Sunday, July 24, 2011


Why Are Tabloids So Popular?

Nick Cohen writes an interesting piece today about popular newspapers.

'It's hard to think the British are intrinsically decent people when you go through the back issues of the newspaper the British enjoyed reading most....Instead of exposing the abuse of power, it routinely humiliated and taunted its targets because of their sex lives. Far from throwing the paper aside in disgust, the News of the World's audience wanted more of the same.

How do we explain this phenomenon? Cohen goes on to glean arguments in favour of the 'decency' argument: Gordon and Sarah Brown 'hated having to deal with the likes of Murdoch'; Samantha Cameron would not have Coulson in her home 'on the sensible grounds he was a worthless man'. He seems to conclude that the basic decency of the British public has ultimately brought shown that 'appeasing the vicious popular culture conglomerates leads to disgrace and possible imprisonment'.

Hmmm. I wonder. Is it not part of human nature to take a mordant interest in someone else's misfortune? Don't we all indulge in gossip to some extent? What is happening to those friends we met last week who are getting divorced? or Have you Heard Jenny and Joe's son has just come out? Surely we are a protean mixture of good and bad impulses and prey to the attractions of things which often make us feel more than a little guilty? I freely admit to having read the News of the Screws from time to time and even the Daily Mail too, out of an interest which I'd find difficulty in defending.

Even if Murdoch, deservedly, goes down in flames, new purveyors to the public appetite for smut and brutal schadenfreude will step forward to take his place and, indeed, they may prove to be even worse. Murdoch, at least, can arguably be said to have saved the Times and the ST from closing and, through outfacing the print unions, breathed years more life into print journalism. What is required, I reckon, is a tightening up of the law as to what scandal sheets can legitimately publish. Nick is right that fear of 'disgrace and possible imprisonment' is a better safeguard than all that spurious guff about the 'public interest' and censorship.

The question remains:

does the gutter press have too much influence over its readers or

do its readers have too much influence over the gutter press (ie editors have to print the stuff to sell the papers)?

I think I heard that George Orwell had asserted the first of those propositions in a magazine and had refused even to discuss the possibility of the second after being challenged by a letter writer.

But, in spite of my access to Google, I haven't been able to confirm this. Maybe it was another writer of his era, perhaps I made it up, I do that sometimes...
In Britain, the newspapers are trash and the TV news is serious. In the U.S., it's the other way around.
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