I cannot pass by in silence this new form of literature [journalism], since, aside from the fact that it offers nothing whatsoever for the development of the mind, it has, from my point of view, become the fundamental evil in the life of people today because of the poisonous influence it exerts on their mutual relations.
G I Gurdjieff, Meetings with Remarkable Men
You form your own opinions when you don’t read papers.
Chas Hodges, The Autobiography of Chas and Dave
On January 1st, 2012, I did what a lot of people do every year; I made a new year’s resolution. Mine was not to buy a newspaper for the entire year. A couple of weeks ago, after over three and a half years, I finally broke my resolution, buying a copy of The Times because I wanted a tangible souvenir of England’s Ashes victory for my scrapbook of sporting triumph for England and Arsenal stretching back two decades. I took out the sports section, and threw the rest away, unread.
The most depressing thing about modern newspapers is the smug, self-satisfied look of the people carrying them, the look that says; I am among the well-informed. Not for me the lifestyle or music magazine, the new penny dreadfuls or Fifty Shades of Harry Potter. What is this mine of information they hold in their well-informed hands, what is this portal to knowledge concerning the world? Perhaps a couple of dozen articles on events, things which have undeniably taken place, which can be found in any of the major newspapers because it is not journalism but syndicated info-fodder processed and pre-filtered by the big news agencies. Other than that it is advertising disguised as journalism, puff-pieces about establishment-approved causes (Europe, the public sector, multiculturalism, big government and so on), celebrity tittle-tattle (despite claims the paper is averse to the cult of celebrity), television, fashion, motor cars, kitchens and seemingly limitless sports coverage. And, of course, opinion.
A man in a position to know about these things recently gave the opinion that modern journalism is increasingly becoming op-ed. I used to think that ‘op-ed’ stood for ‘opinionated editorial’, but in fact it is short for ‘opposite the editorial page’, and is simply opinion given by a staff writer on the major topics of the day. It is worth noting that the man in question was Alastair Campbell, and so worth listening to concerning what journalism is and is not. If you want to know about evil, you don’t petition the Lord; you ask the Devil.
So, as a confirmed news junkie who hasn’t owned a television for twenty years, where do I get my daily fix? Why, the internet. By which I don’t mean the botched and failing migration the print media have rattled together, but what we might call the ‘dissident net’. Not the dark net, or any other of the dime-store, Illuminati-obsessed, foil-hat-wearing, damp and squalid virtual cellars. The dissident net is that part of the internet where unsanctioned opinion flourishes – from the informed to the psychotic – offering both a genuine, laissez faire marketplace for ideas, and a slowly congealing voice of those we could call cultural plaintiffs. Freedom of speech, dissident ideas, the ability to mock the elites; no wonder those same elites have made their first, tentative steps towards curtailing this playground of freedoms. First they came for the bloggers, but I was not a blogger…
The mainstream media [MSM] will defend itself thus: the press still capture the news as it happens and communicates it. No blogger, commenter or e-zine host can do that. The dissident net is just leeching from the MSM. Well, just so. It is not the reportage qua reportage that concerns the dissenters; it’s the presentation, selection and ill-disguised politicisation of that news which smacks of Orwell and Communism. As for macro-news, this is all too often used as a distraction from localised news, which is exactly what the citizen journalist is equipped to cover. They have the competence.
And that is a sore point for the courtiers of the MSM; competence. All these unlettered bloggers and e-zine contributors, expressing opinions unchecked by professional sub-editors (a dying breed, incidentally; I used to be one), with not so much as a seaside journalism college diploma or a Media Studies degree from an ex-Polytechnic! But opinion needs no mentor save knowledge, and successful bloggers and magazine editors soon find out they have a very capable sub-editor in its readers and commenters, a hive-mind of useful pedantry. Journalists just don’t like it because it’s someone else’s go on the swings. My diaries tell me that, over six years ago, I was writing of the press and its relationship with blogging thus;
‘In the last three years, I have read vitriolic anti-blogging diatribes by Madeleine Bunting, Jackie Ashley, Polly Toynbee and Yasmin Alibhai-Brown.’
The press is largely composed of orthodox, Left-of-centre, tenured courtiers who might be permitted the odd tantrum or raspberry, but otherwise hold the party line. There are one or two exceptions – Peter Hitchens being the most obvious and erudite – but if you want genuine debate on and new and contrarian ideas concerning immigration, Europe, globalisation, climate change, Islam, the public sector, the economy, cultural decline and any one of the other dwindling redoubts where the Right might turn and take a stand, do not look to the gentlemen and women of the press.
I’ll resist the urge to proselytise but, if you are already here - although this is no font of knowledge, just a twitch in the nerve of democracy as it sickens and dies – then perhaps you already have the feeling that the MSM simply won’t do. So kick the habit. Stop buying newspapers, get rid of your television. You can buy a top-of-the-range e-book with the licence fee and still have change for sweets and a comic, and you can buy what Wodehouse’s Jeeves would call ‘an improving book’ with the money you save on chip wrapping. Starve the beast.