Veteran Guardian journalist David Leigh has penned a piece that will make your blood boil. I shall not provide a link as I refuse to direct traffic to this despicable publication. But you need to know what these (already) state subsidised scroungers think. Leigh wants to tax each broadband user in the UK £2 a month. The £500 million raised will be doled out to all publications classed as newspapers in 1994 to allow them to support “high quality journalism”.
This cash is needed because their current business models do not work. The Guardian would trouser c£100 million a year from this plan which would be handy as it currently loses £76 million a year despite getting a vast subsidy from the taxpayer advertising public sector non-jobs (something that could be done in-house and online at a fraction of the cost). The whole proposal stinks as does the tone of the piece from this wretched old dinosaur.
Leigh’s opening phrase says it all about his attitude. “Having survived more than 40 years at the coalface of British journalism.” The coalface. It is an interesting image. To misquote another deluded part time Guardian columnist Billy Bragg “I was a miner, I was a docker, I was a journalist between the wars.” Leigh likes to think of himself standing shoulder to shoulder with the common man, the downtrodden working class who he and his ilk wish to protect by ensuring they eat muesli not nutella, do not smoke and generally better themselves. It is all bollocks. During his 40 year career journalism at places like the Grauniad has been a pampered existence. Job security, a decent wage, big pension, top it all up with fiddled expenses and buckets of red wine all round at The Eagle at lunchtime and El Vinos after work. Much though I’d like to see Leigh, Toynbee etc sent down a coalmine they just would not know how to exist in the real world.
I digress. Leigh continues. He is concerned that:
“the internet is killing off quality newspapers… According to conventional wisdom, print is doomed. Circulations are collapsing because readers can get everything they want on the internet. Not only do those readers dislike the idea of paying to read online, but the existence, among other sites, of the rival licence-fee-payer-funded BBC website guarantees that they will never actually need to pay for a supply of reliable day-to-day news. Paywalls will never really work in a UK context for that reason.
Yet when the day comes that the newspapers are forced to stop printing altogether, it will be a disaster for democracy. The lean pickings from web advertising on a free newspaper site will only pay for a fraction of the high-quality investigative journalism that commercial newspapers generate. We’ll just get the timid BBC on the one hand, and superficial junk on the other.”
His answer is that £2 tax and subsidy. Generously Leigh says that other newer news providers could apply for a share of that subsidy as long as they had at least 100,000 monthly users.
Of course he is wrong on so many counts. The internet is an alternative channel for distributing content to the dead tree press. It is cheaper and more efficient. No-one proposed subsidising carts and horses to fend off the wicked automobile. Not even the Grauniad was mad enough to demand subsidies for typewriter producers paid by everyone who bought a computer. This is just the same.
And good papers can make money as online publications via advertising or indeed by micro-payments. What Leigh fails to grasp is that the cost base of his industry is going to have to change. Printing is no longer viable. But he is not arguing that this should be subsidised so that is not a problem. Paying vast sums to have bureaus across the globe to provide basic news + your political spin is going to have to go. News is a commodity. No-one will pay a premium for a commodity. And of course overpaid columnists who no-one reads will also have to go. In the online era you can track who has a following and who does not. If it turns out that no-one reads the bilge Leigh or Polly Toynbee churn out then they will have to go or take a pay cut.
Leigh insists that Investigative journalism can only be entrusted to the professionals, the cosy media club who sup with the devil via the lobby and the PR networks and who thus do not make waves lest they be excluded and not served up “exclusives” and “scoops.” Indeed that is precisely the reason why Matt Drudge or Guido Fawkes outscoop the deadwood press on political scandals 9 times out of 10. They are not part of “the club.” In the financial world we could do with a financial Guido who points out when companies tell lies in official statements in order to get away share placings to fund boardroom excess. Now that’s an idea. There is a void. We know there is a demand. Maybe someone who does not give a damn about annoying PR firms will start to fill it by running just the sort of pieces that the deadwood press refuse to run. Any ideas on that one? Perhaps I will call my mate Jim Ellerton at Sefton Resources to see what he thinks.
What Leigh wants is a subsidy for the comfortable North London existence that the media class have always enjoyed. He can piss right off. Sticking £2 on my £14 broadband bill is a steep tax hike and I might actually use broadband not to read papers at all but only to play video games or watch porn ( I do neither as it happens) but why should poor kids or sad perverts have to subsidise the Islington rich?
One of the joys of the internet is that if an “event” happens there is on the spot coverage via twitter or blogs almost at once. That plus the big news agencies mean that you do not need newspapers for commodity news. And analysis/comment – well blogs offer that but I suspect that Leigh regards bloggers as “superficial junk.” And columnists who folks actually want to read will also survive newspapers going online.
Leigh’s assertion that only established providers of news would get a hand out sums this piece of work up to a tee. Young writers these days often start on small websites. It is these that are innovative and dare to challenge the establishment. Leigh does not care about that. He wishes you and I to preserve the cushy lifestyle of him and his media mates.
I happily write on the basis that what I earn is paid for by advertising (this blog soon), a direct correlation with page impressions (SeekingAlpha or ADVFN) or subscription ( watch this space). I have no problem with market forces since I know my content has an audience. Leigh just wants a cushy life paid for by you ( as if your subsidies to the bloody Guardian via those job ads was not enough).
The old dinosaur ends by promising that any party that proposes this crackpot idea will get his vote. Really? Would he vote BNP if Nick Griffin put this in his manifesto? Go on Nick, I dare you. We both know it would be madness but it would be hilarious to see a Guardian columnist explaining why he was voting for Nazi filth like the BNP. I suspect Leigh is kidding. He will vote Labour come what may. After all, he has to stand shoulder to shoulder with the other “workers” doesn’t he?