Defending newspapers

Harold Evans provides a vigorous defence of the press

Harold Evans, who has gone into bat for the Observer in recent weeks, mounts a vigorous defence of newspapers in the latest edition of the New York Times Book Review.

In a review of Alex Jones's Losing the News he argues that in an age of rapid-fire headlines the more patient and reflective approach taken by the press is a positive virtue:

Obviously we don't want to be told what we know already, but significance may not be governed by the clock. The most valuable element in journalism is often enough not an episode that occurred today, yesterday or, horrors, the day before. It's the creation of a new awareness provided by either months of investigation or relentlessly regular coverage.

The extraordinary investigation by the Daily Telegraph into MPs' expenses as well as those by the Guardian into tax avoidance, police brutality and the News of the World's phone-hacking operation are testament to this.

Evans, who edited the Sunday Times from 1967-81 and the Times from 1981-82, doesn't settle on a solution for preserving quality journalism (options include online content charging, state subsidy or more nonprofit trusts) but he does make it resoundingly clear that one must be found.

Even the best of the new media, such as the Huffington Post, remain dependent on newspapers, particularly foreign correspondents, for the news they analyse and comment on. The New York Times's willingness to spend $3m on maintaining its Baghdad bureau is a good example.

But while Evans remains incurably romantic about newspapers, he sensibly recognises that in this age we must be "platform agnostic": "I love newspapers, too, but in the end what really matters will not be saving newspapers. It will be, as Jones himself says, 'saving the news'."

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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Theresa May is paying the price for mismanaging Boris Johnson

The Foreign Secretary's bruised ego may end up destroying Theresa May. 

And to think that Theresa May scheduled her big speech for this Friday to make sure that Conservative party conference wouldn’t be dominated by the matter of Brexit. Now, thanks to Boris Johnson, it won’t just be her conference, but Labour’s, which is overshadowed by Brexit in general and Tory in-fighting in particular. (One imagines that the Labour leadership will find a way to cope somehow.)

May is paying the price for mismanaging Johnson during her period of political hegemony after she became leader. After he was betrayed by Michael Gove and lacking any particular faction in the parliamentary party, she brought him back from the brink of political death by making him Foreign Secretary, but also used her strength and his weakness to shrink his empire.

The Foreign Office had its responsibility for negotiating Brexit hived off to the newly-created Department for Exiting the European Union (Dexeu) and for navigating post-Brexit trade deals to the Department of International Trade. Johnson was given control of one of the great offices of state, but with no responsibility at all for the greatest foreign policy challenge since the Second World War.

Adding to his discomfort, the new Foreign Secretary was regularly the subject of jokes from the Prime Minister and cabinet colleagues. May likened him to a dog that had to be put down. Philip Hammond quipped about him during his joke-fuelled 2017 Budget. All of which gave Johnson’s allies the impression that Johnson-hunting was a licensed sport as far as Downing Street was concerned. He was then shut out of the election campaign and has continued to be a marginalised figure even as the disappointing election result forced May to involve the wider cabinet in policymaking.

His sense of exclusion from the discussions around May’s Florence speech only added to his sense of isolation. May forgot that if you aren’t going to kill, don’t wound: now, thanks to her lost majority, she can’t afford to put any of the Brexiteers out in the cold, and Johnson is once again where he wants to be: centre-stage. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics.