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By  Guest Writer Colin Brazier. CB

I joined journalism when it was on the cusp of an evolutionary leap. 

It was the early 1990s and the Murdoch revolution was well underway. 

The print unions had been put to flight. The National Union of Journalists was in retreat. Hot metal had cooled, typewriters had been supplanted by new-fangled word processors.  

Grizzled old soaks still disappeared for long liquid lunches. At TheYorkshire Post four pints of bitter was not unknown, and appeared to be no impediment to lucid copy.

New boys like me tried to keep up, but preferred the smell of coffee beans to hops. We still signed ‘indentures’; a promisory note of loyalty in return for tutelage, and a throwback to a world where a 16-year-old apprentice like Charlie Wilson could rise from running copy between hacks to editing TheTimes without troubling the higher education sector.

Yet we were different, or so we arrogantly assumed. We had been to university and this enlightenment had changed the terms of our engagement with local newspapers. They were a means to an end, and the end – metaphorically if no longer literally – was Fleet Street.

Our link with a locality had been snapped by leaving home for university. Any idea of a life spent toiling at the coal-face of a regional title was disdained. Journalism was no longer a trade, but a profession. Media studies was not yet a byword for dilletantism and hinterland-free mediocrity.

The people, I was told, got the journalism they deserved, since we reporters were a reflection of the society from which we sprang. But a quarter of a century ago, as I was starting my adventures in medialand, this eternal verity was beginning to wear thin. Now the garment which stitches polity to people is very nearly sundered.

The extent to which a group-think holds sway has been much in evidence post-referendum.

The utter incomprehension of some colleagues at the result would be comical were it not so injurious to the sub-constitutional role played by the Fourth Estate.

There is a sense of indignation that a majority of voters did not cleave to the group-think. The whiff of class-hatred hangs heavy in the air. This morning I risked pariah-status in the canteen queue by suggesting it was patronising to ascribe the working class with prejudices we could CltchA4WQAEjguXneither test nor vouch for. Dismissing their opinions as motivated by xenophobia precludes any notion that those uneducated poor folk might actually have a coherent view on sovereignty or national self-determination.

This democratic deficit has been well ventilated over the weekend. Janice Turner, in particular, wrote beautifully and wisely in Saturday’s Times about the folly of denigrating “retired miners who now drive taxi cabs”. It is no surprise that contrarians like the brilliant Julie Birchill, who has written at length about the demonisation of white-working class ‘chavs’, came out for Brexit.

Part of the seething fury felt by some of my co-workers lies in that feeling of being hoodwinked, of not being as smart, as omniscient as they, hitherto, imagined. Their self-esteem is bruised. Nobody likes to find out that the world they thought existed turns out to have been built on miopia and wishful thinking.

The biggest reality check since Clement Atlee’s 1945 election landslide should not have been such a revelation. In the absence of newsrooms peopled by journalists who broadly reflect the country (and who, therefore, might have had a chance of understanding what was happening on the council estates), journalists fell back on polls.

And, even though they turned out to have been of dubious reliability during last year’s general election, we elected to trust them again. What option did we have? A dwindling number of journalists, mostly to be found on tabloid newspapers, have anything approaching an intimate appreciation of Britain’s demonised white working class.

Middle-class media-folk have a default position. They assume the lumpens are incapable of parsing the world around them. Oh, dear reader, they do. They just arrive at different conclusions.

I was brought up by a single mum, not least because my father was held at Her Majesty’s Pleasure. One of my sisters, a teacher, followed me to university. Another works on the check-out at the local Co-Op in Bradford. One of them has a good grasp of politics, but don’t assume to know which one.

My background permits me to venture two perspectives unconscionable to many of my colleagues. They are paradoxical but no less true for that. 

First, many working class whites repudiate the post-war orthodoxy regarding aspiration and higher education. They look at people – like me – who have gone to university and forsworn their communities as a consequence. They know they ought to encourage their children to work hard at school. But what’s the point? Raising children is hard work. Why expend all that emotional capital only to see the offspring embarrassed by your table manners.

Second, many working class whites think journalism is a crock. They may not have been to university, but they know people who have. And they realise that a media studies course offers poor value for money. Local newspapers, once an outlet for bright poor kids, are often populated by graduates who are just passing through, supported by the bank of mum and dad.

The answer.

Hire more ‘chavs’, especially in broadcasting. It’s not, as Pope Francis avers, always easy to love the poor. But if you want to understand Brexit Britain, it’s an idea whose time has come. talking


12 Comments on "Brexit and the Media Blind Spot"

  1. I found working with middle class people utterly unbearable, enough to change career and become my own boss. I remember one idiot who didn’t know where I was from suggesting that they ought to bomb the place where I grew up. The faux niceties and the feigned inclusiveness grated. “Oh we hate racists, immigration is so positive for the country” they would proclaim. Presumably thats why they lived in Beaconsfield and Gerrards Cross, because of it’s ethnic diversity (that’s sarcasm for those who don’t live round here). Remember the incomprehension of my wife’s colleagues and their uncomfortable attempts to dissuade her from moving to a very ethnically diverse area without actually having to sink to using the word “paki”. We had enough money to live where they lived so clearly we had gone gaga, for gods sake we didn’t even employ a cleaner what was wrong with us. Their loss, for eight years we had a lovely place and the best neighbours we’ve ever had.

    • I’ve heard that a lot myself, Rob, but the one that gets to me the most is the assumption that anybody from ***** (insert your home town) must by definition be thick. There’s an assumption that being working class means you’re too thick to think for yourself. The same if you speak with a regional accent. Didn’t a BBC reporter get criticised for this recently? There is a working class but it is not unified or speaks with a single voice. The very fact that the media wish to reduce us to the ‘chav’ stereotype is part of the problem. Ironic too when so many of the working class graduate to media positions. They prove the point that the ‘working class’ is a very broad church.

