Newspapers: my grievance

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Newspapers: my grievance

Postby Elliott » 03 Feb 2013, 13:16

In recent years, I've noticed that my tolerance for reading online newspaper articles has waned, and in recent months has just about vanished. This is a personal thing, not necessarily related to "cultural change" etc. yet I feel pretty confident that lots of people (especially of my generation and younger) are probably exactly the same. It could be being raised on MTV editing, instant gratification web culture, the brevity of text messages, etc...

Generally speaking, you get the gist of a news article from the headline and sub-headline. That's all I really want. Then, if the article comprises three or four paragraphs, I might read it immediately - but any longer than that and I never read them nowadays.

Instead, I go straight to the public comments. Now, I'm aware of the dangers of doing that. Frankly, the public are often ignorant and prone to over-simplifying issues, or phrasing them in distortingly crass/biased ways. There are many blowhards among the public who will claim they've got that subtle grasp of the situation that has eluded everyone else. But, for all that, I still feel an instinctive pull towards these public comments rather than the long-winded "official" account that hovers above them.

With any news story, the odds are that a) there aren't many facts that you actually need to know in order to fully grasp the story and b) the journalist's subsequent synthesis of ideas will be strangely lackluster and boring. I say "strangely" because you'd expect their training to result in some juice, yet it doesn't. Or at least, when it does, it is disappointingly buried under paragraphs of waffle.

Part of the problem is no doubt that the way journalists write, and are trained to write, is a hang-over from the print days when an article had to be a certain length. It also seems to be true that readers had more patience with waffle in the past than they have now (more free time? I don't know).

On top of that is the most obvious feature of journalists' writing, which I hardly need mention: they are bound by political correctness. This creates ridiculous bias - so we get 20 years of whingeing about Stephen Lawrence yet barely a mention of Kriss Donald. It also means journalists tend to tone down things that really matter, and tone up things that really don't - so we get screeds of tedious speculation about a petty rivalry between two politicians, but barely a word about, for example, Charlene Downes. This feature of the MSM makes people instinctively wary of everything they read. At least with public comments, they know the writers are biased; with official news organisations there is a mirage, now pretty much totally discredited, of truthfulness in reporting and honesty in speculation.

Speculation merits a paragraph of its own. The more speculative a journalist's writing, the more interesting it tends to be (because the facts can be gleaned anywhere and are usually very sparse). But, the more speculative it is, the more you might as well just read the speculations from the public, who are not hide-bound by union mandates or legal restrictions, and are not afraid to call a spade a spade.

As for the breadth and depth of learning that one would like to associate with journalists, one simply can't. Again, I read public comments and yes a lot of them are by ignoramuses, but a lot of them are from clearly well-read, well-educated people with a grasp of the world and its many ways, and they can lead you to all sorts of things that you wouldn't have discovered otherwise - sometimes unrelated to the article, sometimes very related to it. I don't know if "the well-read journalist" is a myth that never really existed - though I doubt that - but certainly in the modern world, journalists come across as (sometimes tediously) well-versed in their area of expertise but ignorant of the world at large, let alone its vast cultural history. So, again, you get obsessive ponderings about what a politician's latest soundbite might mean, which can be of only scant interest to anyone but the journalist who wrote them; everyone else is thinking "why didn't the politician just say what he meant?!" but to the journalist such mysteries that are created from a politician's ambiguity are his bread and butter, and apparently the stuff of wonder.

In a sense, modern journalists are very like modern politicians, in that they appear to be interested in nothing but politics, for its own sake, and to know about nothing else, almost like automata straight off the production line. Just as "professional politicians" are easily the dullest and most insipid, so too with "professional journalists". When they do talk about outside interests, they tend to be very normal, often laddish, interests like football and video games. I have nothing against those things but I would rather that journalists felt a duty to maintain at least a facade of being cultured and refined. Do those things, sure, but keep it to yourself; let me believe that you're a bit better than me, for God's sake.

