Thursday, 28 August 2008

Charlie Brooker: How to generate net traffic

Once again I failed to read / link to a classic Charlie Brooker piece when it was written. This one is only a month old.

The article, entitled "Online POKER marketing could spell the NAKED end of VIAGRA journalism as we LOHAN know it", relates to the net traffic that is apparently generated when certain key words are inserted (Sexy / Olsen Twins / barely legal, etc).

You can check it out here, but I'd thought I'd include some snippets.

Cue Charlie:

"In this day and age, what with the credit crunch and the death of print journalism and everything, the use of attention-grabbing keywords is becoming standard practice. "Search engine optimisation", it's known as, and it's the journalistic equivalent of a classified ad that starts with the word "SEX!" in large lettering, and "Now that we've got your attention . . ." printed below it in smaller type.

For instance, according to the latest Private Eye, journalists writing articles for the Telegraph website are being actively encouraged to include oft-searched-for phrases in their copy. So an article about shoe sales among young women would open: "Young women - such as Britney Spears - are buying more shoes than ever."

"And wait, it gets worse. These phrases don't just get lobbed in willy-nilly. No. A lot of care and attention goes into their placement. Apparently the average reader quickly scans each page in an "F-pattern": reading along the top first, then glancing halfway along the line below, before skimming their eye downward along the left-hand side. If there's nothing of interest within that golden "F" zone, he or she will quickly clear off elsewhere.

Which means your modern journalist is expected not only to shoehorn all manner of hot phraseology into their copy, but to try and position it all in precisely the right place. That's an alarming quantity of unnecessary shit to hold in your head while trying to write a piece about the unions. Sorry, SEXUAL unions."

The vast number of comments underneath Brooker's piece are well worth a scroll through as well.

They range from the seriously pissed off:

"You are clearly trying to nail that Bill-O'Reilly-of-the-British-media label, aren't you Brooker? Try to remember though, that even Bill O'Reilly understands that occasionally he has to appear normal and make sense. I reckon you were probably thinking of big tits in your squalid bedsit when they were doing the Critical Thinking part of your journalism course."

To the bloody hilarious:

"Eh! Who is this Brooker twat and where are the naked Lohan pictures Google have promised me?"

Ken to assist Chavez: Cue inevitable right-wing backlash

The news today is that the former Mayor of London, Ken Livingstone, is to work as a consultant for Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez

Here's some background the article provides for those who didn't follow the oil for advice deal:

"As mayor, Mr Livingstone struck a deal to swap cheap Venezuelan oil for city planning advice, but it was cancelled by his successor Boris Johnson.

He said at the time the agreement would help provide half-price bus and tram travel to some 250,000 Londoners on income support.

In return, the mayor was to offer officials in Caracas advice on municipal transport, environmental issues, waste management and tourism

But after taking office in May, Mr Johnson announced he would not renew the deal, saying many Londoners found it "uncomfortable"

Mr Livingstone said on Wednesday he hoped to help Caracas undergo a transformation in the next 20 years."

Wednesday, 27 August 2008

Paxman on the plight of the middle class white man.

Renowned journalist and TV presenter Jeremy Paxman - best known for asking the same question a dozen times - has highlighted the desperate struggle of the middle-class white man in the television industry.

In a interview at the Edinburgh festival, Paxman, who reportedly gets by on a £1.1 million salary, suggests that any men trying to break into TV should "give up all hope" and that being a white middle-class male was "the worst thing" you could be in the industry.

He is right of course. It is hard to spot a middle-class white male fronting the shows on our box these days. Except on Newsnight. Oh - and BBC News, Channel 4 News, ITV News, Question Time, The Daily Politics, The One Show, University Challenge, Have I Got News For You, Mock The Week, Would I Lie To You, Who Wants To Be a Millionaire, The Graham Norton Show, The Sunday Night Project, The X-Factor, Eggheads, Rogue Traders, Masterchef, Match of the Day, Top Gear, etc.

And as for the management - well white men are all but obsolete. As long as you overlook Mark Thompson, Mark Byford, Andy Duncan, John Smith, Mark Sharman, Jeremy Darroch, James Murdoch, etc.

