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Wordblog revived

incorporating New Life


Alt-right Brietbart bids to extend its media influence in Europe after Trump victory

If, in the United Kingdom, there was concern about some media reaction to the High Court ruling on Article 50, there is worse to come. A new generation of web-based news organisations are squaring up for a battle.

Yesterday, Brietbart.com’s London office published a story headed: BBC Plan to Counter ‘Christian Bias’ Could Include Broadcasting Muslim Call to Prayer. It is true that the BBC is looking at the balance of its religious content and has invited faith leaders to talks. I could find nothing in the copy to justify the headline which plays into the Islamaphobic agenda.

President elect Donald Trump has nominated Stephen Bannon, chief executive of Brietbart, as his chief strategist. Brietbart, regarded as an online home of the alt-right, is now planning expansion in Europe and other parts of the world.

Its objective is, according the AP news agency to be “the best source of news on the new administration”. AP says:

That scares its critics, which consider Breitbart News the home of cheerleaders rather than journalists — and often offensive at that.

Politico.com, one of a generation of new largely online news organisations, makes its fears clear with the headline, Will America Now Have a Pravda? The intro reads:

As President-elect Donald Trump prepares to take control of the American executive branch, he will have a weapon at his disposal that few if any presidents have enjoyed—a direct connection to a faithful media operation that reaches millions of loyal populist readers in the form of Breitbart, the self-styled honey badger of alt-right journalism.

To balance my comment on the Brietbart headline, the Politico story has no quoted source for the use of the name “Pravda”. A quote suggesting Brietbart could become the closest thing the US has had to a “state-run media enterprise” is the nearest it gets.

Politico is a more mainstream news organisation and its European site, Politico.eu is a partnership with the German Springer group. It also publishes print editions in both the US and Europe.

The executive editor of Brietbart London is James Delingpole who has also written for the Daily Mail, the Daily Express, The Times, the Daily Telegraph and the Spectator.

Yesterday he wrote a climate change denying piece for Brietbart which includes this:

Gosh I do wish I’d taken my own advice and gone long on fossil fuels, short on renewables in the run up to the U.S. presidential election. I would have even bigger a reason to celebrate the Donald Trump victory than I do already.

Make no mistake, the Donald Trump presidency represents the biggest blow yet to the Great Global Warming Swindle.

I fear the Anglo-American idea of impartial journalism is facing its greatest threat on both sides of the Atlantic.

The media as well as politicians need to reflect before the referendum campaign resumes

Today is a time for reflection by everyone in the UK but particularly those involved in the referendum campaign. The media here today is quiet, rightly not rushing to conclusions, but in mainland Europe  newspapers have been less reticent in linking the murder of Jo Cox to the referendum campaign.

Whatever the outcome of police investigations there is the perception of a link and that for the moment is what matters. As Alex Massie put in the Spectator blog yesterday:

When you encourage rage you cannot then feign surprise when people become enraged.

The media as well as the politicians need to reflect. Have editorial decisions to concentrate on the nasty parts of the campaign, the playground shouts of “liar” and the racist undercurrents, contributed to polarisation?

News value is an assessment of what will interest the readers modified by the concept of “public interest”. The question is whether the interests of the readers were subjugated to the interests of journalists living and working in the Westminster bubble?

My impression is that the coverage has inhibited public debate. Where I live in rural Suffolk I have heard no-one talking about the referendum. Is as though everyone is avoiding the subject to avoid being drawn into the nasty debate and falling out with neighbours. There are some “leave” and “remain posters in the countryside but in the village itself few are prepared to declare their allegiance so publicly. There has been no real grassroots debate.

The coverage by political journalists has been so much more like a report of a playground squabble that I have found myself turning first to the financial pages for reasoned information.

Jeremy Corbyn’s attempts to get away from the fighting mentality and have a more reasoned and politer political debate have been scorned by political journalists who would rather see blood on the floor. It is not just a tactic of the Labour leader: I sense there are many on both sides of the house, probably the majority, who would be much happier without tribal battles.

The media cannot get away from the fact that they have sustained the most unpleasant aspects of the referendum by providing the publicity which has sustained the nastiness.




Would you believe it?: ‘Brexit would end free movement of cabbage moths’

The Sun front page today neatly sums up the Brexit campaign.  Perhaps Boris will explain how the free movement of EU moths would be ended.


According to the story:

BRITAIN’S cabbages may be annihilated by a ­massive swarm of super-moths from Europe.
Tens of millions of the diamondbacks, said to be resistant to pesticides, have reportedly formed “clouds” two miles wide.

