Saturday, July 19, 2008

The horror of realising that some of my neighbours lead horrible lives

It can't be easy being in that feudal journalistic caste of opinon formers and pundits (these things are often hereditary too); you know, the people who are paid to give their opinions on stuff in general. I might have argued in the past that many of them don't seem to offer any particular insight into life or society, but a spate of recent articles have given me a renewed insight into their difficulties.

Namely: how can you write convincingly and with insight into the lives of poor people when you yourself live a comfortable, well-paid life-style. It's not easy, is it?

Here, for instance is Deborah Orr in the Indie attempting to tell us why teenagers are so keen on stabbing each other. The horror was brought home to her by the fact that one such murder took place on her very doorstep – so surely there is something she has to say about it. Indeed there is; she concluded that while she is rich and white, many of the victims are poor and black and it's therefore difficult for her to draw any firm conclusions.

Or here, a few days earlier is Jonathan Myerson in a positive agony that in Southwold all the things that made him buy a second home there are being undermined by the fact so many affluent Londoners are buying second homes there. (Actually, the most interesting thing about the piece is that this masterpiece of metropolitian liberal handwringing appeared in the Daily Mail rather than its natural home, The Guardian.) I'm sure that this peculiar brand of self-flagellating self-satisfaction gives him a far better insight into the plight of the people who get pushed out of their home town as it gets turned into a glorified beach hut for wealthy tosspots – or of those who can't afford one home – let alone two, than anyone else.

The curious thing is that most journalists would be among these poorly paid helots – certainly the majority of reporters, production staff, even many of those who get to do the odd speak your brains piece are generally regarded as expendable drones by their superiors. The idea that hacks are raking it in is something of a myth, mainly generated by the existence of those high-profile individuals who get paid more than their thoughts or persepctives are really worth.

Obviously I am not going to suggest that anyone should get less money for doing what they do – not even the most vacuous or smug twattish of columnists (I'm not thinking of Orr or Myerson here particularly, by the way); there are more than enough vampiric manageralists in the world for one thing. I am suggesting, however, that if newspapers want worthwhile perspectives on things like knife crime, poverty and the like they might do well to broaden the pool of people they draw on to do this.

I was even going to suggest that in the long-run they might make a serious effort to invest in proper, old-school reporting, cut down on the frothy opinion stuff and recruit people from deprived inner city and rural backgrounds, maybe even going beyond the odd token black person. But that's clearly an insane fantasy (just think of all the unpaid work experience carried out by eager, easily malleable middle class Oxbridge graduates they might lose for a start), so I won't even suggest it.

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