Notepad on Life

May 3, 2018

The dumbest journalism I read all week

Filed under: Journalism,Women — - @ 12:30 pm
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pexels-photo.jpgOr maybe The Stacks was just being ironic, when it reproduced a 1976 article on the former Washington Post owner, Katharine Graham.

Thrust from the role of dutiful wife to being boss at one of America’s most famous newspapers, this account of how Graham recovered from the spousal suicide that changed her life, and rose to the challenge so gloriously that she became one of the 20th century newspaper industry’s most distinguished players, is both fascinating and inspirational.

I don’t say they’ll all become press proprietors, but any women juggling home and family commitments without wanting to be permanently defined by them, cannot fail to take heart from the Graham story.

So why, oh why, when you’ve showcased all that, do you stick it beneath a headline that – were Mrs Graham your boss – would probably see you fired by lunchtime, even today?

Whether it came from the Diane K Shah who owns the byline, or some sub-editor who couldn’t be bothered and just fancied a stab at being all earthy and down-with-the-kids, it is, at best, a failed attempt at irony, or, at worst, just plain ignorance.


May 2, 2018

GQ’s arrogance skewered by Shapiro

Filed under: Books,History,Journalism — - @ 12:30 pm
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pexels-photo-1029141.jpegBook lists are inevitably subjective things, so normally I’d have left GQ magazine’s 21 Books You Don’t Have to Read to itself.

I have some sympathy with its view of Catcher in the Rye and even though it has somehow managed spectacularly to miss the point of Catch-22, I also gave up on that same book, not once but twice.

As you continue through this damning literary litany, however, an underlying sentiment becomes apparent. If the life, times and outlook of ‘old’ writers jar with today’s social mores, dump them. Just walk away and read something else. GQ doesn’t want you getting infected with whatever the likes of Mark Twain and Robert Graves were carrying.

Two drawbacks to this approach: firstly, it gives GQ readers little credit for their discernment. Nothing puts what’s good about modern times into sharper perspective than seeing how the bad old days looked, and I suspect most GQ readers are perfectly capable of telling the bad and the good apart.

Secondly, shielding one’s sensitive eyes from less sensitive eras means the good gets overlooked as well as the bad. That there might have been things about yesteryear that Society shouldn’t have been so quick to jettison, is an idea that may not have much traction in the GQ offices.

As prejudice must have a name nowadays, let’s call it ‘contemporism’ or ‘eraphobia’ – the dazzling immediacy of the here and now blinding us to the wisdom of the past.

I see it when some atheists opt for the ‘Iron Age’ or ‘cavemen’ line when dismissing those who brought us the Bible (another book that doesn’t fare well in the list). My answer to that is to invite them to read Proverbs from start to finish, look me in the eye and tell me it was written by a Neanderthal.

We extrapolate where our ancestors were concerned, and assume that because they were scientifically and technologically clueless compared to ourselves, then they were clueless across the board, devoid of wisdom, judgement and analysis generally. Which would have come as news to Pliny, Cicero and the philosophers of ancient Greece.

Commentator Ben Shapiro identifies this mistake and dismantles it resoundingly in his daily podcast – starting at the 40:47 mark here (non subscribers should click Listen Now). His whole segment on the GQ list begins at 33:10. His occasional references to ‘SJW’, incidentally, means ‘social justice warrior’: not a genre he has much time for…

April 24, 2018

Fiddling while Jose burns – when critics get too close

Filed under: Journalism — - @ 12:30 pm
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pexels-photo-320617.jpegBiggest first-world problem of the week? World Press Photo Festival judges who couldn’t see the flesh for the flames.

Whether it’s food, wine, music, or photos, rare is the professional critic who doesn’t sometimes get so close to his subject that the bigger picture escapes him: a picture which, if only he could see it, shows the fine line between being lost in rapture and lost up your own rear end, blurring to invisibility.

I don’t say that Ronaldo Schemidt’s striking photograph of Venezuelan protestor José Víctor Salazar Balza, was beyond consideration for an award. Capturing the hapless Balza as he ignites in the aftermath of an exploding petrol tank, made for a compelling image, not to mention an unmissable metaphor for the social conflagration that Venezuela currently seems to be.

Most of the judges thankfully couched their admiration in such terms. But there’s always one…

“It’s a classical photo, but it has an instantaneous energy and dynamic,” gushed jury chairwoman Magdalena Herrera. “The colours, the movement, and it’s very well composed, it has strength.”

Oh good. I’m sure it will make all Sr. Balza’s agony and disfigurement worthwhile, knowing he got the composition and movement spot-on.

Saves him and Ronnie from getting together and having another stab at it, eh?

