Does the Lynn Barber libel case ban reviewers from being “spiteful”?

There’s been a bit of a wailing and a gnashing of teeth on the interwebs today about the libel decision handed down yesterday by Justice Tugendhat which found against the Telegraph and Lynn Barber, over a review Barber wrote in 2008 of Dr Sarah Thornton’s book ‘Seven Days in the Art World’. Possibly because of how the case is being reported – for example, the BBC’s report begins with the line “An author has won £65,000 in libel damages over a “spiteful” book review that was written by a journalist for a broadsheet newspaper” – lots of writers appear under the impression that the libel damages (and £65,000 isn’t really that much for a libel case) have been awarded because the judge found that the review was just too nasty.

Obviously, this would be profoundly worrying for anybody in the business of reviewing things, where spitefulness is sometimes, regretfully, a necessary literary tool. And because the judgment itself is a) very long, and b) mostly quite boring, very few people seem to have read the full thing – which would reveal that their concerns are unfounded. In fact, the judgment appears to be entirely fair, and moreover it casts the actions of Lynn Barber and (to a lesser extent) the Telegraph in a very unflattering light.

Mostly to save me trying to make the same point over and over again on Twitter, here’s the three major misconceptions about the case:

1) A review being “spiteful” now places you at risk of a libel action

No, it doesn’t. The libel decision has very little to do with the tone of Barber’s piece, and a lot to do with the fact that it made several highly defamatory – and entirely false – allegations about Dr. Thornton’s work. Tugendhat J is crystal clear about this in paragraph 76 (highlighting mine):

A reviewer is entitled to be spiteful, so long as she is honest, but if she is spiteful, the court may more readily conclude that misstatements of fact are not honest, since spite or ill will is a motive for dishonesty.”

Good news, reviewers! You can carry on being as spiteful and vitriolic and snarky and pissy as you ever were. The one caveat there (as we’ll see in a bit) is that if you do make some entirely false claims in your review, and if the tone of your piece is extremely spiteful, you might find it a bit harder to claim in court that you made an honest mistake, and that you weren’t attempting to damage the reputation of the person whose work you’re reviewing.

2) All Lynn Barber is guilty of is being forgetful

Nope. Not only does the judge conclude that it’s unlikely Lynn Barber was actually forgetful, but it doesn’t really matter: the crucial question isn’t whether she forgot a key fact, but that she apparently didn’t care (and never bothered to check) whether what she wrote was true or not. Which, when you’re making an extremely damaging claim, is really not on.

The libel claim, which made up for the majority of the damages (there was also a secondary claim of malicious falsehood), was over Barber’s claim that Thornton had falsely said she had interviewed Barber for the book (about her experiences of being a Turner Prize judge). As it happens, Thornton had interviewed Barber for the book; Barber’s claim that she hadn’t (“I gave her an interview? Surely I would have noticed?”) was completely untrue.

In her defence, Barber said she’d simply forgotten that the interview had happened. Indeed, she noted that she’s written before about how poor her memory is, for example in her memoir ‘An Education’. That would seem to be a reasonable thing to say in her defence – but Tugendhat considered this, and found it a poor excuse on two eminently reasonable grounds.

First (and treading carefully here) he found reason to doubt that Barber’s memory was quite as bad as she made out. Not only did he find that her descriptions of her poor memory in An Education to actually be examples of perfectly ordinary memory (in parargraph 92 of the judgment he goes through her examples one by one, dismissing each with a deliciously blunt “That is normal”), but he specifically suggests that she only introduces the idea of poor memory as “a literary device to warn the reader that the memoir does not purport to be completely accurate”.

Moreover, Tugendhat suggests that Barber’s supposed bad memory appears, on the basis of her evidence, to be selective at best – for example, being able to remember clearly an email in the afternoon of one day that supports her case, but not another email that same evening that hinders her case (paragraphs 84 and 85).

In summation, the judge writes: “Ms Barber wrote in her witness statement in a number of places that she has a notoriously bad memory. In reading the documents and in listening to her oral evidence, I did not see any sign that that was true. On the contrary, her memory of events in 2006, as recounted in the Review, and her memory of events when she gave evidence, seemed to me to be normal or in some respect better than might be expected. I do not accept the accuracy of her statement that her memory is bad.

