“It’s not the words, Bill, it’s the pictures. Picture sells a thousand words. No one buys the fucking paper now anyway. It’s all about clicks and shares. Citizen journalists. Anyone can take a photo on their iPhone and it’s in the Mail. You get writing the subhead and be glad you’ve got a job.”
Do you know the feeling of vibration, shaking the floor, when the washing machine is on? Imagine that, a million times over, the whole building pulsating, from concrete floor to corrugated ceiling. That’s what it’s like when the printing machines are on, and they’re always on, and the sound courses through my skull, my spine, right down to my toes. There’s a back-up generator, the news must get out, and I’m used to it now, the spin and the rattle and the crunch and the click, the beat as familiar as that of my own heart.
And like coming to shore after a sea voyage, missing the sway, they say, it don’t feel right when there’s no vibration, no clacks and whirs, and that’s something I never thought would happen.
They said they could see it coming. I didn’t. Sure, things changed. They stopped charging for the Standard, had to after all those free papers took off. But it was still papers, wasn’t it? More of them, if you judged by the tube at the end of the day. Someone should have done something. I mean, what about the jobs? There were hundreds of us, even with the move to Wapping. Thousands if you counted the men selling papers all across town. Papers needed people, people would always need papers, or that’s what I thought.
The building sounds lost now, or maybe I’m lost without the noise, unused to hearing my footsteps echo, and it wasn’t just machines, there was always a shout going up, people coming in, vast reams of paper being delivered, processed, printed, chopped, folded, and taken away again by the fork lift truck. It’s all gone, now, and next week I’ll be gone too. We don’t need a caretaker for an empty building, they said. Don’t take care of it, no-one needs it, it’s all about cutting costs. I sit half way up the metal staircase, watching the machines lying still, and feel my heart thump in my chest.
The news will still get out. No early morning paper boy, it seeps now, rather than thuds. It’s a silent swipe, and you’ll see what someone else has read, and follow the story, click and share, but then it’s time for a quick game of Candy Crush and what Gina did last night and you’ve gone again.
The news will still get out, but you can select what you want. No need to plough through grim items about Gaza, economic analysis of the cost of going into Syria, of bombing Iraq. Deselect, it’s gone, and all you see is cats stuck in blinds, news of the bake off, and is it really news if Diana did, or didn’t take Ian’s ice-cream from the freezer?
You choose what you consume. Don’t get indigestion.
‘Swan holds up traffic’
“Look, Mum, its wings are as wide as that lorry.” Click, click, share.
“Bet it caused a real traffic jam.”
“Can you imagine picking up a swan, isn't she brave? I wouldn’t want to work for the RSPCA.”
“No swans here, anyway, and who’d stop for a seagull?”
“Well they can fly, they wouldn’t need picking up.”
“Can’t swans fly?”
It’s thrashing in her arms, strength enough to break a bone she’s heard, but she’s not scared, it’s her job. She grips more tightly, too tightly, and the swan goes limp.
Sound poem images are from Macchina tipografica (Printing Press) by Giacomo Balla