Richard North, 09/08/2019  

The moment you get a newspaper columnist describe the EU as "tyrannical", one can only conclude that they have lost it. The EU is many things, and I defer to no one in my determination that our membership should end, but to characterise it as "tyrannical" is simply beyond the pale. Hitler's Germany was a tyranny; Stalin's Russia was a tyranny; Pol Pot's Cambodia was a tyranny; the EU not so much.

Then, of course, we are talking about the Telegraph, which has long since ceased to be serious newspaper in favour of its role of fan magazine for its favourite son. Like so many newspapers, this is an organ haemorrhaging circulation, its sales having nearly halved since 2010, currently standing at 360,345 (January daily circulation), down from the turn of the century when figures were in excess of a million.

By any measure, this is a failing business and while its reach is enhanced by its website – the figures for which are a closely-guarded secret – the growth there is sclerotic and less than half its traffic goes to UK addresses. Furthermore, with only just over two pages viewed per visit, a large number must only be looking at the headlines on the front page without actually reading any of the reports.

Across the board, newspaper readership is falling, to the extent that buying a newspaper is a minority activity, with only a tiny proportion of the population paying their own money to see what they have to offer. Thus, while some people still call the collective the "mainstream media", that is increasingly an exaggeration. There is nothing "mainstream" about the industry, hence my preference for the term "legacy media".

Probably, its most devoted fans and its most avid consumers are Westminster politicians – who, of course, spend our money in buying the product. This is unsurprising as the bulk of the political coverage tends to be court gossip, embracing the dealings of a group of people that are increasingly treated with the same degree of contempt as the media they patronise.

For the rest of us, though – outside the loop when it comes to privileged access to the high and the mighty – the papers have their function. But that function is not to inform. As Mark Twain famously said, "If you don't read the newspaper, you're uninformed. If you read the newspaper, you're misinformed".

Rather, newspapers – and to a lesser extent the broadcast media – act as notice boards, letting us know what games are afoot, and what the main players are saying. It is then for the discerning reader to take the cue and trawl through to as many original sources as one can find, in an attempt to find out what is really going on.

For much of the time, of course, there is no certain way of discerning the truth – something we have in common with the legacy media, even if we are perhaps trying harder – so we stumble around in a fog, getting as close as we can, using as wide a range or sources as are available with the occasional help (and much hindrance) from some of the more perceptive newspaper columnists.

In seeking our own path, this blog does have certain advantages. To an extent, I have more time, writing just one story a day with no compelling deadline. I take as long as it takes – five hours typically for just the writing process, and many more hours on monitoring sources and research. 

Then, for all my lack of direct access to London-based claque, I have vastly more real time experience of politics than the average hack, having lived through events, some of which occurred before they were born. To them, what is a short and often superficial entry in a history book, was meat and drink of discussion and concern, occupying hours in the day, every day.

Another great advantage is that I am freed from the compulsion to use "comfort quotes" from house "experts", and the need to pay homage to "prestige", where the value of information is judged not on its intrinsic merits but by the status of the person who utters it.

Allied to this is my much greater knowledge, much of it research-driven, with very few hacks getting near my understanding of the EU – and especially its history – and of regulatory mechanisms, bleeding over into trade regulation. Having been an enforcement officer, and then a consultant in my chosen specialism also gives me breadth, while a PhD, under the tutelage of "old-school" supervisors, certainly teaches one a great deal about the research process.

I have to say that 27 years of near-daily contact with Booker has had a huge effect, with conversations on the telephone sometimes running to several hours every night, on top of researching stories for his column and working on our joint books. The vast erudition of the man could not help but rub off on me.

Currently, I am working on completing Booker's last book, left sadly unfinished – even though he was working on it just weeks before he died. The subject is groupthink, and in the pages he refers to the phenomenon of "no platforming" which is what his own newspaper did to him and, with a vengeance, to my efforts, along with most of the rest of the media.

I suppose it should be unsurprising, therefore, that EU Referendum should frequently count over 60,000 visits a day – and sometimes many more – despite being shunned by the chatterati and despite the best attempts of much of the media to pretend I don't exist. I produce an honest product to the best of my ability and, I hope, get it right more times than I get it wrong.

With that, it should also be unsurprising that I hold in vast contempt most of the media, and many of the self-referential, vain, over-inflated personalities that bring us their version of the news, or blather about such things as the "tyrannical" EU. Much of what they produce is dead space, white noise which adds nothing to the knowledge or well being of mankind.

Recently, Pete did an entertaining romp around the subject, in a piece entitled "British media for dummies" (from which I've borrowed his pic), illustrating quite how badly we are served by the fourth estate.

After observing, quite rightly, that the British media is "crap", he reminds us that we now live in an age where much of the primary material is already available to us without the legacy media adding their own ignorant spin.

In many cases, he adds, the legacy media creating white noise around difficult issues actually clouds our collective understanding - especially so when some like The Telegraph, Express and Spectator are seeking to deliberately misinform.

And that last observation might give us a clue as to why the current media product seems so much worse than it was historically. So many newspapers have given up any pretence of offering genuine news and are simply propaganda rags for their favoured causes.

The worst of it is that those who still patronise the legacy media, and genuinely value its product, do so not as a means of keeping informed but as a way of reinforcing their own prejudices. The media thus serves its ever-diminishing customer base by pandering to its prejudices, each title choosing its own sub-set for their tailored narratives.

To that extent, each title is the standard-bearer for its own coterie of groupthinkers, each keeping their respective mantras alive as they distort the news for their own purposes – or, as the case may be, selectively omit vital information which does not support their cause.

And it's in this morass that we find ourselves, at a turning point in history, where the media is neither willing to keep the nation informed, nor capable of doing so even if they wanted to.

It was their failures, as much as anything, which tainted the 2016 referendum campaign, where they chose to report it in the manner of a general election campaign, majoring on the personalities rather than the issues, giving both sides a free pass when it came to them justifying their claims.

And now, with a general election almost certainly in the offing, we will be forced to rely on the media which will doubtless again major on the personalities, and scarcely deal with any of the issues – not that its contribution will be of any value.

The nation will be poorer for it, although – for all that - it is hard to think that the results could be in any way improved. We are cursed in this period to suffer a political class and a corrupted political system as every bit as inadequate as the media which reports on it.

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