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Month: July 2011

The Daily Mail once again makes me think ‘FFS’

The Daily Mail once again makes me think ‘FFS’

There’s an awful, shitty story in today’s Daily Heil about Wish You Were Here actress Emily Lloyd. The Heil is big on the physical form of women. Some are too thin. Some are too fat. If you’re famous and you haven’t been declared ‘just right’ by the arbiters of Derry Street, they let you know about it in no uncertain terms. In Lloyd’s case, “the glamorous looks which once helped propel her to fame are gone”. Really? She’s a bit broader in the beam, but she’s still recognisably Emily Lloyd.

If this story amounted to nothing more than “woman looks different at 40 to how she did at 17” it would be cunty enough. However, read further down. “She has spoken openly in interviews about her mental health problems – doctors have diagnosed mild schizophrenia, Tourette’s syndrome, obsessive compulsive disorder and attention deficit disorder,” Nick McDermott informs us helpfully. Well, being splashed across the pages of a widely-read newspaper in this manner’s really going to help her deal with those various issues. Who are the “concerned friends” referred to in the article? Or are they not friends at all, just random fuckwits who’ve spotted her in the street and thought “Isn’t that the girl from Wish You Were Here? She looks rough. Might be a few quid in it”?

Oi, McDermott, here’s a free story for you, y’twat. At 17, I looked like this. Wasn’t I a little darling? Fresh-faced, almost pert. And that’s just a portrait. You can’t see what I was like beneath the nipples back then. Bloody hell, I was gorgeous.

This is what I look like now, and I’m only 38. I’ve really let myself go, and I’ve done it quicker than Emily, who, as far as I can see looks absolutely lovely. I am frequently seen traipsing between my £80,000 3-bed terraced house (That’s your preferred snidey house style, isn’t it? I’ve estimated the value based on what houses of similar size go for round here now. I didn’t pay that for it, obviously) and the chippy, having lost the glamorous looks that once made some girls consider me vaguely acceptable after a few pints. Unfortunately, I have no mental health issues for the likes of Nick McDermott to dwell on. I also have a penis and am not even vaguely famous, which might well be the deciding factors in the Mail‘s ultimate decision not to run with this exclusive.

In contrast, look at this buff, toned specimen of sex. That’s Paul Dacre. He edits the Daily Mail. Look at his inviting mouth. You just would, wouldn’t you? Phwoarr, eh? Eh? I think I’ve just spunked in my pants and I’m not even slightly gay.

If you read the Mail, remember that it hates everyone. Including you. Especially you if you’re a woman.

All the news that’s shit to print

All the news that’s shit to print

I first set foot in a newspaper office 23 years ago. I was 15 years old, and I was on work experience. On each desk at the Sutton and Cheam/Epsom and Ewell Herald was an in-tray, an out-tray, a telephone and a sit-up-and-beg typewriter. Stories were researched by speaking to people, either by telephone, or, as was often preferable, by getting out of the office, wearing out a bit of shoe leather and meeting them face-to-face. I remember sitting in an old people’s home as a First World War veteran talked me through his experiences and showed me his photo albums. Would the story I ended up writing have been as good if I’d spoken to him on the telephone? Almost certainly not.

Nowadays, ‘churnalism’ is the word. Journalists from the smallest circulation local freesheet to the biggest-selling national hardly ever leave their desks. With more words needed to fill more pages, there isn’t time to go out and get the stories. The typewriters have been replaced by computers, with Google and Wikipedia the overworked, underpaid hack’s friend. Journalism now is increasingly about repurposing existing material. Why ring the person up when there’s a tidy little bon mot on the press release? Of course it would be better to have an all-original line, but with deadlines looming, it’ll have to do. I have nothing but sympathy for journalists working in this awful culture. I have less sympathy, however, for the way that many journalists now use social networking sites.

