Critical failure

Editorial staff at my local newspaper, the Norwich-based Eastern Daily Press, are facing the loss of over 50* jobs. This will hit hard at a human level, with redundant journalists and ancillary staff losing their livelihood at a time when their skills will not be in huge demand elsewhere. Of course it is the jobs that are redundant, not the people, but such rationalising is not of much practical help, though it may patch up failing self-esteem.

There is still some hope, with prominent local personalities asked to step in and plead with management, a Downing Street petition started and a Facebook group also called into being. The call is to maintain quality journalism at a local level, and the fear is that a reduction in staff numbers will result in loss of quality.

This is a real danger. Managing director Stephan Phillips says he is keen to promote quality journalism and to give editors freedom, and I am sure he is sincere in that. Whether he will be able to deliver it with a much reduced staff remains to be seen. Many experienced journalists doubt it. *In response to public comments, the number of jobs threatened has now been reduced to 34.

The National Union of Journalists’ representative on the paper stresses the importance of “well researched newspapers put together by professionally trained journalists”, and as a previous editorial training manager and former chief sub-editor on the EDP, I would want to echo that. But the circulation of the paper has been falling steadily, and I can’t help wondering whether part of the reason for that is, first, a reluctance in recent years to carry out that research quite so rigorously and, second, a willingness to echo all too easily the establishment view on critical issues.

Because the EDP still has excellent journalists, it does many things very well. By most standards it is a first-class newspaper. But in the area of policy making it has failed to provide a forum for fair discussion on such things as climate change and road safety. At a time when it is impossible to find a political party that will voice doubts on the official lines, the press – and particularly the local press – should be a sounding board, and the EDP has not fulfilled that role. In fact it has sided with people who want to squash discussion. This is frustrating for readers, and readers can stand only so much frustration.

It is by no means alone in this attitude. I single it out purely because it is my local paper, and I know quite a lot about it. I have friends working there, and I would rather no-one lost their job. But I do think a bit more cut and thrust, lateral thinking, maverick outspokenness and rigorous research is more likely to get and retain a committed readership than a bland, lifestyle-centred approach.

Naturally I hold these views only because I have an antisocial, unthinking and unethical attitude to life in general. Or so some would have you believe. A Guardian writer on the environment equates people sceptical about the causes of climate change with Holocaust deniers. A new film designed to attack sceptics is called Age of Stupid. Is this reasoned argument? It is not. Does it raise suspicions that the global warmers’ arguments are not watertight? Yes it does. Yet the media is awash with uncriticised scaremongering from an assortment of scientists, economists, politicians and a Prince of the Realm. Not to mention the so-called environment correspondents who do little more than regurgitate green propaganda.

Over the past few years, we are told, emission of carbon dioxide has risen hugely. Melting of ice has increased enormously. So why has global temperature not risen at all for nigh on a decade, and why have Britain, Canada and many other parts of the world just experienced the coldest winter for many years? Why cannot we see any sign at all of sea levels rising and Norfolk sinking into the sea?

Today scientists yet again call on us to “act now or face climate catastrophe” (the Daily Telegraph’s words). And again politicians, surrounded by on-message advisers, will not question it for a moment. Television will proclaim it; teachers will teach it. But the fact is that if things are as bad as these scientists claim, no action will have any effect, and the only thing worth doing is planning for redistribution of populations.

Some say that even if predictions are wrong, it is worth taking precautions. But what if, as some scientists claim, the world is cooling? Then any precautions aimed at mitigating warming will leave us in a worse state when we experience cold. After all, as transport authorities this winter would have told you, if you expect milder winters, you don’t stockpile salt to grit roads. If you don’t heat houses effectively, old people die.

More and more, climate change takes on the look, not of science, but of a rather unpleasant fundamentalist religion. The Scientific Alliance suggests that “it seems more than coincidental that the rise of environmentalism has been at a time when there has been a big drop in religious adherence”, and if you want to read a well-argued analysis of that view, click on Newsletters here.

Perhaps we all need something to feel guilty about. Christianity, of course, is about forgiveness, but that’s never been popular with judgmental people like us. Guilt is the new black.