Monday, 28 November 2011

Big-bellied chimney frequenter coming to town

Here's a few elegant variations for Father Christmas from former trainee, now health correspondent at Archant Norfolk, Kim Briscoe. Last year Kim referred to Santa as 'the bearded icon' in her round-up of Christmas grottos. This year, with tongues in cheeks, Kim and her colleagues have so far offered:  
Big-bellied chimney frequenter
Reindeer-keeping present giver
Ubiquitous red-suited gentleman
and, somewhat unfairly, 
Burgeoning, white-bearded fraudster.
They are now suggesting a competition to find the best. I'm not sure I should be encouraging this sort of thing, but killing time on a crowded train from London tonight I mused over:
Hirsute ruby-suited philanthropist
Whiskery seasonal gift distributor
Jocular overweight elf supervisor
Rotund sleigh-riding altruist 
Giles Coren would be so proud. All of this nonsense was brought to my attention by Kim's husband, and David Powles, senior content editor at Norwich, who is on the Modern Editor's course I am running at PA in London this week. So while David was ploughing through strategic planning, cost analysis, budgeting, radical revenue streams, entrepreneurial journalism and the future of print, it's nice to know at least his missus was having fun back in the office.
If you have any more elegant variations for Santa, let's have them and I will forward them to the Norwich newsroom.

Friday, 25 November 2011

The power of a single image: 45 stunning photos

I have spent a couple of days this week talking about design with Middle East journalists from the newspaper Al Watan. We have been concentrating on the power of a single image or 'bull picture' on a page. This isn't something that their paper does often. Anyway, in discussion we stumbled across the National Geographic's Photo Competition. We looked at 45 stunning images in the People, Places and Nature categories. Take a look here. If anyone ever doubted the power of a single image, they couldn't fail be to be persuaded by these shots. If you want to enter (the closing date is next Wednesday) or just want to look at more amazing pictures, the details are here.

Thursday, 24 November 2011

From Fenton to Leveson - the week in clips

My advice to journalists to have "good taste and a dirty mind" so that they can keep innuendo and double-entendres out of the newspaper also, of course, applies to broadcasters. It's a lesson that might have benefited Jane Garvey and author Aileen Ribero admiring the work of chef Giorgio Locatelli on Radio 4's Woman Hour on Tuesday.
This is an edited version, courtesy of Tim Johns, and is made up of three separate clips, but you can catch the whole thing on iPlayer here.
There were a couple of other clips trending on Twitter this week, one which I found funny, the other less so. The rogue dog Fenton (some say Benton) chasing deer in Richmond Park was watched by 750,000 people on Youtube. It was filmed by 13-year-old Jake Goodyear (listen to his Mutley snigger at the end). People with far too much time of their hands have since created a raft of mash-ups. Here's the Jurassic Park version and there are many others too. If you have the time or inclination the Guardian's Media Monkey lists some of them here. Meanwhile the newspapers are still hunting for Fenton's owner.
One of the other big trending subjects of the weekly came, remarkably, out of the grim and sombre Leveson inquiry into phone hacking. Barrister Carine Patry Hoskins became known as the #womanontheleft for smiling at Hugh Grant's cricketing joke on this Sky News clip.  
She became an internet sensation, but for what reason exactly? I tend to agree with the New Statesman's Helen Lewis-Hastley on this one.
The most shocking thing that came my way via Twitter this week though was from India's Got Talent. Britain's Got Talent, boring. The X-Factor, a banal karaoke show. But this I would stay in for. The video is not for the faint-hearted.

Sunday, 20 November 2011

Death on the front page: Right or wrong?

