Simon Hoggart

January 6th, 2014

Today's Guardian commemorated the passing of their parliamentary sketch writer Simon Hoggart by reprinting some of his finer moments. I always liked Hoggart best when he turned his attention to some of the less consequential figures From the back benches:

"Does Sir Peter Tapsell actually exist? I ask the question following his own question – nay, speech – on Wednesday, which was magnificent. It could have been a pastiche of the perfect Tapsell address.

I imagined his words being carved into tablets of polished black basalt, mounted in the British Museum, etched dee

p so that even the partially sighted can feel their way to his eternal wisdom.

Possibly Sir Peter is a mass thought form, created by Tory MPs, for whom he recalls their party as it used to be, and Labour MPs, who wish that it still was. Certainly it is true that the whole House looks forward keenly, yearningly, to his every word.

When the Father of the House arose in the middle of prime minister's questions, a great throb of excitement ran along all benches, rather like the moment in a Victorian seance when the eerie manifestation of a dead Red Indian appeared above the fireplace. This moment of glee was followed, as it always is, by a hushed and expectant silence."

– 14 September 2011

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Oh, (Little) England…

December 31st, 2013

The Daily Mail in a Nutshell:

DAILY MAIL IN A NUTSHELL: Top rated comment - refuses to read... on Twitpic

[Via Memex 1.1]

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'The problem is mass media doesn't have time for small stories'

July 3rd, 2013

David Hepworth says that when it comes to journalism the genius is in the details:

I met a bloke about five years ago who was a TV producer with an interest in music. He said something which made an impression. "All the macro stuff's done. The future is micro, if only you could find a way to pay for it."

There were a couple of moments in last night's Quiet Word evening […] when I saw what he meant. […]

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June 16th, 2013

Alex Hern reckons that #guardiancoffee is the future:

Journalism is dead. Come on, we all know it. The only problem is that it's also kinda useful.

[Via Martin Belam]

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The Grenade of Understanding explodes

November 16th, 2012

Matt Taibbi invited his readers to write a parody of Thomas Friedman's latest column on Syria. His readers rose to the challenge:

[By Richard Rollington]

Iraq was fisted by the United States, and on experiencing such explosive pleasure knocked over a china cabinet while ejaculating acid. Syria's on her knees begging to be next.

Succinct, and surprisingly faithful to the spirit of the source material.

There's a longer, even better, entry quoted by Taibbi, depicting Friedman as Schrodinger's columnist.

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The Newsroom 2, Broadcast News 7

April 30th, 2012

So there I was, having just watched the second trailer for Aaron Sorkin's The Newsroom and feeling quietly optimistic that it might be a pretty decent show.1 I've always liked Jeff Daniels, the supporting cast looks fine – not to mention that Jane Fonda looks to be having fun playing her ex-husband – and at least this subject matter might provide a better backdrop for Sorkin's concerns than Studio 60… ever could.

Then I happened upon a comment thread at Ta-Nehisi Coates' weblog devoted to discussing the show's prospects, in which a commenter by the name of jkrusequirk linked to an excerpt from a film about TV journalism that I haven't thought about2 in quite a while but which set the standard Sorkin should aspire to.

I'm referring, of course, to Broadcast News. How the hell did I forget Broadcast News? More to the point, what are the chances Sorkin can reach those sort of heights? Now I'm apprehensive all over again…

[Trailer for The Newsroom via Pop Loser]

  1. Once it finally turns up on DVD over here. See my previous post for more on that issue.
  2. Or seen, come to think of it. In what sort of world does pablum like Picture Perfect show up on free-to-air TV in the UK multiple times a year, whilst we're lucky to see Broadcast News once every 18 months or so?

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The Newsroom

April 2nd, 2012

It's a pity that Aaron Sorkin's new HBO show The Newsroom will presumably be corralled behind the paywall of Sky Atlantic over here in the UK until we finally get a DVD release some time long after the first season ends.12 The trailer for the first episode looks very decent.

