Archive for the ‘Pythia of Journalism’ Category

Ode to Roy Greenslade

October 26, 2011 Leave a comment
Roy Greenslade

Roy Greenslade: Trust me, I'm a professor

Hypocrisy flows as freely through Fleet Street as the river Fleet that give it its name once flowed (before it got clogged with human and animal effluent, bodies, shopping trolleys and the 18th-century equivalent of copies of Heat and the Evening Standard).

But there is cheerful Fleet Street hypocrisy and there’s cynical hypocrisy which reveals a nastier side of the writer’s soul: the latter being the sort that makes you want to physically deposit human effluent and shopping trolleys over what you have just read.

Tonight’s Evening Standard provides just such an example of the latter, with the Pythia of Journalism, Roy Greenslade, pontificating thusly under the headline “Why I believe it’s all over for James Murdoch”:

Rupert Murdoch’s son James is a busted flush…[bore, fart etc…much stuff about the House of Commons media select committee. Finally…] At every turn, the name of James Murdoch will continue to feature in headlines. He cannot run and he cannot hide. His game is well and truly up.”

Well, OK. If you say so Roy. Those of us with a longer memory of yesterday’s chip wrapper (and indeed can remember when newspapers were allowed to be yesterday’s chip wrapper) recall times when your antagonism toward Murdoch had a slightly more, er, financial angle.

So here, with apologies to Lewis Carroll, is a little poem:

“You are old, Father Greenslade,” the young man said,

“And with Robert Maxwell you once were so tight;

Yet you stand on your head to attack Murdoch J. —

Do you think, at your age, it is right?”

Exactly what beef does Roy Greenslade have with freedom of speech?

August 30, 2011 Leave a comment
Editorial in south london guardian

Bring back hanging: Greenslade doesn't approve

The Pythia of Journalism has jumped on his high horse and is waving his red knickers in the air. A mixed metaphor, I know, but an arresting image which I hope you will forgive once you know the facts.

The object of Greenslade’s outrage: that the group editor of Newsquest south London – publishers of the Surrey Comet, Richmond Times and various freebie Guardians and websites across SW London – that this self-same group editor, Andrew Parkes, should dare pen and let alone publish an Editorial in  – get this – Local Newspapers! Shame on him! For hath it not been written in the First Book of Greenslade: No editor (or editrix) of a newspaper be it ever so local or ever so humble shall comment – on pain of a thunderbolt from the slightly wonky eyes of Pythia himself – on any subject which may affect (NOT “impact on”, mind) their readers.

Pythia opines: “It is virtually unprecedented for local papers to publish hysterically right-wing opinions.” Yer-what? Unprecedented? Since when? Local papers do not often swim into Greenslade’s ken then, although that doesn’t stop him pontificating on them. There have been “hysterical” right wing local papers as long as there has been “moronic” left wing local papers.The Guardian started out as a local paper, Greenslade, in Manchester, don’t you know. Guess in which camp most thinking people place  your “local” newspaper, Roy. And the call for a debate on capital punishment  predates Parkes’ editorial. But for Pythia, who obviously does not agree with capital or corporal punishment, it won’t do, it just won’t do.

Pythia’s stupidity is betrayed by this: “In view of the riots, it was to be expected that papers – especially those publications serving areas hit worst by the looting, vandalism and arson – would urge that the people responsible should be brought to justice, and even to say they should be dealt with firmly.”

Greenslade: get out a copy of your AtoZ and look up Croydon. I know it’s sarf of the river and you and your mates at the Guardian probably don’t have an idea where that ghastly area may be. But you might remember that it was the centre of some pretty serious riots. Does the name “Reeves” mean anything to you? Croydon happens to fall within Parkes’ circulation area. It is one of those which was “worst hit by rioting”. On that basis, you tell Parkes to shut up?

Greenslade: you are an arse. And what’s more, you’re a left-wing, champagne socialist arse, who if someone suggests something that isn’t in the diktats of the bien-pensantry of N1 must be shouted down. The odious hypocrisy of someone writing a blog about journalism seeming to call for curtailment of freedom of speech, using a droit de seigneur command of “Oi, you yokel locals – know your place!” is pretty sickening, frankly.

