Tuesday, 21 October 2014

Newspaper musings

It must be tough for the print media. Since the World Wide Web took hold more and more people are consuming their news online and this has only accelerated as mobile technologies - pads, smart phones and unlimited mobile internet allowances - have become the norm. It surely can't be too many years before actual physical newspapers are regarded in the same way as town criers and merely produced for the novelty and 'olde worlde' charm.

I've been a regular reader of a few newspapers in my life. I started on the Independent when that was first launched. I found their balanced take on the politics of the news refreshing and showed that personal and party politics do not need to intersect.

When I started work I read Today (this was a while after its launch as the first colour daily newspaper). I can't think of any specific reason looking back but I think that it was always the underdog must have been an attraction.

As my time became more precious my newspaper reading was restricted to a Sunday; I would go to the shop on a Sunday morning and get the Times and the Telegraph. Weighed down considerably by their bulk I would proceed to wade through each and every of the many sections until my lounge resembled some sort of newspaper-as-snow Christmas scene.

I've not regularly read a newspaper for some years now; party because I simply don't have the time and also because I can get the news on my computer or phone whenever I want.
 I don't have the sort of commute or the sort of job where I have the luxury of a few minutes reading the news.

But it has to be said the newspaper content itself has to be significantly to blame. The lower end of the market is celebrity obsessed and the upper end is obsessed with politics and politicians. I have very little interest in either and absolutely no interest at all in someone's private life (which most of the stories boil down to one way or another). Of the so-called 'midsheets' the Daily Express is obsessed with the royal family. And then we have the Daily Mail.

The Daily Mail seems to have collapsed into a sort of middle England singularity. Rather than informing its readership of the news and providing them some background and perhaps informed comment on it it instead works somewhat in reverse. Which of the current news items is likely to get its readership angry and frothing at the mouth and worked up enough to shell out their money to read about it? That's the story that will go on the front page. Not the most important story but the most provoking story.

And if there is no big story for the middle class to tut about over their muesli, they are not above creating what seems to be a huge story but is almost entirely a construct of the journalist's imagination, with a small core fact (often unchecked for validity) or rumour carefully spun out into something that looks like some great affront to the British way of life (whatever that is) but is in fact nothing of the sort.

So we have stories about EU laws insisting on straight bananas and cucumbers (they don't), repeated pieces on various councils banning Christmas as being offensive to other religions (they never have) and so on. I had the misfortune of reading one their recent lead stories. The paper claimed that some event had happened - spashed over the front page in a 2 inch high headline designed to raise the blood pressure of its readership - but strangely the story itself didn't actually discuss the alleged event.

Instead we had various spokespersons quoted for their reaction if something like this happened, not their reaction to the actual event. There are not eyewitness or official statements of any kind. The family involved were not available for comment - very wise - but 'one of their neighbours was quoted, presumably following the journalist describing the Mail's version of events and saying "what do you think of that?"

Creating news that your existing readership wants to read is obviously a reasonable survival tactic, but it doesn't attract any new readers and no doubt puts a lot off. It is also terribly lazy journalism. Rather than finding the facts and doing some digging this is simply spin, and of the sort the Daily Mail hates amongst politicians.

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