He is not the first high profile TV figure to raise the issue. Back in 2002 Michael Beurk (during a rant on a channel 5 show that gave celebs a chance to rant) similarly claimed that "all the big jobs in broadcasting are held by women" and that a "shift" in the balance of power between the sexes had gone too far.

A few years later TV astronomer Patrick Moore told the world how he yearned for the good old days when men read the news, went as far as to say he had stop watching Star Trek because they "went PC" by making "women commanders" and then pulled out all the stops by blaming women for the rise of everything from soap operas to quizzes.

Tuesday, 26 August 2008

Will Self: Ballyhoo.

Will Self: Often dry, witty, intelligent. And responsible for one of the best radio debates in the last decade.

His column in the Standard today, however, is an example of one of his more recent tendencies towards unfunny, cynical rambles. Cue the best (worst) moments:

1) "Boris was cheerily incapable of waving the [Olympic flag] even in the windless surroundings of the Bird's Nest stadium. It made my heart swell with Cockney pride."


"No, our only hope lies with Boris. Let this be your finest hour, I say! Let your unworldly manner be a flaming beacon of hope in a world crazed by excellence, profits - and power."


2) "I have a sneaking suspicion that Boris doesn't really like all the corporate ballyhoo that's already surrounding the London Games."

He doesn't really like it? Presumably this is a joke. If not, it's quite worrying.

3) "Moreover, a formidable classicist himself, [Boris] cannot be unaware that the modern games once had rather more high-minded aspirations: to foster excellence without regard for narrow, nationalist considerations."

Yes, I'm sure that was exactly what was on his mind as he waved the Olympic flag in front of a television audience of hundreds of millions.

4) "Frankly, Ken would have been a far more frightening-prospect as Gamesmeister, what with his sharp suits and brazen embrace of demagoguery."

Very cheap, tiresome shot. (Side note: Sharp suits? Ken?!)

5) "Lord Coe is still trumpeting about the great regeneration of Stratford... He points to the 2,000 long-term unemployed who are already employed on the 2012 site, but I say: you're going to have to do better than that for your £9billion."

Except if we didn't have the Olympics then the idea that real investment would have gone into that area is laughable. In my books any improvement there is a success.

(Where has my sense of humour gone today? Will Self - he's funny, right? Right?)

The Indy interview: Ken Livingstone

Here's a link to an interesting (although fairly brief) interview with former London mayor Ken Livingstone in the Independent yesterday talking about his new radio show (“I’m going to invite onto the programme everyone who hates me”), Boris Johnson and "nemesis" Andrew Gilligan: "Why Ken's still seeing Red".

One paragraph stands out, in which he talks about the large number of newspaper columnists:

“There are people who never did anything and I’m not terribly interested in their opinions. I don’t want to pick out anybody but Catherine Bennett (of The Observer) would be a good start. Why is anyone interested in her opinions? Has she written great literature, produced great art work, run a major corporation, been elected to office, or is she just paid to produce bile? You might as well pop into the local pub and say ‘What’s your opinion?’ It’s equally valid.”

Why Catherine Bennett? Almost certainly because of this article.

Friday, 22 August 2008

Thursday, 21 August 2008

Gilligan does a Parker backtrack

Tim Parker.

When he was first hired Gilligan hailed him as being key to an "essential revolutionary moment".

But now he has resigned Gilligan miraculously changes his mind:

"Boris does need authority and experience behind him but more like that of, say, Jonathan Powell... than of Tim Parker".

I see.

Quick - Rewrite!!

An update on my last post about Boris' plane problem:

The main article obviously was not following the line.

A few hours have passed and it has now been re-written.

What sticks out immediately is that the reference to Johnson breaking his promise about downgrading to a cheaper hotel and instead staying in the £400 a night official Olympics committee hotel has been conveniently deleted from the new version.

Then there is the small matter of changing the headline and shoving the embarrassing content further down the article.

Ah well, it was never going to last...