One final criticism that I should make, since it is so often the cause of either vituperative public comments, or zero public comments, beneath an article, is the modern tendency for journalists to actually write columns about themselves and their social lives. I don't know if this is confined to the British press, but it is amazingly boring. It relates to my previous paragraph, in that journalists no longer seem to feel compelled to be high-brow. I have to say that it is very much a female journalist thing, though I've seen it with male ones too. It first started in the Guardian, which I used to read daily in the pub, but about a year later (early 2006) it started happening in the Times as well, which up till then had resisted the trend. You get columns about the latest middle-class Islington dinner party the journalist attended, or unbelievably tacky Sex and the City-inspired articles about her thirty-something struggle to find a man in today's fast-moving urban world - Mr Chocolate, Mr Gym, Mr Silky Voice, Mr Weekend Fling... It's not hard to see why people aren't interested in reading this drivel - or, for that matter, why Mr Husband continues to elude her.

I don't know if any of this spells any existential crisis for the MSM, but it certainly explains why I, personally, go straight to the comments. Usually I grasp the story from the comments alone, and if I don't, then a brief scan of the article will elicit the information I need. To be honest, that is pretty much how I treat the MSM now: merely a reference guide to help me understand comments from the public. I have little trust in what journalists report, and even less interest in what they speculate, and absolutely zero interest in their middle-class dinner parties, which must be a contest to see who can have the most unsurprising opinions.

Of course, it is hilarious that I have managed to go on about this for 10 long paragraphs, rather neutering my own criticism of journalistic long-windedness. I can only beg your forgiveness. At least I didn't write about my most recent dinner party.
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Re: Newspapers: my grievance

Postby Rachel » 04 Feb 2013, 00:53

Elliott wrote:In recent years, I've noticed that my tolerance for reading online newspaper articles has waned, and in recent months has just about vanished...

...I have little trust in what journalists report, and even less interest in what they speculate, and absolutely zero interest in their middle-class dinner parties...


It's the same with me. I miss in depth analysis and graphs and statistics in some articles, like those on crime or education.

As well as missing analysis and statistics, I also miss having no wider perspective in the MSM.
For example, in an article on the welfare state you will never find comparisons of healthcare or welfare systems to somewhere like Switzerland or Denmark. They always compare US healthcare to British but they never give a wider perspective and go to a range of different European countries. It's like that with so many subjects.

I find myself drawn to blogs more like Frank Chalk on education, Thewelfarestatewerein.com, police blogs on law and order, Israel blogs on Israel etc, Jane Kelly for her stuff etc....
It's better to get information from someone working at the coalface, who happens to be in the subject, like a working teacher talking about education or a serious specialist in a subject rather than what a mindless journalist heard down the pub and hashed up.
Even the odd ordinary person with a special interest in a few political subjects can write better and more in depth articles on a blog than the average journalist.

Completely agree with you on the dinner parties.
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Re: Newspapers: my grievance

Postby Gavin » 04 Feb 2013, 01:15

Elliott, I'm glad you did go to ten paragraphs, because I didn't notice it was that long - but were it an MSM article I would probably have skipped to the comments by paragraph two. I have the same impression of them.
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Re: Newspapers: my grievance

Postby Caleb » 19 Feb 2013, 02:03

I basically never read newspapers now. Part of that is because I don't have easy access to them because of where I live. However, even when I go to visit my family in Australia, I inevitably get about two paragraphs into any story and then put the paper down.

In terms of online content, I don't read newspapers at all. Even magazines such as The Economist do next to nothing for me these days as I realise they're part of the MSM that alternately lurches from being clueless to spinning absolute garbage. I do read random articles on Yahoo! if I'm bored at work, but I inevitably hate myself for doing so, and often skip straight to the comments anyway. Incidentally, does anyone else get two paragraphs into an article, encounter bad English and then scroll up to check the nationality of the journalist? Does anyone else find himself groaning when it becomes apparent that the journalist is a native speaker?

These days, if I want real information, and it's mostly only in the fields of finance or economics as politics increasingly leaves me cold, I skip the MSN completely. Much like others here, I have my list of sources outside the MSN for such things.

