Archive for the ‘Guest Blogs’ Category

Phillip Knightley on Wikileaks

Friday, December 10th, 2010

(This is Knightley’s view of the Wikileaks saga. He is just about the best qualified journalist I know to put it in perspective. Witness his journalism over sixty years and his books, including Philby, KGB Master Spy and The First Casualty, still the definitive work on how Governments distort the truth in the reporting of wars. His website is

It is becoming clearer day by day that the Wikileaks saga has changed journalism and citizen’s relationship with government forever. This is not about some temporary embarrassment to governments and their leaders but a sea change in the way we are ruled and the information we are entitled to expect about how decisions about our future are made.

Journalists have always known in their heart of hearts that their reporting on government has only been half the story. How to get the other half? How to sort out the truth from the propaganda? How to learn what is really going on—as distinct from what our leaders tell us is going on. Julian Assange and the whistle-blowers who have provided his organization with its sensational material have answered this.

Naturally, governments are not pleased. Assange is in jail in Britain over what looks like a very weak case—suspicion of rape in Sweden earlier this year. He has been labeled “a criminal” for facilitating the release of the secret documents, although no one can say what crime he has committed. The US authorities continue to do their best to close down the Wikileaks websites. Many of its bank accounts have been frozen. The more extreme elements on the American political scene have called for Assange to be kidnapped and “rendered” to the USA for trial, or failing that, for him to be assassinated.

But Wikileaks has them all over a barrel. It did not steal the documents; one or more whisteblowers did. All Wikileaks did was to publish them. So did the New York Times and thousands of other newspapers throughout the world. And freedom to publish material, secret or not, offensive or not, is enshrined  in the American Constitution and has been confirmed by the US Supreme Court case of Near v Minnesota, 1931.

The government of Minnesota had banned publisher Jay Near’s anti-semitic, bigoted, racist, scandal-ridden sensationalist newspaper.

The American Civil Liberties Union appealed on his behalf to the United States Supreme Court, arguing that freedom of speech was absolute. The Court agreed 5-4. Chief Justice Charles Hughes summed it up

brilliantly: “The rights of the best of men are secured only as the rights of vilest and most abhorrent are protected.”

As for those who have argued that the Wikileaks material has destroyed the diplomatic process and that for diplomacy to function there must be some things kept secret, have they forgotten President Woodrow Wilson, who made “open diplomacy” number point of his famous 14 points in 1918.

“Diplomacy shall proceed always frankly and in the public view”, was Wilson’s argument and he would certainly have approved of Wikileaks actions, in contrast the current US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton who has called them “an attack on America’s foreign policy interests”

and on “the international community”—though she failed to specify which community members were the victims, or of what they were the victims.

There has been some criticism of the media for concentrating on the more scandalous side of the revelations rather than on the terrible injustices revealed, such as that inflicted upon Khalid El-Masri. A German citizen, he was kidnapped while on holiday in Macedonia, taken to Morocco by CIA agents tortured there and later in Afghanistan on behalf of the US government.

The Americans eventually realized that he was who he  had always said he was, a victim of mistaken identity. They were reluctant to release him, despite orders to do so from the then Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, because “he knew too much”. He was eventually dumped by the roadside in Albania.

Back in Germany he complained to the German authorities who issued criminal proceedings against the CIA officers responsible for his kidnapping, imprisonment and torture. The Wikileaks documents reveal that the US embassy in Berlin pressed the German government to block the proceedings because the outcome could have “a negative impact on bilateral arrangements”. The German government acceded to the request.

If that is the way that international diplomacy functions, then the sooner all is revealed the better. Unless the US Government succeeds in shutting down Wikileaks—and I do not think liberal America would stand for this—then Assange and his organization has a lot more suprises in store for us.

Copyright: Phillip Knightley

Why subs should survive

Tuesday, February 24th, 2009

A fierce debate has been raging in the BBC and at Guardian Unlimited on the role of sub-editors in the electronic age. This guest blog is written by Tim Llewellyn, who was a sub-editor on The Daily Sketch, The Sunday Times, The Times, The Globe and Mail (Toronto) and at BBC News, before ‘going outside’ to report in the Middle East for the BBC.

timllI know about this debate from each side: being a sub-editor and production person and shaping others’ work; and, later, as a reporter, craving a good sub to save me from myself. Unfortunately, as economics bite at newspapers and “live” broadcasting tactics take over, the safety net and crafting epitomised by the good sub or desk man are becoming history.


Roy Greenslade asks: if broadcasters can write their own scripts without any intervention from subs, why cannot their newspaper equivalents?


First, broadcast subs do vet scripts when there is time. Nothing is supposed to go on-air unchecked. However, now that so much is “live”, much of it spuriously so, mistakes creep in, the spoken word is mangled, pronunciations are dire. (I recently heard “the Royal ‘Corpse’ of Engineers”) and prepositions are either widely misused (“centres around”) or dropped altogether ( as in the silent “against” in “protest against”). Such solecisms so infuriate viewers and listeners that they often miss or misunderstand the story altogether.


Greg Dyke might still be the Director-General of the BBC and the weapons inspector David Kelly still alive if Andrew Gilligan had written down and editors checked his story on the Today Programme in June, 2003, alleging that the British Government had “sexed up” the dossier on the alleged threat to British interests from Saddam Hussein. In fact, it was a live Question and Answer, in which Alastair Campbell and his team were able, with such dire results for the BBC, to spot carelessly used language and sourcing.


Unfortunately for broadcasting style and content, reporters and correspondents, especially in TV domestic news,  are allowed to indulge in bidding auctions with the editors as close to the deadline as possible (the assumption being that what is late and live is better than what came in an hour earlier). These practices, and deliberately late filing, bypass the checking system.


