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The glorious Metro is a joy to all

February 10, 2014

The Metro is a funny newspaper. I like its reader comment section, though some weeks it’s depressing to see the state of national general knowledge and sense. Then there’s those infographics, which on an average day will not be so much about world economics as it will Top Gear or famous diver’s favourite swimwear; a typical example of reliance on the format even when there’s no information to fill it (I guess that’s someone’s specific job). It also has that unique and very local Good Deeds section, which allows readers to write in and publicly thank a stranger who helped them in some way.

And by God, if there was ever a paper that needed a good deeds section, it was the Metro. Surrounded on all sides with stories of murders and sexual assaults, to know that there are people who run after people to give back wayward glasses cases takes the sting of one’s slowly sinking belief in humanity. It always makes me laugh a bit when the Metro quotes someone talking about how “It’s good to hear some good news now and again,” knowing that they would a lot more likely to encounter some good news if they actually read the news, not simply the endless anecdotes about a small minority of people who have been brutally murdered.

As a free paper, the Metro panders to what it thinks people want – in all likelihood, correctly. I have my suspicions that the same people who think “It’s good to hear some good news now and again,” are the very same people who just love a bit of bad news. As a result, these free city papers have no readership loyalty or consistency in views. Trying to cater for everyone leaves them catering for no one and before you know it, you’ve got pieces about politics appearing on page 32 after the celebrity section and the picture of the week’s favourite cat whose favourite food is cheese.

All paid papers are biased and have an angle. Despite what people think, there is safety and reliability in an angle, like having a knowledgeable friend with a strong opinion. Having no opinion at all makes it hard to structure what you know in a way that can be processed by an audience; the newspapers that seem lacking in views also lack character, the academic articles that lack an angle seem all over the place, dotted with “however”s and “yet”s. With the news this is especially the case, since many events happen worldwide each day and it has to be decided what is news and what is irrelevant. What some editors might think is a cause for major concern, others might wave away. If the latter set turn out to be wrong, they look the more biased because they look as though they are shying away from the issues, rather than simply considering them to be beneath public interest.

Free papers are a different breed. They purposefully look for the broadest view possible, or at least the most common and thus be very cynical things. I believe this is a great contributing factor to moral panics. Showing people what they want or expect to see will lead to a disproportionate increase in the number of reportings on one particular subject. For example, right now we have two moral panics on our hands; the untrustworthy police LINK and the abuse and neglect of children, leading to an increase in police response to reports of potential incidents.

Yesterday, the mixture of the two culminated in a woman being questioned by the police because an anonymous caller was worried about her daughter being underdressed for the cold. The Metro put this on their front page in typical Metro style, thick with the suggestion that the police are wasting everybody’s time. A more tediously conservative publication would have gone with The Taxpayer’s Money. I agree that in our (reasonably) lax society, the idea of the police coming round to check your children are dressed properly seems incongruous, but it’s worth bearing in mind that it is publications like the Metro that helped cause this in the first place.

Because the public criticised the police and their inefficiency, the Metro criticised it too, thus further crystallising negative public opinion. Let’s not forget that a lot of newspaper readers live in London and take the Metro on their morning commute; so, for essentially a local paper, the Metro has a large readership. I’ll bet policy changes are dependent on what Londoners think, because Londoners are among the richest, make up a large part of society and are generally in the thick of things.

Of course, the Metropolitan Police Service is London based, so they in particular are likely to adjust themselves in accordance to what they think Metro readers think – an impression they are only likely to get from the Metro itself, or from the five or six people a day who directly express their views in it. It’s like a big, cumbersome game of Chinese whispers, and the Metro is the cheeky one in the middle who exaggerates the message by popping in a bad word here and there.

As I said elsewhere, the media is a double edged sword in increasing public awareness for the better and for the worse, awareness being relative; one can be hyper-aware, of more common term for which is “paranoid”. Despite constant striving for objectivity in the news, to some extent I think this to be a mistaken aim and that consistency is the more reliable. Inconstancy confuses the issues because it makes public understanding and perception incomplete and schizophrenic.

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