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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Beware, hard Brexiteers - Ruth Davidson is coming for you

The Scottish Conservative leader is well-positioned to fight. 

Wanted: Charismatic leader with working-class roots and a populist touch who can take on the Brexiteers, including some in the government, and do so convincingly.

Enter Ruth Davidson. 

While many Tory MPs quietly share her opposition to a hard Brexit, those who dare to be loud tend to be backbenchers like Anna Soubry and Nicky Morgan. 

By contrast, the Scottish Conservative leader already has huge credibility for rebuilding her party north of the border. Her appearances in the last days of the EU referendum campaign made her a star in the south as well. And she has no qualms about making a joke at Boris Johnson’s expense

Speaking at the Institute of Directors on Monday, Davidson said Brexiteers like Nigel Farage should stop “needling” European leaders.

“I say to the Ukip politicians, when they chuckle and bray about the result in June, grow up,” she declared. “Let us show a bit more respect for these European neighbours and allies.”

Davidson is particularly concerned that Brexiteers underestimate the deeply emotional and political response of other EU nations. 

The negotiations will be 27 to 1, she pointed out: “I would suggest that macho, beer swilling, posturing at the golf club bar isn’t going to get us anywhere.”

At a time when free trade is increasingly a dirty word, Davidson is also striking in her defence of the single market. As a child, she recalls, every plate of food on the table was there because her father, a self-made businessman, had "made stuff and sold it abroad". 

She attacked the Daily Mail for its front cover branding the judges who ruled against the government’s bid to trigger Article 50 “enemies of the people”. 

When the headline was published, Theresa May and Cabinet ministers stressed the freedom of the press. By contrast, Davidson, a former journalist, said that to undermine “the guardians of our democracy” in this way was “an utter disgrace”. 

Davidson might have chosen Ukip and the Daily Mail to skewer, but her attacks could apply to certain Brexiteers in her party as well. 

When The Staggers enquired whether this included the Italy-baiting Foreign Secretary Johnson, she launched a somewhat muted defence.

Saying she was “surprised by the way Boris has taken to the job”, she added: “To be honest, when you have got such a big thing happening and when you have a team in place that has been doing the preparatory work, it doesn’t make sense to reshuffle the benches."

Nevertheless, despite her outsider role, the team matters to Davidson. Part of her electoral success in Scotland is down the way she has capitalised on the anti-independence feeling after the Scottish referendum. If the UK heads for a hard Brexit, she too will have to fend off accusations that her party is the party of division. 

Indeed, for all her jibes at the Brexiteers, Davidson has a serious message. Since the EU referendum, she is “beginning to see embryos of where Scotland has gone post-referendum”. And, she warned: “I do not think we want that division.”

 

Julia Rampen is the editor of The Staggers, The New Statesman's online rolling politics blog. She was previously deputy editor at Mirror Money Online and has worked as a financial journalist for several trade magazines.