There is another point: most broadcasters’ written pieces are rarely more than one minute and 30 seconds long; and TV pictures obviate a lot of words a radio or print journalist would use. So the broadcaster is using maybe 200-250 words, a script written for the ether rather than the record. It is vital that the broadcaster be accurate and articulate, but the newspaperman is filing material that will be read and re-read, used as gospel by researchers, and, er, BBC producers.


The printed world I grew up in from the age of 17 and much prefer to broadcasting will be a nightmare if subs and editors are further reduced or demeaned. No intelligent writer or reporter should want his material to go in unchecked, or cut—as most material has to be— unintelligently. I recall on The Times reducing by half a 1,200 word editorial by an eminent young tyro journalist of the day: the space allotted in the page was 600 words of 9pt. setting x 2 cols., very time-consuming  material to send back to the linotypes for resetting. Much of it had to be cut on the Stone—chipping words and making commas into full-stops, that kind of malarkey, as well as condensing this chap’s thoughts on the J-Curve or whatever. I went in next day expecting a court-martial, but the ediorialist said he had not even noticed it had been cut.


As to “outsourcing” (a word no sub should pass), how can subs divorced from the newspaper’s locale, culture, customs and local knowledge apply the necessary editing skills? What about checking back with reporters?. What if a reporter has made an easy slip, say, writing Kylie Minogue instead of Kylie Morris? Or Boris Karloff instead of Boris Johnson, or even Boris Johnston?  Would our “outsourced” person spot this?


Titles are relevant. Subbing for the Sunday Times is different from subbing for The Times. But good subs can sub anywhere, be adept with the different skills and techniques.. However, making sure that a piece is comprehensible and accurate remains the main responsibility. The awful grammar, over-writing, repetition and bad usage in even the best broadsheets —especially among columnists—is evidence that the sub is being reduced as fast as the size of these sheets increases. May the slump bring newsprint rationing.  


I fear Roy Greenslade too readily accepts the subs’ demise.  A sub might have saved him from writing, in his second para, “I used the opportunity to make clear where I stand on…but probably failed to get across that I do not approve…” This should be “where I stood on” and “I did not approve”. Surely Roy knows about reported speech. A good sub would have reminded him.


Death of the American newspaper?

Monday, February 16th, 2009

Godfrey Hodgson, just back from a visit the US, analyses the crisis facing American newspapers.

The American newspaper press, a proud and lively enterprise that has been the clarion of American values and the central nervous system of the American people since colonial times, is now financially, technologically and culturally in desperate straits.

The Chicago Tribune company, owner of the Los Angeles Times, the Baltimore Sun and several other important papers as well as the Trib, is bankrupt. The Wall Street Journal has been sold (to Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation) and the Boston Globe has been sold to the New York Times. The Miami Herald, the third biggest circulation in the country, is bankrupt, and so is the Minneapolis Star-Tribune.

The New York Times, the most admired, most trusted (in spite of some recent hiccups) and once unassailably prosperous leader of the industry, has had to put its brand new building up for sale and has borrowed money from a Mexican billionaire at 14 per cent because its credit in New York has run out. For most new Yorkers and most journalists, that in itself is unimaginable.

Godfrey Hodgson, just back from a visit to the US, analyses the crisis facing American newspapers.

The crisis is not new. For several years now, conference and industry meetings have been told by leading publishers that the newspaper is dead. Nor is there any mystery about the reason for the industry’s morbidity. Advertising, that in recent decades has provided roughly 80 per cent of newspaper revenue, has migrated to the Internet. Small ads for homes and cars, in particular, have dried up. The credit freeze and the economic crisis have made the situation worse, but the trend was fully established before the downturn began.

At the same the demand for news from newspapers has shrunk. Americans can get news from television and radio, long-established competitors. They can also get an attennuated summary of the news from new technologies: from computers, cell[hones, iPhones, Blackberries and many other sources.

This new wave of competition has actually helped to obscure the depth of the crisis. Americans may be conservative, but they are also neophiliacs. They are proud of the fact that their economic system creates endless new devices from which some news can be gleaned. If newspapers are old, to some American minds, then all the more reason for them to be replaced by some digital gizmo.

When reporters collect opinions from journalists about the situation, many of them respond to the bad news almost with pride. Americans don’t have time these days to read the paper in a leisurely way over their breakfast cereal, one man boasted, as if this were a sign of economic progress, rather than evidence of the penury of a vital industry.

It is true that an enormous diet of news of a kind is available online in various forms. It is also true that the demise of the commercial-professional model of the newspaper as it has been known in the United States, the other English-speaking countries and Western and Central Europe for a hundred years and more, will deprive the world of an irreplaceable resource. The problem is that no one has found a way of generating revenues from new media on a scale that could begin to replace the money needed for serious news coverage.

Newspaper pundits look to their own newspaper websites to replace the vanished advertising in the daily paper. Many websites, not least those of the New York Times, the Washington Post and the Wall Street Journal, are excellent, But they pay for only a fraction of the cost of maintaining the news organizations that feed them. And the news organizations themselves have already slashed the amount they spend on news gathering.

The cuts have fallen most heavily on the most important and most expensive parts of the system: on national and foreign news. In the mid-1980s, 600 US newspapers maintained bureaux in Washington. Now fewer than 300 do, and many of those are either represented by a single reporter or are part of a chain.

The bureaux have shrunk. Once the five newspapers in the Chicago Tribune group had 95 journalists in Washington between them. Now they employ 35.

Twenty years ago, Time magazine, for example, had more than 30 reporters in its Washington bureau: now it has six.

