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Radio review: Paper Cuts and Reasons to be Cheerful

21 July 2023

Twitter/Paper Cuts

The political sketchwriter Rob Hutton on the podcast Paper Cuts

The political sketchwriter Rob Hutton on the podcast Paper Cuts

THE news has been all about the behaviour of news outlets and a certain newsreader. So, what better place to go for critical analysis than a new podcast that “reinvents the traditional newspaper review format” and delves into “the madness, the strangeness, the obsessions” of journalism?

That podcast is Paper Cuts (released three-times weekly on all the usual podcast platforms). With Miranda Sawyer in the chair, and backed by an array of grown-up advertisers, the product feels solid and mainstream — so much so, that one would be hard-pressed to differentiate between the commentary on Paper Cuts and half a dozen other newspaper review shows.

So far as last week’s big story was concerned, there was the same desperate desire to know, if only then to express sympathy; and the same frenzied pivoting between contempt for The Sun and outrage at the BBC. As for humour, the Paper Cuts contributors rely on the tried and tested strategy of quoting Daily Star headlines, but with just enough self-protective irony.

In the three episodes to which your reviewer listened, there was only one moment of genuine self-examination to raise the show above your typical digest format: when Rob Hutton, of The Critic, spoke of the trials and tribulations of the footballer Dele Alli. The suspicion is that the Everton midfielder’s recent revelations about his abusive childhood came as a pre-emptive strike in advance of threatened tabloid stories.

This led Mr Hutton to reflect on his own days as a doorstepping reporter, and the demands placed on wannabe journalists to get the scoop, at whatever the cost. Without this kind of honesty, we cannot trust the newspaper-review show any more than we can trust the newspapers themselves.

If you have been around in Podcastland for more than a couple of years, you are a veteran; and Reasons to be Cheerful (released every Monday), in which Ed Miliband and Geoff Lloyd engage in seamless banter and the occasional serious interview, has its status firmly established. Reaching an effective balance between inconsequential chatter and focused content in a podcast is an essential skill, and relies on an understanding of the audience’s attention span.

The subject of last week’s show was, therefore, pertinent: the “attention economy”, and how attracting and maintaining attention is the priority for all media. We heard from a “technology ethicist” whose decade-long employment at Google had shown him how the business world was run by “click data”; and the seasoned campaigner for idleness Tom Hodgkinson, who preached the virtuous and unrealisable benefits of switching off and zoning out.

At moments, Miliband and Lloyd remind themselves of the premise behind their show; and out of the hat their guests will produce something vaguely comforting. On this occasion, the rabbit was distinctly undernourished. The internet was still in its infancy, our man from Google reassured us, and there is still a chance to save it from itself. But this in itself was an unconvincing distraction from a tired and careworn magician.

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