It’s an election, not a war, Polly Toynbee

It's an election, not a war

It’s an election, not a war

I expected better from Polly Toynbee. The Guardian’s columnist is usually a wise commentator on politics, and a passionate voice for the deprived. But today’s column indulged in childish war cliches. I assumed a female commentator to be more sensible.

What on earth has a ground war and an air war got to do with an election? Please grow up.

Don’t get me started on ‘retail offers’. Political reporting gets more ridiculous by the day.

Goodbye to Guardian’s Media Talk podcast

The Guardian Media Talk podcast

Media Talk silenced

Fridays will never be the same again. The Guardian’s Media Talk podcast has ended after eight years.

It’s not a huge surprise. The Guardian has been losing money – like most newspaper groups – for years and has been making cutbacks for some time. (The venerable separate Media section of the print edition was merged with the main section in 2011.)

I’ve been a regular listener from the beginning. I loved the mix of wit and insight into the changing media scene from the likes of Matt Wells, Emily Bell and Maggie Brown in particular, as well as final presenter John Plunkett.

Media Talk has chronicled one of the most dramatic eras in media history. The digital revolution has led to what many see as print’s terminal decline. Rupert Murdoch introduced a paywall – the opposite approach to The Guardian and Mail Online – then was laid low by the phone hacking scandal, which the Guardian played a big role in breaking.

Media Talk was off air when the paper’s revelations about the News of the World hacking Milly Dowler’s phone became a major scandal in 2011. But I was there a week or so later when Matt Wells recorded a special edition on the subject with a panel including Guardian editor in chief Alan Rusbridger.

Ironically, Emily Bell herself said in the farewell podcast that there are signs that podcasts are enjoying a revival. All is not lost: John Plunkett and team are hoping to revive the show as an independent production. Please subscribe to make this happen.

PS: Murdoch biographer Michael Wolff writes critically about the Guardian’s US expansion in GQ.

 

 

Guardian wrong on Chris Huhne – readers’ editor

The Guardian’s readers editor Chris Elliott today accepted the paper was wrong to allow Chris Huhne to use his weekly column to attack convicted judge Constance Briscoe’s part in his own conviction.

I blogged my disgust at Huhne’s column the day it appeared. I think the Guardian made a misjudgement giving Huhne a weekly column. But this crass piece was the final straw. Continue reading

Grim up north: The Guardian’s hatchet job

 

Newcastle

Northern pride: Gateshead and Newcastle upon Tyne

The Guardian was once a proud northern newspaper. As The Manchester Guardian, it was one of that great city’s treasures, along with the Hallé, Manchester University and free trade. The historian AJP Taylor celebrated it in his essay about the city in his book Essays in English History.

How things change. The Guardian is now arguably our most London centric national newspaper. Its outlook is Islington not Irwell. It’s hard to imagine the Manchester Guardian publishing Saturday’s ‘It’s grim up north’ article by Andy Beckett about the north east. True, Beckett set out to portray the impact of government spending cuts on the region. And no one would pretend that the north doest face some stark challenges. But it was a bleak and inaccurate portrait, describing the north east as our remotest region – a surprise to anyone enjoying the excellent transport connections from Newcastle. And I have news for Andy Beckett: distance from Islington isn’t a definitive measure of remoteness. On that basis, Sydney, Australia would be the back of beyond.

Beckett’s article has sparked outrage. Hartlepool MP Iain Wright pointed out the irony of casting the region as a British Detroit given the success of Nissan’s plant in Sunderland, which he says builds more cars than Italy. PR consultant Sarah Hall has launched a petition under the hashtag #NEandProud asking Beckett to return to the north east to write a more balanced piece.

I first visited the north of England when I was 15, returning regularly when I was at university in Leicester. I loved the sheer difference between Yorkshire and the south of England. (It took longer for me to get to Newcastle.) I was struck by the stunning scenery and the vibrant cities. As AJP Taylor said of Manchester, part of the glory of the north east is a refreshingly different outlook from that of London and the south east.

The media love lazy stereotypes. Growing up in Cardiff I was all too familiar with them; I grew weary of explaining that Cardiff wasn’t in the valleys and that the only coal mine in the Welsh capital was in the National Museum.

One last thought. The great northern cities were products of a fiercely proud local tradition. They were not forged by dictat from London. Britain is so much poorer for the miserable and demeaning centralism that has blighted our politics over the past forty years. If Andy Beckett wants to win back a few friends, he could do worse than start a campaign to put the local back into public life.

PS: thanks to CIPR president Stephen Waddington and Stuart Bruce for pointing out the Andy Beckett article after I missed it first time round.

Newcastle Gateshead by night

Light on the Tyne: Newcastle and Gateshead

 

Chris Huhne: The Guardian’s shame

Convicted criminal and Guardian columnist Chris Huhne

Chris Huhne, convicted criminal and columnist

I was horrified when The Guardian gave convicted criminal Chris Huhne a weekly column. It was a big misjudgement. But today’s column, in which the former cabinet minister wallowed in self pity about his conviction, marked a new low.

