This is from Sebastian Faulks’ 2007 novel Engleby:
I don’t know how I became a journalist. It’s not something I ever set out to do, although now I’ve done it I can see that it suits me temperamentally quite well. The other thing about journalism is that although at the top end (not at my mag, obviously) it seems to attract well educated, even intelligent, people, it’s basically quite unbelievably easy. You ask a question and write down the answer. You repeat the process a few times. Then you see what all the answers add up to, put them in sequential order with a simple linking narrative and go to the pub.
This struck a chord – from Private Eye’s review of Pamela Druckerman’s French Children Don’t Throw Food*:
Middle-class parents-to-be buy [parenting] books and even read some of them, in a state of steadily mounting panic. Everyone has something different to sell.
Crazed zealots like Gina Ford recommend ordering your baby’s life with totalitarian levels of control. Others espouse a more liberal line. For every expert (i.e. journalist with a two-page book proposal) who says one thing, there’s another who says the opposite, and a third who says something even more bonkers that contradicts the previous two.
Add in the profusion of websites telling you that if you drink a drop of coffee during your pregnancy your child will grow horns, and it’s no wonder that British and American parents are all going mad with worry.
* this is not true. I’ve lived in France and seen it happen.
Excellent Freudian slip from fertility expert Robert Winston on the Today Programme before Christmas. While talking about what he calls the “scandalous exploitation” of people trying for an IVF baby, he referred to NHS primary care trusts as “post-coital care trusts”. You can listen to the discussion here; the slip occurs at around the 4:30 mark and is followed by much stifled giggling.
John Cleese gave his view of the British press during an interview with Mark Lawson for Front Row last week:
I accept the fact that the press are going to get things wrong… What has disappointed me so much about the British press is that 20-30 years ago, they tried to get it right. They were slightly embarrassed if they didn’t and they might even sort of want to correct it. Now, it is my genuine experience that they’re not even interested in getting it right. They have it legalled, they run it past the solicitors, is it libellous – no – print it. I wish this inquiry that’s going on at the moment would get down to the fundamental issue, which is that they ought to be trying to get it right. It’s as simple as that… I think the most disappointing thing about England in my lifetime has been the deterioration of the newspapers.
In his review of the V&A’s Private Eye exhibition in the LRB, Jeremy Harding offers an interesting description of what he calls Rupert Murdoch’s “radical four-point programme for the UK”:
… take the British punter by the heels, shake him about a bit, offer him the breast (page three), then train him for the potty, where a lifetime’s gratification was assured so long as he stayed put and strained manfully to pop a regular result into the News International coffers.
Craig Taylor has produced a book called Londoners: The Days and Nights of London Now – As Told by Those Who Love It, Hate It, Live It, Left It and Long for It (phew). This review says he ‘has a talent for finding interlocutors, building up the intimacy needed for them to speak freely, and sensitively pruning the resulting deluge of words to uncover their essence’. In which case, he would make a good journalist. I like the notion of trawling the capital’s internet cafes to uncover its ‘digital unconscious’:
Their sputtering computers, above which hang Met Police posters warning against sites of a pornographic or “extremist” nature, are portals to countless micro-Londons: type a single letter into a search engine and details come tumbling out about what previous users have been looking up. Depending on where you are, there’ll be live streams of Turkish minor-league football, the latest episode of some Eritrean soap opera, details of knocking shops specialising in Lithuanian women or shaky footage of anti-American demagogues waving their fists.
When read alongside undeleted Word documents detailing immigration battles, divorce proceedings, STD dramas, applications for council housing and badly spelled press releases for pop-up gallery shows, what emerges is the digital unconscious of the capital. Here, in all its cacophonous fragmentation, is a real-time archive of London.
The Thick Of It: The Missing DoSAC Files includes a guide to journalism written by Malcom Tucker, former communications director for Number 10. It provides handy summaries of various types of journalist:
- Journalists in general: ‘shallow, venal, self-serving fuckpumps with a farcically inflated sense of their own importance. In other words, they are exactly like ministers.’
- News reporters: ‘psychopaths. They’re not looking for long-term fucking relationships with anyone. They just mug their victims, then move onto the next.’
- Feature writers: ‘bleating, mimsy egomaniacs who specialise in long, empathetic lunches so they can wheedle out harmful personal details.’
- Columnists: ‘A columnist is so far up himself he’s punctured his kidneys.’
- Sketch writers: ‘basically 14-year-old public schoolboys who never got over their crush on Nanny.’
- Cartoonists: ‘just failed artists who couldn’t draw the fucking curtains, never mind a proper caricature. They are driven by rage and self-loathing.’
- Bloggers: ‘All they do is trade in gossip and rumour, like the teenagers in Costa Coffee they stare at, longingly. When bloggers claim that they can’t be bought what they actually fucking mean is that they never get paid. For “unbribeable” read “unemployable”.’
There’s a journalist I’ve been in touch with recently who appends “I’d love to stop and chat to you – but I’d rather have type 2 diabetes.” (Malcolm Tucker, The Thick Of It) to every email he sends. It’s amazing what people will do to make themselves appear wacky and interesting.
We don’t hear comments like this very often:
Nothing I’ve seen in the British press comes close to admitting the obvious: at least part of the blame lies with the British public. They’re the ones who’ve been buying this paper [the News of the World] and others like it for years. With every purchase, they have endorsed and encouraged this kind of journalism.
William Rees-Mogg on ‘the basic qualities of a good journalist’ (which he possessed, of course):
I had trenchant opinions: I wrote with vigour at short notice on any subject: I was manifestly clever, without being particularly consistent, accurate or profound.
According to Sam Leith, ‘popular’ poetry can drive some to the brink of rage:
The average poetry buff, confronted by the well-meaning populariser, makes a pub full of diehard Fall fans look like the crowd for X Factor Live.
He thinks this is all a bit weird:
Is poetry so sickly that Geoffrey Hill catches a cold when Pam Ayres sneezes?