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.

Japan’s earthquake causes massive media meltdown

March 20, 2011 Leave a comment

Well, that was fun, wasn’t it? There’s nothing like an increasingly, hysterically ramped-up nuclear Thermageddon to get the blood going and cut one’s coat to suit one’s cloth.

That’s until the bubble of hysteria bursts, and the so-called “facts” you have been ramping your story up with all week collapses under the weight of their unbelievability and your own lack of verification in that cold hard world which we call the Planet Earth. Whereof nuclear meltdown? Wherefore art thou The War Game? Thank God – or Allah, or Yahweh, or Squawking Dawkins, or whoever  you believe in – that good ole Mad Dog’s arrived to deliver the goods! We meeja types can look the other way and tell everyone else: never mind that – LOOK AT THIS!

The attention of supposedly grown-up, adult media outlets has shifted from something which most desk-jockey journalists know nothing about (nuclear physics) to something which most desk-jockey journalists know less about (war), but which clearly provides more exciting footage they can ooh and aah over. And, in the way desk jockeys who today pass themselves off as journalists (and vice-versa) do, they will deliberate, cogitate and digest. Though there’s likely to be little of  the former, less of the middle and even scarce of the latter.

So that’s all right, then. Except it isn’t. Because I suspect what we’ve seen over the last week with coverage in Japan, we’re going to see with Libya – in spades (and more probably in Spads).

There are certain types of people who see opportunity in a fog of uncertainty. But they do not see the chance to enlighten, inform, explain, to shine the cold, hard light on the fog and reveal the truth. Rather, they see the fog as a cover to disseminate rumour, unfounded “facts”, their own beliefs and suppositions and anything else which will grab popular opinion, to expand and confound the miasma and – let’s face it- achieve a hidden motive.

In wartime, we call such people “black propagandists”. Their job is to spread misinformation, purportedly from a reliable source, but which serves another hidden cause. The hidden motive is, of course, to disinform and demoralise the enemy so as to easier victory for the propagandists’ side.

In peacetime, we call such people “24-hour rolling-news journalists”. Their job is to spread anything which on the face of it may count as information, purportedly from reliable sources, but which always has a hidden cause. These causes are increased sales (for newspapers), increased viewers/listeners (for TV and radio) and increased website hits (for web-based newsites, which in most cases include both the former media). Unlike black propagandists, they do not seek to intentionally mislead. But nor do they have anything to do with the truth as an end in itself.

With the Japanese earthquake, the media rubbish started early. That’s OK: it was a massively disruptive natural event, most obviously to those who endured it, but also to those of us who have assumed the task of conveying that event to others. There is chaos, lack of normal communications, trying to co-ordinate pictures, words etc. Plus there’s always the very real possibility that your on-the-spot reporters not where they reckon they are.

So I can – almost – forgive the BBC for captioning this picture – included in an online  photo-series called “Japan earthquake: A week in pictures “- as Sendai, the city “that was home to several million people”:

Um, Sendai? Up to a point, Auntie Beeb

Almost, except it’s not.  Sendai was home to about a million people and indeed still is, since apart from its coastal areas, it remained largely unscathed by the quake. Unlike our own dear small coast town of Minami Sanriku, pop. 19,170, 50 miles away, which this picture actually depicts and which, lying just 55 miles west of the quake’s epicentre, received the full force of the ensuing tsunami. The Telegraph got it right:

Minami Sanriku: Not to be confused with anywhere else (unless you're taxpayer funded and couldn't care less)

OK, so far so good. But this is Japan, right? Land of  Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and , er, things like the Emperor, the tea ceremony and Godzilla. They must know something about everything nuclear. And if they’re panicking, well – what are we waiting for?

Well, either this:

or this:

I do not know “British mum” Keeley Fujiyama, but I wonder if she is closely related to my old Sun mate “Del Keyboard”. (A keen mountaineering amateur photographer, he always reckoned there wasn’t a Fuji he couldn’t mount.) She said: “On Tuesday, the radiation levels in Tokyo were ten times above normal and people started to panic.”

Except they weren’t. On Tuesday,the radiation levels in Tokyo were less than were emanating from the bananas in the combined plastic bags on the editorial floor of Wapping Towers. Stay in Tokyo would be my advice, love.

