This week's front pages
Sometimes you have to feel sorry for Dave. Herding cats has nothing on marshalling the Tory party and trying to save it from itself. So there he is trying to keep the loonies in check as Farage calypsos his way to a second Westminster seat and the helpful EU pops up with a bill for £1.7m, to be settled in four weeks. Not only that, but most of the money will be handed to our great friends France and Germany. This is what you might call a PR coup for the Eurosceptics - and a shoo-in splash for the Telegraph, Mail and Times.
Ed is also feeling the pressure and is pondering how Britain can remain in the EU while preventing everyone south of Paris deciding they want to come and live here - as they are entitled to do. The same story makes the splash for the Independent and its little sister, and elicits a pair of intriguing headlines. Continuing the play on "education, education, education", the Independent lets the visitors in with an immigration triplet, while the i kicks them out with a trio of deportations. The counts are virtually the same - and anyway splash head type is traditionally made of rubber - so why the difference? Or did two night editors/chief subs come up with an identical idea and simply execute it differently? Can the Independent papers afford a chief sub each? Oh the glorious mysteries of newspaper production.
SubScribe wondered yesterday how interested Sun readers would be in the proposed release of Harry Roberts, who killed three policemen in 1966. We have no answer to that, but Fleet Street in general is very interested indeed. The story is the lead in the Mirror and is given extensive coverage everywhere, with virtually everyone saying that it's a bad decision. More of this later.
Another old story that pops up all over the place is one about MI5 putting the Marxist historians Eric Hobsbawm and Christopher Hill (among others) under surveillance for two decades during the cold war. The spies didn't glean much beyond the cuckolding of Hill for their efforts, but we can't resist these trips down memory lane. The Mail shows that it learnt nothing from its "Man who hated Britain" episode by headlining the piece "How the friend of Red Ed's dad hobnobbed with traitors who spied for the Soviets".
Apart from being so tortuous as to be incomprehensible, this "factual" heading sends a totally false message. Hobsbawm was a friend of Ralph Miliband. Hobsbawm was also friendly with two Britons who spied for the Soviet Union. He was also at Cambridge at the same time as the future spies Anthony Blunt and Guy Burgess.
Hobsbawm made no secret of his communist politics, but he was no lover of the Soviet Union and those 20 years of surveillance taught MI5 little about him, beyond his love of jazz.
He wrote about it under the pseudonym Francis Newton for the New Statesman. And the Daily Mail.
Thursday 23 October, 2014
Health services remain at the top of the agenda, with today's offering coming from the head of NHS England Simon Stevens. He has produced a mighty report on the prospects for the next five years and put his hand out for at least an extra £8bn just to stand still. (If health is the subject of the week, then £8bn is the figure of the week, since that was on Monday estimated to be the cost to the country of failing to deal with perinatal mental health problems.)
There is enough in Stevens's report to satisfy the worthy and the pops, with the Mirror and i splashing on incentives for the obese to lose weight, while the Guardian and Times focus on the financial implications of the latest proposed shake-up.
What is strange here is the failure of the Times and the Independent to make more of the extensive time and effort they put into their own series about the health service over the past couple of weeks. Did they not glean anything that could have helped their readers to set this new report into context? Neither makes any reference in their print editions to the vast amount of material that should be available online to complement today's news stories. When resources are tight - as they are everywhere - it seems only common sense to get maximum value from work you have already done to enhance the work you are now doing.
The Mail is, of course, conducting its own research into NHS Wales, a different entity, and so while it describes the Stevens document as a "major report", it finds a home no more prominent than the bottom half of page 21.
The Express meanwhile hails a new dementia breakthrough. This isn't a breakthrough in the sense that the surgery that allowed a man with a severed spinal cord to walk again. It's a breakthrough in that it suggests a different food - walnuts - to take into account when following the conventional advice of eat healthily, take exercise, use your brain, possibly by doing puzzles. This is the twelfth Express dementia cure of the year.
