Grey Cardigan
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The first half of 2014 through the rather jaded eyes of the Grey Cardigan

On January partworks…

Time was that companies like Hachette would try to lure you into a lifetime of direct debits with the ‘Build Your Own…’ scam. A particular favourite was ‘Build Your Own Lancaster Bomber’, a 124-part series which launched with a 50p cover price but would have ended up costing you an eye-watering £619.26 in total. Then there was the blockbuster ‘Sovereign of the Seas’, a weekly magazine with cover-mounted bits and bobs which would allow you to build a “stunning model of the most powerful warship of the 17th century”. Stunning, in that it would take you two years and seven months to collect the whole set at a total cost of £804.65.

 

On defending the apostrophe…

In another small victory for municipal dullards, the local council in the Marmite-making metropolis of Burton-on-Trent has decided to omit apostrophes from any new street signs because its computer system can’t cope with them. An East Staffordshire Borough Council spokesman said: “The reason for the change is potential problems this could cause with records on databases. The use of apostrophes is inconsistent with BS 7666 which sets out the standard formate for addressing properties.”

This wilful stupidity is just another symptom of a problem which plagues all our lives. There is a now a whole generation in positions of power – in government, in councils, running big companies – who were so badly served by their own education that they think that just because they don’t understand spelling, grammar and punctuation, no-one else needs to. And you can see evidence of this everywhere, from the supermarket aisles signposted for “ten items or less” to the tweet and text language prevalent amongst the youth.

On centralised subbing hubs…

We have grown accustomed in recent years to seeing arrogant and uncaring newspaper managements shifting subbing jobs from individual newspapers to centralised production hubs. These faceless fuckwits take no account of the ruined careers and wrecked marriages left behind; their sole concern is the bottom line and the size of their next bonus. Want to keep your job? Well it’s moving to the other side of the country. Put your house on the market, find new schools for your children, tell your wife that she’s moving away from friends and family, and all because of a single stroke of a beancounter’s ballpoint.

And why is it necessary to physically move these jobs in the first place? Any of us can work from anywhere these days. Sitting amongst the Monster Munch crumbs at my desk here in my home office, I can write, sub, design and lay out a page before sending it directly to the printers, work that not that long ago would have involved five different people. If its a matter of downsizing to a smaller office space, then just let people work from home. And don’t give me that bullshit about that arrangement being difficult to manage. In my own painful, personal experience, home-workers put in far more hours on far more days than any office-bound clock-watcher.

On the strangulation of print…

I know I’m always banging on about this, but the stupidity of recent generations of newspaper managements in pursuing an imaginary digital revenue source at the expense of their print products which still, to this day, make 90%-plus of the profits, is simply baffling. Why would you strangle the golden goose? Why not do the sensible thing and maintain the quality of your core product while exploring digital options? What happens when that core title goes under? How many people will be flocking to the Lancashire Evening Post website when there is no more Lancashire Evening Post? It just doesn’t make sense.

Or maybe it’s not about a long-term strategy. Maybe it’s just greedy directors stripping costs out of newspapers to achieve their own bonus targets while conning shareholders into thinking that there really is a bright digital future. The CPS seems very keen on hauling journalists before the courts at the moment. Some of us might suggest that it’s newspaper publishers who should be in the dock.

On the NUJ…

Interersting line in the NUJ’s annual report. Despite losing 2,500 members last year, the union has managed to make a surplus through cost-cutting. However, that cost-cutting doesn’t seem to have spread to the top ranks. Along with her £64,389 salary, general secretary Michelle Stanistreet claimed £20,902 in expenses including £11,763 for travel, £2,146 for phone calls and broadband, £1,478 subsistence, £1,943 for entertaining and hospitality and £2,625 for childcare.

Childcare? Fucking childcare? Why are over-worked and underpaid union members on less than a third of Ms Stanistreet’s salary paying her childcare costs? Let’s do the usual, predictable sum. The cost to regional journalists of belonging to the union is £161.88. That means that 16 NUJ members are seeing their entire financial contribution going towards looking after Ms Stanistreet’s children. I just hope that you’re not one of them. I’m not.

On living alongside the commercial team…

I was on the phone to a mate who edits a regional daily this week when I suddenly heard singing in the background. “What’s going on,” I asked. “Have your bosses finally been embarrassed into giving the staff a pay rise?”

Don’t be silly,” he said. “It’s the ad team. Every time someone makes a sale, they all have to burst into this appalling motivational song.”