My comments on the pictures of Gaddafi's death on the front pages led to some differing views on the ethics and taste of splattering a bloodied corpse all over the news-stands.
I argued that the pictures were brutal but justified. If newspapers had photographs of the death of Hitler, would they have used them? Of course they would.
Simon Ricketts
One esteemed journalist who disagreed with me, and the position of his paper, was Guardian backbencher Simon Ricketts (@SimonNRicketts). He subbed the Gaddafi story that night but batted against the use of the picture. He tweeted: "I would have gone for a symbolic picture. Not a generic 'rebels celebrating' but an 'empty chair' type thing. Something smart."
My old Evening Despatch colleague John Lewis (@Johndlewis54) was even more incensed. He wrote: "Fleet Street showing that killing people is OK so long as you kill the right ones. SICK!"
My argument was that the pictures were irresistible, that they captured a crucial moment in history, that they told the story. Simon on the other hand felt a line had been crossed. This led us to other deaths that had been used explicitly on Page 1. Most memorable for me was the picture of the people crushed against the fences in the Hillsborough disaster in 1989. I was on The Northern Echo and we used it across Page 1 under the headline Never Forget. It was a shocking image and one I can't justify using here. The Daily Mail, though, still uses it on its website here. Be warned ... it is a disturbing picture.
The photograph arrived on the wire on the Sunday afternoon, 24 hours after the deaths. The people were dead or dying and that was clearly shocking. The story had been all over the Sundays but this photograph was new. We gave a print to each head of department and asked them for a view. They were split 50-50 as to whether we should use it. The parents among them, including the features editor who was an ex-Sun man, were against.
In the end the journalistic instincts to publish took over. For me the picture told the story and identified perfectly what the problem was. As a result football fans are not allowed to be caged in - and if anyone thinks they should be, just show them this picture. The headline, Never Forget, tried to justify its use.
There were 75 complaints (considerably fewer than when I moved the BMDs from Page 4).
Simon was shocked when I showed him the Hillsborough picture, which he had not seen before.
He said: "I would have been on the 'no' side of the camp but I cannot say I would not have run it if I was editor. I completely understand why you did."
It was certainly a tough call.
The Daily Sketch shows the moment Jack Ruby
shot John Kennedy's killer Lee Harvey Oswald
There are many other examples of dead bodies used in newspapers. Lee Harvey Oswald shot dead by Jack Ruby, the charred body of an Iraqi soldier on the road to Basra, Che Guevara's body displayed to prove he was dead, the Vietcong soldier being executed and others. They all feature in Harold Evans's Pictures on a Page where he argues the case for the power of the single photograph. Of the picture of the charred body on the road to Basra, which I also used in The Echo,
Evans wrote this: "The photograph shocked in the first instance for this very reason. It was a solitary individual in the transfixion of a hideous death. In the absence of a photograph of this power, it had been possible to enjoy the lethal felicity of designer bombs as some kind of video game."
The true horror of war: Kenneth Jarecke's
shocking road to Basra picture
And for me that was the point. We had lots of gung ho pictures of Tornado jets and brightly lit skies, but this was the true horror of what was going on. We had a duty to show that to our readers.
As Evans went on to say: "Anyone who saw that still photograph will never forget it."
Execution of a Vietcong prisoner by
 Eddie Adams, Associated Press 
Here's Simon's view:
"I think there are two parts to this. 1) The image of a dead or dying person 2) The front page.
"On the first issue, yes, there are images of dead or dying people used. "Sometimes because it captures the news in such an immediate way that nothing else will do. Other times it's symbolic of the wider issue. (I think the Vietcong picture is an example of that).
"Does it matter if it's a recognisable person? I think it does. The picture of an anonymous burnt Iraqi on the road to Basra captures the news, without the added horror of seeing a person's expression.
Che Guevara's body on display
"Another factor - if the person's well-known. Oswald comes into that category. So does Guevara. However, the Oswald picture is not horrific in its nature. The Guevara one came at a time when identification WAS important and mainstream news outlets were the only way to spread the news.
"2) The front page. We still live in a world where front pages are powerful. And when every single front page of the newspapers had a bloodied picture of Gaddafi, the news-stands looked more like a butcher's shop.
"My point was that we could tell people Gaddafi was dead on the front page - but they didn't have to SEE it. By all means have a smaller picture on the inside. "A picture of a dead Gaddafi has a strong message for all across Libya and the Middle East - and identification was a small issue. But not on the front.
"For me, a "smart" front page, with an empty chair, or a graphic of Gaddafi's face, or a poster of him riddled with bullet holes, would have told the story equally instantly, and the inside page could have a smaller picture of him dead.
"I was astounded that the Indy used a picture of him dead on the slab TWO days afterwards. That was baffling.
"I think - and I may just be getting old - that the rush of online pressure to publish/be first and the fact that media can be spread quicker and wider than ever before, leads people to sometime publish things because they CAN and not because they SHOULD.
"That's my tuppence - and I had to think hard about it."
So, were the papers right to use the Gaddafi pictures? I reckon they were, Simon, John Lewis and many others disagree. But, as I have said so many times before, when all journalists agree on what is right and wrong, when all front pages look the same, it will be time for me to pack it in and run a bar in the South of France. What do you think? All views, as always, are welcome.

