Archive for May, 2011

Newsquest London – Mission Not Accomplished

May 27, 2011 Leave a comment

The latest news from Newsquest’s south London operations is worse than even the most practised of Jeremiahs had predicted.

As reports, 12 editorial jobs are to go. This includes the whole of John Payne’s Sport and Leisure team – the two areas which have managed to hold off the relentless tide of churnalism that has swamped most of the news teams (with one or two exceptions) .

The savagery of the proposed “downsizing” is a case of not so much cutting off your nose to spite your face, but both ears, an arm and a leg, and giving one eye a poke with a sharp stick.

It has been sad to watch the steady drip-drip-drip decline of the once thriving south London Guardian, Comet and Richmond and Twickenham Times series in the year and a half since I and others were made redundant, and I have commented on it before.

Caught woefully on the back foot and looking in the wrong direction by the rise of the internet in the late 90s and early noughties, a once complacent company has struggled to get a web foothold, flailing around blindly as one by one the main props of its advertising revenue – first jobs, then motors and finally property – ebbed away to the web.

Rather than meeting the threat with innovation and adaptation and, most importantly, meeting the threat locally, Newsquest’s web policy was decided nationally, and thus began an on-going game of catch-up in pursuit of  forever elusive goal. First it was just putting what was published in the papers up on the web (after the papers had hit the streets), then it was putting one or two stories up every day, then it was “web-first”, then community blogging. And so on.

What should have Newsquest done? Well I have several ideas, most of which are neatly encapsulated in Peter Sands’ 2007 article here  (second part is here).

Most importantly, Newsquest should have gone back to first principles, asking itself “what are we here for?” The answer is of course found in its name. But as the savage cut-backs in editorial staff show, Newsquest is spending less and less time and fewer and fewer resources questing for news.

By coincidence, I found my old “induction folder” from when I joined Newsquest way back in 1998. Inside is the following interesting document, the company’s “Purpose”, “Values and Beliefs” and the inevitable “Mission Statement”. It makes droll reading in the light of today’s news:


We are in business to provide our communities with valuable, up-to-date information on which they can depend to help make decisions and enrich their lives.

Values and Beliefs

o     We value above all our ability to win, satisfy and retain customers.

o     We take pride in our ethics and integrity: we are consistent, honest and fair

o    Commitments are to be fulfilled – “One time, on time, every time”.

o    We respect and are responsible to colleagues, customers and communities.

o    We live up to our stated high standards in dealing with them

o    We believe in continuous improvement, quality and consistency.

o     We expect a fair profit from providing a superior service at the lowest delivered cost

o    We value highly the enthusiasm, commitment, knowledge, skills, teamwork and integrity of our colleagues, recognising that our future is built on these qualities.

o     We value value and the ability to add it. Individual and team performance is measured by the value added above our minimum required standards.

0    We are committed to providing training and feedback to allow each individual to bring added value to their role, and to help them realise their full potential.

o     We believe in honest and open communication.  Our style is of accessibility and open doors, and making time to talk face to face to individuals about themselves.

We listen.


The first choice for trusted information serving the largest local audience

We will be household names for whole families and communities.    We will have more customers – readers, advertisers and users of our services – than any competitor. We will widen the gap in our market leadership.

Our employees will say this is the best company they have worked for.  We will feel that our colleagues are the best we could have.

Our competitors will envy us.


Today, the company’s “Mission Statement” is shorter, blander and rather short of specifics (scroll down to the bottom). The careful reader will note there’s none of that “we value highly the enthusiasm, commitment, knowledge, skills, teamwork and integrity of our colleagues” and “Our employees will say this is the best company they have worked for” nonsense. They may still be listening, but they sure ain’t hearing nothing.

As staff in Sutton and Twickenham now know to their cost, there’s a reason for that.

The Indy’s magical monarchist moment

May 18, 2011 1 comment

Her Maj’s historic (© all newspapers, airwaves, bandwidth) to Ireland dominates the front pages of the heavies today, but one particularly stood out from the newspaper rack I passed this morning.

Most went for the traditional “beautiful handbag and smiling hat” pictures. The Times:

Front page The Times

The Guardian:

Queen in Ireland The Guardian

The Torygruff takes another tack, going for a deep, tightly cropped headshot, but none too successfully:

Queen in Ireland The Telegraph

(Instead of looking out of the page, if she had been facing the other way, toward the lead story on les travails de Huhne, it might explain what she’s laughing at.)