And regardless, he secondly notes that it makes very little difference to the judgment whether her memory really is that bad – because if she knew she had a bad memory, then relying on her memory to make as damaging and defamatory claim as sayng that a book’s author lied without checking if it was true is enough to turn the case against her. The defence admitted that Barber had in fact made a mention of having done the interview in her diary (paragraph 28); it would have been the work of minutes to check the facts. Tugendhat writes (paragraph 127): “It is with some hesitation that I reached the conclusion that Ms Barber knew the interview allegation was false at the time she wrote the Review. I have had no hesitation in reaching the alternative conclusion that (if she did not know it was false) she was reckless, that is indifferent as to whether it was true or false.

3) It was an honest mistake

On the basis of the judgment… er, not so much. In fact, the judgment really is quite brutal about Lynn Barber’s actions, and also shows the Telegraph’s response to an entirely reasonable complaint in a fairly bad light. As noted, Tugendhat repeatedly says that Barber was “indifferent” to whether the claims she had made were true or false (paragraphs 121 through to 127). He says (paragraph 106) that “I found nothing in her demeanour which suggested to me that she cared one way or another whether the interview allegation was true or false. She manifested no sign of caring at all.” That’s a pretty damning indictment of any journalist – a profession in which, you’d hope, caring about whether things are true would be a pretty central character trait.

Furthermore, Barber didn’t respond to emails from Thornton, shortly after the review was published, pointing out the mistake (paragraphs 35, 102); the Telegraph took four months to remove the review from their website, and a further six months to issue an apology (paragraph 187), none of which suggests much in the way of good faith in their approach to the issue. Then the Telegraph, in their first full response to Dr Thornton’s complaints, chose to use the the quite baffling (to me) argument that the 35-40 minute interview hadn’t actually been an interview, because it hadn’t yielded much useful information (paragraph 55, given shortest possible shrift in paragraphs 94 and 95).

I think that for most journalists this will come as quite a surprise: the idea that slightly rubbish interviews retrospectively stop having been interviews at all. I mean, I was quite excited when I got to interview Matt Smith – he’s The Doctor, for goodness sake – even if it was just a 15 minute phoner where he straight-batted everything right back at me. Turns out that, according to the Telegraph’s legal team, I never interviewed him at all, which is definitley some sort of wibbly-wobbly timey-wimey shenanigans about which I’m not very happy.

It gets worse for Barber – in papragraph 96, Tugendhat bluntly states that, in her evidence, “she told what is certainly a lie.” As he notes a while later (parargraph 107) “it is a very serious matter for a judge to find that a witness has lied” – but he’s in no doubt that she did, based on what she wrote in her original review.

—–

In summary: the judge found that Lynn Barber lied in her evidence, didn’t care whether the allegations she made were true or false (when it was easy for her to have checked and found out that they were false), and both she and the Telegraph were slow and obstructive in their response to Dr Thornton’s complaint. The only area where the ‘spitefulness’ (or otherwise) of the review comes into play is that it’s indicative of Barber’s “state of mind” (see paragraph 76, the only time in the entire judgment where spite is mentioned) when writing it; it’s a factor that harms her particular defence, not a cause of action in itself. Spite as a journalistic method lives to fight another day.

While many journalists may be worried about this judgment based on some stray headlines, in actual fact it’s a result that all good journalists should be able to support – even though many of us, myself included, have enjoyed and admired Lynn Barber’s work for many years. Because ultimately it’s about the basics of journalism, our version of “first, do no harm” – “First, don’t say something that isn’t true.”

So here is my review of Angry Birds, St. Patrick’s Day edition

Angry Birds Seasons St. Patrick's Day edition

At work today, I wrote the following review of the new levels of Angry Birds Seasons – an update that celebrates St. Patrick’s Day, following on from previous batches of fresh levels themed around Halloween, Christmas and Valentine’s Day. After a brief discussion with my line manager, we mutually agreed that the piece wasn’t entirely right for the tone of our site.

As such, I’m publishing it here instead.

—–

Dear Finland,

Ah. We see you’ve updated Angry Birds with some new levels – all in celebration of our patron saint, St. Patrick. That was nice of you! However, one or two quibbles. Now, we might be reading a bit too much into this here, but having had a brief glance at our history books just to remind ourselves, we can’t help but wonder at your decision to depict Irish people as pigs. Thieving pigs, to put not too fine a point on it. Is that possibly, we don’t know, a touch insensitive? A little awkward on the symbolism front? Thieving green pigs in green hats with big red beards, in fact. No. Wait. Thick evil thieving green pigs with stupid beards WHO HABITUALLY STORE LARGE AMOUNTS OF EXPLOSIVES IN THEIR RAMSHACKLE HOUSES.

