Trusting your newspaper is a dangerous game….

Wednesday 30th August 2017

Trusting your newspaper is a dangerous game….

Ask the common-garden man in the street why he takes a daily newspaper and he’ll probably give you a variety of responses….

He feels a desperate need to catch-up on the latest exploits of Kim Kardashian, Kerry Katona or some other young thing sporting a new hair-do or a bikini….

He wouldn’t know what to do without a cryptic crossword to take his mind off his job and get him through the day….

He knows of no better way of avoiding eye contact on the train than to have his head buried in a newspaper….

He might run a chip shop and need to stock up on wrapping. The cat litter tray might be short of lining….

He might labor under the delusion that carrying a copy of the Times under his arm makes him appear like a man to be reckoned with….

  • A window on the world?

There are all sorts of reasons why people take a daily newspaper….

But by far the most prevalent is that the reader seeks information. He wants to know what is going on in the world. He wants to stay abreast of national and international events.

The average reader relies on his newspaper to tell him how it is, how it happened, where it will go from here – and how it might wind up affecting him….

His daily newspaper is his window on the world – the lens through which most of what he thinks he knows is viewed and understood.

In relying on a daily newspaper, most readers have no idea what a dangerous game they are playing.

Because the truth is that newspapers can’t be trusted….

  • A copywriter’s dream….

Of course, your daily newspaper wouldn’t hear of such a preposterous allegation.

Quite the opposite. Your daily rag will go out of its way to convince you that you are in safe hands with them – just as the Times did with me last week….

A mailing piece they’d produced dropped through the letterbox. The headline read….

‘In a world of rolling news, it’s good to pause, think and consider.’

Then we move on to the real meat of the message they want you to digest….

‘Other news publications rush to report breaking news. We don’t. Instead, we calmly analyze events before making judgments…. That’s why we publish only three editions per day. And why you can expect the finest journalism possible from the Times and the Sunday Times….’

‘The finest journalism possible….’ Sounds marvelous, doesn’t it?

It conjures images of rigorous research, thorough investigation, hard facts, a consistent and sustained search for the truth – producing an informed and knowledgeable readership that is certain of the world and what is happening in it….

I haven’t seen the figures, of course. But I’d imagine the picture painted by the copywriters at the Times makes for a successful promotion.

I’d imagine it pushes all the right buttons and pulls all the right strings. I’d imagine it gets the desired response from prospective readers….

It’s just a pity that the picture painted is a figment of the copywriter’s imagination rather than an actual standard the Times can be relied upon to consistently measure up to….

  • We know where we stand. Or do we?

I should point out that I say what I say as a regular reader of the Times….

I take several daily newspapers – the Times included. I scan through them all – some days reading more closely than others. And, that being the case, I feel well-qualified to state that an afternoon spent flipping through a newspaper – any newspaper – frequently leaves me more confused than I was before I started….

Like the common-garden man on the street, I read a newspaper because I want to know what is going on in the world. I want to be reliably informed….

But all too often, newspapers prove to be grossly unreliable – leaving me unsure what is going on, unsure what to believe and unsure what the truth is….

Take this recent scenario drawn from my experience with the Times – the paper that promises to deliver ‘the finest journalism possible’….

It is Thursday 10th August and tucked away on page 40 of that day’s issue is a story from the newspaper’s Economic Correspondent, Tom Knowles.

The headline reads: ‘Pound’s weakness boosts demand for British goods….’

There’s no hint of caution in that headline. There’s no room for any doubt. The message is clear, unequivocal and certain.

And Tom Knowles’s piece backs it up. A Bank of England report reveals exports have risen. And sales of British good are also benefitting from home-grown sales as consumers avoid foreign goods made more expensive by the exchange rate….

Fair enough. This is what we expect from a newspaper. We know what is going on. We know where we stand. Or do we?

  • What a difference a day makes….

On Friday 11th of August, the very next day, another story appeared in the Business section of the same newspaper. This one is penned by Philip Aldrick, the paper’s Economics Editor.

The headline on the piece reads: ‘Weak pound fails to boost trade….’

Once again, the headline reeks of utter certainty. There can be no confusion. There can be no misinterpretation of the writer’s core message.

And Aldrick’s piece goes on to explain that exports and manufacturing have suffered a disappointing setback. Factories are struggling to gain momentum. Exports have shrunk. Imports have surged.

So, just to recap for anybody who might be feeling a bit confused….

Over a 24-hour period we have learnt from the Economics team at the Times that a weak pound has had the effect of boosting demand for British goods but, at the same time, British manufacturers are struggling and demand for British goods has shrunk despite the pound’s weakness.

Are we all clear on that? Are we all feeling secure and confident in the knowledge that we’ve really got our fingers on the pulse of this complex issue?

It’s clearly a lot more complicated than at first seemed possible….

  • Not much like what the copywriter’s promise….

It seems that much can change in the space of any given 24-hour period for a reader of the Times and for the prospects of British manufacturers and exporters….

One day they are making hay and breaking records. The next they are in the doldrums and experiencing stagnation….

Or maybe the editorial team over at the Times have adopted a new policy that requires journalists to cover all possible bases – presenting every angle as factually correct….

I guess it would be one way of making sure you are getting it right – if only some of the time….

I don’t know. But whatever’s going on, it doesn’t sound much like the calm analysis of events ‘before making judgments’ – as promised on the mailing piece that dropped through my letterbox.

It doesn’t sound much like the ‘finest journalism possible.’ And it certainly isn’t the kind of journalism you’d want to be basing investment decisions on, for example. That would be a dangerous and disappointing business.

Of course, I’m not too disappointed. Or surprised….

I might feign outrage. But I’m only pulling legs. Because I don’t really expect truth or facts or fine journalism from newspapers – not all the time at any rate.

  • The real reason newspapers exist….

I know that newspapers are not in the business of facts or truth or fine journalism….

Instead, newspapers are in the business of selling advertising space and maintaining circulation rates – whatever it takes.

The ‘truth’ and the ‘facts’ reported in the pages of each daily edition are purely a secondary consideration. They must print something. And, when it boils down to it, they’re not that fussy what it is.

That being the case, it is hardly surprising that we get reasonably frequent occurrences of a newspaper printing one thing one day and something diametrically opposed to it the next.

That’s par for the course in an environment where the advertising penny trumps truth-seeking every time….

It is what it is. Newspapers are what they are. Just don’t make the mistake depending on them.

Newspapers will always have their uses though. Just ask the guy who runs your local chip shop. He’d be lost without them….

That’s how it looks from here….

All the best,

Dave Gibson

Money Truths