The total number of reporters in Washington has not declined. There are more newsletters and other specialist publications than ever, reporting specific industries or lobbying for particular causes. There are hundreds more foreign correspondents when I was a White House correspondent for a British paper in the 1960s.

Television has cut back in much the same way. ABC as gone from 46 journalists in its Washington bureau in 1985 to 15 today, CBS from 30 to 16.

The same is true of foreign bureaux. A survey by a Christian Science Monitor correspondent, Jill Carroll, for the Shorenstein Center at Harvard, found that the number of US newspaper foreign correspondents declined from 188 in 2002 to 141 in 2008. Two years ago the Boston Globe closed its last three foreign bureaux. Even those papers, like the Times and the Post, that have maintained foreign staffs have cut them back sharply. The amount and the proportion of foreign news in US papers has fallen precisely at the time when Americans need to understand the rest of the world more than at any time since World War II.

Wire services, too, have cut back their coverage both of national politics and of foreign news. Increasingly only business publications — the Wall Street Journal, the Financial Times, the Economist — offer full service reporting of the world.

There are bright spots. One is the strength of serious radio. National Public Radio and the BBC cover the United States better than commercial American radio does. But television is less reassuring. Fox News has overtaken the three traditional networks in viewing figure, but not in the number of Washington correspondents or foreign bureaux.

Only CNN of the networks has kept a substantial overseas presence. Most of the other networks cover the world from three or four bureaux, in London, Tel Aviv, Beijing and Tokyo, for example. Too often, foreign stories are covered by “firemen”, US-based correspondents, often with no foreign languages, who are parachuted in and cover the story with little background. At worst, they get things seriously wrong; at best, they filter the world through American preconceptions.

The result is serious from the point of view of the society’s political health. Americans increasingly get their picture of their own national politics through the distorting lens of special interest journalism, and their picture of the outside world from rewritten wire service copy and ever briefer clips of TV footage.

Well-meaning persons have proposed alternative ways of supplying the vital services that newspapers have supplied since the late nineteenth century. It has been suggested, for example, that private charitable foundations might supply foreign news, or political news, or even comment of the kind that is carried on op.ed. pages.

It is hard to imagine a foundation that possessed the resources needed to run a first-rate news service and the self-restraint to resist the temptation to use its power over the news to promote its own particular interests or ideology. Can one imagine a news service run, for example, by the American Enterprise Institute?

The traditional capitalist model has served the world reasonably well for over a hundred years. Strangely, it has often worked best through institutions that bore the stamp of strong personalities. Sometimes these “press barons” (William Randolph Hearst, Max Beaverbrook, at times Rupert Murdoch) have misused their power to promote interests or causes such as war with Spain in 1898, Empire preference in the 1930s, or unregulated free market economics.

Some of the best news organizations have been run by families with a strong sense of the public interest: the Ochs/Sulzberger clan at the New York Times or the Meyer/Graham dynasty at the Washington Post are obvious examples, but there are many more in the history of American and other English-speaking journalism.

I was lucky enough to work for two publishers who were different from each other in almost every way, but who were both superb proprietors.

David Astor was a blueblood, a tall elegant man, educated at Eton and Balliol, scion of perhaps the wealthiest American family of all in his generation. He was a man of exquisite moral sensibility. He edited The Observer as well as owning it, and until it started losing ground and he began to lose interest in it, he used it skilfully and conscientiously to promote important causes in which he passionately believed.

Roy Thomson, in contrast, was a man of the Scots-Canadian people, a small town businessman who had done well in radio and local newspapers in Canada, then struck rich in commercial television (“a licence to print money”, he exclaimed with surprise) and North Sea oil in Britain. Roy took almost no interest in the day-to-day running of the Sunday Times, but he was no pushover, and he knew how to stand up for what we were trying to do. Once a furious Colonel David Stirling, epitome of the upper class tough, took exception to my critical reporting of his business ventures in Africa and the Middle East. He complained that I was harming Britain’s interests there. When Roy received Stirling, he was surprised to find me sitting there. “We never knowingly damage British interests”, said Roy, “but we do like to make up our own minds what they are!” And he showed Stirling the door.

What is necessary is to reinvent the rather subtle, because resilient, structures of the best of those old newspapers with a business model, as they say, that will somehow tap the financial potential of the internet and divert just enough of its resources to fund serious journalism.

It will not be easy. But neither technological wizardry nor reliance on tax-subsidized private charity will do the trick. The future of journalism will depend on creating institutions where business management, the investment model and professional journalism with its roots in reporting, work together to use the internet as the early twentieth century pioneers used high speed presses, display and classified advertising and intellectual curiosity in the first age of globalization.

US elections: who is winning and why

Thursday, February 14th, 2008

 (In this guest blog, Godfrey Hodgson, who has followed more US Presidential elections than any other British journalist, explains what the upsets of the present campaigns tell us about how America is changing, and who can be expected to emerge as the leader of what is still the most powerful nation on earth.)

 This is already the most extraordinary presidential election in the United States for at least forty years.  

What has caught the world’s imagination is that the Democratic party has already decided that it will be represented either by a woman or by an African American. Until very recently, either of those choices would have been virtually unthinkable. When the Democrats chose Geraldine Ferraro to run for Vice President in 1984, that was seen as reckless. When Jesse Jackson showed some early form in the same year and again in 1988, it was tacitly assumed that he could not possibly make it round the entire course. 

 That is not the only reason why 2008 is an extraordinary year, however. Many of the state parties, who make the electoral arrangements in both major parties, decided, one by one, with no grand coordination or strategic plan, to hold  their primary elections, or “caucuses”, far earlier than usual. (Some were anxious to  compete for the attention and inward investment an early campaign brings.)  

