Monday, 28 February 2011

Hyper local pioneer Media Street's site goes live



Media Street, the website put together by the people behind the hyper local King’s Road site in London, has gone live.

The Media Street website aims to evolve as the King's Road site develops to show what services it offers local businesses and to look at the future of hyper local news.

Media Street co-founder, publisher Jonathan Lloyd says: “The Media Street website is aimed at the local businesses we’re serving so they can find out more about the services we offer and to read about other local case studies.

"It’s also aimed at people following the progress of Media Street, local media and the future of local news. We’ll be able to update people quickly on new feature releases and the progress of Media Street with our case study King’s Road website.”

Tobias Grubbe and his high definition oranges


Gentleman journalist Tobias Grubbe, the creation of Michael Cross and Matthew Buck, arrives by pigeon and embraces new contraptions such as as the iPad and Mistress Gwynne's oranges in high definition in his latest adventures on telegraph.co.uk.

Tower Hamlets scraps press table but fights to save East End Life paper, says Tory group leader


Councillor Peter Golds, leader of the Conservative Group on Tower Hamlets, claims on the ConservativeHome website that the council "is fighting to the death" to preserve its controversial newspaper East End Life.

He also says Tower Hamlets has removed its press table from the council chamber, forcing journalists to cover meetings from the public gallery.

The future of East End Life is currently "under review" and a new code being proposed by Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government Eric Pickles would ban local authority newspapers being published more often than four times a year.

But Golds writes: "Tower Hamlets Council is fighting to the death to preserve its infamous so called local newspaper, East End Life...Despite the proposed changes in the law the council are investigating the possibility of an East End Life ALMO [Arms Length Management Organisation], which will allow the paper to exist after the new rules come into operation."

Golds also claims: "How this borough treats the real and independent press can be seen in another move. Officers have removed the press table from the council chamber. Reporters from the established press have to queue up for the gallery and sit where they can to take notes in what ever fashion is possible. The Head of Communications and Marketing of course, has a raised, front row seat.

"Elected bodies from humble Parish Councils to Parliament provide press tables, but not Tower Hamlets Council."

Golds adds: "I attach the exact words used by one of the most senior officers in response to my enquiry: “This is not about access for reporters it’s about a press desk which we dealt with some time ago as it takes up too much space. The last few meetings have operated perfectly acceptably without a press desk. I don’t think there is an issue here”

"Here we have a local authority, spending £1.3 billion of public money where one of the three most senior council officers feels 'the press desk takes up too much space', despite the public section of the council chamber being increased in size since October last year."

Guardian: 'Why we identified Davis as a CIA agent'


The Guardian's readers' editor Chris Elliott explains in his Open Door column today why the paper took the decision to name Raymond Davis, the American who allegedly shot dead two men in Lahore, triggering a diplomatic crisis between Pakistan and the US, as a CIA agent.

Pakistani authorities charged Davis with murder, but the Obama administration has insisted he is an "administrative and technical official" attached to its Lahore consulate and has diplomatic immunity.

The Guardian went ahead and published despite being urged not to by the CIA amd MI5.

Elliott says until the Guardian named Davis as a CIA employee on 21 February, newspapers and news agencies in the US were reluctant to do so because they had been asked by the agency and government to keep it under wraps because his life might be at risk if his job was divulged.

He writes: "It is one of the most powerful ethical questions a newspaper has to face: whether to publish information that may endanger a life."

Elliott adds: "Davis's CIA link wasn't actually a very big secret in Pakistan. For days newspapers had been describing him as a spy; by Sunday morning, 20 February, the headline in one of Pakistan's national newspapers, The Nation, was "Raymond Davis linked to CIA".'

According to Elliott, "A CIA spokesman made strenuous efforts over the weekend to persuade Ian Katz, the Guardian's deputy editor in charge of news, that identifying Davis as a CIA agent would be wrong. The agency's case broadly was that attempts to release Davis were delicate and tying him to the CIA would only "fan the flames". MI5 also called the Guardian to ask them not to specifically link Davis to the CIA."

Katz says: "We came to the view that his CIA-ness was a critical part of the story, bound to be a factor in his trial or in attempts to have him released. The reasons we were given for not naming him were, firstly, that it may complicate his release – that is not our job. If he was held hostage other factors would kick in but he is in the judicial process. The other reason given by the CIA was that he would come to harm in prison."

Katz adds the story was about how the CIA behaved abroad and that all the Guardian's investigative work suggested that the Pakistanis were taking exceptional care to keep the agent safe.

Elliott says: "There is also a faint echo here of the Wallis Simpson story. When the US divorcee began a relationship with Prince Edward, scandalising the world, you could read all about it everywhere except in England, where the press colluded with the establishment to keep it from the people."

He concludes: "It is impossible for newspapers to operate in any effective way without sometimes having to make decisions that could lead to physical harm or reputational damage. The role of newspapers is not to duck them but to apply a set of ethical tests against as much information as they can find – which I think happened in this case – and then bear the consequences."

  • Elliott also quotes Guardian editor-in-chief Alan Rusbridger stating: "We were asked by the British government not to run the Yemeni cables during the WikiLeaks investigation because it would undermine the fight against Islamists. We refused. Two months later that looks like the right decision."

Saturday, 26 February 2011

National Press Awards: Picture Exclusive


Organisers of the National Press Awards prepare to greet the arrival of journalists from the Guardian and News of the World.

Friday, 25 February 2011

Derek Jameson: 'Why I believe Andy Coulson'


Ex-Fleet Street editor Derek Jameson writes on the Gentleman Ranters website that he believes Andy Coulson did not know about phone hacking by journalists at the News of the World.

He says of Coulson: "God forbid that any words of mine should comfort the Tory party, but methinks it is time I spoke up and got our fall guy off the hook by revealing why he almost certainly did NOT know what mischief his reporters were up to on the News of the World."

Jameson, who edited the Daily Express, Daily Star and News of the World, says tabloid editors did not want to know how their journalists got stories.

He writes: "It all comes under the heading of a Yiddish expression I picked up as a kid on the streets of the East End: Better you shouldn’t ask!"

"In my days as editor of the NoW back in the eighties, the genius who masterminded those sensational front pages was the late, much lamented Bob Warren, news editor for half of his 44 years on the paper. He knew where all the bodies were buried, but was never going to tell the editor..."

