Richard Addis’s launch essay
By Richard Addis – (Last updated: 1 January 2011)
The idea for The Day was born out of an opportunity and an injustice.
The opportunity sprang from my sense that in the new century we had arrived at the beginning of the end of an era in mainstream media. It was increasingly clear that the industry in which I had worked for 30 years was dying. The great news machines such as the BBC, The Times, Reuters, Agence France Presse, The New York Times, Le Monde, The Daily Mail and so on were losing ground to a new ecosystem of much more informal networked information created by thousands of new voices and spread through instant messaging, social media and constant access to the web.
This was part of a wider movement in which our world was being turned upside down. The old certainty that life was a pyramid with a few at the top, more in the middle and most at the bottom, was no longer true. In religion, politics and the media, in particular, it felt like the pyramid was being inverted. Remember the “Arab Spring”? The doddery old men on the pinnacle in their shiny armour of command were transformed into cockroaches on their backs, spindly legs waggling in the air. Power surged outwards to anyone with a cell phone and a Twitter account. The idea of authority tottered and the personalisation of everything had begun.
And that wasn’t all. In one of those phases of the kaleidoscope in which everything shifts at once, all this was happening just as the world itself seemed to embark on a new level of complexification. In the first decade of the century the surges in globalisation, in the volumes of data, in population, in urbanisation, in human consumption and, as we saw in the global financial crisis of 2008, in interconnectivity – these were demanding a hugely more sophisticated awareness of our society and our planet.
The injustice was the evidence of my eyes after decades working in the media that the most important privilege in life is still in the lottery of birth. Many wonderful fathers and mothers of modest means pass on this privilege and many wealthy families pay for this privilege – the privilege of cultural capital, of everything you know that you are not taught at school, of confidence and curiosity and conversation. How many young men and women have come to me for jobs or advice who have the very best grades in everything they have done but are unfairly stymied by a yawning absence of “soft skills” and of the ability to create common ground with other human beings.
If this was genetically unavoidable, the educational equivalent of brown eyes or knobbly knees, it would be another debate. But the burning injustice is that it clearly is utterly avoidable. Where families don’t provide, schools and teachers really can. The evidence is all around us in some of our great independent schools, comprehensives, academies and colleges. And of course it is not an either/or equation. By far the best start in life is to have school and family working together to build a young person’s worldview and sense of who they want to be.
Another lesson that I noted in my career is this: the cliché that knowledge is power is, like many clichés, true. Consequently in the world of the inverted pyramid, the social media, the personalisation of everything and the proliferation of complexity, access to lucid streams of accessible knowledge is increasingly vital. These streams need to be as healthy, open and plentiful as drinking water.
When it comes to current affairs, for very understandable economic reasons the mainstream media is not ideally equipped to provide this education. Caught between industrial-scale costs and declining revenues as the attention of readers drifts after new online wonders, big media tries to make the same splash with smaller stones. Expert commentary and analysis is expensive and more profitably replaced by a cheaper stew of easily digestible sports/showbiz gossip with a few dumplings in the guise of big name controversialists. As always there are exceptions: in the UK, The Economist, The Week, the Financial Times, BBC Radio Four and others. But exceptions are not enough.
Both the opportunity and the injustice sparked the idea for The Day, which was launched in January 2011 as a daily online newspaper for teenagers focusing on the big issues that are transforming the world.
In an old warehouse on the banks of the Thames in central London, with a fellow journalist, Miranda Green, from the Financial Times, we set to work. We had very little idea what would happen, but gradually teenagers, teachers and families have responded with enthusiasm to the idea that, assisted by balanced and unpatronising journalism that makes few assumptions about prior knowledge, young people can become confident, engaged people and effective citizens of the world.
“Explaining matters” is our tagline. It serves a double purpose: to describe what we believe just as much as what we attempt to do.
We believe that explaining the news, or calmly taking a good look at two or three of the most significant happenings in the world on any given day, is an essential service in an age where the babble of opinion and the 24-hour streaming chaos of events can easily create confusion for most adults let alone young people.
We also believe that the most fulfilled and happy lives are spent learning. The best school is the school of life. To learn our history, maths, geography, literature, art and science from the wider world around us should start young and continue to the end of our days. The knowledge acquired this way is the right that should belong to all children, not just the privilege that belongs to some. Thinking for ourselves and being true to our best selves, is the right way to build a healthy society. It transforms our children’s chances in life. Ultimately it transforms the world.
We launched The Day for schools and colleges to help explain current affairs in short articles written and illustrated with great care by our own staff writers and graphic artists; to be a serious briefing service for everyone, not just the people at the top of the pyramid; to help replace the conversation many do not have at home; to pick out the underlying issues that are shaping the world; and to help readers ask good questions rather than believe they have the answers.
Our mission is to help students think about what they can see and hear around them in the news day by day; to learn to make the link between this and what they are studying and to understand the relevance and importance of knowledge; to think for themselves and talk about everything, to debate, discuss and research; to grow in confidence and find their own voice; and to become teachers themselves in their peer groups and families and among friends.
Big ideas. Too big, some might say. But ideas don’t have to be fully achieved to make a difference.
In our newsroom each morning our writers carefully choose which of the events in the news shine the best light on the undercurrents that shape modern life. We try to explain these events without bias in the best, most uncomplicated English prose we can write, backed up with illustrations, glossaries, further reading and discussion points. We try to pinpoint the essential debates that our stories raise, to leave our readers well equipped for debate or discussion.
Today we are a small, independent media company providing daily news to nearly a million subscribers every day, nearly all of them teenagers. We carry no advertising and no commercial messages. We help hundreds of thousands of young people from many different backgrounds form the regular habit of spending a few moments making the connection between the world of school and the wider world around them.
Like a certain famous chef who has campaigned for healthy food in schools, we campaign for clear and balanced knowledge of the world: an ‘apple a day’ for the mind.