But apparently if our doughty British mum “Keeley Fujiyama” had stayed in Tokyo, she would have been lonely.

The “Tokyo Ghost Town” then became the big story. With this:

and this

and this:

One doesn’t have to have much beyond third form science to read this stuff and think: “Hang on on, this doesn’t make sense, but I’m not sure why but I want to find out. It’s not like I’m Stephen Fry and have to suck up to that nice chap from D:Ream to get some sort of contract to make people think I know something, do I? Or do I?””

The Independent, meanwhile, leavened its boilerplate “Thousands flee Tokyo” story with an intriguing non-factoid:

Some have heard that the Emperor has abandoned the city for Kyoto, Japan’s ancient capital, though there is no evidence that it is true.

The Indy’s intrepid David McNeil, reporting from “the spooked metropolis”, endeavours to use all his journalistic wiles to get to the bottom of this:

“That’s not what concerns me,” said Yutaka Aoki, a taxi driver who works the area around Shibuya Station.

Well, maybe he was more worried about the perigee “super” full moon, as reported by the Sun:

Sun headline Dis supermoon cause quake?

Sun grasses up Moon: Man cheesed off

Now look: it was possible to find real, grown-up, scientific news about Fukushima, though you had look hard to find it in the mainstream media (such as this article in the Guardian). Even on March 13 – two days after the initial disaster – The Australian Age was reporting this.

But mostly, if you wanted fact-based, non-sensational, balanced news about what was happening at Fukushima, you had to go outside the MSM, and on to websites such as The Register, World Nuclear News and ANS Nuclear Cafe, and bloggers who knew what they were talking about, such as The Captain’s Journal, with its excellent primer.

The point is, these alarmist MSM reports do have an effect, far beyond the temporary lift in sales or viewing figures. While wild talk of “meltdowns” – near or otherwise – and “radioactive plumes” may have little effect on the home populations in the UK and the US (other than scaring the bejaysus out of them), they do have a knock-on effect on those folks who really close to the heart of the action, ie, Japan.

It’s a little-considered consequence that was picked up by Mariko Sanchanta in this excellent article in WSJ:

Many Japanese are going about their daily lives and routines as normal. In sharp contrast, many foreigners have left after being deluged with phone calls from relatives pleading them to leave Japan after watching and reading media reports in their home country.

Sanchanta points out that part of the disparity between what was going on in the Japanese media and the rest of the world’s hyperventilation might be due to subtleties lost in translation:

Contributing to the perception gap is the difficulty translating certain nuclear terms that have different meanings in Japanese and English. Top Japanese government spokesman Yukio Edano kept using the Japanese word “yo-yu,” in reference to the fuel rods in nuclear reactors, which means the rods are melting. However, many journalists translated this term as “meltdown”, which has much different implications and stirs up strong emotions.

Typically, the Pythia of Journalism has cast his gimlet eye over both Japan and Libya and managed to get things completely wrong.

There are several things to say about the momentous coverage of two momentous stories this past week. That while ordinary people have fled Japan’s danger areas and Libya‘s battlezones, journalists – sometimes at real peril to themselves – have tried to go to the heart of the crises.

No, Mr Preston: “ordinary” people did not flee Japan’s “danger areas” unless they had to – in fact it seems most of them stayed put – and journalists transparently were not at the heart of Tokyo, nor in Fukushima, nor in Minami Sanriku, nor, I strongly suspect, will they be so much in Tripoli. I suspect “ordinary” people will be. “Ordinary” people are usually the ones caught up in these sorts of things, aren’t they, and they don’t have the bulwark of tax-evasive media company expenses to soften the blow or get them the hell out of there.

But isn’t that the tea-time bell, Mr Preston? After you’ve had a cup of tea and a nice slice of Battenberg, we’ll have a chat about this marvellous thing called the interwebs and cut’n’paste and quoting anyone no matter who they are, what they know or whom they represent and calling them an “expert” and vomiting them out into 24 hour rolling news reports. That’ll be nice, won’t it, Mr Preston? Best have a lie-down first, though. May I plump up that cushion for you?

