their opinion, develop their hypothesis". The news item therefore unites, it is shared by everyone. These cases mark the spirits, and come to create around them a community which tries to explain: “why such a gesture? ". The news item also pushes us to project ourselves by asking ourselves: “how would I have reacted? ".

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