Is it possible to read the whole Mail Online in a sitting?

You have to admire Mail Online, as one might admire a giant omelette.

I’m a big fan of Man vs Food, the TV show ode to gluttony in which Adam Richman overeats his way around the US. A giant 12-egg omelette here, a massive steak there, a huge burrito, a giant breakfast, a gargantuan dessert – the man will take on any challenge.
 
One day, of course, he will die in a provincial eaterie, choking on the heart of a blue whale, as a hundred whooping fans roar their approval, mistaking his pleas for resuscitation as signs of triumph – but until then, it’s all fun.
 
I mention all this because the task I foolishly set myself yesterday in a moment of whimsy and boredom – to read every single item on the front page of Mail Online – is not an original one. It’s Paul Newman in Cool Hand Luke, but with stories about Khloe Kardashian instead of eggs – and they leave a far worse taste in the mouth. 352 stories, in total, I counted, including a few duplicates. By the time you read this, dozens of them will have changed, overlapped, been edited and rearranged. The world’s No 1 news website (fight back the emotion while you think about that) is an ever-changing, organic beast.
 
I went for the right-hand side of Mail Online first. Forget the in-depth "coverage" of so-called "news" or "columnists" writing about "opinions"; here’s the moneyshot. You can sum up the first few stories like this: Some people have had a baby. Someone went jogging. Someone had a hen party. Someone went to a beach. Someone has changed the colour of her hair. Someone went out to lunch. There was television. There was television. Someone is having a baby. There was television. There was an awards ceremony. A couple have separated. There will be television.
 
It’s not about the stories; it’s about the people in them. (Some of them are wearing bikinis, by the way. Some of them have tits.) The "someone went jogging" tale is about Susanna Reid, of BBC Breakfast fame, who has been jogging and who "barely looked out of breath" according to "bystanders". She’s running the London Marathon, apparently, so it’s important that we see the photos of her in training: Susanna Reid running from the front, the side and from the rear (oh yes, the rear).
 
A clue to why this appeared might be in a recent article about Reid in Mail Online, when a piece interestingly headlined “Yes, women have breasts!” appeared, and almost certainly dragged all kinds of web searches about the presenter, and breasts in general, to the site. A few smudgy screengrabs of Reid’s cleavage probably didn’t hurt, either, the pixellated sfumato effect only adding to the grubbiness of it all.
 
As I went down the column of showbiz/celebrity/bikinis, it was like drowning in a ballpit of tits. You’re barely beyond one story about someone you’ve barely heard of in a bikini before you’re swamped by another. Then there are the hotpants, swimsuits, monokinis, miniskirts and dresses. Hotpants that are so scandalous that you need to look at them seven times to work out if they’re appropriate or not. Tits! Bums! Cleavage! Curves! You might as well play the Benny Hill Show music while you’re reading it.
 
I made it to the end of what I shall hereby refer to as the "tit and tat" column (some call it the "sidebar of shame", others simply "the right wing"). I don’t know how I did it, but I did. I learned things: I learned that “PDA” is ‘public display of affection; I learned that, in contrast to the dead-tree Mail, not a lot of copy appears to be checked as there were errors everywhere; I learned that a lot of celebrities are on Twitter, and if you can’t be bothered simply following them on there, you’ll find out what they’re tweeting anyway; and I learned that hours can pass very quickly when you’re not having a tremendous amount of fun.
 
But this was mere displacement activity, for I knew what lay ahead: the rest of the front page. Heroic Prince Harry, beer goggles, It’s the Olympics, We’re sick of the lot of you, stealth tax, grubby dream for the left, Russian friend of Vanessa Redgrave, TEN-STOREY tree house, FINALLY evicted, plane crash horror, gay sex attack at Prince Harry’s base, diversity targets, I served SamCam a curry, abandoned to the vandals, black suspect taped PC, mein summer camp, revealed, human rights wrangles, Gandhi’s glasses, Billy the orphan badger, helium gas prank, retro fashion, beauty queen, more Tasers... I could go on.
 
I tried to go on, even if I felt like quitting. Like my hero Richman, I knew I would hit the wall sometime. I asked myself: what would the Man in Man vs Food do? He’d wipe his napkin, pat his belly and shovel more forkfuls of meat into his mouth, that’s what he’d do. So that’s what I tried to do. I dived back in to the mass of news, but I found myself struggling against news heartburn. I’d just consumed too much.
 
I tried. I started looking for morsels that would keep me going: a baby aardvark, a big treehouse, the kind of thing the Mail does so very well. But then I got bogged down again with the meat-sweats: OJ is innocent, a woman who swapped her truncheon for a tiara, and so on.
 