But best of all for its unusual, striking treatment and its witty pairing one historic event with another is The Independent:

The Queen in Ireland The Independent
Excellent treatment, though maybe the headline should have read ‘One small step for a Ma’am’
I’m not sure how this will play with the Indy’s kneejerk anti-monarchist readers, but from a purely page design point of view, its the equivalent of the Crown Jewels.
The tabs mostly ignored the event, apart from the Mirror, which had this laboured and baffling sidebar pun:
The Queen in Ireland Daily Mirror

Yer wot?

Contempt charges: ‘Twas ever thus

May 15, 2011 2 comments

I’m not going to comment directly on the news that the Attorney-General, Dominic Grieve, has brought contempt of court charges against the Sun and Daily Mirror over their Joanna Yeates coverage, since the matter is now clearly sub judice, other than to raise a quizzical eyebrow that a certain national daily newspaper we might all have expected to be included has not been. But the matter is now firmly one for m’lud.

Instead, I wish to turn to a particular instance of journalistic history. By happy coincidence and through the auspices of the Raynes Park Public Library, I happen to be reading Judith Flanders’ rather good The Invention of Murder: How the Victorians Revelled in Death and Detection and Created Modern Crime. I’m currently engrossed in Chapter Two, Trial by Newspaper, in which she outlines a particularly juicy and sensational murder, that of William Weare, on or about October 24, 1823 (so it actually preceded the Victorian age by 14 years).

Briefly, the facts of the case were that the victim, who claimed to be a solicitor who lived in Lyon’s Inn (once an Inn of Chancery), but who seems to have earned his living through more rakishly Regency occupations such as waitering, billiards-making, gambling and promoting crooked fights, fell in with John Thurtell, a failed mercenary (during the Napoleonic Wars), failed cloth merchant, failed publican and failed gambler, but who considered himself a “man of the fancy” – ie, a prizefight promoter. A star-cross’d bout, as Shakespeare might have said if he were a man of that particular fancy.

Weare arranged to go for a weekend’s shooting with Thurtell and his friend Joseph Hunt at Gill’s Hill, now part of Radlett, Hertfordshire, staying in the cottage of William Probert, a spirit merchant who seems to have run a lucrative sideline supplying dodgy credit. It was later alleged that Thurtell was the perpetrator of a murderous conspiracy involving Hunt and Probert to kill Weare and relieve him of the enormous wealth (about £2000) he was rumoured to habitually carry about with him.

The weekend seems to have run with all the smoothness of a Ben Travis farce – Thurtell arrived before Hunt, whom Probert had dropped off at an inn to await Thurtell, who was waiting for Hunt at the cottage etc – but it ended in tragedy for Weare, who was shot in the face, then bludgeoned to death before having his throat slit, being stuffed in a sack and dumped in a nearby pond. This was not the end of his indignities: the perpetrators later recovered the body and then dumped it in a pond in Elstree. The proceeds were rather less than the expected £2000 windfall – about £15, plus a few trinkets.

Disposing of Weare's body woodcut

The "perps" either disposing of, or retrieving, Weare's body. Or both. Or something. Pic from The Invention of Murder, Judith Flanders, pub. HarperPress

The police – in the form of the Bow Street Runners – arrested Thurtell, Hunt and Probert. Hunt quickly grassed, and fingered Thurtell as the main man. You can read the rest of the case in Flanders’ book, or, if you must, on Wikipedia, but what I’m interested in is one particular newspaper’s coverage of the case at this stage: ie, after arrest, but before trial.

This newspaper, says Flanders, ran a “stream of vitriolic – and completely unsubstantiated – stories” about Thurtell. On November 6, for example, it said: “Thurtell is reported to have been with Wellington’s troops at the siege of San Sebastian, where he lurked behind the lines to murder and rob a fallen officer.” According to the newspaper, Thurtell boasted:

I thought by the look of him that he was a nob, and must have some blunt [money] about him; so I tucked my sword in his ribs, and settled him; and found a hundred and forty doubloons in his pocket!

Readers commented that 140 doubloons would be more than a soldier could easily carry from a battlefield. At this remove it’s hard to tell, since at the time “doubloon” seems to have referred to any gold coin of Spanish origin. But it’s interesting that the newspaper’s readers were prepared at this stage to call it up on what they judged to be over-excitement in what was clearly an excitable age.