March 26, 2018

‘Faces of Evil’– here’s what I regret, Mike Norton…

Filed under: crime,Journalism,Law and order,News — - @ 11:25 am
Tags: ,

pexels-photo-952594.jpegBristol Post editor Mike Norton wants his city to know he’s sorry. So sorry, he splashed his contrition all over the newspaper’s front page earlier this month.

It stems from another Post front page 22 years ago, in which the headline Faces of Evil was accompanied by photographs of 16 men jailed for dealing crack cocaine. All of them happened to be black.

Despite the feeling that I knew what was coming, I studied Mr Norton’s apology in detail, hoping upon hope that I would read about one or more individuals who had been falsely accused, and whose photograph should have been nowhere near that eye-catching headline.

That appears not to be the case. “Now, I’m sure there are many people reading this who will be wondering why I’m saying sorry,” Norton predicts. “Weren’t these men crack dealers? Pedlars of evil? Yes, they were.”

Ah, right. Turns out I did know what was coming.

Mike Norton isn’t sorry that his paper didn’t do its job properly. He’s sorry because it was unhelpful to a narrative. Inclusivity is one of the mantras of our time and that 1996 front page, for all its veracity, got in the way.

Too bad, Mike Norton. Too bad.

Which is not to say that everything in his apology is invalid. The need to bridge community gaps and renew dialogue and his newspaper’s attempts to help drive those processes, are right and proper, but they are points that could have been made without selling out his colleagues or the requirements of his vocation.

Less commendable are his deflection tactics; The pretence of humbly acknowledging opposition, so as to pre-emptively diminish it.

“Of course, I am only too well aware of how this will go down with some of some of the more vociferous contributors to the comments section. I await their inevitable hate. They will probably call me a snowflake – the word adopted by right-wingers when they want to belittle millennial entitlement. Or a bleeding-heart liberal who’s been got at by the politically correct brigade.”

Calculated buzzword emphasis is mine. We see what you did there, Michael.

Thankfully, I can steer clear of such cheap labelling. How this goes down with me, someone in the same line of work, is that we have here a journalist who is, in effect, apologising for telling uncomfortable truths, arguably the very essence of his job.

In attempting to shore up the credibility of his newspaper, Mike Norton has done precisely the opposite. And he shouldn’t be surprised if many discerning BAME Bristolians have come to the same conclusion.

August 21, 2014

James Alexander Gordon – Reality 0 Over-Reaction 5

Filed under: Journalism,Nostalgia,Sport — - @ 6:20 am
Tags: ,

James Alexander Gordon was, by all accounts, a popular man.

He read out the football results on the radio every Saturday afternoon for 40 years, in a gentle, soothing Scottish accent that drew us all in and had us all trying to predict a game’s outcome based on wherever his intonation seemed to be leading us.

It’s safe to say that whoever reads the football results from now on, two generations of British football fans will forever hear them in Gordon’s voice.

And now he’s dead.

There you have it: an obituary that might be rather sparse but which nevertheless covers all the pertinent details. We’re not talking the composer of heart-rending symphonies here, after all, or mourning the first man on Mars.

We’re talking football results. Read from a script that he didn’t even have to memorise. Talk to Gordon’s family and friends and they can probably each recall 10 things that spring more readily to mind about him than his Saturday job.

A point apparently lost on the Daily Telegraph this week, as it declared that the “Scot’s lilting tones and perfect delivery elevated the classified football results from the mundane into an art form”.

Oh please.

“To do something seemingly so simple so expertly, time after time, and to make so many people feel happy and safe while you did it: what a beautiful contribution to our national life.”

You’re sounding dangerously like a luvvie, Alan Tyers. Oh, hang on a minute…

“Several years ago, I wrote and performed a pilot for a radio comedy sketch show about football.”


“It went to a swift and deserved demise on the BBC Commissioning killing floor…”

Right. Shame the Telegraph’s sports editor isn’t quite as discerning.

I don’t know what prompts this modern tendency to over-inflate people’s achievements beyond what they actually amount to, but it is maudlin, cloying and fast becoming something of a national malaise.

March 13, 2014

Child Bride

Filed under: Journalism,Kids,Women — - @ 9:00 am
Tags: ,

Glossy Women's Magazines Remind Us Some Girls And Women Are Living In Hell | Co.Create | creativity + culture + commerce

Glossy Women’s Magazines Remind Us Some Girls And Women Are Living In Hell

January 9, 2014

Syria, like Ulster, goes the way of all flesh

Filed under: foreign,Journalism,News,politics — - @ 8:55 am
Tags: , ,
Anti-Syrian regime protester holds a Syrian re...

