Tuesday, March 14, 2006

The Tectonic Plates Shift

A grey, nondescript Tuesday morning was suddenly enlivened. Shambling around the house, asking myself why I continue to buy muesli when I've lost the taste for it, & reflecting on the night before when I found myself in empty, lifeless bars (that's Monday for you), I flicked through the Guardian. My eyes lit up.
My eyes screeched to a juddering halt at a report entitled, "Internet means end for media barons, says Murdoch" (http://media.guardian.co.uk/newmedia/story/0,,1730539,00.html ).
Murdoch! Who would have thought it! I knew the knarled, septugenarian union buster had made worried noises about the web & its effect on the circulation figures for his News International titles over the last few months, but this is different.
Owen Gibson, media correspondent for the Guardian, noted, "The News Corp media magnate nurtures a long-held distaste for 'the establishment' but last night confided to one of the few clubs to which he does belong --the Worshipful Company of Stationers and Newspaper Makers-- that he may be among the last of a dying breed."
Leave aside, for a moment, the irony of Murdoch belonging to a club with a name which sounds every bit as prehistoric as NATSOPA or Gradgrind. My head swimmed with images of Murdoch as a dinosaur, railing uncomprehendingly at a meteor-struck world. I smiled; schadenfreude!
According to the article, Murdoch tried to sound upbeat. Putting a brave face on things, Murdoch said this is the start of an information golden age, & even compared those who blaze a trail in cyberspace to Columbus (though in this case there isn't an indiginous cyberspace populace to initially enslave & then exterminate).
I can't leave this story without mentioning at least one more gem from Murdoch's peroration. Gibson quotes him as declaring, "Great journalism will always attract readers. The words, pictures and graphics that are the stuff of journalism have to be brilliantly packaged; they must feed the mind and move the heart".
How stirring, how eloquent, how poetic. Great journalism? I could cite scores of instances when the Sun has been to journalism what a prostitute has been to chastity. So I'll cite just one, and it's personal: April, 1989, days after the disaster at Hillsborough, which my brother and I witnessed at first hand, the Sun's front page bore the headline, "The Truth". Disgustingly inaccurate and tasteless allegations were made about the behaviour of Liverpool fans. The Sun's circulation figures on Merseyside bombed, from 57,000 per day to 19,000. They haven't picked up since.

On a not unrelated theme, the Guardian also carried a column by Arianna Huffington (http://www.guardian.co.uk/comment/story/0,,1730326,00.html ) about the growing influence of blogs. Huffington is a strange political creature in the U.S. Long seen more as a high society socialite, she has in the last few years used her U.S. newspaper columns to attack the Bush administration. She's also set up HuffingtonPost.com, a website which impressively marshalls the arguments against Bush on Iraq, Katrina & other issues which highlight Dubya's benign neglect & incompetence. Huffington's website/blog (the terms really are interchangeable in this instance) is mainly focused on the U.S. political scene, so there are aspects of her operation which probably won't transfer across the Atlantic. That said, however, she makes some salient points. Take this excerpt: "Blogging has empowered the little guy --levelling the playing field between the media haves and the media have-only-a-laptop-and-an-internet-connection. It's made the blogosphere an invaluable tool for holding the mainstream media's feet to the fire."
I've changed that mental image of Murdoch the dinosaur. The media magnate writhing in severe distress as the flames lick his soles is a far more satisfying vista.

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