To recap. Chris Huhne is the liar who put lives at risk. As I blogged when he was convicted:

The act of deception that destroyed his career was intended to avoid a driving ban. Yet just weeks later he was banned anyway, for using his mobile phone while driving. The man is a menace. And any sympathy we may have for his former wife – Huhne walked out on their 26 year marriage – is tempered by the fact she put other people at risk through their reckless act of conspiracy.

This foolish and vain man says in his column today:

Although I was guilty, I justified my denial to myself by saying that it was a relatively minor offence committed by 300,000 other people.

That’s all right then. Lots of other drivers put lives at risk, so it doesn’t matter. The man has learned nothing. He cares only about himself. The conviction of Constance Briscoe is irrelevant: as he concedes in the column, his own conviction was justified. Yet this awful man compares his carriage of justice (we can’t call it a miscarriage as he admits he was guilty) with the Stafford NHS scandal, in which people died. The man is as dim as he is vain.

What possessed the Guardian to give so much valuable editorial space to this man? It’s not as if he has any valuable insight, or has achieved anything in his political career that made him a catch as a columnist. This grubby business is such a contrast with The Guardian’s Pullitzer prize for its NSA revelations.

I should add that I don’t object to newspapers employing convicted criminals as columnists. I supported The Guardian when it was attacked over its columnist Erwin James, a convicted murderer, who had worthwhile insights into the criminal justice system without any sense of brushing aside his crimes.

Let’s hope that the paper sees sense and axes this weekly insult to its readers.

Solving Daily Telegraph iPad app problems

Daily Telegraph iPad app

Daily Telegraph iPad app

I love reading newspapers on my iPad. I get them delivered to my tablet without having to go to the letterbox, never mind the newsagent. I can catch up on the news wherever I am in the world, as long as I’m online. The Daily Telegraph iPad app is one of my favourites, as it’s one of the most elegant apps.

But it’s not the most reliable. It rarely if ever downloads automatically, unlike the Guardian and Sunday Times. And recently it has stopped downloading at all: it sticks at 8% downloaded.

Time to use the app equivalent of turning a pesky computer on and off again: I deleted the app completely and downloaded it afresh. This is where I ran into difficulties. It asked me to enter my details as a subscriber. I chose ‘digital subscriber’. But it didn’t recognise me. I tried again. And again. Still no joy. It kept asking me to buy a subscription, which I already had.

At this point I called the 0800 number. A helpful man told me I needed to take a different route: click on the cogwheel on the bottom left of the app screen. Click subscriptions, then choose restore purchases. Enter Apple ID password – and you’ll not be asked to buy a new subscription.

Restore purchases

Choose restore purchases

This solved the 8% hitch. It still doesn’t download automatically though…

Why I’m cancelling the Guardian after 36 years

The Guardian: from print to pixels

The Guardian: from print to pixels

I’ve been reading The Guardian since 1978: the year the winter of discontent started and the first test tube baby was born. As a 1980s student I endured days when the paper never appeared because of strikes and days when photos were so badly printed they were impossible to discern. Today’s paper is a miracle in colour – and the writing is as glorious as ever – yet I’m cancelling my subscription.

But this is no act of infidelity. I’ve decided after two years that the Guardian’s iPad edition is perfect for me. I prefer pixels to print, at least during the working week. I can read the ‘paper’ at the breakfast table in San Francisco and Sirmione as well as at home in our Buckinghamshire village without looking for a newsagent. I don’t have to recycle yesterday’s paper. And my fingers don’t get mucky with newsprint.

I made the decision after weeks of never buying the print edition with my subscriber’s vouchers. Most days, I read the iPad edition over lunch at my desk at work, avoiding the queue at WH Smith for the printed paper.  I couldn’t see the point of spending almost £40 a month for the print subscription when I could get the digital version for around a quarter of the price.

I’ll still buy the printed Guardian on Saturdays. Weekends are different, and Karen and I enjoy sharing the weekend paper – I devour the opinions and sports sections, while she enjoys Family and Travel. (We both love the Weekend magazine.)

The Guardian is special. It stands out from the overwhelmingly authoritarian, right wing British national press. It has been a digital pioneer, although it was slow to introduce an iPad edition. Like many, I wonder how long it will maintain a print edition. Yet I’ve surprised myself. When I started reading the Guardian, Times and Telegraph on my iPad, I thought printed newspapers had a unique appeal that would endure. Now I’m not so sure.

Britain’s papers have embraced the iPad. The broadsheets have become pixel publishers, yet it’s not clear how much money they’re making from their digital editions. But there are two brutal truths: they cannot survive on print alone. And giving away content for free online threatens everything. It will be fascinating to see how this story develops over the next few years.

PS: my review of the very first Guardian iPad edition has stood the test of time. You can also read my post about The Times’ iPad edition.

The Telegraph's iPad front page

The Telegraph’s iPad front page

Thanks for the laughter, Simon Hoggart

Image

Above: The Guardian mourns its star sketch writer

Saturdays won’t be the same again. The Guardian weekend columnist and parliamentary sketch-writer Simon Hoggart has died aged 67.

Never again will we savour Hoggart’s waspish columns, mocking politicians and everyday people – especially Christmas round-robin letters.

