Monday, July 11, 2011

Keep going like this and you won't have newspapers to kick around anymore

When we were entering the 6th form they did everything they could to encourage us to read a newspaper. We were of course nudged to "take" The Guardian or The Times or the Telegraph. I think they probably knew that our parents were happy with the Yorkshire Post, which had a world view that didn't stretch much to Lancashire, let alone overseas. That was in the 60s. I started buying a paper then and carried on through the 70s, 80s and 90s to today.

I don't recall much discussion about which paper anyone read. When pressed people would repeat variants on the line that was put in the mouth of Jim Hacker in "Yes Minister", but more in amusement than in the present mood of indignation:
"I know exactly who reads the papers: the Daily Mirror is read by people who think they run the country; The Guardian is read by people who think they ought to run the country; The Times is read by people who actually do run the country; the Daily Mail is read by the wives of the people who run the country; the Financial Times is read by people who own the country; The Morning Star is read by people who think the country ought to be run by another country; and The Daily Telegraph is read by people who think it is."

I've never known a time when people argued so bitterly about the values of different newspapers. The weird thing is that most of the people doing the arguing don't buy newspapers any more. They consult them, certainly, they scan their headlines, tweet about them and they happily link to them but they don't actually read them - not like a buyer would read them. Many of them say they won't even pay to read the news on iPad or on a Kindle version such as The Guardian has launched today. Ultimately the coming generation's unwillingness to pay is going to decide the future of newspapers more certainly than any scandals or PCC deliberations.

In the days when people bought papers they would direct at least a fiver a week towards their title of choice. You've got to sell a lot of click-through advertising and sponsorship to make up that shortfall. That's what Murdoch's corporate investors (your pension funds if you have one) have been telling him for years. This current mess only increases their determination to get out of papers altogether. Nobody's buying them, they say, and the advertisers have lots of other places to go. It's difficult to argue with that line. When the investors take flight from newspapers it will ultimately threaten the papers Twitter Nation approves of and doesn't buy just as surely as the ones it hates and doesn't buy.


  1. A variation that I often heard:

    And The Sun is read by people who don't care who runs the country as long as she has big tits.

  2. Interesting to hear the media agencies commenting on the demise of the NOTW saying that there are certain advertisers who just won't be able to replace the route to market the paper provided -- possibly the first comment for about five years sticking up for the existence of the printed page. What's that song? You don't miss your water till your well runs dry....

  3. I look through three or four different papers every day, and I love what some of them are able to do. I especially loved the Telegraph's exposé of MP's expenses, but that wasn't proper investigative journalism, was it? The truth is that what we have now is a mere facsimile of what newspapers are supposed to do.

    You could see the decline writ large in the selection of front pages the NotW chose to put in its souvenir issue. Over several decades, they descend from covering actual news and even actual scandals involving people in power, to covering a series of footballers' affairs with so-called vice girls.

    The routine turn to the private investigator as a substitute for old-fashioned leg-work is a symptom of what Nick Davies identified in Flat Earth News. Journalists are tied to their desks, churning out multiple stories every day in response to cost-cutting measures. The Daily Mail, for example, is full of massively long stories, but they're written in full knowledge that nobody reads beyond paragraph 9. The Independent, of the so-called quality press, is particularly guilty of producing shoddily researched and poorly written stories.

    They appear on the streets every day and they carry the advertising, but they're not really doing their job. If they're losing readers, it may be partly the fault of the internet (but who made them give their content away in the first place?), but it's also self-inflicted.

  4. there's a clever man at NYU called Clay Shirky who explains all this.

    Incidentally, newspapers peaked in the UK shortly before John Lennon met Paul McCartney (although those two events are not related).

  5. ... And The Sun readers vote in those that run the country because The Sun told them to...

  6. The problem is surely that there is no longer an obvious divide between professional writers and amateur ones. An authoritative title like 'Environmental Correspondent' at the Guardian or BBC means, all too often, regurgitating government or NGO press-releases at face-value.

    Unpaid (except through indirect methods like book sales or tip jars) bloggers with a particular specialism and the time and means to pursue it will usually trump an inexperienced and frankly over-impressionable paid scribe.

    An inconvenient truth for journalists but there we are.

    People may not agree with my particular example relating to the green agenda but I'm sure the same applies across the spectrum of reporting.

  7. The papers rather like the Music press have for far too long been full of yesterdays news !!

  8. This story was called both shocking and a crisis on BBC News last night.

    It's not a crisis, it might be for Murdoch and a few people in the media but for the rest of the world life goes on.

    As for shocking, is it really? I'm not and I don't know many other people who are shocked by it.

    Last week I listened to Slates Political Gabfest and they were talking about how UK journalists have such a poor reputation in the US. The last week has shown us why, and it's not just been Murdoch's camp.