For a while now I've been irritated by the new-look Independent: the red ink; the celebrity obsessions, the Mail-style white woman corner on the front page; the Express-style headlines; the fact it's a quid, and isn't really worth that by any stretch of the imagination; but, above all, the fact it used to be rather good, and now isn't.
Tony Blair used his final speech as PM to slag off the Independent as a 'views paper' not a newspaper. He didn't slag off the Mail for pursuing an anti-Muslim agenda, nor the Express, nor the Sun; he decided it was much more important to have a bash at the Indy for sometimes saying things that he disagreed with. Which made me think: for a newspaper to have pissed of the Prime Minister, of whatever party, so much, it must have been doing something right; and it must have been carrying out that strange alchemy which we call 'journalism'.
No longer. Today's front-page splash is the kind of tedious wank that you'd expect to get in the Mail or Express - not in terms of content, as I think it's trying to make a liberal point, but in structure it's just the same as the bullshit you'll find in the other mid-market scream sheets. In other words, the Indy has given up being what it was, the paper that pissed off the Prime Minister; now it wants to be a slightly left-of-centre Mail/Express.
So there we are. And the story itself is written just as a Mail/Express one would be:
The number of children born behind bars has almost doubled since Labour came to power, with new figures showing women prisoners currently giving birth at nearly four a week.
Is it really that significant a leap from two a week to four a week? Is that statistically relevant, or not? But what pisses me off is the 'since Labour came to power', a classic Mail statbollocks story, implying that some great causal change came about when Labour got in.
And now I present you with this:
Figures from the Ministry of Justice show that 283 children were born in prisons in England and Wales between April 2005 and July this year, an average of 1.7 a week. But 49 babies were born between April and the beginning of July this year alone, almost four a week, meaning the 2008 total could reach nearly 200 if births continue at the same rate, more than double the 64 prison births recorded in 1995-96 before Labour came to power.
"If this carried on at exactly the same rate, then this would happen" - yes, I'm sure it would, but what point are the Indy trying to make? That more crims are getting pregnant? Or that more pregnant crims are being banged up? I think it's the latter, but do the figures really prove that? Yes, if X, Y and Z happened then that would be double the 1995-6 figures, but does that prove that there's a policy in place to imprison pregnant women regardless of the effect on them? I'm not so sure it does.
Prison reformers demanded that women should be locked up only in extreme circumstances, saying that keeping mothers and young babies in prison can harm young children and does nothing to cut crime.
I think that should read 'pregnant women', otherwise it's not really making sense. Anyway, you know the headline...?
Number of babies born in prison soars
I know it's a bit pernickety to point this out, but:
Officials say women do not give birth inside jails – except in medical emergencies – and they offer special units to provide a calm environment for babies to bond with their mothers.
Well 'babies born to women prisoners but not actually in jail' wouldn't quite fit the headline box, would it?
I don't know. Time was when you'd hope a story like this would be illustrated with a testimony from a woman prisoner who'd given birth, quotes from people at the sharp end, not just official sources in dusty offices preparing neat little press releases; that was the sort of thing the Indy used to do, and it was a good read. Now it's just the same desk-chained re-heated bollocks of stats + quotes = easy story. It's pretty sad to see it in a newspaper that used to be good.