The Guardian is laying off 180 staff. Inevitably and horribly, some people on the internet are being dicks about it and celebrating the imminent unemployment of sales staff, junior editorial staff and so on.
These people aren’t losing their jobs because of the paper’s content. They’re losing their jobs partly because of the paper’s business model. Like all similar media, the money tap has dried up because of coronavirus. But unlike many similar media operations, The Guardian is particularly exposed because of a serious of decisions it’s made in the past and because of its current business model: to give all of its content away for free and make money from selling ads and running events, the two things you cannot make money from during a pandemic.
But the majority of discussion about this on social media is not on why The Guardian would rather lay off hundreds of people than introduce a paywall. It’s gone all culture war. I’ve lost count of the journalists who’ve essentially said that if you don’t want to take out a subscription to save the paper, you are an easily offended snowflake who hates journalism and is an enemy of democracy.
Which is exactly the kind of attitude that makes some people unwilling to subscribe to The Guardian.
Here’s publisher and commentator Laura Waddell, on Twitter.
Readers are increasingly asked not to buy a product but to support a principle – that the paper should exist, why it should exist. An organisation – of any kind – cannot ask the public to donate to support their principles without having those principles scrutinised.
The message being put across here is not “buy this product because it is good”. It’s “donate to the cause”. I don’t hate journalism and I’m not an enemy of democracy, but as I’ve written a few times in recent years I don’t feel that The Guardian is a cause I feel comfortable supporting.
It’s not because it occasionally exposes me to a point of view that I disagree with. It’s that for nearly three years now it has taken a very clear editorial stance on trans people, a stance that has been publicly criticised by its US newsroom and 1/5th of its UK staff, a stance that I don’t believe is any different from or any less harmful than that of The Daily Mail.
I don’t buy that paper either, and yet I don’t see any left-wing people claiming that people who don’t buy the Mail are easily offended snowflakes who are enemies of democracy.
The Guardian’s preferred solution to its financial issues encapsulates the problem: it would rather destroy its superb arts and books coverage than cull the extremely well-paid columnists who write endless pieces about people being mean to their friends on Twitter.
You cannot say to the public – buy a paper to support these principles – its very existence, a free press, quality reporting – but criticise them for holding their own views as to what principles they will pay money to support or not support.