But it was an article about the happiness of a baked potato that proved to be my "waffer-thin" mint. I just couldn’t stomach it any longer. My conclusion? That it’s impossible to wade through everything on there. You’re not supposed to, of course; the ever-changing news matrix (I wrote that with a straight face) is there to entice you by throwing as much content at you and seeing how much of it will stick.
 
You have to admire Mail Online, as one might admire a giant omelette, a coffin-sized burrito or a burger that would have trouble fitting in a family car. The sheer scale of the thing is mightily impressive. Is it possible to digest it all at one sitting? No, but that’s not the point. Like any menu, you’re just supposed to pick at the things that entice you the most; by giving you an overwhelming choice it happens to make it more likely you’ll find something you want.
 
Will I be dining there again? Not for a while.
 

Doyennes of the Mail Online, Kim and Khloe Kardashian. Photograph: Getty Images
Patrolling the murkier waters of the mainstream media
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Let's turn RBS into a bank for the public interest

A tarnished symbol of global finance could be remade as a network of local banks. 

The Royal Bank of Scotland has now been losing money for nine consecutive years. Today’s announcement of a further £7bn yearly loss at the publicly-owned bank is just the latest evidence that RBS is essentially unsellable. The difference this time is that the Government seems finally to have accepted that fact.

Up until now, the government had been reluctant to intervene in the running of the business, instead insisting that it will be sold back to the private sector when the time is right. But these losses come just a week after the government announced that it is abandoning plans to sell Williams & Glynn – an RBS subsidiary which has over 300 branches and £22bn of customer deposits.

After a series of expensive delays and a lack of buyer interest, the government now plans to retain Williams & Glynn within the RBS group and instead attempt to boost competition in the business lending market by granting smaller "challenger banks" access to RBS’s branch infrastructure. It also plans to provide funding to encourage small businesses to switch their accounts away from RBS.

As a major public asset, RBS should be used to help achieve wider objectives. Improving how the banking sector serves small businesses should be the top priority, and it is good to see the government start to move in this direction. But to make the most of RBS, they should be going much further.

The public stake in RBS gives us a unique opportunity to create new banking institutions that will genuinely put the interests of the UK’s small businesses first. The New Economics Foundation has proposed turning RBS into a network of local banks with a public interest mandate to serve their local area, lend to small businesses and provide universal access to banking services. If the government is serious about rebalancing the economy and meeting the needs of those who feel left behind, this is the path they should take with RBS.

Small and medium sized enterprises are the lifeblood of the UK economy, and they depend on banking services to fund investment and provide a safe place to store money. For centuries a healthy relationship between businesses and banks has been a cornerstone of UK prosperity.

However, in recent decades this relationship has broken down. Small businesses have repeatedly fallen victim to exploitative practice by the big banks, including the the mis-selling of loans and instances of deliberate asset stripping. Affected business owners have not only lost their livelihoods due to the stress of their treatment at the hands of these banks, but have also experienced family break-ups and deteriorating physical and mental health. Others have been made homeless or bankrupt.

Meanwhile, many businesses struggle to get access to the finance they need to grow and expand. Small firms have always had trouble accessing finance, but in recent decades this problem has intensified as the UK banking sector has come to be dominated by a handful of large, universal, shareholder-owned banks.

Without a focus on specific geographical areas or social objectives, these banks choose to lend to the most profitable activities, and lending to local businesses tends to be less profitable than other activities such as mortgage lending and lending to other financial institutions.

The result is that since the mid-1980s the share of lending going to non-financial businesses has been falling rapidly. Today, lending to small and medium sized businesses accounts for just 4 per cent of bank lending.

Of the relatively small amount of business lending that does occur in the UK, most is heavily concentrated in London and surrounding areas. The UK’s homogenous and highly concentrated banking sector is therefore hampering economic development, starving communities of investment and making regional imbalances worse.

The government’s plans to encourage business customers to switch away from RBS to another bank will not do much to solve this problem. With the market dominated by a small number of large shareholder-owned banks who all behave in similar ways (and who have been hit by repeated scandals), businesses do not have any real choice.

If the government were to go further and turn RBS into a network of local banks, it would be a vital first step in regenerating disenfranchised communities, rebalancing the UK’s economy and staving off any economic downturn that may be on the horizon. Evidence shows that geographically limited stakeholder banks direct a much greater proportion of their capital towards lending in the real economy. By only investing in their local area, these banks help create and retain wealth regionally rather than making existing geographic imbalances worce.

Big, deep challenges require big, deep solutions. It’s time for the government to make banking work for small businesses once again.

Laurie Macfarlane is an economist at the New Economics Foundation