[Via Pop Loser]

  1. See, for another example of this phenomenon, Game of Thrones. I've watched six out of ten episodes through at the moment, and it's going to be a long wait for the season 2 box set over here. But well worth it, I'm guessing. Tyrion Lannister is already a bit of a legend, obviously, but I have high hopes for Arya Stark. Please let her grow up and knock some sense into Joffrey before the story is done. Is that too much to ask?
  2. On the other hand, if The Newsroom fizzles out in a season like Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip then at least we'll most likely know it before we're being invited to stump up the cost of a box set.


One bullet wouldn't do the job

January 15th, 2012

H.L. Mencken, in response to a request for advice on how to become a magazine editor:

25 January, 1936
San Fransisco, California

Dear Saroyan,

I note what you say about your aspiration to edit a magazine. I am sending you by this mail a six-chambered revolver. Load it and fire every one into your head. You will thank me after you get to hell and learn from other editors there how dreadful their job was on earth.

(Signed, 'H.L. Mencken')

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You have to remember that Slitheen is a surname…

November 21st, 2011

Apparently, Martin Belam found the experience of editing a compilation of the Guardian's articles about NuWho a tad unnerving:

I'm terrified of errors. Not formatting errors – because it seems to me the process of publishing ebooks has been carefully calibrated to maximise the chance of errors creeping in. They are just a given.

No, I'm terrified of Doctor Who errors.

[Story about the process of deciding how many actors have portrayed The Master on-screen. It turns out that the answer is six. Or possibly seven.]

You see how tricky it is? Neither number is satisfactory. For a bunch of people ready to suspend disbelief to the point that a 900 year old Time Lord can travel anywhere in time and space in a battered old police box, Whovians can be incredibly pedantic about the show. Me included.

It's an interesting look at the challenges of filleting more than half a decade's coverage of the show to produce an ebook of around half that length whilst ironing out odd little stylistic inconsistencies.

I've bought a copy. No doubt I'll have read a significant portion of the material when it was first published, but I'm willing to spend £3.45 to enjoy it again and catch up on what I missed. Also, if this project is a success Martin Belam would like to do a similar compilation of the Guardian's coverage of ClassicWho: I'd very much like to read that.

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Moral panics in perspective

August 17th, 2011

Talking of the lessons of history, The Economist's Bagehot columnist provides a much-needed sense of perspective, largely drawn from a 1982 book called Hooligan: A History of Respectable Fears by Geoffrey Pearson of Bradford University:

"Hooligan" compares the 1958 and 1978 Conservative Party annual conferences. In 1978, buffetted by calls from the floor for a return to the birch and "Saturday night floggings" for football hooligans, it notes, the future home secretary William Whitelaw pledged a new regime of short-sharp-shock Detention Centres modelled on army discipline.

And in 1958? The agenda included a debate on a "disturbing increase in criminal offences", and speakers asserting that "our wives and mothers, if they are left alone in the house at night, are frightened to open their doors", and that "over the past 25 years we in this country, through misguided sentiment, have cast aside the word "discipline", and now we are suffering from it". Delegates fumed over the "leniency" of modern courts and the way that young people were "no longer frightened of the police". Over calls from the floor for a return to flogging, the home secretary R A Butler pledged a programme of building short-sharp-shock Detention Centres, wherein "there should be a maximum of hard work and a minimum of amusement."

Still, no African-American rap music to corrupt the young, at least. Alas, "Hooligan" notes, the country was in the grip of a moral panic about rock and roll. In a 1956 front page editorial, headlined "Rock 'n Roll Babies" the Daily Mail declared:

It is deplorable. It is tribal. And it is from America. It follows rag-time, blues, dixie, jazz, hot cha-cha and the boogie-woogie, which surely originated in the jungle. We sometimes wonder whether this is the negro's revenge.

[Via James Nicoll]

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August 5th, 2011

Want to freak out a newsroom full of college journalists?:

Sit them down at manual typewriters and ask them to plunk "2011" onto a piece of paper.

They'll only make it halfway.

"Mine's broken!" one reporter at Florida Atlantic University yelled a couple of Saturdays ago, when we launched the inaugural ALL ON PAPER project. "There's no number 1 key."

