MEDIA WATCHDOGGING

Does anyone still buy magazines? I used to buy plenty at one time – well, more than one time; I bought plenty for decades and then more or less stopped without realising it. Regular purchases in the 90s and into the 2000s included the likes of ‘Uncut’ and ‘Mojo’, with occasional forays into the likes of ‘Arena’, ‘Empire’ and fashion rags like ‘Vogue’ plus a few others of that nature – pretty girls catching the eye etc. Yes, magazines became increasingly expensive and there were times when I had to opt out of purchasing one or two because I simply couldn’t afford them every time, but I still splashed out whenever I could, perhaps due to the fact the habit was such a deeply engrained aspect of the shopping experience. Well, not anymore. There was no ‘moment’, no defining incident that provoked a decision to never bother again; it just sort-of happened. I stopped drifting towards the newsstands upon entering the supermarket and instead glanced for a second or two and moved on to edible goods.

For a while, I used to derive dubious pleasure from the hysteria of headlines, predicting the reaction of each individual paper to whatever news story was on the tip of the press tongue before I got to it and accurately anticipating the angle taken by every title; but even that grew boring, probably around the time of Brexit overkill. I don’t even bother now. I became weary of the repetition, I guess; just as the old mags I’d often shell-out for started telling the same stories over and over again, the newspapers never seemed to progress beyond their entrenched agendas and they ceased to even inspire detached hilarity. Okay, so I still order both ‘Private Eye’ and the ‘Radio Times’ from the last remaining independent newsagent in the neighbourhood, but that’s it; I don’t seek out anything else anymore. Those two suffice, and even then I often barely read anything other than the bare minimum, usually realising I haven’t managed that simple task come the day before the next issue is due.

For me, the decline and fall of the distinctive voice in print journalism perhaps went hand-in-hand with the rise of the distinctive voice online. Some of the opinion pieces on ‘Spiked’ piss on anything newspapers or magazines have to offer in their dying days, and the more erudite meanderings available at Maria Popova’s endlessly enlightening ‘Brain Pickings’ site have educated, informed and entertained me in ways that the clickbait interns of Fleet Street could never comprehend in their exhaustive search for jaded sensationalism and tiresome titillation. Granted, such elements were always ingredients of the traditional newspaper recipe, but they were balanced out by hard-hitting, investigative journalism and the intelligent, urbane columnists of old; ever since all that was dispensed with in print courtesy of cost-cutting and fear of post-Leveson litigation, the internet has offered an alternative. Newspapers, much like television news & current affairs, have narrowed their horizons and opted for catering to specific niche audiences for whom they can reinforce prejudices in the hope of securing continued subscriptions.

Talk of television brings me back to ground covered previously. A recent survey revealed comedy ranked low on the list of genres viewed during the various lockdowns of the last twelve months, which is no great surprise when one considers the woeful comedic output of our mainstream broadcasters. Anyone looking for a laugh would do well to steer clear of TV and – to be fair – radio, both of which are produced by a conservative clique of lame, middle-class university graduates in thrall to a groupthink mindset that has a rigid roll-call of easy targets they chuckle over as they labour under the misapprehension they’re being satirical. The public aren’t fooled and it’s no wonder; YouTube can boast the kind of viewing figures for comedy that the pitiful box-ticking elite laughing amongst themselves at the BBC can only dream of. The likes of Jonathan Pie and Andrew Lawrence have established careers as cutting-edge characters online without any TV exposure whatsoever whilst television continues to employ an irrelevant, hypocritical charlatan like Frankie Boyle and thinks it’s being ‘edgy’ by doing so.

Events beyond the control of everyone outside of government have served to curtail the live comedy circuit, forcing comedians already under-fire from the Woke orthodoxy to improvise; those for whom television was suddenly blocked as a route to stardom had begun investigating alternatives even before the pandemic brought the curtain down, and the endlessly impressive ‘Triggernometry’ on YT, hosted by Konstantin Kisin and Francis Foster, continues to divide its podcasts between fascinating interviews with people who have something interesting to say (and are given breathing space to say it) and live streams in which the pair interact with their audience. Sit this next to Graham Norton’s tired old celebrity chinwag on BBC1 and it’s like comparing ‘The Little and Large Show’ to ‘Not the Nine O’Clock News’ in the early 80s – and I’m not just saying this because each edition of the ‘Triggernometry’ live stream begins with an opening title sequence put together by yours truly either; I did that because I was a fan and was honoured they were impressed enough to use it.

