Disillusioned with the news

January 11, 2009

Freedom of the press in Britain is freedom to print such of the proprietor’s prejudices, as the advertisers don’t object to. Hannen Swaffer


When a dog bites a man that is not news, but when a man bites a dog that is news. John B. Bogart


If you don’t read the newspaper, you are uninformed; if you do read the newspaper, you are misinformed. Mark Twain


Hacker: Don’t tell me about the press. I know exactly who reads the papers: The Daily Mirror is read by people who think they run the country; The Guardian is read by people who think they ought to run the country; The Times is read by people who actually do run the country; the Daily Mail is read by the wives of the people who run the country; the Financial Times is read by people who own the country; The Morning Star is read by people who think the country ought to be run by another country; and The Daily Telegraph is read by people who think it is.

Sir Humphrey: Prime Minister, what about the people who read The Sun?

Bernard: Sun readers don’t care who runs the country, as long as she’s got big tits.  From Yes, Prime Minister. Although variations on this joke have been around much longer.



I used to be a news junkie. But, in recent years I have become very cynical about the news in newspapers and on TV. From talking to students and colleagues, I know I am not alone in this perception. This is of course a huge paradox because, compared to when I was growing up, we have so many more possibilities – the Internet, 24-hour news, blogs etc. Despite all of these possibilities, I now feel a bit out of the news loop. For example, I would struggle to name more than five or six members of Zapatero’s cabinet

            Why has this happened? I think there are a number of reasons for this some of them are related to the actual news coverage itself, to my own particular interests now and to the world we live in.

Let’s look at the news coverage. I used to watch the TV news every day but these days I often don’t bother. When I do, I tend to regret it immediately. I have a laundry list of things I hate about the way TV news is presented. I am not so worried about bias because there are now more alternatives than ever in history. I have some different complaints. Hard news seems to be an endangered species as we are awash with celebrity news, consumer reports, dodgy statistics, human-interest stories and that awful vox pop. This term is used to refer to those soundbites of the proverbial man on the street that are so typical in news broadcasts now. I am a believer in the wisdom of crowds but I don’t really care what Christmas presents some anonymous member of the public has bought or how some six-year-old feels about the first day of the school term. 

            Some of these reasons are personal to me. I have come to be more interested in what Andrew Marr has described as anti-news, those developments and trends that don’t make the headlines but nevertheless have huge long-term effects on our lives. I have also become really interested in philosophy, history, anthropology and many other. When you turn on the television after reading about all these great thinkers, brilliant ideas etc, you get very disillusioned by the repetitiveness, pettiness and the incongruence that you have to put up with. When I hear about some scientific discovery or an economist explaining the role of incentives in policy outcomes I feel that I am learning something about the way the world works. I do not get that feeling too often when I watch the news on TV. That professional iconoclast, Nassim Nicholas Taleb, author of The Black Swan, claims that reading a newspaper actually decreases your knowledge of the world. We live in a very complex world and I feel that the news fails to reflect that.

            We can now do a huge amount of personalisation. This is a wonderful thing but it has a downside – you can be overwhelmed by the sheer quantity of material available and you tend to only look at what interests you. Being well informed does require some hard work and it is essential not to just concentrate on your pet interests. I probably look at 7 or 8 news sources a day on the Internet but a lot of it is skimming. Jakob Nielsen a researcher has investigated our on-screen reading habits using eye-tracking technology, machines that are able to follow your eyes as they move across the page, charting how long and in which direction they move. Nielsen discovered that when we read online our eyes follow an F-pattern. We begin at the top of the screen in a linear way but as we go down horizontal movement shortens and the vertical movement quickens. We pause around the middle of the page, forming the smaller horizontal line of the F, but then it’s full speed ahead as we race vertically to the bottom of the screen. This type of reading is different to what you do with a traditional newspaper or book. Although, I have to say that after I first arrived in Spain, 20 years ago, I used to buy El País, every day. Then I realised that I was spending only ten or twenty minutes reading it and I was better off going on the Internet and getting a wider range of opinions and saving myself forty or fifty euros a month.

