Oh, the romance of newspapers (I know, a foolish notion)….

ONE of the good people, and there are many, who left my old newspaper recommended The Papers, a BBC Scotland documentary available on iPlayer.

The two-part film about The Herald newspaper in Glasgow, along with associated titles, is a decent watch, for newspaper people and ordinary people.

Not an easy watch for newspaper people, but there you go. The deadening familiarity will take you back or pinpoint your reality (cuts, cuts and more cuts).

These films also summon up the inked romance of newspapers. I know, I know – hard to believe, but it is a thing, or always was for this newsprint refugee.

Perhaps it’s the urgency of deadlines that never go away, or the rush of the presses, or companionship forged in doing what can be a difficult job. All that and holding in your hands the tomorrow’s-chip-paper product of your efforts: a newspaper, what a marvellous creation that is (or should be).

A foolish notion for sure, especially at a time when, according to Alan Rusbridger, the former editor of the Guardian, “nearly two-thirds of people say they can no longer tell good journalism from rumour or falsehoods”.

Writing in the Observer about how we ended up in our present shitstorm, Rusbridger sums up the malign role many newspapers had in shaping Brexit – “If you are going to put a crucial decision on the future of Britain to a vote of citizens, it’s pretty obvious what the proper function of press should be: to arm them with unvarnished facts on both sides of the argument.”

Instead what we have are lies so varnished they make you squint.

Many of those lacquered lies appeared in the Daily Mail under its former editor, a man who finger-jabbed hatred into every headline. The new editor is still the editor of the Mail, but he seems less hateful, less unhealthily obsessed with winning the argument.

The Express, the Telegraph and the Sun too all went into one-sided Brexit battle, offering neither insight nor help, just bludgeoned opinion.

All that is a long way from Glasgow and the Herald offices, although Brexit pops up throughout the two films, the inescapable story of our age.

We see the editors, journalists and photographers at work, trying to bring out their papers as the cuts continue. The Herald was one of the great newspapers, but now it sells around 22,000 copies a day, as the push to go digital continues.

The deadening familiarity lies in the slow death of newspapers. But is also lies in ownership: those proud Scottish papers now belong to Newsquest, owners of my old newspaper. Newsquest is hardly alone in making cuts, but it appears to do so with an indecent degree of enthusiasm.

At meetings we see editor-in-chief Donald Martin discuss more cuts with his staff, spinning out the official lines in a bullish manner. Yet is that a glint of despair in his eye; perhaps.

There are departures in the second part, as experienced journalists opt for voluntary redundancy, and the tearful farewells rehydrate a few tears of my own.

Perhaps what I miss most, and it’s another foolish notion, is the romance of the newspaper office. That busy and sometimes cross-tempered fulcrum. That place where everything somehow comes together at the last minute, even when it looks as if this time you won’t make it.

My fractured life now sees me write occasionally for one of the surviving good newspapers. This is a laptop task, and no newspaper office is entered. Another part of my life sends me to an office for many newspapers, a different prospect than working for one paper. Another part still sees me standing in a university classroom and talking about journalism.

Here, to close, is a memory I still like. My old newspaper used to be printed where we worked. When the presses rolled, you could feel the rumble at your desk, a deep echo to your puny typing.

Newspapers change and morph into something else, or too often they just disappear. While there is an elegiac tone to The Papers, there is something uplifting about all those red-eyed writers and editors working into the night to get the paper out. And a sense that, with luck, the smudge ghost of newspapers will survive somehow.

Maybe that’s another foolish notion; I’ve had a few over the years.

Leave a Reply