Journalist’s First-Person Plural

Mark Easton for the BBC:

Do we have a completely mistaken view of what our landscape is like? … The lesson might be that we need to celebrate the truth about our green and pleasant land. Or perhaps it simply tells us we really should get out more.

This is a great example of what I think of as the Journalist’s First-Person Plural, that is, using “we” to mean “I, and the friend I spoke to while writing this”.

The article opens,

What proportion of Britain do you reckon is built on? By that I mean covered by buildings, roads, car parks, railways, paths and so on – what people might call “concreted over”. Go on – have a guess.

My wild guess was about one percent. So the actual figure of 2.27% for England, or 1.48% for the UK as a whole, seems rather worse than I’d hoped. I don’t really understand why we are supposed to find these figures surprisingly low, but then, I’m also only a sample of one.

(The area of the UK is a bit less than 250,000 km², so 2.5 × 105 km² or 2.5 × 1011 m². If 1% of it were built on and half of that was residential, that would be about 1.2 × 109 m² for 6 × 107 inhabitants, which is about 20 square metres each. My family of four lives in a flat of about 120 square metres which is one of six stacked on a single plot of land, so my instinct is to find that pretty believable. I didn’t do those sums until afterwards, though.)

Still, the rhetorical trick clearly worked on me—it’s got me reading the article and downloading the paper it describes, and I’m really keen to find out what else is in it. So perhaps it’s all for the good.