Not that it stopped this particular paper: it also reported that an airgun in the shape of a walking stick had been found in Thurtell’s lodgings. Nothing more was ever heard of this cunning device, but no matter: the paper later reported that a James Wood, supposedly Thurtell’s rival for the fair hand of Miss Caroline Noyes, the sister of Probert’s wife, had been evilly lured into a trap in a tenement where he was attacked with a pair of dumbbells – and, wouldn’t you know it – such dumbbells had been found in that building.

As if that were not proof enough, the paper reported that Probert had testified (note that this is still before the trial) that Thurtell “had picked out  17 persons of substance that he intended to rob and murder, and that [Weare] was one of them.” The other 16 obviously had a lucky escape “from the late horrid conspiracy”, the paper noted.

Another who had a lucky escape was one Sparks, who had declined to go into business with Thurtell, thus evading by the skin of his teeth “a horrible doom, which otherwise, in all probability, awaited him”.

As far as this paper was concerned, it was all done and dusted when a week later, and still to come to trial, it pronounced Thurtell, Hunt and Probert as “the guilty culprits.”

The question of the day is: which newspaper is this?

Clue: It’s not the Sun, nor the Daily Mirror, nor the other paper I hinted at previously. None of them were around at the time.

Award yourself a fluffy toy if you guessed it was this.

FOOTNOTE: The Weare murder trial inspired many a rhyme, something that is sadly lacking today. One such was:

They cut his throat from ear to ear,
His head they battered in.
His name was Mr William Weare,
He lived in Lyons Inn.

William McGonagall eat your heart out.

The Thurtell case is also memorable for the testimony of Mrs Probert who, when asked “Was supper postponed?”, replied “No, it was pork.”

Toryguff’s Oz subs face crack-down

May 15, 2011 1 comment
Australian police crack down on boozed-up idoits"

About time too...

There may be a lesson here: if you offshore your subbing, perhaps it’s best not to do it to a nation that “clearly has a drinking problem.”

Must tell Tim Worstall about this: I know he’s a keen collector of Telegraph Oz sub-prime subbing.

Heff leaves Torygraph ‘to pursue journalism’

May 12, 2011 Leave a comment
Simon Heffer to leave Telegraph

Heff decides to leave it, not lump it

His words, apparently. Well, according to the Guardian, anyway:

Simon Heffer, the formidable Daily Telegraph columnist and ever vigilant scourge of style guide transgressions, is leaving the paper to “pursue a role in journalism and broadcasting”.

So he leaves a national broadsheet daily to “pursue journalism”. Fascinating, and perhaps careful,  choice of words. But he expects to find that  in…broadcasting?!?!?

Say it ain’t so, Heff.

UPDATE: Actually, I think I espy a job opportunity here. I’m going to email Tony Gallagher and offer my services as the Toryguff’s new style guide guru. “Last week we referred to a baronet as a ‘peer of the realm’. Please note that baronets are not peers, but gentry, as are knights”…yeah, I’m pretty damned hot on that sort of stuff. I think I can include about 200-odd references from my last employment who would back my application.

What the AV vote says about the media

May 11, 2011 Leave a comment

OK, I know the AV referendum is soooo last week, but I beg indulgence, since it was the subject of a refreshingly honest comment by Robert Crampton in yesterday’s Times (behind ₱a¥wa₤₤).

He notes that his borough, Hackney, recorded the highest yes vote of any place in the UK. While throughout the country, about 70 per cent voted No, in Hackney more than 60 per cent voted Yes. Similarly, Islington (56.9 per cent), Haringey , Lambeth, Southwark and Camden all voted Yes.

As was noted by Professor Tony Travers, director of LSE London, in the Evening Standard, all these boroughs form the chaterati heartland of the capital. Indeed, if you wanted to draw a map of such a heartland, it would look pretty much like this (the green bits):

London borough AV referendum results

Just say Yes: Green indicates boroughs voting for AV, pink (50-65%) and red (above 65%) against

It would also stand as a map of London’s mediapolis, where dwell the vast majority of editorial staff encountered in the national media.

Crampton asks the thoughtful question: “What does this statistic [about the Yes vote in Hackney] tell me about my neighbours?” And he truthfully replies:

Quite simply, it tells me that politically, as well as socially, demographically, ethnically, economically, educationally and just about every word ending with -ally I can think of, where I (and an awful lot of other journalists, columnists and commentators) live is radically atypical of the rest of the country.

