[Guest post] Having my say: Griffin on QT

This is a guest post by Nelson of spEak You’re bRanes.

Do you think I don’t understand what my friend, the Professor, long ago called The Hydrostatic Paradox of Controversy?

Don’t know what that means? – Well, I will tell you. You know that, if you had a bent tube, one arm of which was of the size of a pipe-stem, and the other big enough to hold the ocean, water would
stand at the same height in one as in the other. Controversy equalizes fools and wise men in the same way, – And the fools know it.

Oliver Wendell Holmes

Image by Beau Bo d'Or (click for link)Like any thoughtful person, I think the BBC’s “Have Your Say” (HYS) is fucking rubbish. It’s not entirely down to the inherent futility of arguing on the internet, and it’s not just because the BNP appear to be actively targeting it, creating the perception that public opinion is skewed towards hate and stupidity. It’s down to the concept of “balance” which, in BBC world at least, appears to involve treating every opinion equally, no matter how idiotic or dangerous it might be.

Unlike the Guardian site or the Daily Mail site, the BBC don’t often allow all comments (with occasional moderation, of course) but rather tend to hold everything in a moderation queue before making editorial decisions about which to publish. This is apparently done in an effort to keep things “balanced”. Frankly, it does my nut that, somewhere at the Beeb, there are otherwise intelligent people who subscribe to the idea that choosing what to publish and what to suppress is somehow going to make things more representative of public opinion. Presumably these people are so ludicrously impartial, so supremely capable of stepping outside their own frame of reference that they are able to divine the mood of the nation better than the nation itself.

As a result of this highly-educated lunacy, HYS is worse than “Comment is Free” at the Guardian and it’s worse than the Daily Mail, where everything gets published but people can at least vote comments down as well as up.

Everyone knows HYS is shit. It’s why I created the Speak You’re Branes blog and it’s why people read it. We all share this bemusement and a kind of grumbling baseline level of anger that the BBC are wasting our money nurturing the awfulness. But this is not why I’m having my say now. I’m always a bit angry about the BBC (BBC news specifically) whether it’s their refusal to broadcast a charity appeal when Palestinians are being murdered or the remarkable deference and credulity they extend to powers who’ve been caught lying and cheating over and over again. Today, however, I’m very angry at the BBC. Angry enough that I finally have to say something serious about their craven behaviour.

Tonight the BBC will host an episode of Question Time on which they have invited the ex-National Front, holocaust-denying, criminal, racist Nick Griffin to appear. You’ll have to forgive me if I’m not bang up to date with the fucking news but as I understand it Peter Hain tried to mount a legal challenge to this and has sadly failed. I’m very much behind the idea that, as a criminal “whites only” organisation, the BNP shouldn’t be accorded the same status as other political parties but what if, as seems likely, they change their rules to fit within the law? Much as I’d love to see every last brown-skinned person in this country join the BNP and destroy it from within, I doubt that will happen. We cannot oppose the BNP on legal grounds alone.

I think the BBC is presenting two, equally facile, arguments here. Firstly, let’s get the free speech thing out the way. The issue is not free speech. Free speech is what I’m doing right now. It doesn’t entitle me to get on Question Time. In fact, the kind of language I use would be deemed too offensive. Unlike that revolting wanksock Nick fucking Griffin. By preventing Griffin from appearing on Question Time they would be making the same class of decision as when they decide not to invite Gok Wan on. It’s an editorial decision. The BBC trust are mostly fairly clear on this themselves, but when the point is pressed, Mark Thompson starts to talk about democracy, censorship and free speech. Free speech does not mean providing a platform, on Question Time, for anyone that would like one.

The second problem is the idea that, just because the BNP exist and are a political party, they are somehow entitled to be listened to. This is all down to the BBC’s retarded idea of “balance”, only now it’s not funny. It’s moved from creating a comically stupid comments board to legitimising a bunch of far-right racists and, almost certainly, contributing to their future electoral success. As Wikipedia puts it:

Because voters have to predict in advance who the top two candidates will be, this can cause significant perturbation to the system:

* Substantial power is given to the media. Some voters will tend to believe the media’s assertions as to who the leading contenders are likely to be in the election. Even voters who distrust the media will know that other voters do believe the media, and therefore those candidates who receive the most media attention will nonetheless be the most popular and thus most likely to be in one of the top two.

[…]

* If enough voters use this tactic, the first-past-the-post system becomes, effectively, runoff voting – a completely different system – where the first round is held in the court of public opinion.