Such is the curse of open plan (and now much condensed) offices. I suffered similarly on the Evening Beast when a David Brent clone of an ad manager decided to install a bell in the sales department that had to be rung to celebrate any minor success. I just didn’t get it. Why do you need to make such a fuss of people just doing the bare minimum of what they’re paid for? They haven’t won the X-Factor. If I pop into the greengrocer and buy a bag of spuds, he doesn’t start ringing a fucking bell while counting out my change. I never see the newsagent doing a little knee-bend and fist pump when I buy a packet of fags. It’s stupid and pathetic.

Needless to say, that Evening Beast bell didn’t last long. Did you know that your local scrapyard will pay you £2.50 a kilo for yellow brass?

On local BBC managements…

If you think that the London-based BBC hierarchy is a politically correct, left wing-biased cultural cult whose main reason for being is the self-preservation of its publicly-funded gravy train, you want to meet some of the clowns running the show in the provinces. These are the people who have failed to meet the level of mediocrity necessary for a job at HQ. Like MI5, the BBC recruits at an early age, all the better to indoctrinate the youth with its skewed values. They tour secondary schools looking for the kids who are always getting bullied, robbed of their dinner money or picked last for the playground football match, because they know they’ll be acquiescent. And then they put them in charge of our precious local radio stations where they exist in a permanent state of being scared of their own shadows. Trust me. The next time you meet one of these apparatchiks, look closely at their wrists. Beneath the double cuffs will lie the scars of a lifetime’s Chinese burns.

On award-winning regional newspapers…

It has not escaped my notice that the big winners at the Regional Press Awards this week were family-owned newspapers. The weekly Cumberland News and daily Carlisle News & Star, owned by the Burgess family’s CN Group, both won Newspaper of the Year in their categories while the Express & Star, Wolverhampton, owned by the Graham family, won Newspaper of the Year in the ‘above 25,000 daily’ sector.

It’s obvious, really, Newspapers in which owners have an emotional and caring bond will always fare better than remote titles on a conglomerate’s balance sheet, bullied and battered at a stroke of a beancounter’s quill. Once upon a time the men at the top of the big regional groups cared about their newspapers and the communities they served. Alas, in many cases, no more.

On web-based newspaper design…

I presume that this ‘wordless’ design is an attempt to appeal to the internet generation, but why would you want to? We know that young adults use mobiles and tablets for news, and pages like this certainly aren’t going to change that habit. And why are we targeting that market in the first place? The vast majority of remaining regional newspaper readers are over 50 years old. Most of them will live into their 80s. That’s 30 years of very tasty profit still to be mined – as long as those readers are looked after and provided with a proper newspaper containing proper news. Remind me again of where 90% of regional profits come from? Ah, yes. Print.

On the cull of photographers…

The ruthless and unnecessary cull of photographers on our regional newspapers is already having a detrimental effect. Look what happened at Sheffield railway station last week when a reporter from local paper The Star began filming on his mobile phone the arrest of two pensioner protesters at a demonstration against cuts in free travel provision. He was approached by a man in a blue uniform who he took to be a policeman and was ordered to delete the footage under anti-terrorism laws. He then – in my view, rather meekly – obliged. Northern Rail have since apologised for the actions of one of their staff, who was not nor has ever been a policeman.

Those of us who have worked with ‘proper’ photographers in the past can envision an entirely different outcome. Anyone in a uniform making such demands of one of the old school snappers would have been asked for his warrant card and told to fetch his inspector or, if he persisted, would have been told in no uncertain terms to go away and get a court order. If the snapper was then arrested, all the better. At least we’d get a decent story out of it.

 

On Rebekah Wade…

After a nine-month trial and at immeasurable expense, the jury has returned its verdict and Rebekah Wade has been cleared of all charges… apart from one. Because if she was not guilty of knowing what was going on at the News of the World under her stewardship, then she is guilty as charged when it comes to being a useless editor.

Consider this. I don’t know of a single editor, on a regional or on a national newspaper, who doesn’t know EXACTLY where a high profile Page One story comes from. Never mind the protocol of journalists protecting their sources, you send everyone else out of the room, you sit the reporter down and you beat it out of them if necessary.

You have to. You could be facing problems with what was the Press Complaints Commission, you could be looking at problems with contempt of court, you could be facing huge libel damages if you can’t stand the story up, you could lose your job and your career. You HAVE to know.

And that applies equally to a rock-solid investigation or to a story which might not be impeccably sourced, a celebrity or Royal tale – even if you’re taking a bit of a flyer, you have to know that so you can weigh up the risks.

 

More to come…

 

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Grey Cardigan

Written by Grey Cardigan

The Grey Cardigan has been in newspapers since the days of hot metal and expense accounts. After a lengthy career as chief sub on several regional newspapers, plus a multitude of shifts on the nationals, he was appointed editor of the Evening Beast in 2009 before being ignominiously 'rationalised' last year. He is currently collecting gas in jam jars in case the Russians cut us off. @thegreycardigan

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