At one end of the scale is the relatively benign, but still lazy practice of plundering Twitter for a few handy opinions and bunging them into a nice space-filling box. 23 years ago, the work experience kid or office junior would have been pushed out of the door and told to get a few vox pops. Much better, and much more fun.

At the other end of the scale is the deplorable way in which individuals’ Facebook profiles are often used fill in the gaps about that person. There’s nothing particularly deplorable about using the profile as source material, apart from grumpy old hacks’ general caveats about laziness. What makes it deplorable is the appallingly judgmental way in which the information is all-too-often used. Generally speaking, this happens when the individual has done or is suspected of having done something unpleasant or notorious. Take the case of Becki Leighton, the nurse arrested on suspicion of adulterating the saline drips at Stepping Hill Hospital in Stockport. Now, I have serious reservations about the correctness of naming the suspect at all. Remember Joanna Yeates’ landlord? He turned out to be completely blameless, but only after his name had been dragged extensively through the mud by Her Majesty’s Press. Leighton is a suspect. She could be guilty. She could be innocent. Nobody at this stage knows.

What we do know about her, though, thanks to the Daily Mail finding her Facebook profile (don’t worry – it’s an IstyOsty link) is that she drinks (sometimes to excess), she smokes and she has days where she really doesn’t want to go to work. Well, that’s pretty conclusive. Throw the book at her. Except, smoking apart, that description could also apply to me and most of the people I know. Look at the way it’s presented. It is indicative of absolutely nothing, but it is presented as being of obviously massive significance. It is shitty hackery, pure and simple.

The fact is that most of us could be painted as awful and evil on the basis of unguarded remarks and stupid pictures that we intended to be seen only by people who know us well enough to understand the intent. If I became nationally infamous tomorrow, what would the Mail make of my Facebook profile? “The 38-year-old self-styled ‘truffler’ is seen on his Facebook page wearing sunglasses at an all-day riverside bender. His latest status update calls Rupert Murdoch ‘a complete and utter bastard’ and his picture albums also contain a photo of Cliff Richard in swimming trunks.” Chances are that they wouldn’t mention the status updates where I describe the Mail as a hateful shit-sheet, but there’s more than enough source material there to make me sound properly unhinged. Maybe they’d have a point, but you could probably frame most people’s Facebook updates in such a way as to make them sound unwell in the head and almost certainly a danger to shipping. What illuminating morsels could we find on the profiles of Mail hacks James Tozer, Jaya Narain, Claire Ellicott and Louise Eccles (It took four people to write that story? Seriously?) if we were inclined to look them up? In summary, judge not.

While I’m here, I should mention that I was obviously an insufferable, cocky little sod back in my work experience days, and would like to thank all the experienced professionals who put up with me on that original fortnight in the office and on my subsequent returns to the Epsom office. They all taught me things that I try to observe to this very day. When I hear people slagging off journalists, it saddens me, because I think of that team and my later colleagues at Publishing News, not of Johann Hari cut and pasting his ‘intellectual portraits’ or Neville Thurlbeck flogging his Horace in a naturist B&B. Without exception, they were and are good people, good journalists, good writers. Andrew, Pauline, Susan, Ian, John, Richard, Clive, Mark, Christine, Dina, Judy – thank you all for your patience and sorry for being an arse.

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Brooksing no criticism

Brooksing no criticism

So many people are saying that Rebekah Brooks must have the goods on Rupert Murdoch to be protected and supported by him in the way she has been. I don’t think so. He’s just in awe of someone as venal, amoral and awful as he is, and the feeling is completely mutual. She is the only thing about which he is sentimental. I have a feeling they love each other in the purest way possible. It would be touching if it weren’t so damaging for just about everyone else in the world.

I have worried about this whole business fizzling out and things returning to how they were before, with elected (and unelected) leaders tiptoeing around Murdoch like he’s the one really in charge. If this Daily Mirror story about 9/11 victims’ phone messages being intercepted is true, there’s no danger of the momentum being lost any time soon. American people seem to take 9/11 very seriously, and won’t take kindly to anything disrespecting those who died. If it’s true, Murdoch’s just opened not a can of worms, but an exploding can of radioactive shit that will stink up his reputation globally. Things have happened that I never thought I’d live long enough to see, and the indications are that there’s more to come. I continue to greet each fresh revelation in the manner of the rubber-necking old bloke on the balcony in Rita, Sue & Bob Too.