You may even be agreeing with everything here but think that the BNP should still be allowed to appear, in which case I’d ask you to have a think about where you would draw a line. Would you allow a platform to a party that wanted to bring back slavery? A party that wanted to take away the right of women to vote? A party that wanted to lower the age of consent to 14? What about 10? 5? 2? I’m hoping we’d all draw the line somewhere. My point is simply that we can’t pretend there’s some kind of universal accepted threshold, written on a stone tablet by an omniscient moral arbiter. We have to decide, as a society, what is and isn’t acceptable and draw the line at that point. Everyone I know would agree that all humans, regardless of nationality or skin colour, are equal. Yet the BBC, by allowing the BNP a platform on Question Time, have drawn that line in such a way as to make racism appear acceptable. It’s not a forced move, they’ve made a disgusting, cowardly choice. Fuck everyone involved.

Text © Nelson, 2009. Image © Beau Bo d’Or, 2009.

New post on Liberal Conspiracy: How Judge Eady went from press villain to hero

I’ve got a new post up at Liberal Conspiracy, where I ramble speculatively about the way Mr Justice Eady’s decisions on media law seem to be acting in combination against scrutiny at all levels of reporting: the sex scandal, science coverage, and anonymous whistle-blowing:

It’s not unusual for public figures to experience severe reversals of reputation, and the distance between “nation’s sweetheart” and “national disgrace” can be as short as a few column inches. But Mr Justice Eady’s recent rehabilitation in the eyes of the press is a remarkable one – for the swiftness with which some editors have shifted position, and for what it suggests about the future possibilities for scrutiny in the media.

Read the rest here…

Edit: I accidentally gave Eady a peerage, so I’ve fixed that here.

The culture we make

I don’t like waking up to Nick Griffin being interviewed on the Today Programme one tiny bit, and since you’re reading my blog, you probably don’t like it either. That’s the thing about an ultra-stratified media world: your readers choose you, and they probably choose you because they agree with you already. Or, maybe, because they’re looking for an opponent to their own beliefs – but either way, it’s unlikely that many minds are going to be changed. On Sunday night, my Twitter feed was full of people worrying that the approach they’d taken to the BNP was the wrong one: maybe shouting “fascists” doesn’t work after all, they muttered.

Well, it depends who you’re saying it to. And saying it to a self-selecting group of Twitter-followers and blog readers probably isn’t going to change anyone’s mind. People who vote BNP have got their own outlets, and it seems that they like to spend a lot of time there, having their prejudices reinforced. Talking among ourselves is useful, it solidifies purpose, it makes action possible – but it only rises above being a pointless stunt if you make it a prelude to doing more.

6% of a one-third turnout is hardly a resounding embrace of fascist politics, but it’s enough to win them money and prominence to present their arguments. The BNP know about the shortcomings in journalism, and they’re keen to exploit them: even a local council candidate appreciates the value of the newswire in broadcasting his message.

Challenging mainstream press and broadcasters over unproven assertion presented as fact might be a good start. Checking their sources. Confirming whether the pictures they use are accurate. Pressuring them to move away from reporting how they think people feel (thereby turning those perceived feelings into confirmed grievances) and towards reporting what actually is, with a critical eye on statistics and surveys. And when you find a mistake, not just blogging about it, but writing to the publisher or broadcaster and pointing out where they’ve gone wrong. Culture isn’t inborn (despite what the BNP say), it’s made. At the moment, we have a news culture that fosters half-truths, lies and unchallenged agendas: I think that can be remade. I think it has to be remade.

A very dim engagement

A few month before, the racial laws against the Jews had been proclaimed, and I too was becoming a loner. My Christian classmates were civil people; none of them, nor any of the teachers, had directed at me a hostile word or gesture, but I could feel them withdraw and, following an ancient pattern, I withdrew as well: every look exchanged between me and them was accompanied by a miniscule but perceptible flash of mistrust and suspicion. What do you think of me? What am I for you? The same as six months ago, your equal who does not go to mass,or the Jew who, as Dante put it, “in your midst laughs at you”?

Primo Levi, The Periodic Table, p. 40

This evening, the Euro election results for the UK will be announced. The Dutch elections have already seen the far-right PVV become the Netherlands’ second-largest party in the European parliament; now, we wait and see whether our home-grown fascists have gained any Euro seats to go with the three council seats they’ve won.

