More newspaper editors should live on streets like ours

I haven’t yet carried out a full ID check, but I’m becoming convinced that there’s a national newspaper editor living on our street.

I don’t know how long The Editor has been here. But I’ve spotted him three or four times, flitting like a meerkat from his door to his car, with barely a glance over his shoulder. Admittedly, he looks more like a hotel guest than a mortgage peon or a Housing Association tenant.

The interesting thing about The Editor’s presence is that we both live in one of London’s more deprived and untidy corners.

At one end of our street, there’s a tangle of betting shops, knackered pubs and fried chicken outlets. In the other direction, there’s a High Street. It boasts sufficient pound shops and charity outlets to give Rosie Millard a full-blown cardiac arrest.

When he edited the Sunday Times, Andrew Neil lived in snooty Onslow Gardens off the Fulham Road. Today, Simon Kelner of the Independent scrapes by in Belgravia. As everyone knows, Polly Toynbee occupies a small castle next to Clapham Common (when she’s not living in Italy).

Not so The Editor. I got to thinking about him the other day, while reading US journalist Barbara Ehrenreich’s commencement address to the Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism class of 2009.

Commencement addresses are an American institution, delivered by star speakers to graduates who are about to start making their way in the world. Typically, they are larded with optimism and piety.

Not this one. Instead, Ehrenreich welcomed the graduates to the world of the ‘working stiffs”, to full-blown membership of the ‘American working class”.

She went on to suggest that the graduates would be ‘living’with some of the problems they’ll report upon — ‘the struggle for health insurance, for child care, for affordable housing”.

Ehrenreich then chronicled the ups and downs of her own career, which culminated in watching ‘every single income stream I had. . . dry up’last year.

Around the same time, Ehrenreich said, she started to ‘get sick and tired’of stories ‘about rich people having to cut back on the hours they spend with their personal trainers”.

It seemed to me that the recession had absolutely eliminated the poor and the working class from the media consciousness. Once again, they had disappeared from sight.

Ehrenreich’s potshots were delivered from a solidly leftist viewpoint. But they got me wondering about national editors and big-name columnists in a general way.

Most are so comfortably insulated — and, like MPs, professionalized — that it’s impossible for them to get anywhere near what their readers would describe as Real Life.

So when India Knight of the Sunday Times pontificates about women and work, she does so from inside a bubble inhabited by yummy mummies and ‘ultra-successful, glass-ceiling-busting’businesswomen. (Tax credits? Don’t make me laugh.)

At the Telegraph, Bryony Gordon witters on about ‘recession-proof’beach huts in Dorset that cost £340,000. Sadly, the downturn forces colleague Vicki Woods to lunch ‘thriftily” — with a fashion PR friend at The Wolseley (‘one course and a glass of house champagne each”).

Granted, these columnists are outliers, paid to project certain values that form part — but only part — of a specific brand. Yet behind the yummy mummies and fashionistas lies a solid phalanx of middle-aged editorial executives who lead similarly rarified lifestyles.

Apart from heaving levels of personal debt, you’ve got to wonder what gets them up in the morning. Perhaps it’s what Adam Tinworth describes as the ‘sense of entitlement to an audience”.

A few weeks ago, Kevin Anderson expanded on this theme, citing the ‘institutional belief’among journalists that ‘if we work for a major publication or broadcaster”, we therefore ‘deserve an audience”.

It’s the height of institutional arrogance and self-importance, and it’s obvious to anyone who even has one foot outside of the bubble of institutional journalism that this is the case. But therein lies the rub. For many journalists, we never get outside of this bubble.

Anderson, who works for the Guardian, admits that he is ‘clinging to his journalistic ideals”. He adds this:

Too often. . . our audience sees us a public nuisance, nothing more than professional gossips and self-appointed scolds. We don’t hold power to account. We don’t seek out facts and cut through opinion. . . We are nothing more than supporting and enabling characters to the drama queens of political and entertainment celebrity.

Having taken the audience ‘for granted”, Anderson believes that journalists now need to ‘do a lot of hard work to earn them back”.

He’s right about that. But have the executives and columnists living full-fat six-figure lifestyles got what it takes? I’m not optimistic. For the most part, their lives will remain supremely distant from the mass markets they claim to serve.

The Editor has potential, though. One of these days, I’m going stop him in the street, in the way that readers once stopped Lobby Lud and Chalkie White beside the seaside.

Instead of claiming my £5 reward, I’ll take him on a tour of the local halal butchers, the Carribbean fishmongers, the Ghanaian wine bar and the Portuguese café. Finally, we’ll stop into the knackered pub at the bottom of the road for a pint.

Most of the editorial executives who run the nationals could do with a blast of Real Life. The Editor looks like he might even enjoy it.

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