I can't read this cos I've read all my NT Times articles for the month.
Ironicallly, as I was about to argue that papers should bring in paywalls. As much as I like being able to read whatever I like for free, it's obviously slowly strangling the publications concerned.
Ad Blocker has made advertising revenue shrink like an arctic explorer's ballbag, so there's really very little other options.
Britain’s Paper Tigers
By STIG ABELLAUG. 10, 2016
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Hot off the press along Fleet Street, London, in May, 1940, delivering news of the growing German occupation in France. Credit Associated Press
LONDON — Last week, two reporters for a small Scottish newspaper left Fleet Street for good. Their departure means that the London home of Britain’s unseemly press since 1702 now no longer houses any newspaper offices at all. A neighborhood once dominated by printers and reporters, all working and (more often) drinking within half a mile of one another, has become the haunt of lawyers, insurers and other soulless creatures.
Britain’s decision to leave the European Union was, from one angle, a final, Pyrrhic victory for British print journalism. Its fiercely partisan, predominantly right-wing newspapers had come out in support of Brexit. This was only to be expected: The mood of the country, outside of its cosmopolitan capital and Europhile Scotland, was stridently anti-immigration and pro-nationalism. Newspapers were both feeding and responding to that phenomenon.
The British statesman Stanley Baldwin, who as prime minister battled with The Daily Mail in the 1930s, once said that “what the proprietorship of these papers is aiming at is power, and power without responsibility — the prerogative of the harlot through the ages.” The harlotry of Fleet Street, in the summer of 2016, had spread to the politicians themselves.
Two of the most prominent Brexit politicians were themselves journalists: Michael Gove, a halibut-faced former columnist at The Times; and Boris Johnson, an antic columnist for The Telegraph who is now baffling the world as foreign secretary. Mr. Johnson’s first major pronouncement as victor came, indeed, in the first column he wrote after the referendum.
Mr. Gove’s wife, Sarah Vine, is also a journalist, a Lady Macbeth of middlebrow letters. As she wrote in her own column in The Daily Mail, the largest midmarket paper, “Given Michael’s high-profile role in the Leave campaign, that means he — we — are now charged with implementing the instructions of 17 million people.” That elision between “he” and “we” — borderline sociopathic, really — was a microcosm of how Brexit had been pursued, journalism and politics incestuously entwined.
Brexit appeared to demonstrate that Britain’s newspapers could still represent, and influence, the national temper. So the press itself seemed to believe. But does the harlot really retain such power?
The Sun, where I once worked, has supported the winning party in every election since 1979. When the Conservatives won an unexpected, Sun-backed victory in 1992, its headline crowed, “It’s The Sun Wot Won It.” Probably not entirely true then; almost certainly not true now. Today, the paper sells around 1.7 million copies a day, down from four million in its heyday.
Britain, with a population of about 65 million, still has an astonishing 10 daily national newspapers, although it lost one recently: The Independent, which had become an unread signal of virtue, ceased to print in March. By any metric, newspapers matter less now than they did. The advent of 24-hour TV news and the internet has deprived them of their original purpose, being people’s first source of information. Most are suffering steep declines in circulation, at a rate of about 7 percent a year. Newspaper advertising revenue has collapsed, losing £155 million, or about $200 million, in 2014, a year in which advertising spending grew as a whole. And, Pyrrhic indeed, Brexit is expected to lead to a further $260 million reduction in media buying next year.
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PS 4 hours ago
I am saddened indeed to hear that news in print is soon to be no more - hopefully not anytime soon for there is nothing in life quite as...
Wallinger 4 hours ago
British newspapers are opinionated but they offer a range of views. They are also fun to read. The Times is conservative but more centrist...
Cheekos 4 hours ago
There must be a reason why the NY Times had been valued, several years ago, at five-to-six times that of the Washington Post. And yet, Jeff...
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The result is that many newspapers have become living relics, pale and attenuated, struggling to be significant. The Daily Mirror, a left-leaning tabloid, was once a prominent socialist voice, selling more than three million copies. Circulation is now well below one million, heralding a downward spiral of staff cuts, reliance on news-agency copy and articles siphoned from social media, and an enfeebled voice. The Daily Express, once a serious paper, is no more than an incontinent shriek of made-up facts about health and immigration.
Digitally, many free newspaper sites have become click-hungry attics of tat. They have to be. Newspapers do not fit the internet age in part because the web cannibalizes their content so ruthlessly. The popular press provides humor, one-fact stories, pictures with captions, scabrous tales and gossip. So does everything else online.
Aiming to be upscale brings no safety. The Guardian was once heralded, not least by itself, as a paragon of successful, intelligent journalism. A pioneer of free online news, it is exporting its brand at great cost to new markets like America and Australia. This year, The Guardian will lose more than $88 million. Its messianic former editor, Alan Rusbridger, has been unceremoniously booted from his proposed emeritus role — a sort of guardian of The Guardian — as the head of the trust that bankrolls the paper. The business is in tatters.
The future of British journalism, with its proud history of mischief-making and scurrility, is questionable then, with few and limited bright spots. The audience for print seems to be lasting longer than some digital evangelists once predicted.
The Daily Mail is focusing its marketing efforts on the over 65s, hoping to make a life preserver out of the rising life expectancy of its majority female readership — a following largely inspired by its deliberate, offhand meanness, specializing in articles written by women for women who hate women. The Sun can still call an election correctly, can still elicit outrage and comment. The Mirror, The Sun and The Mail hope to turn their vast online audiences into a profitable business model.
And there is a gradual resurgence of a willingness to pay for quality. The Times and The Sunday Times, paywalled and protected, have become profitable perhaps for the first time in history. Paywalls — once seen as an embodiment of Luddism in the giddy world of the free internet — now seem essential to the survival of professional writing.
Yet there has never been a more hostile environment to journalism than exists today, and not only in economic terms. The democratizing effect of social media, a potentially healthful development, has also given rise to a cynicism directed toward the mainstream media. This is all part of a new angriness in politics.
In Britain, the hard left assumed control of the Labour Party last year after the election of its new leader, Jeremy Corbyn, who looks like a dufferish old uncle but is followed by a cult of rageful acolytes. They despise the “MSM,” The Guardian and The Daily Mail alike, howling their disgust into the void of social media. (I once made a joke about Mr. Corbyn and was told on Twitter that I should “die of the bad AIDS.”)
In my time in newspapers, I have seen chaos and confusion, certainly, but no evidence of cat-stroking conspiracy, of evil attempts to manipulate things. And I have seen the continuing fight for relevance. As Oscar Wilde said, “There is only one thing in the world worse than being talked about, and that is not being talked about.” British newspapers still want to be talked about. That is why they shout so much.
The competition for that conversation gets harder every day.
Stig Abell is the editor of The Times Literary Supplement and a former managing editor of The Sun newspaper.
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