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The blogger is the most self-obsessed and self-aggrandising of all writers. It’s a constant assertion that blogs are better than print journalism. I’m sceptical of this claim because a) it’s demonstrably not true and b) the bloggers who make it give the impression that they are only bigging up the medium because they happen to write in it. If you gave these bloggers good jobs on a national daily they would soon be writing op-eds from the other side of the cliche, that professional journalism is the best and that the internet is corroding public discourse.

While I think that UK national journalism is better than most blogs, I can’t say the same for regional news. Take the fair city of Manchester. Kate Feld sums up the risible state of its print media.

The content of our daily newspaper, such as it is (sigh) has dwindled in terms of both quality and quantity; they’ve shrunk pages and offloaded experienced (and incidentally, better-paid) journalists in favor of unpaid and exploited rookie journos. No print mag has gotten very far off the ground since Citylife folded; Time Out looked at coming in and decided it wouldn’t be profitable enough, I’m guessing. So on the print side, we’ve got a handful of well-intentioned zines, one or two property circulars masquerading as ‘lifestyle magazines’, and the fresh-faced new culture and listings magazine that seems to arrive with a bang every six months or so and disappear with a whimper a few months later.

About that local paper. I used to read the Manchester Evening News when I worked in the city centre. It’s so bad it’s depressing. You can find better writing in most blogs than in the Evening News; in fact, you could find better writers by grabbing people off the street at random. The house style is distinguished by its pious editorials, banal op-ed columnists, and slavish deference to local power. It’s worth recalling the words of Manchester scholar Ed Glinert on the organ’s demise:

After the paper became a tabloid in 1983 sensationalism replaced populism. Succinct news and well-researched articles on Manchester life soon gave away to an excess of features on celebrities, with a manic obsession with Coronation Street and predictable ‘lifestyle’ spreads.

These factors plus the Evening News’ inability to keep abreast of the dynamic new developments locally in music, fashion and design, and its refusal to comment analytically on the appalling social and architectural problems to be found in Manchester, cost it a vast number of readers.

As sales declined the owners realised they had to give the paper away to attract back readers. Consequently, early in the twenty-first century the Manchester Evening News began to adopt bizarre give-away schemes (a free chocolate bar with every copy sold, for instance), culminating in the decision to make the paper a freebie in the city centre but with a cover price in the suburbs. Meanwhile, the Guardian–Manchester Evening News publishing group has voraciously brought up local titles, mostly to stifle any possibility of a vibrant independent voice commenting on city life.

This year Glinert’s been proved right again with a shitload of redundancies and the closing of regional offices around Greater Manchester. Still, I doubt the MEN cares. Its monopoly is so strong that it can probably keep going on advertising alone and give the paper away without losing money, while still sustaining its delusions of relevance.

I suspect the MEN is the only media organisation in Greater Manchester that can afford a printing press. Anyone else will have to jump through hoops on behalf of the authorities, which often don’t like seeing critical articles about themselves – as the Salford Star discovered to its cost. There is no serious print publication to give an accurate impression of life as it is lived in Manchester: no one to scrutinise the decisions made by the local government and property elites that run this city. To paraphrase Nick Davies, Manchester’s print media offers nothing more than a tiny fragment of the city’s life masquerading as the truth.

I think Gordo on Confidential argued that we in the UK don’t have the same confidence in regional journalism as people do in the US. You couldn’t imagine the New York Times being simply ‘The Times’ yet the Manchester Guardian fled south as soon as it could. There is not that identification between city and paper. Everything is centred in London, or more accurately around the better part of London. An ambitious reporter will see the regional press as a stepping stone, nothing more. Internships will screen out all but the most advantaged of graduates, who quickly learn that to get ahead it is important to be nice and not ask difficult questions.

The result is that the UK doesn’t have, and won’t have, a regional paper with the quality of the NYT, the Boston Globe, the Los Angeles Times or the Miami Herald (home of our old friend Carl Hiaasen.) What is lost is not just truth: it is civic pride.

The Manchester Evening News: something to look at while you eat.


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