hacked off

Thursday, May 27

Dennis the menace

Sticking with the Standard, the paper's former sports editor Mick Dennis must be feeling sick as a parrot.

It's just over two years since Mick stepped down from the Standard after 14 years, taking the decision after Wadley parachuted in the paper's former sports supremo Simon Greenberg from the News of the World. But now Greenberg has high-tailed it to Chelsea (and who wouldn't for £250,000 a year?) and former sports correspondent David Bond has been lured back to the Northcliffe House death star in order to cast his eye over the sports desk in an executive role.

And where's Dennis now? His discombobulation hasn't served him well. After Piers Morgan took pity on him and took him to the Mirror, he's moved on to the lofty title of football correspondent at the Express of all places.

Rumours that Dennis has been seen screaming "I coulda been a contender" are probably wide of the mark.

Missing in action

Every hack hates their job, but spare a thought for poor old Neil Norman, the Evening Standard's long-time film critic. After playing the understudy to pugnacious prude Alexander Walker for years, Norman thought he'd got a sniff of the big time when Walker went up to that great screening room in the sky last year.

But Veronica Wadley had other ideas... In came celebrity reviewer Will Self to hog the limelight, and Wadley-appointed deputy Antonia Quirke (known as the "poison dwarf" by fellow Standard staff) has now fully ousted Norm from the pages. What was his great sin? Did he annoy the other Norm - egotistical arts boss Norman LeBrecht? Or was he just outside of the new clique - he wouldn't be the only arts bigwig to feel threatened by the change of regime a couple of years back.

Whatever the whispers are saying, it's certainly a great reward for years of dutiful service in the shadows of others, I'm sure you'll agree.

Wednesday, May 26

Job swap

Rumours are flying everywhere about the new boss at the BBC, Mark Thompson.

Is it possible that he'll be leaving his new job before he even starts it?

Monday, May 24

Well wishing

Another weekend away, another hangover and another short break from the vagaries of the press.

For those who, like me, feel that the snooty tones of Radio 4 have little to offer except the ocassional cock-up by a fat man reporting in his pants, I'll offer you Trapped: a brisk little comedy which combines the petty futility of the local newsroom with the time-filling nonsense of 24-hour rolling news. Feel free to amuse yourself the travails of the Pennine News Network until I can muster some more energy.

It's like watching Sky and News 24, with a bit of Drop the Dead Donkey thrown in.

Wednesday, May 19

Running the asylum

We all know Tricky Dicky Desmond's opinions on the various people of the world: he hates them all - and reserves particular hatred for Germans, gypsies, immigrants and asylum seekers. Desmond's partisan pecadilloes, of course, filter through to his stable of papers, and the Express, Sunday Express and Star - but how far does it extend?

In the best investigative reporting tradition (i.e. sitting in a comfortable chair and not leaving the room), Hacked Off is proud to present the findings of its completely unscientific study of into Lunacy at Ludgate House.

In the past year, the phrase "asylum seeker" has appeared in either the Express, Sunday Express or Star a staggering 1013 times, that's nearly three times a day. Compared to other right-wing tabs, the Express Group looks like its waving the flag for the BNP - the Sun and News of the World rack up 643 examples, and the poison pen of the Mail can only manage 540 appearances. The Mirror stable (including the People) manages it a measly 473 times.

It has, however, been dropping off in recent months. Taken over a six-month period, instances have fallen by around a third.

Here are some other records for you from Dirty Des's rollcall of shame...

immigrant: 893
gypsy: 117
romanian: 345
and, as a control experiment -
gypo: 2 (and those are quotes from Newcastle United's cultural ambassador, Craig Bellamy)

What does this prove? Not much, but it doesn't seem very nice, now, does it?

(Notes, before people start emailing en masse: There was no attempt to put these uses into context, I'm far too lazy for that. The broadsheets also manage their fair share of "asylum seekers", including a massive 800+ appearances in the Guardian and Observer - but put in context it seems unlikely that the Guardian's lilywhite liberals could ever bring themselves to use the term in anger. And even when the tits-dominated Star is taken out of the equation in Northern & Shell's figures, the Express still outruns its nearest tabloid competitors by almost 100)

Tuesday, May 18

American idle

Staying Stateside, here's an article that's less likely to have you slitting your wrists from boredom.

It's from the New York Review of Magazines, and examines why the Graun's much-feted "Guardian in America" magazine bit the bullet.

While it slimes over the Farringdon mob ("Britain's third-largest high-end broadsheet... sets the standard for coverage not only of politics but also the arts, literature and history"... please!) and vaunts Alan Rusbridger as some kind of demi-god, it does show an interesting side of newspaper decision-making and highlights some of the deficiencies of the American press while it's there:

When [Guardian suit Albert] Scardino was hired, one of his first tasks was to evaluate the Guardian in America proposal and make a recommendation. He was less than enthusiastic: “For $50 million, we could fly the paper over and pass it out at the airport.” Scardino feared that to survive in the celebrityobsessed U.S. publishing market, the Guardian in America would degenerate into a George-like magazine. He thought they should come up with other ways to move in slowly over the next three or four years—perhaps evolving the Guardian Weekly into a liberal Economist.

