The great Armistice
Jeremy Vine’s finest few minutes reminded us that most television news seems to have viewed the likes of The Day Today as an encouragement to act like gibbering news monkeys, rather than as a deterrent. This gives us the excuse to look back at the BBC’s brilliant late-90s satirical series Saturday Night Armistice (later Friday Night Armistice), presented and written by Armando Iannucci, with Peter Baynham and David Schneider.
The tyranny of the computer
I was walloped by a virus last week. It finally passed yesterday, when I could eat something other than toast. I opted for a bagel. No need to get carried away.
It meant that I didn’t write the column for Saturday, and stopped posting on the blog on Friday, and I have to admit that it was great not to have to bother with the computer for a few days. It has a sometimes oppressive grip on me. If I’m not posting on the blog, I’m trying to think of what I’m going to post on the blog, or hunting for something to post. After that I’m checking the comments, which I always like to update as regularly as possible. And then that cycle begins again.
Alongside that, I’ll be tapping into Hype Machine; clicking through Technorati; I’ll be checking personal e-mail, work e-mail, websites, other blogs. I’ll be wondering how I’m doing in the Fantasy Golf Masters Irish Times league (very well, since you ask). Plus, I’m in the middle of writing a book, something for which the web can be both a help and a hindrance.
The computer eats up my time like nothing else. It devours it. It’s a microchipped siren, calling me every time I pass, and I’m too weak to resist.
How much time is there in a day that anyone can do all of these? I’m convinced that Damien Mulley, clearly operates in some other dimension, in which mornings last all day and afternoons last a fortnight.
Occasionally, as a journalist, you find yourself wondering how people managed before the internet. All that information they had to go and root out for themselves, through dusty files and inky pages. But sometimes I envy the way that they did not have the tyranny of the computer and had fewer distractions – except, of course, the rush to get for a few lunchtime pints.
I don’t believe I’m alone in this, so here’s an idea that would be unworkable (and smacks of Luddism anyway), but it would be nice if there was some global campaign to switch off all our computers for a day. Not the important ones, obviously: we don’t want nuclear war breaking out simply because I need to get some fresh air. But we could walk away from the non-essential stuff, at least. It would give us all an excuse to walk away for 24 hours, and appreciate a day without this relentless mind pollution. Even if there will always be a few who wouldn’t be able to resist live blogging such an event.
I’ve started ploughing my way through Brian K Vaughan’s Ex Machina, a comic book series in which the world’s only superhero becomes New York City’s mayor in a post 9/11 America. An alternate history, political satire and down-to-earth superhero tale (well, as down-to-earth as you can get with a superhero), it’s smart, snappy and well-plotted. It’s easy, then, to see why Vaughan was made co-producer of Lost so that its flabby plot could be tightened up. (More on that here.)
Vaughan’s other big work is Y: The Last Man, a recently concluded graphic series following the only male to have survived a plague that wiped out all the rest. It’s an expensive business catching up on collected comic books; Ex Machina averages at about €15 per paperback of five issues. But it’s damned addictive. You can download a free PDF of Ex Machina #1 at DC’s website. And you can download Y: The Last Man‘s first issue here.
The future of newspapers – the editors’ perspective
The second Newsroom Barometer results, a survey of 700 newspaper editors senior news executives from 120 countries, was released this week. It makes for interesting reading.
Among the main results this year:
- 86% believe integrated print and online newsrooms will become the norm, and 83% believe journalists will be expected to be able to produce content for all media within five years.
- Two-thirds believe some editorial functions will be outsourced, despite frequent newsroom opposition to the practice.
- A plurality – 44% – believe on-line will be the most common platform for reading news in the future, compared with 41% last year. Thirty-one cited print (down from 35% last year), 12% mobile and 7% e-paper. The rest were unsure.
- 35% said training journalists in new media was the number one priority for investing in editorial quality. Recruiting more journalists was cited by 31%, up from 22% last year.
- A majority of editors – 56%- believe news in the future will be free, up from 48% from last year’s survey. Only one-third believe the news will remain paid for, while 11% were unsure.
- Two-thirds of respondents believe the importance of opinion and analysis pages will increase.
- A majority – 58% – think the decline in young readership is the biggest threat for the future of newspapers.
