I recently announced that I’d stopped reading the Guardian and adopted the Daily Telegraph as my journal of choice instead. This might seem like an odd decision for someone who spent the days after the Brexit coup listening to this. Partly I was being silly, but I also wanted to step across the divide and try to parlay with the opposition, genuinely listening to concerns which I’m inclined to dismiss out of hand. I admire and respect George Marshall’s exhortation to engage with Conservatives/Republicans, and so made up my mind that I would spend a couple of weeks using the Telegraph and not the Guardian as my principal news source.
I therefore entered into the experiment in relatively good faith. The problem was that I don’t feel the Telegraph kept its side of the bargain. After a few days I started to feel distinctly less informed about the world, such was the almost total dearth of original reporting. The term ‘churnalism’ was coined by the Guardian journalist Nick Davies, who didn’t exempt his own paper from his criticisms; the Telegraph takes it to another level, leaving even that online-only clickbait factory The Independent in the shade. The content seemed to be entirely sourced from elsewhere online and its substance was so thin it barely even did what it clearly aimed to do, viz. comfort the comfortable. As for afflicting the afflicted, which is the least you could expect of an avowedly right-wing publication, it had little to offer. There was the odd column by someone desperate to give the impresion she’d never left Surrey calling anyone who posted #metoo part of a feminazi death cult, the occasional piece by Toby ‘Look at meeee!’ Young or that comedy fascist Andrew Lilico calling for Corbyn to be flung out a helicopter, demanding war rather than negotiation over Brexit or claiming that 19th Century New Zealand will be the ideal trading partner to replace the EU, and, as a special treat, Charles Moore rambling on about Catholicism like Mel Gibson’s grandfather after four bottles of Merlot; however, examples of such effortful trolling were few and far between. One jewel among the shite is Michael Deacon. They must pay him a lot to be associated with such a poor excuse for a newspaper. It was partly thanks to his wry tweets that I thought of the idea in the first place. His columns are an exception. Most of what I came across was just bland.
In a sense, that may not be such a bad thing. Telegraph readers are not kept in a high state of splenetic anxiety like those the Mail and the Express. The focus was instead on lifestyle trivia of a sub-Sunday Times variety. The corresponding comments on Facebook and Twitter were, suprisingly, on the whole quite pleasant and some intelligent and thoughtful people chipped in. They were interspersed with the odd contribution which would be best classified as at least entertainingly horrible. However, such attitudes and opinions were not unfamilar given that so many obnoxious trollery is increasingly the default mode of below-the-line commentary, particularly on the Guardian’s Comment is Free pages.
I eventually got bored with all the promotional fluff, royal gossip and clickbait tittle-tattle and invented a minor game called ‘Bloody Islam!’, which consisted solely in posting that obnoxious but ubiquitous phrase in response to the most innocuous of stories which clearly had no connection with either politics or religion. Nobody ever batted an eyelid, but I was constantly outplayed by unwitting rivals, the kind of commentors who are able to turn a piece about a corgi getting a new haircut into a genocidal diatribe which would give Anders Breivik himself (PBUH) pause for thought. In my turn I would parody (or perhaps that should be troll) them by positing a domestic scenario from their life along the lines of:
‘- Would you like a cup of tea dear?
– I BLOODY HATE JEWS!!!’
On the whole I was less annoyed with the Telegraph than bored. I’d read in Private Eye how its staff has been cut to the bone by its stingy Bond villain owners to the point where it barely has enough resources to report the cricket scores. In the end I was left with the impression that its staff consist of one bloke with a laptop, one or two interning daughters of the editor’s tennis partners, and a handful of Boris Johnson-imitating professional arseholes who periodically fax in their obnoxious opinions from the Home Counties. Like anyone, I do need to read a range of news sources and encounter opinions and perspectives that challenge my own, but I prefer to read publications which at the very least take their journalistic responsibilities seriously rather than ones that are only really a pale pastiche of what you can truly call a newspaper.