            But even taking all these things into account I cannot justify my stance. I feel that as a citizen I should make an effort to know what’s going on in the world. If you look for interesting stuff, then it is possible to find it. The choice, which as I mentioned earlier can be a dangerous thing, also gives you the opportunity to check out different sources and compare how they treat the same story. There are also some excellent sites that critique the traditional media. So my new year’s resolution is to find a way to get back into the loop. What I need now is a strategy to do this in a time-efficient way. Any suggestions?



Infamous tabloid headlines

January 11, 2009

The British  red-top newspapers have a unique way of writing headlines. Here are a few of the most memorable from the lat 30 years:


ACHTUNG SURRENDER! (The Daily Mirror) This was the headline before England played Germany at the Euro 96 football championship. Alongside was a letter from the editor Piers Morgan parodying former Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain’s declaration of war on Germany in 1939 – “Last night the Daily Mirror’s ambassador in Berlin handed the German government a final note stating that, unless we heard from them by 11 o’clock, a state of soccer war would exist between us”. It also contained some pictures alongside the text that featured England team-mates Paul Gascoigne and Stuart Pearce in authentic World War II helmets. The Mirror later apologised and sent the German team a hamper full of goodies from Harrods. Of course England lost the match. In fact, before playing Spain in the quarter-final the tabloids had also attacked Spain as the birthplace of syphilis and a nation where all the women had moustaches. As far as I know, no apology was ever made to the Spanish.

BORING OLD GITS TO WED (The Daily Star) The day after Prince Charles’ engagement to Camilla Parker-Bowles was announced, The Star led with this headline.

ZIP ME UP BEFORE YOU GO-GO (The Sun) The Sun’s front page on the singer George Michael’s indiscretion in a Los Angeles lavatory.

CRISIS, WHAT CRISIS? (The Sun) Reporting the attitude of a seemingly oblivious Prime Minister Jim Callaghan as he returned from holiday in 1979 in the middle of the so-called “Winter of Discontent.”

ELTON TAKES DAVID UP THE AISLE (The Sun)  Elton John’s wedding to David Furnish gets The Sun treatment.

FREDDIE STARR ATE MY HAMSTER (The Sun)  Lea La Salle’s claim that the comedian had eaten her pet in a sandwich produced this memorable headline. Max Clifford, the publicist, later admitted that the whole story had been a fabrication.

STICK IT UP YOUR JUNTA (The Sun) Reporting Margaret Thatcher’s rejection of an April 1982 peace move by Argentina during the Falklands War.

GOTCHA! (The Sun) This came out after the May 1982 torpedoing and sinking of the Argentine ship General Belgrano during that war

KILL AN ARGIE AND WIN A METRO! (a British Leyland car) This is not a real headline but a Private Eye parody of The Sun’s Falklands coverage, to which MacKenzie is said to have jokingly responded, “Why didn’t I think of that?”.

BONKERS BRUNO BANGED UP (The Sun) They showed such great sensitivity to the mental problems of the former British boxer.

IF KINNOCK WINS TODAY WILL THE LAST PERSON TO LEAVE BRITAIN PLEASE TURN OUT THE LIGHTS (The Sun) – Backing the Conservatives against Labour’s Neil Kinnock at the 1992 General Election.

IT’S THE SUN WOT WON IT (The Sun)  Claiming credit for that 1992 Conservative victory.

SWEDES 1 TURNIPS 0  England failed to qualify for Euro ’92 and this cruel headline was accompanied by a photo of the England football manager Graham Taylor looking like a root vegetable.

UP YOURS DELORS (The Sun)  This  November 1990 headline had two fingers on the front page and accused the President of the European Commission of trying to force the ECU on the UK.