This incredible scare story gets worst by portraying the moths as a greater threat to Britain than the Nazi forces in France after the evacuation of Dunkirk. It does this with an evocation of Dad’s Army, plagiarising the comedy’s opening graphics to suggest they would succeed in overcoming the Home Guard of Warmington on Sea.

Illustration from The Sun, draws on Dad's Army graphics

Illustration from The Sun, draws on Dad’s Army graphics

The question is whether this rubbish is any less credible than the lies the official Brexit campaign has been peddling?

Footnote: It seems even The Sun does not think the story would be acceptable to its Irish and Scottish readers. Media blogger Roy Greenslade points out the paper had different front pages in those parts of the UK.

Is Guardian print edition loosing sight of its readers?

Today’s Guardian illustrates the way in which its drive to make itself the world-leading online news source is impacting on its UK print edition.

Guardian front page June 2, 2015It leads on a great story, the result of very good investigative journalism by Guardian America web journalists about the killing of unarmed black people by police. The problem is that it is essentially a US domestic story which is worthy of a place in the UK print edition but not as the lead.

Not only is it the lead but it takes the whole of the front page which has no reference to any UK news. It then turns inside to take the whole of one of the “National” news pages.

Editorial decision-making appears for have forgotten the old adage that news value diminishes with distance. For some time the Guardian news pages seem to be governed by a an editorial conference somewhere in the mid-Atlantic. Decisions on comment pieces seem to still based in the UK.

I looked but could not find a story which emanated yesterday in the UK which is directly relevant to British readers – US defence secretary warns against UK armed forces cuts, which I heard on BBC Radio 4.

Nor could I find the story that plans to offer parents 30-hours free childcare have unravelled with David Cameron admitting the roll-out could take longer than planned. The link is to the Daily Mirror.

Another important story for UK readers, European Commission president Jean-Claude Junker saying Cameron’s UK referendum was designed to keep the UK in the EU, is in the print edition but buried in a story on human rights. The heading was: PM prepared to break with Europe over human rights.

Readers were much better served on this story by the Daily Telegraph under the heading: Britain will not vote to leave EU, says Junker.

I can understand why the Guardian want to make the most of what must have been a costly five-month investigation which led to today’s lead, but not why they gave it so much prominence.

The web editors seem to be more in tune with their readers. When I checked this morning the shoot to kill story was not mentioned on the UK or Australian home pages. It was prominent on the US home page and had a strong reference on the international site.

It is a confusing and difficult time for newspapers and their websites as Roy Grenslade, the Guardian media blogger, points  out today in a post headed, Global newspaper industry’s business model undergoes ‘seismic shift’.

Moors murder backs UKIP, the transgender lesbian candidate and more election news at Mail online

The Daily Mail online did not become the most visited English language news website in the world but failing to understand what its readers want. So I took a look this evening at its UK home page to see what it is saying about the election.

I needed to scroll down some way to find the first reference: Ian Brady, the Moors murder supports UKIP.

A lot further down there is a much bigger story (in space allocated) with the heading: At last, some election passion…love triangle of sex-change candidate and lesbian lovers. And who do they represent? The Liberal Democrats, of course.

Just under that there are six small links to election stories.

What more is there to say?

East Anglians still reading newspapers

Media commentator Roy Greenslade finds a bright spot among the latest sales figures for regional newspapers. While some have sales falls of 10% and more compared with a year ago, those in Suffolk and Norfolk are doing pretty well.

Roy reports:

There were just three risers – the Dundee Evening Telegraph (publisher: DC Thomson), up 3.4%, and Archant’s two Norwich titles, the Eastern Daily Press and its evening partner, which each put on 0.5%. Their Ipswich titles  [East Anglian Daily Times and Evening Star] were not too bad either, down about 3% apiece. So well done to Archant.

Archant is based in Norwich. I am not sure whether it is a reflection of quite how poor many regionals have become, or that in East Anglia we are slower to loose the newspaper reading habit.

Ipswich Evening Star’s robust and thoughtful journalism

Front page of Evening StarThe Evening Star in Ipswich yesterday had a powerful editorial urging Suffolk County Council not to go ahead with its cuts. The heading was simply “YOU’RE WRONG!

It starts on the front page and continued on two inside pages. Unfortunately, I can’t find it on their website, but if anyone can provide the link, please put it in the comments below.

The editorial begins:

On the day a savage package of cuts is rubber-stamped at Endeavour House, The Evening Star urges out decision-makers to think again.

We say the drastic axing of crucial services — many of which cater for the most vulnerable in society — is avoidable.