And the sucker punch:

What we write should be read with this in mind.

Indeed. The sort of thing you should keep in mind when on May 2, you read the BBC political editor Tim Donovan opine:

Clearly, in its size and influence, the London electorate could yet make all the difference.

Wikipedia’s war over Pippa Middleton and Dreadful Americanisms

May 11, 2011 Leave a comment
Pippa Middleton

Pippa Middleton: Many Wiki-munchkins don't want to give her one (her own page on Wikipedia, that is)

Behind the scenes, there is currently an intense debate going on at Wikipedia over whether Pippa Middleton deserves a page entry on the all-for-one encyclopedia as “Notable”.

A page dedicated to her which went up on the site was subsequently deleted by an over-enthusiastic wiki-munchkin of a republican bent who obviously thought that being the sister of a future Queen was no justification for making Pippa a Notable. Cue outrage from those – presumably mostly from this side of the pond, though you can’t tell unless you sat there doing pingbacks on each commentator – who think that relationship, plus the fact that over week after That Wedding, Miss Middleton continues to fill the news pages, airwaves and social media bandwidth.

The whole debate is quite smirkily amusing in a geeky, look-how-the-saddo-half-live sort of way, though I did find the following exchange funny:

Edit request from Lelegirli, 30 April 2011

the word organize is misspelled.

Lelegirli (talk) 19:24, 30 April 2011 (UTC)

No its not, in British English, organise is spelt with an s–Jac16888 Talk 19:39, 30 April 2011 (UTC)

Some popular forms of British English do use an -s- instead of a -z- in “organize”, but more traditional British English (including Oxford English) uses a -z-. I am old-fashioned English and always use a -z- for “organize”, “realize”, “antagonize”, etc. Moonraker2 (talk) 22:57, 30 April 2011 (UTC)

Lelegirli, you started your sentence with a lower case letter, which is incorrect. You also spelt mispelt as “misspelled” which is the American spelling, so I assume you are from the USA and probably unaware that anything else exists beyond that country. But just to let you know that there are differences between American and British spellings, and both are acceptable on Wikipedia. See here: WP:AmE. Childrens do learn. (talk) 14:03, 1 May 2011 (UTC)

As Wikipedia was originally an American initiative, U.S. English is preferred, but there is an exception for specifically British topics. (talk) 13:11, 6 May 2011 (UTC)

You might as well argue that as the US was originally a UK initiative, UK spelling is to be preferred. Ericoides (talk) 21:10, 7 May 2011 (UTC)

And answer to that came there none…

Should the Guardian give up its unhealthy obsession with Justin Bieber?

May 10, 2011 1 comment

The Pythia of Journalism has a revealing post comparing various national papers’ “audience” divided into print, web and “social media” (for which read: Twitter).

It contains this infograffiti,  taken – inevitably – from the media blog de nous jours, The Media Blog:

Newspaper audience: Print + Web + Social

A deeply interesting infographic that examines how the readership of...ooh, look - butterfly!

Pythia, using all the accumulated knowledge of grub street back stabbing and opportunistic job-hopping that today secures you a sinecure as “Professor of Journalism” at City University London, opines thusly:

As Sturgeon readily concedes, it’s only a snapshot. But it is revealing all the same. Note, for example, the Daily Mail’s enormous reach in print and online compared to a relatively small social media (Facebook and Twitter) following. The Guardian, by contrast, has almost as many social media fans and followers as it has daily visitors to its website. Its reach is, arguably, more penetrating.

Well, that’s one way of looking at it, I suppose. Another way of looking at it might be this, and this. And comparing it with this.

But that’s by the by. Let’s look at another of Pythia’s points, which is that the Guardian’s reach is, arguably, more penetrating. In what way could the Guardian’s obsession with Twitter be more arguably penetrating?

Justin Bieber

Justin Bieber: Arguably more penetrating

Oddly, I think I found the answer in Sam Leith’s Arts Column in yesterday’s…well, Guardian 2, actually:

My current favourite fact about human civilisation is that fully 3% of all activity on Twitter consists of conversations about [Justin] Bieber. That is, 3% of an entire communicative medium – on which any and every idea in human history can potentially be discussed – is spent on talking about Bieber.

Could it be that a lot of the Guardian’s arguably penetrating social media reach is really just twittering about an 18-year-old Canadian pop singer with backwards-facing hair? Does a good 3% of that dark blue block next to the Guardian in the graph above actually comprise furrow-browed Guardianistas earnestly tweeting each other about the recent egging of Justin Bieber in a Sydney concert hall?

