Monday, 10 November 2008

Taking pride in your work

Paul Dacre has graciously shared some thoughts on modern journalism with the Society of Editors. While there are no surprises, it's a bit of an eye-opener nonetheless. There are edited highlights here, and a full version in PDF here.

There are some gems in the edited highlights, right enough: not only do we learn that adulterers' wives are just as morally culpable as adulterers, and that wearing a military-style uniform is tantamount to being a Nazi, but also that Dacre really does think it's his job to tell us how we can and can't have sex*. But buried in the meandering self-aggrandizing autobiographical notes with which Dacre started the full speech, we find as pithy and honest an account of "respectable" tabloid morality as we could ever hope to:

At university, I edited the student newspaper. I’m afraid I took a product that looked like the then Times on Prozac and turned it into a raucous version of Cudlipp’s Mirror complete, I shudder to admit, with Page 3 girl students whom I dubbed “Leeds Lovelies”.

We mounted an undercover investigation, complete with photographers, into seemingly respectable pubs that were putting on strip shows. Family entertainment it wasn’t. The Yorkshire Post which engraved the blocks for our pictures – remember those Neanderthal days – refused to process the photographs on the grounds they were obscene. With preposterous pomposity, I accused the Post’s Editor of abusing freedom of the press. He wouldn’t budge so we got the blocks made elsewhere and ran a front page story about censorship by the Post and a student paper that couldn’t be gagged.

And, of course, we sold the pictures to the News of the World for a vast sum and dined out on the proceeds for months to come.

Do you think that, on reading that back to himself, he thought, "Good Lord, I've been a tawdry smut-peddling hypocrite for my entire wasted, wretched, miserable life?" I'm betting not. But at least he's come clean. (Yes, yes: probably a first.) Ben Goldacre jokes about the Mail's ongoing project to classify all known objects into causes of, or cures for, cancer. They've got a similar programme with regard to sexuality, only the categories are A: Just a bit of fun and B: Ban this filth. Don't be fooled though: you can still enjoy category B. You just have to maintain that veneer of superior disgust throughout.

*So, the bad news is that military-style orgies are out. The good news, though, is that corsets are AOK. So that's uniforms - no; whalebone - yes. Do bear that in mind, you filthy beasts.

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