Fox (n): carnivore of genus vulpes; crafty person; scavenger; (vb) to confuse; -ed (adj): to be drunk.

Wednesday, 30 May 2012

General principles.

THE newspapers of Britain are peculiar things.

They're different to the ones you get elsewhere. They are mischievous, punchy, and capable of reaching between 20 and 30 million readers every day, depending on the day of the week and time of the year.

That's a third to a half of the population of these islands, roughly. Their websites reach tens of millions more all around the world.

The phone-hacking and corruption scandal which currently has its claws around our neck aside - and which I'll insist to the day I die is the result of the actions of a handful of people and not my profession at large - it is an industry which the rest of the world wishes it had.

Newspapers in Ghana, Australia, America, Estonia, every country around the world, are the descendants of the trade which began in Fleet Street in 1702, with the first edition of the Daily Courant in a room above a pub.

It's the first thing we'd recognise as a newspaper, but pamphlets and newsheets had been around for a good century or more before that. Wynkyn de Worde set up the first printing press in Fleet Street in 1500, and during the English Civil War both sides used their own newsheets to spread propaganda.

If you relied on the 'newspapers' of the time, both sides won the Battle of Naseby.

Because of that history and because we're a small bunch of islands with a lot of people, the business model that evolved was to sell on the basis of politics and class. It's worked incredibly well. Despite the impact of television and the internet most newspapers still turn a profit which would be considered very healthy by any other industry's standards.

Elsewhere in the world as people have evolved their own democracies, achieved independence and found the wit and wealth to care about what people in power get up to, newspapers are different. The ones in America for example have broad geographical distances to cover and in order to get the most readers they are as bland as possible; I tend to use them as sleep aids.

But everywhere in the world they do the one thing which Fleet Street taught them: they reflect the views of The Reader. In Australia the politics is not about Mother England so much as what's happening in Japan, Indonesia, and New Zealand; the human interest stories are about Aussies and 'larrikins'. In Ghana they're rampantly homophobic and have quite shocking detail about deaths and murders; when a body is found with an axe buried in it there is a picture and blood-curdlingly detailed description.

In Italy pictures are used which we'd never publish for reasons of general taste and decency - I know of one picture of a female celebrity who willingly flashed her tampon string at a camera, which was turned down everywhere else before an Italian mag printed it on the front page.

The newspapers of the world are not perfect. They're staffed by human beings who make mistakes and generally cause trouble everywhere they go. They have the same proportion of utter shits as every other industry. In other countries the journos don't drink; sometimes the pay is so bad they take their own pictures, write their own headlines and sell their own advertising as well.

And here in the country where it all began newspapers all moved out of Fleet Street a long time ago. We're now a diaspora of people who consider themselves part of something greater than their office or company, and although we rarely see ourselves as caretakers of any kind of flame we do all feel a responsibility to be Puckish, to irritate people on behalf of The Reader and tell them things they'd want to know. To stick two fingers up, just on general principles.

We're doing it while fighting against the instant news of the internet and 24-hour TV without many weapons, except our pens and an ability to stick our noses where they're not wanted.

Some newspapers will lose. Some will die - the Daily Courant did, and dozens like it over the years.

But there are some things newspapers have which the internet and TV do not.

We still have those 20 or 30 million faithful readers. Despite the Leveson Inquiry and a queue of MPs lining up to say how much they hate everything we do, politicians are still relying on us to take sides, to disseminate their leaks, win their petty squabbles, detail their victories and get them re-elected. Sometimes we get them sacked instead, which is why they don't like us much. A variety of high-profile people need us for their own careers.

The TV isn't allowed to take sides. The internet, as good a force as it can be, cannot be trained in the laws of rape, contempt, defamation, or be relied upon as having done even so much as checked Nickitpedia before tweeting something as fact.

We also have people in charge of us who are not journalists. They're business people, shareholders, corporations and moguls. Some of them are pretty good, and some of them aren't exactly in it for the long term. Newspapers have to fight their corner with them, as much as we have to fight for The Reader's attention, for every story, fight politicians and litigious celebrities and idiots who think they can get £10,000 from us for a grainy picture of someone who looks a bit like someone else.

And that's almost the very best thing about us, because we are fighters. Sometimes scrappy and rarely following the rules, but we'll fight until our pens run dry and even after that.

We have reach, and influence, and the world is full of news for us to chew upon. There is no reason that we should die.

We simply need to find the one person out there - perhaps even sitting reading this - who has a business plan which will make the internet pay. To write the computer code or have the big idea which will allow The Reader to sign up to the news they want, to build their own daily newspaper online in which breaking news is free and exclusive content - things like columnists, scoops, investigations and bought-in sets of pictures - cost you a penny to view. And which, in turn, will pay for the paper version, put some investment back into journalism and keep all the funny, witty, clever and screwed up people who become journalists off the streets.

Whoever does that will become a billionaire, and more importantly will be making sure that two fingers carry on getting stuck up, just on general principles.

Imagine what the world would be like if all the people who hate us had to hate something else instead.


Matt said...

One of the advantages print media has over the internet and 24hr TV is time.

