Monday, 21 July 2014

The 'Daily Mail' catwalk controversy and an industry in decline

'Public Policy and the Past' has often remarked about the state of Britain's premier mid-market tabloid, the Daily Mail - more in sorrow than in anger, really, because this blog believes that a thriving tabloid market is essential for democracy, because it knows just how hard reporting can be, because the Mail at its best could just be so much more, and most of all because some of the Mail's comment pages are now incoherent at best, and unhinged at worst.

The latest wrangle it's got itself into is just as revealing as all the others - about 'welfare cheats', 'benefit tourists', National Health Service exploiters, 'politically correct mafias' and all the rest of it. None of which exist to the extent the newspaper wants its readership to believe of course, and which just goes to show the fear and hatred at the heart of so much that passes for 'commentary' these days. This time the Mail focused on new Cabinet Ministers' clothes and appearance during the reshuffle- but only, of course, if they were women (above).

This was undoubtedy sexist, objectifying, a bit cheap and tawdry, and actually just straight down-the-line old-fashioned. No doubt the Downing Street press machine, which seems to have encouraged the stunt in the first place, thinks that it has engineered a bit of a coup - if you can call trawling around Facebook for young women's discussion and 'likes' anything of a success. But just as important is what this row tells you about an industry in now potentially terminal decline. The typeface, the pictures, the catty comments - it just looks all wrong for the younger market that these papers must look to if their readerships are not literally to die off over the next two decades. Most people can use Google these days. Most people know that the whole thing was a silly, cynical PR event. Most people don't care what their Ministers wear - and resent the suggestion that they might.

The sad and lamentable outcome being that the Mail's circulation decline, precipitous especially for its Sunday edition, will just go on, month after month, inexorably - until all that is left of the masthead is a brand for Mail Online, a link-fest where websurfers go to look at semi-naked celebrities. Strangely for such a morally censorious paper, but there you are.

We used to think that the Daily Mail had jumped the shark. That was long ago. These days, the paper spends its time hopscotching around the shark, over and over and over again. Can it stop? Only time will tell.

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