The problem with all of this is that whilst the internet is great in that we can seek out things that the MSN might not tell, it does lead to two things. Firstly, people tend to seek out that which will confirm their existing positions on things. Certainly in fields such as politics, it's increasingly difficult to find places with a plurality of ideas. The second is that I can't help feeling that it has led, and continues to lead, to a fragmentation of civic involvement and cohesiveness. I'm at such a cynical place right now that I don't even want to read about politics because I'm so suspicious of everyone involved from the politicians to the journalists to anonymous posters (even when I agree with their positions). This does not make for great civic discourse or progress.
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Re: Newspapers: my grievance

Postby Elliott » 19 Feb 2013, 03:24

Caleb wrote:I do read random articles on Yahoo! if I'm bored at work, but I inevitably hate myself for doing so

I haven't read Yahoo! news for a long time but, when I did, it had the advantage that the articles were very concise. There wasn't even a pretence of journalistic speculation; it was cut-to-the-bone-and-beyond reporting.

Incidentally, does anyone else get two paragraphs into an article, encounter bad English and then scroll up to check the nationality of the journalist? Does anyone else find himself groaning when it becomes apparent that the journalist is a native speaker?

Yes. It's unbelievable! They're/their, different than, who/m, etc.

The problem with all of this is that whilst the internet is great in that we can seek out things that the MSN might not tell, it does lead to two things. Firstly, people tend to seek out that which will confirm their existing positions on things. Certainly in fields such as politics, it's increasingly difficult to find places with a plurality of ideas.

That's certainly true. (I actually have to force myself to look at the Guardian's website, about once a month.)

The second is that I can't help feeling that it has led, and continues to lead, to a fragmentation of civic involvement and cohesiveness. I'm at such a cynical place right now that I don't even want to read about politics because I'm so suspicious of everyone involved from the politicians to the journalists to anonymous posters (even when I agree with their positions). This does not make for great civic discourse or progress.

I'm not so sure about this, but maybe I've just not noticed it. I think civil disengagement [sic?] happens for all sorts of reasons - consumerism and trashy media certainly don't help. Where I can see what you're talking about is in the sphere of professional debaters and bloggers (eg. Laurie Penny). That somebody like Owen Jones can prosper is surely testament to some sort of place/desire/need for very simplistic, one-sided and naive talking heads who just fulfill a role, satisfy a need in the converted to have their faith re-broadcast to them.
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Re: Newspapers: my grievance

Postby Caleb » 20 Feb 2013, 02:31

Elliott wrote:I'm not so sure about this, but maybe I've just not noticed it. I think civil disengagement [sic?] happens for all sorts of reasons - consumerism and trashy media certainly don't help. Where I can see what you're talking about is in the sphere of professional debaters and bloggers (eg. Laurie Penny). That somebody like Owen Jones can prosper is surely testament to some sort of place/desire/need for very simplistic, one-sided and naive talking heads who just fulfill a role, satisfy a need in the converted to have their faith re-broadcast to them.


Elliott: Maybe it's just that it's really hard for me to actually work out where I sit politically. I dislike most of the left, though there must be reasonable people on the left out there (I just don't know of them, though admittedly, I don't exactly seek them out). I can equally see though how reasonable people on the left must hate the right purely because they don't see people like TD or Douglas Murray. I loathe most of the right too. Fox News is justifiably mocked and despised. The round up of clowns they have on that network, even when they're not complete morons, act like the primate section of the zoo at feeding time. It's all too much for me to watch someone like Sean Hannity or Ann Coulter, even when I agree with them (and there are plenty of times when I don't). A lot of political and social commentary these days seems driven by being more ideologically extreme than anyone else, as if to prove one's purity. Any debates or discussions are often complete farces. Basically, the typical set up is this. Let's say, for the sake of argument, that it's a right wing programme. There's one moderate right wing guy who is falsely portrayed as being centrist or a devil's advocate. In fact, his whole role is to set up a one-two punch so that the other guy on the panel, who is really extreme, can then make the moderately right wing guy's views look neutral/central. This works even better if there's a left wing person on the panel. The way this works is that the extreme right wing guy basically just has to cut the token left wing guy off and shout him down at every opportunity, set up complete strawmen, etc. Then, when everyone is incensed, the moderate guy offers his "moderate" view at the end as if it's a kind of compromise between the two, and there you go, there's been a "fair" debate and the reasonable, rational position has been found.

