Or, if wet, the library

August 7, 2009

Terry Pratchett is one of my favourite authors for many reasons.

Firstly, he wrote some wonderful fantasy books that made me laugh.

Then he turned his hand to wonderful fantasy books that took the mickey out of other fantasy books.

After that, he wrote wonderful fantasy books that took the mickey out of real life. This was very cool.

I adore The Truth – I wave it around at non-journalists as the best example of what life is like as a reporter. It’s accurate down to a tee (including the manner in which people begin to talk to you when they discover you’re part of The Media).

Now he’s written what might very well be his most important piece ever and I find myself linking to the Daily Mail for the first and possibly last time ever (unless I’ve slipped into an alternate universe: always a possibility).

“We have been so successful in the past century at the art of living longer and staying alive that we have forgotten how to die. Too often we learn the hard way. As soon as the baby boomers pass pensionable age, their lesson will be harsher still. At least, that is what I thought until last week.

Now, however, I live in hope – hope that before the disease in my brain finally wipes it clean, I can jump before I am pushed and drag my evil Nemesis to its doom, like Sherlock Holmes and Moriarty locked in combat as they go over the waterfall”.

Terry’s talking about euthanasia, about what to do if and when (actually, just when really) the End comes.

The UK House of Lords has just woken up to the idea that some people will die and that those people tend, currently, to be alive. And of that (roughly) 100% who will die, a proportion of them will want to decide how, where and when to do it because medical science has given us more understanding of illness than it’s given us cures.

“I intend, before the endgame looms, to die sitting in a chair in my own garden with a glass of brandy in my hand and Thomas Tallis on the iPod.

Oh, and since this is England, I had better add, ‘If wet, in the library’. Who could say that this is bad?”

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Death of the newspaper

March 31, 2008

Interesting story in The New Yorker today… Yup, it’s official. Newspapers are dying and it’s all down to the interweb.

No truer word has been spoken on the subject.

I particularly like the line from Molly Ivins:
“The columnist Molly Ivins complained, shortly before her death, that the newspaper companies’ solution to their problem was to make ‘our product smaller and less helpful and less interesting’.”

Now that goes to the heart of the matter. Newspaper publishers seem intent on maximising the ads and minimising the journalism and unfortunately they seem to have forgotten what business they’re in. They seem to think they’re in the job of selling ad space to advertisers. They are not. Newspapers are all about selling eyeballs to advertisers. The eyeballs belong to the reader and they can be attracted by pretty pictures and interesting words but they are not generally attracted by a good looking advertisement – not enough to buy a newspaper at any rate.

If you get rid of the bait (the good news stories) you end up with the eyeballs going elsewhere (and not coincidentally taking their brains and wallets with them). That has happened dramatically over the past few years.

The New Zealand Herald likes to point out (in public at any rate) that it is still attracting readers or at least losing less than its competitors. Either way it’s misleading – the population of Auckland has risen dramatically in the past decade and during that time the readership has dropped.

I remember one issue of the Weekend Herald (the only paper I buy these days) that had the entire car section missing – a note on the front page said “Due to space constraints we are unable to publish the feature story this week. It will run next week” or words to that effect. Yes, that’s right, they left out the copy in favour of more ads.

The other interesting approach brought up by the New Yorker story is the “mullet” approach to content. Business up front, fun in the back. So, rather than just adopting the standard internet meme (let the reader write everything) it retains its professional journalism up front and allows comment and discussion further back.

That makes a lot of sense to me. A huge amount.