Why I left The Times to edit UnHerd
I’m certainly not the only or decisive person behind the creation of UnHerd but in a first email to subscribers I explained why I, a chronically Shriver-ish news-alholic, had come to the view that the 24/7, politics-focused, controversy-chasing-and-sparking and overwhelmingly negative (and therefore pro-interventionist) news industry had simultaneously become too unbalanced and powerful in advanced stage democracies. The problem is evident throughout western Europe but seems particularly pronounced in the English-speaking world where social media has most taken hold and has most influenced traditional media.
Republished below is the text of my email and if you’d like to subscribe to what will normally be quick guides to forthcoming features and events (as well as a provision of ‘key reads you shouldn’t miss’), please click here.
“At the end of last year – a year I largely spent in America, covering that great country’s extraordinary election campaign for The Times of London – I knew I had to reset my career path. I resigned my position as a columnist without a concrete plan and, consequently, without any funding for my unknown future either.
I knew I had to do something different. The huge upsets of 2016 weren’t just signs of a broken politics and a broken economic model – although they most certainly were. They were signs of a broken media, too. Broadcasters and publications that were routinely so out of touch with large parts of the nations they covered that they didn’t even begin to understand why so many people had voted in the way they had. Newsrooms, rightly so careful to seek more gender and ethnic balance within their teams, had not noticed that ideologically, socially and in other vital ways, they had become monochrome. Despite the largely manufactured attention given to ‘fake news’ in the aftermath of Donald Trump’s victory, I’ve become convinced that the fundamental biases of the news industry add up to a much bigger problem than the often lo-truth output of the world-wild-web.
As I argue in UnHerd’s brief launch video the power that 24/7 news has in western societies is dragging politicians, investors and whole cultures…
- away from the important and towards the new;
- away from the positive and towards the negative;
- away from where most of us agree and, stoking up partisanship, to topics and to personalities that generate more heat than light;
- and again and again to a focus on politics, politics, politics rather than to a rounded view of the other upstream and sometimes greater influences on our lives and times – notably technology and the arts, and also higher education and religion
As Nigel Cameron wrote for UnHerd last weekend, CNN devoted 92% of a recent day’s programming to covering Trump. Not because of (misguided) editorial standards but because Trump-watching makes more money for the network than covering our planet and our times in more balanced ways.
I do not honestly know if UnHerd will succeed in its attempt to build an audience of people who want to spend more time focusing on the important things rather than the latest things. But I’m incredibly grateful that you’ve given us your email address as a first indication that you’re at least interested in what we’re trying to do and, hopefully, that you want to help us succeed in building a different kind of journalism.
I certainly hope that our first two extended essays – Lionel Shriver on her news-aholicism and Ruth Davidson’s case for rebooting capitalism – have given you an indication of our purpose and of the standards we hope to maintain. Sharp writing. Beautiful photographs, cartoons and layout. And always fact-based and with regular room given to different viewpoints so that you can make up your mind after all key arguments have been presented to you. If you ever see hints of spoon-feeding from us, please shout!
In the next few days, beginning on Friday with Liam Halligan’s short film on the life of Ida Tarbell, the 19th century anti-monopolies journalist who changed her times; a forthcoming essay by Angus Robertson on the global rise of the Left; and then an audiocast presented by Juliet Samuel on how we create a fairer economic system, I hope we’ll hold your attention and, as one of our very first sign-ups, you’ll be proud to have been an ‘UnHerdian’ from week one.
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