Today, The Guardian’s obituary recounted examples of Hoggart’s wit, as well as his serious journalist, notably covering the darkest days of Northern Ireland’s Troubles.  His damning account of the British Army’s actions on Bloody Sunday in Derry in 1972 was confined by the 2010 Saville inquiry.

Hoggart was also a witty broadcaster, and he transformed Radio 4’s venerable News Quiz in the 1990s when he took over as chairman from Barry Took. He made it essential listening compared with the tired show that he inherited. (Helped by a fresh generation of brilliant comics, including Andy Hamilton, Jeremy Hardy and Linda Smith.)

A sad loss.

Travesty: Prince Charles letters cover up

As Scotland’s independence referendum campaign begins, we had a reminder of the strength of reactionary power in Britain. The UK attorney general blocked disclosure of letters Prince Charles sent to government ministers.

The reason? Publication ‘could damage prince’s ability to perform duties as king’.

How ridiculous. If the letters are so incendiary, he shouldn’t have sent them in the first place. In any case, Charles is notorious for lobbying government ministers over his personal hobby horses. It seems very unlikely that the Prince of Wales was asking ministers’ advice over his future kingly duties.

Lord Rogers, the architect, commented: “It is either a democracy or it is not. I don’t think anybody, be it a king, prince or poor man, has a right to undermine decisions by private interventions which have a public impact. The only way for Charles to be a public figure is for him to act publicly. It is not democratic to cover up his interventions.”

Amen to that.

The Guardian: too much Apple coverage?

iPhone 5: does it get free and easy publicity from the media?

The Guardian’s readers’ editor Chris Elliott today devoted his Open door column to respond to reader criticism that the paper has, in Elliott’s words, been,'”brainwashed” by Apple to give the company and its products excessive amounts of favourable publicity.’

Elliott makes a comparison of the paper’s coverage of Apple phones compared with the rival Android mobile phone operating system over the past 12 months:

“There were 900 references to Apple in the paper and on the website in total; 470 of those were in print. There were 340 references to Android phones, of which 30 were in print.”

Elliott’s article was balanced without reaching a verdict on the claims of Apple bias. He quotes the paper’s technology editor Charles Arthur:

“The statistics show that people read about Apple stuff. If a story involves the company, it gets huge readership. We aim to write about it fairly. If it gets a lot of coverage, that’s because what it does can move entire markets – stock markets, other companies’ shares (eg suppliers who win/lose contracts), how we use devices (so it might not have been the first company with a touchscreen phone, but it set the standard all the others followed).”

Arthur was criticised heavily by readers last month for posting a 5 star review of the iPhone 5 that didn’t mention the flaws in the new Apple Maps app that replaced Google Maps in the iOS 6 operating system that powers the new phone. Arthur reassured readers who may be concerned about switching to the Apple app: “Don’t worry – it’s very good.” Within 24 hours, his colleague Juliette Garside reported ‘significant glitches’ in Apple Maps, including the disappearance of Stratford upon Avon, new airports and relocated towns.

Charles wasn’t the only reporter to publish a glowing review that didn’t mention the maps fiasco. The Telegraph’s Shane Richmond wrote a similarly euphoric write up the same day. The challenge tech writers like Shane and Charles face is that readers and publishers demand an instant appraisal of new tech products. They don’t always get enough time to get under the skin of the latest phones and other devices. It was much the same with the last truly new iPhone model – the rumpus about the reception problems of the iPhone 4 (the predictably named ‘antennagate’) broke a couple of weeks after the launch, long after the glowing reviews had appeared.

UPDATE: Shane has pointed out in response that he wrote a parallel story the same day as his iPhone 5 review highlighting that iOS 6 isn’t as good as it could be: “Unfortunately, in the version I tested, Apple’s Maps are missing places such as railway stations and frequently misplace cafes and restaurants, often putting them streets away from their actual locations.” Charles has highlighted his piece last week asking ‘Why do some people really hate Apple?”

The cult of Apple … and Android

It can’t be easy to be a tech writer. Anything you write about Apple or Android leads to an torrent of vitriol from fans of the rival systems that is literally beyond reason. Take one comment on Chris Elliott’s article:

“For most purposes Apple products suck. If you want to do any serious professional work using a computer you do not use Apple, but instead PCs running Microsoft Windows or a version of Linux…The only people who use Apple products are those who buy the product as a fashion accessory, or because they think it is cool and rebellious not use Windows.”

It’s hard to think of any other type of consumer product that provokes this kind of religious/cult style over-reaction. Do Ford car owners condemn Vauxhall or Mercedes owners as stupid for their choice of car? Or Canon devotees about Nikon users? It seems unlikely.

My view is that Android and Apple phones are amazing devices. They offer features that we could only dream about five years ago – and are so much more user friendly than earlier smartphones. (Just try using a BlackBerry if you want to see how awful smartphones were before the iPhone.) iPhones are brilliant for people who want a simple yet powerful user experience but aren’t bothered about customising how everything works. Android is terrific for anyone who wants more flexibility – in handsets, software and customisation. You choose.