On being informed…

December 13, 2015

images (1)    imagesI’ve always felt it’s important to make sure I’m well-informed about what’s going on in the world, and not just what will affect me. This has usually meant reading newspapers and magazines on current affairs, and I think it’s getting progressively harder to keep up with the world…

I discount television and radio, which are by nature less detailed. Television is more concerned with images, even though a picture may perhaps be worth a thousand words. Nowadays it’s about mugshots of nonentities standing pointlessly in front of buildings and holding forth in a few sceonds about issues that need hours… Radio sometimes does better; some programmes on BBC Radio 4 and the World Service are dedicated to analysis in depth.

It is the downhill path of almost all the printed media, particularly in this country, that concerns me most. We once had a quality press that could be counted on to consider important issues with some seriousness. The Guardian excelled in many fields, particularly analysis, the Daily Telegraph in the scope and depth of its news coverage. The Independent used to be serious and once lived up to its founders’ ideals. I’m certainly not convinced it’s just about my growing older, but all the papers seem to aim at frothy lifestyle coverage more than serious news, all aimed at a younger readership who are less likely to buy printed newspapers, and in the process are driving away older readers who might. I know we will eventually fall off our perches (that’s the story of the Daily Express par excellence), but meantime we might buy the papers and respond to the adverts.

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I won’t knowingly buy any Murdoch-owned paper, but the other three ‘serious’ papers have grown ever more trashy. There used to be many columnists who knew their field and wrote knowledgeably. Now Gary Younge has stopped his reporting for the Guardian on the US; Tim Garton Ash still manages to provide reflective coverage on Eastern Europe, and the Independent’s Robert Fisk is far and away the best writer on the Middle East. Otherwise it’s columnists writing by the yard to fill a regular allotted space, no matter whether they have anything meaningful to say or not…

It’s the fact that one needs to write at length to explore and analyse a topic thoroughly that’s at the heart of the problem: today’s reporters (!) and readers either have, or are judged to have, the attention span of a hamster. In English, serious and lengthy commentary appears in the London Review of Books and the New York Review of Books, but, although they do print more general articles, they are, as their names suggest, primarily about books. Le Monde Diplomatique (do not let the title put you off) allows its reporters and analysts the space – one or two full pages, quite often; they write knowledgeably and analyse in depth, from a left-wing perspective. And the magazine is available in lots of different languages. Increasingly I respect and rely on its analysis. There are no pictures (!) and a dossier most months consisting of a series of articles examining a particular issue of world moment.

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How important is all this? I’ve had a bit of a rant here, and don’t apologise for it; I always used to tell my students to beware of anyone who came along offering simple solutions ot problems. Intelligent people deserve better than what the British press currently offers them.

 

 

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