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The art of innuendo and a good lawyer

There is a must read piece by Jack Shafer in Slate for all journalism students whose study of McNae’s Essential Law for Journalists, and its equivalent in other countries, leads them to believe defamation is a cut-and-dried issue.

Under the heading “Bartiromo Innuendo” Shafer starts: “A well-lawyered newspaper distinguishes itself by the way it writes around something.” The subject is a corporate shake-up at Citigroup and the picture of CNBC reporter Maria Bartiromo give us an immediate idea of what it all about.

Shafer examines Wall Street Journal coverage and writes: “This is the sort of copy a clever lawyer directs reporters to write when they “know” something but can’t prove it. Leave it to the reader to assemble the meaning of the facts in their minds, the wise libel attorney tells his clients.”

Thanks to Martin Stabe for pointing to this article.

Conversation of the converted

Jackie Ashley had a thoughtful piece in the Guardian yesterday, headed “Beware the powerful when they hail the new democracy“, in which she wrote:

Every serious newspaper has dived into the internet age, even though it is not yet clear how they will raise the revenue they need as their print existence shrivels. Much of this is merely practical, the result of a technological shift nobody can halt or resist. But it comes with a grand-sounding manifesto about bringing in a new age of democracy, and that’s really what needs to be questioned.

I don’t agree with all she says but I had been planning for a week or more to post on this topic. It has struck me since I started blogging how very small is the community in which I am blogging. Voices that I hear every day are missing from what is really a conversation of the converted.

It was one reason why I did not suggest, as a couple of commenters have, that the future for Tribune, the left newspaper, was on the web. It seemed to me that a substantial part of the paper’s audience were was not likely to follow it online, if that was the way it went.

I am still thinking about what I want to say, but in the meantime read Ashley’s views.

A Look at the women’s mag market

That IPC is prepared to invest £27 million in a new weekly celeb and fashion mag for women is a clear sign of their confidence in the market. This week 1.2 million free copies of the launch issue of Look are in the supermarkets and and newsagents.

With the publishers predicting weekly sales of 250,000 within a year, this is not a short term investment. They claim to have found a gap in the market, women in the 20s who are interested in celebrities and high street clothes rather than labels.

IPC Connect, the division with is publishing Look, sells 2.9 million magazines a week and says it is the clear market leader.

Look’s editor, Ali Hall, makes a good point to the Guardian. It is that the monthlies (they are losing sales) have lead times that make them unable to react to the high street where the hanger-life of new designs is short.

Top Shop, for example, puts 300 new products on sale every week. The shelf life issue is also one that affects sales in supermarkets which are responsible for an increasing proportion of print sales.

Supermarkets demand products which clear their shelves quickly and don’t hang around hogging their bit of space for a month. Marketing costs, including prime positions do not come cheap in supermarkets so it is only those with deep pockets that can hope to successfully launch a new mass-market title.

On the internet 1980 is pre-history

It often seems that history began some time in the early 1990s. While the internet has given us unprecedented free access to information, it is not good for the facts and opinion that give us the longer perspective.

From the desktop, the 1980s seems like the dark ages. So it is disturbing that libraries are under threat from cost-cutting. The Guardian reports today that the British Library, the greatest of the British deposit libraries, is threatened by government imposed cuts which could lead to charges.

The county and city libraries have long suffered from financial cuts and the need to make themselves “popular” as well as a lack of investment in storage. The result is that they throw out old books.

This is akin to bulldozing castles and ancient houses: it diminishes our ability to understand the past and how it affects the present.

Dog fight in ‘Fleet Street’

Could it be that John Witherow, editor of the Sunday Times, is so vindictive that he ordered one of his hacks to do a hatchet job on the Guardian after one of its columnists described the ST under his editorship as “both unloveable and unexciting”?

Roy Greenslade, the Guardian’s media blogger thinks so. Commenting on a half-page in today’s ST business section headed “Guardian lost between old media and new media”, he says that after one of his pieces, Witherow had warned: “I will always retaliate, and I have many more readers than you do, so I can cause you much more pain.”

That was probably before the Sunday Times put up its price to £2 last November and saw sales slide by nearly 6%.

The piece in the ST by Dominic Rushe, more usually employed writing “On Wall Street” from New York, has a lot of the signs of a hatchet job including quoting “insiders” and “one media pundit”. But you can judge for yourself without paying £2 for the paper.