On most stories, you have the time to check the facts and the real story behind what is happening.

How often has the internet (twitter especially) or 24 hour TV rushed to be first to the news to find that they are wrong (like the Knox trial and the Mail and others getting the wrong verdict).

Letters from readers in papers are also less crazy than comments found on the bottom half of the internet as it is easier to censor/moderate. Whether that is a good or bad thing is another matter.

Yes the internet/24 hour is great at giving news now, but because it's always after the next big thing we can lose the time to reflect on the days stories like printed media has a chance to do.

pirate said...

"on behalf of The Reader" you not doing it on behalf of the reader, that is either a cover story you use or a delusion. You weren't elected a product you have something to do with was bought by someone, you no more doing it "on behalf of the reader" that Cadbury is doing it ob behalf of the eater.
The reason the papers never go to grips with the internet is because they lack imagination and foresight and are generally involved in naval gazing and are as averse to change as all other old industries.
No paper has developed a decent system for adding user generated content to it sites because it was only interested in keeping it's style, it's layout. If the papers are dying it is the Journos who are killing them not anyone else, you want to carry on doing the job you have always done in the way you have always done it. Carry on like that and you will be as employable as a Gas Mantle packer.

Pointlesssnipe said...

"Their websites reach tens of millions more all around the world"

Hmmm...would you have added this a couple of months ago?

pointysnipe said...

Why are you injuncting the comments? I thought you were all for freedom of speech, innit?

Michael said...

Newspapers rarely make money from sales and subscriptions. Their primary source of income is from advertisements. Most advertising budgets are now being focused online with some advertisers using the likes of Twitter and Facebook to advertise their products and services for free.

There’s little I can’t get online for free. Even if an online column is behind a paywall, you’ll normally get some other columnist quoting the salient points from the premium article on their own free blog.

The business model is broken and it may not be possible to fix it in the coming years. This will be a real pity, if we lose all the in-depth investigative reporting newspapers do and are instead stuck with whatever is trending on Twitter at that moment and time.

Foxy said...

I'd correct your spelling and grammar but can't be bothered.

Foxy said...

Yes, reason being they had tens of millions of readers a few months ago too.

Foxy said...

They're moderate for legal reasons, and I was in the pub.

G0DJA said...

And you shouldn't believe a word that they print...

pirate said...

Kiss my Rs.

Amanda Kendal said...

No serious publication would want "user generated content" (it's a compound adjective, by the way) because then it would take some of us hours to turn it into English – witness your own contribution here – and to check the legality.

Alex Greene said...

Well said, for reminding us of how long journalism has been around, and that it is a profession with much nobility - even if certain individuals in the present day seem intent on besmirching that nobility and driving it into disrepute.

Keep sticking those two fingers up at the speakers of cant and the hypocrites, Foxy. I'll keep on sharing your words. Publish or perish!

Number1Bassman said...

Isn't it Foxy's website?
And if she wants to reply to someone's comment she can?

Chrissie B said...

We do quite a bit of naval gazing here in Portsmouth.

pirate said...

I imagine it would take you, considerable more than hours to extract meaning for the most grammatically perfect statement, if the content where anything above puerile.

pirate said...

and you can lick out my belly button fluff.

Alconcalcia said...

I worked on Fleet Street (well just off it actually) for seven years and even today when I have occasion to walk down the street it brings back memories of hot metal and slaving over a typewriter taking copy after a boozy lunch (strict hour mind!) at the Poppinjay, Ye Olde Bell, The Cheese, The King & Keys or some such watering hole. The problem for me these days is Fleet Street is just a name, not an entity. There's no sense of community any more. The Street itself is full of coffee shops, poncey bars and bankers, whilst the industry itself is as far fling as Canary Wharf and Kensington. Yes, there are still a few old hostelries around, but the place is devoid of the heart & soul it had when a thriving newspaper industry was based there. I went on strike during the Shah days, which was the start of the exodus, long before anyone knew that the web would come along and deliver another blow to one of the nation's great traditions. Sod you kindles and relying on online content for a good read, there really is nothing quite like settling down with a good newspaper in your hands. The trouble is, with each generation the readerships get small and smaller and before long, unless rich folk keep them in business as playthings/mouthpieces, we will have to rely purely on the sterile Kindle and web page for our news. I guess it's called progress, or is it?

Michael Goveisacumstain said...

Fair Enough. I just think it's a bit shit when you have to wait for your comments to be approved. You'd probably get more traffic if the comments appeared straight away.

Salyoo said...

Not happy with your aligning an Italian scandal magazine with 'Fleet Street'. Or do you think Hello and its ilk are 'Fleet Street'?

Elizabeth said...

I was thinking. Perhaps newspapers will evolve into more of a platform for analysis, commentary, ongoing discussion? The breaking news suits the internet and TV. In my mind, 'newspaper' makes me think classy, well-informed, weighty, reliable (usually), and so the perfect place to delve deeper into the issues that the TV/internet puts in front of us. i.e, a better relationship could potentially evolve between all media, based on different roles in the cycle of news breaking/issue being padded out/issue being understood. Or maybe I'm just idealistic. Ooo time for cake.

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