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And A Miserable 2024 To You Too 

by Stoker


 


No, really.  We won’t even say “it’s bound to be better than last year”.  Last year was OK, as years go, and whilst we all suffer from personal downturns and unhappinesses, many of us also had minor triumphs and special joys, and look forward to more.  But if you do feel a slight tinge of optimism creeping in, in this January of 2024, then quickly turn to your newspaper or favoured TV channel.


Because, my goodness, qualified joviality is not the way modern media thinks.  Only Connect tends to not be deeply glum or unduly cheerful; we try to tell you things that might intrigue or educate or amuse; that’s the general idea anyway.  And social media, by which we mean Google and Instagram and X (formerly and mostly still known as Twitter), they are not what we mean by ‘media’.  In Britain anyway, we mean The Guardian, The Telegraph, and The Times, and maybe The Independent; plus of course The Daily Mail and the Daily Mirror and the Daily Express, (though we are not sure who reads the latter now).  Plus we mean The Spectator and the New Statesman, and much more broadly, all those specialist magazines which many of us read to reflect our hobbies and tastes and social standing. And, of course, on the telly or tablet, ITV and the BBC and Sky News and GB News.

 

Google and all those websites which are supposedly written by their readers – though heavily censored by their owners, who claim that they are mere platforms but in spite of that insist on controlling the material that their readers-turned-correspondents try to place there – are really on-line versions of the shouting matches which go on after city-centre pubs have turned out at 11pm and the more well-fuelled patrons continue the well-informed debates that have been energetically running inside.  We jest; most of the contributors in either forum have little idea what they are talking about and the debate is really aggressive personal abuse (much more unpleasant abuse on-line than outside the pub.)  Such ‘discussion’ is of no value to anybody, even the parties involved, none of whom we suspect have ever changed their views or stance by their participation, and may indeed make themselves ill by their fury. 

 

We read or watch (or used to read and watch) the more serious media in the hope of learning something interesting about what is going on in the broader world.  That hope has gradually diminished but is not entirely extinguished; there is still some serious news in your newspaper, if you can cleave your way through the life-style junk and the personal agonies (“my Christmas weight gain”) of the journalists who scribble for their monthly pittance.  The TV stations have gone further in abandoning news (except when they can have a go at Boris or Liz or Rishi) but still have some bulletins and current affairs and documentary programmes.  Less than they used to, and not nearly so good, and, as in print, poorly and scrappily researched.

 

Of course, the point of owning a newspaper or TV station or publishing a magazine is, at heart, to make money (“Really?” Ed.).  Perhaps not the whole point (“Certainly not” Ed.). Newspapers in particular also used to represent power for their proprietors. At opposite ends of the spectrum The Sun and The Times (bizarrely, both owned by the Murdoch family) had some serious influence over voters’ approaches to decision- making in the polling booth.  But if the publication does not make money it will not survive long, and in recent years the making of money in print media has become more and more difficult.  Circulations have fallen, even on-line circulations, quite dramatically in some cases, advertising is in rapid retreat, and costs have risen enormously.  So, expenses must be cut, and increasingly the big costs relate to employees.  Sub-editing is almost an extinct skillset, to the great irritation of many readers who passed English language ‘O- level’ exams.  Not only is the media full of spelling and structural errors, it is also startingly factually inaccurate.  Read any article on a subject in which you have a specialist knowledge, it is most unlikely not to end in you throwing your newspaper to the floor (if you are reading on your tablet, please first make sure your dog is not sitting at your feet).  The support staff have also mostly gone.  Journalists answer their own phones and type their own articles ready in format for publication.  And the journalists themselves are also greatly thinned out; like a felled wood the great trees have gone and what is growing now are young and rather weedy saplings.  Mostly younger, cheaper saplings, with little knowledge of the world, very limited expense accounts, and many working from home.  Good on The Telegraph which still employs the heavyweights Charles Moore and Simon Heffer, though presumably as free-lancers, and perhaps not for much longer when the long-heralded change of ownership takes place.


 And, getting back to where we began, editors have realised that good news does not do much to sell newspapers or cause viewers to tune in. Now, whether it is that those editors have picked up on the general gloom of the public, or whether they have caused it, or whether it is a mixture of both, what sells is bad news.  To such an extent that there does not seem to be enough gloom to report, so the modern writer must work hard to find a gloomy side to their every story.  Admittedly, there are two full-scale wars going on, but the modern reader soon gets bored with faraway fighting.  He wants new glumness, pessimism among even the most brilliant sunshine.  Sunshine? Sure sign of global warming, cause of skin cancer, bad for your garden and making hospitals so hot patients are suffering.  


So, with one accord, all our national media assured us that 2024 will be even worse than 2023.  Taxes will rise, in adjusted terms if not actual. Everything will be even more expensive than it was last year. The new government which must come in this year will be even more incompetent than the one we have now – even if by some chance it is the same one we have now.  Interest rates will go back up. Energy prices will increase.  Flooding is worse than ever. Record amounts of sewage are pouring out of rivers onto beaches. The roads are ever more congested and the trains less reliable.  None of these latter statements are, in general, actually true, but no modern journalist will check such sweeping assertions for fear of not scaring their readers.  To be fair, they probably don’t have time to do that anyway. 

 

We are all sunk in a morass of unhappiness, with record numbers of us reporting unprecedented levels of mental illness.  No use turning to our glossy magazines.  Even Country Life has become a herald of doom, worrying about extinction of species, increasing regulation of countryside sports, the effect of global climate change on British gardens, and the unsustainable costs of repairing historic buildings (and even the outcome of the USA Presidential elections).  The Garden is also glum about climate change and the threats to our soil and to our woodlands and to insect life. So too the Railway Magazine about the effects on the railway network of cancelling HS2 Parts 2 and 3. We have not looked at Wisden, the cricket-lover's annual bible, but have no doubt it has concerns about pitches being both water-logged and parched, lack of cricket coaching in schools, the rapid decline of support for five-day matches; and the rising cost of beer.

 

Oh blow this. Cheer Up!  We are still here and the snow is just starting to fall, although, in fact, it’s been a mild winter so far, with even the odd rose still out, as is the flowering cherry.  We have never lived longer or been richer or had better health, and our democracy still more or less works.  Whatever you think of the two candidates in the US election, they are both old men (as is Putin) and cannot go on much longer.  Life is not that bad and this year will be as good as last year, if not better.

 

Happy New Year!

 

 

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