The Media Show on reporting the BNP

Newsbeat BNP grabRadio 4’s Media Show took on the issue of how the BNP should be reported, with debate between Mehdi Hassan of the New Statesman and Ric Bailey, chief adviser on politics for the BBC. (Listen again link on this page, starts around 7:50, the listener’s email came from me, and that’s not how you say my name…)

The conversation was sharply focussed, and Hassan effectively undermined Bailey’s defence of the Newsbeat broadcast: the point about “Joey and Mark” being senior BNP activists (rather than just  “young supporters” as Newsbeat identified them as) was well made, and so was the explanation of NUJ guidelines on covering the BNP.

What disappointed, though, was how impervious Bailey appeared to be to criticism. When Hassan points out that the interviewees claimed Ashley Cole wasn’t born here, Bailey retorts:

I don’t think he did say that

– which is true in the very narrow sense that neither interviewee used that exact phrase, and otherwise completely false. In the transcript, Smith says,

If he [Ashley Cole] wants to come to this country and he wants to live by our laws, pay into society, that’s fine

clearly (and wrongly) implying that Ashley Cole was born outside the UK.

Bailey stuck grimly to the ideas that “the listeners can make up their own minds” and “the BBC cannot make judgements about the BNP in a way that is inconsistent with the way it treat other parties”. Neither of which in any way diminishes the corporations’s responsibility to challenge misleading statements, or excuses the broadcast of hate-feeding listener comments in response to the interview.

Ultimately, Bailey largely repeated what was fallacious in Rod McKenzie’s answer: he defended the need to report on the BNP, without acknowledging the ways in which a specific instance of that reporting can be flawed. Like Hassan, I’m not an advocate of “no platform”. The BNP, their policies and their member’s activities should all be challenged and debated in public. But the default assumption in much of the media seems to be that any platform can be acceptable journalism – even one as feeble and cosseting as the Newsbeat item.

Text © Sarah Ditum, 2009

Northcliffe local news: not so local, less of the news

dirtypaper by Just_Luc on flickr(Photo by just.Luc, licensed under Creative Commons)

Northcliffe Media are cutting the equivalent of 30 full time posts on their West and Wales titles, including nine jobs from my area, Bath. One ex-employee of the Chronicle believes this will leave the Chron with an editorial staff of 12 – including the editor, dep ed, four reporters, sport, subs and pictures – to cover a city of 80,000 people. Some of the subbing will be moved to a Bristol-based hub, where four “sticklers for detail with a flair for layout” are being recruited to cover the Chron, BEP, WDP, Gloucester Citizen, Gloucestershire Echo and the Western Gazette.

Consolidation is superficially appealing when a business is trying to hold down its losses – and as the West and Wales papers already share content and some subbing will remain in-house, this central unit won’t be expected to do the work of seven distinct daily and weekly papers. And perhaps Northcliffe subs can be a tiny bit relieved that their entire profession hasn’t yet been rationalised our of existence, per Greenslade. But it does mean that local news production will be still further removed from the area it’s supposed to cover.

Does that matter? Sly Bailey, chief executive of Trinity Mirror Group, spoke to the Media Show about TMG’s closure of nine local papers, and was asked whether these “rationalisations” would affect the quality of local journalism. She answered:

I think that’s a great misnomer […] the new technology that we’re equipping our journalists with now means that they don’t actually have to come to a building necessarily. They can spend more time on their patch, spend more time in their communities.

Bailey’s comforting vision of reporters filing copy to a faraway office from deep within their region leaves the newsrooms as ghost towns. No face-to-face communication between the team, every decision mediated by email and telephone, no opportunity for an editor to oversee and train his staff.

That’s one way in which cuts hurt local news. It’s also likely that reporters will simply be too stretched to know their area fully: if the Bath Chronicle has four reporters, it seems impossible that they can give dedicated coverage to the courts, council, schools, hospital and all the other authorities and services that make up an area. Is it really possible for four hacks to know enough people in Bath to find out everything that’s going on?

The same goes for subs. How will subs in another city be able to pick up on a geographically implausible street name, or a misspelt parish councillor? Probably they won’t. And as over time errors and omissions accumulate and readers realise that, actually, their local paper isn’t anything of the sort anymore, probably they will stop buying. Journalism is what newspapers sell. Fewer editorial staff means less journalism, of lower quality – immediate savings that must be balanced by long-term, incalculable losses.

© Sarah Ditum 2009. Thanks to Phil Chamberlain for help researching this post.