Sunday, 13 November 2011

A week in Beijing with China Daily journalists

I have been suffering withdrawal symptoms from Twitter as my wife, Pam, and I have been working in Beijing with the editors of the China Daily. Western social media sites are banned in China. There are ways around it ... but not on our hotel LAN line. Instead everyone uses the Chinese equivalent, Weibo, which has 140 million users. No good to me though and I soon discovered how Twitter-dependent I have become. It is certainly a relief to be back and able to get my daily fixes again. 
I was running an editorial management course on behalf of Press Association Training, looking at newsroom structures, leadership and performance management. It was a one of the most challenging things I have done but a fantastic experience. 
The mainly young journalists are really keen to learn, eager to expand the title into new areas and continually exploring creative ideas. The English language paper, circulating in China, Europe, America and selling a total of about 500,000, is looking to attract more international readers. With its smart-design and a more liberal outlook than most Chinese newspapers, it is an interesting read and increasingly Westernised. It is state-owned so has controls on its content and stance but the editors are working hard to report as objectively as they can. There is an interesting difference in outlook from the journalists though. Whereas we place the highest value on freedom of speech, they believe citizenship and responsibility are more important. Another key difference is, as a state-owned paper, China Daily has none of the commercial difficulties facing most Western newspapers. Don't be surprised if you receive a copy of the weekly European edition and an offer of subscription ... the paper is making inroads in the UK and is increasingly looking at content that will interest Western readers. With China now playing such a pivotal role in the West's economy, there's plenty of content for it to go at ... beyond the usual food, medicine, travel and feng shui. Anyway, here are ten things that I learned from Beijing.
i) Whatever culture we belong to, newsrooms are broadly the same. Passionate journalists working long hours and trying to juggle their time between management issues and journalism.
ii) China Daily recognises that not all good journalists make good managers and has introduced a structured career path that allows people to progress without having to take a desk job.
iii) There are opportunities for Western journalists who fancy a cultural change. Whereas most of the staff are Chinese there is a smattering of foreign editors helping with the language and copytasting.
iv) All pages are red-penned by the editors and put on the newsroom wall ... every day. Great feedback.
v) The paper does not sack anyone or make any staff redundant ... ever.
vi) Beijing, with 20 million people, is a sprawling metropolis with traffic jams, pollution and few quiet spaces.
vii) Traffic is such an issue that you can only drive every other day. If you take your car out on your banned day it is a £20 fine every time you drive past one of the many cameras.
viii) Beijing may be a cosmopolitan city but, apart from at the Forbidden City and Great Wall, we rarely saw a Caucasian face. On our trip to the Great Wall we were accompanied by seven wild members of Spanish band Lapegantina who were on tour. There is some great footage here.
ix) The food is very special - and very cheap. A six-course meal for four people won't set you back more than about £14 in total. I don't think I will be able to eat Chinese food in the UK ever again. In China it is fresh, spiced and delicious. No coffee or tea for breakfast though ... just soup. Special bonus was we did manage to find a bar, Laker's, which served free beer from 9-11pm each night. And among the gifts we came back with was a pack of our favourite green tea. Thanks Ying Xiong
x) The people couldn't be more friendly and hospitable. Special thanks to our hosts Dr Yuan Zhou and Ying Xiong aka Anastasia. They helped make it a very special week.