That meant — so the pundits rashly foretold — that the candidates in each party would be chosen early, and that therefore the campaign would be even more expensive, and even more determined by the weight of money, than usual. Those predictions were perfectly logical. They have been  thrown into doubt by one of the most remarkable electoral phenomena anyone can remember since a paralysed patrician called Franklin Delano Roosevelt, with the help of the worst economic depression in American history,  destroyed the Republicans and ended a long period of conservative ascendancy in 1932. 

The bookmakers’ odds have been torn up in 2008 by an even more improbable political magician, a first-term senator from

called Barack Hussein Obama.  

’s three names evoked central strands of American tradition. Benjamin Franklin was the founding Grandfather of the Republic.  Philippe Delanoye followed the Mayflower’s company from

Leiden on the Fortune in 1621. And the Roosevelts, including Franklin’s fifth cousin Theodore, president before him, came from  one of the wealthiest clans of blue blooded “patroons” from New York when it was still



Barack Obama’s divorced father was a Kenyan.  His mother was a white Nebraskan.  His Muslim middle name reflected the choice of an Indonesian stepfather. He went to school in

Indonesia and

before having a far more brilliant academic career at Harvard than FDR.  

Truly young Senator Obama is an exotic. No wonder the

camp can hardly believe what has hit them. He also reminds us how much

America has changed, and how fast it is still changing. And change has been the great theme of his campaign.
Two questions arise: What does Obama mean when he speaks of change? And if he does become president, can he bring that kind of change about?   

There are two phases of any American presidential election, and it fulfils two purposes. 

The first phase, the so-called primary phase, is the period when the two parties are choosing the delegates who will meet together in the parties’ nominating convention in the summer to choose a candidate. The second, often called the “general election”, chooses between the candidates of the two major parties, and other minor candidates.   Only rarely, as in 1912, 1968  and 1980, does a third party candidates (Theodore Roosevelt in 1912, George Wallace in 1968 and Ross Perot in 1980) play an significant part in the election. 

The general expectation was that Hillary Clinton would capture the Democratic nomination, and would rather easily beat a Republican candidate, probably either Mitt Romney, the Mormon former governor of

Massachusetts or Rudy Giuliani, mayor of

New York
who could claim to have reduced the city’s notoriously high level of crime and led it through the trauma of 9/11.  

As things have turned out, Senator John McCain of

, whose campaign almost collapsed for lack of money, has trounced those two well-financed candidates and is now virtually certain to be the Republican candidate.  

On the Democratic side of the aisle,

Clinton seemed to have everything going for her: a name that was universally known; endorsements from party chieftains; an excellent reputation in the Senate marred only by her support for the

war; and a massive amount of money which she and her husband seemed able to renew almost without effort. And it did not help that she was a woman.  

may still recover and win. Obama’s clean sweep of the “Potomac primaries” in Maryland, Virginia and the District of Columbia, however, show Obama’s appeal to all of which have both black voters and liberal sophisticates, two constituencies Clinton thought she could count on to vote for her. 

Even now Clinton can fight back if she wins more of the delegates from big states such as Ohio,

Texas  and

. However, she may now lose her present lead among the almost 800 “super-delegates” — former office holders and party worthies who (unlike delegates chosen in  primaries or caucuses) are free to vote for whomever they please, and like to be with a winner.  

It is indeed too early to predict the winner. Hillary Clinton is an intelligent and effective campaigner, and she has the help (when he is not a hindrance through over enthusiasm) of one of the most brilliant campaigners in living memory, who happens to be her husband. But to general amazement Obama is still there, after “Super Tuesday” on February 5, the day when almost half the states and other jurisdictions that send delegates to the Democratic convention were chosen. For the time being the all-important momentum is with him.  

So it is time to look at the other grand function performed by this strange political ritual: the testing of the political temperature.  

There is nothing about the Constitution to this effect. But it is now firmly established that a presidential election (and that is a misnomer, in that hundreds if not thousands of other political offices, from the mighty to the obscure will also be decided on the same day) is an occasion for the

people to hold up a mirror and examine their condition, their mood and their prospects. Or rather perhaps it is more accurate to say that the media hold up mirrors, some of them distorting mirrors like those in


Islands of old, and Americans have to make the most of the images that are shown to them. 

What is clear in 2008 is that a large majority of the American people want what they call  “change”.  What is far from clear is what that means. For some, it their glamour shots displayed alongside political slogans on websites or their voices, tense to the brink of hysteria, on campaign TV reports, “change” seems an item in psychotherapy. For others, it seems to be little more than an irritable sense that things, which they had been told were going so well, seem to have slipped.  

The economy, that seemed to be breaking new records every week, now seems sluggish and problematic. A minority have become rich beyond imagining. But life for the majority has improved little, and instead has become more difficult. (Average wages have improved little over thirty-five years, while tens of millions have either no health insurance at all (40 million approximately) or insurance that is sadly  inadequate.  


war, in spite of General Petraeus’s “surge”,  is generally perceived as a disaster. There is a hurt, puzzled understanding that the United States, which Americans have been brought up to see as universally loved and envied, is in fact rather unpopular abroad.  There is as a consequence a sullen anger at George W. Bush and those around him.  

What is not so certain, what in fact will be the great question to be decided in 2008, is whether this rejection of George W. Bush, also amounts to a rejection of the conservative philosophy that has dominated American public life for a generation, and has been so ineptly interpreted and imposed by the Bush administration.  