Obviously, we're all well aware that this is precisely how many left wing shows operate, but I think both sides are equally guilty of this, at least with big media outlets. The entire exercise is more about gladiatorial entertainment than any kind of real discourse aimed at the truth or a workable solution. There's a reason you'll probably never see TD on Fox (aside from him probably never wanting to go on there): he'd put the average Fox viewer to sleep. Ratings would plummet because they don't tune in to hear anything reasonable, carefully considered and softly spoken.

This is often true of the blogosphere, and it's true of internet fora a lot of the time too. On another site, there was recently a very long discussion about economics and politics. At first I was involved, but after a while, I became a mere observer. Eventually, I left not just that thread, but the entire site. It wasn't that anyone had upset me or I had upset anyone else. I just realised that no one there was actually trying to achieve anything, including me. No one was going to change anyone else's position one iota. Everyone there had already been around the block one hundred times in that thread (and others), and knew everyone else's position inside out. Everyone there could have ghost written everyone else's posts for them. I couldn't figure out what the point of it all was, other than people arguing for the sake of it. Even with the people whose opinions I completely agreed (I could have written some of the posts myself, word for word), I just didn't care.

I notice this increasingly in all areas of my life. People generally seem so sure of themselves and their ideas. They're so unreflective. It's wildly off topic, so maybe I'll go into it elsewhere, but I find people making the most unreflective statements all the time on virtually every aspect of their existences.
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Re: Newspapers: my grievance

Postby Elliott » 20 Feb 2013, 03:18

I'm not sure how much I can comment on this, because I have little experience of right-wing media (living under the yolk of the BBC) and little experience of debating people in real life.

What I will say is that I think people are probably more reasonable in real life than they are on the Internet. I don't really know why that is. Doubtless it could be analysed. But for whatever reason, people really stick to their guns on the Internet, and then other people join them and you get these disgusting group attacks on individuals, which probably aren't conceptualised by anyone consciously as "attacks"; it's just what they end up doing. You'll recall that thread I sent you in which I was "attacked" (for want of a less melodramatic word) by liberals on the issue of welfare.

Perhaps one of the problems with online debating, and it's evinced in that thread, is that the ability to use statistics makes people think that, by using them, they are actually thinking and engaging with the debate, when in fact they're merely finding the evidence they want, which may or may not be sufficient/accurate/true and sticking steadfastly to their position, and often (I think) simply using any available means to continue missing the point.

With regard to right-wing mass media... sometimes I watch clips of Fox News etc. on Youtube and I completely agree with you. It's like a circus. There are also "lone wolf" commentators like Alex Jones (who strikes me as a complete nutcase) and Michael Savage who I tend to think bullies his interviewees rather than listens to them. The ranting and the shouting are just completely unhelpful.

I also think there is a dearth of good debating even in the sphere of professional debating! I used to listen to a BBC radio programme called The Moral Maze but realised that, for some reason I couldn't identify, I just wasn't finding it in any way fulfilling. Maybe it was the calibre of the debaters? I don't know. But I do know that debates such as this one from 1973 struck me as being the business of far better minds than any in the media (let alone politics) today.

Finally, again on the topic of professional debates, I have "analysed" two debates on drug legalisation, simply to show why I thought they were appalling debates. This one suffered from a ridiculously over-complicated format. This one was just, as I put it, stuck in 1970.

And now for some light relief. I give you Alex Jones:
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Re: Newspapers: my grievance

Postby Gavin » 20 Feb 2013, 10:42

That Alex Jones makes some very good points in an appalling way, I think (actually I could only watch the first clip)!

This brings me to my point (after so brief a time!). I think many of the problems described in the recent posts come from "argument from ego". People just cannot, or do not want to, keep their own egos out of argument. They are not interested in working together to find truth, as a team of (good) scientists might. They're interested in "winning". (This is one reason I am not really interested in competition: it seems to set up a false adversity. I prefer to compete against an ideal - a very high one - and am happy to work with people if it is in our mutual interest.)

Most people online and in real life too, I think, are not interested in finding truth, just in scoring points so that they feel a bit more confident about themselves and hope they look good to other people. This strikes me as very pathetic and dishonourable but one sees it all the time. That is why we have people on this forum who will not go on other forums - because if I detect those motivations here I will caution the people. They obstruct polite discourse and obstruct rather than aid efforts to find truth.

