Telegraph Blogs – Toby Harnden: How Britain and the web are changing stuffy American journalism

Often caught between the two, I’ve always been fascinated by the differences between journalism in Britain and the United States. One of the most striking things is the contrast between the self-image of journalists on either side of the Pond. In Britain, journalists (who prefer the term “hacks”) mostly view themselves as grubby tradesmen, living proof of Nicholas Tomalin’s dictum that “the only qualities essential for real success in journalism are rat-like cunning, a plausible manner and a little literary ability”.

In the US, journalists have traditionally been much more self-important, viewing themselves as part of a noble profession to be venerated and respected in the same way as doctors, lawyers and accountants. They have tended to see themselves as part of the Establishment. The difference has often been on display at White House press conferences, with long-winded, respectful, often pompous American questions contrasting with short, aggressive and impertinent British questions (which sometimes elicit much better answers).

While British newspapers have always been opinionated and agenda-driven, American newspapers, on their news pages at least, have always stuck to the notion of disinterested objectivity. Articles are longer, worthier and more academic. Americans would counter that on the whole they’re more accurate and fair.

All these divisions are becoming blurred now, largely because of the web. The pithier, more sardonic and opinionated British style lend itself to the web (look at how much British stuff gets on Drudge). American readers are increasingly exposed to british reporting – a huge proportion of the Telegraph’s web traffic comes from the US.

I think it’s hilarious how the Daily Mail’s adapted for Americans. They started getting about half their online readership from the US a couple years ago when Drudge regularly linked to their articles about entertainment figures and cute animals, or less often politics and the war. Now they regularly put things in dollars on the front page (but the same phrase or headline uses pounds in the article), and they put tons of energy into stupid American reality stars on shows that (as far as I know) don’t even air over there (except maybe on weirdo satellite channels?). It’s very entertaining. And of course it works because a tabloid like that has reams more content than any of our idiotic papers do.

The Times, on the other hand, uses a bank for their paywall which charges me a foreign currency fee every month. So that sucks, but at least it shows where their focus is.