(On a side note, it is always amusing to refer back to the reliable Mr Gilligan. Quoting his article I discussed last week:

"The size of his party and the grade of his hotel has been reduced and he will fly economy"

Whereas it turns out that the grade of the hotel hasn't been reduced after all and that he tried his best not to fly economy.)

Standard: How to undermine your own reporters

Advice to the Standard: If you are going to try and spin a story, it is a very bad idea to directly contradict it in an article on the same day.

Today, in a headline article by Pippa Crerar entitled "Weary Boris is refused an upgrade on China flight", we are told:

"British Airways denied the Mayor an upgrade from his economy seat on the nine-hour overnight flight to the Olympics.

City Hall aides are understood to have requested a move to business class for the Mayor before leaving Heathrow but were turned down."

Then, in a monumental gaffe Boris himself would be proud of, the Standard links to their own Comment section, which tries to congratulate our mayor. Unfortunately it directly contradicts their own article:

"As part of his efforts to cut back on needless extravagance at City Hall, the Mayor, Boris Johnson, made a point of travelling economy class to Beijing for the Olympics."

Let's see - he made a point of travelling economy by getting refused an upgrade?


Wednesday, 20 August 2008

Tories: Power to the impoverished

The Tories are 'best placed' to tackle poverty, apparently.

The BBC reports:

"George Osborne is set to claim that the Tories are best placed to tackle poverty and create a fair society."

Unfortunately he fails to point out that most Tories aren't remotely interested in creating a fair society, regardless of whether they are 'best placed' to do it.

Some radical suggestions he outlined include 'better education' and 'improving schools', words which have never before been uttered in relation to this issue.

On a more serious note a few of his suggestions immediately stick out:

"He said the party would strengthen tax credits by tackling the "couples penalty" which he says disadvantages couples who live together - and improving administration of the system."


"...supporting families who are "trying to do right thing""

Supporting families? Couples?

Nice try with the re-branding. But it is clearly just the same old Conservative approach to 'family values' and the 'importance of marriage' revamped.

Billboards: Screaming Ken in your face

The Evening Standard billboards - which crowd around London's tube station entrances - have always been a pet hate of mine. They are responsible for some of the most disgraceful content I have come across. Prior to May's London mayoral election they entertained every passer-by with non-stop attacks on then mayor Ken Livingstone.

One such billboard printed the infamous "Suicide Bomb Backer Runs Ken Campaign", a headline so misleading that it could be labelled a blatant lie.

I quote Decca Aitkenhead, who referred to this in a Guardian interview with Andrew Gilligan back in April:

"The story referred to Azzam Tamimi - a Muslim academic who endorsed suicide bombs in Palestine during a BBC interview four years ago - and a campaign group called Muslims4Ken. The problem was, Tamimi is not involved with Muslims4Ken at all, but is merely urging Muslims to vote for the mayor.

Had Livingstone made such a misleading claim - say by suggesting that because the BNP's leader is urging supporters to give their second preference vote to the Tories, which he is, this means a "Racist Runs Boris Campaign" - he would undoubtedly have found himself quoted in another of Gilligan's "Truth Check" articles, which scrutinise the candidate's words for lies."

Even after the election the billboards, scattered across London, continue relentless attacks on Ken and - unsurprisingly - random non-political stories whenever a Boris "problem" arises.

Over to Mr Stop Boris, writing at Boriswatch, for the latest example of the laughable lack of impartiality on London's only paid for newspaper's billboards:

"I’ve been in central London quite a lot lately, so I’ve been delighted to be reacquainted with the horrors of the Evening Standard display boards.

Last Friday I couldn’t move for being SHOUTED AT by their signs about Ken Livingstone’s all-expenses-paid trip – sorry, junket – to China for the Olympics. On visiting their web site I find I correctly predicted the author of the piece, Ken’s creepy stalker Andrew Gilligan, but also I was quite pleased to see a good half or more of the comments were quite sensibly pointing out that the Chinese government’s use of its money isn’t really of any concern to Londoners, and asking when Gilligan was going to start the long-awaited scrutiny of Boris he promised us before the election. Nice work.