The Mail takes a break from its health run to splash on the controversy surrounding the choice of Fiona Woolf to head an investigation into allegations of paedophilia in Westminster, a subject that occupied the whole of the Independent's front page yesterday and which gets further airings elsewhere today.
The Independent alone leads on the dramatic scenes at the Canadian parliament that ended in the death of a soldier, although they provide the pictures for the other heavies and - surprisingly - the Express. Did the Guardian and Times not trust their readers to know which country they were talking about if they had written "Ottawa" instead of Canadian capital? And isn't it more significant that the attack was on parliament rather than the city?
The Sun leads on the release from jail of Harry Roberts, who killed three policemen in the Sixties. It's hard to guage how much interest this will be to its readers, but it's of great interest to Gameoldgirl, who feels very old remembering the police hunt for the fugitive Roberts, who was eventually found living rough in woodland near her sister's house.
This serious splash is balanced by another front-page picture of Katie Price, the second in three days, which is there for no apparent reason beyond the fact that she is bursting out of yet another preposterous costume. Oh and someone has written another book for her. The paper is worth 40p for the side-by-side panel heads inside that compare her words with those of Shakespeare. The copy is weak, but the headings The Bard and The Bra'd are a mini masterpiece.
The paper also offers great value in its examination of Renee Zellwegger's new face. Everyone's done it - the Times has even puffed its effort on the front - but the Sun takes the actress's assertion that she looks different because her life is better at face value and captions its annotations of the changes with phrases such as "to replicate Renee's look artificially..."
Sassy and classy tabloid journalism.
Wednesday 22 October, 2014
Criminals are causing angst this morning. The Guardian is concerned about prison conditions that are being blamed for a high number of suicides. The Times and the i are perturbed about "vanishing" foreign criminals, particularly in the light of the murder of Alice Gross, whose killer is thought by many to have been a Latvian who had already served a sentence for murder in his home country. Our enthusiasm for jailing people who pose no threat to society, whether as punishment or deterrent, has always baffled SubScribe.
Successive home secretaries chant the mantra "prison works" - which it patently doesn't. We are constantly being told about overcrowding, about how incarceration breeds drug abuse inside and recidivism outside, about how we jail more people than whichever country we choose to represent an unenlightened justice system. How it is beyond the wit of our executive and judiciary to come up with community sentencing that benefits society as well as punishes the guilty is a mystery. It's not a question of leftie do-goodery, its a question of finding a system that works.
The right-wing papers want to lock up anyone who makes life slightly inconvenient for the middle classes, but it's surprising to see the more moderate Times and Indies getting into a tizz about these missing foreigners. Neither report (the i splash and Independent page 6 lead are based on the same copy). The i lead heading talks about 'hundreds' of lost foreign criminals, but "only" 58 are regarded as dangerous criminals who have absconded while awaiting deportation, having served jail sentences here.
A National Audit Office report says that about the whereabouts of about a sixth of 4,200 foreign offenders living in the community were unknown. But what the newspapers do not make clear is whether these offenders are people who have been to jail and been released, whether they ran away before they were deported, or whether they were convicted of some offence and fined or given community service. Are they supposed to be in custody? Are we supposed to know where they are - any more than we are supposed to know where British offenders are once they have been through the justice system and paid whatever debt to society?
It is very easy to stir up outrage about criminal foreigners, but without proper background and details of procedures that are or should be in place, the reader is left in no position to judge whether this is a scandal or xenophobia.
The Guardian and i also give front-page space to the foreign criminal uppermost in our minds - the jailing of Oscar Pistorius for killing his girlfriend. Others are more interested in the fact that the blessed Kate has emerged from her morning sickness and gone back to work. The Mail's front homes in on the shadows under the duchess's eyes, but is then surprisingly gentle on her inside - other than noting "killer heels, lots of leg and no bump".