Looking Gaunt

Looking Gaunt

I apologise for this blog having become a digest of what I get up to on Twitter. If it’s any consolation, I’m way behind with my diary as well. However, I have just experienced something I feel to be worth recording. I’ve never had much time for Jon Gaunt. For the uninitiated (and if you’ve never heard him in action, you don’t know how lucky you are), he used to present the 9am-noon show on BBC London 94.9 in the days when Danny Baker was on breakfast. Whenever I was in London, I would rush to switch over or off at 9am, to avoid hearing Gaunt’s oafish manner with callers and listeners. He’s one of those people to whom I would take exception even if I agreed with his views 100%.

When the BBC reopened its Coventry and Warwickshire station in 2005, Gaunt – who had begun his radio career on the old BBC CWR – was enlisted to present the breakfast show, but soon resigned when a change in BBC rules meant that he would have to choose between his radio show and his column in The Sun. TalkSPORT snapped him up, and there he sat, bellowing at a microphone until he called a Redbridge councillor “a Nazi” and “an ignorant pig”.

This week, he turned up on Question Time, seated at the end of the table on screen right. Those who follow the #bbcqt hashtag on Twitter will know the name given to this particular position by the irreverent. He started well by declaring that his old boss Rebekah Brooks should resign, but I lost my patience when he started shouting. You’d think that someone with as much radio experience as Gaunt would have a bit more microphone technique, wouldn’t you? By the time he brought up the Divine Brown incident with Hugh Grant, order had been restored and I was back to thinking he was a steaming great nit.

All through Friday, as I tried to get on with my work, I kept thinking back to Gaunt’s pisspoor performance. Finally, in a moment of boredom, I posted a fairly mild joke about Gaunt on Twitter, being sure to mention him to avoid accusations of cowardice:

“Breaking: People of Coventry wish they had somewhere to send @jongaunt.”

He’s from Coventry, you see? Where do you send people you want to ignore if you’re already in the place to which people from other locales banish their annoyances? Geddit? Oh, suit yourselves.

A couple of hours later, came the reply:

writer? So what have you had published you no mark”

I tried to be as helpful as I could:

Put my name into Amazon, you lazy sod.”

He replied:

just looked at your site… Shite! Have yup published any thing?”

Oh dear. Even though it seemed likely that subtleties would be lost on Mr Gaunt at that particular moment, I felt that they were worth making:

I haven’t published anything. I write; my publishers publish.”

In the interim, I had re-tweeted his original misguided counterblast, as a result of which, he received helpful messages from several of my chums explaining that I was a raddled old hack with two books to my name and a third on the way, to say nothing of my years insulting Alan Giles in the back of Private Eye.

Finally, I decided to put Mr Gaunt out of his misery:

Seeing as you’re too pissed or stupid to use Amazon, I’ve done the work for you, you fucking skid mark.

DYSWIDT? He called me a ‘no mark’, so I called him…yes, exactly. Was he pissed? Who knows? Who cares? However, the timing of his replies would have been consistent with coming in from a bloody good night on the Scruttock’s Old Dirigible, and deciding to fire up the computer for something to read while a kebab is demolished.

On waking this morning, I was amused to see that Gaunt had arisen and was tweeting incoherently at anyone who stood up for me. Now, Gaunt’s radio show on BBC Three Counties Radio won three Sony awards in 2001, for its coverage of GM’s decision to close the Vauxhall car plant in Luton. He doesn’t like people to forget this achievement.

