Sunday, August 27, 2006

Wishful thinking

The 'lollipop' debateThe Sunday Times today carries a leader headed, "Life in the old dog yet", extolling the virtues of the "dead tree sellers", as we call the print newspapers.

"The death of newspapers has long been predicted," the piece opens, but, says The Sunday Times, "newspapers are investing heavily in websites where they can continue to deliver reliable news and comment." After a discussion on how its product can be delivered, the paper continues:

Some titles may close, as they have in the past, but the ones that will survive in print and online will be those that invest in journalism and innovation. In such a rapidly changing world, the demands for good reporting and analysis will be at an even higher premium, whether it is delivered through the letter box or down a phone line.
This is from a newspaper which, today, devotes a significant amount of space in its magazine – and its whole front cover (illustrated) – to a faux story about photographer Jill Greenberg, who made children cry by confiscating their sweets, then photographed their reactions. "Did she go too far in the name of art?", asks Christopher Goodwin. See pages 28, 29, 30, 31... with full-page, lurid pictures of crying babies.

This is the same newspaper which, two weeks ago, quite gratuitously chose to use this picture from Qana (right), showing "Green Helmet" parading dead baby Hashem to illustrate a comment article on the war in Lebanon.

Yet, despite the issues raised by this treatment of death as a commodity, with four weeks having elapsed since the Qana incident, mainstream British newspapers have been silent on its implications. Furthermore, they have no intention of confronting this issue. They can happily prattle on about someone taking sweets from babies, but they simply cannot handle a debate about the use of images of dead babies as a propaganda tool, in which they themselves had a part to play.

Significantly, though, during the week following our first post on the issue, the weekly circulation of this blog exceeded that of The Sunday Telegraph, formerly the second-largest quality Sunday in the UK.

A similar phenomenon was seen during the Danish cartoons affair, about which the British media were cravenly silent. That time, it was the online Brussels Journal that made the running and, at the height of the crisis, its daily hit rate was running at over 200,000.

Its circulation has declined since – as indeed will ours – but the point is that, in recent times, when contentious issues have arisen, the traditional media has shown extreme reluctance to take them on. The "blogosphere" has made the running. And, if the media continue to show their same cowardice, that is how it is going to be in the future. Ours and others' experience has shown that there is a real thirst for information on key issues and the MSM is simply not delivering the goods – whether physically or electronically.

Furthermore, it is not just on these highly contentious issues, but in the coverage generally that the MSM is lacking. This week, The Sunday Times offers a leaden piece headed , "Humbling of the supertroops shatters Israeli army morale", its analysis of the Israeli Army in the wake of the Lebanon War.

This subject, though, has been running on the "blogosphere" for weeks, and even we did it last week. And frankly, The Sunday Times did not tell me anything I didn't already know and I have seen far better analyses on any number of blogs and websites.

For the paper, though, this is a nice "safe" (and cheap) issue – it's open season on knocking the IDF and, as we know, the MSM prefers to hunt in a pack. But, while the Lebanon war was and is important, at least it was a drawn match - at the very worst.

What could be far more important, in the longer term, is the effective surrender of British forces in Iraq's Al Amarah last week to Islamic extremists – on which we reported yesterday. This represents a humiliating surrender, without even giving battle.

The name Al Amarah seems to be unlucky for the British Army. On 29 April 1916 – 90 years ago - it suffered what was described then as "the greatest humiliation to have befallen the British army in its history". This was at the siege of Kut al-Amarah. For the Turks - and for Germany - it proved a significant morale booster, and undoubtedly weakened British influence in the Middle East.

Now, history doth repeat itself, in part. In 1917, the British Army was allowed to redeem itself, with its capture of Baghdad. This time the Army is being forced to slink back into its barracks, pending a complete withdrawal, while our government is pretending it has won a victory.

How useful and interesting it would have been for The Sunday Times – or any quality newspaper – to have discussed this issue. But you will not find any of them taking it on.

Interestingly, it is not only the MSM which is deserting the field. Our regular readers will have noticed – "Qanagate" apart – how little we are writing on the affairs of our domestic politicians. This is not accidental. They have become so irrelevant to our concerns – especially the not-the-Conservative Party – that they have simply written themselves out of the script. As so often, The Business puts it admirably:

The collapse of trust in political parties is now all but complete. The information revolution – from 24-hour news to the internet – has allowed the electorate a clearer view than ever of politicians who purport to represent them; the reaction is one of informed, rational and heartfelt contempt.
This is not altogether irrelevant to the plight of the MSM – which in all sectors apart from magazines is suffering continued decline in circulation. For most of its history, it has relied on its close relationship with politicians to provide its content but, as politicians become increasingly irrelevant, so too does the MSM.

However, implicit in The Sunday Times editorial is the expectation that it will survive. That may be the case, but I wouldn't bank on it. Judging from its lacklustre content and its craven attitude to contentious issues – in common with the rest – that expectation may be more wishful thinking than a reasoned prediction.

Perversely, what may save them is - as my colleague often remarks – that while we may get our news and comment from the internet, the cats still need something to shit on. Which makes a change from them shitting on us – the MSM, that is.


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