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Telegraph turmoil presages more fights for the future

The Guardian’s media section today is dominated by turmoil at the Telegraph. It is the section lead which turns to page 2 where there is more about the “dizzying decline of a great paper”. Then it takes up the whole of Kim Fletcher’s On the press column on page 7.

But it is not entirely “dog eats dog” as the rival paper seeks to dig between rumour and facts. There is fear too. You have to read beyond the turn to get to this paragraph in Owen Gibson and Stephen Brook’s section lead:

Rival newspaper executives watching the Telegraph’s grimly gripping soap opera will not be smiling, however, because they too are wondering how to deal with similar changes hurtling towards them at breakneck speed. It is no exaggeration to say that decisions taken today at every newspaper about how far and how fast to integrate could decide the very survival of venerable national brands. There is unrest everywhere, including at this paper where staff recently voted to ballot for strike action.

That is the real issue. At the Telegraph it seems to have got personal as well as troubles surrounding, sackings, redundancies and the move to the new multi-media newsroom, mount. A plan to cope with the changes forced on newspapers by new media seems to have got tied up with personal clashes and a power struggle.

Fletcher ends his column about the management in fighting with this anonymous quote from a Telegraph foot soldier:

I take reassurance from the discovery that they hate each other even more than they hate us.

A clichéd view of the media

Ivor Gaber complains that the the “media frame” for reporting on the murders of Lin and Megan Russell in Kent and its aftermath was “those trusted clichés ‘the bungling bureaucrat’, ‘the misguided psychiatrist’ and so on”.

And this is how Gaber, a newspaper and TV journalist before becoming an academic, who was brought into the Stone inquiry team because media coverage had become an important issue, starts his piece in today’s Media Guardian:

“Never let the facts get in the way of a good story” is a mantra drilled into journalists from the time they first submit their expenses claims.

There is no humour in this. It is presented as a fact. So here we have him taking a totally clichéd “frame” which undermines everything else he says in his article on how the big Michael Stone story was missed.

Yes, the phrase about not letting the facts get in the way of the story is used in newsrooms but often ironically and usually about a competitor whose story is not as fully researched at it should be.

Those who take the phrase as a literal guide do not, on the whole, last long. They get sacked or eased out by an editor afraid of the courts or the PCC.

The green case for a tax on newspapers

In June 1855 the Tax on Knowledge, officially the last penny of stamp duty on newspapers, was abolished. In September of that year The Daily Telegraph appeared, priced one old penny, and the flowering of Fleet Street began.

Since then newspapers in Britain have been free of all sales taxes. In the Observer today Peter Preston thinks the unthinkable: value added tax on newspapers as a green tax.

He is not advocating it but takes a wide-ranging look at the media and their green credentials, or lack of them, the the face of global warming.

He imagines a new generation of politicians on a train home from the party conference and presents some of the questions. Among them is this:

Why carry on giving VAT exemptions to dead newsprint forests, when the internet can carry the news and the democratic debate so much faster and cleaner?

Another question on the train:

If we can ban cigarette advertising because it costs lives, and alcopop advertising because it harms kids, why can’t we ban airline ads, too, if it will help save the planet?

Preston is advocating nothing and concludes:

I’m not making up such arguments: only extrapolating. I’d fear harm or disaster along many of these routes. I would certainly feel the pain. But pain, and appalling reality, is finally becoming a part of this game on both sides of the camera, as the champions of cataclysm examine their navels.

That is something to think about. Read Peter Preston’s “Fleet Street’s sins of emission” in full.

Online political audience swells

On the grounds that internet trends in the UK are frequently similar to those in the United States, politicians will be poring over evidence that the number of people using the web to get political news and information has increased nearly two-and-a-half times in the past four years.

The latest report from the Pew Internet Project shows that on a typical day in August, 26 million Americans went to the internet for information about the forthcoming mid-term elections. The comparison is with July 2002, a similar point in the political cycle, when the political audience was 11 million.

The raw figures leave a lot of questions unanswered. What proportions of the internet users going to party sites, mainstream media or bloggers? At the moment, Pew, like the rest of us, are guessing. They say:

Any number of reasons could be behind the increase in people turning to the internet for news about politics and the mid-term election campaign. More attractive internet content about politics – from established news organizations, campaigns, independent media, and interested citizens – may have drawn more users to the Web for this information.

(Via Cyberjournalist.net)