Not the News of the World

News of the WorldI am stunned that News International, the newspaper group owned by Rupert Murdoch, has decided to close its Sunday title and the biggest selling British paper the News of the World. I am not alone. Even when The Guardian revealed on Monday that News of the World journalists had hacked into the mobile phone of murdered teenager Milly Dowler, no one was predicting the imminent closure of the paper.

Acres of words have already been written about the phone hacking scandal and I’m not in a position to add much to them. But I am deeply sceptical about the idea that neither Andy Coulson nor Rebekah Brooks, both former editors of the News of the World, knew their reporters were illegally hacking into people’s mobile phones.

By comparison to the NOTW I used to edit a lowly business publication. But the industry we published for took the paper seriously and so did we, the editorial staff. At Broadcast magazine I would never have run a major story without knowing exactly who or what the source of the story was. We might have dissembled to some readers about sources to protect them but we knew where each and every story had come from and we were confident that, if we were ever forced to stand by a story under oath, we could do so.

It is therefore “inconceivable” to me that Rebekah Brooks and/or her deputy and successor Andy Coulson didn’t know where stories came from on their paper. Coulson told a Parliamentary select committee he had no “recollection of any incidences where phone hacking took place”. Yesterday News International chairman and Rupert’s son James Murdoch said the NOTW had “made statements to Parliament without being in the possession of the full facts. This was wrong.” Coulson has today been arrested on suspicion of conspiring to intercept communications.

Prime Minister David Cameron has today announced two inquiries, one into the culture, ethics and practices of the British press and the other into the specific phone hacking charges to establish “what exactly was going on at the News of the World” and other papers. Like the rest of the country, I cannot wait to read the results. Perhaps they’ll be covered by a new Sunday paper, The Sun on Sunday?


The future and the blindingly obvious

 Guardian logo

Media companies, but particularly newspapers, have had their knickers in a twist for some time now as they wonder how to make money out of “online”. That is, the provision of information via the internet which, before the advent of the internet, they were able to charge money for. It is almost axiomatic today that if it’s “online”, it’s free. Unless it’s porn.

The answer to me, coming from a background of business publishing, is so screamingly obvious that I wonder how so many highly-paid executives have avoided it for so long. Don’t give unique information away for free. Whatever the medium.

The trouble is that, online at least, every organisation is waiting for another to jump first. No company wants to be the first to start charging online readers while others continue to provide things for free because the first to do so fears losing their audience.

Predictably, it’s taken Rupert Murdoch to question this lame, lemming (as in suicidal) attitude to the internet. A few weeks ago he said his British newspapers (The Sun, News of the World, The Times and Sunday Times) would have to charge for content provided online. Now more and more people agree with him, not least Simon Jenkins writing in The Guardian. The argument against charging is that advertising revenue will cover the cost of content that’s free to the end-user. But if that wasn’t true in the real world, why should it be true in the virtual world? And, as a business, why deny yourself a potential revenue stream? Altruism? After a recession? I don’t think so.

Having just renewed my mobile phone contract (for 18 months, thank you) and while questioning why I spend tens of pounds each month on a Sky TV package that I barely watch, another thing has occurred to me.

As a regular Guardian reader and user of its many free websites, I would gladly pay (what? £10 a month?) for unlimited access to its online news/comment/reviews sites plus – and this is the deal-breaker – a hard copy of the Saturday paper. To do full justice to Tim Dowling’s weekly column in the Weekend supplement you have to place the actual magazine on a table where it will be covered in a niagra of apple & elderflower squash and the discarded, slightly grey inner tubes of several half-eaten sausage rolls over lunch. (If only Waitrose sold empty pockets of cooked pastry, I’d save a fortune on deli goods.)

It then occurs to me that it’s only a matter of time before content from different brands such as The Guardian and Sky is bundled together in packages in the way that broadband, mobile and TV services are. OK, it’s more likely to be content from The Times bundled with Sky as they’re both ultimately owned by Murdoch. But I can dream, can’t I?

I have seen the future. And it’s sausage-shaped.