Indy kills link to its blogs

At last the Independent has done the decent thing and hidden its blogs. The link has gone from the front page in the past two or three days (I have got so bored with this I stopped checking every day).

The most recent post was dated January 18 but that was a revamp of a post which went up before Christmas. It is still there if you know the url.

So is this a tactical retreat while the paper gets its blogs right? It would be strange if the Indy was to give up blogging given all the recent evidence of the traffic generated by blogs for MSM sites.

The gadgets vidcast (see my post of January 16) also gone.

Mysterious surge of page hits at Wordblog

There was a surge in page hits at Wordblog last week. That was pleasing but on examination a considerable proportion of them are for robots.txt.

In the past neither of the stats systems (one from my hosting company and the other a blog plug-in) on the site have shown much evidence of them. But last week both showed around 950 hits and they seem to have come after upgrading WordPress software to version 2.1 on Tuesday.

Is it a coincidence or is something else going on?

Davos defines social media

Being left behind on London during the Davos jamboree has “become a social blunder on a par with being caught in the capital in August,” says Ruth Sutherland in the Observer business section.

Yes, there is a touch of sour grapes and like her I would rather enjoy being there next year. Every blogger who can seems to have made their way to Switzerland.

Arianna Huffington gives us a taste of this up-market event which makes it sound like one of those giant Harry Potter fests they go in for in the US. She wrote: “There are hundreds of different “sessions” (including panels, workshops, and working lunches) taking place over the four and a half day conference — and that doesn’t include all the unofficial parties, dinners, and “nightcaps” that go on here until the wee hours of the morning.”

Daily Telegraph editor Will Lewis was there too, blogging: “Right now I am off to a drinks function hosted by Lakshmi Mittal, followed by a dinner at which Stern and Cameron are due to speak about the environment. Later on there are no end of drinks parties to attend. I am told that Guy Ruddle, head of Telegraph Talk and part of our Davos team, has volunteered to monitor and report on those late-at-night bashes.”

Jeff Jarvis took his Buzzmachine there and was able to give us his world view: “Reuters was holding a lunch party today up at the top of one of the mountains that lords over us here at Davos. I was looking forward to being there and seeing the view, shooting video, eating cheese. But I was not looking forward to the ride. I hate heights. But the promise of wine and cheese got me into the funicular railway and up and up and up we went.”

Tim Webber, at the BBC’s Davos blog, tells us: “Looking back at the past week, what was the hottest ticket in town? Undoubtedly the Google party on Friday night.”

Over at the Guardian’s Comment is Free, Larry Elliott tells us: “Davos is where you can see all the names in your contacts book – and the ones you hope to add – under one roof. Was that really Jean-Claude Trichet chatting to George Soros? Yes it was. Shall I accept that invitation to go to lunch with Bono? Only if doesn’t clash with my session with Bill Gates. Davos, believe me, brings out the groupie in all of us.”

So there you have it: Davos has defined social media.

The culture that sends a reporter to jail

When I was a young reporter we used to joke: “Its the editor who goes to jail.” How wrong we were. Tonight Clive Goodman, royal reporter of the News of the World, and Glen Mulcaire, the private eye who hacked into phone messages of Prince William and others, are in prison. The editor is free.

What they did is indefensible and they deserve to be banged up. Sentencing Goodman to four months, Mr Justice Gross told him: “This was low conduct, reprehensible in the extreme. It is about grave, inexcusable and illegal invasion of privacy.”

There are no issues of press freedom here and Goodman and the PI Glen Mulcaire (sentenced to six months) pleaded guilty, so preventing the whole sordid story being explored in court.

After the verdict Andy Coulson, the NoW editor, resigned saying he took responsibility for the scandal, according to the BBC. He should. There is no way that the editor could not have been involved in Mulcaire’s contract worth £104,988 plus £12,300 in cash in a year.

By rights Coulson should also be in one of Her Majesty’s jails, possible the condemned A-wing of Norwich prison with its leaking sewer pipes which was reopened this week to cope with prison overcrowding.

Instead he will have been enjoying a decent meal and nice sheets. And it goes further; the proprietor creates the culture and pressures which result in people behaving in this way. I hope Rupert Murdoch is thinking about that.