Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Will the last hack to leave the industry please put out the lights? And Germany’s AfD might be making strides, but I shouldn’t fear the jackboot quite yet

I watched Spotlight the other night and liked it. So did the Oscars committee and awarded it Best Picture and Best Original Screenplay. It is an unlikely winner, to be honest, in that not a lot happens: four intrepid journalists in the investigations department of a big morning newspaper uncover what amounts to corruption in the Roman Catholic church in Boston and do the business.

The film was especially gratifying for me, a still working hack (though possibly the word ‘working’ is used rather loosely these days), in that there was none of the spurious grandstanding you get in far too many films about newspapers and hacks, except possibly for one scene, but even that is debatable. The film gave a sober account of the unexciting work which must often be done when you want to uncover what others want to hide.

So, for example, the hacks spent days searching through annual diocesan directories trying to spot priests who might have been moved on from a parish or put on sick leave because they had been caught kiddie-fiddling. And that kind of work is not glamorous. It’s a slog, and although, if I recall, there were one or two of eureka moments when something turned up, the film conveyed them in a low-key way. Even the one scene which might have been more ‘filmic’ than true to life, when one of the investigating reporters loses it and has a go at his boss for not publishing now, but holding on for more evidence and, then his rant over, storms out of the office, was, at pinch, quite possible.

But this post isn’t about Spotlight, the film, nor the Boston Globe. For the odd thing was that throughout watching the film, one thought kept going through my mind: were the Boston Globe’s circulation figures holding up? Or were they, like the circulation figures for newspapers here in Britain, both the national and regional ones, heading south at an alarming rate?

I’ve just looked up the Boston Globe circulation figure for 2015 and it seems to be hovering around the quarter of a million mark and seems reasonable steady. (There was a blip a few years ago when the Globe switched its companies delivering the paper every morning to subscribers and the new company cocked up to such and extent that 10pc of all subscribers complained they weren’t regularly getting their Globe every morning. But that now seems to have been sorted out.)

Here in Britain, however, the story is different: newspapers are dying on their feet. I’ve previously noted how the circulation of the UK’s national newspapers is crashing - the Sun which at one point topped four million circulation is down to around 1.5 million and the Daily Telegraph (the ‘Buffer’s Own’ as it is known fondly in care and nursing homes up and down the country), once a standout for broadsheet papers, shifting an average 1.5 million a day, is now down to a more than pitiful 450,000. But yesterday I took a look at the circulation figures for our regional morning and evening newspaper and I was astounded. Things aren’t simply bad, they are catastrophic.

Take the Doncaster Press (which says it serves Doncaster, Barnsley, Chesterfield, Rotherham and Sheffield, a sizeable area): it’s latest ABC circulation figure is - 686. My first evening paper was the South Wales Argus, which then served and probably still serves Newport and the county of Gwent (or Monmouthshire if it has yet again changed it’s name). I worked for it as the North Gwent reporter based in Ebbw Vale (‘Jewel of The Vallies’) from October 1976 until July 1978 and at the time the paper had a circulation of around 55,000 a day. Now? 11,475.

The next evening paper I worked for, though not as a reporter but a sub-editor, was the Birmingham Evening Mail. When I joined, it still regarded itself as a player and operated a London office whose reporter was often sent abroad on stories. It’s circulation was around a quarter of a million (250,000). Now? 24,260 - a tenth of the previous figure.

Many regional morning and evening papers have converted themselves into weekly papers. And many, quite obviously, still make money for the owners or else they would long have been put out of their misery. But what is going on? It can’t just be ‘social media’ which is driving this decline in circulation, although that is what is usually cited by the pundits as the cause. And it can’t just be TV and radio news because Britain had TV and radio news when circulation were still reasonably healthy.

Answers, please, on the usual postcard which you can email to me at hellinahandcart@wevelosttheplot.com

NB By chance I came across another, pertinent blog which you can find here.

. . . 

Just over two years ago, I wrote about the new ‘anti-euro, but pro-EU party, Alternative für Deutschland (AfD) which several economists and academics had set up in Germany. I made the point that broadly it didn’t much resemble Britain’s UKIP (to which is was often being compared here in Britain) at all in as far as it didn’t seem to be made up of assorted pub bores and boring chaps with too much to say, but – well, economists and academics who were quite prepared to settle into a reasoned, intelligent discussion about why Germany should ditch the euro. Oh, and they didn’t want to leave the EU, they just wanted to see it reformed. Well, that was then and this is now.

Now, AfD is labelled as a ‘far-right’ party which is apparently put the shits up one Angela Merkel. It seems Afd is no longer the respectable party of reasonable chaps who had a distaste for the euro, but an increasingly rabid bunch who are dead against any immigrants from North Africa and the
Middle East being settled in Germany and have gained a fair degree of support. I already knew that Bernd Lucke, one of the co-founders of the party, was ousted from the leadership of the party last summer by Frauke Petry, but I was rather taken aback (i.e. I hadn’t gone to the trouble of keeping myself informed about developments in AfD) by the new ‘far-right’ tag. And to be honest, it is, as yet (as the Germans say) etwas übertrieben. Certainly Afd is further right-of-centre than the CDU and CSU, but the problem Germany always has after experiencing Hitler’s 12-year Nazi rule (the shortest 1,000 years in history, by the way) is that whenever – whenever there’s any mention of anything remotely ‘right-wing’, it first becomes ‘far-right’ and non-Germans are already inclined to hear the march of jackboots in the distance. Bugger that Hungary, Slovakia, Greece, Norway, Denmark and several other countries are home to far more unsavoury and truly ‘far-right’ parties, as soon as Germany becomes associated with it . . .

In truth, AfD’s antipathy to immigrants is shared by any number of Tories in Britain, but no one has yet decided they are ‘far-right’. I know that rather makes me sound like an apologist for the Afd (as it has now become) and I don’t want to be anything of the kind. But a sense of balance never goes amiss. The party was in the news over these past few days because it did rather well in elections in three German states. It is, however, nowhere near being in a position to ‘take power’ or anything of that sort, so perhaps the order should go out to Dad’s Army here in Britain to stand down for the time being.

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