The Express breaks rank to make Renee Zellwegger its cover girl, but there is no shortage of "Whatever happened to Bridget Jones" material inside, with the Mail producing a spread on the change in her face.
When the wind blows at more than about 60mph, someone somewhere is liable to get killed by a falling tree, so the "killer storm" headings in the Express and Star were inevitable. Much more original is the Mirror's splash on the conman who faked a coma for four years. Extraordinary.
Tuesday 21 October, 2014
News can be a hundred - or a million - years old and still be news if it's the first anyone has heard of it. And so today we learn about Darek Fidyka, who was paralysed when his spinal cord was severed in a stabbing five years ago and who can now walk, thanks to pioneering stem-cell surgery. Fidyka, a Bulgarian fireman, had his operation two years ago; six months later he regained feeling in parts of his lower body and has now been filmed walking across a bridge with the aid of leg supports and a wheeled frame. The story is a welcome relief from the grim news of recent months and makes the splash in the Independent, Times and i. Their inside coverage includes a sidebar about a Michelin-starred chef called David Nicholls who helped to fund the research after his teenage son was paralysed in a diving accident in Australia a decade ago. Odd that they should choose the same sidebar/background? Not when you consider that the story is also being covered by Panorama tonight, a documentary that happens to coincide with the publication of the research that led to the treatment in the journal Cell Transplantation. Just to round things off neatly, the Panorama reporter Fergus Walsh has written a "behind the story" backgrounder for The Times.
Too many "news" stories are predicated on television programmes, book or film releases; this advance is clearly in a different league from a leaked episode of EastEnders. It has the hallmarks of a true medical breakthrough. But, while the co-ordinated approach to its announcement is understandable, for some reason this news management makes SubScribe feel slightly uneasy.
Still on health matters, the Mail continues its investigation of the NHS in Wales and the Mirror splashes on the death of Lynda Bellingham. The actress's recent autobiography and television appearances have enhanced the nation's affection and respect for a woman who has always seemed likeable. But a splash and two spreads? That does seem a trifle excessive.
For the Sun, if it's Tuesday it's boobsday and today's pair belong to Katie Price. The lady in the pink curlers is exposing her assets to illustrate a good story about exploding breast implants. Don't laugh, it's serious. A plastic surgeon has helpfully blamed what he calls the "Jordan syndrome" of women wanting bigger and bigger breasts. But you do wonder about some people. One woman "went from a 34B to 34EE - but three months later her new boobs exploded," the Sun writes. "My left breast went disfigured and saggy, my nipple stretched out of shape. I was terrified," she told the paper. "My implant had burst. Desperate to fill the drooping skin I increased my bust size from a 34EE to 34HH. But two weeks after my second op, my implants flipped round in my chest. My boobs became disfigured and ugly."
Monday 20 October, 2014
For the third successive Monday we are treated to an analysis of what's wrong with the health service and the promise of days more of the same. This week we are indebted to the Mail for its examination of the treatment available in Wales where, the paper is eager to tell us, Labour is in power.
We expect a broad sweep for the first instalment of such an enterprise: a chart setting out the course for the days to come. Case studies are essential, but these should be ballast, not the main cargo.
Two weeks ago the Independent set off with the wind of an open letter from the great and good in its sails. These were seriously big hitters: the heads of the BMA and the royal colleges of nursing, physicians, GPs, midwives and more, plus chief executives of charities such as the RNIB and the Alzheimer's Society.
Last Monday the Times took a different tack: a leaked in-the-room account of Andrew Lansley blinding cabinet colleagues with gobbledygook to persuade them to embark on health service reforms that some Tories now say were their biggest mistake since the election.
The Independent offered a Q&A, the Times expert analysis and a comparison with services elsewhere. And both had charts. Facts and figures. These were statistic-rich properties.
