thecredo

A free press shouldn’t require a standing order

In editorial, news, wth on June 27, 2010 at 21:42

When I first took an active interest on the divergent ways that broadsheets cover stories – especially political ones – I honestly believed The Times (and The Sunday Times) to be the most intelligent and fair of the three major dailies (Times, Telegraph, and Guardian). I am now quite happy to admit the error of my ways.

As the Telegraph grows evermore sensationalist with its headlines, as the Guardian editors and subs appear to be consistently asleep at the wheel – or perhaps pissed (possibly both, I suppose) – and as the Times persists in demonising pretty much every member of the British public who doesn’t write love-letters on Labour policy, I have come to the conclusion that they’re all full of shit. Though, I am happy to be proved wrong.

The article that was the proverbial ‘straw’ for me was Why a free press is worth paying for, which was written by Richard Woods (who really ought to know better), and appears in the Sunday Times, today. But, let me first set the stage for you, as I’m sure that not everyone really apprehends what the role of a free press is.

First, consider this: the widely accepted role of a free press is to provide members of a society the information they need to make rational, informed decisions about the world around them, and to live in a free and democratic society.

This, at least in Britain, was argued for most strongly at first by Milton, who in his Areopagitica argued against government imposed limitations on the dissemination of information that could be used in free and rational debate. At the time, only those ‘licensed’ by the government could publish anything at all.

The end, for Milton, was not simply freedom of the press, but freedom for the press, with the explicit understanding that this freedom is what is necessary in order for citizens to make informed choices about government, based on something closely resembling the truth – if not the whole truth.

Second, this information must be reasonably available to the citizenry for whom the press labours. Milton, it is worth noting, went a step beyond this and suggested it should be freely available – but modern economies prevent this from being the case.

His assumption was that the citizenry at large are capable of taking such decisions on their governance, through public discourse, debate – or even an evening at the pub. People are intelligent creatures who can make accurate statements about the world in which they live.

It is on these two very key points that Richard Woods, and the Sunday Times, fail lavishly.

In his article Woods compares the cost of good journalism to the sacrifices made by heroic foreign correspondants who penetrate enemy lines to bring the world the very juiciest of tidbits from the front line. He says ‘frontline reporting comes at a high cost in courage, organisation and cash.”

But, the crux of his article really has much less to do with the sacrifices that these men and women make on behalf of their readers (and these are significant, dreadful and praiseworthy sacrifices), and much more to do with cold hard cash.

“That is why The Sunday Times and The Times are about to start charging a fee for their new websites, believing that it is in the best interests of both readers and journalists,” he writes.

I can recall writing an article on direct marketing campaigns, not so long ago. I interviewed a number of direct marketers (these are the people trying to sell you cheaper broadband on the doorstep), some of them working for charities.

One, working for a major international charity, spent six days per week going from door-to-door asking for less than £2 a week in order to save the lives of countless victims of car accidents, those in need of blood transfusions and the like.

Many of the doors she knocked on were those of good, working class people who actually did genuinely want to help, but simply could not afford the money out of their weekly budget. These are the same people who are making the majority of the decisions on British governance! These are the people in control of the votes. These are the people who most need the information that publications like The Times and The Sunday Times provide.

Woods encourages prevention of access to a vital method of obtaining the information they need to continue to make informed, rational decisions about their own governance. I think that’s really quite weird, given my first point, don’t you?

But, he doesn’t stop there. He also takes a swipe at new media. “Online, you can shovel out celebrity pap and press releases for virtually nothing. But properly informed reporting, analysis, investigations and the sharpest wit still cost money.”

Take a few slow, deep breaths to regain your composure. Then read that last bit, again.

Not only does Woods subvert those of us who actually take an active interest in our own governance and liberty, and not only does he judge online public discourse to be substandard, but he also seems to believe that only seasoned professionals are worth listening to.

That is a massive conundrum into which he has placed himself.

In two short sentences, he has written off the very media that he’s shilling for (the online sort), and engaged in some sort of weird alternate reality fantasy where the citizenry is stupid and just needs to listen to the alleged experts.

In the end, of course, we need to be practical, newspapers can’t afford to print and be free of charge, but they subvert their own roles in a free and democratic society when they put ‘quality journalism’ at such a premium.

This distinction is – contrary to Woods – already highlighted rather well, but reasonably. Just look at the price of – say – the Mirror versus the price of the Times, or the Telegraph. Woods’ justification amounts to little more than ‘well, The Economist does it.’ I mean, really, it used to be that you had to pay more to see girlies with big tits in print. Now, the reverse seems to be true. How on earth did that happen?

So, The Sunday Times, why not just be honest about this? The economy is shit, more people are reading your paper online for free, and you can’t afford to let it go on. Because, at the end of the day – if you’re not going to be honest about it – you’ve become those that you so love to demonise and expose.

