I’ve found myself ignoring the papers for the last couple of weeks, initially because I found the lurid coverage of Michael Jackson’s death distasteful, and then because I started to realise that I find most newspaper journalism distasteful. In Dublin a couple of months ago I picked up a copy of the Irish version of the Daily Mirror, which was almost identical to the UK edition except that the celebrity gossip pages on the inside were all about people I’d never heard of. But reading them, I noticed that the stories about Brian O’Driscoll and Amy Huberman have a very different slant from the ones we get over here about Jordan and Peter Andre. The Irish celebrities were granted respect and admiration – not quite in the cloying tones of Hello magazine, but with an underlying assumption that they were decent people who deserved their success. It was sweet and refreshing and I enjoyed it.

Contrast that with the snide attitude of the UK tabs, whose bile and bitterness is barely concealed whenever they have the opportunity to publish a story (or, more usually, a non-story) about one of our home grown celebs. Beware the pop star or soap actor who flashes some thigh as she steps out of a car, or goes to a party and – the horror – gets a bit drunk; for she (and it will almost always be she) will face the chastisement of our morally spotless guardians of the press the next day. It sunk to an especial low this week with a camera thrust down the modest cleavage of 19-year-old Hermione Granger Emma Watson as she battled with inclement weather at the Harry Potter premiere in Leicester Square. Really, is that the best we can do? It makes me wish there were a heaven so that the photographer who took that shot could line up with the 3am girls, the showbiz editors and every columnist ever and be asked to account for their actions at the ends of their lives.

St Peter: And what did you do?

Columnist: Well, I…sneered. And called people bad mothers, and drew attention to their weight gains.

St. Peter: Hmm. Anything else?

Columnist: I, I…well, I used my column to transfer small gripes and personal feuds onto the national stage.

<thunder, lightning bolt, columnist is never seen again>

But we all know that the gutter press is hateful. What I find more objectionable is the scarcely-concealed attempts of the “quality” papers to bump up their readership by focusing almost exclusively on sport and scandal. The MPs’ expenses row went on for six weeks longer than was necessary or interesting, and now the Guardian looks to be attempting to emulate the Telegraph’s success by creating a jumped-up nonstory over the News of the World’s attempts to bug the mobile phones of, well, just about anyone who sprung to mind. Now, I bow to no-one in my distaste for the way the NOTW conducts almost all of its affairs and I agree that it’s very much Not OK to bug people’s phones without their knowledge and for no demonstrable reason except to gather dirt. But of all the things which happened in the world this week, is that really the one we need to know about the most?

Of course, everybody gets their news on the internet now, so newspapers have had to start shouting and campaigning and resorting to whatever tricks they can concoct in order to shift copies. But I feel the loss of a time when the newspapers told me the news, and did it without feeling the need to pronounce on the character and motivations of everybody they report upon.

Plus, you know, journalists are the worst people in the world, so it’s hard to read their hectoring with any level of seriousness.

The horror

I would like to propose a moratorium on the use of emotive language in news reporting. I expect it from the tabs, but I don’t need proper news providers talking to me about “the tragic death of Baby P” or “a catastrophic drop in numbers of cuckoos”. Tell me the facts, and let me decide how tragic or catastrophic they are. Tell me about the preventable death of a child, or an unforeseen drop in numbers of  cuckoos, and let me choose where to place them on my own scale of tragedy. Give me the information, and allow me to make the value judgement.

Hamlet, and journalistic laziness

The BBC has the news that David Tennant held aloft a real human skull in the graveyard scene during his stint as a beanie-hatted Prince of Denmark in the recent RSC production of Hamlet.

Which is fine, and rather a nice story when you read the detail.  But what brought me up short as I read it was this line:

…it was not revealed that Tennant used a real skull in the play’s most famous scene.

Really?  Its most famous scene?  It’s an important scene, and key to the story, but I can’t think of a good argument for its being better known than the “To be or not to be” soliloquy.  I can only conclude that whoever wrote the piece has either forgotten about the soliloquy (and can’t know much about the play) or thinks that it’s delivered during the graveyard scene (and can’t know much about the play).

I don’t ask that BBC journalists know Shakespeare by heart, but it would have taken all of two minutes to do the necessary research.  It’s lazy efforts like this which are the reason I’d rather read an article by a thoughtful and well-informed blogger than one by a rushed and hard-of-thinking pro.  Those of us who don’t do it for a living have the time to say exactly what we mean, on precisely the subjects in which we have an interest.  And sometimes it shows in the quality of what’s produced.