Anti-Syrian regime protester. (Photo credit: FreedomHouse)

From Radio 4’s Today programme of 8th January(2:48:30 mark here) an item on journalists kidnapped in the Syrian conflict and this telling observation from Italian journalist Domenico Quirico, held hostage there for 152 days last year:

“The Syrian Revolution is dead. The revolutionaries are dead. In their place are jihadists and criminals out to profit from the fight.”

It reminded me of a comment I read some years ago, in an interview with a former paramilitary, reflecting on the Troubles in Northern Ireland. By the end, he observed, political idealism in the province was a mere sideshow. It had become a matter of turf war; gangsterism, plain and simple.

And in the case of Syria, let’s not forget, Britain was just a heartbeat away from becoming militarily involved in this amoral mess, thanks to politicians all too happy to talk war as long as it’s other people’s kids who do the dying.

Maybe there’s a good interview to be had between Domenico Quirico and Michael Gove

January 3, 2014

Mirror late to the party on Brady mindset, surely?

Filed under: crime,Health,Journalism — - @ 11:07 pm


An early candidate for Biggest So-What? Headline of Year. Compared to his other psychological problems, I’d say Ian Brady’s encounter with dementia is page five news at best.

So we may never know where the last undiscovered victim is buried? I’ve feared that was a given for some time. Perpetuating a secret that has tantalised a nation also perpetuates this wretched man’s macabre celebrity and I sense that he would regard taking that secret to the grave as the playing of his final ace.

We can only live in the forlorn hope that he forgets himself so much, he spills the beans regardless.

September 1, 2013

Gove’s their villain but knee-jerk political hacks can’t see it

Filed under: Education,Journalism,politics — - @ 10:52 pm
Tags: ,

Two central players in last week’s Parliamentary debate on Syria.

1) Prime Minister David Cameron wants to take the military option but does what he should and puts the proposal to Parliament, which happens to reject it. A number of his own MPs, who presumably see what Mr Cameron chooses not to when they ponder the fruits of our ‘involvement’ in Iraq and Afghanistan, vote with their conscience.

2) Education Minister Michael Gove, upon learning of their stance, it is claimed, regresses into childhood and would appear to demonstrate that democracy and conscience count as nothing in his eyes against blind loyalty to the Conservative Party. If such claims are true, it is with this glorified lout that we entrust our children’s schooling:

“Michael Gove was so furious with Tory MPs for voting down intervention he had to be restrained by colleagues, it was claimed last night.

The Education Secretary, a staunch backer of military action in Syria, shouted ‘you’re a disgrace’ at those MPs who opposed the Government in the tense vote last night.

Scottish National MP Angus Robertson said Mr Gove carried on yelling ‘disgrace, disgrace, disgrace’ at Tory and Liberal Democrat rebels in stunning scenes in the House of Commons around 11pm last night.” – Daily Mail

Which of the two does the Press focus upon? The Prime Minister. Out are wheeled the tired old clichés about ‘humiliation’, by the same tired old hacks who would have doubtless hammered him for snubbing democratic process, had he decided to avoid debate and simply committed British military support to the USA.

Yet again, I am reminded of the late Robin Cook’s laser accuracy in naming the media as being just as responsible for the lamentable shallowness of modern British politics as the politicians themselves.

Someone was indeed humiliated in the House last week. While I am no fan of our Prime Minister, it most certainly wasn’t him.


And a special mention, while on the subject of Politicians Making Fools of Themselves, of the USA’s Secretary of State, John Kerry, whom just a day after Britain refused to do the ‘special relationship’ waltz with its would-be American masters, pointedly described France as the United States’ “oldest ally”.

Many Brits may have wondered if this snub was just childish petulance. Those who have overheard what the average American actually thinks of the French will know it for a fact.

August 21, 2013

Jim Murray’s mastery went way beyond sport

Filed under: Books,foreign,Journalism,Kids,Sport — - @ 9:00 am

An anthology of the late American sportswriter Jim Murray was my holiday reading and he is turning out to be one of the few things in life that lives up to the hype. His mastery of wry observation and sense of the ridiculous denotes the best kind of sports journalist – he or she who never loses sight of the fact that games are but part of life’s bigger picture.

Did anyone quibble, for example, that the column he devoted to his wistfulness at having to abandon his home by the Pacific for one nearer his LA office, had little to do with sport? I doubt it, so beautiful a lament was it for irretrievable youth.

Then there is this piece on organised children’s baseball (and I hope the publishers will excuse me excerpting just one of the book’s many articles) – a gently withering denunciation of those who insist on making life far harder than it need be, merely to justify their salary.

You will either be appalled that social meddling by do-gooders is far older than you realised, or else inspired that it fared just as badly when colliding with common sense 40 years ago as it does today…

Click each image to enlarge it.


Murray 1Murray2Murray3

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