I bought a Guardian on Saturday. It cost £2.90. I bought it on the off chance that I might have been quoted inside it. A Guardian editor had contacted me a couple of days before. She wanted to know if I still wanted to be called C F Davis, “if published”. So I was curious to see if I had been.
In fact I had been published, in an abridged form. But seemingly only in the online version of the Guardian. I haven’t been able to find it in the paper version.
Which brings me to the reason why I haven’t managed to find the article: there are far too many pages in the paper.
And this happens to be the reason why I stopped reading the Guardian some time in the 1980s: there was simply too much of it. And there still is. It’s like those restaurants where you get served a plate with 8 slices of roast beef, 7 Yorkshire puddings, 5 carrots, 6 roast potatoes, and about six other portions of assorted vegetables, all drowned in gravy. And you know – or at least I know – that you can’t possibly eat it all. Not in one sitting, anyway. Maybe in three or four sittings, but definitely not one.
I suppose that the Saturday Guardian is likely an expanded version anyway. Most newspapers seem to publish a lot more on Saturday. So in addition to the 50 page main newspaper, there was the separate Sport, Review, Family, Travel, and Cook sections, each with about 16 pages. And an 80 page magazine. And a little 80 page TV guide that included several lengthy articles. All told it came to about 300 pages. And I could have fitted 3 of my blog posts on each page. And it wasn’t as if it was mostly ads. The entire newspaper was surprisingly light on ads. I estimated that it was less than 10% ads.
From memory, the 1980s’ Guardian seemed to have been 90% ads, usually for jobs in local government. It had entire supplements full of ads.
I estimated that if I had written all the articles in the Saturday Guardian, writing at my usual rate of one article a day, it would have taken me well over two years to fill one edition of the Guardian. Or, putting it the other way round, the Guardian would have had to employ about 800 Frank Davises to write all that stuff. I imagined rows and rows of clones of myself in floor after floor in the Guardian, sweating over articles about chocolate sponge pudding. How did they manage to fit them all in? How much did they pay them?
In my own way, as a blogger, I write a little daily newspaper. It takes me anything from about half an hour to over three hours (or more) to write each post. And nobody pays me a penny for it.
It set me wondering whether the Guardian might be written by unpaid bloggers like myself. Not working inside the Guardian’s offices, but scattered all over England, and all over the world. And as they finished their pieces, they emailed them to the Guardian, where a small army of sub-editors sifted through them, and decided which to publish. The sub-editors would them pass the draft copy of that day’s paper to a board of editors who would monitor the political content, and the overall tone and style. And finally, at about midnight, the Editor-in-Chief would press the Publish button.
The benefit for the unpaid bloggers was that they got their stuff published in the Guardian, which has a circulation of about 400,000 per day.
So the Guardian’s bloggers could expect to be read by up to 400,000 people a day, maybe twice that if the online readership is equal to the paper readership.
And in fact I myself was one of the unpaid bloggers who’d helped provide a few lines somewhere in the Saturday edition. If I’d been heavily abridged, it was because I wasn’t really the right sort of blogger. I was far too far right wing for this left wing newspaper. Junican has some thoughts on this.
Am I on the right track here? I can’t see how everyone who is writing in the Guardian can possibly be paid. So I’m supposing that mostly they’re not paid. The only writers who will be paid will be those which the Guardian’s editors decide they want to hear more from, and whom they’re prepared to pay to write regularly.
Looked at this way, the Guardian isn’t so much a newspaper, but a swirling galaxy of writers who are all contributing in greater or smaller ways to the central newspaper. It’s a miracle of organisation. I’m filled with admiration. It’s an entire self-sustaining culture, with thousands of contributors writing the paper, and then reading it as well – all shaping people’s opinions, and being shaped.
Anyway, I think that it’s probably going to take me about 3 months to read last Saturday’s edition of the Guardian.
I have no plans to buy another one. For I got a powerful political message somewhere inside the Guardian on Saturday. It was something someone said to me on 1 July 2007, the day of the UK smoking ban:
“It’s not a free country any more.”