Media Types: Paper gods with a licence to bore: The leader writer

HERE they are, every day, saving you the trouble of thinking for yourself. Expert commentators on everything from Africa to Aids, Bosnia to the Budget, Clinton to the Church of England. Name any subject you can think of and the leader writer will produce the mot juste, the considered assessment, the Voice of Reason.

Observation shows them to be overwhelmingly male, probably because women have more useful things to do than stand on paper soap boxes. Not for the leader writers the grubby business of hard news, or even the comparatively refined world of features; they are the still small voice of calm speaking through the earthquake, wind and fire.

They would be mightily offended if they were likened to rent-a-quote talking heads on television or members of the public being vox popped. They are learned - an Oxbridge background is virtually compulsory - omniscient, full of wise saws and modern instances (they adore an apt literary reference). Whatever the argument at dinner parties, they will eventually murmur: 'I really must put you all right on this.'

Well, something like that. In fact, when you think about it, it's a funny old way to earn a living, even allowing for the fact that journalism is no profession for grown-ups. Anonymous in a world of by-lines, with a permanent licence to pontificate, it's like being an upmarket pub bore.

Editorials invariably betray themselves in the opening words. Some examples, with attendant analysis:

Until yesterday, few people had heard of Zemgogul . . . This includes the leader writer, who only became aware of its existence at morning conference. Since then he has found out (a) where it is; (b) how to spell its president's name; (c) its GDP and (d) vaguely what is suddenly happening there. He will now tell Zemgogul exactly how it should conduct its affairs.

Once again, we return to the subject of . . . We've been rabbiting on about this for ever, but nobody takes a blind bit of notice. Nor will they.

Maastricht . . . Any leading article that begins with the name of this town, or includes it in the first sentence, has a reader-interest period measured in seconds. Similarly: Common Agricultural Policy/ERM/John Selwyn Gummer.

Even now, the Government can change course . . . Westminster obsesses the leader writer, who touchingly believes that Annie's Bar speaks of little else but that morning's editorials.

There is an irresistible temptation to take a sly look at . . . Beware. This is going to be an attempt at humour.

Children can be amazingly perceptive . . . The leader writer's nine-year-old daughter is a precocious brat.

As G K Chesterton once remarked . . . When all else fails, plagiarise. Chesterton is actually a bit downmarket; most leader writers will acknowledge no author inferior to Wilde.

Mr Paul Gascoigne (colloquially known as 'Gazza') . . . This one has been written under protest and the leader writer would die rather than admit familiarity with popular culture.

The Women's Institute is an undervalued force for much that is valuable in our national life . . . It's August.

But/On the other hand/However/ . . . This appears at the halfway point of many editorials, and is followed by arguments entirely the opposite from those in the first half, at the end of which the writer tears along the perforation and disappears up his own contradictions.

Tabloid papers also carry leaders from time to time. The following generally appear in headlines of a type size you would have thought reserved for the Second Coming (the exclamation marks are mandatory):

You can see right through this rip-off] The editor has just received the bill for double-glazing his house.

Hop off you Frogs] France is defending its national interests.

Forget it, Fritz] Germany ditto.

It's pasta belief] Italy ditto.

No way, Jose] Spain ditto.

Land of hope and glory] Britain ditto.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Arts and Entertainment
tvThe C-Word, TV review
Arts and Entertainment
The Ridiculous Six has been produced by Adam Sandler, who also stars in it
filmNew controversy after nine Native American actors walked off set
Sport
Danny Jones was in the Wales squad for the 2013 World Cup
rugby leagueKeighley Cougars half-back was taken off after just four minutes
Life and Style
The original ZX Spectrum was simple to plug into your TV and get playing on
techThirty years on, the ZX Spectrum is back, after a fashion
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA celebration of British elections
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Media

Ashdown Group: Database Executive - Leading Events Marketing Company - London

£23000 - £25000 per annum + 25 days holidays & pension: Ashdown Group: Databas...

Recruitment Genius: Publishing Assistant

£14000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A fantastic opportunity has arisen for a...

Guru Careers: Graduate Account Executive / Digital Account Executive

£20k + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Graduate Digital Account Exec ...

Guru Careers: Print Project Manager

Competitive (DOE): Guru Careers: A Print Project Manager is needed to join one...

Day In a Page

'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
Welcome to the world of Megagames

Welcome to the world of Megagames

300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

Vince Cable exclusive interview

Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
Russell Brand's interview with Ed Miliband has got everyone talking about The Trews

Everyone is talking about The Trews

Russell Brand's 'true news' videos attract millions of viewers. But today's 'Milibrand' interview introduced his resolutely amateurish style to a whole new crowd
Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

It's time for my close-up

Meet the man who films great whites for a living
Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

Homeless people keep mobile phones

A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before
'Queer saint' Peter Watson left his mark on British culture by bankrolling artworld giants

'Queer saint' who bankrolled artworld giants

British culture owes a huge debt to Peter Watson, says Michael Prodger
Pushkin Prizes: Unusual exchange programme aims to bring countries together through culture

Pushkin Prizes brings countries together

Ten Scottish schoolchildren and their Russian peers attended a creative writing workshop in the Highlands this week
14 best kids' hoodies

14 best kids' hoodies

Don't get caught out by that wind on the beach. Zip them up in a lightweight top to see them through summer to autumn
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The acceptable face of the Emirates

The acceptable face of the Emirates

Has Abu Dhabi found a way to blend petrodollars with principles, asks Robert Fisk