They say great minds discuss ideas, ordinary minds discuss events and small minds discuss people.
That’s how we go from the Washington Post and the New York Times (task: to enlighten and inform) all the way down to Rupert Murdoch’s wreckage of The Times London edition.
Once called ‘The Thunderer’, the former newspaper of note now headlines child murderers, recycled PR and and pieces about internet cats. All three feature on today’s front page, and it’s an indication of how far the fall has been when you start thinking the Daily Mail is sometimes smarter.
There are some great writers at the Times, but all journalists are guided by their subs and end up having to conform to house style. Former pressman Keith Waterhouse wrote a terrific book about different newspaper house styles, especially The Mirror’s.
I have a feeling that if you complained to the editors, they’d tell you that ideas don’t sell. But if there’s no line drawn between selling and informing, newspapers might just as well print porn, gadgets and celebrity gossip. Oh.
What I don’t understand is how people live with themselves when they coldly consider how they make a living. ‘Someone has to do it’ and ‘I do it for the money’ aren’t enough. Knowing that you could do better is one thing, but knowing that you’re actively making the world worse is another. I left advertising because I was uncomfortable with requests to trick potential customers. My bosses had the same attitude Enron showed to their end-consumers.
Why should moral emancipation automatically lead to economic destruction? In my old company, we plotted out an ethical mission statement. We would only work on films that had no racism, no sexism, no homophobia. It felt like signing a death warrant. To our surprise, word quickly got out about what we were doing, and soon we were fielding calls from potential clients who asked ‘Are you the people who won’t work on offensive exploitation movies? Can you work on my film? I hope it will meet your standards.’
This was not entirely altruistic on our part. We figured that by claiming the moral high ground we’d get better quality work at the same profit margins. What we had was the luxury of choice, and I know that. There’s a vast swathe of young people now who are forced to take what they can; nobody works at McDonald’s because they want to.
If this sounds a little censorious, it’s not intended to be. The young are in a vicious trap. Either they conform or they starve – so the system reproduces itself, and we’re back in the Victorian times of Old Tory values. To be young today is to be endlessly, relentlessly judged.
This comes home today with a front page article in the Guardian about Aaron Swartz, the internet genius who passionately believed in free information. After he ‘liberated’ online articles the US authorities threw the book at him, and the 25 year-old faced 35 years in jail. He hanged himself, and so they lost one of the best minds of his generation when he could have been given a mission to do good in the world.
Rupert Murdoch at one end – Aaron Swartz at the other – and the state stands squarely behind the former. I guess it’s time to rethink that ‘Don’t Be Evil’ slogan into something more realistic.