"Having invested a great deal of time, thought and staff in his potential frontpage exclusive, the last thing any news editor wants is to hear the editor on the internal intercom bellowing ‘What the fuck are you playing at?’ So it’s heads down everyone and not a word to the mighty.

"Perhaps more importantly, what the editor doesn’t know can’t hurt him or the paper."

My fantasy press awards become a reality


I wrote a piece for TheMediaBriefing about My fantasy British Press Awards from hell in which I imagined the Guardian and the News of the World battling it out for the top prizes.

Today my fantasy is a reality as the Society of Editors revealed the shortlist for this year's national newspaper awards.

The Guardian's investigation into phone hacking at the News of the World is up for Scoop of the Year... as is the cricket corruption exposed by the News of the World.

The Guardian's Nick Davies, who has led the way on the hacking story, and colleague David Leigh are up for News Reporter of the Year...as is Mazher Mahmood of the News of the World.

I wonder how close the Guardian and NoW's tables will be on the night?

Tindle pledges £250,000 to promote local press


Local press champion Sir Ray Tindle has donated £250,000 to promote the sector.

At a special lunch to celebrate his 85th birthday year, Sir Ray pledged £250,000 to fund a campaign run by the NS to promote the "unique and valued" role of the local press.

“The first weekly newspaper in England appeared in 1622 so the local press can be proud that it has served the country for so long,” said Sir Ray. “Even my small group has papers which have survived many recessions… There are 1200 [local newspapers]. 1100 are local weeklies. We are the largest medium in our towns. We reach a higher percentage of residents in our areas than any other medium. Collectively we reach 38 million of our UK population – more than the internet or any printed medium – and we perform a different function.”

He told guests at Stationers’ Hall: “We take enormous pride in our longevity, our tenacity and our closeness to our communities. The British press is the finest in the world and we are proud to be a major part of it. Of course we’re having a tough time like most of the country but we’re tough, we’re adapting where necessary, we’re fighting back and coming through as we’ve come through recessions and slumps and world wars in the past.”

Sir Ray said that his auditors had confirmed that his own group’s profits were currently at similar levels to those being achieved before the boom which had preceded this latest recession. “We are local papers,” he added. “For local traders there is no better or more economical way of reaching their potential customers without waste, and for local residents there is no better way of hearing in depth of the news of their schools and churches and courts and councils. No other medium gives the whole comprehensive picture of their town.”

'Cat of death' reaps a purr-fect Sun headline


This is how the Sun today headlined its story of Oscar the cat who when he curls up next to an elderly resident at Steere House nursing home in the US it usually means they are not long for this world.

Oscar is nicknamed the "cat of death" because doctors believe he has predicted the passing of more than 50 patients.

The Sun says: "Oscar is thought to be able to detect the time at which a patient will pass away to within 24 hours. It's a highly unusual skill - and all the more so because he is a cat."

Dr. David Dosa says of the elderly patients: "Having Oscar around always seems to bring a last smile to their face before they pass on."

Middle East crisis shows we need World Service


The NUJ is arguing that the crisis in North Africa and the Middle East demonstrates the need to preserve the BBC World Service and says it is "bizarre and inappropriate" for the British government to axe essential parts of the international broadcasting institution at this critical time.

The union says the axe will fall on vital BBC World Service transmissions this week as a result of government funding cuts. The final broadcasts will take place on Friday 25 February from the BBC Portuguese service to Africa, the Spanish Latin American service (BBC Mundo), and the services to Serbia and Albania.

NUJ deputy general secretary, Michelle Stanistreet said: “The importance of the free flow of information in developing and defending democracy is being demonstrated so courageously across North Africa and the Middle East right now.

"It is particularly bizarre and inappropriate to witness an essential international broadcasting institution like the World Service being torn apart through short-sighted management and government cuts."

Among those backing the campaign to stop World Service cuts are Mozambique-based journalist Joseph Hanlon who said: “The most trusted radio voice in Africa is the BBC, it has won listeners and trust for accuracy and unbiased reporting over five decades of broadcasting."

Easter Europe specialist Misha Glenny said: “As the BBC Central Europe Correspondent at the time of the establishment of its Albanian-language service in the early 1990s, I found it especially tragic and ironic that the BBC announced its closure of the service just as a major political crisis erupted in the Albanian capital, Tirana. Last month’s clashes between opposition protestors and the government-backed police resulted in the deaths of four innocent men.

"Journalists and their media outlets in Albania and Kosovo are regularly subjected to forms of harassment and physical intimidation and an end to the BBC Albanian-language service will reduce their protection and ability to report accurately and objectively about their respective country still further.

"The Serbian service has unflinchingly reported truths which have confounded nationalists and demagogues. Its demise is deeply upsetting.”
  • The NUJ has organised a public meeting to defend the BBC World Service for Tuesday 15 March in the House of Commons, committee room 14, starting at 6.30pm.

FT: News Corp close to agreement on BSkyB


News Corp is close to an agreement with UK regulators over a remedy for concerns about its £13.2bn bid for BSkyB, according to the Financial Times.

The FT says after a series of discussions with the Office of Fair Trading, Rupert Murdoch’s media group is much nearer than previously reported to satisfying objections that combining full ownership of BSkyB with its other assets would reduce the diversity of news provision in the country.

It adds: "Details of the remedy, which could be announced as soon as next week, have not yet emerged, but two people familiar with the discussions said it was “structural” rather than “behavioural”.

"That signals that instead of offering promises about how it will keep BSkyB’s Sky News operations and its News International titles separate, News Corp is discussing ways in which it could surrender control of the 24-hour satellite news channel which would satisfy the OFT."

Quotes of the Week: From dog eats dog goes barking mad to making it as a fashion journalist

Ex Observer editor Donald Trelford in the Independent: "The phone-hacking saga begins to look obsessive, hysterical and opportunistic – a case of 'dog eats dog' gone barking mad. Some of the journalists involved are no doubt motivated by a genuine desire to improve the conduct of their profession, but there are other vested interests at work whose motives are not so pure."