This is not the way of the Mail. It aims directly at the heart, avoiding the head at all costs. With maximum use of adjectives and adverbs and minimum use of statistics, it tells us that Welsh health services are a mess - and this is, it seems, entirely a result of the fact that Labour has been in charge of them for the past 15 years.
The second par of the splash says that people are dying while on waiting lists - shocking, but that happens across the UK; that people have to go to England for treatment, as though patients elsewhere are never sent to a distant hospital. These are universal problems that are far from unique to Wales.
The inside spread, meanwhile, is built upon anecdotes about friends and acquaintances of the author, Guy Adams, who lives in Monmouth: an old friend who had to wait for cancer treatment, a tennis club stalwart who died after picking up MRSA when undergoing hip surgery. Note the "after" rather than "from".
Pick any hospital at random and you will find aggrieved friends and relatives of those who emerged a shadow of their former healthy selves - and of those who didn't emerge at all. Our personal experiences will inevitably colour our view of an institution, as SubScribe confesses in the post about the Colchester cancer scandal. But that is no basis on which to condemn or laud the entire service. We have to be detatched and let the evidence rather than emotion make the case. I'm not sure that Adams has done that today. Maybe later in the week he will.
The Guardian and Telegraph also start the week on the health track: for the former there is the always-uncomfortable exercise of putting a price on people's pain and anxiety - in this case, the cost to the country of failing to deal adequately with perinatal depression. The Telegraph looks not at the start but the end of life and one of the most interesting stories of the weekend: the suggestion that terminally ill patients for whom there is no further available treatment should be given the opportunity to try unlicensed drugs.
The Independent has a good leak on Alan Milburn's latest poverty report, which must be particularly galling for the Times, which has an OpEd from the former health secretary. There is no need to shed too many tears for the Thunderer, though, as it has been delving into the way police spy on people. Far too little attention has been paid to the effects on ordinary people of security laws brought in all over "democratic Western society" since 9/11. Press Gazette's laudable campaign over the misuse of the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act to uncover journalistic sources is obviously of great interest to our industry and of importance to society as a whole. But we are in danger of forgetting that half a million requests for data were submitted last year - and the SOS campaign has so far uncovered three used against journalists.
The Times today looks at a different string on the police's bow, one which does require approval from the judiciary, but which is equally alarming in its execution. By securing a "production order" police can see not only records of phone calls, but also their content. And the people whose private messages are being listened to and read are unlikely ever to find out unless the material leads to a court case. The paper has asked every force about its use of these orders, but most have declined to respond. Of those that did, the West Midlands police said that they had made more than 300 requests over the past three years; and if two a week doesn't sound too heinous, one mobile phone company says that it is receiving 150 such requests a month. Multiply that up across all operators and it looks rather scarier.
Of other matters, the Mirror's splash is historic but fascinating; the Sun's not as scandalous as it likes to make out and the Express's as predictable as ever. It does, however, have a photograph of Lynda Bellingham, who will be in many people's thoughts today.
As to the Star, what is it trying to do? To tempt people who are desperate to find out who the woman in the Ched Evans case is so that they can taunt her? It does not, of course, name her, and there is a suitable amount of distaste for Evans in the coverage.
The footballer has no paper on his side at the moment - and given that the only regret he has expressed so far appears to have been that he cheated on his girlfriend, he deserves little sympathy. He was tried and convicted by a jury and no lesser authority than the Lord Chief Justice ruled that he had no grounds for appeal against conviction or sentence. Now his case is being fast-tracked by the Criminal Cases Review Commission, which will upset a lot of people, particularly those still in jail for crimes they didn't commit.
And finally, the Mail has been getting into a muddle with its health statistics - which may explain why there are so few in its Welsh extravaganza. Reading this morning's "correction and clarification", one wonders how much further it could have misrepresented the story it is now "putting right". It is worth reading several times to grasp the extent of the failure in this case.
See the weekend papers (but no reviews) here
A malicious and misconceived sting...
...No it was the Press doing its job...
...second thoughts and humble pie
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