Jesus, honestly, why didn’t you just superimpose Oliver Cromwell’s face on the Red Bird and have done with it? Look, perhaps we’re getting a little paranoid here – that is probably because we are ALWAYS DRUNK, by the way – but still, we’re picking up a pretty strong ‘the thieving Irish pigs must be destroyed at all costs’ vibe from this thing.

We suppose we should be thankful that we’re just portrayed as stealing eggs. We half expected it to be Lucky Charms.

Still, it’s all just a bit of fun, isn’t it? So, in the spirit of jovial national fraternity, let us simply say: Finland, go fuck yourselves, you reindeer-munching, Renny Harlin-producing, forty-four places below us in the FIFA rankings, haven’t made a decent smartphone in years, can only win Eurovision when dressed as a bat, so boring we had to look you up on Wikipedia to find out enough bloody stereotypes runkkarit.

To be sure.

Lots of love,

Ireland

P.S. Don’t suppose you could lend us some money? We’re a bit short.

Three weeks with a MacBook Air

MacBook Air

A couple of weeks ago, I did something that doesn’t come naturally to me: I paid a fairly hefty wodge of money for an Apple computer. I’ve never owned a Mac before; while I’ve got nothing particular against Team Cupertino, I’ve always been a PC boy at heart, ever since I first laid eyes on my dad’s Amstrad 1512 many, many years ago.

More to the point, I’ve never seen myself as the sort of person who casually gets their MacBook out in a Starbucks to fire off a quick email to Tristan, and certainly not the sort of person who then writes a blog post braying to the world about how awesome their shiny new toy is. You know, one of those bloody people. And yet here we are.

I did it because I’d reached the point where I realised that my faithful four-year-old ThinkPad was finally giving up the ghost, and that my first generation EeePC (as much as I still love the adorable, plucky little thing) wasn’t even remotely capable of actually doing what I needed it to do. More pressingly, I was heading away on a trip in a little over a week for work, so I needed something that would, you know, work.

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The Four Square Revolution

Tahrir Square in Egypt. Pearl Square in Bahrain. Green Square in Libya. May First Square in Algeria.Tahrir Square map

Dictators have always loved squares. They’re good for big military parades, shows of national unity, triumphalist architecture, and statues of you riding a horse. You can’t be a good dictatorship without a proper square; if you can, you co-opt a pre-existing square and rename it, adding horse statues and massive flags to taste. If no appropriate square exists, you’d better get building one quickly, or all the other dictators will look down on you.

Revolutionaries have always loved squares. They’re good for large gatherings, shows of defiance, and are usually handy for burning down nearby government buildings. Squares have so often been the focus of mass protest, successful or otherwise: Trafalgar Square in London; Tiananmen Square in Beijing; Azadi Square in Tehran. They’re well suited to symbolic purposes, providing the focal point and defining iconography of the movement; they’re good for sustaining the narrative of a drawn out revolutionary movement, as with Tahrir and currently with Pearl (as long as we hold the square, the revolution lives); and possibly above all, they’re good for pragmatic purposes (when communication is cut off, a simple message – head for the square – is the easiest to spread and to follow). If you want to have a revolution, a proper square can be invaluable.

Of course, everyone else loves squares as well. Capitalists like them because they attract commerce; communists like them because they emphasise collectivity; monarchs like them because they’re monuments to nobility; republicans like them because they belong to the people; tourists like them because they’re good for sightseeing; locals like them because they keep all the bloody tourists in one place. There’s nothing about any one group or ideology that seems inherently more pro-square than any other; humans just seem to really dig a good square, from the tribal village to the post-industrial megacity.