I've got no doubt that Fleet Street - both broadsheets and tabloids - could teach American newspapers a thing or three, but launching a dedicated US edition has got to be the most expensive way of doing it.

Those crazy Americans

While the British press goes on a feeding frenzy in the wake of an editor's decision to print a bunch of fake photos, Stateside paper the Baltimore Sun gives us a nice reminder of ethics in action.

THE SUN recently published a whimsical front-page article about the variety of gifts that Joshua Ehrlich, the infant son of Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. and his wife, Kendel, received upon his birth.

Near the end of the article, [reporter] David Nitkin noted that among gifts from members of the news media was a baby bib from Sun staff writer Pat Meisol, who has written stories about Kendel Ehrlich and state government officials. Also, Sun editorial writer Karen Hosler, with her husband -- who works in the Governor's Office of Crime Control and Prevention -- had trees planted in the baby's honor.

"I certainly was surprised," Mr. Nitkin said in an interview. "I didn't expect to see this."

He wasn't the only one.

Adherence to a code of ethics is the clearest sign of a newspaper's responsibility to its readers. The Sun's unwritten ethics code prohibits staff members from accepting any gifts from news sources or making contributions to any political or advocacy groups. Implicit in the code is a prohibition on giving gifts to public figures, which could create the appearance of a conflict of interest.

The Sun's managing editor, Anthony M. Barbieri, decided that Ms. Meisol would no longer write about the Ehrlich administration or state government... Ms. Donovan [an exec at the Sun] ruled that Ms. Hosler would not write anything at all regarding Maryland politics or policies.

So two reporters had their beats reduced because they broke an "unwritten code of ethics".

If Fleet Street had morals this high, nobody would have anything to write about. No wonder American newspapers are so boring.

News of the World?

Everything seems to have gone a little quiet on the Stephen Glover front... are his insane plans for 'the World' - a sky-scrapingly highbrow tabloid - disappearing faster than the Mirror's credibility?

(The fading away of Glover's plan might well have something to do with the rumoured involvement from Associated. DMGT only wanted the World if they couldn't get their hands on the Telegraph - but a few months later that takeover looks a million miles away, and perhaps Associated's interest has gone colder than an Eskimo's goolies.)

Talking of abortive launches, it's now officially 18 months since Dirty Des announced his plans to take on the Evening Standard with a new evening freesheet for London. And it still seems a long way off, despite recent assertions that he's only waiting for a distribution decision to be made. After all, the man prodded the Sunday Express into saying it was "just weeks away" ... in January 2003.

Time's a funny old thing, especially if you're a newspaper mogul.

Monday, May 17

Piers review

So farewell, then, Piers Morgan.

A few days after the main event, and things look a little clearer. Backed into a corner and defending his corner to friends and critics alike until just moments before his dismissal, Piers had begun to believe his own infallibility.

It's not hard to imagine how this Houdini of Fleet Street had begun to believe he could bluster his way out of anything. He got through so many slips and scandals during his time as both News of the Screws editor and head honcho at the Sun. Morgan's always been one to lead from the front, and though it inspires devotion in some of his workers, in the end it did for him.

Now the accepted story seems to be that Trinity Mirror's American shareholders applied pressure on the board to get them to fire Piers. But my sources - and my instincts - are suggesting that there was less shareholder pressure than people are being led to believe. This was also a battle of wills, and a battle for control of the Mirror's future. Could this 'shareholder pressure' line be a clever PR move by certain top Trinity executives in order to deflect the attention away from themselves? Sly Bailey didn't get her nickname for nowt(*).

Still, the result of it all is probably less important than hacks would like to admit - the Mirror is still a struggling paper looking for a way to return to glory; the key story about abuse of prisoners in Iraq is probably true; and Piers, for all the column inches dedicated to his obituary, is left holding the same position he always has done - a vile showman to some, an all-guns-blazing hero to others.

* Yes, yes, I know her name's Sylvia.

Piers pressure

Is this the most unfortunately named company in Britain?

Well, at least they've got an 'employment opportunities' section - perhaps Piers would like to give it a gander.

Good old bad Times

After last week's rumours that bad things were going to happen at the Times (mentioned here on Wednesday), the company sent out its PR moles to spread the word that this was all poppycock.

But now the grapevine tells me around 30 jobs are set to go at the Times.

Seems the pessimists were right after all.