It gives me an excuse to mention a quote recently included in this blog post and which could be plastered on every wall, in every newspaper on the planet:
In case some of the mainstream media haven’t got this yet – “THE WEB DOES NOT OWE YOU A LIVING”.
It doesn’t care that you have been doing this for years, you have to earn your eyeballs like everyone else.
Dig, and keep digging
There was no better time than last week in which to put a lead story on your property section, explaining how to convert your cellar into living space. Well done, Sunday Business Post.
Adding a basement offers homeowners a way to add value and free up space.
We see them as dank and dingy places where you dump the suitcases after a holiday, or store mildewed maths textbooks. I once viewed a house in which the tenants had painted the word redrum (in a tribute to The Shining) over the lintel on the way down to one.
But the humble basement has become a swanky space in many London homes, with owners digging down instead of trading up in order to find more space. From the look of the interiors photographs of these high-end conversions, basement accommodation is becoming more a case of Grand Designs than Murder, She Wrote.
Well, not always…
Going for a (very) young readership
One of Britain’s most successful new newspapers is First News, which targets the 7-14 age group. Its most recent ABCs show an average weekly sale of over 38,000, but its readership is an impressive 763,000 because one in five UK schools subscribes. There are more details about its background and its upcoming second anniversary at Roy Greenslade’s blog.
Its editorial is a mix of environmental, third-world and animal stories, and it seems to be a print version of Newsround, a programme which I still believe was the most important I ever watched, given where I’ve ended up. (Press Gang comes a close second.)
First News, though, gives us a glimpse at a market that is increasingly important for “grown-up” papers. At the Irish Times, you can see the push on the regular Cúl for Kids GAA magazines as proof of that. The myriad posters in the British press are aimed at school walls as much as general readers. Does it attract readers for life? I don’t know, but it attracts sponsorship in a thriving area, boosts circulation and means that newspaper branding gets blue-tacked onto many, many walls.
For those outside either outside the motor-racing scene or its heartland areas, the death of Martin Finnegan at the Tandragee 100 last weekend may not really register. To get a sense of how big a figure he was in a sport that gets little coverage despite its popularity here, I’m posting a couple of videos of the convoy that brought him home to Lusk on Monday.
It takes a full five minutes for the convoy to pass in the first clip. The second shows the reception given to him by the people of his home town, Lusk.
Saturday column: History or histrionics?
‘THERE IS, of course, no ending to history,” Bertie Ahern told the joint Houses of Congress on Wednesday. History was a popular word in his speech, mentioned nine times. And history was a word commonly used in the run-up to his big moment. It would be, we were told repeatedly, an “historic” address. Afterwards, it was confirmed across the board that the Taoiseach had indeed “made history”.
We’ll come back to that later, because history was created elsewhere this week. At the Crucible theatre in Sheffield, in fact, where, according to several newspaper and radio reports, the English player Ali Carter “made history” by making this the first World Championships in which maximum 147 breaks have been scored twice in one tournament. “Made history,” no less.
Yes, the name of Carter, Slayer of the Baize shall be uttered through the aeons.
In the media, history is made every day. Sometimes it is made several times a day. It is reported so much, in fact, that the term now holds as much value as a Zimbabwean tenner. (more…)
Jesus: some spare time on his hands
Saw this in Metro this morning, and then Nat reminded me of it earlier, so following Padre Pio’s appearance on this blog last week (he’s definitely had some work, don’t you think?) here’s the picture of “Jesus on a cider bottle”.
Unfortunately, it was thrown in the bin by a now hell-bound barmaid, but not before a picture was taken. The Daily Mail’s report features an interview with the man who found it:
“When I saw it I got goose pimples,” 35-year-old Mr Cartwright said yesterday. “I have no doubt it is the face of Jesus. You can even see his beard and hair.”
“I’m not sure what message Jesus was sending and maybe now we’ll never know.”
Jesus, as ever, has been busy making personal appearances. FoxNews.com reports that a woman found him in an ultrasound. He’s also recently appeared in a piece of candy, a shower stain, a flapjack and on television.
