Monday, June 11, 2018
A woman in her late twenties; smart, fairly articulate and seemingly rational, told a reporter she had bought a carton of fast food and found a mouse in it. Not a live one. One that was dead and presumably just a little cooked. I say, presumably, because she no longer had it. She’d been advised to return it to the caterer’s head office for closer inspection and had brought this to light for all the right reasons; not for compensation, but to public-spiritedly warn others. The reporter was not massively experienced but had all the right details in the right order: where the woman bought it, who served her, how she had opened the carton and “almost fainted” when she saw what was in there, returned to the counter, how the sales staff had “reeled in horror” at the sight and how their line manager had followed procedures by instantly sealing it in true forensic fashion and sending it off.
Thursday, June 07, 2018
It’s not often a magazine celebrates having to make a correction, especially when announcing something as important as a death. But Cornwall Today did just that last month, reporting its own demise on the announcement that Trinity Mirror was due to close the county-wide title after 20 years.
Monday, June 04, 2018
The troll abuse meted out to court reporter Stephanie Finnegan for daring to actually do her job and break the story of English Defence League founder’s imprisonment is beyond beyond ludicrous. Finnegan received threats and her colleagues at Leeds Live faced abuse after they and The Independent successfully challenged reporting restrictions in the case against Tommy Robinson (real name Stephen Yaxley-Lennon). The judge had originally intended to defer reporting until after the verdict until persuaded to change his mind. His verdict appears on the face of it to have been the right one. But, for me, two disturbing aspects emerged. Firstly, the hypocrisy behind the backlash – Robinson got 13 months for, of all things, contempt for live-streaming details of a trial which was itself subject to a blanket reporting restriction. And even worse was the fact that his supporters actually felt they had a cause for such indignation. If the regional media still had the resources to fill the press benches every day, instead of having to cherry-pick the few cases they can afford, open justice would never be seen as such an audacity in the first place.
Wednesday, October 18, 2017
Captain greybeard, aka ex-Mirrorman John Honeywell, who quit a few years back to devote himself to writing about life aboard cruise liners died this week, I learn. There’s a nice piece here by Dave Monk that describes well the making of the bon viveur we both knew as an assistant editor on Today a few short decades ago. He includes a quote I can hear him saying: “Any day at sea is better than a day in the office.”the Pacific Princess but, after much agonising, decided the ship as it was then was not quite child friendly enough for a family man; something he happened to mention with a sense of angst as he arrived for his shift. I just happened to be the one sitting opposite when he told the travel editor Sarah Whitfield King who was keen we didn’t pass up the cabin they’d reserved for us. Thus, I spent ten nights on a sun-lounger in the Med while Britain took the worst battering from gales in a generation and John stayed behind on a five-man beck bench in Vauxhall Bridge Road recording the whole thing. His loss. My gain, I suppose. But it's fair to say he probably more than made up for it. And deservedly so. As news execs go, they serious didn't come any nicer. And you'd have to run up a serious amount of sea miles before you found anyone willing to argue with that.
Thursday, October 12, 2017
Editor Sarah Cox's understandable outpourings on the closure of her newspaper struck a chord with me. I used to edit a local rival to her Bedfordshire on Sunday which, sadly, closed by Trinity Mirror last month. The BoS as it is, or rather was, known locally, was replaced by a midweek paper staffed by so-called “community content creators” as part of wider changes throughout the Trinity group. Cox reacted to the announcement by Tweeting: “Goes without saying my team and I are devastated about closure of [BoS]. Unfathomable. We need a strong local press more than ever.” And who can blame her? This was, after all, one of the last newspapers of a dying generation that actually prided itself on holding those in public office to account. It was founded by Frank Branston, a former People reporter, in 1977, five years before I became editor of the (yes, also now long defunct) rival, the Befordshire Journal. It changed hands a few times. He sold it to Iliffe News and Media when he became the town's mayor, Local World had it for a while after it absorbed Iliffe and it became part of Trinity Mirror when it took over Local World in 2015. Back in the eighties when I was there, competing with my free paper against the bigger, paid-for Bedfordshire Times, one of the biggest challenges as a tabloid was matching the sheer tenacity of Frank's approach to local news – and his unerring ability to get under the skin of a town with a massively diverse population and equally large scope for all sorts of dodgyness worth exposing. Occasionally, when we broke something big that got the nationals interested, our local critics (and we broke enough to gain a few of them) would accuse us of being “a bit too BoS”. I only ever saw that as a compliment. I haven't seen it for a while but did note Cox's comment that “losing a newspaper which is not afraid to be hated, ruffle feathers and annoy advertisers comes at a high price” which suggests that those old habits had lived on until the end. I was also struck by the fact that she had taken the editor's chair six years after doing her work experience there. I, too, was a teaboy-turned editor back in the day, albeit on different papers. Interestingly, one of those for whom I did fetch tea and run errands as a teenager, I later went on to hire to run my sports pages when I did finally make the editor's chair. Anyway, such a shame. RIP, BoS. Cox will do well, doubtless. She doesn't sound like someone to let the grass grow under her feet. And certainly not someone afraid to voice an opinion. Rather like her newspaper.
Monday, October 09, 2017
Every year when I'm prepping for a module on news production, I end up seeking howlers to put in front of students to demonstrate the pitfalls they'll face. In the old days when subs desks were places to aspire to they were hard to come by and, rather than resort to the timeless classics, I'd have to make them up. As I did on Friday when showing undergrads at Westminster how Jacuzzi would probably sue if a generic headline named a no-brand spa bath as one of theirs as being faulty or how car crash with no injuries cannot be carnage. the decapitated head. Note to students. Head in Latin is caput. To decapitate means to cut off the head. You can decapitate a body, not a head. Take a bow, the Telegraph, Independent and Time for noting the head had been severed. Ironically, one of the things I always tell students at the start of these classes is this – read the papers. All of them. All the time. It's the only way the styles will become familiar and you'll get into good habits.
Friday, March 17, 2017
George Osborne’s appointment as editor of the Evening Standard, odd, daft even, as it may seem, is in one way, little more than the natural progression of modern journalism. And it speaks volumes for where those with the power to hire and fire seem to see the role these days. There's clear conflict with his job as cheerleader for investment fund but he won’t be the first senior hack to have held high office in politics. After all, most of us have done our fair share of moonlighting, even though we didn’t get paid £650 for a day a week. Conflicts abound even if here is merit in having the capital’s premier publication toughing up as a battering ram against Theresa May’s runaway Brexit rollercoaster. But it’s not a part-time job and should be far more than just something to fit in between Commons, constituency, and consultancy. David Miliband responded to the news by Tweeting that he was about to be named the next editor of Heat magazine. Tim Farron joked he should apply to edit Viz. Joking aside, at least they would be more do-able, given their lead times and publication cycles. Osborne inherits a seriously strong editorial team. He will have to learn fast if he is to impress them. And to do that he'll have to put in the hours and treat it with the respect it deserves and not as a high-profile and comparatively low-paid indulgence. Either way, the issue is less about where it leaves the Evening Standard, more a case of what it says about the way we see newspapers these days.