Any benefit to the BNP means we will definitely be hearing more about engagement. Matthew Goodwin writing in The New Statesman is typical of this line:  “Working-class anxieties over immigration and multiculturalism are often dismissed as bigotry, but concerns run deep,” he writes.

There then follows a barrage of uncontextualised percentages: “60 per cent of Britons feel that there are too many immigrants in Britain”, “80 per cent feel that the government has lied to them about the scale of migration”, “nearly half of voters said they would support policies encouraging migrants to return to their country of origin”, “immigration is brought up by between three and four in every ten respondents in regular MORI polls asking about the most important problems facing the country”. His conclusion? “Put simply, these concerns need to be addressed.”

These aren’t figures about the actual, quantifiable effect of immigration and multiculturalism on the UK. They’re figures about the perceived effect. And where do people derive these perceptions from? A popular media which propagates a constant sense of hostility and anxiety towards non-white, non-Christian groups, and a government which derives its idea of consensus from the opinion pages of the press and vomits up the rhetoric of fear and hate.

It’s possible that when Goodwin and others like him say that the BNP’s arguments must be addressed, what they mean is that the false divisions, abuses of logic and denial of fact given out by the BNP – and echoed, consciously or otherwise, by apparently legitimate bodies – must be addressed, corrected, crushed.

But Goodwin’s piece doesn’t exactly say that. It certainly doesn’t explicitly say at any point that the BNP is a party of racists whose political aspirations are purely anti-democratic. What is says is that “simply bashing the party as ‘Nazi’ no longer works. Voters in some areas are so exasperated with the political Establishment, and so desperate for an alternative, that they don’t care about the party’s extremist credentials.” So, according to Goodwin, writing in the mainstream journal of left-wing party politics, we must address the BNP’s appeal, but it’s pointless to call them racist – so what form is that address supposed to take?

He doesn’t say. But I suspect that “engaging” with the BNP, and yet not calling them for the contemptible and violent bigots they are, is one of the most thoughtless rhetorical steps politicians could take up. It’s the hollow logic of consumerism applied to manifestos, the contemptible drive to expand your party’s appeal, to give the voters something to beckon them into your little marketplace of ideas. Something – even, apparently, listening to witless racism as though it was a set of legitimate concerns.

And you want to attract that sort of voter, so you tolerate that sort of rhetoric rather than calling it what it is, and you let it seep further into the speech of general politics and daily life, and you allow the conditions of mutual mistrust and withdrawal experienced by Levi in 1930s Italy to grow up in Britain, now – yet the simplest thing to do, when faced with arguments of no merit, should be to dismiss them:

And finally, and fundamentally, an open and honest boy, did he not smell the stench of Fascist truths which tainted the sky?  Did he not perceive it as an ignominy that a thinking man should be asked to believe without thinking? Was he not filled with disgust at all the dogmas, all the unproven affirmations, all the imperatives? He did feel it; so then, how could he not feel a new dignity and majesty in our study, how could he ignore the fact that the chemistry and physics on which we fed, besides being in themselves nourishments vital in themselves, were the antidote to Fascism which he and I were seeking, because they were clear and distinct and verifiable at every step, and not a tissue of lies and emptiness, like the radio and newspapers?

The Periodic Table, p. 42

In my daily life, I often feel a gentle Whiggish complacency about my life, the same tendency that gets condemned in Dawkins. I pull the advances of medicine, the welfare state and civil rights around me like a blanket to muffle out the terrible whine of global iniquity, exploitation, bigotry and aggression. But the severest repression and genocide has happened in living memory, in my continent, in nation states that are constituted like the one in which I live. The same beliefs which informed those hateful policies are still extant, and must be answered – not on the terms of their own stupidity and aggression, but on the terms of a better state which prizes knowledge and fairness.

The Bath Chronicle: even better news

Sam Holliday’s column in the Bath Chronicle this week is the shining opposite to the report that originally got me all exercised: it’s thoughtful, impassioned – and best of all, it’s drawn from a hustings meeting he attended and reported on himself. The BNP candidate appeared alongside representatives of the English Democrats Party, Libertas and the Christian Party, but protests outside the venue stopped most of the participants (and the audience) from getting inside.

Holliday’s reflections on how well the debate and protest served democracy are excellent on their own. But the last section is strong stuff:

As for the BNP, well, it just left me deeply depressed. Unlike many of the protesters, I did hear the debate (because I believe you have to hear what people say before judging them) and the moment the party’s spokesperson tried to claim he wasn’t a racist but called black people “Negroes” was the moment I realised this party is wedded to racism – despite the fact that many of them now wear nice suits. Negroes is the language of the American Civil War and not 21st century British politics – and I felt chilled and angry.

