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Wordblog revived

incorporating New Life


Dark horse in race for tube evening distribution deal

Will Murdoch and thelondonpaper, with the right to distribute at railways stations won, also gain the contract to put the free evening in tube station dump bins?

It is being seen as a two horse race between London Lite, from Associated Newspapers who already hold the morning contract for Metro, and thelondonpaper.

They were both named last week by the mayor, Ken Livingstone, who told the London Assembly there were three companies in contention for the new contract. He did not name the third.

It is difficult to see why anyone else should want to enter the free evening fray. So why is a third contender hanging on in the contract race? And who could it be?

Aberfan remembered

I remember exactly where I was at this time (11am) 40 years ago, October 21, 1966. I was driving from Cardiff towards the mining village of Aberfan. The ambulance control had told me that a school had collapsed. It was a big incident but they knew no more. I should get up there.

As I drove up the valley roads the sense of the size of what had happened grew as I saw a TV outside broadcast unit and streams of excavators joining the traffic.

But nothing led me to imagine the black scar down a hillside, the ruins of the school at the bottom and the gap in the terrace of houses opposite. 144 dead, 116 of them children.

I was working for South West News Agency, based in Cardiff. I parked on the main road and walked through the shocked village to the scar. There were men digging. They stopped to listen for survivors under that terrible black mud. There was absolute silence. I do not even remember a bird singing. There was no-one alive.

I was among the first reporters there. Phones were being cut off for use by the rescuers. I found one still working in a cafe. It was the nearest one to the school and for the rest of the day the cafe owner served me tea and fed me as I filed copy.

The people were calm, too shocked to cry. The tears and the anger came later. My job was to tell the story. That meant talking to parents and I knocked on the first door, an outsider intruding.

A pot of tea was made and the mother talked. I listened to her memories of her child. Another pot of tea was made and I continued to listen. That was the least I could do. It was three-quarters of an hour before leaving to an invitation to return for more tea the next time I was passing.

There are many memories of that day and those following. The Duke of Edinburgh at the pit head walking towards his car to visit site of the school. A miner went up to him and told him to walk like everyone else.

For many years afterwards I could not bring myself to visit Aberfan again. And when I did, to visit the memorial garden, I felt like an intruder, something I did not feel at the time of the disaster.

For the testimony of the people of Aberfan read their words at the website devoted to the disaster. Those words are the real memorial to the 144 who died that October morning 40 years ago.

Reporter needs steady head as news video advances

A steady head in a crisis has always been a valuable asset for a reporter but the latest technology at the Plymouth Evening Herald demands it. Their defence correspondent Tristan Nichols has been testing a miniature camera strapped to his head for reporting a military exercise.

He hopes to take it to Afghanistan’s Helmand Province later this year where British troops have been fighting battles with the Taliban. That will give “putting your head above the parapet” its real meaning.

Nichols told the Press Gazette his video from an exercise in Sierra Leone was a trial for how this would work for reporting from somewhere like Afghanistan. The camera and PDA-size recorder, he said, had great potential for solo war reporting. “It’s a one-man job where you can just walk around doing interviews. It really is the future,” he said.

The paper’s story about the equipment is here and Nichols’ reports here. Having looked at the video, I feel the story does not live up to the technology. At the moment it looks more like toys for boys.

It would also be interesting to see the news desk’s risk assessment before sending anyone into a real war situation with this kit.

One law for the Lords, another for the press?

John Wilkes would have loved it: lawyers advising editors that they could be hauled before the courts for reporting something said in the British parliament.

We have the situation where today you can read something in Hansard (www.parliament.uk), the parliamentary record, that only one newspaper, so far as I know, has chosen to publish.

On Thursday Lord Campbell-Savours asked Baroness Scotland, a Home Office minister, if the Government was considering any proposals for reform of the rape law. He referred to the case of a man who had spent three and a half years in prison for rape, after a false allegation, before being exonerated. He named the woman who he said “has a history of making false accusations and having multiple identities”. He wanted women who made false allegations of rape to be named and prosecuted for perjury.

The BBC included the name in its parliamentary coverage but not in subsequent news stories. Yesterday on the Radio 4 PM programme it was made clear the decision was taken on legal grounds because of the prohibition on the naming of women making allegations of sexual assault. While there is also a moral case for not using her name, that was not the reason used by BBC in making its decision.

The Daily Mail used her name but no other papers. The Press Association which removed the woman’s name from its reports gave legal reasons for the excision. The Guardian today has an interview with the woman who denies making a false accusation but does not name her, respecting her request that she should not be anonimity.

The reporting of Parliament is covered by absolute privilege which means that anything said in the chambers of the Commons and the Lords can be reported without fear of prosecution. It was a hard won right. The imprisonment of MP and journalist John Wilkes (Wikipedia) for publishing, in number 45 of his journal The North Briton (1763), a critical report of the King’s speech is seen as the turning point.

In 1771 parliament ceased to punish the publication of its debates (Wikipedia). More than two centuries later it would make for what lawyers call “an interesting case” if a journalist was prosecuted, under a act passed by the parliament, for publishing what was said in parliament .