But it makes you wonder: is there an architecture of revolution? Are there styles of urban planning that are inherently pro-democracy, built – deliberately, or unconsciously – to empower the expression of mass protest? Conversely, how would you design a city if you wanted it to be best suited to suppressing uprisings, to give the secret police and the elite presidential guards the run of the streets? Do dictators like squares mostly for style points, not realising they might hold they key to their ultimate undoing? Could there be an evolutionary process of architecture at work, whereby urban layouts that help build better societies become desirable and spread for that very reason? I’ve checked, and BLDGBLOG doesn’t seem to have written anything on this recently, so that’s pretty much me left flailing. But the thought occurred, so it seemed worthwhile to put it out there in case anybody smarter or more up to date with this field than me wants to drop some knowledge…

The most interesting things about the DoJ’s Twitter subpoena aren’t about Twitter

Twitter subpoenaOne of the more interesting things about the subpoena served on Twitter by the US Department of Justice, demanding information about the accounts of various people connected to WikiLeaks (which Twitter commendably fought to have unsealed, so they could warn the users and give them a chance to challenge it before handing over any data) is that significant parts of it don’t seem to apply to Twitter at all.

It’s always possible that the DoJ’s subpoena is just incompetently written, or that the DoJ has little understanding of how Twitter works (it certainly seems sloppily put together; Dutch hacker Rop Gonggrijp’s name is spelled wrong; the request specifies a combination of real names and Twitter usernames for no apparent reason; Gonggrijp and Icelandic MP Brigitta Jonsdottir are both named twice, under their real names and usernames.) But it also raises the possibility that it’s a boilerplate request, giving some credence to the widely-floated theory that Twitter isn’t the only recipient of such a subpoena.

The first section asks for, among other account information:

6. means and source of payment for such service (including any credit card or bank account number) and billing records

Twitter, of course, is a free service, so it makes no sense for the DoJ to ask for this non-existent information. Google & Facebook, who WikiLeaks have publicly suggested may have also been subpoena’d, also don’t charge for their basic services (Google of course do offer paid-for Apps for Business accounts) – does this suggest that other sites and services, which do offer paid-for individual accounts, have been targeted?

The second section then asks for:

1. records of user activity for any connections made to or from the Account, including the date, time, length and method of connections, data transfer volume, user name and source and destination Internet Protocol address(es)
2. non-content information associated with the contents of any communication or file stored by or for the account(s), such as the source and destination email addresses and IP addresses

Some people seem to be interpreting “any connections made to or from the Account” as a demand for information on people who follow the Twitter account, but I’m not sure that’s correct – surely that would have been more clearly specified if that was the case? (And would a court have allowed such a wide-ranging request?) And other parts of this section, once again, don’t seem to apply to Twitter at all – “data transfer volume”, “file stored by or for the account”. These make a lot more sense if they’re actually talking about online file storage and sharing – services something like Dropbox, YouSendIt, and so on. (And “destination email addresses” suggests email providers are also likely on the DoJ’s radar.)

As far as I can tell, in Twitter’s case the only non-public information that the DoJ could get from this request would be IP addresses, phone numbers and a record of who users sent direct messages to (from my non-expert reading, this wouldn’t give them the actual content of the DMs – it’s “non-content information” they want). Potentially useful for investigators, certainly, but not exactly smoking gun stuff. Given the nature of the case revolves quite heavily around the transfer of files – something Twitter doesn’t do at all – we should probably be asking email and cloud storage companies what their policies are complying with legal demands for user data.

Short memory

I know there’s other, bigger, more topical things going on right now, but I couldn’t let this little gem of self-aggrandising historical revisionism from Clare Short slip past. Speaking to the Guardian about how Gordon Brown will be remembered, she says:

On Iraq he was marginalised by Blair for most of the time, but if he had moved with Robin [Cook] and me, we could have stopped it. But he didn’t move. I just think the young Brown wouldn’t have believed what he ended up doing.

That’s funny, I was sure I recalled Clare Short also not moving with Robin Cook, supporting the war at a crucial time when her resignation could have helped prevent it, and only quitting two months later when it was too late and the invasion was done, because people weren’t treating her as a Big Important Person like they did when they wanted her vote.

Indecision time

Protest or Forget

So here we are. Bloody again.

I’ve voted in every single election I’ve been able to in my adult life; every local, mayoral, national and European election for over a decade. Of those many, many elections, I think I’ve been able to cast a willing and meaningful vote – voting for someone I truly wanted to win, in an election where my vote stood a chance of making a difference – three times. The rest of the time, either the fear of a Tory victory has sent me reluctantly trudging back to a Labour party I’ve spent a decade trying, and mostly failing, to believe in; or, being in a seat with no chance of changing hands, I’ve switched to the Lib Dems or Greens in an attempt to “send a message” to Labour. A message that’s had all the effectiveness of tattooing a manifesto on the inside of your own eyelids.

