Saturday, 9 July 2011

Pitying News of the World

I think its a pity that the New of the World newspaper is closing down. In this piece I’m going to be quite selective about facts, and biased, this is a torrent of poorly argued and ill-informed bullshit, but please, read on.

I’ve never bought a copy of News of the World. I might buy the last ever edition tomorrow for posterity, but other than that, its just not really the sort of paper I read, I’m more of a Sunday Telegraph sort of chap, or The Observer or Sunday Times, you know, pretentious like. NOTW was a bit to sensationalist and celebrity-orientated for me, not intellectual enough, but I am in the minority.

The main reason I think its a shame that the News of the World is shutting down is because I really like the idea of companies and institutions over a hundred years old still being in business doing the same sort of thing for vast periods of time. Like IBM or Western Union or ICIor The Guardian newspaper. There’s something reassuring about companies having survived the initial blip of a ‘good idea’, then out living the people who started the organisation, and then having almost always been there.

Sure, companies have to adapt and change in order to stay in business, IBM changed from mechanical counting machines and calculators, to computers and and then IT infrastructure services, but they’ve been broadly successful and are still doing the same thing.

I mourn the passing of Woolworths and Borders and Rumbelows from our high streets. They just couldn’t keep up and adapt and keep the customers and money flowing, and so they didn’t survive. Tis the nature of things.

But the passing of the News of the World, I think its unfair. It didn’t close down because people stopped buying it, it was very popular, the most popular of the Sunday newspapers according to wikipedia. Here’s this is the circulation figures for the top UK Sunday papers:-
           News of the World - 2,789,560
           Mail on Sunday - 1,958,083
           Sunday Mirror - 1,092,816
           Sunday Times - 1,039,371
           Sunday Express - 550,269
           People - 500,866
           Sunday Telegraph - 496,128
           Sunday Mail - 366,325
           Sunday Post - 317,896
           Daily Star Sunday - 316,712
           Observer - 314,164
           Independent on Sunday - 152,561
I tried to use google’s visualisation API to generate a treemap showing circulation, but couldn’t figure out how to embed it into a blog, so here’s a static image:-

News of the World sells about the same number of copies as the bottom eight Sunday papers put together. Some people really like buying it.

If it closed down because people stopped buying it and it wasn’t profitable or popular, then that’s fair enough, but that’s not the case.

The case is that less popular newspapers, and people who didn’t support the paper’s viewpoints, rather than trying to be more popular and sell more copies, or persuade the majority of the virtues of their views, they took out News of the World by other means, on a technicality.

Almost like trying to win a football match by killing all the other team’s players.
A small minority decided that a majority is wrong, and now the majority are not permitted to have that newspaper any more.

Murdoch or News International pulled the plug, not the Guardian, not twitter, not the BBC nor Vince Cable, they merely forced the decision.

Another thing that bugs me about this is that as well as not reading the News of the World myself, I don’t think any of my friends do, and all the blogs that I subscribe to online, they almost never link to articles in the News of the World, its always the Guardian, The Observer, The Independent or The Telegraph. Based on my view of the world, I’d reckon that News of the World has the smallest circulation. But we’ve seen how this is wrong, whoever it is that reads it, there’s a whole lot more of them than I can see, they are huge, hidden and silent.

There are almost ten times as many of them than Observer readers. So whenever the Observer or Guardian clamour for anything, there are ten times as many Sun and NOTW readers who don’t.

The other day I read this piece on Charles Crawford’s blogoir, and at the time I took it to mean that human’s are overwealmingly traditional and conservative, and that secular liberalism is a minority view which
since the French Revolution and then the Russian Revolution, a systemic attempt has been made by supposedly progressive tendencies to downplay certain essentially human ‘traditional’ values and to ‘relativise’ the way issues are looked at.
The readers of The Guardian, The Observer and The Independent are very good at downplaying the popular majority who read the News of the World. The righteous may very well be right, and good, but they are a minority. The majority clearly prefer the bullying, the thuggery and commercialisation, and rank criminality.

There’s another thing that troubles me, I’m not an investigative journalist, I’m not a journalist at all, I don’t know many of the tools they have to find and investigate stories. Off the top of my head I guess they can:-
  • Get a ‘tip-off’ from an ‘inside source’
  • Freedom of Information requests
  • Waiting outside a classy nightclub
  • Raiding celebrity’s rubbish bins
There are dozen’s more of course, apart from now there is one less:-
  • Hacking subject’s voice mail
Use that one and you will lose your job, and all you colleagues will lose their jobs and the whole institution will get shut down, the building burned to the ground and the ashes scattered with salt.

From Devil’s Kitchen:-
Others have made this point, but I think it’s important to remember, amidst all of the furore and moral outrage, that the state doesn’t need to hack your phone—they can simply demand that your supplier hand over all of their records.

And your mobile supplier, and your Internet service provider (ISP), keep extensive records of everything that you do—because the state demands that they do so.

So, if some tabloid arsehole wanted to get details of your conversations, or your browsing habits, or your emails they would be far better off simply paying a public servant to get them instead.

And with over 900 police officers and staff were disciplined for breaching the Data Protection Act between 2007 and 2010, I wouldn’t imagine that such a person would be so terribly hard to find…
But I’m thinking there are dozens, maybe hundreds of other tricks that investigative journalists can use, and some of them are probably just as bad as phone-hacking, but the public just don’t know about them.

There’s two ways to call it:-
  • We, the public, want our investigative journalists to have whatever legal, illegal, or immoral tools at their disposal in order to get the stories to hold those in power to account, to get us, the public, as complete and truthful information as possible to make our own personal judgement
  • We, the public, want to know and then limit the tools available to journalists for them to do all the stuff in the previous option
Actually the reality is somewhere between those two options, we like to think that our chosen Sunday newspaper has decent morals, ethics and journalist practises, but its probably best if we didn’t know everything about how they do their work. For example, remember all that business the other week with Johann Hari, those who thought he was a dick previously now still think he’s a dick, and those who agreed with his politics before probably still believe in his politics, and completely ignore his faults.

One final point…

Would it have been a more satisfactory if News International had sold News of the World to Guardian Media Group Plc for a pound, and let them change the editorial line and investigative journalism tools to whatever they want? At least then a 168 year old institution would keep on going, having adapted to “the modern way of doing business”.

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