Polonius

To thine own self be true

Dumbing down

Posted by Polonius on 19 February, 2008

I’ve followed the journey of The Independent with interest since its inception. When new, it was visually striking. Its then state of the art printing process, together with its editorial policy, led a renaissance in photojournalism. Its initial attempts at political neutrality made it a bit boring, but it soon settled down. As it struggled to find its niche in the market, it sought new stories, often with a strong, sometimes preachy, moral voice. Its international coverage has been better than most.

The story of why the Indy went tabloid is an interesting one. Somebody on the staff (I don’t recall who) drew up a chart. Draw a vertical line down a page, dividing it in half. Draw two horizontal lines across the page, dividing it in six. That’s the UK newspaper market (as it then was). Left and right are the political stance of the papers; top to bottom you’ve got broadsheets, mid-market tabloids and red-tops. Top left is The Grauniad; top right, The Times and The Torygraph. Bottom left is The Daily Mirror; bottom right, The Sun. Middle right are The Daily Express and The Daily Mail. Middle left is (or was) nothing. That was an obvious gap in the market.

I used to buy the Indy daily, then weekly. The Saturday magazine crossword is one of the most entertaining there is. Of course, nobody can beat Araucaria in the Grauniad. And The Listener Crossword is more challenging – but I wouldn’t buy The Times for that. More recently, I’ve found that my main reason for buying the Indy on a Saturday has been (though it pains me to admit it), Jeremy Beadle’s quiz. Now he’s dead and, though his replacement compiled a creditable effort on Saturday, I thought I’d take a long hard look at the paper to see if it was really worth my while.

Of course it’s got a lot of crap in it. It’s always had fashion pages, and the centre pages on a Saturday are always full of bling for brain donors. Even Saturday’s cover story was about fashion. Racism is a serious issue, but I can’t get terribly worked up about serious issues set in a context of a market that only exists because some people are too stupid to choose their own clothes.
I’ve been vaguely aware of a few stories in recent editions that appeared to be pure padding, with no substance to them at all. Turning to page 5 of Saturday’s edition, I came across something that triggered alarm bells – “Computers ‘to match human brains by 2030’“. The first sentence was enough to convince me this was likely to be garbage. Computer power to match the intelligence of human beings – by what measure of intelligence? I don’t know if the piece said, because I never reached the end of it. The second sentence talks of “technical progress” in a way that suggests to me the author doesn’t know the difference between “technical” and “technological”. But maybe he’s a fairly junior writer – or out of his area of expertise? No, his name is Steve Connor and he styles himself “Science Editor”, no less.

I got as far as the fourth paragraph before I encountered this gem: “optical character recognition – the technology behind CDs”. Remember, this pig-ignorant cretin describes himself as a “Science Editor“! Not only should he be dismissed for incompetence, but so should whoever employed him in that post. I gave up in despair and disgust.

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