Anyway, after making such a big deal out of a story of next-to-no relevance to Londoners, I approached the Evening Standard stall at my railway station with interest this evening to see what they had to say today following Tim Parker’s surprise resignation.

Oh no, what a shame! For some completely unrelated reason, today the Standard decided there wasn’t room for any political news, or any other usual blue-bordered headline, on their boards. Instead, both boards trumpeted Team GB’s achievements at the Olympics."

Any nerdy billboard-watcher such as myself will not be shocked by this. Just annoyed.

I've got a few suggestions for up-coming billboards, which the Standard could consider:

"Red Ken seen drinking champagne"

"Livingstone: I didn't watch all of Olympics."

"Johnson doing good job, says insider"

"Boris helps elderly black woman cross road"

Tuesday, 19 August 2008

Farewell to the "Prince of Darkness"

This morning London awoke to the sad news that the First Deputy Mayor of London, Tim Parker, has become the 3rd senior aide to resign from Boris' administration, following Deputy Mayor Ray Lewis and Deputy Chief of Staff James McGrath.

Boriswatch has compiled some immediate reactions - just click here.

However, my first response - as ever - was to bring up the Evening Standard's Comment, who concluded with this:

"He [Johnson] can survive the loss of two deputies; any more will look like carelessness."

Always a good strategy: When it's difficult to find a positive, just do your best to play it down.

Here are some other versions the Standard could use should any more deputies suddenly depart:

"Three is unfortunate; any more may be damaging to the mayor"

"Four is recoverable; any more could reflect badly on Mr Johnson"

"Five could be seen as a problem; any more could lead to serious questions being asked"


Friday, 15 August 2008

Tired of "Ken's games"? Apparently not.

Few things make me mad.

Drivers who class any tightening of laws on speeding or dangerous driving as an infringement on their human rights are up there.

Bloggers who casually dismiss decades of meticulously gathered evidence by environmental scientists about global warming as being some lefty, tax-raising conspiracy are another.

However, award-winning journalist Andrew Gilligan pips them to the post as number one. (I left out Tories - that's a given).

To be fair, even a ten second scroll down through my previous entries will tell you that, but it always feels better to reinforce your opinions over and over again. Just like Andrew Gilligan does.

Today - like most days - he is writing about Ken. So let's take a peek....

What?! Ken has gone to the Olympic Games! On taxpayers' money! (No, hang on... not on taxpayers' money. The Chinese paid.). The nerve of the man!

According to Gilligan he has "defended the communist regime's human rights record.". Loosely.

Tory MP Greg Hands, an obvious choice to consult in these matters, is inserted near the end of the article. Presumably to ensure we can get a word such as "appalled" thrown in for good measure.

But what about our current mayor? He's going to go there to collect the torch isn't he?

"But the size of his party and the grade of his hotel has been reduced and he will fly economy"

Ok, Andrew, no need to get defensive.

Within the paper's comment section we learn more about "Ken's Games".

One sentence sums up the whole ridiculousness of this story. Without a hint of irony the Standard prints this gem at the end of the Comment piece:

"But as ever since his election defeat, Mr Livingstone's words are in fact peripheral."

Which is why they dedicated three pages of their paper to it today.

Friday, 8 August 2008

A victory?

No-one could have expected the outcome of Guantanamo's first war crimes trial.

Osama Bin Laden's former driver, Salim Hamdan, was aquitted by a miltary jury of 'conspiracy to commit murder' and convicted of 'material support for terrorism'.

But it was the sentence which was the shock.

Facing up to 30 years in jail, Mr Hamdan was instead handed a sentence of 66 months. As he has already been held for 61 months he will be eligible for release early next year.

The BBC reported the emotional response by the defence team:

"The lead defence laywer, retired navy officer Charlie Swift, was standing next to Mr Hamdan and raised his arms in a cheer when the sentence was announced.

He appeared on the verge of tears as he hugged his client, relieved after five years of working on a case that seemed doomed to fail."

In addition came some words of empathy from the judge:

""After (you have served your sentence), I don't know what happens", the judge, Capt Keith Allred, told Mr Hamdan. "I hope the day comes when you return to your wife and your daughters and your country".

