Around the Western World we are witnessing extraordinary dynamics between the four estates.
From Trump’s attacks on the media, and the judiciary, to sectors of the UK news media amplifying the lies of Brexiters, before also turning on the judiciary. To the rise of social activism, on the streets and in social media
Is this a sign of our times? Or is it a shudder in a longer-term, tutonic shift in the components of our societies?
The rise of the self-righteous right
This chart for the UK, indexes the relative shares of left and right wing newspapers over the last thirty years, exemplified by the combined sales of the Telegraph/Mail versus the Mirror/Guardian. (I’ve ignored the others because their positions were as much about opportunism that conviction.)
Back in Thatcher’s eighties, the left titles indexed around 20% above the right titles. Today, the titles on the right have over double the market share of those on the left. This picture is also apparent in countries such as Spain, France and Germany, where the media-right are steadily increasing their dominance.
There is something ironic about the ambiguity of the word “right”. The right is where the money is, and money, and commercial acumen, rather than principle are what has driven the increasing dominance of right-wing media.
But as always the story is more nuanced.
The chart below shows that the Mail’s commendable rise (in red) has in fact been cyclical, and diametrically opposite to the strength of Tory majority parliament (in blue).
The red bendy line shows that the Mail’s share rise slowed during the Tory years, but blossomed in the Blair years. (Ignore the first and last four years, they are a function of my lazy regression modelling rather than statistical validity.) The chart clearly shows that against the general upward trend, the Mail gained more in opposition. And the same data shows, that The Guardian did far better against the Tories, (and in the Blair years, which it regarded as the same thing!)
While the Mail’s trend line is an opposite image of the Tory majority, The Guardian’s share more or less follows the Tory majority (below). The stronger the Tories, the better The Guardian performs.The fact is that partisan News Media attract more readers when in opposition, than when they are sympathetic.
Meanwhile in the USA, the New York Times has increased its subscription based by 10% since Trump came to power. In addition a further 10% have been added through individuals and companies sponsoring student subscriptions.
In this “post truth” age of Trump and Brexit, there is some consolation in the fact that, against a generally increasing dominance of right-wing media, the evidence suggests this can be thwarted.
But the long-term question, in this increasingly divisive, extremist (however defined) world, is how does the news media, whether established or emerging, better reflect all opinions rather than what I regard as the increasingly distorted “Enemies of the State” messaging.
Citizens welcome (I won’t say are “crying out for”) clarification and direction. But they, particularly younger people, are abandoning news media, in part – one part – because the news media are either emasculated – from the miserably managed Scotsman, to the UK’s now official state broadcaster, the BBC – or representatives of the rich and self-RIGHTeous.
I’ve written before about the potential for the ever-increasing number of independent “New News” creators. Individually many/most struggle commercially, but collectively this is a great new force, that can challenge and replace the distortions that we are now witnessing every day.
Finally, I offer two (perhaps more subjective) observations:
In the international context, British newspapers’ print audiences have fallen far faster than most other European countries. In the case of the regionals, I put much of this down to the profiteering of their shareholders, but in the Nationals I believe it is due to our uniquely jingoistic editorial style. A sensational headline may win the day, but the reader is left with a bad taste in their mouth, and the image of the press is slightly diluted.
The other is that media born around fads tend to fail, as the fad fades. Just as the ultra-nationalist Wings Over Scotland saw its audience soar to over that of The Scotsman during the referendum, only to disappear to insignificance, so I suspect Breitbart will last little longer that Trumps credibility. And the sooner the better.
Jane Martinson, in The Guardian, summed up the state we newspaper folks are in.