I speak, you understand, not just as a ‘consumer’ of news and views but as a producer. I’ve been a journalist, of sorts, since 1995. I’ve written for most of the ‘Fleet Street’ broadsheets, and some tabloids, as well as for papers and magazines abroad. I’ve worked on a national daily and run a national magazine. I’ve been on TV and radio.
Why, you might well ask, would you want to do a thing like that? It’s not always easy to analyse your own motives but if I try, a few spring to mind. When I was young and naive and hungry for fame – these days I’m not even peckish – the media seemed a good route to it. I liked writing, still do – more than ‘like’, it is my life; what I do, who I am. I thought I had something to say.
Crucially, all the way along I wanted to write about important things. Not flummery: not celebrities or fashion or humourous columns or finance or travel. I wanted to write about the environment, specifically, and what we were doing to it and why we should probably stop, now, before it was too late. I wanted to write about industrial society and its discontents, modernity and its victims, nature and its scars.
I wasn’t entirely naive: I always knew the media liked sensation and personalities and sentiment. But I thought that could be borne as long as it also communicated the big stuff. I was never po-faced. I knew the big stuff and the small stuff both had their place. I like stories about dogs who look like Hitler as much as the next man.
But it doesn’t take me to tell you that the media has been getting worse; has been declining along with society. Sensation has replaced news, opinion reporting and sentiment level-headed judgement. I’m not talking about the tabloids here: they’ve always been like that, that’s what they do and that’s fine. I’m talking about the ‘intelligent’ papers, the BBC, the cultural elite, so-called.
If Princess Di’s grisly elegy started the rot, Madeleine Bloody McCann has finished it. I should insert the obvious caveat here about how horrible it is that the kid has gone missing and all that, and I mean it: it is. But I’m not really talking about Madeleine: I’m talking about ‘Maddy’, the media creation; the ‘little Angel’ who has been leading every bulletin and every front page for months. I’m talking about the oceans of mawkish speculation that pass for journalism; the pathetic focus on a single human tragedy rather than any picture of wider events; the air time and column inches taken up with this shit.
More broadly, I’m talking about a media which increasingly sees its duty as the pursuit of ‘celebrity’ and human interest; the real journalists sacked in favour of overpaid opinion columnists; the bourgeoisification of TV and newspapers, in which every other feature, and even news story, is about house prices or gardening; about the relentless metropolitan insularity; about the increasing lack of connection with the real world.
It’s the last point that has really done it. I put the finishing touches to my new book this week. It may or may not be any good: you can decide when it comes out next April. But to write it I travelled round England for nine months, uncovering real, meaningful, urgent and important stories, few of which the media have even noticed. I’m not some sort of investigative genius. I just got off my arse and moved about a bit and talked to people: ordinary, unglamorous people with remarkable stories to tell. That’s what I thought journalists were supposed to do. There are no celebrities in the book, and the only focus on house prices and ‘regeneration’ is a negative one, so it may prove unpopular. But that’s not the point. The point is that the country, and the world, are made up of stories; incredible stories of real people fighting real battles, and few of these stories are being told.
So I’ve had it. The worst few months of my life have brought to a head something that has been long coming anyway. Life is too short to waste. I’m off on holiday now, until October, and when I get back I will no longer be a journalist. I’ll still be a writer, mind, but that’s a very different thing. The media can go hang. I’ve had it. I’m out.
I’ll still write the occasional piece, especially while I try to work out how to make a living elsewhere. But that’s it. I no longer believe that the media can say the things I want it to, to the people I want to hear it. I think it is eating itself, and I don’t want to be involved. I have plenty of other things to be doing. I have a historical novel to write, for a start, and my new book on England to promote. I have a smallholding to plan for. I have to learn to build my own house, for when I buy the land and do so, in a few years time. I will soon have a child to raise.
And I have an idea I’ve been kicking around for a while, which still needs work but is getting somewhere, slowly, in my head. Ironically, it’s an idea for a new publication: not a magazine, exactly, not quite a journal either, but something between the two and somewhere else as well. A publication which will match the beauty of its writing with the beauty of its design. A publication whose mission will be to reclaim beauty and truth in writing, but without sounding too pompous about it. A publication which will reject both celebrity culture and consumer society with equal vehemence. A publication which will celebrate our true place in nature in prose, poetry and art; which will hunt down ancient truths for modern consumption.
I haven’t got much further than that (though I do have a very good name). What I really need are collaborators; fellow writers and artists who see a space out there for something deeply, darkly unfashionable and defiant, and who would like to help make it happen. This is a long journey, I imagine, which begins here. I need people of integrity and ideas to help me shape it and make it happen. Interested? Then drop me a line and let’s see if we’re on the same wavelength. A journey begins here. Who knows where it will end up?