Life will never be the same again, advised practically every pundit after the horrific events of 11 September. In response to which, with regard to print journalism, I now ask: is that a promise? The national newspapers, especially the tabloids, have been transformed by what is, in my view, the most important as well as one of the most shocking news stories of the past half-century. The non-stop torrent of celebrity trivia was instantly dammed. The shackles attaching reporters to their desks were unlocked. Fine writers more often than not reduced to commenting on the latest soap opera storyline were freed to grapple with issues in the real world.
A breath of fresh air blew down Fleet Street – an understandable mistake, as the last time journalistic fresh air had an outing the pavements there were crowded with newspapermen – before heading off to puff renewed enthusiasm and imagination over Kensington, Wapping and Canary Wharf.
I don’t suppose the change is permanent. Should, when hostilities eventually cease, life return to something approaching the normality of those distant days before the terrorist attacks, editors may well reopen the trivia floodgates and get the chains and padlocks up from the cellar. But, just in case this really is the dawn of a brave new journalistic world, here are a dozen over-familiar subjects I’ll be happy to see the back of:
1.The private lives of Reality TV participants. It’s sad that a nation became obsessed with Big Brother, but interminable tabloid pap about the gormless bunch of wannabees who took part was enough to make anyone want to lock themselves away somewhere – alone.
The Sun appears to have misread the public capacity for information about the conflict and has reverted to a lighter editorial mix.
3.Chris Evans. OK, so he made a lot of money out of very little talent and married a daffy young pop star. End of story. He and Geri Halliwell are the greatest manipulators of the press since the late Princess of Wales and nowhere near as attractive.
3.Jordan’s superstructure. It eventually proved that you can have too much of two good things.
4.Liam Gallagher and Patsy Kensit. Find me an oasis where I can escape from drivel about the biggest rock music boor of all time and his pathetic and predatory ex-missus.
5.Celebrity chefs. It’s not the heat, but the soufflÅ½ of nonsense that accompanies the cooking that makes me want to stay out of the kitchen.
6.The social side of the Beckhams. Pushy woman, soppy haircuts, over-exposed little boy. A great footballing talent, though – David, not Brooklyn – that often deserves to dominate the sports pages.
7.Anthea Turner. Save us from her comebacks – and that means all of them.
8.Soap plots treated as fact. I know that when the nation is not watching Big Brother, it’s hooked on one or more of the soaps, but lending the same journalistic weight to on-screen affairs, murders, marriages or deaths as to the real things can only further confuse the gullible.
9.The off-the-field indiscretions of footballers. It used to be said they had their brains in their feet, but that is doing a great disservice to the gentlemen players of the past. The current lot make Kipling’s description, "muddied oafs", look like flattery.
10.The Blair kids project. Euan’s Leicester Square tipsy slip is dragged up at the slightest provocation. Put a cork in it, please.
11.Vanessa Feltz. In any shape or form, which, come to think of it, seems to vary day-to-day. (Is it indicative of the Express Group’s failure to grasp fully the journalistic plot that the main papers employ Feltz and her male counterpart, Robert Kilroy-Silk, as columnists?)
12.The kindergarten feud between Piers Morgan and David Yelland, incomprehensible to most readers of The Mirror and The Sun and insulting to all of them. My wish for the disappearance of this particular folly is, I fear, the least likely to be granted.
I am sure I’ve missed dozens of other irritants. Let me know of any outstanding omissions you would consign to the waste basket.
The events of 11 September and their aftermath have proved the old adage that news sells newspapers, said Mirror editor Piers Morgan on Radio 5 Live. The ABC figures for September illustrate this, with The Mirror’s overall excellent coverage earning it a month-on-month increase of more than 2 per cent before adjustment for bulk sales and the Daily Mail, The Guardian, The Independent, the Evening Standard, The Observer, The Sunday Times and Sunday Business all recording spectacular gains.
(The Sun, which I thought made all the tabloid running early on, appears to have misread the public capacity for information about the conflict. Reverting to a lighter editorial mix – not quite the trivia mentioned above, but largely frippery nonetheless – resulted in a slight decline. The Expresses didn’t do as well as they should have and, interestingly, The Scotsman drifted down by 2.62 per cent.)
So news, when expertly covered and projected, plus informed debate about the story, does sell. But we are talking about earth-moving and cataclysmic news here – the sort of story that, thankfully in this case, bursts only rarely upon a newspaper-reading public jaded by the information and opinion constantly being rained on them from all sides. Readers have grown blasÅ½ and only the keynote events of history will drive them back into the otherwise shrinking arena of print journalism.
And how long will this renewed buying pattern last? Circulation departments report that even in these terrifying times, whenever there is lull in the story – days when there are no scarifying threats from Osama bin Laden, no daft British reporters captured, no new developments on the biological warfare front; just the by now old-hat pounding of Afghanistan – sales slip.
The chances of all those additional readers continuing the habit post-conflict are remote and, what with wars being expensive events to cover – for all except the myopic Richard Desmond, that is – the financial end result may do little to remove the worried frowns of number crunchers already suffering collywobbles over disappearing ad revenues.
Funny old world (1): Richard Desmond is spending a reported £300,000 to lure away from The Mirror Harry Harris, the football correspondent so erudite that in my days at Mirror Group he earned guffaws when filing from Jerusalem by referring to it as "birthplace of the legendary Jesus Christ" – both cringe-making and inaccurate.
Funny Old World (2): The hatchets are out for Boris Johnson, on the grounds that he should not be allowed to combine being an MP with editing The Spectator. Johnson, a true character in an industry now largely devoid of them, has increased the circulation of the magazine by more than 10,000 copies a week and his eccentricities earn it invaluable free publicity. His Telegraph column is required reading, too. Just the sort of man you want to get rid of, then.