BNP? Beyond Normal Politics.

Newspapers can afford to be partisan about the politics of hate, just as Holliday is here. It’s impressive journalism, and it’s put me back in the paper’s circulation figures.

Update: Tristan Cork (the reporter who turned BNP ideology into editorial in the first place) has a column up on the website which I should have noticed before: it seems to begin with self-justification but ends by telling you everything he missed out first time around.

Good news

Bad reporting is always regrettable for the good reporting it replaces. In the case of the Bath Chronicle and the Western Daily Press’ BNP family story, though, something much worse happened. Poor journalism led to the papers publishing editorial that obscured the politics of electoral candidates and presented three proponents of racist policies as “caring” individuals. The BNP candidate was so happy with the initial report that he celebrated its appearance on wire services: essentially, the reporter (Tristan Cork, who hasn’t replied to my email) has written the equivalent of a press release for the BNP, and done it at the WDP’s expense.

Anton Vowl explains just how indefensible this approach is:

Let me explain to this newspaper editor why the BNP thinks the press are against them. They think that not because they are paranoid fools – although that may well be true – but because it’s true. Why? Well the press are against the BNP because the press is composed of human beings, most of whom are intelligent and rational people, most of whom despise fascism, racism, prejudice and hatred. It’s not a liberal-left leaning of the local press; it’s not some New Labour plot to infiltrate newspapers with lefties. No, most right-wing people hate the BNP too, and quite rightly so.

I was really pleased that Sam Holliday, editor of the Bath Chronicle, turned up in the comments to my post about his paper to defend his work and debate journalism – and even more pleased when he went to and reported on a debate between council candidates (and managed to get all the quotes in quotation marks this time). The report is a strong example of what local news can do well: it involved going out to the meeting, breaching the protest to get inside, listening to the debate and (I would guess) taking shorthand notes as it went along. That’s an evening of the editor’s time at least, and the story the paper gets is only obvious after the work’s been put in.

That sort of reporting costs resources. I can’t comment specifically on the Chron, but in general resources are not that abundant on local papers. And the “Mum, dad and son to stand for BNP” story was cheap in comparison. The Chronicle acquired it from a sister paper (the Western Daily Press). Copy and picture arrived intact, and all it took was a little editing and a new headline to get it on page nine of the Chron. Even for the WDP, which sent a reporter and photographer to meet South-West Family Racism, this was bargain journalism: maybe an hour out of the office for Tristan Cork, and the piece to be written determined in advance with no requirement for additional reporting. The most budgetarily-constrained editor can probably justify that as a way to fill half a page.

But what Tristan Cork produced barely qualifies as reporting. It told me nothing I couldn’t have found out direct from the candidate’s own blog. It was empty puffery, without journalistic merit and without any value to the reader who wants to be better informed about their local area. In fact, the only group it served was the BNP, by haplessly reinforcing the “People like you” line from the BNP’s election literature and letting racists who don’t like to be called racists luxuriate in their bigotry.

Papers that print stories like the “Caring family” one are failing. Not just morally, but financially: in Media Week, Sue Unwin of MediaCom (a company which organises ad campaigns and places press spots) calls the Telegraph expenses scoop

magnificent evidence of the importance of newspapers and proper journalism. […] It is clear that whatever the commercial outcomes of the transition from paid-for newsprint to free online content, we cannot expect to continue to live in a democracy without proper journalists dedicated to annoying the elected members of Parliament.

That’s a person who’s responsible for placing the ads that pay for the papers saying that journalists should be scrutinising politics. Not recycling press releases, and not inadvertantly writing them, but showing up and asking questions. I hope Sam Holliday’s hustings report is the beginning of more coverage like that – because it’s the sort of journalism I want to see, and because it’s the only sort of journalism that can justify the continued existence of the local press.

Picturehouse: In The Loop

In The Loop Tucker posterI once got to drink wine with a junior civil servant and ask a million questions about government. The thing about ministers, I was told, is that they don’t succeed on their intellect or their analytical ability (anyway, there’s more information sloshing around than any individual could handle – that’s what the researchers are there for). The skill that makes a ministerial career is memory: having the right figures ready to pull out at the dispatch box, and the right lines in place when an awkward question comes up.

