“Make it good, make it fast…but above all make it up.” That was the order of the day, delivered with a blast of messianic fervour, issued to Fleet Street hacks from one crazed Editor. Or was it?
It may have been apocryphal, but the story added to the legend, building the myth surrounding him.
That story was passed word of mouth among the sceptical and cynical – only the gullible swallowed it, usually in learned papers or boring books describing everything that was wrong with Fleet Street.
Did it do any harm? Nope. It certainly didn’t harm the Editor who will have told it against himself.
What’s different today is that story wouldn’t stay as myth in one, dysfunctional, urban setting. No. The difference now is it would become an instant truth. Retold once to one of the gullible and their instant recourse is, of course, to share it with countless, er, ‘followers’. Fluttering keypads, trending news and within hours, minutes even, you have the recipe for a stew of instant outrage and anger.
And, oh, how angry they all get. Is there scope left for any joke which doesn’t offend, or a fine point of debate that doesn’t become an online confrontation; fists metaphorically raised, daggers drawn?
Thirty plus years ago US broadcasters first began speaking of ‘road rage’ to describe lunatics shooting each other on busy highways. It became the catch-all for generations of frustrated, angry drivers, fists squeezing steering wheels, trapped in their own personal cauldron of seething steel.
Out of the car, away from the rush, these furious titans quietly transformed back to mere earthlings.
Watching what passes for political discourse on the pavements around Parliament, and the gleefully vicious miasma online, it seems we’ve somehow created an even angrier generation. No more roads, this is Righteous Rage. They carry certainty with pride; shrill anger swiftly shooting down dissent.
Making the world right
Where does that leave us? Will only the loudest – or most powerful – prevail? Perhaps the answer lies in looking back at part of that flawed Fleet St edict. One less well-known, but arguably more powerful figure who really knew what to do, would genuinely urge his charges: ‘Make it good, make it fast…but above all make it right.’ He wasn’t talking about making the world right; he actually meant the news. Getting it right; sticking to the facts. Dare one even say ‘telling the truth…’?
It’s all a bit alien in a world where smug commentators see Post Truth as the new norm and ‘fake news’ is the multi-generational putdown against anyone who dares raise a dissenting voice.
For steering wheel back then, read app or keypad now. I wonder if perhaps we need to ask each other, as the fury rises, is there a moment when we might pause, wondering if non-bot operators of those other online vehicles may really be flesh and blood with their own facts, fears…and dreams?