"This one is busted, too!" yelled another.

"They're not broken," I replied. "Manual typewriters didn't have a number 1 key. They used a lower-case L instead."

"Seriously?" asked the first reporter. […]

"That's totally fucked up!" declared the second. Those same words have been repeated often these past two-and-a-half weeks, as we've embraced pre-computer technology to publish the last summer issue of FAU's student newspaper, the University Press. […]

[Via Feeling Listless]

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Nothing ventured, nothing gained.

July 17th, 2011

Robert Fisk remembers working at Rupert Murdoch's Times:

He is a caliph, I suppose, almost of the Middle Eastern variety.

You hear all these awful things about Arab dictators and then, when you meet them, they are charm itself. Hafez al-Assad once held my hand in his for a long time with a paternal smile. Surely he can't be that bad, I almost said to myself – this was long before the 1982 Hama massacres. King Hussein would call me "Sir", along with most other journalists. These potentates, in public, would often joke with their ministers. Mistakes could be forgiven.

The "Hitler Diaries" were Murdoch's own mistake, after refusing to countenance his own "expert's" change of heart over the documents hours before The Times and The Sunday Times began printing them. […]

[The paper's foreign editor…] dispatched me to editor Charles Douglas-Home's office with the Reuters story and I marched in only to find Charlie entertaining Murdoch. "They say they're forgeries, Charlie," I announced, trying not to glance at Murdoch. But I did when he reacted. "Well, there you go," the mogul reflected with a giggle. "Nothing ventured, nothing gained." Much mirth. The man's insouciance was almost catching. Great Story. It only had one problem. It wasn't true. […]

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June 8th, 2011

Katherine Goldstein on being a fact-checker for Cosmopolitan:

I had to track one guy down about his story of how sweet it was when his girlfriend brought him soup when he was sick. I read him the one-line blurb.

"Well, I wouldn't exactly say she was my girlfriend," he replied with a scoff.

"Um, OK," I stammered. "Perhaps 'the girl you were dating' would be more accurate?"

"Ha, well, I guess you could call her that. Hey, also, can you add in a part about what we did after she brought the soup?"

"Um. What do you mean, add something?" I asked, perplexed.

"How about something like, 'She brought me soup and it gave me the strength to be a man with her all night long'?"

I breathed into my stammering silence. "Um, well. No. I can't add that," I said diplomatically. "You aren't writing the story, and neither am I. I'm just trying to confirm if this original quote about the soup is accurate."

"Really? You can't add that?" He asked with indignation. "You know, my mother is going to read this. I want it to look good!" He said with no trace of irony.

[Via clusterflock]

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(Im)Perfect in every way

May 18th, 2011

The Daily Express can shut up shop now, having published what amounts to the platonic ideal of a Daily Express front page.

[Via Prog Gold]

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Orcrist the Goblin Cleaver

May 9th, 2011

Probably the greatest newspaper correction ever published:

Correction: May 8, 2011

An item in the Extra Bases baseball notebook last Sunday misidentified, in some editions, the origin of the name Orcrist the Goblin Cleaver, which Mets pitcher R. A. Dickey gave one of his bats. Orcrist was not, as Dickey had said, the name of the sword used by Bilbo Baggins in the Misty Mountains in "The Hobbit"; Orcrist was the sword used by the dwarf Thorin Oakenshield in the book. (Bilbo Baggins's sword was called Sting.)

Not that I follow baseball, or had read the original report, but reading this I can't help but ask myself "Would I have noticed their mistake?" I have a horrible feeling that I would have.1

[Via The Awl]

  1. I don't think I'd have remembered whose sort Orcrist was, but I'm pretty confident that I'd have known that Bilbo's sword was Sting, and – for bonus points – that Sting was handed down to Frodo and was used by Sam to would Shelob.

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May 6th, 2011

Phil Gyford on a thoroughly unreliable estimate:

If you ever get that sneaking suspicion that too much of the authoritative-sounding facts in the news are mindlessly made up, it's great when you find evidence of this. Everyone from the Daily Mail and the Sun, through the Croydon Advertiser and Shropshire Star, on to CNN, the Daily Telegraph and the Guardian blindly reported that "an estimated two billion people" watched the royal wedding.