Given that I was utterly dreading the grim death march this election promised to be – to the extent that for the sake of my sanity I considered simply deciding that any time anyone talked about the election, I would assume they were talking about the upcoming presidential elections in the Philippines, and ignore it – I was caught unexpectedly on the hop by the fact that I actually found myself being tentatively drawn into the whirling vortex of Cleggmania that ensued (and also, perhaps even more so, to the accompanying Dr Evan Harris Love-In that broke out across large sections of the geekosphere.)

I’m by no means blind to the Lib Dems’ flaws. I worked in Parliament for a Lib Dem MP for the best part of a year (while never being a member of the party, and indeed having a thoroughly good time trying to scare the locals by playing the bolshy socialist). So I have both a natural residual affection for the party, but also an awareness that the party can be an ideologically unstable mixture of cuddly, progressive centre-left types mixed in with a fair number of people who can best be described as “Tories who weren’t big enough bastards”. (See the Lord Clement-Jones led cock-up over the web blocking amendment to the Digital Economy Bill in the Lords for a real-life example of this tension at play.)

I also don’t deny that the Liberal Democrats suffer from a lack of what football pundits tediously refer to as “strength in depth”. They’ve got a decent first team, but when you look at the subs’ bench you start noticing that it’s packed with teenagers and players you thought were actually dead. They undeniably have their fair share of (to use Caitlin Moran’s excellent phrase) “the Curly Wurly thinkers”. But when you consider that Labour found a steady stream of senior positions for Geoff Hoon – a man with the character traits and skill set of a vindictive marshmallow – while the Conservative shadow cabinet boasts such reliable tits as Chris Grayling and Jeremy Hunt, it’s not like any party really wants to go round swinging their “look at what a deep pool of talent we’ve got” dick.

So yes. I worry about the Orange Book tendency of the Lib Dems, and Nick Clegg’s part in it. I worry that they’ll not have the strategic nous to navigate a hung parliament without giving the Tories everything on a plate. I worry that a lot of previously ignored Lib Dem MPs will suddenly find themselves being taken out to some very nice restaurants by some very nice lobbyists who have very plausible-sounding cases to put forward, and – being human – will get suckered in. And yes, I worry that Chris Huhne and David Laws might actually be aliens.

But I like the idea of there being a genuine third force in British politics. I like the idea of a parliament where politicians actually have to talk to each other, rather than just jeer across the aisles. I like the idea that regardless of the situation in my constituency, my vote will have meaning on a national scale as a clear signal that we need a fairer voting system. I like the idea of a party that opposes renewing Trident, that wants fairer taxes, that adopts a realistic and compassionate approach to immigration, that is full-throated in its defence of science and evidence-based policy, that doesn’t support illegal wars, that backs repealing the Digital Economy Act, that is in favour of European integration, that opposes ID cards and supports civil liberties, and that – yes – demands urgent electoral reform, and I’m frankly baffled that it’s not the Labour party I’m talking about there. I think a Prime Minister who speaks fluent Dutch would be pretty neat.

In terms of a Venn diagram charting the extent to which I agree with Nick, this:

Nick Clegg Agreement Diagram

And yet, here I am, writing this post at stupid o’clock on the morning of the election, and I still don’t know who I’m going to vote for. That’s because my constituency of Poplar & Limehouse is a Labour-held Tory target, and a combination of boundary changes and demographic shifts over the past five years – plus a dash of the inevitable George Galloway sideshow – have put the seat firmly in play. I look at my MP’s voting record, and it reads like a greatest hits setlist of New Labour’s biggest fuckups. I desperately don’t want yet another five years where Labour can abandon principle after principle, safe in the knowledge that no matter what, the prospect of something worse will always send me scurrying back. And yet, as the polls swing rightwards in the last few days, every other consideration starts to become dwarfed by that tiny, nagging possibility that it’ll be my one crucial vote that gives the Tories that one crucial seat, and…

It’s become a tired, arrogant tactic, Labour using the Tory bogeyman to scare us into excusing their failures. But I’m still checking under my bed to see if George Osborne’s hiding there.

So, I still don’t know how I’m going to vote today. But I strongly suspect that regardless, once the counting’s done, and the tears, beer and ink stains have all been wiped clean, my first action will be to send some money the way of the Electoral Reform Society. Because, quite frankly, I don’t ever want to have to go through this bullshit again.