That ascendancy was built on three pillars. One was a sense, sometimes religious, that moral standards, in terms of divorce, abortion, homosexuality and crime, had fallen and needed to be uplifted.  Sometimes that was associated with racism, more or less openly acknowledged. The second was a reaction against the perception that government was too strong and too interfering, and that taxes as a consequence were too high. And the third was a fear that

’s standing and status in the world were threatened, whether by communism, or competition, or more recently by terrorism.  

Barack Obama’s election would in itself challenge both racial prejudice and fear of decline. His book, The Audacity of Hope, is unfashionably optimistic, and that is part of his appeal.  The question is whether an Obama administration would have the means to reverse the decline in the ability of government to reassert its authority over mighty special interests. 

At the heart of the conservative appeal was what has been called “market populism”: the idea, that is, that what Americans call “liberalism” and the rest of the world calls social democracy, is the self-interested doctrine of elites, and that the interests, and even the feelings, of ordinary citizens are safer in the hands of businessmen than of politicians.  

That prejudice has been so deeply planted in Americans over the past forty years that the

would not even try to challenge it, and even Obama’s  formidable talents and moral courage would find it hard to eradicate.  

In the meantime, if the Democrats fight one another to a standstill, or discredit their party’s appeal in a close and bruising contest, John McCain is there as a  potentially  attractive  alternative. He is untarnished by association with George Bush, who treated him abominably in their first encounter in the 2000 primaries and has not been forgiven by McCain. (Bush’s aides, in reactionary

South Carolina
, twisted the fact that the McCains have adopted a Bangladeshi woman into a whispering campaign about an interracial affair.)  

There is even the possibility, if the Democrats are deadlocked, of Michael Bloomberg, stock market hero and owner of a powerful news organization, jumping into the contest as a supercharged Ross Perot.  

So this most fascinating of electoral campaigns is far from over. But those who hope, or fear, that it will alter the whole temper of American politics are likely to be disappointed, or relieved, as the case may be.  Fundamental characteristics of American political society — the conviction of

’s exceptional virtue, the tolerance of exceptional inequality, the influence of money, the near-paralysis of executive action — will not be changed without a massive popular upheaval.  

And so far, there is no sign that even Barack Hussein Obama, for all his hope and his audacity, can bring that about.   

Godfrey Hodgson is an associate fellow at the Rothermere American Institute,


University. He was The Observer’s correspondent in the

United States, and foreign editor of The Independent. Among his books are The World Turned Right Side Up: a history of the conservative ascendancy in America (1996), The Gentleman from New York: Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan (2000),  and More Equal Than Others:

America from Nixon to the new century
. His latest book is Woodrow Wilson’s Right Hand: a biography of Colonel Edward House.

Two and a half million people can be wrong: 2

Thursday, February 1st, 2007

This guest blog comes to you courtesy of the Daily Express.

90 years old and STILL
paying his taxes...
THANK YOU for attempting to access the Beachcomber column, but you've caught
me at rather a bad moment. It's January 31, you see, and I've just gone to
do my tax returns and I may be some time.
It's all very well them asking me to subtract the lesser of box b47 and box
c23 from the sum (or difference, as appropriate, see Guidelines p.73
paragraph 5) of box b35 and a37 and enter "zero" if the result is negative,
which it always so I don't see why we went through all that rigmarole
anyway, but do these chaps at Inland Revenue appreciate how many bits of
paper I have to gather from around Beachcomber Towers just to work out what
figure is meant to go into box b47 in the first place?
Right, that's got all the bills and receipts together. Now for a bit of
organising. But first, I think, after all that scrambling I deserve a cup of
tea. I'll just pop to the kitchen and put the kettle on. 
Oh hello! Are you still there? The tea was most refreshing, and so was the
second cup. I'm ready now for some serious form-filling. Where was I? Oh
yes, box b47.
Wait a minute, I need the 2005 third quarter Sundry Ancillary Expenses file
for that box, and it's not here. It must be in the gazebo; I seem to
remember Mrs B using it to transport compost last year. Hang on. I'll go and
get it. 
Sorry to have been so long. It's amazing what you find in a gazebo. Do you
remember that armchair? The one with the broken leg? Well, I've mended it.
All it needed was a long enough nut and a bolt, and I found just the thing
in the Sundry Ancillary Expenses file. Must have dropped it there when I
went to try to mend the chair last Spring. It worked a treat, though I did
take some time finding the pliers. They were back in the West Wing where the
ex-Deputy Sommelier had taken them to tune the harpsichord - or so he said.
Anyway, the chair is now as stable as ever, though I had to repot a few
snails that had decided to make their home among its back netting. 
Right, back to the taxing affairs of the moment. Box b47.  Once I've got past
that, it'll all be plain sailing. Talking of sailing, I'm always reminded of
seafood, and if I'm not very much mistaken, there's a salmon in the fridge
that needs cooking, and all that chair-repairing has made me feel a bit
peckish.  I'll just look up some salmon recipes on the Internet and get back
to the tax in a moment.
Sorry if I've kept you waiting, but that was really delicious. Making one's
own puff pastry takes time, but it's well worth the effort. And that Rick
Stein really knows what he's talking about. I'd never have thought of adding
currants and stem ginger to the salmon, but it worked beautifully and went
so well with the Laurent Perrier Ultra Brut. 
Right. Box b47. I wonder what's on the television? I'll just look at the
guide to see if there's a good film I can look forward to when I've got this
form completed. I fancy I'll be in the mood for something tastefully
violent. Now where did I leave the TV guide? I'll just pop downstairs and
see if it's in the billiards room.
Did you see that shot? I potted the black off three cushions. Junior was
there and challenged me to a game. Well I could hardly disappoint the young
fellow. Oh my goodness, is that the time? I'll never get the tax done by
today's deadline. Still, it's given me a good idea: I think I'll write a
column about displacement activities.  

