Tuesday, 12 July 2011

Good riddance to bad rubbish


So, last week was a good time to write about media prurience.

I am vindictively glad about the News of the World being cancelled. The NotW was not a good paper that went wrong. It was always a bottom-feeder. Its privacy-invading habits aren't new either. Ony the methods are new.

The NotW was not unique. The Sun is not much better. Nor is the Mirror. The Star is probably worse. All of these papers feed off and feed the worst in human nature: sexual prurience, the vicarious enjoyment of cruelty, other people's misery as entertainment, phony outrage, simplistic politics, and demonizing people who can't answer back.

A strong tabloid press can be a great advantage for a democracy. I hope this country gets one. The British people deserve it.

In the round, the British media are not much to be proud of, but Rupert Murdoch had a special, particular role in bringing this about. He took the Sun and the NotW downmarket. He also turned one of the great papers of the world, the Times, which Trollope satirized as the all-powerful Thunderer, into a competitor with the Daily Mail. On its own terms, the Times is a great product. It has the mix of news its readers want. It's well written and full of content. But there is a useful way to draw the line between quality paper and others: do the writers assume that their readers are as intelligent as they are? I think the Times crossed that line a long time ago. Great product. Lousy paper. So my dream story for next week is “Murdoch arrested. Photos page 2, 3, 4, 5, 6.”

Meanwhile... I have not heard much about what economists would call the demand side. There will always be a market for gossip, sensationalism, celebrity and trivia. A healthy society accepts that, but it also knows that these are not really things to be proud of. Perhaps now would be a good time to reconsider our collective reading habits.