Television and the print medium stagger on, but they have dug their own grave; that said, big tech are increasingly attempting to apply the same principles that have strangled older mediums. In recent years, Google, Facebook, Twitter and YouTube have gradually embraced the Star Chamber tactics that were once the province of the IBA and the Hays Code in efforts to clamp down on anyone daring to challenge the consensus, forcing all ‘dissidents’ using their platforms to be on constant alert as to what they say. This is a worrying, if predictable, move to those of us who have migrated from TV, radio and the press, though as a one-time YT ‘creator’ I long ago sensed which way the wind was blowing and got out, losing an audience as well as an income in the process; but the latest wave of censorship has also denied me pleasure as a viewer, removing an outlet that the established vintage mediums no longer provide.

Over the weekend, two YT channels I subscribed to and was devouring the content of have abruptly vanished. Both uploaded archive material for which the audience is too small to profit from in the shape of DVDs or streaming; both were sharing obscure or once-popular (and long-forgotten) programmes that would otherwise never see the light of day again and were doing so for purely benevolent reasons – which is precisely what YouTube was set up for in the first place. I can imagine the uploaders were confronted by constant copyright infringement excuses, but the non-profit nature of the uploads would’ve been evident to anyone coming across the channels; credit due was given and YT automatically muted any musical tracks used in the uploads the second they appeared, so all potential bases were covered from day one. Yet this still wasn’t good enough.

In one fell swoop, Silicon Valley did its Ministry of Truth act and erased all evidence of two channels that made these dark winter evenings more tolerable. I was halfway through the 1972 series of ‘Softly Softly: Task Force’ and thoroughly enjoying the old-school police procedurals of Barlow & Watt, just like thousands of other viewers seeking their own harmless entertainment away from a mainstream offering nothing but more of the same tired formulas; and now all gone. Just like that. Small mercies are something we’ve become accustomed to being thankful for this past year, so whenever another avenue of pleasure is blocked off, everything just seems that little bit greyer and duller and dismal and drab – that little bit more February-ish. Roll on springtime, eh?

© The Editor

6 thoughts on “MEDIA WATCHDOGGING

  1. Not unlike the toppling of un-woke statues, the new media channels seem to have adopted with enthusiasm the facility to delete history – well, you can’t actually delete the history itself, but you can make it very difficult for future viewers to get a fully comprehensive picture of life and times in any bygone days.

    At least with hard-copy magazines, you could stash your pile of historical documents somewhere safe and dry, secure in the knowledge that their content would always be available to you: they wouldn’t self-destruct, the file format would become unreadable, they would remain as a statement of their times. Our modern media is temporary, transient, only remaining available at the whim of self-appointed censors with their own agendas, none of which feature freedom, openness and balance. Progress eh?

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    1. On the subject of stashing magazines, a friend of mine at one time had a virtual library of…er…a certain kind of magazine. They’re all gone now, replaced by a new storage facility – a cyber one, you might say. But he has so much on there he hasn’t got enough years left in him to watch it all, let alone the energy; I too wonder ‘progress, eh?’ when I think of his collection.

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    1. Ah, thanks – yes, I’ve watched those ones. Have to say Vicki Michelle is absolutely gorgeous in the 1973 episode! A few isolated episodes are still on, but the channel I referred to in the post had the entire series from 1969-76. I was slowly making my way through it when it suddenly vanished. The guy had uploaded several other shows that are all available on DVD, so I could understand there being copyright infringements in those cases. I suspect they were the reason his whole channel was struck off, but it’s a bugger that the otherwise-unavailable stuff went too.

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  2. I noticed in recent years that Youtube contributors uploaded the tv versions of “Strangers and Brothers”, based on the novels by CP Snow, and “A Dance to the Music of Time”, the 1990s Channel 4 adaptation of the (somewhat better known, but these days sadly also falling into relative obscurity) novels by Anthony Powell. I haven’t checked if they are still there but I’d guess they are…if only because no-one cares enough about them to have them taken down, lol.

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    1. Yeah, I think the mistake the channel in question made here was to upload commercially-available material alongside the stuff only vintage TV-seekers would be interested in. If he’d just stuck to the latter, the channel would probably still be there. I did manage to download and burn onto disc around 30 episodes of the content once I’d discovered it, as, knowing all-too well how YT works, I had a feeling it wouldn’t be on forever; but couldn’t do it fast enough before it vanished.

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