Retiring
Daily Express editor Peter Hill on former PCC chairman Sir Christopher Meyer in a Guardian interview with Roy Greenslade: "Throughout the time that the McCann stories were running he was friendly towards me. He never said a word about it, and nothing was said about it at the PCC. There was no criticism, no suggestion that papers should rein back on the coverage. Then, quite suddenly, Meyer went on television to denounce me. I was absolutely astonished, because, until that time, he'd said nothing about it. I was very angry about it. I shall never forgive him. He didn't disclose that his wife was intimately connected to the McCanns through her charity. But what can you expect from a man who ratted on all his previous colleagues and intimates in the Foreign Office?"

Ros Perlin in the Mail on Sunday: "If the UK continues to follow America’s lead, you can look forward to dozens of ‘internship companies’ selling positions (a California firm called Dream Careers offers its American clients summer internships in London for £6,500 a pop), lots more auctions and the further erosion of pay and working conditions. Interns will keep replacing full-time workers but will rarely get hired on a regular basis themselves."

Fraser Nelson on the Spectator blog: "The penance of Damian McBride continues. After being ejected from No10, and disowned by his mentor Ed Balls, I can reveal that our antihero now has a new job – head of media at the Catholic overseas aid charity CAFOD. He will be doubtless be brilliantly effective at briefing against its enemies (in CAFOD's case, hunger and the devil)."

Guido Fawkes in a letter to Guardian editor-in-chief Alan Rusbridger after slating the Guardian Media Group for hedge fund investments: "As you may have noticed my blog has been doing some investigative reporting of the kind for which the Guardian is famed."

Alan Rusbriger on the Inside Guardian blog: "If the argument is that no one should write critically about tax avoidance unless they can show total purity in all their dealings and investments, both personal and corporately, then the probable blunt truth is that not a single journalist would be able to write on the subject."

Deborah Ross in the Independent on what it takes to be a fashion journalist: "There is often rigorous training involved of the kind that might include bidding for an internship at a charity auction, plus you have to know all the people who live in and around Primrose Hill and talk excitedly about the cutest little cupcake shop there."

Thursday, 24 February 2011

So who came up with the word churnalism?


Most people associate the word 'churnalism' with Guardian journalist Nick Davies' book Flat Earth News, in which he highlighted the amount of press releases recycled in the media with little or no extra content added by journalists.

It has given birth to the new churnalism.com website I have mentioned here.

Tony Harcup (top), senior lecturer at the Department of Journalism Studies, University of Sheffield, reminds me that he wrote an article for Press Gazette in February 2008 about how the word churnalism pre-dated Flat Earth News.

Tony wrote: "I first came across the word churnalism several years ago after an NUJ meeting. Talk in the pub got round to bemoaning the fact that reporters were only rarely leaving newsrooms to check things out, due to staff cutbacks and a culture of 'presenteeism' – another good word for a bad trend.

"The union’s then northern organiser Miles Barter said he knew a journalist who had come up with a name for this process: churnalism. I called this chap, Waseem Zakir of BBC Scotland, and asked what he meant by it.

“ 'Ten or 15 years ago you would go out and find your own stories and it was proactive journalism,' he explained. 'It’s become reactive now. You get copy coming in on the wires and reporters churn it out, processing stuff and maybe adding the odd local quote. It’s affecting every newsroom in the country and reporters are becoming churnalists.'

"Too true. Apart from the simple pleasure of the rhyme, the word seemed to convey so much about what was wrong with so much journalism.

"I remember Googling it at the time and coming up with precisely no hits. Inspired by Waseem’s critique, a handful of us began using the term, but it sank largely without trace until Nick Davies started throwing it around recently."

Dublin protest to mark death of Sunday Tribune


The NUJ is organising a symbolic protest outside the offices of the Sunday Tribune in Dublin today to mark the closure of the newspaper and show solidarity with colleagues who are being made redundant.

More than 40 staff have lost their jobs after Sunday Tribune receiver Jim Luby announced he had been unable to find a buyer for the newspaper. The receiver was appointed at the end of January, when it was announced by Independent News and Media that it was withdrawing funding from the newspaper.

Workers at the Sunday Tribune will receive only statutory redundancy from the Republic of Ireland’s Insolvency Payments Scheme. The NUJ is calling on Independent News and Media to make provision for ex gratia payments to Sunday Tribune workers as a result of the decision to pull the plug on funding for the newspaper.

The protest begins at 1.15pm and will be followed by a meeting in support of the redundant workers.

Update: The NUJ reports more than 100 people took part in the solidarity protest outside the offices of the Sunday Tribune as staff at the newspaper gathered to collect their final pay cheques. The attendance included many former Tribune staff and representatives of virtually all print and electronic media organisations in the city.

Wednesday, 23 February 2011

Watch out journalists: New churnalism detector website aims to expose lazy PR-fed journalism


The Media Standards Trust has launched a new website it claims can detect "churnalism" - lazy journalism that involves the recycling of press releases with little new content added.

Churnalism.com has been inspired by Guardian journalist Nick Davies' book Flat Earth News, in which he used the word "churnalism" and reported that PR material now finds its way into 54% of news stories.

On churnalism.com users can:
  • Compare a press release with over 3 million articles published by national newspaper websites, the BBC or Sky News since 2008
  • See the percentage of a press release cut and pasted into news articles, and the number of characters that overlap
  • See a press release side-by-side with an image of the article, showing which bits have been copied
  • Search examples of “churn” saved by other people as well as collected automatically by churnalism.com
  • Share examples of churn via Twitter and Facebook
“News organisations can now be much more transparent about the sources of their articles,” Martin Moore, director of the Media Standards Trust said, “but most of them still aren’t. Hiding the connection between PR and news is not in the interests of the public. Hopefully churnalism.com will nudge them to be more open about their use of PR material.

“Even with press releases that are clearly in the public interest - medical breakthroughs, government announcements, school closures, and perhaps even this website launch - it is still better that articles are transparent about their sources.

“Maybe churnalism.com will also encourage more original journalism. Exposing unoriginal churn may help slow the steep decline in the amount of original reporting that we’ve seen in the last few years.”

How it works: The site compresses all articles published on national newspaper websites, on BBC News, and Sky News online, into a series of numbers based on 15 character strings (using a 'hash function') and then stores them in a fast access database. When someone pastes in some text and clicks 'compare', the ‘churn engine’ compresses the text entered and then searches for similar compressions (or 'common hashes'). If the engine finds any articles where the similarity is greater than 20%, then it suggests the article may be churn.

