In media res: of tabloids, “topspin” and travesties

Britain can “pride” itself on a “vigorous” popular press.

All of them lying in the gutter, looking at the stars, as someone said in a slightly different context.

So, if you want to understand the “top” end, I suppose you reach for your Manufacturing Consent (very US), or your Medialens crowd, or your Glasgow Media Group.

Then there’s the excellent “Flat Earth News” by Nick Davies, especially good on the “mid-market” tabloids (the Hate Mail and the Depress).

And then… well, I loved the John Burns comedy-thrillers, with an (anti)hero journo. And now – coming to you because Dwight Towers wandered into a church (!) is “Tabloid Girl” by Sharon Marshall. Oh my, it’s fun. The author gave a statement to the Leveson Inquiry and admitted to the use of a certain amount of “top-spin.” That is to say, she back-pedals and points out all the amalgamating she had done (and said she was doing). She writes of her ten years on the tabloids with, as you’d expert, verve and wit. And more than a little honesty (or so she’d have you believe?).

Although not a big consumer of “real” tabloids, I can – from personal experience – confirm that what appears in quotes as if the named person said it is probably NOT what was said at all.

Over the next few weeks I will throw in little snippets of what she’s written, usually trying to point out how tabloid tactics mesh with other forms of “perception management.”

Or for laffs.

Sometimes the quotes were written before we ever left the office. Before we even knew who we were interviewing. On one occasion, The Editor arrived at my desk and barked that an advert was to start running “the next day,” saying the newspaper had a “brilliant” kiss-and-tell about someone from the pop group Steps, who’d just had a worldwide hit with the hideous song “5,6,7, 8”. The kiss-and-tell was to run under the headline My 5,6,7, 8, Times Every Night With Steps Girl. “Great,” I said. “Great story. Who got that then?”
“You did,” he replied. “Or at least you better had get it by tonight. Find me someone to agree to that headline, or don’t bother coming back into the office.
“ Thankfully, after a seven-hour drive to Rhyl, a quick dash through the pubs, and a back-hander of £100 to the local newspaper editor, a man called Andy emerged from the woodwork. He was an ex of the one called Lisa, and willing to agree to the quote for a lucrative sum of cash.
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