Greetings VodkaPundit readers – I’m Scott Burgess, the American proprietor of The Daily Ablution, a London-based blog primarily devoted to UK media criticism. Mr. Green has most kindly granted me VP posting privileges, which I’ve decided to use as a weekend spot, mostly covering British press coverage of items discussed on VP that week.
By way of introduction, I’ll devote this week to some background observations about the British press and UK media blogging.
Since moving to the UK from the states over 6 years ago, I’ve been fascinated with the newspapers here, which I had imagined (if I thought of them at all) to be just like their American counterparts.
Needless to say, I was very wrong. As readers more worldly than I was will be aware, the British press is wildly competitive, with at least 10 rivals simultaneously trying to build circulation. The competitive situation encourages the press to be much more, er, vibrant – with an an uninhibited style that makes the UK papers on balance much more entertaining than those in the US.
Another transatlantic difference in press style – and one that’s probably more relevant to bloggers and other media critics – is that the UK press operates without the least pretense of balance, and each outlet is unapologetically biased in story selection, perspective and tone.
There’s a frequent blurring of news and opinon, and even what it is (to American eyes) presented as a straightforward story will often include undisguised commentary, designed to play to the ideological gallery.
All of this can come as a bit of a shock for those who encounter it with expectations of at least a feigned neutrality, especially in straight news reporting. Upon reflection though, it’s a system that’s not only more entertaining, but arguably more honest than “balanced” American-style journalism, in that each outlet’s agenda and ideosyncracies are plainly visible and known to all, and can therefore be taken into account in evaluating its reports, along lines like the following:
Independent: Left-wing. Employs Robert Fisk. Increasingly adopting a hysteria to match its new tabloid format. Obsessed with apocalypse: global warming, mass extinctions, pandemics, etc – frequently presenting results of predictive models as current fact.
Guardian: Left-wing. Deeply hurt by Tony Blair’s betrayal on Iraq. Employs Polly Toynbee, George Monbiot, Osama bin Laden. According to another regular columnist, the seemingly deranged AL Kennedy, it “will publish frothing nonsense, so long as it might annoy someone.” So famously inaccurate in matters of detail that it’s widely known as the Grauniad, a nickname supposedly derived from an incidence of the the paper misprinting its own name.
Times: Right-Center. The closet thing to balance among the “quality” press, they try to present themselves as the paper of record – which, when they support your position, they are. When they don’t, they’re best referred to as “a part of the Murdoch press”, “a Murdoch paper” – or, in a slightly low blow, a “Murdoch tabloid” (like the Indy, they’ve recently switched formats, though they have yet to adopt the requisite shrill tone).
Telegraph: Right-wing. Average subscriber age 102. Employs Germaine Greer (as a gardening columnist!), Mark Steyn. Notable for obituaries of Wing Commander Harrington Blitherington-Blythe and his ilk.
The aficionado, of course, reads several papers, and aims to distill “Truth” via an analysis of reporting from all sides. The blogger does this as well, with the aim of correcting – and making public – the inaccuracies, hypocrisies, absurd conclusions and below-the-belt attacks that are so apparent on a daily basis.
As far as the influence of political and media criticism bloggers in the UK is concerned, the consensus (as reported by the MSM) holds that we’re not yet nearly as influential as those based in the US, but that this is changing quickly, in the typical fashion of transatlantic trends. While some UK journalists may still be complacent, dismissive, or simply out of the loop, others have been warned. And certainly the press – parts of it, anyway – are taking notice, although some don’t seem to like it much.
But all this is simply by way of introduction. What I hope to do over the next few weekends is to take a look at some of those inaccuracies, hypocrisies, absurd conclusions – and other assorted joys – as seen in British reports on items of interest to VodkaPundit readers. I’m looking forward to it …