Magazine article The Spectator

Dirty Rotten Journalists

Magazine article The Spectator

Dirty Rotten Journalists

Article excerpt

'I had a look at my 89-year-old mum's Sunday People,' a chap called Fred observed to me on Wednesday last week, 'and it's just soft porn. I asked her why she still bought it and she said because she'd always bought it, like she always buys the Mirror and votes Labour. My mum likes her rut.'

I can never hear comments on the state of the gutter press without thinking about my late friend, Hugh Cudlipp, the greatest of all tabloid journalists. But when that same day I heard that Rupert Murdoch was to read the lesson at St Bride's Church in Fleet Street at a service to mark the departure of Reuters to Canary Wharf, I could hear Cudlipp howling a favourite diatribe from his grave about what happened after 1969, when he disastrously sold the Digger the Sun. 'It was the dawn of the Dark Ages of tabloid journalism, the decades, still with us, when the proprietors and editors - not all, but most - decided that playing a continuing role in public enlightenment was no longer any business of the popular press. Information about foreign affairs was relegated to a three-inch yapping editorial insulting foreigners. It was the age when investigative journalism in the public interest shed its integrity and became intrusive journalism for the prurient, when nothing, however personal, was any longer secret or sacred . . . when the daily nipple-count and the sleazy stories about bonking bimbos achieved a dominant influence in the circulation charts.'

Cudlipp might have added that it was also the period of growing disconnection between journalists and their readers. He and his kind had come from the working class, had mums like Fred's, had done their wartime or National Service and served their time in the provinces. They knew the difference between Runcorn and Reigate and Aberdeen and Aberfan. They went to real places to cover real stories, hobnobbed in their pubs and workplaces with electricians and technicians and van drivers and printers as well as journalists. They believed their average reader to be a decent sort of person who could grasp complicated ideas if they were clearly expressed, and they thought it was their job to appeal to his better rather than baser instincts.

Their successors mainly come from universities and schools of journalism, will have had little or no experience of real live reporting, no enlightened editors to dispatch them around the country to do serious investigations into ghetto life, and will spend most of their journalistic life behind computer screens in tower blocks. The most striking aspect of today's Mirror and Sun and their Sunday equivalents is how they demonstrate their profound contempt for their readers, whom they clearly view as morons incapable of focusing on anything except footie, booze, celebs, shagging and reality television. Everything can be trivialised: Saturday's Sun contribution to culture was to judge Beethoven ('randy bugger'), Mozart ('windy Wolfgang') and Tchaikovsky ('off his nut') to be 'the biggest hell-raising "mad fer it" rascals to ever sit at a piano'. When serious issues are addressed, as with Rebekah Wade's famous News of the World campaign about naming paedophiles, the appeal is to sentiment and bigotry, not to reason.

An hour or so after Murdoch read the lesson at St Bride's, Archbishop Rowan Williams, whom the Sun thinks 'hopeless', gave a typically thoughtful, dense lecture at Lambeth Palace on 'The Media: Public Interest and Common Good', in which he spoke of the British journalistic profession as predominantly male, young, white and London-based, largely unaware of the real concerns of most of the community, a tribe handicapped in promoting true communication. …

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