The plot of In The Loop (the feature film adaptation of sweary satirical sitcom The Thick Of It) launches from a minister who doesn’t know what to say. Hapless Simon Foster (Tom Hollander) of the Department For International Development is a simple man caught between vanity and careerism, making the occasional desperate clutch at doing the right thing. After he tells an interviewer that “war is unforseeable”, he’s obviously on the long slide out of the cabinet. Oblivious to the cool competence of Gina McKee’s Judy Malloy (his department’s head of communications), witlessly reliant on Chris Addison’s Toby Wright (new to the department and ineptly ambitious), and on the wrong side of Malcolm Tucker’s fury (Peter Capaldi, of course, whippet-slim and whipsmart with the magnificently obscene dialogue), the only issue is whether the hawks or the doves can get the most use out of him on the way down.

If you’ve had one eye open anytime in the last six years, you’ll know exactly how the story is going to play out – and if you’ve paid any attention to British sitcoms at any stage in their history, you’ll know that they’ve got dubious form when it comes to big-screen spin-offs. So, what makes In The Loop work? For one thing, it’s not the narrative that grips but the detail – the agonising complexities of compromise, self-interest and error that cause things to happen, rather than the things that happen themselves. This feels like the way politics probably really does happen, and the terrifying thing is that politics is screwed not because of some elite conspiracy, but because the people doing it are as prone to stupidity and self-preservation as everyone else.

It doesn’t suffer the normal pains of transition from TV to movie because it cleverly holds onto its style while expanding its scope. Shot in the  handheld DV style of the series, but making expansive use of outside scenes and locations in DC and New York, In The Loop translates its TV ancestor into cinematic terms brilliantly by not clinging too tightly to the original material. Cast of the TV show appear in different-but-similar roles – a ploy that could have been confusing but actually works fine, because the characters are mostly functions of the jobs they do. It doesn’t really matter that Chris Addison’s performance as Olly Reeder is nearly identical to his performance as Toby Wright – the two characters have nearly identical roles, so it makes sense that they’d look the same, talk the same, and have doppelganger girlfriends.

Of the Americans, James Gandolfini as a Pentagon general doing everything he can to avert war is easily the standout, and a satisfyingly fierce opponent to Tucker. In fact, Tucker finds Washington a whole lot tougher to roll over that Whitehall. Seen from high over DC running frantically to get to a meeting, looks unexpectedly small and vulnerable.

And while the film is viciously funny, it’s also got a note of the tragic: the President and the Prime Minister, the most powerful characters in the film, are godlike in their absence, directing events towards a predetermined conclusion which makes all the organs of diplomacy redundant. “We have all the facts we need”, says a war-hungry American minister as he flicks away an analysis of the potential invasion’s costs: “In the kingdom of truth, the man with one fact is king.” It’s that funny, and (for people who are quite keen on truth) that tragic, all the way through.

Oh, must we?

Blair portrait by Jonathan YeoOur ex-prime minister thinks we must all do God. This comes up in a column for an edition of the New Statesman guest edited by Tony Blair’s former chief apparatchik Alastair Campbell, so maybe the commissioning of this is part of the new cuddly Campbell routine. He used to bully and swear, now he’s all smiley-smiley and did-I-mention-my-nervous-breakdown. And the man who announced that “We don’t do God” now gives Blair a platform to tell us all why we should, in fact, be doing God.

I suppose that’s because religion is such an undeniably sympathetic thing. If Campbell’s open to doing God now, he really must be reformed. And God is a nice salve for the damage that the Iraq war should properly have done to both Campbell and Blair. After all, how can a man who prayed to God to do the right thing really be ill-intentioned – even if he ignored the evidence, then misrepresented the case for war, and caused the deaths of thousands of people, at least he can say he’s got it all squared off with a highly implausible Judeo-Christian deity. At least he meant well.

There’s a very thin glaze of usefulness to Blair’s observations. Diplomacy – and basic courtesy – requires that governments be sensitive to the beliefs of the states they deal with. But that doesn’t mean that religion needs to become ever more important. And Blair sounds depressingly enthusiastic when he talks about what he perceives to be the growth of faith in politics – like a man who thinks he’s picked the winning team:

Religious faith and how it develops could be of the same significance to the 21st century as political ideology was to the 20th.

Or religious faith had in the middle ages? That worked out well, didn’t it? Anyway (and you’ll have to get the full version from the print edition to find this out), all this is leading up to a description of the Tony Blair Faith Foundation, set up “with the aim of promoting greater respect and understanding between the greater religions, to make the case for religion as a force for good, and to show this in action by encouraging interfaith initiatives to tackle global poverty and conflict.”