Whenever real journalists complain that bloggers – mere amateurs! – couldn't possibly do the work of professionals who have been through proper training, it's exactly this kind of nonsense that permits you to stare at them, silently, before giving a little giggle and walking away. […]

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Sickos Wanted. Apply Within.

March 23rd, 2011

Best. Job Ad. Ever!

We want to add some talent to the Sarasota Herald-Tribune investigative team. […]

[If…] you're the type of sicko who likes holing up in a tiny, closed office with reporters of questionable hygiene to build databases from scratch by hand-entering thousands of pages of documents to take on powerful people and institutions that wish you were dead, all for the glorious reward of having readers pick up the paper and glance at your potential prize-winning epic as they flip their way to the Jumble… well, if that sounds like journalism Heaven, then you're our kind of sicko. […]

[Via Making Light (Sidelights)]

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February 25th, 2011 is essentially a narrowly focused search engine: instead of searching the web in general, it lets you search UK news web sites and identify the extent to which related news stories simply regurgitated the text of the press release.

Someone needs to turn this into a browser plugin, so that as you read news online you can see how much of what you're reading originated in a press release.1

[Via One Thing Well]

  1. This would be a trickier problem, I'd imagine. The web site starts with the wording of the press release and searches a finite list of UK news sites to find related stories and measure how much overlap there is between the stories it locates and the original press release. In order to start with a news story and work your way back to do a comparison with the press release, a plugin would presumably need access to a complete index of press releases circulated in the UK. I'm not in the media: does such a searchable index of press releases even exist? If it does, is it available to the public, free of charge?

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Chronicles of Deaths Foretold

August 22nd, 2010

The Tragic Death of Practically Everything:

Wired Editor in Chief Chris Anderson is catching flack for the magazine's current cover story, which declares that the Web is dead. I'm not sure what the controversy is. For years, once-vibrant technologies, products, and companies have been dropping like teenagers in a Freddy Krueger movie. Thank heavens that tech journalists have done such a good job of documenting the carnage as it happened. Without their diligent reporting, we might not be aware that the industry is pretty much an unrelenting bloodbath. […]

[Via Ben Hammersley's return to old-fashioned blogging]

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Version 1.0

July 21st, 2010

Inspired by yet another controversy over news web sites surreptitiously editing their articles, Salon co-founder Scott Rosenberg offers a simple solution, as practised by Wikipedia and computer programmers everywhere:

Versioning should be the model for how we present the evolution of news stories on the Web. In fact, it makes so much sense that, even though right now no one is using it, I'm convinced it will become the norm over the next decade.

Today it might seem like overkill, but that's how all new Web phenomena present themselves to us. It might sound like a lot of work, but once it's incorporated into a newsroom's content management software, it's probably going to save time presently wasted on posting jerry-rigged correction notices. It can be presented unobtrusively, so that the vast majority of readers who don't care will never need to see it – but the bloggers, pundits and critics who do care can feast.

Given that the typical newsroom's content management system probably already does version control for internal use, this sort of thing should be a no-brainer. I'm guessing the barriers to rolling out versioning where the readers can see it is far more cultural than technical. As people who grew up with Wikipedia move up in the hierarchy of the typical newsroom, perhaps this sort of thing will become second nature. Or will it take the widespread adoption of user-accessible version control features in everyone's weblog content management software to make this approach seem like the right thing to do?

For all that, I suppose that you have to take into account the legal issues that will occasionally come into play – not least in the Libel Capital Of The World. If your newspaper has published a story on their web site and agreed to withdraw or correct the story in the face of a threat of a libel action, what would be the status of the copy of version 1.0 of the story, no longer visible via the site's default article view but readily available to those who chose to view the story's earlier version? I am not a lawyer, but I'd imagine that our learned friends would argue that the only acceptable solution would be to completely wipe out the original, offending version of the story, rather than just push it behind a 'View previous versions' link.1

  1. Note to self: find out how Wikipedia handles this sort of issue.

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