Warning: This story has been compiled from a press release from churnalism.com so it could be a complete hoax to show churnalism in operation. I ran the story through the churnalism detector - and it passed.

Round Five: Blogger versus Croydon Advertiser


This could get nasty. The Inside Croydon blog is taking another pop at the Croydon Advertiser disputing its editor's claim that the part-free and part paid-for paper is distributed to more than 100,000 people each week.

Inside Croydon writes: "A couple of weeks ago, the paper’s relatively new editor got the right ‘ump with this website for having the temerity to criticise its coverage and question its dwindling circulation. Glenn Ebrey (for it is he) said at the time: 'Last time I checked, our papers were distributed to more than 100,000 people a week'.”

Inside Croydon had described the Advertiser as"patronising and dull" and claimed it had an “increasingly small circulation”. Now the blog links to the Advertiser's latest ABC certificate showing total distribution of 56,564 with 13,379 paid-for, and states: "That all adds up to a load less than the 100,000 that Ebrey claimed on his blog."

Naturally, the Advertiser will argue that it has more than one reader per copy but I wonder if Ebrey is regretting challenging the blogger behind Inside Croydon in an open letter to reveal themselves and come into the paper's office for a day to see how hard his team worked.

Ebrey wrote of the blogger: "Mr Insider doesn’t just have a chip on his shoulder, he seems to have the full portion with ketchup and vinegar thrown in for good measure." He later identified him.

Could the Irish News overtake Belfast Telegraph?

The website Slugger O'Toole is running a post suggesting, on the basis of the latest ABC figures for newspapers in Northern Ireland, that the Irish News may overtake the sales of the Belfast Telegraph.

According to a graph running on the website, sales of the Irish News could surpass those of the Belfast Telegraph towards the end of 2012 and beginning of 2013 based on current trends.

Slugger O'Toole reports the latest figures show the Belfast Telegraph averaging daily sales of 58,491, a drop of 11.7%; and the Irish News 44,222, a fall of 3.2%.

There are some interesting posts. One noting that the Irish News has introduced a paywall.

Press freedom groups concern for journalist missing in Libya as media crackdown intensifies


As more people take to the streets in the Middle East ands North Africa to demand democratic reforms and change, the authorities in these countries are responding with violence and are cracking down on the journalists who try to cover these protests, press freedom campaign group Reporters Without Borders has warned.

Libya: Reporters Without Borders has been unable to obtain any information as to the whereabouts of Atef El-Atrash, a journalist with the newspaper Quryna, since 18 February, a day after he spoke on Al Jazeera about the demonstrations in Benghazi.

The New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists says it is alarmed by the ongoing deterioration of conditions for the media in the Middle East, including the disappearance of Atef El-Atrash. "The Libyan authorities and their supporters should know that violence against journalists reporting on political turmoil will not be tolerated," said Robert Mahoney, CPJ's deputy director. "We are concerned for the safety of all journalists, in particular Atef al-Atrash."

Yemen: RWB says violence against journalists has been continuing in Yemen. Security forces assaulted Zaki Saqladi, a correspondent of the news website AlmasdarOnline, in the southern province of Ad-Dali, confiscating his car and his camera. Swiss Info correspondent Abdel-Karim Salam was the victim of a violent attack while covering a sit-in outside Sanaa university on 20 February and had to be hospitalised . Tom Finn, a reporter for the Guardian newspaper, was attacked on 17 February by a group of men armed with sticks, who tried to take his camera.

Iran: Sources in Iran have told RWB that the authorities have again been blocking the internet and mobile phone networks since the start of a big protest on 20 February. Internet connections have been slowed down or entirely disconnected in certain neighbourhoods in Tehran, Isfahan, Shiraz and Mashad, making it hard or impossible to browse or send emails. SMS services have been cut since midday on 20 February in several regions, preventing use of Twitter.

Stop those leaks with a WikiLeaks umbrella...













An online shop has been launched to help raise cash for WikiLeaks by offering branded goods featuring the whistleblowing website and its founder Julian Assange.

On offer are T-shirts, hats, scarves, bags and badges and an umbrella described as "not so leaky".

It follows a deal between WikiLeaks and German merchandising company Spreadshirt AG which has sold T-shirts for the Spice Girls and Boyzone.

  • For those with serious leakage problems Anna Raccoon is suggesting the WikiLeaks incontinence pad.

Middle East uprisings dominate press coverage


Popular protests across the Middle East dominated the UK press for the week ending Sunday 20 February, according to journalisted.

Shia-majority protests in Sunni-ruled Bahrain, with 5 people killed and 200 injured in clashes with the military, generated 227 articles; the aftermath of Egypt's revolution, with the military council in power, and protests rippling across the region, 226 articles; protests in Libya, with the death toll rising to hundreds in Colonel Gaddafi's military and mercenary crackdown, 150 articles; opposition-supported Iran protests, followed by harshest regime crackdown on the Green movement since 2009 elections, 146 articles.

The other foreign story capturing the headlines was Italian PM Silvio Berlusconi, indicted to stand trial on two charges of paying for under-age sex and abuse of power, which was covered in 133 articles.

Covered little, according to journalisted, were two Iranian 'training' warships pass through the Suez Canal for the first time since 1979, with Israel describing the move as 'provocation', 19 articles; British government faces criticism for weapons trading to Arab regimes and withdraws 44 export licenses from Bahrain, 12 articles; the Palestinian Authority cabinet reshuffles, amidst wariness of overdue general election and calls for democratic reform in face of regional protests, 4 articles; a Moroccan soldier dies of self-immolation wounds, ahead of weekend demonstrations calling for reform, 1 article.

Tuesday, 22 February 2011

Sunday Tribune staff redundant as no buyer found


Staff at Ireland's Sunday Tribune have been told no new buyer for the paper has been found and its 43 employees will be made redundant next week.

The newspaper went into receivership and suspended publication at the beginning of February after its main financial backer, Independent News & Media, withdrew its support from the company.

The Irish Times says staff employed at the newspaper were informed today by e-mail that they would be made redundant on Monday next as no firm offers had been made for the business.

RTE reports the receiver stating there had been a small number of inquiries about buying the business but no definite offers had been received.