I’m all for prompting greater tolerance and respect. I’m super keen on tackling global poverty and conflict. I think “making the case for religion as a force for good” is massively self-serving and indulgent. If religion generally is generally good, then it can go right on and show that by acts instead of words – or it can carry on demonstrating its capacity to damage lives with unsubstantiated dogma. Blair, though, seems terrifyingly positive about religion’s influence:

The 21st century will be poorer in spirit and ambition, less focussed on social justice, less sensitive to conscience and the common good, without a full and proper recognition of the role that the great faiths can and do play.

I don’t think this is slightly true. Even without getting all choked about receiving instruction on conscience and social justice from (well, you know), I’d say that nothing anyone does is done better for believing in hugely unlikely things. And the more we let scripture and liturgy divert us from humane and rational considerations, the worse our decisions and actions are likely to be. Which, interestingly, is something that Tony Blair is qualified to lecture people on.

Text © Sarah Ditum, 2009

Paperhouse reads: Penguin By Design

paperhouse-0031

The loyalty and affection that Penguin have built up derives as much from their covers as the contents of the books. The consistency and appeal of their designs makes Penguins feel familiar – so one of the biggest surprises is how much Penguin’s design rules have changed and expanded on the iconic three-striped Penguin grid, while somehow always hanging on to an essential Penguin-ness by retaining some element or other. Even on a full-bleed illustration with a completely distinct style of lettering can discretely flash its heritage in the orange oval of the logo.

I’ve spent a lot of time dipping into my parents’ library of Penguins and building up my own, so I recognised most of the series and styles represented in this 70th-anniversary retrospective. But there was one part of the Penguin catalogue that surprised me: the Specials. These short books on social and political issues seem to be a version of the 18th and 19th century pamphlet (a relationship emphasised by “a layout which has much in common with Victorian handbills): topical, provocative, portable. In the text, Phil Baines describes the Specials as “Fulfilling a purpose not unlike the investigative journalism and current affairs television programmes of today”.

They were launched in 1937, and the first spread of Specials covers shows public debate agonising over German expansion, genocides and life at war. Clockwise from left: Ourselves And Germany (“Should Britain regard Germany as her potential enemy or seek her friendship? Lord Londonderry thinks we should adopt a policy of friendship with Hitler…”), The Jewish Problem, One Man Against Europe:

paperhouse-0041

The next selection from the series shows the politicised output of the sixties, and there’s a feeling of furious urgency about both the topics and the blazing tomato-red of the covers. The titles often convey the now-ness of the issue: Has Man A Future?, Persecution 1961. The subjects are direct entries into ongoing public conversations: the risks of smoking, potential miscarriages of justice. These are titles that demand to be read and responded to immediately:

paperhouse-0071

The last spread shows the tail-end of the series. In terms of design, this spread is pretty depressing. An inconsistent selection suggests a series that had lost a sense of its own importance and place:

paperhouse-0091

But even more depressing is that the subjects on display here all feel wearily familiar. Abuses of medicine; fucking up with public money; Debt And Danger: The World Financial Crisis. In between the end of the Penguin Specials series in the mid-1980s and now, these issues have gone churning on, apparently untouched by debate. Partly, I suspect that this is because investigative reporting and current affairs television have been dying out since the end of the Specials – they didn’t replace the pamphlet form, they were just slower to choke, so that now there are serious suggestions of a voucher system to subsidise the democratic necessity of journalism.

Maybe, though, with papers struggling to escape from the cycle of churnalism described by Nick Davies in Flat Earth News, now would be a good time to revive the Special. There’s maybe a bigger constituency of people for this sort of stuff than bookselling and the press at large would suggest, and there’s definitely a good argument for offering coherent long-form essays as well as the ongoing debate of blogging. I don’t know the economics of bookselling, but maybe with digital downloads, reviving the pamphlet could help to revive investigative journalism.

Paperhouse Style: On Orwell

Unspeak, which is one of my favourite blogs, posted not-very-approvingly about one of my favourite essays and reminded me that I’d been meaning to re-read “Politics And The English Language”. Orwell’s essay serves as a brusque shorthand among some of my friends for literary quality: if you want to point out that something is badly written, the most economical way about it is to mutter “Orwell” and roll your eyes. So it was pretty disappointing to find on further encounter with the essay that Steven Poole’s assessment is a lot more astute that my undergraduate reading.

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