Dizzy Thinks and the Technically Brilliant Sun

I noticed that Dizzy Thinks had a few things to say about this blog and people who whinge about The Sun the other day and I thought I’d offer some kind of response to the points he made.

Firstly, he seems to find it amusing that people dislike The Sun:

I see the Sun celebrating its “40th birthday” (Murdoch buy-out was year zero I think) is causing some frothing on some blogs. Whether its the likes of Tim Ireland complaining about Page Three in a way that reveals more about his own condescending view about the intelligence of Sun readers than anything else. Or simply general whining about how they’ve crossed the line in attacking Gordon Brown personally whilst simultaneously ignoring the Mirror engaging in similar attacks on Cameron’s (both of which as enjoyable to watch I should add), the message is clear. The Sun is EVIL!

I imagine some of the ‘frothing’ about The Sun’s celebration has to do with the fact that The Sun represents some of the worst aspects of tabloid journalism. It is the personal propaganda sheet for a wealthy media mogul, its editor and journalists are little more than pawns and it shows with the slant that is applied to all of its content. It revels in xenophobia, racism and homophobia. It lies a lot – like most of the tabloid press – in order to distort the world to fit its own agenda. These, I would argue are valid points to get a bit pissed-off when smug Sun journalists appear on your TV and inform you about what a wonderful and respected organ of the press it is.

Secondly he describes this blog as ‘a site that appears to specialise in moaning about the right wing press’. If he’d taken the time to read a few posts or dig around he might have perhaps re-phrased that slightly. He might have felt compelled to mention that – although I do occasionally rant a little – the bulk of this website is dedicated to demonstrating how the tabloid press (focusing on the Daily Mail) lies to construct a world-view that just does not correspond to reality.

Moaning implies that I’m just another whinger who doesn’t try to bring about change. I would argue that the fact I have taken the time to produce this blog, to write down my thoughts on why the Daily Mail writes as it does, and why some people feel compelled to believe it, shows that I am more than just a whinger. In some small way I am trying to change the way tabloid journalism sets agendas and spreads lies about minority groups. The ‘Angry Mob’ title of this blog refers to the readers of the tabloid press – the Angry Mob that is fed by lies and distortions – not myself. The group that picks up their tabloid newspaper just so that they can be enraged about something – irrespective of whether there is any truth in the stories they are outraged over.

The remainder of Dizzy’s post is below in full:

Uponnothing considers the Sun journalists and writers to be “utterly fucking shit”. When I read it I was reminded of the tale in Stick it up your Punter which chronicled a time when Sun hacks swapped jobs with hacks from a quality paper – can’t recall which. The Sun guys found the swap easy, the quality paper guys just couldn’t, if you pardon the pun, hack it.

The reason? Anyone can ramble on writing up a news story in 1000+ words. Doing it in 50 takes skill though. Just take any random day and have a look at a Sun leader and compare it to a Guardian one. They could even be making the same point but the former will be succinct whilst the latter will be waffle – not much different to the blog posts of some of those that moan about Sun funnily enough.

People may not like the political agenda of the Sun. They may feel that the Sun readership needs to be ‘educated coz they is thick init’ into realising that the girl with her tits out doesn’t really know about quantitative easing and campaigning is a matter of justice and truth goddamit! However, thinking that that the people that work and write for the Sun are shit misses the point of how difficult it actually is to do what they do compared to the so-called “quality press”.

He makes a perfectly valid point: The Sun could be written by a gifted set of writers and perhaps I am wrong to label them as ‘utterly fucking shit’. However, whether the writing is technically good is different to it being ‘good’ in my mind. For example, should I enjoy reading an article full of lies about immigration or snide ‘humorous’ digs at homosexuality because it happens to be a technically brilliant example of tabloid writing? Or should I remain saddened that people want to buy a paper that feeds them on a diet of such articles and pissed-off that a talented writer should sell their soul to write them?

If you are a talented writer and you work for The Sun I wonder if you’d really be proud about what you do – no matter how technically brilliant your work is. Can you look at an article wheeling out the same tired lies about ‘uncontrolled immigration’ and immigrants being ‘showered’ with benefits and be satisfied with what you have written because it is short and snappy? Somehow I was under the impression that accuracy counts in journalism, that truth matters as much as style. Dizzy seems to think not, he doesn’t even address the fact that The Sun and the tabloid press are an virtually unregulated body that can treat facts as an inconvenience to be overlooked or crushed out of all recognition and crammed into their one-agenda-fits-all editorial requirements.

I read an interesting and revealing article in The Times this week where Kelvin MacKenzie visits a tabloid newspaper created and edited by Oxbrigde students. Remember, Kelvin MacKenzie is the Sun editor responsible for the entirely false Hillsborough headlines that stopped virtually all sales of the Sun in Liverpool to this day. He is also the man responsible for the Sun headline: ‘Freddie Starr ate my hamster’ (as Dizzy would probably be keen to point out: a technically brilliant headline, regardless of the fact that it was completely made up).

In the article MacKenzie recalls a story about hiring only Oxford and Cambridge graduates during his days editing The Sun. The story seems to nicely sum up the journalistic standards of the Sun and other tabloids:

Satisfied that my bold move would take The Sun to a higher plain I waited for the results. They were not forthcoming. In fact, very little emerged from my new hirelings. Most disappointing.

I had to get to the bottom of this. It became clear that with their keen and analytical minds they had made a fatal mistake – they had continued investigating every story to the point where they had satisfied themselves that there was no story at all. This would not do.

I called in one of the super-brains and and explained a philosophy that had served me well over the years. The reporter leant forward with an earnest look as I told him the secret: if a story sounded true it probably was true and should therefore appear in the paper or there would be lots of white, unexplained spaces.

So there you have it, the magic ingredient in tabloid journalism is to not care about the truth. The consequences of this approach are the countless repetition of lies about minority groups, ‘elf ‘n’ safety gone mad’, ‘they’ve banned Christmas!’ and all the other shite that tabloids either make up or don’t bother fact-checking before going to print.

If the writers working for The Sun really are talented and bright, then it seems to make their articles worse because they are not the result of journalistic incompetence, but rather a cynically calculated distortion of the truth. The relentless scare-mongering and radicalisation of the tabloid reading masses seems to imply that sometimes humanity would benefit from more substance and less style. Dizzy might do well to ponder the same when considering his own ‘snappily written’ tabloid blog posts.