Davos: Brown on citizen journalism

Friday, January 26th, 2007

According to Larry Elliott of The Guardian Gordon Brown is ready to embrace the bloggers of the world. He says Brown, who appeared on the panel with Rupert Murdock, says the days of decision making in smoke filled rooms are over. Politicians had to involve the public and recognise the importance of the internet.

“A few years ago the debate was about whether the media controlled politicians or whether politicians controlled the media.

“Now it is about how we are all responding to the explosive power of citizens, consumers and bloggers.”

I would like to think that the blogging community had ‘explosive power’. But I doubt. I think the big companies, who are well represented at the World Economic Forum, have quite a lot of power over the consumers. And I think the new internet millionaires, including companies like Technorati and Google have a big say in a big say in which blogs get read.

The big companies, including the old media companies, are in a much better position to learn the tricks of meeting the criteria established by the search engines. And they have the money and manpower to attract bigger audiences. The millions of individual bloggers cannot compete in terms of supplying information. They can express their views, opinions and feelings. But how they come to them is still largely dependent on the reports by the mainstream media.

The coolest party was given by Forbes Magazine, which represents old media money. And it is big money. Steve Forbes, the nephew of the man I used to work for, is and he can afford to give away $7 million to political parties.

Rocking his way to the White House

Wednesday, January 24th, 2007

(Guest blog by Anushka Asthana, education correspondent of The Observer.)

Three thousand young people, packed into an auditorium, jumped to their feet and started cheering and shrieking with joy. It was as if a rock star had stepped on stage.

In fact, this was Barack Obama, a rising star in the Democrat party who the Washington Post had sent me to interview. Next month, the senator from Illinois will take his first step towards becoming the first black president of the United States.
Interviewing Obama was just one highlight in three months packed with once-in-a-lifetime experiences when I was the Laurence Stern fellow, last summer.

Top editors at the Post gave me a huge amount of time and support, and trusted me to write a host of stories.

In the run up to the 2006 mid-terms I was sent to Fort Lauderdale, Florida, to cover one of the most hotly contested races for the House of Representatives. I spent time with scores of locals discussing how the Iraq war and domestic issues such as health care and immigration were affecting their vote. When it came to the election it was one of the seats that the Republicans lost.

As well as being an amazing journalistic experience it was also great fun. I was taken on an airboat ride over the Everglades and managed to spend an afternoon in Miami.
UK and US politics are vastly different and spending time in Washington DC in an election year was a huge learning experience. I met senators and representatives, sat in on hearings over the Iraq war and worked alongside some of the country’s most renowned journalists.

I was able to write stories about the president, Congress and federal agencies and also given the freedom to work on issues close to my heart such as race and women in politics.

It was a different world of journalism than that back home and I had to adapt to it. I was amazed that political reporters there rarely even expressed their opinions in the newsrooms – people wrote news or comment, never both. Leonard Downie, the editor, has not voted since he took up post.

There was a different style of reporting, different style of writing and a different set of values – ones that I will let future fellows judge for themselves.

On a personal level, my time in the US also went some way to breaking down stereotypes I had heard about the country. I also met some of the warmest and most welcoming people I have ever come across and in the time that I was given to travel (I chose California) saw some of the most magnificent scenery.

But the thing that caused most excitement among my friends had to be the fact that I twice travelled on Air Force One to report on the president. I was standing close by when George Bush made a speech on the war on terror in Atlanta and watched as he shook the hands of soldiers about to travel to Iraq.

For me, it was just one of many remarkable experiences during my time as the Laurence Stern fellow.

Godfrey Hodgson on Clinton versus Obama

Wednesday, January 24th, 2007

The idea of a woman and a black man fighting it out for the presidency, or at least for the Democratic nomination for President, seems irresistibly attractive. Sometimes, I find, the question who is more likely to win is asked here in Britain as if it were the surrogate for another: ‘Are Americans — white, male Americans! — more prejudiced against blacks or against women?.

There are in fact excellent reasons for having doubts about how good a president Hillary Clinton would make that have nothing to do with the fact that she is a woman. Something similar applies to the negritude of Senator Obama: the colour of his skin is only one interesting fact about him, and by no means the most interesting.

Indeed it can be seriously argued that he is not a black man in the full sense of what that means in American political terms. Barack Obama is the son of a white mother and an African father: he is not therefore an “African American” in the usual meaning of the words. Specifically, he does not emerge from a black political background, as other African American politicians did who were actual or potential presidential candidates: Martin Luther King,. Jesse Jackson or Al Sharpton.

The contest between Senator Clinton and Senator Obama is, however, intensely interesting and significant. For one, thing, their candidacies have such intense media appeal that they inevitably lessen interest in other Democratic candidates and possible candidates, and there are plenty of them, some with qualities that would attract a good deal of attention if the two glamorous novelties were not in the race: John Edwards, Al Gore, Bill Richardson (the governor of New Mexico with a Yankee father and a Mexican mother), Tom Vilsack (former governor of Iowa), John Kerry, Joe Biden of Delaware (chairman of the Senate foreign relations committee) and Chris Dodd of Connecticut, a solid mainstream Democrat with a record of legislative commonsense on good Democratic issues like health and jobs.

Still, as of a year before a presidential campaign would traditionally get going, Senator Clinton is way ahead in the polls (47 percent this morning) against 17 percent for Senator Obama, who is running second. Both seem clear of the field for the time being. It is reasonable to ask why.