The Irish Mail on Sunday caused outrage in Ireland and was accused of "grave robbing" after it attempted to woo Sunday Tribune readers with a wrap around purporting to be a Sunday Tribune front page.


Guido slams Guardian for hedge fund investment


Political blogger Guido Fawkes, aka Paul Staines, has lit a bonfire under the Guardian today by crticising the Guardian Media Group for making £39.3 million by investing in hedge funds.

Guido writes on his blog: "Earlier this month the Guardian front paged a story revealing that the City of London accounted for £11.4 million of the Conservative Party’s funding in 2009 – 10, in lurid terms we learned of the millions passed to Tory coffers by rich hedge fund managers. Guido can reveal that during that same period the Guardian Media Group’s coffers gained £39.3 million from investments in hedge funds. More than three times as much as they castigated the Tories for taking from hedgies…"

He claims: "Documents obtained by Guido reveal that the GMG board approved investments now totalling £223.8 million in speculative funds in a range of assets...The funds are traded by a number of specialist fund managers, overseen by the giant U.S. based asset manager Cambridge Associates.

"Cambridge Associates is a secretive, privately held firm with a client list which includes billionaires and government sovereign wealth funds. Guido has discovered that the £223.8 million is invested in emerging markets, bonds and hedge funds. The investments are principally in US Dollars and offshore from the UK."

Guido has written an open letter to Guardian editor-in-chief Alan Rusbridger stating: "As you may have noticed my blog has been doing some investigative reporting of the kind for which the Guardian is famed."

He described the GMG accounts as "opaque" and asks Rusbridger to confirm the value of GMG assets held in "tax havens"; the value of GMG investments held in hedge funds; the names of the hedge funds and tax domicile of the fund managers.

Guido ends: "I look forward to lunching with you another time soon".

The information Guido has "discovered" and documents he has "obtained" are from the GMG annual report published last summer. GMG has an investment fund and it is stated in the annual report that hedge funds are part of it.

Update: GMG has issued the following statement: "In 2008 Guardian Media Group (GMG) established an investment fund portfolio, as part of its strategy to reduce risk. This fund consists of a wide range of different investments made directly by GMG. These investments are managed by a number of specialist fund managers, and include global and emerging markets equity, fixed income, real assets and hedge funds. GMG is advised by Cambridge Associates on these investments. These facts have been a matter of public record for some time, and are published in GMG's annual report.

"The investment portfolio is designed to be relatively low-risk (in line with GMG's investment strategy) and similar to those typically used by pension funds and other standard investment vehicles. While the majority of the funds are based outside the UK, GMG is subject to UK tax on all income and realised gains arising from these investments.

"GMG does not use derivative financial instruments for speculative purposes. Part of the investment fund portfolio is denominated in US dollars, and GMG uses currency hedging in order to protect its investment fund against fluctuations in currency values. Further details are available in GMG's annual report."

Rusbridger has also done a post on Inside Guardian in which he says: "If the argument is that no one should write critically about tax avoidance unless they can show total purity in all their dealings and investments, both personal and corporately, then the probable blunt truth is that not a single journalist would be able to write on the subject."

Telegraph plans paid-for website in September


Telegraph Media Group is set to announce details of a metered website in the spring, with the launch pencilled in for September, reports BrandRepublic.

According to BrandRepublic sources, TMG will introduce a hybrid strategy, similar to the Financial Times, where users are permitted to see limited free content and then asked to subscribe.

It says TMG is talking to several digital agencies with a brief to overhaul telegraph.co.uk, which features editorial content from the Daily Telegraph and the Sunday Telegraph.

A TMG spokesman told BrandRepublic: "Absolutely no decisions have been made on the introduction of a paid-content model. Like all publishers, TMG continually evaluates the developments in the digital sector."

Monday, 21 February 2011

Will Meyer complain to the PCC about Peter Hill?


Retiring Daily Express editor Peter Hill pulls no punches when discussing the former Press Complaints Commission chairman Sir Christopher Meyer (top) in an interview with Roy Greenslade in MediaGuardian.

Hill was a member of the PCC and came under fire when the Express had to make a £550,000 libel damages payout to Kate and Gerry McCann over the paper's extensive coverage of the disappearance of their daughter, Madeleine. Hill eventually left the PCC.

When Greenslade suggests to him that Meyer was "
disappointed that he had not walked earlier," Hill responds: "I have no time whatsoever for Christopher Meyer. He is a complete hypocrite. I was disgusted with him.

"Throughout the time that the McCann stories were running he was friendly towards me. He never said a word about it, and nothing was said about it at the PCC. There was no criticism, no suggestion that papers should rein back on the coverage.

"Then, quite suddenly, Meyer went on television to denounce me. I was absolutely astonished, because, until that time, he'd said nothing about it. I was very angry about it. I shall never forgive him. He didn't disclose that his wife was intimately connected to the McCanns through her charity. But what can you expect from a man who ratted on all his previous colleagues and intimates in the Foreign Office?"

Ouch! Would make for an interesting PCC adjudication if Meyer complained about Hill's abrasive comments.

  • Former deputy Prime Minister John Prescott was so angered about references to him in Meyer's book DC Confidential, covering his time as ambassador to Washington, that he called for him to resign from the PCC and said he was regarded as a "red socked fop" on Capitol Hill.

Tobias Grubbe is a dedicated follower of fashion


Gentleman journalist Tobias Grubbe, the creation of Michael Cross and Matthew Buck, has a look at London Fashion Week circa 1711 in his latest episode at telegraph.co.uk.

Donald Trelford on phone hacking story: 'It's a case of dog eats dog gone barking mad'


Former Observer editor Donald Trelford describes press coverage of the News of the World phone hacking affair as "obsessive, hysterical and opportunistic" and "a case of 'dog eats dog' gone barking mad".

Writing in the Independent, Trelford won't be winning any friends at the Guardian by claiming: "It seems extraordinary that this story should remain so high on the news agenda. It was all a long time ago, two people have been to jail, the paper's editor has resigned twice from senior posts without any convincing evidence being produced against him, the Press Complaints Commission appears satisfied that newspapers now abide by data protection law, and police inquiries have resumed."

Trelford says: "Some of the journalists involved are no doubt motivated by a genuine desire to improve the conduct of their profession, but there are other vested interests at work whose motives are not so pure."

