They wanted an “expert opinion” (yes, I was surprised they asked me too). I’m wittering on about whether newspapers will survive or will the internet eventually kill them.
They only gave me 60 words, though, so I’ve decided to say more on the subject.
There are many reasons why the internet, as a source of information, has become so popular. It is immediate — you get instant information, instant opinion and you can even instantly have your say on the big (or the small) events.
I love it. I can’t remember how I managed before it was invented. I am addicted to the steady flow of info, constantly updated, and I thoroughly enjoy reading people’s opinions on the big match, the big news and the big uproar about what often turns out to be wholly inconsequential.
But it isn’t perfect.
If you work for a newspaper, you come to crave that sometimes elusive beast, “the cracking story”. You know, without it being described, what a cracking story is. It’s the story everyone will talk about in the pub, or that all your competitors will grab and re-print as if it were their own.
Here’s a good one:
At a certain British zoo there’s a car park that has about 150 spaces and room for eight buses. It costs £1 per day for cars, coaches are £5. The parking attendant, a well-mannered, genial old chap, worked there day in, day out for decades. But one day he didn’t come to work. The zoo management phoned the local council asking them to send a replacement attendant, but the council said, “The car park is your responsibility, get yourself a new attendant”. The zoo said, “No, he was a council employee. Err, wasn’t he?” Somewhere, sitting on a tropical beach sipping a cocktail, a happy old codger is relaxing after 25 years of taking in around £400 a day, seven days a week. Roughly £3.6 million. And no-one even knows his name.
You see what I mean? That’s a great story. It isn’t true, of course, no matter how much I wish it was. It wouldn’t, or at least shouldn’t, be presented as genuine news in any serious newspaper.
It breaks all the rules. The facts cannot be checked. There are no names, no dates, no locations, no hard figures. No editor who could seriously call him or herself an editor would present that to their readers as fact.
In the hands of a good writer, of course, you could tell the story. You might have to confess to the reader that this doesn’t meet your usual high standards of journalism. You might even admit that you think the story is nonsense. You could call it “entertaining”. But you wouldn’t claim it as true.
In certain places on the net, however, that sort of story is thrown at the unsuspecting reader without any qualms about facts, names and figures. Often, they make “facts” up if the story is missing a few.
You see, an awful lot of what passes as “news” is actually bad news. That’s what newspapers report an awful lot of the time. Depressing, worrying, disheartening, awful stories about bad people doing bad things. Or people dying, or natural disasters or economic woes or politicians squabbling.
Frankly, you get tired of it — the readers get tired of it — and you hunger for something that is good news, or funny or clever. And stories like the above, which is really an urban legend, are difficult to resist.
But newspapers do resist the temptation. Editors refuse to make themselves into peddlers of nonsense. They believe in the truth. Some papers might put some spin on the truth, report the news as they see fit, but to tell downright lies is rare.
The trouble is that telling lies has a way of being exposed. There is nothing more embarrassing for a newspaper than to be found telling whoppers. It ruins the credibility and rather often culminates in a judge staring at an editor from beneath his white wig and uttering a phrase that contains the words: “You will pay damages amounting to X hundreds of thousands of pounds”.
I know certain newspapers have, in the past, had some trouble with what exactly “truth” is, but these are very much the exceptions. By and large, you can trust a newspaper, especially The Sunday Post, to tell you the truth.
And that’s why I believe there will always be a place for the big names of the newspaper world — the truth.
Whether these newspapers are delivered to you in paper form or on some sort of digital device . . . well that’s not so certain. But there will always be a need for properly edited, crafted, checked and verified and TRUE news that the reader can rely on.