Less Who, What, When and more Why and How attracts young readers

The belief that newspaper readers are increasingly looking for comment and explanation is provided by the success of a new Dutch morning paper NRC Next which is aimed at a younger, well-educated audience.

After six months circulation has reached 70,000 against a first year minimum target of 40,000. About 70% of the readers belong to the target group of under 35s.

The Editors Weblog says the paper has little space reserved for “what, where and when, but more attention for how and why. Strong visual elements are used to draw attention to the central themes background, analysis and opinion”.

NRC Next draws much of its copy from the established paper NRC Handelsblad but has recruited 27 young people with creativity as the most important criteria for selection.

The drumbeat of prejudice against British Muslims

I thought the the Daily Express “Veil should be banned say 98%” front page was among the lows of Biritish journalism when I posted my comment on Tuesday. But it seems that the Daily Star nearly sank much lower.

According to the Press Gazette a spoof “Daily Fatwa” page was only pulled after the NUJ members called an emergency chapel meeting. It had been signed off by senior executives working under the new deputy editor Ben Knowles, who joined the paper in September from Nuts.

It seems the page included “Page 3 burqa babes special” and a blank editorial stamped “censored”.

Both these newspapers are owned by Richard Desmond. This is the man who built his fortune by publishing a string of pornographic magazines. Wikipedia has a succinct biography of Desmond.

If the developing prejudice against Muslims in Britain came only from the Desmond papers it would be fairly easy to dismiss it. But it is wider, as Jonathan Freedland demonstrates in his article in the Guardian. His conclusion is chilling:

Right now, we’re getting it badly wrong – bombarding Muslims with pressure and prejudice, laying one social problem after another at their door. I try to imagine how I would feel if this rainstorm of headlines substituted the word “Jew” for “Muslim”: Jews creating apartheid, Jews whose strange customs and costume should be banned. I wouldn’t just feel frightened. I would be looking for my passport.

Earlier in the article he wrote of “a kind of drumbeat of hysteria in which both politicians and media have turned again and again on a single, small minority, first prodding them, then pounding them as if they represented the single biggest problem in national life.”

Old and new media success in South Africa

A heartening BBC2 This World documentary last night on the success of South Africa’s Daily Sun newspaper (watch again for the next week) is a reminder that across large parts of the world print journalism is doing very well indeed. A BBC story about the documentary is here.

Improved education combined with increasing wealth is a fertile combination for the growth of print journalism. The documentary looked at the Daily Sun as it approached its 1,000th edition with a 500,000 circulation making it the largest paper in sub-Saharan Africa.

The publisher, Deon du Plessis, sidelines the black editor as the paper goes after the popular approach to every story. “I feel very white” he tells the 1,000th edition party, but it makes no difference. He seems to have a feel the stories Daily Sun readers want.

There was the story of the small boy who saved two people from a crashed aircraft. The photographer realises the boy has been loaned a school uniform and gets him dressed in his own clothes. The boy was too poor to have a uniform and that shapes the whole story. It was a beautiful example of good popular journalism.

The documentary did not deal with the media company behind the Daily Sun and that is another story. Naspers was founded in 1915 in Cape Town to print and publish a daily newspaper. In 1916 it published its first magazine and two years later went into books.

In the 1980s Naspers got into pay-TV and in the following decade moved into mobile phones and started its international expansion with FilmNet, a pay-TV operator in Europe.

Three years before the end of the century it was into the internet as a an ISP and later as a content provider. It now has a series of websites including News24, founded in 1998.

In 2002 is acquired a 46.5% holding in QQ which is now the largest instant messaging service in China and has expanded into a range of other mobile and internet services.

Naspers is quoted in South Africa and the US and had revenues of over $2.5bn in its last financial year, up 17% on the previous year. Its last reported operating profit was just short of half a billion dollars.

Reading Naspers’ corporate website a picture emerges of a newspaper company which has changed with confidence to adopt new media as it comes along. Having discovered this apparently sure-footed company led by Ton Vosloo who was a journalist for 27 years before becoming managing director in 1983, I want to know more about it. Vosloo is now the non-executive chairman.

The curse of self-serving polls

Only corrupt dictatorships and the Daily Express could come up with a 98% poll result. Today the paper leads with the headline, “Veil should be banned say 98%” followed by this intro:

Britons gave overwhelming backing last night to a call for a ban on full-face Muslim veils.
Ninety-eight per cent of Daily Express readers agreed that a restriction would help to safeguard racial harmony and improve communication.
Our exclusive poll came as ministers stepped up the pressure on Muslim leaders to demonstrate “real leadership” in the fight against extremism.

There nothing to explain the poll in the entire story. Was some reporter asked to ring up a few people? Were readerrs asked to phone a number to vote? Was a reputable polling company employed to carry out research among Express readers? The last one seems unlikely.

It is one of the basic rules of reporting that figures like this should be explained to the readers. I have been teaching news writing today and would fail any journalism student who failed to include in their story an explanation of such figures.

I know Lord Beaverbrook, former owner of the Express, told the Royal Commission on the Press in the 1940s that he owned the paper for propaganda purposes, but he did not support the shoddy journalism we see in the paper today.