Is it too late to salvage vacuous, dishonest press?

Date published: Monday 19th December 2016 5:38

Nev underwhelmed, yet his point was fair. But is it already too late to reverse the vacuous, dishonest press?

The Sunday Supplement ‘Neville Special’ conducted between Gary Neville and four journalists, as a result of all that rather tediously elongated Loris Karius business, was a bit of an odd affair.

Anyone hoping Red Nev might have come armed with a fully-formed critique of the modern football press, with which to tear a strip off Martin, Henry, Ollie and Ash, were to be disappointed. Rather, he seemed a little subdued by the assembled press heavyweights.

Neville’s main thrust was a good one: there is too much content, produced too quickly and much of it is thoughtless space filler. I don’t think anyone could disagree with that, though the ‘the boys’, while prepared to broadly acknowledge the problem, were not overly enthusiastic in endorsing that viewpoint in any detail.

The 400lb gorilla in the room, when discussing the state of British press coverage of football on paper and especially digitally, is this: It might be largely shallow, idiotic nonsense, but it’s popular. Although paper sales are declining, The Sun still sells around three million; the Mail is one of the most popular newspaper websites on earth. We have so many national newspapers for a small island. The guff isn’t putting people off.

Trying to defend the existence of the shallow, facile nonsense that makes up an ever-increasing acreage of football newspaper websites in particular, is impossible on any grounds other than popularity. Consequently, in doing that, you are saying that your audience is, in large measure, also shallow and facile. An audience happy to be dumbed down and culturally anesthetized with photos of footballers’ wives in bikinis, footballers in cars, footballers’ tattoos, footballers’ haircuts, or footballers shopping, or just walking along a pavement wearing jeans. This isn’t news. It isn’t entertainment.

The sheer volume of time and effort committed to such a huge amount of worthless, trite nonsense beggars belief. It is a waste of the energies of those who create it, and of those who consume it. And, on a purely practical note, they all take so long to load. It’s the same with local newspaper websites. Choked with advertising and videos, you might as well go and put the kettle on while the whole thing loads and settles down.

Has this explosion happened because there are simply more punters for the vacuous nonsense? Or does a culture of pictures and witless accompanying text create a destructive but self-perpetuating spiral downwards? That’s an important question to answer.

The problem with someone writing about this, is that it immediately sounds egotistical and self-regarding. The writer is pitching themselves on the side of the clever v the stupid, risking sounding like a pompous arse in the court of public opinion. But surely you don’t need to be the intellectual hybrid of Wittgenstein and Will Self to be critical of this lowest of the low stuff. To improve your mind is to improve your life. Wanting content to have some heft isn’t snooty. Wanting it to be accurate and not some flavour of fiction doesn’t make you a snob.

The widespread dumbing down of public discourse to such an extent that, in football, and in everyday life, facts don’t matter, truths don’t matter, analysis and nuanced thought doesn’t matter, but pictures of a footballer’s house really do (even if you get facts wrong about it), has to be a matter of concern for anyone who does not want to live in a society where stupid is lauded as the new intelligent, and intelligence is mistrusted as elitism.

It’s no good to suggest, as Martin Samuel did, that you’ve just got to know where to go for the good stuff and ignore the rest, because the good stuff doesn’t exist in a vacuum. When the good stuff is merely a tiny island surrounded by raging seas of crapulous bilge, its sulphurous waters lap on that island’s shores and threaten to overwhelm at any moment.

Because the sheer volume of output is bewildering. I tried counting the number of football ‘stories’ uploaded in the last 24 hours on eight newspaper websites, as I write this on Sunday evening. I gave up after 500. Some of them seemed to be posted twice. It’s a pure guess, but across those websites there must be around 1,000 pieces published in just in 24 hours, some a few hundred words long, most a lot less. There is no virtue in this blizzard, rather the small minority of quality pieces in the major publications are lost in the digital fog.

The Sunday Supplement journalists often seem to pretend this ceaseless river of soccer slurry doesn’t really exist and that their profession is mostly well-written, in-depth, thoughtful features, full of research and perception, rather than a dozen pictures of Leicester City players walking to a club party, or just some clickbait where small unimportant things are magnified, outright falsehoods passed off as truths, banalities offered as entertainment, not to mention opinion being passed off, and given the same credence, as fact.

It’s as though all those horrible, misleading stories about Raheem Sterling hadn’t ever been published in their noble papers and that those type of stories are not only common, but are now an important strand in the warp and weft of modern newspaper media, as they whip up love-hate relationships with modern footballers as part of the ‘entertainment’.

Obviously, there are great writers in the press, and thank God for that. I think we all know who they are, but the pieces by stellar talents like Rory Smith, Sid Lowe, David Conn, Daniel Taylor and more, are shrivelling as a percentage of the overall newspaper output, as the dark shadow of the tsunami of trivia and rank dumb nonsense grows ever higher and wider. The day can’t be far away when news is just replaced with an SEO-honed URL, for that is all some output is created for. Volume of traffic has replaced volume of wisdom. This can’t be good.

Does it matter? After all, it’s just tomorrow’s chip paper, or the next browsing history deletion.

Yes it does. It is a pox that, drip by sour, gonorrheal drip, alters the public consciousness. So much so that even if you want to ignore it, you can’t, because everything you come into contact with is already infected by it.

It becomes harder and harder not to subconsciously slide down the glacier of idiocy towards the valley of ignorance, and before you know it you’re wasting brain cells reading about Memphis Depay’s latest motor vehicle purchase. That’s why we need to speak out against it, and that’s probably why Mediawatch is the most popular page on this website.

But not only do we need to call out the vacuous, we need to consciously and publicly celebrate the intelligent, perceptive, interesting, funny, witty and stimulating. It is the bulwark against the mainstream tide of dumb, because, right now, there’s no divorce for any of us from the poison of the low grade, air-head, outright dishonest stupidity, which has become the dominant force in much of the press.

If we’re not careful, it’ll be the ruin of us all. And that’s why it matters, because right now, in the words of Ronnie James Dio, it feels like it’s over, it’s done, the end is begun. If you listen to fools, the mob rules.


John Nicholson

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