Since the start of May, I’ve been doing something I’ve never done before: I’ve been buying and reading the Daily Mail newspaper once a week. I plan to continue doing this for the rest of the month.
“Why?” you’re probably asking.
Well, the idea popped into my head a few weeks ago as I was reading a very different newspaper and my regular, the FT Weekend. As I sat there reading, I thought:
“This is nice. This is safe. What would rattle, even anger me, if I read it right now?”
“The Daily Mail,” came the reply!
I can’t stand most of what is printed in the Daily Mail but it’s popular – it’s Britain’s second most-read print publication after The Sun. Its website is the most popular English-language news site in the world. Whether I like it or not, many people I live close to, share the bus with, worship alongside, read it regularly – zealously, even.
I started to imagine the reasons for its popularity. Did people genuinely read it for its news? Are people really obsessed with celebrity gossip, including the over 65s, the largest group of regular readers (45%)? Did readers enjoy being shouted at by Editor Paul Dacre through his headlines? How did they process the scaremongering, the hyperbole, the poison? I was intrigued.
It’s clear that all these questions reflect my negative view of the Daily Mail. And while I believe that a lot of my cynicism is justified, I remained curious about the paper and the people who read it. So, if you’re a regular reader of the Daily Mail, I’d really love to hear your thoughts. It would be refreshing to hear a positive case for the newspaper. And I hope it goes without saying: I’ll treat you with the utmost respect.
People read newspapers that express their worldview. Newspapers (which are consumer products at the end of the day) give readers pleasure and enjoyment, not just information. Often, this comes in the form of reinforcing ideas they already hold. And I’m no different. I enjoy the FT Weekend because of its centrist, internationalist, and pro-market stance. Among Britain’s newspapers, it comes the closest to representing where I’m at. But not just that: the FT does journalism well. Each issue of the weekend edition includes well-written, fascinating, and educative pieces from this country and elsewhere covering an array of themes: business, politics, technology, culture, and the arts. As a budding journalist, it’s a great source of inspiration.
Now regardless of the FT’s virtues, I read it because I (largely) agree with it and it (largely) agrees with me. Regardless of how right its/my ideas are, the FT and I have an “echo chamber” thing going on. In any democratic dispensation, and especially in the political environment we find ourselves in, this is problematic.
The political climate is so polarised, toxic even, that many of us aren’t hearing alternative voices. Not because all viewpoints are equally valid – no! But the people making those points are. They have an inherent and permanent worth that no one can take away. They are fellow citizens and they deserve to be heard. Yes, even Donald Trump!
His rise and the rise of other right-wing populists has taken us into what is new political territory for many of us. In all this, it’s become painfully clear that we don’t know each other as well as we thought. The anger and bitterness is making us talk past each other like ships in the night. Harvard Professor Michael Sandel calls this “the lost art of democratic debate.”
Recently, I was reflecting on this “echo chamber” phenomenon in my own life. As I’ve already said, I too have been living in a silo, not regularly encountering views that were odious to me, unwilling to step outside and view the world from the point of view of the other. I wrote:
“It feels like my daily life is one safe space. There’s very little to shock, to surprise, to disagree with. There’s hardly any room for the little Englander, the communist, the extreme liberal. If I’m honest, I spend most days cleaning, tidying, shining, and polishing my preconceived ideas like a chambermaid. An echo chambermaid.”
Regardless of your political persuasion, you’re most probably guilty of this too. We must all own up to it.
Glen Scrivener, a Christian evangelist and writer, observes: “The big problem with the world, according to the Bible, is not so much people doing wrong. It’s people who think that they are right. And if you are right, then everyone else has got to be wrong.”
One of the reasons for doing this project was to keep my own smugness and pride in check. In the current climate, I believe that we need to be willing to cross the aisle and try to see the world from the point of view of the other. That simple action is humbling.
But it’s also costly. One of the reasons for deciding to buy the paper and not just read it online or in a café was that I wanted to feel a bit of pain in all of this. I wanted it to cost me in a small way – and I don’t just mean £0.65 each week. Trying to see the world from the point of view of the other is painful.
With each issue I read, I’m looking for stories that are thought-provoking, interesting/informative, and weird. I’ll write something about the whole experience at the end of the month. In the mean time, I’ll be tweeting about it so do follow me!
And if you’re normally a Daily Mail reader, maybe pick up The Guardian tomorrow! Let me know how it goes 😉