Another thing that can bring this kind of feeling about is when people are overly blunt or categorical or seem to take delight in disagreeing with others. Sometimes it needs to be said that one disagrees, though usually it doesn't because it is obvious from the other things one says. It seems to me that this can only inflame people. I'm looking for agreement in discussion. I should think most people on this forum are too. If we don't agree I think one of us is wrong and I don't want either of us to be wrong because then we're not getting to the truth.

People must be forced to remove their own egos from argument as much a possible, I think, though few seem to be able to manage this to any great degree. I suppose there are a lot of people out there online who feel, for one reason or another, a bit inferior.
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Re: Newspapers: my grievance

Postby Caleb » 22 Feb 2013, 02:49

Elliott: You make good points. At this juncture, I don't really have much to add to them.
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Re: Newspapers: my grievance

Postby Gavin » 05 Mar 2013, 11:25

Just in relation to the way this thread went: another thing that sometimes annoys me is a tendency some people have to always state their opinions as facts. I wonder if anyone else on the forum feels the same about this.

Something that occurs to me is that when people do this, they are only ever repeating what they themselves have read somewhere. They will do it on matters about which they cannot possibly have any primary experience.

Actually, we are are all subject to the filter of other people's writing, and it is worth acknowledging this in some cases with a little intellectual humility or prudence, I think - for example with an "I read that..." or an "According to...".
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Re: Newspapers: my grievance

Postby Connor » 06 Mar 2013, 05:14

Elliott wrote:
Instead, I go straight to the public comments. Now, I'm aware of the dangers of doing that. Frankly, the public are often ignorant and prone to over-simplifying issues, or phrasing them in distortingly crass/biased ways. There are many blowhards among the public who will claim they've got that subtle grasp of the situation that has eluded everyone else. But, for all that, I still feel an instinctive pull towards these public comments rather than the long-winded "official" account that hovers above them.


Yes, that's something I've also noticed about myself in the past year or so. In fact, I've begun to wonder: does this mark a shift in the way that people are reading online content? Are online articles, as a whole, slowly being eclipsed by their comments sections?

It may sound like a preposterous idea to some - but my own reading habits would affirm it. When I look at my usual online news sources now, the articles almost seem like preambles. I look forward to the comments section far more than the actual article, unless it's been written by one of my favorite pundits.

I think the introduction of Disqus has caused online comments to become a much more significant cultural force than they were in the past (and I've noticed that this program is now used on almost all MSM websites). The ability to list comments in order of "Best Rated" allows people to cut through all the trolling, flaming and ignorance - of which there's always going to be a lot on the Internet - and simply read the comments that have been deemed by others to be articulate and insightful.

What's striking is that there are quite a lot of high-quality comments hiding beneath the articles of MSM websites. These comments get their own widespread readership too, once the other users start to rank them. On this very forum, we have several threads dedicated to collecting trenchant comments that ordinary people chose to write (mostly from The Telegraph), and that hundreds of other ordinary people chose to "Recommend" or "Like" to the rest of the world. As for me, I even have favorite posters on many websites, and I look forward to hearing their views as if they were real pundits! These people are often more likely to give their honest and straightforward views about society than the paid journalists. After all, those pseudonymous folks from Disqus don't have to deal with some pesky editor (not to mention the bullying from powerful interest groups, or death threats from extremists, or pressure from sponsors, or...).

I imagine that many of our own forum members have made their voice heard in the comments section of a few MSM websites. I certainly hope so, at least. Most of what I read here is worthy of a "Best Rated" spot under any article.
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Re: Newspapers: my grievance

Postby Gavin » 06 Mar 2013, 11:32

I'm just the same, Connor. These days because I am busy with other things it's just become too "expensive" to read the articles by PC journalists who are often little better educated, it seems, than the commenters. So I jump straight down to where I'm going to get some serious truth.

Top-rated is usually good, as are the next ones, but I'm sure everyone has noticed that petty side-debates tend to stem off these top rated posts quite often. We just have to scroll past them.