Mr Hamdan, replied with "Inshallah" (God willing) and got an "Inshallah" back from the judge."

But The Times spelled out the depressing reality of what Salim Hamdan's future may hold, regardless of this seeming victory:

"He is eligible for release in just five months, but the White House has made clear for months that whatever happened to Hamdan, he would still be held indefinitely because of his classification as an 'unlawful enemy combatant'."

Wednesday, 6 August 2008

Boris disappoints Standard

Mayor Johnson has let down the Evening Standard. So much so that they have decided to make it (almost) front page news today.

As the Standard reports:

"Boris Johnson was accused today of reneging on two key pledges - to stop the spread of "inappropriate" tower blocks and to preserve small shops"

A negative Boris story from the Standard? But why?

The clue is in that first paragraph:

Pledge number two... where have I seen that before?... Oh yes! It's the Evening Standard's "Save Our Small Shops Campaign".

No wonder they are so annoyed.

Tuesday, 5 August 2008

Charlie Brooker on rightwingers.

No idea how I overlooked this before - but here is a classic Charlie Brooker piece from 26 May of this year.

If I was promised to be endowed with even half the comedy talent as Brooker I would happily kill a man (preferably Andrew Gilligan, although I'd make do with George Osborne).

What makes Brooker great is his ability to write articles which are simultaneously hilarious and absolutely spot on. For me it feels like he is picking the random thoughts right out of my head and putting them into print. Funny print.

This section is a perfect example:

"In recent years, scientists have begun exploring the notion that your political leaning may be hardwired into your biology, invisibly imprinted on your cells. This would explain a lot.

For instance, I know in my bones that rightwing policies are wrong. Obviously wrong. They just are. It's Selfishism, pure and simple. Nasty stuff. Consequently I don't "get" Tories, never have and never will. We don't gel. There's something missing in their eyes and voices; they're the same yet different; bodysnatchers running on alien software.

Yet that's precisely how I must seem to them: an inherently misguided and ultimately unknowable idiot. (I'm right and they're wrong, of course - but they can be forgiven for not working that out. They can't help it. They were blighted at birth.)"

Monday, 4 August 2008

Hmm, what shall I write about today?...

Any idea what Andrew Gilligan has been writing about today? Tell you what - don't bother guessing - you know what the answer will be anyway.

Today he expresses his disgust at the payouts to Ken's "closest cronies" (apparently there is a scale of cronyism).

Don't worry though - Livingstone is given a whole three sentences to defend himself. (Which is three more than he usually gets).

In typical Evening Standard style the article is accompanied by a less than flattering photo of an adviser to the former mayor: sneering, scruffy and not that far removed from an average press snap of some recently convicted criminal.

For more examples of this photo-spin, compare those accompanying stories about Ken and company, which you can find by clicking here (scroll to 3rd photo) and here, with a typical one about Boris, located here.

"Cronyism". That must be Andrew's favourite word. For those who want a definition of the word, the Gilligan Dictionary defines it as: "A person who works or has worked with Ken Livingstone."

I've said it many times before: The man, by any measure, is completely obsessed with the former mayor. His inability to change the subject is bizarre. But it is one particular aspect of this that concerns me: His criticisms go beyond the last mayoralty, beyond the former staff, beyond previous policies. It centres on the man himself. It would not be unfair to go as far as to say that Gilligan hates Ken Livingstone.

Beyond this is an overt policy from both Gilligan and the Standard as a whole to protect and support Mayor Johnson - the man who gave Gilligan a job - from criticism.

Any negative stories that surface are immediately dismissed as over-reactions, non-events, "nitpicking", the early blips that come from a new start, or someone else's fault.

If all else fails and a positive spin cannot be put on such a story then it is simply sidelined or ignored completely.

It is this that destroys any attempts to claim journalistic impartiality.

For me, the hypocrisy of Andrew Gilligan can be best summed up by the following:

Back in March of this year, in an interview with the Independent about his "war with Ken", Gilligan said:

"We are just doing what journalists should do, which is holding people in power to account. I will do exactly the same to Boris if he becomes mayor."

Mr Gilligan - you lied.