Two ways of looking at a crisis…

Journalists get a lot of stick and sometimes not without reason. They also generally work hard, even the ones on newspapers you don’t like.

Yesterday two front pages received attention side by side and both involved thought and effort, although one did so more profitably.

How you regard the two pages perhaps to an extent indicates your ‘tribe’.

The Sun continued its lickspittle adoration of all things Boris with a headline written as if being spoken by Carrie Symonds, his partner – GET WELL SOON BABE.

As was widely pointed out, that was published on a day after 1,000 people died from Covid-19. That grim statistic made for a shabby contrast between the bigger story and the Sun’s Boris-centric perspective. Yes, it’s still a story that the prime minister is beginning his long recovery from the virus, but it is not the only story in town.

The other page belonged to the Guardian, my paper of choice. The headline above a short story read: The lives cut short. The report below began: “The numbers keep coming, every day. In ones and twos are first. Now it’s close to a thousand…”

To the right of the headline a grid of 40 postage stamp-sized photographs showed people who have died from the virus. The story continues across four pages inside, with the headline: ‘So much living to do’ – Aged from 13 to 108, victims of Covid-19 and their stories.

Maybe some people would prefer the Sun story, as it’s a free world and all that, but the Guardian report is brilliant in its simplicity and its humanity. Those honoured here are people and not statistics, people with lives and loved ones, people who played their part in efforts to constrain the very virus that killed them (doctors, nurses and other NHS workers appear).

It’s an old newspaper trick to gather small photographs of people as the Guardian did on its front page yesterday, but it’s a trick that works. Faces say so much, tell the story so well.

It’s far from an uplifting read, as you might expect. After reading through every short story, I had to brush away a tear or two. But that’s a good human reaction: we should feel sad, even if there is only so much sadness and worry a person can take.

Better, though, to honour lost lives rather than reprint love notes from Boris Johnson’s partner.

Still, it’s not the only view. Over in the Daily Telegraph yesterday, Allison Pearson devoted her column to arguing that “The health of Boris Johnson is the health of the body politic and, by extension, the health of the nation itself…”

I didn’t read the full column as it was behind the Telegraph paywall but suspect it wouldn’t have been to my taste.

The Guardian’s four pages of short reports appeared to have been harvested from many sources. Those included various local newspapers, papers that are struggling to get editions out against impossible odds. Sadly, this crisis could well finish off those local newspapers that constitute the local walking wounded.

Carole Cadwalladr, the campaigning Observer journalist, tweeted a photo of the Guardian’s front page alongside a story from the BBC’s website about Health Secretary Matt Hancock with the headline: “‘Herculean effort’ to provide NHS protective gear”.

“And *this* is why you should subscribe to @guardian,” she tweeted, despairing that the BBC was following a government-approved line.

Of course, these things are never straightforward. Many of those stirring the mud in the Twitter comment pool were aggrieved Corbyn supporters who have foresworn to complain until Doomsday that the Guardian was rotten to their man and anyway employs “right-wing” journalists – in other words, columnists whose opinions didn’t sufficiently burnish the departed dear leader.

Anyway, buy a newspaper, any newspaper, they all need your support. We’d be worse off without them – even the newspapers you don’t like and the journalists you don’t like.

As for those journalists, their job is to ask difficult questions of the government, not to see who can score most brownie points with Boris Johnson.


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