In any event, in doing so, you have lost a very faithful reader.

hen I first took an active interest on the divergent ways that broadsheets cover stories – especially political ones – I honestly believed The Times (and The Sunday Times) to be the most intelligent and fair of the three major dailies (Times, Telegraph, and Guardian). I am now quite happy to admit the error of my ways.

As the Telegraph grows evermore sensationalist with its headlines, as the Guardian editors and subs appear to be consistently asleep at the wheel – or perhaps pissed (possibly both, I suppose) – and as the Times persists in demonising pretty much every member of the British public who doesn’t write love-letters on Labour policy, I have come to the conclusion that they’re all full of shit. Though, I am happy to be proved wrong.

The article that was the proverbial ‘straw’ for me was Why a free press is worth paying for, which was written by Richard Woods (who really ought to know better), and appears in the Sunday Times, today. But, let me first set the stage for you, as I’m sure that not everyone really apprehends what the role of a free press is.

First, consider this: the widely accepted role of a free press is to provide members of a society the information they need to make rational, informed decisions about the world around them, and to live in a free and democratic society.

This, at least in Britain, was argued for most strongly at first by Milton, who in his Areopagitica argued against government imposed limitations on the dissemination of information that could be used in free and rational debate. At the time, only those ‘licensed’ by the government could publish anything at all.

The end, for Milton, was not simply freedom of the press, but freedom for the press, with the explicit understanding that this freedom is what is necessary in order for citizens to make informed choices about government, based on something closely resembling the truth – if not the whole truth.

Second, this information must be reasonably available to the citizenry for whom the press labours. Milton, it is worth noting, went a step beyond this and suggested it should be freely available – but modern economies prevent this from being the case.

His assumption was that the citizenry at large are capable of taking such decisions on their governance, through public discourse, debate – or even an evening at the pub. People are intelligent creatures who can make accurate statements about the world in which they live.

It is on these two very key points that Richard Woods, and the Sunday Times, fail lavishly.

In his article Woods compares the cost of good journalism to the sacrifices made by heroic foreign correspondants who penetrate enemy lines to bring the world the very juiciest of tidbits from the front line. He says ‘frontline reporting comes at a high cost in courage, organisation and cash.”

But, the crux of his article really has much less to do with the sacrifices that these men and women make on behalf of their readers (and these are significant, dreadful and praiseworthy sacrifices), and much more to do with cold hard cash.

“That is why The Sunday Times and The Times are about to start charging a fee for their new websites, believing that it is in the best interests of both readers and journalists,” he writes.

I can recall writing an article on direct marketing campaigns, not so long ago. I interviewed a number of direct marketers (these are the people trying to sell you cheaper broadband on the doorstep), some of them working for charities.

One, working for a major international charity, spent six days per week going from door-to-door asking for less than £2 a week in order to save the lives of countless victims of car accidents, those in need of blood transfusions and the like.

Many of the doors she knocked on were those of good, working class people who actually did genuinely want to help, but simply could not afford the money out of their weekly budget. These are the same people who are making the majority of the decisions on British governance! These are the people in control of the votes. These are the people who most need the information that publications like The Times and The Sunday Times provide.

Woods is encouraging preventing them from using a vital method of obtaining the information they need to continue to make informed, rational decisions about their own governance. I think that’s really quite weird, given my first point, don’t you?

But, he doesn’t stop there. He also takes a swipe at new media. “Online, you can shovel out celebrity pap and press releases for virtually nothing. But properly informed reporting, analysis, investigations and the sharpest wit still cost money.”

Take a few slow, deep breaths to regain your composure. Then read that last bit, again.

Not only does Woods subvert those of us who actually take an active interest in our own governance and liberty, and not only does he judge online public discourse to be substandard, but he also seems to believe that only seasoned professionals are worth listening to.

That is a massive conundrum into which he has placed himself.

In two short sentences, he has written off the very media that he’s shilling for (the online sort), and engaged in some sort of weird alternate reality fantasy where the citizenry is stupid and just needs to listen to the alleged experts.

In the end, of course, we need to be practical, newspapers can’t afford to print and be free of charge, but they subvert their own roles in a free and democratic society when they put ‘quality journalism’ at such a premium.

This distinction is – contrary to Woods – already highlighted rather well, but reasonably. Just look at the price of – say – the Mirror versus the price of the Times, or the Telegraph. Woods’ justification amounts to little more than ‘well, The Economist does it.’ I mean, really, it used to be that you had to pay more to see girlies with big tits in print. Now, the reverse seems to be true. How on earth did that happen?

So, The Sunday Times, why not just be honest about this? The economy is shit, more people are reading your paper online for free, and you can’t afford to let it go on. Because, at the end of the day – if you’re not going to be honest about it – you’ve become those that you so love to demonise and expose.

In any event, in doing so, you have lost a very faithful reader.

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