Celebrity skin

Boris Johnson, Anne Widdecombe, Chatshow Charlie Kennedy... we all know that politicians like to think they're on a par with real famous people, but who can blame them for a little ego trip - after all, the secret service spooks who protect top cabinet ministers refer to their charges as "celebrities".

Saturday, May 15

The Man in the Mirror

With almost perfect timing, yours truly is departing for the weekend and is therefore unable to write very much.

Needless to say that Morgan didn't jump, he was pushed.

Fleet Street Blogger, which a commenter so handily pointed out has made a return for the big event - and has a lot of interesting stuff to say about what this means, in the longer term.

Well, firstly I'd say it means that the Mirror's going to return to the Labour fold pretty quickly. That's another victory for Blair, on top of Hutton. They're likely to install a relatively faceless yes man, since Morgan's sacking was the result of pressure from above.

As the Fleet Street Blogger implies, Mirror news ed Connor Hanna has already handed in his resignation to Des Kelly. Hanna might be a bit of a wunderkind, but even this is going to leave a temporary stain on his reputation. But don't be surprised if you seem him hanging around Northcliffe House in the near future - it's no secret that the Mail have been out to poach him for a while.

As for Piers?

I'll leave that until next time, I've got a plane to catch.


Friday, May 14

Turning in on itself

Never let it be said that the British press shirks from the opportunity to rub some salt in an already-open wound.

With yesterday's defiant stand by Piers Morgan, today's papers are chock full of attacks on the Mirror's behaviour.

While the Telegraph takes the chance to voice concern over demoralisation in the military, it also makes play of the fact that Morgan's "credibility will be severely damaged" if he stays in the editor's chair.

The Guardian wants the Mirror to apologise, something it says would benefit Morgan, his paper, the army - and journalists: "There is an important matter of journalistic faith at stake, as well as one of the safety of people on the ground in Iraq."

But there's little surprise that some of the strongest words come from the Mirror's perennial red-top rival the Sun, which not only demands an apology on behalf of British soldiers, but has offered a reward of £50,000 for information that might bring the fakers to justice.

The Sun believes that someone, somewhere knows who was behind this despicable action, which has falsely brought shame on a great regiment, wrongly besmirched the reputation of British troops in general, and exposed our Forces in Iraq to terrible peril.

And they tenaciously claim that they had the story first - "but decided not to run it". Classic stuff. Of course, if the Mirror photos were faked on the promise of financial reward (as seems likely), the Sun's fit of pique doesn't raise itself to any moral high ground: offering to dish out money to anyone who can help it get one over on the Mirror. Trevor Kavanagh doesn't seem to be one for irony.

(Media watchers will also be aware that Sun stablemate the News of the World has a history of paying its way to the odd hoax - just mention "Victoria Beckham kidnap" to anyone at Wapping, and they're likely to turn a peculiar shade of green)


6.30, Friday night: Piers Morgan resigns.

Thursday, May 13

Insistence is futile

Despite the rumours flying around Fleet Street this afternoon ahead of the government's declaration that the Mirror's Iraq photos are fake, it seems Piers is barricading himself behind the editor's desk at Canary Wharf.

"We have listened to what Mr Ingram has said today, but he has still not produced incontrovertible evidence that the pictures are faked. Nor has he satisfactorily answered the very serious charge of why he failed to act on information about this abuse presented to him last year."

But even though Piers is sticking by his guns, the pressure is cranking up every day. And there are long-standing hints that he doesn't have the whole-hearted backing of the Trinity Mirror board. Last week Trinity chairman Victor Blank was keen to dodge questions on the fake photo row, and Sly Bailey has often seemed muted in her support for the newspaper world's enfant terrible.

After all, it's almost exactly a year since Blanko fired this warning at the Morgmeister: "Piers Morgan we regard as a very good and capable tabloid editor and he's not, at the moment, on the way out".

Copy cat

The Telegraph's Minx mixes it up:

Surely it cannot be true, as attested by sources on the Evening Standard, that editor Veronica Wadley has been given copy approval for an interview in next Monday's Guardian?

That'll make it interesting to see how the interview reads...

Wednesday, May 12

Times they are a-changin'

Paranoia is running amok at the Times, where a staff powwow has left workers confused and angry. If rumours that Murdoch and his croneys are moving a step closer toward bringing the tabloid and broadsheet together prove true, it's likely to result in substantial job losses. Keep them peeled...

Tuesday, May 11

Sky balls

Covering today's explosion at a plastics factory in Glasgow (let's hope nobody uses a "plastic explosives" headline in tomorrow's papers, eh?), those redoubtable reporters at Sky News went for a splash of local colour.

"And now we're going to speak to an actual eyewitness from today's blast," announced the anchor in serious tones.

"Well," said the guy on the other end of the line, "I didn't actually see the explosion..."

Private parts

So, imagine you're a newspaper editor. You have a legitimate story - "model who denounced drugs attends Narcotics Anonymous meeting". And you've got visual proof, a photograph (not fake), to underline the truth of the scoop.

