Tuesday, February 16, 2010

It's Not Me, It's You

It may only be mid-February, but already we've got a contender for blogpost of the year. Take a bow then, SNP Tactical Voting, for a cool-headed, forensic and long overdue demolition of the Glasgow Herald and its recent political 'coverage'. As the man himself says: "Put simply, a lack of rigour has become de rigeur and when challenged for being sloppy our newspapers decide to just get stroppy."

The late Oliver Brown crafted a great many aphorisms in his time. His comment about the effect Winnie Ewing taking her seat in the House of Commons had on Scottish Labour MPs has entered legend. However, his remark that "All a man needs in life is a good cause, and the enmity of the Glasgow Herald, and he can be sure if he has the first then the second will automatically follow", has seldom in my lifetime seemed quite so apposite.

I'm not going to reel off an extended lament about how much better the Herald used to be than it is presently. Nor is it worthwhile rising to their tedious editorial whinge, in the aftermath of the past week, about “SNP-supporting bloggers and posters who attempt to colonise newspaper comment sections and letters pages”. It's nice to know where you stand, after all, and that your views are henceforth to be regarded by the newspaper as somehow unwelcome.

I don't ask for much in a newspaper. Political impartiality over the piece is preferred, as is a recognition that there's a world which exists beyond the City of London or Babbity Bowsters. Even just one or two interesting columnists will help me tolerate the blinkered shrillness of the others, whose main purpose in life seems to be to keep the letters editor busy rather than to dispense elucidation and enlightenment. A recognition that the SPL exists is always welcome, as is a realisation that it takes more than four teams – the Old Firm and whoever they happen to be playing next – to help make up our national game.

I can just about tolerate the relentless eulogising of Gordon Brown, in both print and picture, in which the Herald has seemed to specialise over the past two years. Its focus on Glasgow may be a betrayal of the broad vision which the late Arnold Kemp had for the title and out of place for a paper with pan-Scottish pretentions, but at least you can understand it in the context of a core readership comprised historically of the West coast mercantile classes. Even its relentless knocking of the SNP might be understandable – it is the government, after all, and it is there to be shot at. Nevertheless, no matter how much it pains me to say it, my patience is just about through with a title which I've read almost daily since I was a student.

The relentless cheerleading for an overpriced rail link to an airport, on the wrong side of the city, which would be isolated from the links which the majority of Scots enjoy to Queen Street rather than Central, and which would only save 5 minutes over the existing bus service, might be forgivable if it weren't dressed up in such an obvious political agenda. The 'Scarred Scotland' strapline over Beauly to Denny was simply a perversion of reality. But even the virulence, absurdity and histrionic self-justification in aspects of recent coverage pales into insignificance when considered beside the Herald's greatest and most debilitating flaw. Quite simply, and there's no way to sugar coat this - it has become deeply, soporifically, almost terminally boring.

It's become a sorry, if latterly infrequent ritual. Skip over the slanted page one lead. Flick past the crime stories. Ignore the Labour puff-piece on the politics page, strain your eyes for the much more important stories relegated to a couple of column inches, if you're lucky. Snooze through the lifestyle pages. Yawn at the banality of the editorial page. Skim past the usual suspects on the letters page. Remember how much funnier the Diary was when Tom Shields did it. Have a glance at the obituaries, see what's on telly later, look in vain for any coverage of the mighty Aberdeen FC in the sports pages and then, if the cat's litter tray is still fresh, consign it to the nearest recycling bin.

I realise that the Herald's problem is me, and those like me. I used to buy the Herald and its Sunday stablemate 7 days a week. In fact, I've never consciously stopped buying it. However, my 100% loyalty has dwindled over the past couple of years or so to the point that, thinking about it, I last bought a Herald 3 Sundays ago. I can't even remember the last time I tried to use the dreadful website. Frankly, there's nothing I've seen over the past fortnight which will be encouraging me to reverse the trend any time soon.

It's a title which no longer speaks to me, even if it's taken until the last few weeks for me to realise it. I dare say I'll still pick it up from time to time, maybe at the station or the airport, or if badgered sufficiently by my SO. I won't say goodbye, just like I never said hello, and my 80p or whatever it is it now costs each day will just stay in my pocket. The only bit I'll really miss is Ron Ferguson's column, and I can read him in the P&J anyway.

It's commonplace to remark that the Scottish media is in a sorry state. I'd like to think that it's worth saving, but it's going to take more than subsidies and retreating into entrenched geographical and political prejudices to achieve that. Let's start with a more generous spirit in reporting culture, trying to have a wider world view, learning to challenge your readership without antagonising them and most important of all, in trying to improve the bits in between the adverts. Maybe someone could let me know if the Herald starts to improve – it would be a great shame to lose touch entirely with an old friend, after all, no matter how much they've begun to grate latterly.


Lallands Peat Worrier said...

An interesting, reflective piece Richard. I'd echo your sentiments about Ron Ferguson. He's been one of my favourite Scottish columnists of yonks. Despite my godlessness - and frequent bouts of turbulent, unresolved reflection on Christianity - I appreciate his issues, his moments of irreverence and reflective approach to writing. A recent find on Radio Scotland with similar virtues in Richard Holloway on Sunday mornings. Although on one level a shameless rip-off of desert island discs - I appreciate the program's content and tone. That said, I'd no idea Ferguson was scribing now for the Press and Journal (the things you miss, not having your mind orientated towards the North East!) I'll have to attend more closely hereafter.

Wardog said...

Babbity Bowster, my local!

Good post Rochard and in line with Jeff, a very fair analysis. It really isn't much that people are asking for, I'd sooner the MSM realise this and get on with the propoer critical analysis of the Government AND Opposition on matters of policy and real wrongdoing rather than blindly following leads and in Scotland atleast, forever hunting for a echo of scandal elsewhere.

Anonymous said...

I am not so sure that The Herald or, for that matter BBC (North Britshire), are worth saving; the fabric yes, the substance no.

They seem to me to be populated by a cadre of cheerleaders and fellow travellers whose anti independence propaganda is both subliminal and concerted.

I live abroad and have to rely on the web to keep myself up to date on what is happening in my native land and to my family.

It was the comic book slew of anti SNP stories and misinformation of the newsprint industry that made me look harder at the BBC's output online. Visits to Scotland confirmed my opinions.

The MSM is Scotland is quite simply an arm of the UK PLC propaganda machine and it ill serves Scotland.

The BBC is so wanting of reform but, as long as it is funded by a London centric taxation and control, will never really allow itself to be so.

The dead tree press will learn by the power of the market how self defeating it's relentless anti SNP proselytising will ultimately become.

The whole Fourth Estate in Scotland needs a very substantial period of objective self examination before it can rebuild our trust.

Thank goodness for the blogosphere and open access.

It is from where real news, and crusading at that, now springs; the job our MSM does not seems no longer capable of doing or even wanting to do so.

We live in interesting times

Richard Thomson said...

Thanks for your responses, folks. Sound and thoughtful, every one.


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