THIS is how to make an arts show
I was griping with someone earlier about how dry The View is – the only regular arts programme on RTE television, and not worth staying up for – and how BBC2′s Late Review has become of a caricature of itself. And I was reminded of how fresh and ambitious the BBC’s Culture Show can be, and specifically how this piece on skiffle music, by Mark Kermode, was one of the best packages I’ve seen on television over the last couple of years.
Top moment: Kermode giving a piece to camera while playing double bass with his skiffle band.
Letter about journalistic standards
From today’s Letters page. Thought it was worth posting:
Madam, – I am writing to you as a journalist and a concerned member of the National Union of Journalists. I’m concerned because, in my opinion, more and more reporters and sub-editors, especially in certain tabloid newspapers, are simply making up stuff and allowing it go to print.
There is massive pressure on many journalists working on big stories, a pressure which comes from certain news desks demanding they have the “real” story first and that a rival doesn’t scoop them.
In relation to the Clonroche tragedy, The Irish Daily Mail this week reported that six-year-old Mark Flood “was woken by a shotgun blast. . .left his bedroom and went out to the landing to see what had happened and this is where he died at the hands of his deranged father”.
In fact Mark died in his bed and never left his bedroom. This report must have been a terrible thing for relatives to read, especially when it just wasn’t true. Similarly, at least one article in the Irish Daily Mirror this week speculated on what thoughts were going through Diarmuid Flood’s mind and on his relationship with his wife Lorraine. Pure and utter conjecture, not grounded in the truth. And the use of the words “deranged” in the Mail and “Evil” on the front page of the Irish Sun does nothing to help people who are suffering depression or know people who have taken their own lives.
The NUJ’s code of conduct specifies that a journalist has a duty to maintain the highest professional and ethical standards and strive to ensure the information he/she disseminates is fair and accurate. There are also guidelines for the media on the portrayal of suicide.
Journalists, editors and sub-editors should read them. The Press Council should also investigate recent matters. Gardaí too have a responsibility to work more closely with journalists and avoid information vacuums which spawn lies and innuendo.
Journalists in Ireland have, in the main, a great tradition of telling the truth and we have spent decades building up the respect of the public. That respect is being undermined by relentless pressure from the market, the competition between newspapers and the stupidity of some journalists in failing to check the facts.
The headlong rush for circulation is ruining the proud tradition of journalism. – Yours, etc,
NUJ Irish South-East Branch,
and Chair of the NUJ Irish Executive Council,
Live blogging of Bertie Ahern’s speech to joint Houses of Congress
1605 Arrives into chamber. Immediately clear that his make-up budget this year will exceed total US military spending.
1607 Nancy Pelosi introduces him as “His excellency, Bertie Ay-hern”.
1610 Makes mention of Irish Scots as first emigrants to America. Good touch, that.
1612 Gets his plea for the Undocumented in. It’s greeted with applause. By politicians who have opposed it.
1615 Still talking about how much of an influence the Irish have had on America. “In all of America there is Irish-America”. Describing 9/11 as among the “most terrible events in world history”, he talks about Fr Michael Judge, who died that day. He’s pressing all the buttons here, mentioning of the Statue of Liberty, the American Dream, 9/11, New York’s police and fire departments.
1619 Finally gets a Kennedy mention in. Also mentions Reagan as a famous Irish-American.
1623 There’s a shot of the crowd turning their page at the same time. Proof that he’s not making this up as he goes along.
1626 America has shown the way in the conflict in Darfur and Africa as a whole, he says. I’m guessing there might be some who could pick holes in that assessment. It’s followed by some bland references to how Israelis and Palestinians should be helped to get along.
1628 “I am so proud to be the first Irish leader” to inform them that “Ireland is at peace”. Big standing ovation. Mention of Sen George Mitchell. Another standing ovation.
1632 Charming them with his trademark mispronunciations, eg “Sarkificing”.
1633 “There is, of course, no ending to history.” Clear dig at Francis Fukuyama there.
1634 He talks about the greatness of representative democracy. In a room full of people under the thumb of lobbyists.
1639 Wraps up by talking about peace, and the Battle of the Boyne, he says “The field of slaughter is now a meeting place of mutual understanding.” Then talks about his resignation, and his “worthy successor”. The morning after he will stand silently at the graves of the patriot dead, do his last duty and recall the words of the 1916 Proclamation. Quotes from it, saying these are the values on which Ireland stands. “In history, politics and in life there are no ends only new beginnings. So let us begin. Go raibh mile maith agaibh and thank you for the opportunity.”