      • Yes David amongst certain sections of the UK to be a Scouser or a Geordie is to be borderline sub-human. The sad thing about the fella making the comment about my estate was that he was actually a middle class Geordie who viewed everyone who lived there as scum. I did put him right. I believe it was Steph Mcgovern from Teeside who took a lot of stick because of her accent, presumably because she doesn’t mispronounce her A’s like most of Southern England.

  2. I didn’t see this article coming otherwise I wouldn’t have written one of my own (just scheduled it to appear tomorrow noon). However, my conclusions are a little different. It’s not about hiring more ‘chavs’ because this is the mistake that the BBC so regularly fall into. It’s the Joey Essex (or whatever he’s called) syndrome of handing a microphone to some numbskull to utter banalities whilst the nation laugh at the guy from the working class.

    The working class don’t need more representation in the media. The working class are already there where ever you look. It’s just that they have become middle class and secure in their lifestyle. What we need is the media to look our way on a regular basis. We have a storm up here in the north and it’s largely ignored until it’s dealing death and destruction. A bit of heavy rain in London and it gets full coverage.

    I’m straying into repeating my own article but the danger is patronising the working classes. It would be better, for example, if news pundits weren’t all located within half an hour’s drive of the studio and didn’t all express the same opinions based on the same limited world view. The working classes are not all ill educated and boorish but this you wouldn’t know by the way the media talk about ‘them’. I’m definitely one of ‘them’ but I (and many others) just don’t fit the stereotype. The stereotype is the problem.

  3. Hannes Minkema | 27th June 2016 at 7:47 pm | Reply

    Just my personal observation.

    I am a Dutchman and live in Amsterdam. I am tne only one of my family (including my cousins) who went to university. I kid myself that I have become quite ‘good in English’. I have written a PhD thesis in English. I read English newspapers on a daily basis. I read English books. I read English blogs. I watch the BBC. Sometimes I can’t even remember whether an articla I’ve read was in English or Dutch; whether a BBC television programme was subtitled or not.

    But never before have I read an article so full of unusual, infrequent words as this one. Cusp. Fangled. Grizzled old soaks. Lucid. Promisory notes. Hinterland-free mediocrity. Polity. Sunder. Injurious. Contrarian. Omniscient. Miopia. Lumpens. Unconscionable. To aver.

    It is lik the author feels the need to prove that he has been to university. He had better prove that by writing in a style that is understandable to a broad readership.

    • Hannes, thanks for the comment. I think most of the words you’ve listed would be very familiar to native speakers of standard English. Though we don’t edit articles, we would if we thought that they were written in a way that made them difficult to read. Many of the examples you list would fall into a category of well know but infrequently used (‘cusp’, ‘omniscient’ and ‘contrarian’) but a few are very common such as ‘new fangled’ and ‘grizzled old soaks’. The rest are arguably less well used but nothing that a native English speaker would probably need to look up in a dictionary. Well, perhaps ‘polity’ would be obscure enough to require a dictionary but equally we’d probably guess what it meant and would usually be right.

    • Stephen Munslow | 28th June 2016 at 4:57 pm | Reply

      Mr Minkema:

      Of those unusual words, only one is unfamiliar to me – the word miopia, and that is because the writer has mis-spelt myopia. Fangled does not occur outside of the word new-fangled.

  4. Si Wooldridge | 27th June 2016 at 10:29 pm | Reply

    It would also be better if they showed a truly wide range of views rather than overwhelmingly left wing with a token right wing-ish commentator.

    Also, learn to interview rather than just constantly interrupt and badger someone for a quick answer when you don’t agree with them.

    In this way, you may just learn something of value and maybe, just maybe, understand why consistently calling people racist and xenophobic over a 20 year span means that at some point the target of your ire has an overwhelming need to give you a good kicking when you least expect it.

  5. Having been on The Chase this January and played for (and won) £47,000 against Paul Sinha, I was judged by my accent and location. I’m a scouser, or at the least Northern, and on Twitter the main judgement before I even started was that I would be a “robbing git” who’d take the lower offer, or thick enough to crash and burn. Judge people by accent at your peril. I had fun proving them wrong.
    But to agree with your article, I do think that the demise of local newspaper and offices with the concurrent alienation of journalists and public, and the fact that all journalists are expected to be graduates, not local, has caused a disconnect. Is there an answer? I don’t know, except to make sure that media people leave their ivory towers/detached/semi and meet the real public.

  6. This idea of mine isn’t linked to the media but does involve politicians being out of touch with their constituencies. It has always annoyed me the way that the political parties pick their candidates from a list, get them a house and a job in the constituency where they want them to stand and then attempt to foist them on the electorate, who to be fair bear a share of the blame for just putting their tick next to the party emblem. That candidate if elected then proceeds to spend the majority of their time in London. It should be law that a candidate needs to reside permanently within the boundaries of the constituency that they are standing in for a minimum of 5 years before being eligible to stand. Does anyone think David Miliband could have stuck 5 years living and working in South Shields before being elected? or that Hilary Benn would have hung around in Leeds for that length of time, surely it would have interfered with his career as a professional politician.

  7. Peter Spencer | 28th June 2016 at 7:36 pm | Reply

    Brilliant piece, Colin !! Eloquent exposition of an overdue categorical imperative for the latte-loving newbies. Wake up and smell the, er, nescafe …..

  8. Michael Cross | 29th June 2016 at 4:14 pm | Reply


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