Meeja: November 2008 Archives

Nosey parkers

14 November 2008

Seamus McCauley at Virtual Economics finds Max Mosley's latest claims a bit hard to believe. "I'm entertained today by Max Mosley's claim that his 'sex life is of interest to no one but this squalid industry'", writes McCauley.

Mosley argued: "No reasonable adult will ever object to (or even be interested in) what others do in their bedrooms provided it is consensual, lawful and in private."

In fact, Mosley contradicted himself in the space of a couple of paragraphs: "To keep this squalid industry afloat, an unrestricted right to publicise the sex lives of others is necessary."

If no-one's selling newspapers on the back of the "sex lives of others", why are they doing it?

There is a big difference between "object to" and "be interested in". Three years ago in the US Judge James Kleinberg found against websites wanting to publish what Apple regarded as trade secrets, writing: "An interested public is not the same as the public interest". Mosley's problem was you don't have to object to something to be interested in it. The News of the World presumably understood the distinction, which is why it focused on the uniforms worn by Mosley's pretend tormentors. But, in reality, that was the mechanism by which the paper would justify publishing a story that was more about satisfying public prurience. And that's where Mosley's claim about a disinterested public falls down, as McCauley argues:

"That it was considered worth splashing across the front page of the most popular English-language newspaper in the world and increased traffic to its website by a claimed 600% rather belies this curious claim."

"Newspapers don't, in fact, tend to publish things that are only of interest to other journalists, except once a week in the Guardian's Media Section."

One of the continuing mysteries about the passing of old media is that old media still gets all of the blame for serving up what large chunks of the audience actually wants. If we all get to choose what we see and read, surely some of that blame goes to the people making those choices?

Mosley is right in that his private life should not have been served up before a public that had little interest in who he was but only wanted the titillating details. But that is a long way from saying they aren't interested in other people's business. And a lot of them are like Paul Dacre: hungry for the details so they can fulminate against them (or something like that) in the comfort of their own homes.

The people who think up euphemistic ways for announcing layoffs probably think they are being really clever when they do it. Because I can't think of any reason why this sort of nonsense is a good idea:

"ST-NXP Wireless Adjusts to Changed Business Conditions and Accelerates Efforts to Capture Identified Synergies"

This isn't just lipstick on the pig, it's a complete plastic surgery job, only to find that you've made a Wacko Jacko-style horlicks of the whole operation. What part of that headline doesn't scream "we're cutting loads of jobs, so many that we felt the need to disguise it"?

It's not just an irritation for people reporting on these events as it serves to bury the salient points, it is an insult to the people directly affected. It signals a callousness to their plight all in the name of trying to organise a less 'negative' headline. Contrast this to how NXP handled its own cutbacks a couple of months ago where there was no attempt to paper over the cuts. Yes, the immediate headlines look bad but you don't leave the lingering bad taste that comes from this kind of mealy-mouthed nuspeak.