Ada Lovelace Day: Mary Ward

My post for Ada Lovelace Day 2010. I’m late with this, so it’s quick and rough and not terribly nicely written. But hey ho:

It’s a shame that it’s the manner of her death that Mary Ward is best remembered for, because she led a pretty remarkable life at a time when women, for all practical purposes, were excluded from the scientific establishment. Born into an aristocratic family in Ireland in 1827, she was interested in nature from a young age. Then one day, keen to encourage her interest, her parents bought her a microscope – not just any microscope, but the best microscope in the country at the time. This turned out to be a rather smart move on their part, because Mary proved to have a rare talent for illustrating what she observed with it. She became an expert in microscopy, making her own slides of everything from feathers to insect eyes. Her drafting skills didn’t stop there – surrounded by scientists from a young age, her drawings recorded the construction of the Leviathan of Parsonstown – a 72 inch reflecting telescope that was the largest in the world, and would hold that title for half a century. She corresponded with many scientists, and illustrated several books for the physicist Sir David Brewster.

Then, in 1857, disappointed with the quality of microscopy books on offer, she decided to publish a book of her own drawings. Afraid, with good reason, that no publisher would touch it because of her gender, she self-published 250 copies of ‘Sketches with the Microscope’. But it came to the attention of a publisher nonetheless – and they saw that the quality of her illustrations and the clarity of her writing were good enough that the issue of her sex could be overlooked. Renamed ‘The World of Wonders as revealed by the Microscope’, it would go on to such success that it was reprinted eight times over the coming decades.

That wasn’t the last of her popular science publishing career – she wrote two further books, including a telescope companion to the microscope book. Her books were displayed at the 1862 Crystal Palace exhibition; she would illustrate numerous other scientific works for eminent scientists; she published articles in several journals, including a well-received study of Natterjack toads; she became one of only three women permitted to be on the Royal Astronomical Society’s mailing list (and one of the others was Queen Victoria.) She never gained a degree, however – women weren’t allowed to.

And the manner of her death? In1869, aged 42, she and her husband were riding in a steam-powered automobile, home-made by the sons of her cousin, former Royal Society president William Parsons (she was always surrounded by scientists). As it rounded a bend, she was thrown from the car and under the wheels; they snapped her neck, and she died almost instantly. And so she became the first person in the history of the world to die in a car accident.

I suppose you could take from her life story and her far more famous death story a sort of wryly shoulder-shrugging moral fable: that pioneers don’t always get to choose what they’ll be seen as pioneers of. But personally, I think you should probably just take away the thought that, if you have a daughter, a microscope would make a fairly awesome birthday present.

The Mad Meneriser

Another bloody “turn your avatar into a cartoon” thing went round Twitter today; I ignored it, because, you know, I’m above all that. Except obviously I’m not, because it was actually a rather jolly promo for the third series of Mad Men – the addictive, oh-so-stylised drama of quiet desperation in capitalism. It let you create a replica of yourself as you might look if you were in the offices of Sterling Cooper in the early sixties, swathed in wreaths of Lucky Strike smoke and misogyny. The designs are by artist Dyna Moe, who created this lovely set of fan illustrations for the series that were all over the internet a while back, and eventually got tapped up to do official work for the show.

So, yes, I’m not going to bother changing my avatar, but I will stick the results here for your amusement. No, it doesn’t look anything like me (and I wasn’t the worst off), but still, fun. Clicky for bigness:

Mad Men Yourself

Future of Journalism (part one of god knows how many)

I’ve been trying to write a coherent post about various interconnected subjects involving journalism, especially print journalism – most notably, the thorny tangle of connected issues surrounding whether professional journalism has a future, what exactly that future might look like, and jesus just how fucking grumpy is David Simon?

Unfortunately, I’m a slow, long-winded writer, so I haven’t found time to write a coherent post. Instead – rather than a mammoth post sitting unpublished in my drafts folder for the next two years – over the next few days, I’ll just be publishing out-of-context snippets from my broader argument. These will, by their nature, be odd and a bit shit and acontextual.

The two things that prompted this were Alan Rudbridger’s talk on “Why Journalism Matters” for the Media Standards Trust on Wednesday night – part of an ongoing series – and the much discussed Columbia Journalism Review article by creator of The Wire and former Baltimore Sun journalist David Simon, in which he grumpily calls on the New York Times and the Washington Post to collude with each other, withhold their journalism from the non-paying public, introduce paywalls, and blackmail every other American newspaper and news agency to join them.