So, I struggled to maintain control of my bladder when he went at a chap called Simon Hepworth. Now, I’ve never actually met Simon, as we missed each other at Lancaster by a year, but we have a lot of mutual friends, and we correspond regularly. One day, we will get together for a pint and it will be like we’ve known each other forever. Simon’s a vastly experienced TV director, best known for his work on Dick and Dom in Da Bungalow. These days, he freelances, and when he’s not doing broadcast telly, he’s doing corporate videos and online stuff. Anyway, Simon joined in the fun with:

called you a no mark…ah well, it’s better than being a stain on humanity”

To which Peter Griffin’s slightly less self-aware doppelganger replied:

haven’t you got a shitty little video to produce”

It was then that Simon played his masterstroke. Knowing that Gaunt loves to flaunt his gongs, the “shitty little video” producer came back with:

@LFBarfe How many baftas have you won then?For a communicator you’re rather rubbish at it when you can’t fade people out aren’t you”

Gaunt’s two-part response was priceless:

no Baftas as not a TV maker but many many radio awards. How many have you won?”

you won one!…in 2005! Now that’s funny and pathetic”

Now, a Sony award is a fine thing to have, but so’s a BAFTA. Why is one something to harp on about endlessly, while the other is “funny and pathetic”? Gaunt couldn’t see that his own tactics were being deployed on him to considerable satirical effect. Best of all was when Gaunt responded to a jibe from Simon about his various sackings and run-ins with Ofcom with 2005 for Dick and Dom! You haven’t been sacked cos you’re so bland andvworked for the Beeb, you little civil servant” Simon’s a freelance who’s worked everywhere, and he keeps getting hired because he’s good at what he does. No cushy-job time-server he. On pointing out his freelance status, Simon got this bundle of joy from the erstwhile shock jock cock.

freelance really? I thought that was the polite way middle class ex BBC disguised being unemployed? Sorry to get it wrong”

Unless I’m reading that one wrong, there we have a freelance ex-BBC presenter attempting to use the terms “freelance” and “ex-BBC” as insults. Or maybe it doesn’t apply to working class ex-BBC types? Gaunt also dismissed Simon as “now running a very small Internet TV company. Be polite and I might consider giving you some work.. I need a new tea boy”. Quite apart from the fact that Simon’s Internet company Video Ventures is just one of the things he does, what work has Jon Gaunt done since he left The Sun last year, apart from stinking up Question Time (which really is some kind of achievement) and posting on his own website?

Apart from his awards, Gaunt loves mentioning his Jaguar, as though it’s some kind of indicator of his great success. So it was that he finished his dialogue with Simon: right on the hook, you were easy but you bore me now, I’m off to get the Jaguar cleaned and book my holiday. Bye bye bye” Wow, he owns a car and can afford to book a holiday. He must be Charlie fucking Big Potatoes. I have no idea of the age or model of Gaunt’s Jag, but know for a fact that I could walk up the road right now and pick up a second-hand XJ6 for a couple of grand. Unfortunately, having never learned to drive, it would be a waste of wedge, but I could do it, and then I could wank on about it as though it actually meant anything. Incidentally, while we’re talking of wanking, I am informed, reliably, that in Gaunt’s autobiography Undaunted he tells a tale of flogging his Horace to the point of issue using the bra of his dad’s girlfriend, a woman he referred to as The Slag.

In a way, I feel sorry for Gaunt. He comes across like one of those punch-drunk old boxers, mumbling about past successes and talking themselves up as they attempt one last comeback. Dismissing experienced broadcasting professionals as being fit only to be his tea boy, while nobody’s rushing to give him a show of his own again. He’s just another freelance, like me, like Heppy. Taking our chances and trying to turn a coin by being any good. Knowing the freelance game like I do, I suspect that his bravado is a front. Maybe he’s invested well or something, but at the moment I don’t think he’s earning enough from his media work to run a moped, let alone a Jag. I suspect that somewhere in the West Midlands, there is a man who spends three hours of every morning shouting into a hairbrush before going out to soap his motor and check out the bras on the washing line. Poor sod.