Well, it’s been a busy year in the main day job. It’s the tenth anniversary of my company, Editorial Intelligence, or e.i. Back in 2005 internet had begun to transform ‘old’ media and no-one knew what was what was coming. No-one could have predicted the current state and if they had no-one would believe them. Twenty four hour TV was one thing: Mobile media intermediated by anyone and everyone was entirely another.
I cannot say I saw all of it coming but I did imagine some of it. I was coming to the end of more than a decade in PR and was thoroughly fed up of being ‘His Master’s Voice’ – although doing PR for Maya Angelou at Virago remains a highlight of my life, as was fielding calls from a then journalist Sebastian Faulks in a telephone box (a telephone box!) outside the white male Revd Toby Forward’s house in Brighton as he was about to unmask him as the anonymous Asian woman writer ‘Rahila Khan’. That was a story and a half. Sebastian was infinitely polite to me that day (“Julia, I’m afraid I am going to say that Virago has published a white man instead of an Asian woman. May I have a comment?”.
I always slightly revered journalists. I still do. In a free press you must have journalists who have the right to be wrong. Without a free press you lose the cornerstone of freedom itself. Journalists are supposed to be buggers of course. Good journalists do say ‘why is this bastard lying to me’ whether they do it online or on paper or on air. Good journalists mock and poke and insinuate and gossip, too. The public likes that (even if the subjects don’t always!)
Whilst I did not know what was coming for journalism (neither did journalism) I did have a strong instinct that news would become ubiquitous and that the stock would therefore rise of one type of journalist the public could not be: The longform Commentator. The one who sets out a view, an argument, an opinion over anything between 600 words and 1500 words or, as is the odd but interesting trend, ‘The Long Read’ we see not just in The New Yorker and LRB but in the newspapers themselves. Newspapers need renaming, of course: Comment is now threaded through them. The Economist, made up entirely of anonymous comment, is one of the major publishing success stories of the last decade.
So I have to say that instinct I had about Comment being important and likely to stay important, proved correct. Good to call it right in business when you always also call it wrong (at least I have done, many times over). My business has had many changes over the decade, is as much a content event business as an online publishing business, but it has always consistently supported Comment. The daily morning inbox
eiDigest which is free and which summarises UK Comment & Opinion has seen a spike in popularity this year: People are so overloaded they like capsule summary information more than ever. They like quick-read emails. Newsletters are back.
And the Comment Awards are what every industry needs: Their Oscars. I started them on a hunch 7 years ago and they work because we read great Commentators like familiar friends even when they are strangers. Good commentators define the day, the moment, they translate life. They may outrage us, infuriate, or make us feel they understand us because they explain so brilliantly what we think and feel too. Good journalists communicate with their readers. They criticise and critique this increasingly difficult complex, frightening, intense world and they never, ever bore.
Here is a snapshot of those Editorial Intelligence Comment Awards and some contributions at the end of 3 minutes from some of these Commentators, some of them whose writing is familiar to you I’m sure.
Ten years! Well, it is a nice round number. Ten is “a thing”. And I feel that so is ‘The Commentariat’, a phrase coined by the late great former Editor of The Spectator Frank Johnson but one we ended up bringing into popular parlance.
In 2016 I see ahead more comment, more narration, more explanation. The world does not draw breath and neither will the commentators.