Sunday 23 September 2018

Mary Kenny: 'Only once during two decades was I told a column I wrote was unpublishable'

The human angle is at the centre of what we do: The inimitable Mary Kenny looks back over 20 years of her insightful writing for Weekend…

Mary Kenny, writer and author. Photo: Tony Gavin
Mary Kenny, writer and author. Photo: Tony Gavin

The French have a famous saying which I believe to be true: "The more things change, the more they stay the same." ("Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose.") Things change all the time, and dramatically, too. I hear people saying that there has never been so much technical change as we are experiencing now. The typewriter lasted 90 years: now our computers - let alone phones - are outdated within a twelvemonth.

Yet, in another way, things stay the same. Human beings don't alter. There's been a great fashion for Shakespeare and the Tudors over the past decade, and there was a powerful drama on BBC1, Gunpowder, about the delights of torturing English Catholics and their priests in the 1600s. Written by Ronan Bennett, the characters seem vividly contemporary (and Catholics sometimes still feel somewhat tortured for being out of step with political thinking). There's another aspect of plus ça change: every endeavour and institution has to change, and modernise, and yet it also has to maintain continuity. Evolution dictates that the law of survival is adaptation: but it is also about continuing to reproduce the species.

So it is with media, which has undergone dramatic changes over the past decade or so. There must be adaptation to new technologies. But there must also be continuity of content, of character, and of a sense of communicating with, and serving, the reader. Styles come and go out of fashion, but the central tenet of journalism remains: 'Remember the human angle.' Journalism is, as they say, the first draft of history: but it is also, compellingly, about people.

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