The Beast by Alexander Starritt – Review
By Helen Johnston
As hysterical headlines go, the fictional Daily Beast’s ‘Muslims declare war on Britain’ is scarily close to what we’ve seen on real life news stands in recent years. Starritt’s razor sharp observations of the way national newsrooms operate are as terrifying as they are funny as he takes aim against the tabloid Press.
Anyone who has worked in a large daily newsroom will recognise instantly the characters inhabiting the Beast’s offices. There’s the god-like editor, the world-weary sub-editors who have seen it all before, the hard-bitten news editor, and the new members of staff who haven’t yet got comfortable with the idea of twisting the news to fit a rabid political viewpoint.
It doesn’t take much to figure out which paper The Beast is parodying, with Starritt having worked on The Daily Mail, and it’s easy to imagine that the kind of frenzied conversations going on amongst the Beast’s staff are merely an echo of real newsrooms.
The story of how The Beast nails the biggest scoop of all time begins when veteran sub Jeremy Underwood returns to work from holiday and spots two burqa-clad people loitering outside the paper’s offices.
When he eventually mentions this to colleagues, he sets off a chain of events which lead ultimately to terrible tragedy – and a worldwide exclusive.
The Beast immediately springs to life doing what it does best, pandering to the paranoia of its middle England audience, inciting xenophobia and religious prejudice.
As scary as it is to discover how unsubstantiated rumour becomes ‘fact’, there’s also a certain amount of awe for the talent and sheer audacity of skilled newsmen and women who know their trade, and their readership.
Starritt’s scrutiny of the tabloid news machine had me laughing out loud with the kind of in-jokes and gallows humour probably only journalists will appreciate.
He shines a spotlight on the fierce competitiveness between newspapers to be first with the story, and the same competitiveness among the reporters to be the first in their newsroom with the latest scoop.
He also recognises that the might of print and the thrill of working to a deadline is being ever-diminished by online news, as foul-mouthed Beast editor Charles Brython acknowledges that this exclusive could be the last great hurrah for the paper.
This is a page-turner of a novel which will have journalists nodding in recognition, and non-journalists cringing in horror at the expert manipulation of news stories, and the people who read them.
‘The Beast’ by Alexander Starritt is published by Head of Zeus, £8.99 paperback