Part 1: On the most bollocksy thing David Simon said –

(Assuming that I’ve already pointed you to Shane Richmond’s post detailing how many others have said that Simon is totally up the wall on this.)

- The most weirdly inconsistent part of Simon’s argument is his simultaneous assertion that there are virtually no new media outlets offering quality local reporting, and that the local papers are being killed by the internet. He actually explicitly says that the newspaper industry has not lost out to a “new, better product”, but “to the vague suggestion of one”. A nice, pithy phrase… and one that makes absolutely no sense whatsoever if you consider the actual behaviour of real-life consumers. People didn’t stop buying newspapers because they woke up one day dreaming of a future where blogs were magically better, any more than men will stop buying four-bladed razors because they can imagine what a hypothetical, mythical seventeen-bladed one might look like.

The widespread collapse of local newspaper readership and advertising revenue in both the UK and the US certainly needs explaining, and the internet may well play a part in that (less interest in local affairs when the internet offers wider horizons? The rise of online shopping squeezing the local retailers who used to be advertising mainstays, and Craigslist et al destroying the classified ads market?) but blaming non-existent competitors isn’t an explanation, and won’t help anybody find a solution.

Stop… Carry on.

Right, so – Spotify (the wonderful “universal jukebox” music streaming service, in case you didn’t know) recently pointed out on their blog that you could manually link to a specific moment in a song. Naturally, because I’m awkward like that, I decided the best use of this was to link to the pauses in songs where nothing’s happening. One quick call for suggestions over Twitter later, and here we are: a brief and incomplete sort-of playlist of The Best Pauses in Music History (version 1.0):

2:32 into Intergalactic by The Beastie Boys

0:12 into Monkey Wrench by the Foo Fighters
(suggested by @marshallstaxx)

1:21 into Novocaine For The Soul by Eels
(suggested by @qwghlm)

0:28 into Show Girl by The Auteurs
(suggested by @shanerichmond)

1:29 into Can’t Hardly Wait by The Replacements
(suggested by @shanerichmond)

4:42 into Invalid Litter Dept. by At The Drive In
(suggested by @outsidecontext)

2:09 into Summer In The City by The Lovin’ Spoonful
(can’t remember who suggested this, might have been someone in the office)

2:30 into All The Madmen by David Bowie
(suggested by @Dan_Griffiths)

0:57 into Make Me Smile (Come Up And See Me) by Steve Harley & Cockney Rebel

There must of course be hundreds, thousands more (a few suggestions couldn’t be used because they weren’t on Spotify; a personal favourite, the pause at around 2:57 in Animal Lover by Suede, couldn’t be used because it’s actually too short to pin down to a specific second.) So – what are your suggestions? Drop them, with Spotify links if possible, in the comments…

I done a podcast!

Peter Lovenkrands Will Tear Us Apart

Admittedly, not my own podcast – but this week, I was chuffed to be asked to do the twofootedtackle football podcast, as hosted by Chris Nee and Gary Andrews (very fine chaps both). Granted, I felt somewhat out of my depth as Chris and Gary discussed the finer points of the Dutch Eredivisie (to be honest, as a Nottingham Forest fan, I was also quite out of my depth talking about the upper reaches of the Championship) but I think I almost managed to hide my relative lack of knowledge. Mostly by being sarcastic about Alan Shearer.

I’ve listened back to it, and I think it sounds really good. Most importantly, it contains a great many rather wonderful (i.e. dreadful) puns – we took inspiration from the erstwhile Scaryduck’s post of songs for footballers, and ran with the theme. One of the puns is represented in pictorial form at the top of this post for your amusement.

You can subscribe to the podcast through iTunes (search for ‘twofootedpodcast‘), or you can get the mp3 direct from twofootedtackle’s post here. Do have a listen.

One thing I should note: at one point, it sounds very much like I’m implying that the USA have never beaten England at football. This is, of course, not true (1950 and 1993), and wasn’t what I meant. I merely meant to say that the USA have traditionally been a bit rubbish at football. Which they have.

I also regret forgetting to mention my pet theory that Southampton’s slump of the past few years, ending in their recent relegation to League One and the very real threat that they will cease to exist as a football club, all stemmed from the moment they unveiled that statue of Ted Bates:

Ted Bates statue

But I’m not sure I’ll be able to convince anyone of that.