To name names, I'll read a little bit more of a James Delingpole article, or of Ed West or Norman Tebbit. Perhaps one or two others. In other cases I'm straight down to the comments, often going from the link on the main page, thus bypassing the article altogether. There I usually agree with Frank Fisher, tayles, boudicia (is it?) anders, and a few others. Quite often a high quality of comment will come from someone I don't really see very often. The comments are sometimes of such high quality that it is a very good thing that Elliott has safeguarded them here, and it would be nice to have a few (more?) of those people over here. But it is good, ultimately, that this site is "self-selecting".

I went through a period of commenting a fair bit on The Telegraph, though nothing like as often as the regulars. (Like some other of our members I gather, for many years I never commented anywhere, not even in real life. I felt "bullied into silence" by the Left. Then I had enough, and that's when I started commenting here and there. I could see that their arguments could be destroyed if we were given the space to do it free from their typical sneering and insults. I don't comment on any other forums.) You can actually read all of my Telegraph comments here, if you like. I was a little bit more outspoken than I am here, perhaps. I kind of stopped when I got "top rated" for one comment, though that seems to have been knocked off the top spot now!

I rarely comment now because I'm just too busy, and this site is the main place for me. It seems to be fulfilling a role as almost a "meta"-Telegraph site. It's a good place for us to reflect on what is said there, and of course write new, original, and extended content. The fact we all read Dalrymple is an excellent "hook" too, and it hopefully helps to promote him.

This site also has the benefit of having no junk comments at all, if I may say so myself. The good thing is I don't even need to moderate them. We get one or two spam registrations, but I have still not yet had to turn away any vacuous or vitriolic posters. I think this must be because I make clear from the outset that their messages will simply be deleted, probably unread. I'm glad it's so appreciated: I certainly like reading what people have to say. I sometimes feel like the site is one big exercise in pointing out the elephant in the room, and that is indeed satisfying!

As for Disqus, technically, I quite like it and it has been a game changer, hasn't it? But I haven't implemented it on some sites, because it takes a while to load, people have to login with their handles, it's third party etc. Good for the Telegraph, though!
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Re: Newspapers: my grievance

Postby Gavin » 01 Apr 2013, 13:06

The Guardian shows some signs of self-awareness and self parody in this April Fool video. Of course, it's quite funny, but there might even be darker undertones: perhaps they know fewer and fewer people are buying their angle now?!

Google always do quite an amusing one too.

The thing is for me with April Fools, if you claim there has been a bad event (Polly Toynbee appointed as advisor to Cameron!) then everyone is unduly alarmed. If you claim there's been a good one (TD appointed as the same) then everyone is unduly elated!
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Re: Newspapers: my grievance

Postby Elliott » 04 Apr 2013, 20:29

The Daily Telegraph have just brought in tabloid hack Kelvin McKenzie as a new columnist. I think this is a bad omen. McKenzie doesn't always write trash, but he often does, and his entire output is aimed at a pretty low-brow mindset. I'm surprised that a newspaper like the DT thinks it a good idea to employ someone like him - his presence will change the tone of the paper.

It could be that the print media are just dead institutions walking, though. In thirty years' time I don't think there'll be any people still alive who want newspapers, let alone printed ones, and long before that it will become financially untenable to run a newspaper. I don't know what's going to happen there. But nobody trusts them anyway, so maybe we shouldn't mourn the DT's passing into irrelevance.
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Re: Newspapers: my grievance

Postby Charlie » 18 Apr 2013, 19:17

Elliott wrote:The Daily Telegraph have just brought in tabloid hack Kelvin McKenzie as a new columnist. I think this is a bad omen. McKenzie doesn't always write trash, but he often does, and his entire output is aimed at a pretty low-brow mindset. I'm surprised that a newspaper like the DT thinks it a good idea to employ someone like him - his presence will change the tone of the paper.


It looks like common sense has won out at The Telegraph.

I really don't know what they were thinking when they hired MacKenzie. I'm pretty sure that, along with figures like Jeremy Clarkson and Richard Littlejohn, the ex-Sun man is pretty much the Left's stereotype or idea of the Right: that is to say, a boorish, heartless oaf.

Frankly, 'our side', so to speak, needs fewer MacKenzies and more Ed Wests.
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