Don’t watch

All week we have, up here in the High Doganate, been not consulting “the news.” This was the result of some vow we took the week before, into the autumn winds: “As God is my witness, I don’t want to be a news junkie any more.”

Nothing is perfect in this world, however, including my vows. By mid-week, curiosity had killed my cat, and I surreptitiously checked Drudge to find what this pipe-bomb business was about. This led to a shameful act of punditry, against a pressing deadline. (You may read it here.) Carefully I nuanced my vow, to allow such exceptions. But within these Idleposts, no punditry allowed. We’ll see how long that lasts.

My reasoning is straightforward. For many years now I have noticed that the meejah — resolved everywhere to embody the tabloid spirit of depravity and filth — hold their audience by making them angry. The leftward parts exist to make the Left angry, the rightward to inflame the Right; the whole industry dedicated to inciting civil war. Materials are always to hand, to be simplified and inflated with provocative headlines. The formula works. Their trade is selling eyeballs, and if they have enough, the advertisers stay; until an outrage touches them, in which case, they cancel all contracts, and immediately explode in self-righteous pomposity.

Why, anyway, would one wish to be exposed to their flashsome and distractive ads? Any product that needs heavy advertising should be added to one’s private boycott list; why become a rat in their marketing maze? The money savings can be quite substantial, to say nothing of the health benefits.

Now, this is hardly some opinion at which I’ve suddenly arrived. I have hated ad-agency bait and hype for at least forty years, dating to a proposal I once made for the launch of an eccentric daily newspaper.

This paper would be eight broadsheet pages, with no ads. There would indeed be a methodically organized summation of “breaking news,” from the top of the front page, under title, “A Chronicle of Current Events”; plus a thoughtful leader in boldface down the left-most column. That “Chronicle” would meander onto page two, most entries condensed to a single paragraph of fact without comment, beyond droll wit.

Page three would present a longish literary essay; and a poem or excerpt (often in translation); with a feuilleton (serialized tale) running across the bottom.

The centrefold pages (four and five) would be “from our correspondents,” often in remote places, or on highly apolitical topics, such as archaeology and natural history.

Page six, “breaking” arts and books and kulcha.

Page seven, a survey of business reports, with sports results tacked on the end; except Sundays, ecclesiastical, and Mondays, all sport and leisure (there having been no markets open the previous days).

A selection of the liveliest and most informative letters-to-the-editor on the back page, above a calendar of events upcoming.

No bleary halftone; absolutely no soggy consumer “lifestyle”; everything cut sharp. Mostly diagrams, sketch maps, caricatures, pastiches; and “mugs” engraved at postage-stamp sizes. No headings over 24 points, and most a modest 12. Crisply printed on book paper (not newsprint); colour where appropriate, but never glitz. The type (9-point less a little leading of a revised Garamond font) in fairly wide columns; I think it was 15 picas in my mock-up (five columns across the page). Generous outside margins, to an overall page-breadth of 15 inches (from a full sheet 30 by 45).

Alas, the plausible media tycoon to whom I was pitching, promptly rejected the idea. Without ads, the price per copy would be too high, and only intelligent people would want it. Though the paper were thin, the staff cost would be exorbitant. (I insisted they would all be underpaid.) Unnecessary production values (i.e. too much quality). He thought there were too few readers to sustain such a paper: “Maybe I would subscribe, but no one else would.”

I argued that one ought to invest in, and tirelessly promote, something one believes to be good; leave the “lowest common denominator” to the cynical. It is a view that has lost me a lot of money over the years.

Still, I wait patiently for such a paper to appear. If and when it does, I will consider reading “the news” again; meanwhile, value my serenity.