Trelford suggest the vested interests are the anti-Rupert Murdoch faction; celebrities who have been exposed by the tabloids in the past being egged on by lawyers who see a massive pay-off for themselves; and MPs still smarting from the drubbing they received from the newspapers over the expenses scandal and itching to get their own back.

He adds: "Evidence is the key word, and the press should wait for that. The fact that a celebrity thinks he or she may have been hacked isn't evidence."

  • Trelford's piece is rather at odds with a double page spread on phone hacking in the same issue of the Independent headlined: "Revealed: the widening web of litigation in press scandal" which comes complete with a giant graphic showing dozens of legal cases being brought against the News of the World and the police.
  • Roy Greenslade on his MediaGuardian blog argues "Doubting Don" is wrong.

Sunday, 20 February 2011

Not today, thank you... or tomorrow or last night


Interesting post on the Guardian's MindYourLanguage blog about why it has dropped the journalistic habit of putting "today", "tomorrow", "yesterday", "tonight" into stories on the website.

Guardian production editor David Marsh writes: "It used to be quite simple. If you worked for an evening newspaper, you put 'today' near the beginning of every story in an attempt to give the impression of being up-to-the-minute – even though many of the stories had been written the day before (as those lovely people who own local newspapers strove to increase their profits by cutting editions and moving deadlines ever earlier in the day).

"If you worked for a morning newspaper, you put 'last night' at the beginning: the assumption was that reading your paper was the first thing that everyone did, the moment they awoke, and you wanted them to think that you had been slaving all night on their behalf to bring them the absolute latest news. A report that might have been written at, say, 3pm the previous day would still start something like this: 'The government last night announced ...' "

Marsh says this has all changed for online readers. "We now have many millions of readers around the world, for whom the use of yesterday, today and tomorrow must be at best confusing and at times downright misleading...Even in the UK, online readers may visit the website at any time, using a variety of devices, as the old, predictable pattern of newspaper readership has changed for ever. A guardian.co.uk story may be read within seconds of publication, or months later – long after the newspaper has been composted.

"So our new policy, adopted last week (wherever you are in the world), is to omit time references such as last night, yesterday, today, tonight and tomorrow from guardian.co.uk stories."

As for the newspaper? Marsh adds: "In contrast to the web, 'today' is highly desirable for newspaper reports, making them sound topical and helping set the day's news agenda. But standard morning paper stories that begin, dispiritingly, 'the government last night faced criticism of its NHS reforms ...' or the lumpen '... it emerged last night' date from a time when news was read at the breakfast table and 'last night' sounded reasonably current. This is no longer the case. We need to explore new ways of reporting that avoid churning out such cliches."

MoS: Cameron will ban auctions of internships


The Mail on Sunday says David Cameron will ban Tory fund raising auctions of internships after being embarrassed by the paper's revelations last week that placements at city firms and Tatler magazine were sold off at the Conservative's Black and White Party for thousands of pounds.

A senior Tory aide tells the paper: "You can rest assured that this kind of auction will not be part of next year's event. It was badly misjudged."

The MoS notes its story was seized upon by Labour leader Ed Miliband, who taunted Cameron in the Commons: "Your view of social mobility is auctioning off a few City internships at the Conservative Party ball."

The MoS also highlights a Labour MP advertising an unpaid internship and says: "Last month, a survey revealed that hundreds of MPs have offered unpaid internships to graduates in defiance of calls for all employers to pay anyone on extended work placement a proper wage.

"There were also warnings that politicians advertising for internships for as long as six months were breaking the law."

In an MoS opinion piece Curse of the Interns , Ros Perlin writes: "The Tories’ auction of internships to wealthy donors for their children – reported last week in this newspaper – is only the tip of the iceberg.

"If the UK continues to follow America’s lead, you can look forward to dozens of ‘internship companies’ selling positions (a California firm called Dream Careers offers its American clients summer internships in London for £6,500 a pop), lots more auctions and the further erosion of pay and working conditions.Interns will keep replacing full-time workers but will rarely get hired on a regular basis themselves.

"Instead of work experience lasting a few weeks, we’ll see more internships dragging on for months, even years, and the rise of ‘serial interns’. Britain should put the brakes on the internship boom before it’s too late – if it isn’t already."

Friday, 18 February 2011

Images of Egypt protests on show at special event


The work of UK press photographers and video journalists who covered the protests in Egypt will be shown at a special event in London.

The event is organised by the NUJ London Photographers’ Branch and the British Press Photographers Association, at the Shortwave Cinema, 10 Bermondsey Square, London SE1 3UN, on Tuesday March 1.

Starting at 8pm, the evening will show video and photographs covering the extraordinary events during the popular uprising against President Hosni Mubarak and his regime. There will also be a question-and-answer discussion with the photographers and video journalists who covered the uprising.

Entry is by donation and there will be a raffle to win selected prints donated by the photographers. All profits will go to the Egyptian journalist support fund.

Sun's bullseye with WW1 exploding dart headline


Double top Sun headline today on a story of how pilots in World War One destroyed German Zeppelins with - an exploding dart.

Royal Navy Commander Francis Ranken invented the dart in 1915. Now the demonstration model, believed to be the last, could fetch £1,200 at auction in Marlow, Bucks, on March 2, the Sun says.

The Sun headline on its online version of the story is the prosaic "WW1 pilots’ exploding dart" way off target compared to the print version.

Northcliffe offers new staff fixed term contracts


Recent pronouncements by Daily Mail and General Trust executives suggest they don't see a long term future for its Northcliffe Media regional arm within the group and are open to approaches from other regional publishers.

Now Northcliffe has caused speculation among staff by advertising for journalists on short term contracts.

Industry website holdthefrontpage is advertising two posts at Northcliffe's Lincolnshire Echo for a news reporter and a sports writer/sub on six-month fixed term contracts.

The jobs are to replace two staff members who have left and it is the first time anyone can recall the Echo offering any job on such a basis. The Echo has a circulation of around 18,500 and is considered one of Northcliffe's best performing evenings.

Within the regional press, short term contracts are more usually offered to those working on special projects rather than journalists taking full time staff jobs. The ads may be taken as another sign of uncertainty about the future of the regional press.