Then follows a cogent examination of the budget which argues for the use of reserves to “ease the pressure”.

The reserves are crucial because they include £3.4 million put aside for “business transformation” and £4 million put aside for “management of change”.

Part of the budget that was approved yesterday, is £3.6 million to be spent on “management of change”.

As the Evening Star says there are echoes of the New Strategic Direction running through the budget. The NSD is a policy to make Suffolk CC and “enabling authority” which outsources its services to charities, social enterprises, charities and voluntary groups. (During the budget debate, the Lib Dem leader, Kathy Pollard described it as the New Sadistic Direction.)

One of the most significant things in the editorial is not in the main text. In the front page image (above) there are two circular pictures and a caption which reads: “THINK AGAIN: Our message to county decision-makers Jeremy Pembroke, top, and Andrea Hill.”

Jeremy Pembroke is the council leader, a Conservative, while Andrea Hill is the Chief Executive, who should not be a decision-maker. This treatment in the paper, neatly reflects the suspicions in Suffolk that Ms Hill, unelected and highly paid, is usurping democracy by driving the New Strategic Direction poicy.

Nigel Pickover, the editor of the Evening Star, and his team are — in this post I am returning to my media blogging mode — providing a great example of the kind of robust and thoughtful journalism of which much more is needed in the regions.

Little things that undermine confidence in Suffolk County Council

It is often little things that undermine confidence in any organisation. Copies of the budget available to the public at yesterday’s meeting of Suffolk County Council had every other page printed upside-down. Then, when it came to a vote, it was announced the electronic voting system was not working properly. The clerk had to call out the name of each councillor to record the vote.

Council pays £500,000 to former employees

A dramatic headline in the East Anglian Daily Times relating payments by Suffolk County Council to former employees reads: “£500,000 to silence disgruntled staff”. The article below starts:

County council chiefs have been criticised for using more than £500,000 of public money to silence disgruntled employees.

Suffolk County Council has spent a total of £521,277 on gagging orders over the last 12 months to ensure staff don’t whistle-blow once their contracts have been terminated.

That figure is almost double what the organisation spent on “compromise agreements” during 2008 and 2009 and comes just months after sweeping cuts, including the axing the entire £230,000 budget for school crossing patrols as well as a number of bus services. The data, obtained following a Freedom of Information Request, revealed that during 2010 a total of 41 council employees were given Compromise Agreements ranging in payments of between £2,000 and £60,000.

But I am not sure this is entirely fair on the council. Compromise agreements are often made when an employee is disputing dismissal, and starts the process towards taking a former employer to an Industrial Tribunal.

If is often cheaper, and less time-consuming, for the former employer to make a settlement than to go to the tribunal. The compromise agreement system was explained in a recent article in Personnel Today.

While these agreements usually include a “confidentiality clause” that is not generally the prime purpose. The employee is likely to see them as compensation for loss of earnings etc.

A doubling of the number of such agreements at SCC does raise questions about the efficiency of the human relations department. But to categorise the payments as “gagging orders” is only partly true.

David, it’s a co-op foodstore! PM relaunches Big Society

Had David Cameron visited a co-op foodstore before yesterday when he chose one for a photo-op for his Big Society idea? Had no one told him that together the co-ops are among the country’s largest food retailers. He certainly looked impressed when he visited one in Lamb’s Conduit Street, London.

The People’s Supermarket is new, but like its longer established big brother it traces the idea back to the Rochdale Pioneers formed in 1844.

Probably, there are not that many other co-ops in the WC1 postcode, an easy bike ride from Downing Street and Somerset House where he relaunched the Big Society (Guardian).

His visit to the People’s Supermarket where one of the founders said they were struggling to get people to understand it, provided BBC News at Ten with its lead item (iPlayer).

Listeners to The Archers will also know that co-operatives are springing up around the country to save village shops.

There is a co-op bank, the East of England Co-op employs 5,000 people in Suffolk, Norfolk and Essex. The list can go on and on. There is even a top-level internet domain .coop.

If he want’s to know more he can easily talk to one of the 28 members of the Co-operative Party who sit in the Commons as Labour and Co-op members. Ed Balls, the shadow chancellor is one of them and should be able to give Mr Cameron good advice on how big society works.

It must be difficult for someone who arrived from planet Bullingdon to understand how society has worked for centuries.

* I hope that while in Lamb’s Conduit Street he walked to the top of road and visited Coram’s Fields, with its wonderful playground and community nursery on the site of the Foundling Hospital established in 1739.