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Chasing Pulitzers Has Ruined American Journalists. That’s Why They’re Edited by Brits

pulitzer-whores

Pulitzer Prizes winners proudly displayed in the New York Times building Photo: Getty

For The SpectatorToby Young writes: I was interested to read a story by Michael Wolff in USA Today saying that Graydon Carter may be about to step down as editor-in-chief of Vanity Fair. Carter has been at the helm for 22 years and was my boss during the three years I spent there between 1995 and 1998. According to Wolff, himself a columnist at the magazine, the runners and riders to take over are nearly all British.

“Our Yankee counterparts preen about, congratulating themselves on upholding the highest ideals of the fourth estate, whereas we focus on the bottom line and pride ourselves on keeping our papers afloat.”

Wolff thinks this is mainly because power within Condé Nast, the publishing company that owns Vanity Fair, has shifted from New York and towards London, home of Condé Nast International, a subsidiary that is now more profitable than the mother ship. No doubt there’s something in that, but the bigger reason must surely be because British journalists are so much better than their American counterparts.

“we also have an unerring nose for what will pique a reader’s interest, what we call ‘news sense’, and it’s this that makes us the best journalists in the world.”

You can get a sense of what American journalists’ priorities are from looking at a 96-page report that the New York Times has just produced about… the New York Times. I’m not talking about the words, obviously, which are far too boring to read, but the pictures. On page three of the report, there’s a photograph of the paper’s top brass gathered around a computer terminal, having just discovered that the Grey Lady has won yet another Pulitzer prize. The staff are gathered around them on the stairs — hundreds of them — and one of the editors is looking up and humbly applauding them: ‘Well done, folks. You knocked it out of the park… again.’

“Not ‘the best’ as in the most worthy of praise — we leave that to our American cousins — but ‘the best’ when it comes to spotting stories.”

That’s what most American journalists care about — winning prizes that affirm just what noble tribunes of democracy they are. In Britain, we have less lofty ambitions. For us, it’s all about selling newspapers and — pathetic hacks that we are — producing stories that people actually want to read. Our Yankee counterparts preen about, congratulating themselves on upholding the highest ideals of the fourth estate, whereas we focus on the bottom line and pride ourselves on keeping our papers afloat. For them, it’s a profession and its members are expected to observe a highfalutin code of professional conduct. For us, it’s a trade and, to be honest, it’s more about not getting caught. If you said the word ‘ethics’ to most British hacks they’d think you were talking about the birthplace of Kelvin MacKenzie. Yes, yes, we’re ghastly knuckle-dragging troglodytes and, when it comes to man’s inhumanity to man, about as sentimental as a bog brush. The foreign correspondent Edward Behr once overheard a colleague ask the following question at a scene of carnage and devastation in some far-flung hell hole: ‘Anyone here been raped and speak English?’…(read more) The Spectator

Toby Young is associate editor of The Spectator.

This article first appeared in the print edition of The Spectator magazine, dated 

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One Comment on “Chasing Pulitzers Has Ruined American Journalists. That’s Why They’re Edited by Brits”

  1. […] Pundit from another Planet For The Spectator, Toby Young writes: I was interested to read a story by Michael Wolff in USA […]


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