A discursive look at Napoleonic & ECW wargaming, plus a load of old Hooptedoodle on this & that

Saturday, 16 July 2011

Hooptedoodle #31a - The Newspaper Boat

I remember it clearly. A couple of years ago, driving north past Newcastle upon Tyne in pouring rain, listening, transfixed, to my car radio. Live, a House of Commons committee was grilling some of the former deities of the UK banking industry, and had reduced them to stuttering, cringeing foolishness. Very satisfying - I cherish the recollection, and I'm not altogether sure why - the economic disaster had arrived and was clear for all to see, there was no prospect of good news for some time to come. Whatever the shortcomings of our system of democracy, however disenchanted I may be with politics in general, there was something deeply gratifying about the elected representatives of ordinary people really sticking it to the bad guys. Something not unlike a war crimes trial, I guess.

It is unworthy to seek the downfall of the rich and mighty - it smacks of envy and schadenfreude and a number of other things that I claim to despise, but I had a very strong urge to pull over, get out of the car, and punch the air and shout "Yes!" - right there in the rain.

Here it is again. The public humiliation and ridicule of the Murdoch family and their unpleasant associates promises to be the subject of more roadside air-punching. I look forward to it with some relish, but in the meantime I am interested to observe the polarisation of the newspaper reporting of the saga. The non-Murdoch parts of the press are showing more than a little glee over events, but they must surely be aware that the hole in the far end of the boat will threaten them all eventually. The BBC still mentions "the media" as though it were speaking of someone else.

Let me (as always) attempt to draw a (debatable) parallel from my personal experience. I worked for many years in the UK insurance industry. I worked for a mutual company, which is mostly an extinct species now, but at that time was alive and well. One day the unthinkable happened - one of our mutual competitors was suddenly, and very publicly, in big trouble. Solvency doubts, dreadful mismanagement, cavalier disregard of customers' interests, alleged falsification of regulatory returns - very big trouble indeed. My boss of the day, a man of academic grandure but great silliness, was absolutely thrilled that a competitor should be removed from the list of people we had to worry about, and could not - for the life of him - understand that the entire industry was now tainted. Public confidence was damaged - no-one smelled good; this was, in fact, the beginning of a downturn for insurance which eventually wrecked a number of other firms, including the one we were working for.

I believe we are seeing something very similar. Surely the shockwave in the newspaper industry will be far-reaching. Something fundamental has changed - the game as we knew it is, I think, bust. There is no real room for anyone to feel smug or safe, it will affect them all sooner or later. The long term effect on individual rights, privacy and the public taste for tittle-tattle remains to be seen.


  1. Murdoch ran one of our papers for several years and turned it into far more of a sensational yellow journalism rag.

    Sold off to one Sir Conrad Black who now languishes in prison with special benefits from his winnings pile, part of which got him in trouble in the first place. Black was turned down for parole a week ago, despite his stellar record of helping so many fellow inmates.

    That all makes Murdoch look sort of good, by comparison, in the sense of not as bad.

    But these guys are usually untouchable, so the strange thing is to see that every blue moon or so one of the beautiful people actually does get in trouble somehow.

    They turn on one another for some reason one day, and then they eat their own. And for the same sort of things they must have done a thousand times before with no troubles at all.

    No one cheered louder than the staff of that very paper once they were very sure the coast was clear.

    It is at present a quarter of its former thickness, so yes something is fundamentally wrong, and in part it is us with our blogs, but there is enough an upside that I am glad of it, and was disillusioned with their model long before anyway.

    When you read a real Russian Pravda and realize it actually does have better news and comes closer to the truth, that's when you know the world did turn upside down about 20 years ago but we can only see it in little glimpses.

    Anyway the Ozzies have been upside down all their lives, and they are all right.

  2. The biggest (ironic) smile I have is all down to the Inquisitor General, Mr Vaz. I know that it takes a thief to catch a thief-but this is a sleazeball masterclass!

  3. Mekelnborg; As a representative of the upside-down nation, I thank you for that vote of confidence (and short-term memmory loss: Rupert hails from these very shores!)

    As to parliamentary enquiries; it always makes me smile that the same parliamentarians asking the questions often should also be the ones having questions asked of them! If there is any cross-party cooperation, that usually means that they are both as culpable as the other and any finger-pointing is likely to expose skeletons in their own cupboards as it is in the other party's. The bad guys don't operate in a vacuum, they operate under the rules set by the government of the day.

    As to the future of the newspaper, this could be the thin end of a steadily growing wedge. The newspaper has been an endangered species for some time with the web horning in on its preserve. This may speed up the process of decline and as Rupert has his fingers in so many pies around the world, it may not be limited to the UK, or to just his own operations.

  4. As a former member of the fourth estate - you would have to be close to sainthood not to feel a certain trespassing joy at this.

  5. I suspect that, in the end, I may be disappointed with the fate of Rupert. If the story gets big enough people will be bored with it before we get to the punchline. I am still very disquieted by what the UK banks got away with - I mean, they ruined millions of people's lives, for God's sake, and swallowed the public baling-out money without even a blink, or any vestige of good grace or contrition. A friend of mine who works for the Bank of England said "In Germany they'd have put them prison, in China they'd have executed the b***ards - in Britain we give them a fat pension and a directorship".

    Digression stops abruptly at this point...