Monday, 15 October 2012

Dumping the Grauniad

I went on a good ten mile Derbyshire ramble today - or yesterday when this post goes up. Early morning mists, a light frost, blue skies and an early showing of autumn colours. Great stuff. I though I'd nurture the mellow mood with a memory ramble too. 

So - years ago I used to read the Guardian newspaper, but my customer loyalty came to an abrupt end with the Sarah Tisdall case in 1983.

From Wikipedia:-

Sarah Tisdall was a Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) clerical officer who was jailed for leaking British government documents to a newspaper in 1983. 

Sarah Tisdall anonymously sent The Guardian photocopied documents detailing when American cruise missile nuclear weapons would be arriving in the United Kingdom. The documents set out the political tactics Michael Heseltine, then defence minister, would use to present the matter in the House of Commons.

I remember being shocked that Ms Tisdall ended up serving four months in jail because when it came to protecting their source, the Guardian did not take it to the wire. I never bought a copy of the paper again. That was nearly thirty years ago now. Doesn’t time fly?

Yet looking back, I’m sure there were other reasons for dumping the Guardian, whatever the rights or wrongs of the Tisdall case. I don’t see what else they could have done anyway, although at the time I expected a newspaper so fond of espousing moral principles would at least show a little more anti-establishment balls.

But I had also become more and more aware that much of what I read in the Guardian was pretty dull, that good writers come and go, but most of them simply churn out pap in the house style to editorial guidelines. I didn’t think much of Guardian writers at the time, so no doubt I was looking for a change anyway.

In addition to the writing, the Guardian’s dull pontificating compared badly with an otherwise exciting time of rapid technical change. Microcomputers were all the rage. I had a Sinclair ZX81 and, amusing as it may seem today, all kinds of possibilities were opening up to my fevered imagination as microelectronics began to force its way into our lives.

For example, a demonstration of Wordcraft on the Commodore PET showed me that these new gadgets were capable of serious word-processing. This raised the fascinating possibility of writing novels and short stories without having to resort to endless blobs and smears of Tipp-Ex.

So dumping the Guardian wasn’t exactly a wrench, a life-changing statement or a flash of enlightenment, but more likely an imperceptible shift in the emergence of important social changes.

Eventually I bought a computer suited to word-processing and began to write novels and short stories on it. I’d already written a novel on a mechanical typewriter which stamped out a neat little hole in the paper whenever I typed the letter ‘o’. But my ream of typewritten A4 still needed much editing and I didn’t have the stamina to retype the thing.

Word-processing came as a revelation, even though my first word-processing software ran under DOS and was basically a simple text-editor. It didn’t matter though. I could write a whole novel, back it up onto floppy disk, print it out, edit it - all without a single blob of Tipp-Ex.

Okay that’s all a long way from Sarah Tisdall and dumping the Guardian, but on reflection it occurred during a period of rapid and radical change and I think, looking back, it was for me simply a forerunner of what was to come. It isn’t played out yet either – not by any means.

Today, nearly thirty years on, the Guardian is struggling financially and it’s difficult to see how it can survive. Does it matter? Maybe it does. Give me the Web any day, but we still need newspapers - possibly even the Guardian.


Scrobs... said...

It seems that the next stages of this particular scenario are going to be played out on mobile phones, or better - 7" screens.

While I do most of my work on a PC, the savings by using email etc are immense, and also, the keyboard is the first stop-off point for any query we consider, at any time of day too!

I actually wrote a few chapters on a Psion 3a once...

banned said...

My favorite Derbyshire ramble took us from the top of Ashbourne to Thorp Cloud and back which would occupy all of a Sunday afternoon and often part of the evening.

Aged about 12 I persuaded my parents to change from the Daily Express to The Guardian (early 70's) because it seemed more grown up and better informed.
As I learned more about the real world I found myself disagreeing with much of what The Guardian had to say which was stimulating at first but eventually so annoying that I ditched it for The Telegraph especially when I noticed that I tended to take an instant dislike to other readers of The G.

To be fair, The Guardian did have a couple of good cartoonists but then so did the Express.

Anonymous said...

No FT no comment.

One thing at least worries me about the WEB model of newspapers - who pays and how do we know who they are? I avoid The Times. The Telegraph still smacks of old boys with string-back driving gloves. I like the Grauniad as a comic and the Weekend FT - very good value.

Good investigative journalism costs money and needs a base - to whom do I email this mem-stick containing XYZ's misdeeds? Which blogs have the resources to run a serious sustained FOI campaign? If the money does not come from the readers who does it come from.....

If I were Big Brother I would have registered my blogs by now - across a range of opinions - all with suitable names. You know the sort of thing - The Rightist Ranter, The Middle Grounder, The Lefty Layabout and more er 'specialist' blogs for those slated to be rounded up quietly.

I reckon a subscription that debits on a page-read basis would be good for the readers. Then I can avoid paying Polly Toynbee and George Monbiot and pay Lord Gnome and Lex.

James Higham said...

I simply don't read it. Did try a couple of times but their comments section and Polly had me running, screaming from them, clutching my throat.

A K Haart said...

Scrobs - ah a Psion - whatever happened to them?

banned - my parents read the Guardian which is probably why I began, but they became fed up with it too. Newspapers all seem very limited these days.

Roger - I quite like the subscription idea too, but I think the price has to be low and as you say, the system has to be flexible.

James - I haven't read it since 1983.

Demetrius said...

The Manchester Guardian was my paper of choice in the 1950's, this ended when it moved to London.

A K Haart said...

Demetrius - my parents read it in the 1950s and carried on reading it for a while after the London move, but eventually gave up on it.