I do not pretend to know. But if so, the Guardian must stop this arguably more penetrating obsession.

UPDATE: More on the Guardian’s twitter obsession. Apparently, according to Frédéric Filloux, news coverage of the death of Osama bin Laden showed how news organisations “have mastered social media such as Twitter”.

Quite apart from ignoring the fairly mundane fact that however you get the news – via Twitter, Facebook, heard it from a bloke in the pub or messenger pigeon – you still have to do the routine, basic journalistic work of verification and actually writing it up into readable prose, Filloux unwittingly betrays the extent to which media organisations are in awe of shiny new media while forgetting those first principles.

For instance, he links to this startling piece of infograffiti (I use that phrase to indicate that, like graffiti, it gives more pleasure to the perpetrator than the hapless viewer). It purports to show how news of the terrorist’s death was spread via Twitter:

How news of Osama bin Laden's death was tweeted, allegedly

An amazing in-depth infographic of how Osama bin Laden...ooh, look - flower!

Wasn’t that interesting? Well actually, no. It is, in the useful phrase of P J O’Rourke, informationally subtractive: you know less about the subject after looking at it than you did before.

I’m going to alert Peter Sands to this particularly egregious example of the infograffitist’s art, as he has a good blog posting on this sort of nonsense.

The globalisation of Kelvin MacKenzie

May 10, 2011 Leave a comment

An interesting photo from Friday’s Metro London edition:

Woman in Indonesia holding up t-shirt with face of Osama bin Laden, labelled Gotcha!!!

Not even the world's No 1 terrorist escapes the long arm of Kelvin

Funny how a much admired/despised Sun front page about a long ago dispute in a territory of which we know very little should still resonate so many years on and so many thousands of miles away.

Osama bin Laden dead – are we there yet? No. Show us the meat.

May 2, 2011 1 comment

The BBC's Katty Kite-kat despatches the news of Bin Laden's death in the approved Mark Thompson-fashion, without excessive bleached hair flicking

At the moment of writing, I’ve not looked at what any of the nationals are saying about today’s big news, but am merely flipping between BBC News 24 and Sky News 24. Both are breathlessly asking the same question: did Pakistan know? And if it didn’t know, what does that mean about US-Pakistan affairs? Was Pakistan sheltering the evil beardy be-turbanned one? Was the USA – under its touchy-feely, hopey-changey president Obama – actually acting as the hegemonist, imperialist, capitalist foe of old? I can hardly wait to read tomorrow’s Guardian to find out what I should think.

But then I don’t know what to think until we have that Heinrich Himmler/Che Guevera moment: show us the body. There’s an obvious, long-proven fake picture doing the rounds on the internet. There are (again internet) rumours that the US security forces took pictures (hardly unlikely, since pictures formed part of the evidence that proved he was who the US forces claim he was). And here is where photography comes into its own: a still picture is what we want, not a jerky, handheld, unfocussed, amateurish, camera-phone YouTube clip. We’re not after Karsh here, but give us something.

But to return to the Beeb and Sky’s frantic question – did Pakistan know – as an armchair student of history, may I offer two scenarios:

1) The Eichmann scenario. Pakistan did not know, the US planned and carried out a successful, surreptitious operation right under the noses of the Paki secret services, much as Mossad did under the Argy noses to snatch Adolf Eichmann and later try him for his war crimes in 1962.

2) The Cuban Missile scenario: JFK, through RFK and secret channels to the USSR, negotiates a way to take the world back from the brink of nuclear war, giving up missile bases in Turkey for the Russkies’ withdrawal from Castroville. Both huff and puff for the media, but the deal is stuck to.

Now there may be a third scenario I haven’t thought of, but, hey, I’m just going according to history and trying to learn from it. (Mind you, when you think about it, it’s those who do learn history who repeat it most often. Usually to baleful effect.)

But I know which the two above scenarios I tend toward. It’s just we won’t know whether I’m right until future announcements – perhaps in a several years when they come to light – regarding the US (and Nato) and Pakistan. But you read it here first.

PS: Why, on both the BBC and Sky News reports, did I not hear the word: “Wahhabi”? Why do I suspect I shall not see the word mentioned much in the nationals tomorrow? I suspect the Guardian shall leave me sadly wanting in this respect. So I won’t know what I should think.