Monday, February 26, 2007

The British Empire rises again - in the blogosphere

Over on Diversely We Sail, Peter says that “the British press seems to be going through a period of introspective fixation on the issues of marriage, family cohesion and youthful dysfunction.”

This post isn’t about that, but it is about the British press: in particular, the British newspaper opinion column.

This in an area where Britannia still indisputably rules the world. In terms of quantity, the US dominates the political/social blogs of course, but a vastly disproportionate number of cut-and-pastings on them come from the hacks at The Times, the Telegraph, the Guardian and the Independent.

The instant editorial comment on contemporary trends and zeitgeists seems to be a British speciality. This is not an unqualified Good Thing, but it is a great thing for the way that the blogosphere works. It helps that all the British broadsheets have terrific websites of course, but British newspapers do just seem to be in a different league when it comes to quality of writing.

Bryan Appleyard observes that the best US writing is to be found in magazines rather than papers. For some reason, whereas US magazine writing is top-notch and in-depth, the American newspaper hacks don’t seem so able to discover that happy middle ground between extremist shock-jock polemic on the one hand; and bland statement of the factually correct and the uncontroversial obvious on the other.

The British are in danger of completely monopolising this blog-friendly middle-ground of thoughtful but forthright daily hackery.

For proof, take a look at Daniel Finkelstein’s 'Daily Fix' round-up of all the journos.


M Ali said...

Well, maybe.

I don't think there's anything on the planet to rival the Economist and as a collective whole, British newspapers are better than the mostly dull American ones.

Still, outside of its' coverage of politics, the New York Times is the best daily I've read. Great coverage of business, science, arts and culture. And I'd rather read the Washington Post for foreign affairs and political coverage than any UK daily.

Peter Burnet said...

Yes, you couldn't find the moon if it fell on you and your teeth are dicey, but you are first with consistently superior papers. Even your tabloids have some good stuff.

I agree with M. Ali that the NYT and Wapo are in that class, as are The National Post here and The Australian on a good day. But we have far more crappy papers and mind-numbingly boring articles than you.

M. Ali:

The Economist is one big snore. Time for The Starbucks crowd.

David said...

Of the four national US papers, USA Today, the NY Times, the Wall Street Journal and, provisionally, the Washington Post, the latter three are pretty good, and USA Today is perfect at being what it wants to be.

Local and regional US papers are terrible. They're pablum, they're written at a sixth grade level and they delight in being shallow.

But I agree with Brit that even the big three are nowhere near as good at op/ed as the British papers. When's the last time you read anything startling in a US op/ed? When do any of the big 3 veer more than a couple of degrees off of conventional wisdom? For that matter, the whole point of the NY Times op/ed page is to communicate to the media world what the center left conventional wisdom is. If you look at the NY Times in the morning, you know what's going to be on the TV news at night -- not just what stories will be covered, but what's going to be said about them. I don't think that any of the UK papers has anything like that power to shape conventional wisdom.

M Ali said...

"The Economist is one big snore. Time for The Starbucks crowd."

Feh. Obviously somebody not enthralled by Burgernomics or the goings-on of the copper industry in Madagascar.

M Ali said...


Could you send me your email address to

I might be in London during April so we could meet up and laugh at Brit's views on capital punishment.

Hey Skipper said...

m ali:

You are right, there is nothing to rival the Economist, and I'm going to resume getting it once I've finished moving.


It is worth mentioning that the UK corners the market on quality obits.

Peter Burnet said...

Obviously somebody not enthralled by Burgernomics or the goings-on of the copper industry in Madagascar.

No, that sort of stuff is neat. It's the rote, simplistic pontificating that gets to me. I'd love to see a good parody of it.

erp said...

Peter, the media is already a parody of itself.

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