There has been speculation that smaller circulation regional evening titles will go weekly or bi-weekly and come out on the days which attract the most advertising.

One source says that plans for several small circulation evenings to go weekly are being seriously considered by Northcliffe.

Quotes of the Week: From why the Observer used a private eye to the future of the local press

Observer readers' editor Stephen Pritchard on why the newspaper used the services of private investigator Steve Whittamore: "It's the nature of journalism that some inquiries prove fruitless, but a cross-referencing of targets in Whittamore's register with names that appeared in the paper establishes that many stories in the public interest were being produced. Examples include articles on racketeering landlords, radical Islamic clerics, germ warfare test victims, fugitive war criminals and crooked politicians."

Andrew Neil on his BBC blog about the Mail on Sunday story that internships were auctioned at a Tory fund raising event: "In today's incredibly competitive labour markets work experience matters more than ever when it comes to securing that first rung on the ladder. Companies might like to think how they make their internships open to as wide a selection of the talented from all backgrounds as they can. I suggest that internships granted on the basis of parents who can afford £400 a head for dinner then £3,000 per internship cannot be regarded as entirely fair or meritocratic."

Kingston University Professor of Journalism Brian Cathcart tweets on the MoS Tory auction story: "Like something from Louis XIV's France. Depraved, corrupt, shameless."

NUJ deputy general secretary Michelle Stanistreet on the same subject: “Internships should be open to all, not the preserve of a wealthy few. The fact that they are being auctioned to raise funds for a political party is obscene. Such a disgusting practice simply perpetuates privilege and inequality. Is this what is meant by the Big Society – only the wealthy need apply?”

Julie Burchill in the Independent: "When I was a youngster on a pop music paper, I came to the job aware that there were these females called groupies who would offer sexual favours to complete strangers so long as they were famous. But I was unprepared for the way many of the male journalists sucked up shamelessly to rock stars – and would probably have sucked them off, too, given half a chance."

Stephen Glover in the Independent on Julian Assange: "The Guardian may not regret getting into bed with this seemingly awful man, but it certainly has no intention of being caught lingering there."

Tim Rutten in the Los Angeles Times: "The Huffington Post is a brilliantly packaged product with a particular flair for addressing the cultural and entertainment tastes of its overwhelmingly liberal audience. To grasp its business model, though, you need to picture a galley rowed by slaves and commanded by pirates."

Joel Simon, executive director of the Committee to Protect Journalists: "Today's sad reality is that while international law guarantees the right to free expression, journalists can rely on few international institutions to defend that right."

Richard Littlejohn in the Daily Mail: "For the past 20-odd years, this column has made a decent living documenting the insanity and waste in Britain’s Town Halls. If all else failed, there was always the Guardian jobs pages on a Wednesday to dig me out of a hole. The recruitment of five-a-day enforcers, lesbian bereavement counsellors and assorted real nappy outreach co-ordinators was guaranteed to raise a giggle."

Sean Dooley in MediaGuardian on the future of the regional press: "The verdict that really matters, however, lies with a jury that is still out. And so far few readers are seeing any mitigating circumstances as their cherished local papers are printed earlier and earlier, further and further away from home, carrying less and less news of any relevance to their communities."

Thursday, 17 February 2011

My fantasy British Press Awards from hell


This is a piece I've done for TheMediaBriefing on the British Press Awards. It is a fantasy but could become a reality.


One of my fondest memories of the British Press Awards is seeing a table of journalists standing on their chairs gesturing at an increasingly red faced Piers Morgan and his Mirror hacks while chanting “losers...losers” like a bunch of football hooligans.

And that was just the Guardian.

In 1999, when the Guardian won Newspaper of the Year, Neil Wallis, then editor of the Sunday People, stormed onto the stage, grabbed the microphone and said he found it a "shocking disgrace" that the judges thought the broadsheets were better than the tabloids.

When the News of the World, then edited by Andy Coulson, was named Newspaper of the Year in 2005, some of the quality papers threatened to boycott the event, horrified that a story as trivial as David Beckham shagging someone who was not Posh could sweep the NoW to victory. They suspected a bit of fat chequebook journalism was behind the torrid tale rather than a Wooward or Bernstein.

Which goes to show the national press is a broad church with a congregation that does not always get on. Some see it as a mixture of sinners (the “red-tops”) and missionaries (the “quality” press).

So how are the British Press Awards going to go this year under the new stewardship of the Society of Editors and the shadow of the phone hacking scandal?

I’ve come up with a fantasy scenario whereby the British Press Awards could make the New Year celebrations at Ford Open Prison (alcohol was taken and the jail burnt down) look like the Teddy Bears’ Picnic.

It goes like this.

Reporter of the Year.

Welcome to the stage the Guardian’s Nick Davies whose tenacity blew the phone-hacking scandal wide open by revealing that NI had made a secret payment to Gordon Taylor and whose investigations ultimately led to the departure of Andy Coulson from Number 10.

On the other hand. What about the News of the World’s Mazher Mahmood? He had more stings last year than a hive of bees. In 2010 the “Fake Sheikh” tucked up snooker star John Higgins, the Duchess of York and exposed the betting scandal by members of the Pakistan cricket team.

Newspaper of the Year.


Cheers please for the Guardian’s ground breaking WikiLeaks coverage – the “biggest leak in history”. Surely a shoo-in? But what about all those super scoops from the NoW? – especially the cricket betting scandal which has massive implications for the sport and has just led to lengthy bans on the players and criminal charges.

It’s going to be a very difficult one. A major scrap between the Guardian and the News of the World is probably not exactly what the national press needs at the moment as it tries to rebuild the trust of the great British public.

It would be a PR disaster if the British Press Awards descended into a drunken orgy of recriminations and bad losers.

Can I come?

Wednesday, 16 February 2011

More puns purr-lease: Larry the cat enters No 10



The Sun goes puntastic in a leader today welcoming David Cameron's new rat-catcher - Larry the cat - to Downing Street.

Under the headline "Paw and order," The Sun says: "Cats, not cuts are order of the day in Downing Street.

"David Cameron has taken in Larry, a tabby to tackle No 10's rat insurgency.

"Do a good job and he'll be made Purr-menant Secretary."

The Daily Mirror takes an anti-Government stance: "Larry the cat was brought in yesterday to clear Downing Street of rats – and there is no shortage of them around at the moment.

