Monday, September 21, 2009

Stand Up for the Observer

This evening I attended the Stand up for the Observer event at the Friends Meeting House organised because, as you may well know, the Observer newspaper's future has been called into question. Not just, of course, hundreds of jobs are at risk but also one of the only left of center Sunday papers in this country (the other being the IoS which sadly can't afford to do actual news anymore).

The meeting was packed out with hundreds of well wishers, mainly plebs like me but also such luminaries as Barry Norman, John Humphreys and the bloke who played Dickens.

Hosted by David Mitchell the event was extremely well run and I highly recommend him to chair any such gathering in the future should you be considering him. I say this because the last time I saw him on TV he was playing a character who sold out a campaign to defend his newly redundant workmates, but obviously that's fiction not real. in reality he's an amusing Arthur Scargill.

A string of Observer stalwarts and union speakers made the case for the Observer, a paper which sells more papers now than they did nine years ago with 400,000 readers. The meeting heard from an NUJ (National Union of Journalists) speaker who'd been organising in Manchester against cuts from the very same newspaper group and she advised us not to assume that because the Observer was a liberal paper that somehow that meant the staff would automatically get a fair deal.

Indeed, although management have 'saved' the title the real battle will be in how many jobs are lost and at what cost to the quality of the journalism. In the long term the Observer will not remain viable if it is only the 'brand' that is saved, the journalists and the commitment to decent journalism needs to be there to make it worthwhile.

Don't get me wrong I'm not overjoyed with any of the Sunday papers in particular, but if the only left leaning Sunday paper that actually delivers news goes then the right's monopoly of the market is reinforced. It doesn't matter if Observer Woman is shit when we look at the big picture of the thing because we're unlikely to see any genuinely left-wing Sunday National spring up any time soon, so the Observer is the best we have - let's save it to improve it is what I'm saying I guess.

Losing the Observer would not just mean that the right's choking grip on the Sunday market is even stronger (and I don't care if *you* don't buy it, I do care that people will buy Sunday papers and the current readers will have to move right to keep feeding that habit if the Observer goes). It also means lost jobs and a lost space where the left can at least get their ideas aired to a wider audience.

If redundancies are announced the NUJ FOC told us there will be an automatic ballot on strike action, but the attacks may be more piece meal through natural wastage, letting the paper whither on the vine. That would be a blow against democracy, because we need a strong liberal press that does things like condemn the attacks on civil liberties in a credible properly researched way. I'm for a more informed electorate, so I'm for the Observer.

In the words of David Mitchell "stopping things getting worse is as good a cause as any" and when the battles ahead take place, which they surely will, I hope people will see past their differences with the Observer, if any, and give it their full support.


stuart said...

Hey! there's still an alternative to the Observer on a Sunday- The Sunday Herald! Learn more about your friends up north, and enjoy reading the left of centre opinion pieces! Ok, it won't tell you anything about how the english health or education system is doing, but it will tell you how rubbish the scottish one is...

Matt Sellwood said...

I'm afraid I just can't get excited about the fate of the Observer at all. A paper whose home affairs correspondent publishes almost direct PR releases from the police and security services isn't remotely left leaning in my book.

"Save our centrist, not very good paper, because it isn't as *&^% as the others"? I'm uninspired.



Jim Jay said...

Stuart - I'll give it a go!

Matt - how excited are you about the prospect of all sunday papers being owned by billionaires and utterly right-wing.

I agree the Observer is not a terribly liberal paper sometimes let alone left-wing one but that isn't the whole story as there are glimpses of why lefties read it in every edition - I've read the Sunday Express, is that the future?

Matt Sellwood said...

But that's like supporting Labour or the Lib Dems because they are the only 'big' alternative to the Tories, surely?

I'd rather spend my time working for and supporting genuinely alternative press, rather than propping up a paper that attacks my side as often as it defends it.

My personal opinion though, I can see where you are coming from, definitely.


Kaihsu Tai said...

The Observer, a liberal (not leftist) newspaper, lost me when they supported the Iraq war. The Berliner move, which was a blessing for the Guardian, brought a ton of unnecessary horizontal rules and a horrible typeface to the Observer: an assault against my eyes. Why not adopt the 'Le Monde Weekend' model, rebrand Saturday Guardian as Guardian Weekend, and sell it on both Saturday and Sunday? The Observer can go: I will not miss it.

Red Green Nick said...

Like Kaihsu Tai, I stopped reading the Observer when it backed the war on Iraq. Not my number one choice of media.

Strategist said...

Jim, I thought they were going to replace it with the "Sunday Guardian"?

Which would probably be better than the Observer - it would certaibly be difficult for it to be worse.

CharlieMcMenamin said...

The Observer has only one remaining virtue: its Business pages. in fact they were even better a few weeks ago before they axed Simon Caulkin's Management column. But, even so, John Naughton's 'Networker' column, William Keeegan and Heather Stewart are all excellent writers. Combined with Larry Eliot et al on the Guardian they would be more than a match for the business and finance coverage of the Times and Telegraph. But, as it is, they are tied to a desperately poor main paper - and a incredibly dire magazine - which means they get less and less readers each week.

Kaihsu Tai said...

Perhaps it is time the commentators here wrote a joint short letter to the Guardian (or more specifically, the Media Guardian) to summarize our thoughts and feed back to Guardian News and Media?

It is quite a clear choice between a drain of resources on GNM threatening the Guardian (which has investigative exclusives at a formidable rate), and the abolishing of the Observer. Moving the best journalists to the Guardian will save jobs; as for the rest, the Times will pick them up: behold David Aaronovitch and Julie Burchill.

(By the way, Guardian Club is about to be launched, following the model of Les Amis du Monde.)

Kaihsu Tai said...

Here is Guardian’s own report last week about the confirmation of non-closure of the Observer; this provides a hook for us to send our letter in.