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Fleet Street goes out with le whimper

An era's end in London passes with a shrug, and an insult or two.

“There’s nothing in them worth paying money for, especially as you can get it for free on the internet or in the freebies. I sometimes get The Guardian [a left-leaning broadsheet], but mostly I’ve got better thing to spend my money on.”

The latest calumny will also do little to halt plummeting sales that, as in the United States, have taken some papers to the brink of extinction — and, in one extraordinary development, led to the liberal Independent newspaper moving in with its ideological foe The Daily Mail to cut costs.

But, says author and journalist Chris Horrie — whose book "Stick It Up Your Punter" charts the behind-the-scenes burlesque of Rupert Murdoch’s Sun tabloid during the Margaret Thatcher era — today’s Fleet Street scandals are no sleazier than those of yesteryear.

“There are cycles to this, it comes and goes. The Victorian press was far more rude and offensive in many ways than modern tabloids.”

Horrie instead paints the British press as victims rather than violators, blaming the deregulation of newspaper cash cows such as sport, television listings and soft porn for stripping profits and putting the squeeze on the industry.

“Standards have gone down because of economics. Staff levels are smaller, the readership is smaller, and it is harder to make money.

Also very much the villain, said Horrie, is the taxpayer-funded British Broadcasting Corporation, which though revered overseas for its impartiality and the quality of its output, is reviled by a Fleet Street envious of its massive resources.

“The BBC puts out an ocean of news for free. News is like water and the BBC has got a huge news monopoly, flooding the country. Newspapers are left trying to con people by saying ‘we have also got this other water, but you can trust it because it’s special’.”

This desperate scrabble for readers is a far cry from the glory days of the 1950s, 60s and 70s, when Fleet Street’s finest would spend more time satisfying their bacchanalian thirsts in pubs such as Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese than worrying about scoops.

And as AFP makes its exit, many fallen heroes among a press corps not known for its tolerance of foreigners will no doubt be turning in their graves in Fleet Street’s St. Bride’s church at the realization that not only have the last journalists have left — but they were French.

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