"He got straight to work, too, as Chancellor George Osborne was spotted scurrying off to a meeting as soon as the moggy arrived."

The Times, which has dubbed Larry No 10's "rodent czar," reveals he hasn't got off to a great start with the media and reports: "It emerged last night that he had attacked at least one television reporter, Lucy Manning, ITV News political correspondent, who showed off her injuries on Twitter. She reported that she received 'four big scratches' and that her only provocation had been trying to hold him."

Pics: Larry by Reuters (top). Larry meets Lucy Manning (ITV).

  • Larry has already penned his first blog via Iain Martin of the Wall Street Journal Europe.

Mubarak, Big Society and King's Speech top news


President Mubarak's resignation in Egypt dominated the news along with David Cameron's Big Society under fire and The King's Speech triumph at the Baftas, for the week ending Sunday 13 February, according to journalisted.

Mubarak's resignation after 30 years in power and 18 days of popular protests generated 629 articles; David Cameron preparing to defend his Big Society policy in face of renewed criticism, 125 articles; British film The King's Speech, sweeping the board at the Baftas as predicted, 118 articles.

Covered little, according to journalisted, were protesters in Bahrain, who began to rally in the streets over a week ago, 17 articles; a young suicide bomber in school uniform, who killed 31 soldiers at a Pakistani military base, 15 articles; allegations of Egyptian army involvement in the torture of protesters, 4 articles.

Tuesday, 15 February 2011

NUJ says 31 BBC current affairs jobs under threat


The NUJ has condemned the announcement by the BBC of job cuts in its current affairs department. The union says 31 jobs threatened in London and Manchester are in reporting, production and support services.

The planned cuts in current affairs follow announcements of the loss of up to 360 posts at BBC Online and plans to slash posts in the BBC World Service by around 650 people.

NUJ deputy general secretary Michelle Stanistreet said: “The proposed cuts to BBC current affairs are a further legacy of the supine approach of one of the world’s leading broadcasters to the Coalition government.

“Slate by slate and floor by floor, an outstanding broadcasting service which took more than ninety years to build is being destroyed in an onslaught of a thousand cuts. The attacks on current affairs staff are further reducing the ability of the BBC to deliver on its sacred pledge to the public: to inform, educate and entertain."

Worldwide CPJ survey: 'Journalists in danger are abandoned by international institutions'


"Today's sad reality is that while international law guarantees the right to free expression, journalists can rely on few international institutions to defend that right," according to Joel Simon, executive director of the Committee to Protect Journalists.

Simon makes his claim in his introduction to a new CPJ book Attacks on the Press 2010.

He says: "While nongovernmental organizations have filled the void by challenging press freedom abusers and raising concerns internationally, these groups are spending an increasing amount of time monitoring the behavior of international governmental organizations that should be their allies in the press freedom struggle.

"It is not acceptable to shunt all responsibility for protection of press freedom to special rapporteurs, who are often politically isolated and underfunded. The political leaders of every international institution--from the United Nations to the AU, the OAS to the Council of Europe and the OSCE--need to speak out forcefully for press freedom and push back against member states who seek to block them from fulfilling this responsibility.

"They also need to work aggressively to enforce legal rulings. Journalists working in dangerous conditions feel isolated and abandoned by the very international institutions created to protect their rights. As this book documents, 145 journalists were jailed and 44 journalists were killed worldwide in 2010. Each of these violations represents an opportunity for international institutions to demand justice."

Littlejohn uses Guardian to fill his Mail column


Daily Mail columnist Richard Littlejohn and the Guardian are hardly a marriage made in heaven. But, in a piece bashing local councils, Littlejohn reveals how he has relied on the Guardian to help fill his column.

Littlejohn writes: "For the past 20-odd years, this column has made a decent living documenting the insanity and waste in Britain’s Town Halls.

"If all else failed, there was always the Guardian jobs pages on a Wednesday to dig me out of a hole.

"The recruitment of five-a-day enforcers, lesbian bereavement counsellors and assorted real nappy outreach co-ordinators was guaranteed to raise a giggle."

There's even a picture of a serious looking bloke reading the Guardian to illustrate Littlejohn's article (see top).

ICO raps police force for emailing journalist 10,000 criminal record checks by mistake


The Information Commissioner’s Office has found Gwent Police in breach of the Data Protection Act for accidentally emailing information relating to 10,000 Criminal Records Bureau checks to a journalist working for the London-based Register website.

An email containing a spreadsheet of the results of the 10,000 CRB enquiries was mistakenly sent when a staff member at Gwent Police inadvertently copied the journalist into the email.

The ICO says 863 of the records indicated that the individual had personal information recorded but no details of criminal convictions were disclosed and the nature of the information was not identifiable.

A subsequent investigation conducted by Gwent police criticised the member of staff responsible for circulating the email after the individual failed to follow the force’s IT security policies regarding the importance of password protection and only sharing information that is absolutely necessary.

Anne Jones, Assistant Commissioner for Wales, said: “It is essential that staff are aware of and follow their organisation’s security policies. Such a huge amount of sensitive personal information should never have been circulated via email, especially when there was no password or encryption in place. We are pleased that Gwent Police has taken steps to prevent this happening again.”

Gwent Police will implement stricter rules to ensure that wherever possible information is accessed directly via secure databases and the use of generic passwords will stop. The undertaking also requires new technology to be brought in to prevent the inappropriate auto completion of addresses in internal and external email accounts.

According to the Register, the email detailed the results of the checks going back to 2001 and so identified 863 people as having been in trouble with police. In many cases it recorded their occupations, including dozens of taxi drivers, school and hospital workers. Personal details and whether a CRB disclosure was made on foster carers, IT technicians and pest controllers was also included in the spreadsheet.

The Register deleted the file in co-operation with Gwent Police’s professional standards officers, who travelled to our London offices two days after being contacted.

The error occurred when the author of the email — a member of the force’s CID data management unit — used the autocomplete function in email software to include the journalist’s address along with those of five Gwent Police officials.

The Register address had been automatically saved by the system after it was used to submit two unrelated Freedom of Information requests last year.

Gwent Police asked The Register to consider not publishing a story about its serious data breach saying it would undermine public confidence in the force, but the website declined.