I read the news today. Oh boy.

Many years ago, in a different world in a different time, I owned a newsagents’. It’s a trade I love (I still tidy the magazine racks when I visit W H Smith) but that these days seems to sadly be becoming something of an anachronism, as more and more people seek their news online or, more worryingly, don’t seek it at all.

Back then, 26 million people read at least one newspaper every day, a figure that today has dwindled to less than half that. I can’t help but admit to being part of the decline: I haven’t bought a real newspaper in years, although I do subscribe to the digital versions of two national ‘papers’.

I suppose one benefit of the old paper shop was that at least you saw from the headlines on the shelf how other publications covered a particular story.

These days I get my news via Google, which can present its own problem: the Google bubble. If you were to take two identical devices and search for something uncontroversial like, say, UK immigration, you would get a broadly balanced set of results. If on one machine you then click an article of the ‘coming over stealing our jobs’ variety and on the other you choose a ‘rich multi-cultural diversity’ sort of article then, the next time you search, you’ll find the results begin to lean towards the view you clicked previously. Over time, you see fewer and fewer views that disagree with you.

This is not really anything new: newspapers were an authoritative source of facts, although whose facts were presented depended on the papers’ owners, and people bought the paper that mostly chimed with their world view. Today, the Guardian’s view on climate change (along with the vast majority of scientists) is that it is a very real threat or, as the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) puts it, “Scientific evidence for warming of the climate system is unequivocal.” Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp on the other hand has just waved goodbye to Rupert’s son James, who left accusing the company’s news outlets of “ongoing denial” of climate change despite “obvious evidence to the contrary”

News Corp claim they offer a range of voices on the subject but when 98% of scientists hold a view, is it ‘balanced’ to present 50-50 pro- and anti- views? On the other hand, 100% of scientists once believed that the Sun revolved around the Earth, and they were all wrong…

To avoid the Google bubble, I use a ‘news reader’ app which hides my identity, so I regularly see examples of how a particular news source ‘spins’ a topic:

“HMRC: Residential property transactions down 35.9%” Property Wire
“Residential property transactions jump 32 per cent in June – HMRC” Mortgage Solutions

or how a topic is a heinous crime:

“EU Shame: Trade chief Phil Hogan resigns after flouting coronavirus rules”

or absolutely justifiable:

“Dominic Cummings did NOT make mistake with lockdown trips – ‘What a witch hunt!’”

depending on whether the offender is ‘one of us’ or ‘one of them’. My thanks to the Daily Express for both headlines.

Unlike TV in the UK, newspapers have no legal requirement to be ‘balanced’ although they are generally expected to tell the truth, however they might choose to spin it. A useful guide to newspaper accuracy is how often a title is sanctioned by the press regulator, IPSO. For three years in a row, head of the field has been the Daily Mail which this year received 28 sanctions, of which 24 were for inaccurate reporting. Some distance behind were:

2nd The Times
3rd The Sun
4th The Daily Mirror
5th The Daily Express and the Daily Telegraph

Newspapers used to make their profit through adverts in their papers: the cover price might pay for some or all of the production and distribution costs, but the adverts were where the profits were made. These days, advertising has largely moved online, so much so that the Independent ‘newspaper’, which moved entirely online after its final ‘paper’ edition in March 2016, is now more profitable than the Telegraph Media Group, owner of the Daily Telegraph.

Websites generally make their money either by advertising – they get paid for each advert you view and more for ads that you click on – or by selling information about you so that you see ‘more relevant’ adverts, which is the model that Google, Facebook and similar use. It’s fascinating to discover that the EDP for example, which begins its cookie consent notice with ‘We value your privacy’, value it so much that they share details of your usage of their site with more than four hundred companies. That’s absolutely typical, no better, no worse than most other sites and the EDP perform a valuable local service and are well worth supporting, but ‘privacy’?

Which brings us on to social media… and that’s the topic I’ll pick up in next month’s article.

This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink. Both comments and trackbacks are currently closed.