Couple of productive days on Volume 3. I’ve now finished 51 cartoons and a few more are new favourites. Another 4 to go before I can think about finishing. I’ve also drawn the cover and given it a suitably “keywordy” title. It’s crass of me, I know, but I’m not too proud to admit that I’m aiming for key demographics… Bit of a last shake of the dice if I’m honest. As I sit here today and as much as I’d love to carry on, I doubt if there’ll be a Volume 4. Not now that my peerage has fallen through. They gave it Evgeny Lebedev instead…
I doubt if anybody will agree with what I’m about to write but I’ll write it anything. Sometimes thoughts and arguments rattle around in my head and it’s good to see them settle on the page, even if they’re not fully developed.
It’s a strange one. Evgeny Lebedev’s peerage doesn’t strike me as egregious in the way that Botham’s elevation gets to me. I suppose this is linked to my cartooning and this blog, albeit in a slightly tangential way. Why should there be so much controversy about Lebedev getting a peerage? (No doubt somebody will tell me but since I don’t know any society gossip, I’ll just leave that question hanging there.)
Ah, we might say: Russian money. Well, perhaps. Hard to say, isn’t it? The guy has lived in the UK since he was eight years old and runs one of the country’s smaller “big” newspapers. Anybody living here since they were eight are unlikely to be in Putin’s pocket. So, are we just being a bit xenophobic or is there more to it than that?
I honestly don’t know.
The Russia Report talked about the influence of Russian money in the UK but, again, how much of this is Russian money? Where do we draw the line? My grandmother was Lithuanian, but I remember my Dad often muttering that he suspected we might be Russian. I could just have been easily writing this blog under a surname that’s about a yard long and I would still not know how to spell. If I had money, would some clever type link me to Putin? It’s probably not impossible.
Set aside the perception that Johnson is rewarding his friends, which I admit looks particularly deranged this time, what worries me is the future of journalism, especially independent (small i) journalism. Very few of the super wealthy are willing to invest in newspapers. At times, it seems even fewer ordinary people are willing to pay for the written word. Sales are down. News aggregators are where the money is at. Creators are being screwed by the middlemen. People complain when websites are plastered in advertising but what’s the alternative? I’d be interest to see how much The Guardian gets for their incessant begging.
I suspect the people who shout the loudest about “the press” are often the people who don’t pay for their press. Those that criticise writers are those that don’t write but expect people to work for nothing. “Oh, it’s only because you got paid for that” is about the most demeaning argument you can make to a writer. Yet it’s also not entirely without merit. I’ve never been so well connected to have that happen to me, but I can see from a distance how relationships are formed with outlets. Read a newspaper not for the content but for the pitches and you’d see what I mean. Dull articles often have clever premises. You can see how they were sold long before they were written.
I also accept that there are different levels of writers. Some columnists for the big nationals earn hundreds of thousands of pounds a year writing copy which (I hope I don’t flatter myself) is sometimes significantly less decent than anything you’d find on this blog. Well, okay, perhaps I do flatter myself – especially if this post is the measure. However, I’d happy put my better articles up against their better articles and challenge you to spot the half a million quid a year writer and spot the guy who has earned maybe £200 quid in coffees for approaching two years of solid work.
So, much as I’d like to join in the chorus of people decrying Evgeny Lebedev, I’m also aware that he’s one of the few people putting money into an industry that is dying a slow death. I have lots of issues with Jeff Bezos and his wealth but his ownership of The Washington Post certainly isn’t one of them.
Am I naïve or pragmatic? Corrupt or realistic? There’ll be some that welcome the death of journalism. Some that say that it is getting what it deserves because it wasn’t (pick your preference) right wing/left wing enough. I can’t agree. I worry about any future where journalism will be shaded by partisanship. I worry about a future when journalism will be free because that’s when it will be truly open to corruption.