December 11, 2017

“Members of the media are increasingly drawn from the same, privileged sector of society; this problem has actually worsened in recent decades.” Yes, and helps explain why Brexit and Trump caught nearly the whole journalistic profession by surprise.

“We will also engage with and publish voices from the right. In an age of tumultuous change, nobody has a monopoly on good ideas.” Indeed, and what do Left and Right even mean today?

“We will get out of the big cities and the big institutions.” Because the economics, cultures and politics of medium-sized towns really aren’t the same as in international urban capitals.

And we will “stay with stories for the long-term.” Because what persists is more important than anything that hits the headlines today but is often, justifiably, forgotten within days.

Those four quotes don’t come from UnHerd’s launch day and our critique of a media class that is ideologically too uniform, remote from the values of ‘flyover country’ and biased towards what’s happening now, rather than what’s heading at us from upstream – but they could have done.

They actually come from Kath Viner, Editor of The Guardian. They were part of a ‘long read’, that she wrote in the middle of last month; “A mission for journalism in an age of crisis” and which, two days ago, was published as a podcast. Although the woman who had previously been her paper’s US editor did tell her morning editorial conference that she thought Trump would win, it’s good to see a newspaper recognising that newspaper cultures aren’t currently as connected to all communities as they should be.

THE GUARDIAN’S EDITOR KATH VINER PLANS TO REDIRECT HER JOURNALISTIC RESOURCES TO UNDERSTANDING THE SOCIAL, ECONOMIC AND CULTURAL CHALLENGES OF OUR TIME. CREDIT: ANNA GOWTHORPE/PA ARCHIVE/PA IMAGES.

Recollecting how her two-centuries-old publication has consistently seen opportunity for progressive reform in challenging moments in history (notably for the betterment of working class conditions in the aftermath of the Peterloo massacre) she argues that The Guardian can use the current crisis to challenge the economic order ushered in by Margaret Thatcher. And she certainly does think our times demand serious change. She talks of the internet having been taken over by bullies, racists and mysogynists; of sky-rocketing inequality; of ballooning depression and mental illness; an “epidemic” of loneliness; and of the disappearance of public amenities like libraries and parks. She sounds like one of the 67% of people who think the world is getting worse (a finding analysed by Douglas Murray last Friday).

Her commitment to reorientate her journalism will be helped by the improvement in The Guardian’s finances. A series of Osborne-ian austerity measures (it practises what it doesn’t preach) have cut the paper’s losses in half and are on course to be eliminated in the next 12 months. And with an inherited billion pounds in the bank The Guardian is well-placed to continue to compete with the New York Times to be the global Left’s newspaper of choice.

With ad revenues collapsing because of the way Facebook and Google are able to offer superior targeting to advertisers, Kath Viner is pleased that the paper’s pursuit of voluntary gifts has been successful enough to avoid a compulsory paywall. In her essay she acknowledges periods in The Guardian’s history when advertisers have influenced editorial. Let’s not believe, however, that it’s as simple as devilish commercial advertisers versus angelic paying readers.

It’s not as simple as devilish commercial advertisers versus angelic paying readers… it becomes tricky for The Times, for example, to do anything other than back Remain when that was the view of about three-quarters of your readers. When Guardian readers and supporters are enthusiastic about Jeremy Corbyn it’s commercially dangerous to suggest his Left-wingery could be a bit too Left-wing.
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Will The Guardian embrace positions that it concludes are necessary to heal broken Britain if they risk upsetting their supporters? The danger in this era of dwindling sales with newspapers becoming more sectional than truly national is that they come to depend upon unrepresentative groups. When titles are fighting for their survival and cannot afford to lose readers at a faster rate than demography is already causing, it becomes tricky for The Times, for example, to do anything other than back Remain when that was the view of about three-quarters of your readers. When Guardian readers and supporters are enthusiastic about Jeremy Corbyn it’s commercially dangerous to suggest his Left-wingery could be a bit too Left-wing.

In my own dealings with Kath Viner I’ve found her to be interested in ideas from outside the ‘progressive wing’. We’ve spoken on a number of occasions, for example, about what a compassionate conservatism might look like. If her new approach to journalism leads her to believe that the welfare state was reckless to shun William Beveridge’s warnings about doing nothing to damage the relational institutions at the heart of community, will she be willing to argue that progressivism needs to be more Methodist than Marxist?

Time will tell but it was disappointing to learn at the weekend that Giles Fraser would no longer be gracing the newspaper’s pages when it’s relaunched as a tabloid in the middle of next month. It would be unfair to read too much into one change in personnel but I’m just a little bit suspicious that the religious Brexiteerism of the “Loose Cannon” was, perhaps, a little too religious and Brexity for a secular, Remainy subscription base.

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