1640 Hurries back to mic and yells “Make art!”
Gol de Scholes
Rubbish video, but you get the point. It’s Fox Espanol’s Gol de Scholes song. If you find a better version, let me know.
The truth is out there. In Bangor of all places.
Reporting of the Wexford deaths
It’s clear that in the case of the apparent familicide in Wexford, the tabloids, especially, have found it easier to mirror the violence in their headlines than attempt to understand it.
It tends to be the case that when a man kills his family, and then himself, he is seen in a criminal light. Today, The Sun calls him “evil dad” and “deranged”. The Mirror also uses “deranged”. In cases where a mother kills herself and a child or children, the coverage tends to be more forgiving – “tragic mum” headlines, and such like. Mental illness, in the shape of post-natal depression, is often taken into account. But when the case involves men, the coverage is simplified and hyped. The delicacy needed in the reporting of any instance of suicide is jettisoned. They have entered the realm of the unexplainable, so they revert to what they know best: short words in big headlines and lazy adjectives.
Lost is back. Brain needs rest.
Lost returned to RTÉ2 last night (which has now got the jump on Sky One by a week) and it revealed the value of the writers’ strike. Textually frustrated writers, with less episodes than they though they’d had, just couldn’t hold back. The Shape of Things To Come was a blast of violence, pathos, intrigue, daftness, time travel, revelation and bullets. The kind of episode fans at one point must have thought they’d never see.
It wasn’t perfect. The death of three red shirts was a little cheap. And Claire’s survival of a house-wrecking RPG was a mite ridiculous, even if was made look a little more convincing by Sawyer’s bullet-dodging run to help her. If picnic tables and picket fences acted as an effective barricade to bullets, maybe the Americans wouldn’t be in so much trouble in Iraq.
On which point, Ben wandering around Iraq as the only Yank not in a flak jacket was a plot stretch too far.
But that’s all a diversion, because if you want realism, you really shouldn’t be watching Lost. There were some startling moments. Ben awaking in the Sahara was a great shot. And the execution of his daughter Alex was a reminder of how willing the writers are to pull the trigger. But Michael Emerson’s reaction made it. Such hangdog devastation.
By the way, if you cared for those poor extras, slaughtered simply for the sake of getting things moving, then you can learn more about two of them here. Their names were Doug and Jerome, and they’d been hovering in the background since the start. God speed.
Six random things about The Irish Times
Sinéad has tagged me with a meme thing, although she apologises to those who hate this kind of thing. I enjoy reading others, but hate when these things when they come to me. I won’t tag anyone else, but I will write six random things about The Irish Times:
1) There are two main editorial conferences a day, morning and afternoon, each of which is chaired by the editor. At these, any issues from that day’s paper are discussed and various department editors outline and discuss what’s on their pages for the next day.
2) There’s a book sale on Thursday, a regular occurrence during which the “overflow” books are put on sale by the books editor, and the proceeds given to charity. It is always a sight to behold. The staff are like wasps over spilled Fanta.
3) The News department is on the second floor. Sport is on the third floor. Features is on the fourth – this is where my desk is. I have a great view all the way down Temple Bar.
4) A lot of Scandinavian media workers visit here to see how things are done.
5) The very late newsdesk shift that runs into the early hours is referred to as being “on Nighttown”.
6) On sunny days, the windows in this building heat up to something like 1200 degree Celsius.
Bertie “Goldfinger” Ahern
Bertie Ahern’s autograph is for sale on eBay, but may offer a damning indictment of the man’s lavish lifestyle:
The signature is clear and has been signed in GOLD ink
What a display of ostentatious wealth. Gold ink! Probably housed within a diamond encrusted pen.
By the way, I don’t buy autographs on eBay – it’s a world of fakes. Which is not at all to suggest that this is fake. It’s merely an observation about eBay. Anyway, should you wish to purchase this shocking insight into Ahern’s money-soaked ways, it’s still on offer at £4.99. No bids yet. But this is, it says, “the ultimate gift for any collector”. Some people might try and tell you that Shakespeare’s would top it, but they’d be lying fools.
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