Online and on death row

Historicizing newspapers in crisis

Authored by: Tim Luckhurst

The Routledge Companion to British Media History

Print publication date:  September  2014
Online publication date:  September  2014

Print ISBN: 9780415537186
eBook ISBN: 9781315756202
Adobe ISBN: 9781317629474


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In 2003 Martin Amis published his comic novel Yellow Dog and, characteristically, he invented a character through whom to explore a subject dear to his heart: the cynicism of the popular newspaper press. His fictional reporter, Clint Smoker of the Morning Lark, writes columns excusing rapists (“the bird was wearing a school uniform”) and is eventually sacked for celebrating the first sexual adventure of a teenage princess in a column opining “‘Hi, men!’ With these words Princess Vicky kissed goodbye to her catflap – and nun too soon says the Lark” (Amis, 2003: 319). The Lark is the worst kind of scandal sheet, a Daily Sport 1 spoof where journalists refer to their readers as ‘wankers’ and pander to their tastes no matter how depraved. In Smoker’s version of a Marxist analysis “the quality broadsheets are aimed at the establishment and the intelligentsia. The upmarket tabloids are aimed at the bourgeoisie. The downmarket tabloids are aimed at the proletariat. At the Lark our target wanker is unemployed” (Amis, 2003: 71). Amis’s satire pre-empts by nearly a decade the worst allegations advanced against newspapers by witnesses at the Leveson Inquiry, but it understands a core problem addressed there: popular newspapers’ willingness to mould their culture in pursuit of profit. The same problem has intrigued historians of journalism for three times as long.

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