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NEWS14 March 2018

Ian Hislop on satire and instinct

Impact 2018 Media News UK

Closing the first day of the Market Research Society’s Impact 2018 conference, Private Eye editor, author and broadcaster Ian Hislop talked of journalism, satire and making enemies.

Hislop (pictured) talked at length about the Private Eye and the changing nature of its type of journalism.

“We do jokes and journalism and a mix of the two. Tell them things they don’t know and then make a joke about it,” he said.

And where once the scandal was in sex, it’s changing. “In the end the staple of political stories were affairs. Being unfaithful to wives became less shocking.”

So now, Hislop has said the scandal lies in “the interface between commerce and politics”. And the rise of private finance initiatives (PFIs) has been particularly prevalent here. “The idea that you outsource everything is madness. It’s grotesque – capitalism with its worst face on.”

Trust is vital for Private Eye. “The reason we get stories right is because the story is told to us from people in the middle of them. It’s about getting people to trust us and then running it.”

There have been plenty of politicians who have come under the critical focus of Private Eye – never a comfortable place. But Hislop thinks the new wave of politicians is more sensitive than those of old.

“People who have come into politics recently seem to be appalled that people disagree with them.” And in general, he’s unhappy with a trend – increasingly fuelled by social media discourse – to not like anyone who holds an opinion different to yourself. “You might not like the Daily Mail but that doesn’t mean you close it down – don’t buy it, disagree with it.”

This is part and parcel of emotions over-riding facts. “People are keen to identify the truth by whatever they feel at that moment.”

When it comes to understanding his audience and readers, Hislop doesn’t engage in research, opting for gut instinct. “We have no scientific basis – it’s entirely by instinct. We do get a lot of feedback from the readers; it’s a kind of club.”

Marc Brenner, interviewing him asked, do you want to know more about your readers? “No”.

He said he knows more about his advertisers “because there are fewer of them”, before admitting that if any companies did want to advertise in Private Eye they would have to be “robust”.

And in a media landscape awash with digital-first strategies, Hislop is resolutely old school. “We still believe in print. We’re not offering it digitally. We have a belief that journalists and cartooning work best in print and you should pay for them.”

Lambasting the idea that you can have quality content for free, he added. “It costs £2 an issue and we’re employing 50 brilliant people.”

Despite the apparent downward spiral of news and depressing world outlook he says he’s basically optimistic.  

“A lot of it is cyclical. I’m interested in satire and history – I don’t get too panicked when a story comes around again. People say Trump is the biggest liar in history – well, have you seen Mussolini? I don’t think this is the first time this has happened.”

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