Buy a newspaper, you little shits

There’s something that columnists in the UK media love to say — lots of journalists do it actually — and it’s this: #buyanewspaper. It’s directed often at young people who are perceived to have ditched the media and turned to other channels of information that journalists tend to sneer at. It’s such horseshit.

I buy a newspaper most days. Currently, I’ve been buying The Times and Sunday Times precisely because I disagree so thoroughly with almost all of the columnists that it currently employs while finding quite a bit of good coverage in the news pages — its obsessions on some key debates being an exception — and absolutely adore its obituaries.

I spent weeks tallying the cumulative and average ages of Times columnists after I read somewhere that it wanted to draw in more young readers. Spoiler: Most of its columnists are white, in upper-middle age, and reactionary in their viewpoints. They would all argue that they have a wide range of views, but if you buy the paper every day, it soon becomes apparent that their worldviews are remarkably — or not so remarkably — heterodox.

Newspapers and many of the journalists that work for them feel entitled for their publications to keep surviving. They see themselves — rightly to some extent — as an important function of modern democracy. The trouble is that the ‘speaking truth to power’ thing that they love to bang on about — I say ‘they’, but I’m as guilty as any other journalist of kidding myself that’s what I do — just isn’t a part of so much of what newspapers publish.

A lot of the time, British newspapers aren’t speaking truth to power so much as gently nudging power and saying, “C’mon, be a little nicer, c’mon, be a good power.” It’s in the interest of power to pretend that the press holds it to account, but most of the time, even when someone resigns, they don’t lose much power, they just get to shift to a new job at a new organisation where their power and prestige remains the same.

When journalists demand that young people ‘buy a newspaper’ while doing not even the barest minimum to make those newspapers reflect the views of young people and the diversity of young people’s thoughts and experience, it’s a slap in the face. It makes newspapers seem like grim medicine that young people are expected to swallow and unsurprisingly they’re not interested.

If newspapers want to survive and gain new readers, they need to let in genuinely new voices. By that, I mean voices who aren’t related to established columnists or other kinds of famous people. By that I mean Black voices, Asian voices, LGBT+ voices, working-class voices, and disabled voices. By that, I mean voices that may not get in line with the old views the newspaper has held so tightly. Until then, young people will laugh at the impassioned please to ‘buy a newspaper.’ They just don’t like what you’re selling.

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Writer, editor and internet arguer.

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