But while I’m doing that, maybe you might like to ruminate on these words from Lewis Page at The Register, who strikes a welcome note of Hominem te memento in his reflection on exactly how your battlezone journalists covered the Japanese nuke story:

Personal bootnote

As one who earns his living in the media these days, I can only apologise on behalf of my profession for the unbelievable levels of fear and misinformation purveyed this week. I have never been so ashamed to call myself a journalist.

After the last week, I know just how he feels. That’s been the real meltdown.

The Guardian: We’re green, you’re fired. But you like us, you really like us

July 5, 2010 Leave a comment

Turns out The Guardian – home sweet home of perennial climate change cuckoo George Monbiot – has an Executive Editor (Sustainability). No surprises there.

In case Branson hasn’t been on the telly recently (haven’t seen him since the election – now, why is that?) and your life is bereft of beardies, his name is Jo Confino and this is what he looks like:

Jo Confino

Hi, I'm Jo, and I'm sustainable

In a page the Guardian slipped under the radar in true Jo Moore style, Jo Confino says this:

Our long-term ambition is to be carbon positive – going beyond carbon neutral and positively affecting climate change. We aim to do this by influencing individuals, companies and governments as well as setting challenging targets in operations we directly control.

Stop sniggering at the back there, Hitchens. Liddle, put that fag out – that’s not what Jo means by carbon positive. He’s going beyond carbon neutral, right? He’s carbon positive! (Park the SUV round the back, will you Toynbee, there’s a good chap.)

He means:

Through our editorial coverage and business activities, we hope to demonstrate to readers, staff, advertisers, suppliers and our communities that Guardian News & Media is committed to enhancing society’s ability to build a sustainable future.

Worthy aims. And how best to enhance society’s ability to build a sustainable future?

Cost-cutting and redundancies across the business have shaken the culture of GNM. While job losses are difficult in any circumstance, they have been felt more keenly at GNM as its ownership by the Scott Trust has meant the company has in past economic downturns been able largely to avoid job cuts.

Oh-oh. And? And??

Despite this upheaval, the latest employee survey showed there was a widespread acceptance of the need for the company to respond to the difficult economic climate; 86% agreed that restructure and cost-cutting was necessary – £26.2m in 2009-10 – to respond to changes in the media industry.

So the people you’re firing like it, right?

And? And?? And??

All this and more is there in the report, the full version of which, warts and all, will be published online tomorrow (

Eagerly, I went to the Guardian’s sustainability page and saw this:

Guardian supports Malawi sex workers

Didn't see this job advertised in Guardian media

Now if I was a Guardian journalist with enough sense to read between the lines of Sustainable Jo’s greenery yallowery twiggery, I would see there’s a big, sustainable and carbon positive airplane coming with seat P45 reserved just for me.

But I would also demand paid, extensive – nay, exhaustive – training before I was flown away to this particular position they’re advertising in Malawi.

Typically, the Pythia of Journalism says not a word. Twit.

First, bedeck your own house with a logo

June 25, 2010 1 comment

Good Housekeeping logoIn his blog today, the Pythia of Journalism ™ urges his readers to click to this article by Jim Barnett on the NeimanLab site, saying:

Barnett argues that “journalism non-profits could use something like a Good Housekeeping seal”… It is “a test of relatively simple, objective standards to which compliance could be demonstrated plainly.”He believes that the seal would indicate in a public way that the outlet was “making every effort to produce reporting that qualifies as journalism.” Read more…

What is it about Freedom of Speech that Greenslade doesn’t understand?

June 8, 2010 Leave a comment
Helen Thomas

Helen Thomas: "Have I had my tea yet?"

The Pythia of Journalism™, Roy Greenslade, has worked himself into a right old huffingtonpost about the furore over “doyenne of the White House press corps” Helen Thomas and her remarks about Jews in Israel.

While graciously if condescendingly conceding that Thomas’s comments that the Jews should “get the hell out of Palestine” and go “home” to Germany and Poland were “quite simply, a disgraceful, thoughtless and indefensible” and that, at 89, Thomas had had “a long run, after all”, it’s not that she’s been fired by Hearst that has him jumping up and down on his Guardian soapbox waving his Comment is Freedom Pass: Read more…