One of the glories of the Internet is that the wicked and uniformly entertaining British press can be consumed in real time. The U.K.’s scandals and debates make ours look Canadian by comparison. This week in the Sunday Times of London, columnist Jeremy Clarkson protests the campaign against bad behavior now sweeping his nation. Tory Party leader David Cameron has established new standards of conduct for Tory members of Parliament to observe, which has Clarkson fuming about the “horror and dread” of being “governed by a bunch of people who go to bed at 10, only drink ginger beer, never try to look up their secretaries’ skirts and are quite happy to get paid £4.50 an hour. In short, we’re going to be governed by bores and failures.”
As Slate’s press critic, I begin most days by checking what my U.K. colleagues are saying about journalism. Thanks to the time zone difference, they’re several hours ahead of U.S. sites like Romenesko in collecting news about the news business, and they do it from their unique perspective. The Guardian’s industrious Roy Greenslade does a great job packing the whole world of journalism into his blog. The best Brit-crit is Adrian Monck, who blogs at www.adrianmonck.com. Monck’s new book, Can You Trust the Media?,written with Mike Hanley, rips what they call the culture’s “trust obsession.” Beware the newspapers, magazines, TV news operations, and other media institutions that crave the audience’s trust, they counsel. It’s just a con they’re running so they can sell your eyeballs to advertisers. Likewise, spurn those who pine for more “trustworthy” media institutions. Individual reporters and columnists may be trustworthy, but the only dependable way to tame the public’s doubts is to give them access to the raw data from which journalism is produced. (The book hasn’t been published in the United States yet, so try Amazon.co.uk.)
Alan D. Mutter documents the financial decline of the news business at Reflections of a Newsosaur. This week he noted that newspaper stocks lost $4 billion in the first two weeks of July, “an amount greater than the combined market capitalization of all but the three largest publicly held publishing companies.” New media billionaire Mark Cuban carpets his blog with his woolly pontifications about the media business, the sports business (he owns the Dallas Mavericks), and the failings of journalists. Cuban’s items would be twice as good if they were half as long, but he’s always worth the time. If only every capitalist wrote so candidly.
The death of New Yorkmagazine’s Clay Felker sent me to my bookshelf to supplement New Yorkmagazine’s fine job of capturing his achievement. (See Tom Wolfe’s essay, Kurt Andersen’s appreciation, and the Felker oral history.) In his 2002 book The Last Editor, Jim Bellows writes of hiring Felker to run New York(when it was the Sunday magazine of the New York Herald Tribune) after Felker lost the job of editor of Esquire in a contest with Harold Hayes. That sent me to Carol Polsgrove’s indispensible It Wasn’t Pretty, Folks, But Didn’t We Have Fun? Esquire in the Sixties (1995), which documents Hayes’ even greater achievements in forging New Journalism. From there I reacquainted myself with the life of Harold Ross—who deserves credit for planting the seeds of New Journalism by founding The New Yorker—by revisiting sections of Thomas Kunkel’s biography of Ross, Genius in Disguise: Harold Ross of the New Yorker (1995). Had the deadline for this column not intervened, I would still be belly-down in front of my bookshelf, tasting from Abe Peck’s Uncovering the Sixties: The Life and Times of the Underground Press (1985), Tom Wolfe’s The New Journalism (1973), Ben Hecht’s 1001 Afternoons in Chicago (1992), and Richard Ben Cramer’s What It Takes: The Way to the White House (1993). The best reading is rereading.