Having worked in newspapers since the days when computers were new-fangled, I feel well qualified to assess whether the new comedy series Electric Ink is up to the mark in its observations on the press, in the throes of an unprecedented crisis. As it happens, the writer, Alistair Beaton, is spot-on, capturing the rising panic of an endangered species.
Robert Lindsay is reporter Maddox Bradley, a careworn fossil from the days of high ideals and long liquid lunches who's resisting attempts to drag him on to the web, said to be newspapers' last-best hope.
"We've become obsessed with making the online edition," he rants in fine style to the news editor. "We've forgotten that it's quite important for a quality national daily to have content. I'm sorry, but it comes as no surprise to me that fewer and fewer people are willing to shell out a pound for a double-page sofa ad, a free DVD and a full-colour wallchart displaying 50 varieties of asparagus." Ouch.
He proceeds to explode the website's lead story about a new stress disorder, exposing it as a drugs industry plant. The online editor is carpeted for rehashing press releases. "But I do it all the time," he says. Double ouch.
The daily conference is nicely done, too. The editor complains about that morning's wallchart. "Come on, people: dinosaurs, newspapers – must we remind the readers?" Double ouch and ouch again.
In the Indy's old place near Canary Wharf it was possible to escape the pressures of the impending newsprint apocalypse by nipping out of the office for five minutes and watching the cormorants, whose biggest decision in life was when to plop down for another eel. In his series Life Stories, Sir David Attenborough revealed the delightful habits of an even more enviable creature, the three-toed sloth, which spends most of its time dozing.
That's me, I thought. It emits a faint bronchial wheeze and the occasional whistle. That's me. Its legs can't support it, so when it's on the ground it shuffles around on its belly, very, very slowly. That's me on Friday nights. So, you see, it's been scientifically proven. I am a three-toed sloth.