I have had rather a random experience today, which has been fascinating me all morning.
Recently, I started a new contract with an organisation that works at the interface of science, research and government. I suddenly find myself woefully short on political knowledge (who’s in charge of what, how government works, what’s going on right now in parliament) – well, I’ve never had much of an interest in this, other than just prior to general elections. And I’ve become increasingly disinterested with the current government.
So, long story short, I decided that I needed to broaden my knowledge of current affairs, government and politics. Now I’ve never been a newspaper person, I don’t read them unless someone tells me to. But I figured this would be a logical place to find out some of the stuff I’m lacking. I know that different papers have different political affiliations, and given my current work, I would need to go to The Times or Telegraph to understand the nuances of what my colleagues are constantly talking about, and that I am supposed to have a clue about.
My first port of call in all situations is online, but the Times in particular has a rather tricky paywall. I thought I could just pay on a daily basis – i.e. when I actually want to read something and analogous to buying a print copy. But. I have to commit one year of my life and money to this publication to be able to access anything online.
And now we get to what happened this morning. I rather sheepishly went to my local newsagent. I’m aware of the connotations of reading The Times as opposed to The Guardian or even The Independent, and felt somewhat judged in needing to read it. But I went into the newsagent. I expected there to be piles of papers on the floor, or on racks or shelves. But there were just a couple behind the counter. So I had to ask for my paper. They didn’t have it. Or any other broadsheet.
So I went to a second. And a third newsagent. It was only there that they dragged out a bedraggled copy from behind the counter, looked me up and down and took my sweaty pound coin.
I was surprised not to find a plentiful supply of all the mainstream broadsheets and tabloids in my local area. But as the second agent said –
“What, a Times? In C*****d? No mate. We don’t get the Times. Not in C*****d…”
So this is strange. I can’t get a paper in my local shop. Nor the next couple along the road. I had this naive image of newsagents being impartial sellers of all the news available. But of course they are commercial enterprises. They only stock what sells. And apparently, where I live, that is tabloids only. Perhaps it’s my fault, and others like me, for not supporting the broadsheets and creating a local demand.
But this has had an interesting impact on my ability to acquire information directly from newspapers available within walking distance of my office. My news is effectively being censored.