Last night, the Mail Online won the ‘digital innovation award’ at the 2011 Press Awards – presumably for managing to entice users who claim to despise everything the paper stands for with a killer celebrity gossip section. Meanwhile, the Guardian won the paper of the year for its role in Wikileaks.
On the surface of it then, a bad night for The Times – at least as far as the paywall debate goes. With subscriber figures still modest, formal recognition as an online pioneer, or the main crown as the ‘best paper’ altogether would have been welcome triumphs.
Yet despite this, last night’s results – in which the title claimed five individual writer awards – illustrates the strongest argument for why you should join me behind the paywall. Put simply: The Times has the finest collection of writers on any one publication in the UK by a country mile.
Around a year ago, I wrote a blog for GQ.com on the moral obligation of ‘valuing journalism enough to pay for it’ – inspired in no small part by the fact I was a struggling freelancer at the time. By and large I still stand by it.
But the moral or economic impetus isn’t the real factor behind why I encourage people to sign up. Last night, Caitlin Moran, David Robertson and Matthew Parris all won individual awards (two each for Caitlin and David), which only really scratches the surface of what is the The Times’ biggest strength.
Caitlin Moran is a critic and columnist not so much ‘on fire’ at the moment as tearing her way through the cosmos on a giant, ciggerette-shaped rocket. One of her awards last night paid tribute to her remarkable Lady Gaga interview in Berlin, but devotees will have noticed that everything, from her recent review of a Lily Allen documentary to a homage to holidaying in Aberystwyth has a quality of prose that seems to put Caitlin on a different planet from everyone else this year. It’s exhilarating to read, and not for nothing is @caitlinmoran the person all aspiring writers on Twitter wish they were best friends with.
Then, in a completely separate field altogether, there is George Caulkin (who didn’t win anything last night). A correspondent for the North-East, he is the only national football writer at work today who doesn’t seem to write about the area through a prism of clichés and received opinions. More than that though, he joins Matthew Syed, Simon Barnes and Patrick Barclay on a team of wonderfully distinctive and thought-provoking voices on the beautiful game.
Giles Coren, Robert Crampton, Hugo Rifkind, David Aaronvitch – even Frank Skinner – this could happily turn into a fawning tribute to brilliant individual writers. But the crucial part of this is that they all bat for the same team. Each of these names pushes the envelope in entertaining and challenging us from the pages (print and digital) of The Times. Each of them is worth paying for.
This is what makes The Times’ insistence that they ‘value the quality of their journalism enough to charge for it’ ring true, rather than sound like just a self-important excuse for sticking with an out-dated funding model.
For liberal-leaning, aspiring journalists like me, the fact that Rupert Murdoch is behind it all could be a source of anxiety. It shouldn’t be. Those still learning how to write should be devouring these people’s articles, not rejecting them to make some stand or other against Fox News – or more fool them if they don’t.
There are many things the Guardian, the Daily Mail, NOTW and others do magnificently. Comment Is Free is easily the most vibrant and engaging community platform in the UK. Live-blogging – when it stops trying to reinvent the wheel of news reportage and plays to its real strengths – is fascinating. Integrated web ads may well be our future.
But for me – and I suppose it is a matter of priorities – the most talented and distinctive writers in the country operating at the height of their game is a mouth-watering prospect worth dipping into your pocket for. After the best part of a year behind the paywall I can happily report: I like it here.
Access to leading writers
Excellent navigation and design
No trolls – comments left by people actually engaged by topics
Paying for it makes you value and consider content far more (surprise, surprise)
You’re logged out too frequently
Frustrating that articles can’t be freely shared via social media
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