What do you do?

Until last week, you would most likely have run with the story, and printed the picture. In the wake of the Naomi Campbell ruling, however, your lawyers are probably a little more lily livered about the outcome of such a decision.

When the Grauniad and Indie raised their snooty nose at the tabloid reaction to the Campbell case, they misjudged their high-handed opinions. Of course individuals deserve privacy, but the cloddish decision to protect Nasty Naomi won't make the press keep its hands off publicity-courting celebs. It will just mean that they take more chances, not less. After all, the Mirror's only mistake, really, was to detail Campbell's actual problem (medical details, of course, are meant to remain strictly private) - but if it had printed a gossipy news piece and withheld the picture to use as proof only behind closed doors, she wouldn't have had much room for manoeuvre.

The trouble with privacy in Britain is that only celebrities seem to be able to get it. The British law lords have a prior history of denying privacy to less enriched individuals, yet they protect the very people who court the press. Take for example, the famous Peck case. Here was a man who was caught on CCTV as he brandished a knife in an attempt to commit suicide, and then saw the local council distribute pictures of him in order to show how effective their cameras are in stopping crime.

His case thrown out by the Lords.

Now, however, any prima-donna supermodel with enough money and spite can judge that her own privacy was invaded (in a public space) and win a case. The British courts are all over the place. Clearly there is a serious concern over possible invasions of privacy - and Peck is just one of many examples - but if we leave the law lords to favour those most undeserving of the law's protection, then we're in a very bad situation indeed.

"The law," said Mr Bumble "is an ass": but if your ass is worth millions, then the law's a pretty good thing, it seems.

You've got mail

They don't seem to be publicising it right now, but the Daily Mail has finally joined the digital age.

"Daily Mail - 24 hours a day": If that doesn't scare the rest of the web, I don't know what will.

Monday, May 10

Hair today

Just to take a moment out of a busy schedule of predicting Piers Morgan's resignation and writing about the nasty Naomi Campbell ruling (I'll give that to you tomorrow), I thought I'd ask a question of key importance to the nation:

What has happened to Richard Littlejohn's hair?

Normally it's just a wee bit weave-tastic, but the Sun's favourite son seems to be sporting some kind of shaggy skull-top hair piece - if his appearance on tonight's edition of his dreary Sky News bleat is anything to go by. Our advice, RL?

Bald is beautiful.

Thommo's last tantrum

Fear and loathing in Wapping after Sun news editor Sue Thompson finally quit after a long power struggle with Paul Field.

It's been at boiling point for a while, with Field being labelled "David Blaine" after ebing forced to hide away in a boxy glass office, as well as Thompson blowing her top after a row and demanding that Rebekah got rid of him.

It's hard to get a positive word out of hacks down at the Sun on Field's behalf. Sounds like the happy ship is not so happy anymore...

Morgan mark II

Sorry for the lack of updates, but you'll be glad to know it's not from a lack of things to write about.

As a commenter pointed out, Piers Morgan - more than most editors - has a knack of getting away with it. After all, his tenure at the Mirror's top job has been criss-crossed with a selection of scandals, from Achtung! Surrender, to City Slickers... and now Naomi Campbell and the Iraq torture pictures.

But even a cat only has nine lives. Piers, and the other suits at the Mirror, are backtracking wildly in the face of a dangerous situation. While they hint that they still believe the pictures are genuine, they are now starting to make rather weak sounds to back away from the fight. Listen to Morgan in today's Guardian:

Nobody who doubts the photos seems to actually doubt the central allegation - that serious abuse went on, that a small rogue element of British troops beat up Iraqi detainees. And without wishing in any way to downplay the importance of the veracity of our photographs, isn't that, in the end, what matters most here?

Of course, they're not wrong to argue that the issues raised - but. Take their statement in response to defence moron Geoff Hoon:

"We remain absolutely confident that those pictures accurately illustrate a serious abuse of a detainee by members of the Queen's Lancashire Regiment. And we note that Mr Hoon does not deny the incident happened"

Now, is it just me, or is there a marked difference between "we stand completely by everything we have published and have read nothing which changes that view at all" (six days ago) and "those pictures accurately illustrate a serious abuse".


Tuesday, May 4

Long walk off a short Piers

Word has been doing the rounds for the past couple of weeks that Mirror editor Piers Morgan is set for the chop.

He's never had the strongest backing from Trinity boss Sly Bailey since she took over the company, and his burgeoning career ias a low-profile telly presenter seems to have him thinking about being on-screen rather than behind the editor's desk.

But the Mirror's latest 'scoop' - which has been declared as a fake by top army brass, and certainly drew suspicion from most hacks when they read the front pages this weekend - are almost certain to see Piers' head on the block.

It's a matter of days, not weeks.