The supposed defection of the British Sun Newspaper from supporting Labour to supporting the Conservatives got me thinking about the overall state of health of the Newspaper industry, and why anyone would really care what some foreign-owned rag thinks about British politics.
Like an increasing number of people I read much of my news online. I will focus on certain stories and try to get differing points of view. However the UK tabloid press generally has pretty awful websites, so I typically don't bother to read them.
When in the UK I will sometimes go and buy an actual newspaper, and I vary them; with the Independent probably being first preference, then the FT, the Daily Telegraph, the Times and then the Guardian. Of course when I do this I will see the front pages of the other newspapers. Sometimes the Sun amuses with some absurd pun, or the Daily Express with some shrill screech of paranoid outrage, or the Mail with some sanctimonious and unpleasant bigotry. However I don't take these papers seriously as sources of information. Indeed on the rare recent occasions- usually flying on SAS for some reason- that I read the Mail beyond the front page I am generally astonished at the low standards of journalism. Essentially the Mail, the Express or the Sun will dress up opinion as fact and then attempt to create some kind of spurious campaign to demonstrate that they are "in touch with the people" and therefore have some place of influence.
However such nastiness is as much alienating as it is anything else. I was so disgusted with some Mail bigotry against foreigners that I have now vowed not to read the filthy rag ever again. As even the circulation of the Sun continues its inexorable decline, I for one would not miss these papers much. Meanwhile the troubles at the Independent and the Observer are equally serious.
In short the "dead tree press" seems to be dying itself.
Perhaps the fact that journalism has become a closed world where many journalists are not just from the same high schools and universities, but the same families as well may be part of the decline. Certainly the power of the fourth estate as part of the establishment is demonstrably not what it was.
Perhaps it is the hackneyed writing, the ugly and ignorant opinions or the simple tedium of the drudgery of a weekly column (I sympathise!), but it is hard to point to a single columnist with grace or style. The parodies of journalists in Private Eye: Glenda Slagg, Phil Space, Polly Filler, Mary-Ann Bighead ring very true to life.
I guess within a couple of decades we will soon look back on The Sun rather as we do to the "Penny Dreadfuls" or the news sheets of the 18th century- a quaint curiosity.