The final four are from The Sunday Sport, a paper founded in 1986, famous for its ludicrous stories and pictures of scantily-clad females. No comments are necessary:





My media week 11/01/09

January 11, 2009

My media week 11/01/09


After the recent Steven Gerrard incident with a DJ spiked has an article called Footballers and their musical tastes. Apparently, Mr. Gerrard wanted the DJ to play Genesis. In the article they also mention the monologue about Genesis from American Psycho. Here is the complete version:


American Psycho written by Mary Harron & Guinevere Turner, from the novel by Bret Easton Ellis

Patrick Bateman: Do you like Phil Collins? I’ve been a big Genesis fan ever since the release of their 1980 album, Duke. Before that, I really didn’t understand any of their work. Too artsy, too intellectual. It was on Duke where, uh, Phil Collins’ presence became more apparent. I think Invisible Touch was the group’s undisputed masterpiece. It’s an epic meditation on intangibility. At the same time, it deepens and enriches the meaning of the preceding three albums. Christy, take off your robe. Listen to the brilliant ensemble playing of Banks, Collins and Rutherford. You can practically hear every nuance of every instrument. Sabrina, remove your dress. In terms of lyrical craftsmanship, the sheer songwriting, this album hits a new peak of professionalism. Sabrina, why don’t you, uh, dance a little. Take the lyrics to Land of Confusion. In this song, Phil Collins addresses the problems of abusive political authority. In Too Deep is the most moving pop song of the 1980s, about monogamy and commitment. The song is extremely uplifting. Their lyrics are as positive and affirmative as, uh, anything I’ve heard in rock. Christy, get down on your knees so Sabrina can see your ass. Phil Collins’ solo career seems to be more commercial and therefore more satisfying, in a narrower way. Especially songs like In the Air Tonight and, uh, Against All Odds. Sabrina, don’t just stare at it, eat it. But I also think Phil Collins works best within the confines of the group, than as a solo artist, and I stress the word artist. This is Sussudio, a great, great song, a personal favorite.


Staying on the subject of music Thinking Allowed had a feature on Popular Music and Violence. What do David Gray, Eminen, ACDC, Bruce Springsteen, Christina Aguilera and Nancy Sinatra have in common? They have all been used by states as instruments of war. Laurie Taylor looks at the dark side of music, including a woman who was sent to prison for playing a Whitney Houston song.


Mathematician John Allen Paulos has an article about The Numerati: Big Brother in a Chip. Here is an extract from the article:

They are the mathematicians, computer scientists, and others who are, every day, devising better software models of us as consumers, workers, patients, lovers, voters, and even terrorists…. Interestingly, a few numerati are even analyzing blogs because bloggers provide unfiltered, raw, generally honest reactions to products (from diarrhea medicines to golf clubs) that information-hungry companies want. Countless blogs are scanned for mention of these products (or issues) and the computer is taught to determine the sex, approximate age, and other demographic characteristics of the bloggers. The information thus obtained helps the companies discern tastes and target ads (much like Google and Amazon are doing already).


After my post last week, An article about nothing, the BBC’s World Business looks at businesses give their products away Is it really profitable? Peter Day hears from two advocates of these unconventional business models.


NPR’s Talk of the Nation has an interview with Psychologist Stephen Greenspan, author of Annals of Gullibility: Why We Get Duped and How to Avoid It, explains what psychology can teach us about scams such as Bernard Madoff’s Ponzi-style scheme, which fooled so many clever people.

20 films about journalists and the media

January 11, 2009

Absence of Malice 1981 Directed by Sydney Pollack.

All the President’s Men 1976 Directed by Alan Pakula.

Almost Famous 2000 Directed by Cameron Crowe.

Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy 1993 Directed by Adam McKay

Broadcast News 1987 Directed by James L. Brooks.

Citizen Kane 1941 Directed by Orson Welles.

La Dolce Vita 1960 Directed by Federico Fellini.

Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas 1998 Directed by Terry Gilliam.

Foreign Correspondent 1940 Directed by Alfred Hitchcock.

The Front Page 1974 Directed by Billy Wilder

Good Night and Good Luck 2005 Directed by George Clooney.

His Girl Friday 1940 Directed by Howard Hawks.

The Insider 1999 Director, Michael Mann.

Network 1976 Directed by Sidney Lumet.

The Paper 1994 Directed by Ron Howard.

Sweet Smell of Success 1957 Directed by Alexander Mackendrick.

To Die For 1995  Directed by Gus Van Sant.

The Truman Show 1998  Directed by Peter Weir.

Wag the Dog 1997 Directed by Barry Levinson.

The Year of Living Dangerously 1982 Directed by Peter Weir.