S is for satire and skullduggery
“News is what a chap who doesn’t care much about anything wants to read. And its only news until he’s read it. After that it’s dead.”
For a novel set in the 1930’s, Evelyn Waugh’s satire, Scoop, still has deadly aim when it comes to firing at the heart of the at times farsical, fraudulent and sensationalist nature of the newspaper industry and journalistic profession.
The entire time while I read the book, which is loosely based on Waugh’s stint as a war correspondent for the London Daily Mail, I couldn’t help but draw comparisons between it and the current situation the News of the World and News ltd has found itself in. The scheming, the sensationalism and the attempts to retrieve or drum up news at any cost has revealed just how fall the standards of journalism have fallen, prompting the current Leveson Inquiry into media ethics and journalism practices.
With Waugh’s Scoop, you can’t help but wonder if standards were already pretty low to begin with. He delves into the crumbling credibility of journalism , pulling out what really is at the core of a journalist’s world. Basically, the only concern of a journalists is to file a story that will meet with the approval of their bosses at the newspaper. Their goal is to keep one step ahead of the competition at any cost and will go to any length for a ‘scoop.’ He seems to poke fun at the profession of journalism, implying it is mainly characterised by a disinterested search for the truth. Truth is what they decide it is, not that which can be found.
Call me a cynic, but I used to be a journalist and if I didn’t know it was on the classic list, I would have assumed it was written recently. It is still relevant, entertaining and so thoroughly funny that you can’t help but laugh out loud at some of the situations with unknowing, inexperienced principal character, William Boot finds himself in. His depiction of the characters are so accurate and deft that I challenge you not to come across them in any news room across the world today.
Waugh who has never revealed who Boot is based on, used his experiences covering the war between Abyssinia (now Ethiopia) and Italy in 1935 as inspiration for the book, observing closely the activities of his fellow journalists and the length of skullduggery they would go to just to get a pat on the head from the editors, even it was at sacrifice of ethics, truth and welfare of the nation they were reporting from.
This is a book every newspaper reader/news watcher and aspiring writer/journalist should read. People now have more say over what should be in the news today, , Waugh makes us remember just because a headline screams it as news, it doesn’t always make it so.
The real beast: For those who are keen to read more, check out the interview between Tina Brown (Founder of the online news source, the Daily Beast, inspired by the fictional name sake in Scoop). She discusses the influence of Scoop and the infamous John Boot in the Guardian .
Will the real John Boots please stand up: If you are keen to get insight into some of the real life models the characters were based on, read the below article on W. F. Deedes who has spent a career dogged by claims he is the real William Boot.