City & Corporate: Don't pander to reader prejudice

Billions of words have been written or spoken about the influence newspaper proprietors have on the titles they own.

But far less debate has focused on the relationship a title has with its customer base. How symbiotic should the relationship be? Should a newspaper slavishly reflect the loves, hates and prejudices of its readers or should it try to place new ideas and storylines in front of them?

Obviously the latter, you might say. Look at the MPs' expenses scoop. The Telegraph risked the wrath of its predominantly Conservative readership by sparing no sides of the political spectrum in exposing what went on. Conservative voting types that I know complained bitterly and many threatened to turn to another paper (although I bet hardly any did). By the same token The Guardian has been furious in its criticism of Gordon Brown, which surprised me, if no-one else.

So the question would appear to be moot. Or is it? A good example is the issue of the banks and, to a lesser extent, bankers' bonuses. City editors tell me their postbags are filled with vitriolic correspondence every time they carry even mildly positive articles on the banks. By contrast, every time a politician bewails bonuses being paid even to branch staff - let alone to their bosses - newspapers give the story plenty of oomph, to the evident satisfaction of their readers.

The media should be much tougher with themselves and their audiences when they talk about this issue. Our retail banking and savings industry is a massive wealth creator and employer. The assistant manager in Dundee or Derby deserves much better treatment than he or she gets in the media and from self-serving politicians. These are not multi-millionaire investment bankers, who can look after themselves. These are folk who, when they pick up the Daily Mail, read Patrick Hosking's blog at timesonline or listen to Vince Cable on the BBC, are probably embarrassed to go to the pub at the weekend.

Our media are letting this particular 'community' down. It feels like what the Americans call a 'turkey shoot' and it has gone too far.

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