Hysteric

Peter Stringfellow, who knows literally nothing about being funny or sexy, told poor old Kirsten O’Brien that “Funny girls aren’t sexy” when she went to him for advice about whether she should, um, be funny or sexy. Now, normally (and unlike Kirsten) I don’t include Stringfellow on my list of people to query when looking for insights into the male psyche, but in this case he’s probably speaking for more idiots than just himself: when Esquire decided to run a “Women of Flight Of The Conchords” piece they brilliantly invited some cameo-girlfriends, but not Kristen Schaal, the “only pair of recurring tits” on the show. She’s the funny one, which gets her struck off the men’s mag beauty-shoot roster.

Kristen Schaal (photo by Murdo Macleod)

Even if I’m generous to Esquire and say that lovely Schaal just didn’t have the look they wanted, they still excluded her from being a woman of the show in which she’s a lead actor for being either the wrong sort of pretty, or the wrong sort of funny. Ouch. And – if you’ll follow me into my darkened den of close reading – even the way we talk about humour is gendered. If something makes you laugh hard, you’re hysterical, figuratively be-wombed and penetrated by the wit that’s working on you.

Given that sort of bullshit, it doesn’t seem especially controversial to say – as Jo Brand did – that women don’t get a fair crack at TV comedy. They don’t. The common guiding principle that funny and pretty are mutually exclusive, while TV exposure is dependent on pretty, puts a fairly substantial bar on funny women making it through. So it’s not necessary to go in for some weak-brained evolutionary psychology about how women are ‘differently funny’ because men are like aggressive hunters and shit while women are all nice and collaborative and conversational (taken down here). That goes for Kathy Lette on the Media Show as much as it does for contrarian little TV-reviewing pricks.

Lette:

I think secretly men think women aren’t funny, and I presume it’s because they’re frightened of what it is we’re being funny about. I think they think we spend the entire time talking about the length of their member, which is not true – because we also talk about the width which after childbirth is much, much more important. But we women are starting to be annoyed by the fact that we aren’t ever invited onto these panel shows, and if we are, we’re over-run by the men in this testosterone fueled environment. We need our own quiz show. […] I do think there’s a difference between male and female humour. I think men tend to have black belts in kung-fu and they can fire off one-liners and gags. Women’s humour is much more confessional.

Lette’s brave new world of gender equality is women cracking gags about the laxness of their pelvic floor. You know, if Lette really wanted to speak up for witty ladies, she could stop pulling her idea of funny out of her vagina.

Drowning in a sea of tits and anal tears

Maxim has shut down, less than a month after the closure of Arena. Back in early March, Brian Schofield (Arena contributing editor) made this analysis of the problems for men’s magazines, putting the slump down to the frantic imitation of the tits-and-goals mens’ weeklies: “joining the younger lads’ titles in a suicide charge into grubby oblivion, to be munched up by the new weekly grot-mags Nuts and Zoo – and, of course, by the simple fact that exposed breasts are quite easy to find for free on the internet.” (My newsagent keeps Nuts and Zoo on the top shelf with the authentic stroke mags, and everyone knows how well they’re doing.)

On the Media Show this week, Condé Nast’s UK managing director Nicholas Coleridge kicked the weak content of the mens’ glossies into tiny little bits:

In the end there were six articles that appeared in the lads’ magazines. This was the formula. You had softporn pictures. You had ‘Highstreet Honeys’, which was when people sent in pictures of their girlfriends, and in fact it was rather early user-generated copy that appeared in the magazines. And what I always think of as ‘Sharks And Nazis’, which were articles about deep-sea fishing – there were an incredible number of them – and articles that had a Nazi connection. A little bit of sport, and medical abnormalities – a tremendous number of pictures of medical abnormalities appeared in the lads’ magazines. And I think people simply felt, ‘god, I’ve seen this, I’ve seen this.’ […] I think in the end, they were rather bad magazines.

It’s worth remembering that Condé Nast has just invested in the UK launch of Wired – which, while not exactly a mens’ mag, is a magazine with a largely male readership (I’d guess) and, importantly, a heavy commitment to original features – so Coleridge’s faith in content is all over his business strategy. In the same segment of the Media Show, James Brown claimed that lack of diversity had murderered the mens’ market, but a lot of the homgeneity was self-inflicted: publishers assumed that whatever was popular was the same as what their readers wanted, without preserving the qualities that originally made people love the magazine (at one time, I used to read FHM mostly because they had a killer caption writer who hid something funny on every page). Just because it’s what the people want doesn’t mean it’s what your audience wants.