Monday 16 November 2009

The Journalism of the Future

There's a fascinating article in the future tense on the front page of today's Times. It begins:

Gordon Brown will fire the starting gun this week for a general election campaign that could run for six months. He will outline a programme of populist measures in the Queen’s Speech and challenge David Cameron to support them.

The Prime Minister is to emphasise his determination to carry on governing with a political programme designed to exploit Labour’s differences with the Conservatives on health, education and the economy. He will use Wednesday’s speech to reveal plans to provide free care at home for about 350,000 of the neediest people and to tear up “risky” bankers’ contracts

In the 1960s Michael Frayn tried to write a novel entirely in the future tense. It was called A Very Private Life and it began:

Once upon a time there will be a little girl called Uncumber...

But Michael Frayn, master of the English language, smasher of literary idols, couldn't keep it up. He just wasn't good enough. After a few pages he switched, defeated, into the present. The Times, though, is far better than that.

Reading the article, one almost feels that Gordon Brown exists as nothing more than an excuse for the writer to display his virtuoso use of tenses; and if that is so, Gordon Brown should feel honoured. The lazy insouciance with which, after five paragraphs of Delphic futures, the article switches to the past tense in the first line of the sixth is as harsh yet hearty as Eric Pickles himself. Then in the seventh paragraph there is the dreamy sprezzatura with which we ease seamlessly into the present tense with three soothing participles in a single sentence.

With Labour trailing heavily in the polls, Mr Brown is pinning his hopes on a long election campaign focusing on an expected economic recovery and public services.

I challenge anybody to read the article and not be reminded of Coleridge's panchronological "ancestral voices prophesying war".

Except The Times is better.


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