Senator Clinton is ahead partly because of her name recognition, partly because of her shrewd political management of her own career, and in large measure because she has the combination of celebrity and glamour that impresses the “mentioners”, those politicians and political journalists who collectively decide who will be counted as potential candidates and who therefore will appear in then polls and attract journalistic interest and financial support. .

Everyone has heard of Hillary Clinton, both because of who she is married to, and also because — as First Lady — she not only managed her image with both courage and skill in the most difficult of circumstances, and also because, more than any other President’s wife in history, she made a political contribution of her own. It has to be said that that contribution, her management of the Clinton administration’s health care programme was little short of disastrous. But since she left the White House, she has hardly put a foot wrong, except in one respect, one where she was in good or at least respectable company.

She was easily elected to the Senate from New York, which is still, with the possible exception of California, the best placed home state for a presidential hopeful because the concentration of media and other opinion formers there. She was careful not to seem to be using the Senate as merely as stepping stone to a presidential run. She succeeded — better than many who knew her anticipated — in making few enemies.

She made only one mistake, one that most of her colleagues made with her, and it may yet destroy her hopes of the White House. She voted for the Iraq war. She made the calculation, made also not only by all but a maverick handful of Democrats, but also by the best pressed minds in the punditocracy, of assuming that the national reaction to 9/11 made George Bush’s war politically unassailable. The mid-term elections of 2006 proved that, whatever may have been true in 2004 or 2005, is not true now.

The case of Senator Obama is different. In 1968, when I was travelling with Senator Robert Kennedy in California, I wrote a piece about the pyramids of voters, hanging on his words as he spoke from a flatbed truck, reaching up to him, clutching at his clothing, their faces expressing adoration and trust. If only, I wrote, one could understand what those voters wanted, and why they saw Robert Kennedy as a Messiah, much about America would become clear.

Barack Obama has the Kennedy touch. There is an emotional fervour, a flavour of the Great Awakenings and nineteenth century evangelism, of Moody and Sankey and the Chatauqua tent, about his appearances. His books sell almost as well as the novels of the reverend Tim La Haye about the wrath to come, and they are much better books. He is a serious, a committed, a highly educated man, who worked as an activist with the poor in Chicago, then resisted the golden temptations that lie in the path of a black man who has been the editor of the Harvard Law Review, to commit himself to law teaching and politics.

None of that means, however, that he has the special combination of personal characteristics and political skills that not only took a Lyndon Johnson, say, or a Ronald Reagan to the Oval office and then enabled them to use the power of the office. Obama has everything going for him, including, perhaps for the first time in this generation, the fact that he is of mixed race. For the fact is that, though racial inequality has by no means disappeared in American life, most Americans now are actually pleased to see a Condoleezza Rice, a Tiger Woods, a Colin Powell or an Oprah Winfrey “making it”.

Subtly, it flatters white Americans by feeding an “Americn exceptionalism” of the Left: “Look”, it says, “in this great country of ours there are no barriers blocking the path of an African American!” Ask a Condi Rice or a Colin Powell, deep in private conversation — not that I have ever had the chance to do so — whether they met any barriers, and I will warrant that they will tell you, yes, there were barriers, but we overcame them, and we were allowed to do so.

Which brings me back, by a circuitous but I think necessary route, to the question with which I started. Are Americans more uncomfortable with the idea of a black president, or a female president?

The answer, I believe, is that while the opinions and attitudes of the American people are, as the sands of the sea, innumerable and unknowable, one truth is probably to be relied on. Americans prefer public and political figures who do not appear to be stereotypes or epitomes of a group. They feel more comfortable, to take a perhaps offensive example, with a Jew who is, like Senator Goldwater, an Episcopalian. They prefer an African American, like Colin Powell, who is a Republican. And the first woman president, it has often been said, would have to be someone who does not come on as a feminist.

Now Hillary Clinton would be annoyed to be told that she is not a feminist. Like highly educated women of her generation (and she did almost as well at the Yale law school as senator Obama did at Harvard) she believes that all opportunities ought to be open to women, and the presidency ought to be an equal opportunity employment. She certainly feels, too, that it is time that a woman should prove that by winning.

It is my personal hunch, however, that Hillary Clinton’s success or failure will depend on how she handles a very delicate task of political persuasion. How — to put it crudely — does she persuade women voters that she is a feminist at heart, while at the same time persuading male voters that she isn’t?

Oddly, her task may be trickier than Senator Obama’s. For he is already in a position to have the best of all political worlds. It is plain enough that he is not an ordinary African American. His father was a diplomat, his mother white, from Kansas. He grew up in mult-racial Hawaii and in Indonesia, where his mother moved after marrying an Indonesian. He went to Catholic and also to Muslim schools.

If, as I suspect, Obama is acceptable to mainstream American voters, as an American, not an African American, it may be evidence — not, as American exceptionalists and flag-wavers would have you believe — that racial prejudice is dead. It may be that today, in America, as has long been the case elsewhere, class ultimately trumps race.

If you went to Harvard, that is, are you less black? Ah, but in that case, if you went to the Yale law school, are you less a woman? Does class trump gender?

Godfrey Hodgson is journalist and author mainly on American politics. He helped set up the Laurence Stern Fellowship which sends a young British journalist to Washington to work for three months on the Washington Post. Last year’s winner met Barack Obama when she was there. Anushka Asthana of The Observer is writing about her experience for The Daily Novel. Coming soon.

Blogging compared with early journalism

Monday, January 8th, 2007

Those journalists who disparage bloggers as amateurs should look again at how journalism was when it began, argues Milverton Wallace in this guest blog.

