Wednesday, 4 May 2016

What's the Story

Lots of people are predicting the death of newspapers. The digital world is killing them, these people say.

I very much hope newspapers will survive. I love them - and reading them online is a far less satisfying experience than settling down to thoroughly disorganise a neatly folded heap of newsprint, the challenge being to see how many surfaces of any room can end up covered by the various sections, pages muddled and flapping everywhere.

Mind you, while that is my shameful form of paper reading pleasure, my awed admiration is reserved for those who have perfected the exactly opposite newspaper handling skill to my own. Such fine human beings are rare nowadays, if they have not already vanished completely. I used to glimpse them on commuter trains when I'd accompany my father to town sometimes. He was among their number, I should add, (with pride).

The ability these Titans had perfected was managing to read the broadsheet papers while sitting in a very crowded train compartment - without ever impinging on anyone else's space at all. It was just one of the small elements that made for a kinder, more civilised way of life, where the aim was to cause others the minimum of inconvenience, (with which behaviour came the accompanying hope - not its entire motivation, mind you - that you would receive the same consideration in return).

But enough of this nostalgia. I didn't come on here to wallow in regret for the past. No, I came on here to enunciate my latest theory which is that, if newspapers do disappear, it won't be because of the Internet; it will be because they don't do what they should do. They don't explain what's going on.

I blame the editors. They want to sell newspapers, but they are going completely the wrong way about it. They are labouring under the misconception that what will sell newspapers are narratives of conflict. They have convinced themselves that what the newspaper reading public want is biff and baff and rage and anger.

Well not this newspaper reader. I want information. I want to be equipped to understand why people are angry. I want the facts behind the facts.

That is to say, I want to know what caused this drama that is being reported daily. In the reporting about the dispute between the UK's junior doctors and the UK government, for instance, I would like to find somewhere a clear explanation of what at its most basic it's all about.

Instead, week after week, the newspapers tell their readers about how a doctors' leader has proclaimed that they will never give in and how a government minister has insisted that, in their turn, they will never give in either. On the front pages, photographs of doctors marching grimly are displayed, alternating with those of politicians looking determined as they stalk in and out of Downing Street. We are shown every skirmish as it happens, but what we are never told is what exactly is at stake.

Where is the clear, straightforward outline of the issues, explaining precisely what the doctors' current working conditions are, what the government is proposing, how the two systems differ, why the doctors object and why the government is suggesting the changes? It is not in any of the papers I've been looking at. All I've found is reporting about the degrees of grievance and intransigence of each of the combatants, bulletins about the emotions each side feels and the threats each has made against the other. How am I supposed to judge whether any of this is justified when I've never been told what the fundamental arguments underlying the whole thing are?

If I want drama, I go to the theatre - and once upon a time, if I wanted to understand the world, I picked up a newspaper.

So perhaps I should really have started by saying that I used to love newspapers but I'm beginning to go off them because they seem to have become confused about what their function really is. Maybe it was the advent of photographs that started the rot. Anyway, instead of articulating the various dilemmas that are faced by governments and citizens, it seems to me that those running newspapers have decided to convert every issue into Eastenders style drama. Instead of providing the facts, they present us with scenes - of conflict or comedy - played out on the stage that they've decided their pages really are.

In short, I'm furious because I think that, before telling us who is most furious every morning, it is the duty of reporters to tells us why exactly anyone is furious at all.


  1. On the one hand, the internet and the great number of cable channels compete for the attention that used to be divided between a newspaper or two and three TV channels. That doesn't help.

    However, the internet is killing newspapers by taking away the advertising, particularly, I think, the classified advertising. The less the revenue from advertising, the fewer reporters. I have seen the newspapers we subscribe to shrink over the last twenty years as the advertising goes away. And that has more effect on the hard news than on the drama. Even a fairly minor story--a fire, a robbery, the opening of a school--requires that somebody go out, see things or at least talk to witnesses, gather facts. One reasonably fluent writer talking about intransigent doctors or bureaucrats can fill the space that would take four or five reporters doing the crimes and accidents beat.

    1. All very true but you haven't solved the riddle of where to find the facts I need. Why do all these disputes exist? What the hell is going on? It's like trying to make sense of a film when you've cone in halfway through - & without anyone beside you desperately hissing their garbled version of events so far