There is a new GOLDEN RULE in tabloid newspapers. It used to be… Get past page six of the Daily Mirror without falling asleep and you earn your SAS endurance badge.
Then it became… Surely the next Indiana Jones movie MUST be called The Hunt For The Point Of The People.
Now it’s… Never again underestimate our readers.
OK, that’s a clichÃ© and normally I avoid them like the plague, but beaming out at us all from the fantastic Posh and Becks’ floorshow is an unavoidable truth. As sales m**** with every revelation – that’s MOUNT in Beckham text-speak – editors now have to grow some Goldenballs of their own and develop the courage NOT to be ashamed when they serve up showbiz sex stories.
Oh yes, yes, YES! The dam has finally burst. Can’t you see it? After 40 years of peeping shyly at assorted Street stars and news readers and taking secret delight in their trouserdropping behaviour, it’s now time to pull those dusty net curtains aside and put every paragraph proudly in the shop window.
Today’s readers are far too sophisticated to be bamboozled by spurious “public interest” justifications and the normal tricks of the trade. They don’t expect them. They don’t need them.
Dispense with the dressing and get straight to the meat. All that cosy moralising about “marriage wreckers” and “sleazy senoritas” predictably accompanying celebrity sexual athletics is as quaint as a cavalry charge during World War Two.
And just as pointless.
Any readers left, who might appreciate such camouflage, are a dying breed. Literally. Earth-shattering exclusives, like Becks and Becca, stay with readers for weeks. It is on their minds in a morning and when they go to bed. It sells papers. As a result, it justifies itself! When the Beckham story first broke, much was made of the “fact” that Rebecca Loos was “shocked” that a “close friend” was the first to “leak” sex text messages to the News Of The World. Oh really? Then we were led to believe that photographers “just happened” to be on hand – disguised as snowmen perhaps – when Victoria mounted David from behind and rode him around France. Oh really? Why the faux shyness? This sort of sanctimonious pap editors feel obliged to trot out as a traditional veneer to justify mouthwatering showbiz tittle-tattle ain’t fooling anybody any longer.
A great story is a great story is a great story. Magazines like Heat, Now and the rest of the upstart powderpuff press don’t worry about carrying breast-beating editorials to back-up their gossip. They wallow in it. Let’s face it, they are wallowing in growing sales too.
So, after years of denouncing affairs, tut-tutting at “tawdry” one night stands and staring open-mouthed at “disgusting” sex acts that most of us would list in the ‘hobbies’ section of Who’s Who, it’s time for newspapers to grow up and be loud and proud, not judgemental, about their big stories.
No reader of modern newspapers enjoys imagining they are being fooled. As my hero Eric Morecambe would say: “Be honest.” Much as all hacks happily imagine that discovering a tryst between a bird who used to be on EastEnders and the third tortoise from the right in the prestigious West End production of Dr Doolittle is investigative journalism in its purest sense, the truth is, it’s more likely to be a putup job by her agent.
That truth becomes even more apparent when the soap babe concerned is subsequently “caught unawares” in an outdoor jacuzzi in full make-up smiling coquettishly for a “hidden” paparazzi man who is actually so close to her that one slip would leave him in mortal danger from an upturned loofa. Why dress it up? A great picture is a great picture is a great picture.
Readers are not stupid. Thanks to reality TV and a million media sources available in every living room, they are far too savvy. Even my milkman automatically assumed that the Beckhams had been betrayed for 30 pieces of silver by the other woman in his life when the story first broke.
In the hazy recesses of some boozesoaked Fleet Street veterans’ brains, smoke and mirrors, cloaks and daggers, Woodward and Bernstein all have their place. But in these days when a bloke from Big Brother with his tongue hanging out sells more papers than a famine, it’s not a crime to set your sights low.
If a page-three girl is caught in bed with the voiceover bloke from the TV ads for pile ointment, readers expect to revel in what went on, not why it’s supposed to be WRONG.
Of course most editors crave respectability and are reluctant to abandon the weasel words condemning participants in their sex stories.
Enter Roy Greenslade. Taking pomposity to Captain Peacock levels, he has almost exploded with fury in The Guardian at the “unwarranted intrusion into intimacy” and the “demeaning nature of the revelations” about Beckham.
He finds it depressing. I find that cheerful. I’ve struggled to find anyone who has not enjoyed reading every facet of the Posh and Becks debacle.
Yet Greenslade writes: “…there is not a recognisable story of any merit whatsoever.”
High-minded media critics like this dispense their wisdom based on experiences garnered decades ago. They might as well work on the moon.
Story? Gossip? Trivia? Tittle tattle? It all sells. Only when editors feel hidebound to disguise their sensational revelations as anything other than 24-carat scandal do they hand the moral high ground to sniffy observers.
Mind you, even Greenslade the Great has had his comeuppance. He haughtily used his column to discuss the lack of “public interest” in the Beckham scoop and derided the “sloppy and dehumanising journalistic approach” involved.
In the same issue of The Guardian there was a HUGE full-frontal photo of a naked man. Greenslade and nude.
Cock and Bull. I’ll leave you to decide which order they go in. .
Tony Livesey is editor-in-chief of the Daily Sport
Next week: Alison Hastings
by guest columnist Tony Livesey