James Cameron (1911-1985), arguably the greatest British journalist of the last 100 years, always insisted that journalism is a craft. Now “craft” implies pride in work, integrity in dealing with customers, rites of passage, and long years of training to acquire the requisite skills/knowledge.

But that was then. Today, journalism is a “profession”. Many aspiring hacks now need a university or other accredited “qualification”, and, except in the Anglo-American world, a government issued licence to “qualify” as a journalist. The march towards professionalism began with the rise of the mass media in the latter part of the 19th century, a development made possible by the invention of the rotary printing press, cheap papermaking from wood pulp, and mass literacy.

Journalists have developed rigorous techniques for gathering, distilling and presenting information; and, to standardise these procedures and wrap them in an ethical framework, a normative model for reporting, carved in stone, was crafted: impartiality, objectivity, accuracy, transparency.

Today, this carefully constructed edifice is crumbling as the read/write web blows away the need to be a member of any such club to be able to practise journalism. A significant number of “unqualified” people are “doing journalism” without permission from anyone.

Nowadays, the word “amateur” is being deployed by media professionals to belittle the media-making efforts of bloggers and others who create media productions outside the journalism guilds. Such reporting is deemed “unreliable”, “biased”, “subjective”; they are
“unaccountable”, the facts and the sources “unverifiable”.

All of this must be puzzling to historians of the modern mass media. Consider the first newspaper in English, a translation of a Dutch coranto, printed in Amsterdam in December 1620 and exported to England. It began with an apology, a typographical error, a number of lies and disinformation. The apology appeared in the first line of
the publication: “The new tydings out of Italie are not yet com”. The error (in spelling) was in the date: “The 2. of Decemember”. The lies? The dates of many events were brought forward to make the news appear fresher than they were. The disinformation? Many news items in the Dutch edition which might have displeased the English government were not translated for the English edition out of fear that the
authorities would seize or ban the publication. Verily, a very unprofessional beginning!

And who were the “reporters” for the early periodical press? Postmasters, clergymen, sheriffs, burghers, shipping clerks, court officials, merchants, travellers. In a word, “amateurs”!

Here I use “amateur” in the noble, Corinthian sense—someone or an activity motivated by love.

The differences between 17th century amateur reporters and
21st century citizen journalists go beyond stark polarities. The
former were contributors to the new media of their age but over whose
operation, growth and development they had no influence or control;
their 21st century counterparts, on the other hand, are contributors
to a new media which they themselves are creating.

This new media is not about the production of news, it is about self-expression. It is
about participating in defining and shaping the information/communication environments in which we live. An entire generation—call them the digital natives or the new Corinthians—is creating an open, collaborative, networked communications infrastructure in opposition to the closed, top down, hierarchical traditional media organisations which have dominated the media universe since the 19t century.

Demanding that these digital natives adhere to old methods of discovering and learning about the world won’t do. They’re crafting their own methods, thank you very much. Ten years ago Slashdot, Kuro5hin and others pioneered peer-to-peer coverage of technology. Stories gained credibility through the trust and reputation of peers.
Digg has added collaborative filtering via powerful algorithms; lets you organise the world via shared social taxonomies. Even some of the backend functions of the news business have been socialised: Wikipedia for reference, for expert sources, Flickr for pictures.

It is hard for a mature, long-dominant culture to make radical changes to its ideology and practice. And that’s why many newspaper groups still cling to the command and control model even as their businesses head for the butchers and their customers “head into the cemetery”. Bold and adventurous though he is, Rupert Murdoch has only chosen co-optation (buying the number one social networking service MySpace); however, full embrace of the new world is a revolutionary step, a rupture in the old order. Anyone doubting the difficulty of such a move need only look at the upheavals and dislocations being experienced by the UK’s Telegraph group as it
re-engineers it news gathering/reporting processes towards a networked
journalism model.

The momentum of change is with the new Corinthians. The open source ethos and method of work/production, which began in the periphery with collaborative software development, is moving to centre stage by way of the blogging revolution and open standards in web services. In tagging, syndication, ranking and bookmarking we have the rudiments of a peer-to-peer trust, reputation and recommendation system well suited to self-regulating collaborative networks. These could be takenas analogous, but not identical to, the “checks and balances” of traditional journalism, but we shouldn’t belabour the points ofdifference too much.

In mainstream media “editorial authority” is concentrated in the hands of a single, all-powerful person whereas in social media it is distributed among many voices. This could be seen as a weakness and critics point to it as the Achilles heel of Web journalism. Yet in many instances, the networked world, e.g. the blogosphere, has proven to be much better (and quicker) at correcting errors, falsity, lies
and distortions than the mainstream media.

As the number of people who participate in open, collaborative, networked communications increases, the veracity of messages will improve and the need for corporate gatekeepers and standards-setters will decrease. Will we all become Corinthians then?

Copyright 2006 Milverton Wallace

Milverton Wallace founded and ran the annual NetMedia conference and the European Online Journalism Awards when he was a journalism lecturer at City University London, 1995/2003.

Christmas Message

Monday, December 25th, 2006


My husband and I are very conscious that we are only one part of the British constitution which we revere with the utmost respect. (And neither of us wants to have our head chopped off). So we delivered our usual Blair/Cameron feely touchy style Christmas message. Produced by Alastair Campbell, who still does odd jobs for his friend Tony, although he is no longer on the Downing Street payroll.

We have decided, however, to publish our real feelings to our many close friends who read The Daily Novel. Because we are very conscious what our subjects think about our part in George Bush’s Iraq War, which is keeping so many of our loyal soldiers away from their families this Christmas. Our feelings can be expressed in one short sentence.

We are not amused.

And a merry Christmas to you all.