Waking up this morning, I turned to radio and television for updates on the Polish disaster, then bought the newspapers. Wish I hadn’t.
Both the Sunday Times and the Sunday Telegraph splashed a grinning jockey on their front pages. The Observer featured a third-party leader and his wife. Two papers noted the Polish tragedy in a squib beneath the fold. The Observer found no space for it on its front page.
Even in the most retrained light, this was an event that defined an epoch and will redound for generations. It is the first time in living memory that the governing elite of a large country has been wiped out – the first time, perhaps, since Stalin’s Katyn Massacre of the Polish intelligentsia, which the neighbouring nations were about to commemorate after almost seven decades of Russian denial.
The repercussions for Polish-Russian relations and for the balance of power in Europe are incalculable. In much the same way as football is shadowed by the 1958 Munich crash that destroyed the Manchester United team, politics in Europe will never be the same again.
Yet none of the British Sunday newspapers saw fit to change their lineup in the 24 hours before publication, dropping some articles and shrinking others to make space for detail and analysis of the terrible event. Columnists would have been called back from the races to write a fresh op-ed on the developing situation.
A decade ago, editors would have followed their news instincts and cleared the front pages. Today, the watchword is ‘resources’. When an event of historic magnitude hits the desk 12 hours before publication, there is no money, no flexibility, no reckless pursuit of journalistic enterprise. Editors stick to the flap plan. Managers count the beans. And readers are left in the dark. At moments like these, the newspaper industry declares its redundancy.