The power of the printed word?

I remember accompanying my mother on day trips to Dublin in the 1960s when I was a young boy, and being puzzled by a large billboard poster that used to be displayed somewhere around Palmerstown, or maybe near Heuston railway station (or Kingsbridge station, as it then was). The poster shouted in very large print: ‘All human life is there’ – and then it had the words ‘News of the World’. I had no idea that the News of the World was a newspaper, and so the purpose of this advertisement was a complete mystery to me. I thought it was saying that the world’s news contained all human life – a rather general (if true) statement, and hardly one that needed a billboard poster to make its case.

Well of course, the News of the World of the poster was a newspaper (I need no longer say ‘is’), and as we now know it did indeed contain all human life, very much including the low life. And as anger and dismay at what at least some of its journalists did gives way to thoughts about the wider implications, people are asking whether the News International stable of papers has given too much political power and influence to Rupert Murdoch. This isn’t an entirely new question – in 1992 Murdoch’s Sun claimed that it was the one ‘wot won it’ for John Major’s Tories in Britain – but as the spectacle of newspaper power gets held up alongside its corruption, the question has taken on a new urgency. And there are fears that this worry about corruption could be even more relevant if the Murdoch newspapers can work together with the most influential broadcaster in these islands (BSkyB), under the same ownership.

However, whatever the regulators or politicians may do, it is unlikely that this kind of concentrated media power will be sustainable for much longer. The decline of newspapers worldwide continues to gather pace, as people shift and get their news from the internet and its various outlets, including Twitter. Traditional broadcasting models are also coming under pressure – and BSkyB is still quite a traditional model. As almost anyone can publish a news site, or can broadcast whatever they like, with extreme ease, the media scene is changing fast, and it is unlikely that a Rupert Murdoch will, irrespective of current events and their consequences, be able to wield this kind of influence in future. And that must be a good thing.

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8 Comments on “The power of the printed word?”

  1. Vincent Says:

    Listening and watching the Beeb, what is so incomprehensible is that those representing the NotW thought they could defend their position. It reminds me very much of the Catholic Church where the default position is the moral rightness of anything they did and the moral rectitude, de facto, because they were thinking it. It was unusual to hear someone not under a miter argue that a good derived from their existence not a good from their intent. Where the latter is by far easier to swallow when things become FUBAR.

  2. varsitydigest Says:

    I am a print journalism student and I am concerned with the on-going discussion on the “death of newspapers.” I agree with you that the decline of newspapers is gaining pace. On the contrary, my news Writing lecturer assures me that the printed word is here to stay and I’m caught in between! Thank you and I look forward to your next post.

  3. Eddie Says:

    How we conveniently forget that the Sun in Scotland supported Salmond and SNP in May 2011 Holyrood election. I never read The News of the World , it had 168 year old history and to its credit had had a number of exposes.

    Most hype is because many loss-making Sunday newspapers , want a slice of the NOW readers, and I suspect have cupboards of skeletons. This will run and run.

    As for the disappearance of printed words and traditional broadcasting, many predicted their demise very often. They still continue to do, and these traditional media are thriving. The Metro in London is a thriving free printed paper. Huffington post by Arianna though progressed well is not breaking through even in US, even after it was purchased by AOL. Arianna when she was in London in 1970s ( as partner of Bernard Levin) was on the right of political spectrum and has since changed her views many times. Anyway, its UK issue is no better either.

  4. cormac Says:

    I think that man has a frightening influence. There is a very clear difference betwen The Times and the Wall Street Journal today, and those titles in the past. This sort of editorial slant has serious repercussions, on issues from legislation on global warming to international affairs.(For example, Sarah Carey tels us that journalists at The Sunday Times wee not allowed publish pro-EU articles the first time the Lisbon Treaty was proposed. As for the WSJ, they have been giving prominent editorial space to climate change skeptics for years).
    Mr Murdoch has stated explicitly that he would like to see BSkyB be more like Fox News..says it all really

    • I agree, Cormac. Though I guess one should say that Sky News, if RMurdoch takes over BSkyB, is to be separated and subjected to independently regulated editorial content. So we won’t get Fox News…

  5. Eddie Says:

    The more liberal or left-wing papers like Guardian heavily moderates any view which goes against its established leftist views. I have read many views in readers column of The Times which supported the Lisbon Treaty, and my view opposing it was not published by the Guardian. The Huffington post also heavily moderates any post supporting the Republican Party, my friends say.

    The viewer has the choice of watching and not watching any channel. At least over in the US one is not forced to buy a licence fee even for possessing a TV set.

  6. cormac Says:

    Eddie: I can’t speak for the Guardian, but The Irish Times syndicate a column from prominent US republican writers every few years. It’s a very good idea, because it allows readers to see the republican viewpoint.
    I really dislike the modern idea that bias is ok – this newspaper/channel gives you this slant, choose another for another slant. The problem is that as one listens to a favourite radiostation, tv and newspaper, one’s views are reinforced instead of tested and questioned…so positions become more and more polarized. And when an important issue such as global warming becomes associated with one political viewpoint rather than another, real problems emerge

    • anna notaro Says:

      great point Cormac, the phenomenon you hve just described takes the name of ‘echo chamber’ in media discourse and it is a rather pernicious one..

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