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Fat is a feminist issue

A hobnob biscuit

Here goes with yet another badly thought-out, hastily written post, tapped straight into the ‘write post’ facility because I can rarely be bothered to write it all out first in Word and then (lawks a-mercy) actually check my copy before publishing it.

A few thoughts on the third and final part of C4’s The Hospital, which aired on Tuesday and which featured lots of overweight people. You’ll recall, if you’ve been paying any attention at all, that The Hospital was a three-part documentary series about the strains put on the NHS by various conditions affecting, nay, plagueing the nation’s young. Namely, alcoholism, teenage pregnancy and obesity.

In Tuesday’s outing we met a number of ginormo-birds (they were all female although at least one of their male soul-mates was also ginormous) who wanted a gastric band fitted to stop them over-eating and help them lose weight. One man in the country, a Mr Super, fits 400 bands a year in up to four operations a day. Another man, who started out with tight curly hair in the film and ended it with a suspiciously gelled and groomed pudding bowl, tried to talk the ladies out of their bad eating habits in weekly 45-minute sessions.

The film explored some of the emotional and physical reasons why these ladies were so spectactularly overweight and took pot shots at the relative effectiveness of gastric bands versus help and support with better eating. The digested version? Gastric bands are v painful and mean you’ll never eat normally again. Some people still try and cheat, even with one fitted. Help and support plus an exercise regime can start shifting pounds in weight.

It was another great piece of documentary, enlivened by the new technique (as far as I can tell) of getting contributors to talk straight to the camera as if they were doing a ‘down the line’ news piece, rather than chatting to a film-maker who is usually out of shot.

What the film didn’t do was support anything that Zoe Williams concluded in an apparently unrelated column about obesity in yesterday’s Guardian. Williams reckons that “doctors at the coalface of the obesity problem, in the gastric-band business … never come up with punitive solutions, they always talk about prevention of obesity, and how hard weight loss is.” Well Mr Super in The Hospital was pretty punitive. He wanted to ban all “beige” foods if he got into power (bread, pasta, crisps) and delighted in wiggling his patients bits of fat while they were out for the count saying: “This bit of fat started life as a biscuit, or a chip.”

The Hospital also put the lie to another of Williams’ conclusions. “A most cursory examination of the impulses behind overeating, after you’ve filtered out considerations like fatty food costing less, reveals that they have nothing to do with people being ignorant, or insufficiently reprimanded,” she wrote. “They are all about boredom, hopelessness, demoralisation and a low sense of self-worth.” Yes, but what about the woman in The Hospital who looked at the pack of Hob Nobs while eating one to discover (apparently for the first time) that one Hob Nob contains 67 calories?

It’s all just a bit more complicated than either Williams, I or The Hospital film-makers can account for. Which is why cheap, easy measures to tackle obesity like encouraging people to eat less fat and get out more will always be on the social policy agenda alongside the really big, long-term challenges such as eradicating poverty.

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Perfect happiness

Author James Runcie. Christian Sinibaldi/Guardian

After last week’s Horizon with David Baddiel contemplating the education system and children’s happiness, comes this article from the Family section of Saturday’s Guardian. And a whole new level of self-doubt and questioning for liberal-minded parents.

Forget, for the moment, that the author is the son of former Archbishop of Canterbury Robert Runcie. Runcie Jr writing here seems like a pretty normal bloke. Forget also or gloss over the repetition in the first few paragraphs of this piece. He or the subs probably had to pad the original out to fill a whole page.

For my money, James Runcie makes an excellent point in his final two pars about the general weight of expectation parents place on their children. Even the most laissez faire mother or father just wants their children “to be happy”. But this in itself can be a burden, an expectation which the child shoulders throughout their life. Runcie suggests children, as they grow up, should be treated as people and allowed to set their own levels of expectation and disappointment rather than inherit your own.

This reminds me of my own cynical reaction years ago to reading something by a (young, new) mother writing of her children that she only wanted them to grow up happy and not addicted to drugs. Show me someone who’s truly happy and not addicted to drugs, where your definition of drugs includes caffeine, nicotine and alcohol. The notion of perfect happiness is one of the biggest perversions and distractions of our time. I’m with the “good enough” school of thought on this, as with most things.

Happy Monday.

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