SubScribe: December 2013 Google+

Tuesday, 31 December 2013

Immigration scare stories do nobody any good. Time for some facts please


Scary lot, aren't they? Massing to invade us so they can claim our benefits, strain our education and health services and pick our pockets. Cameron really should have done more to keep them out.

They're Romanians. But not the sort of Romanians you are likely to see in any of our newspapers. Where are the headscarves, the toothless grins, the grubby clothes, shawls and bedrolls?

These young people have the same concerns as young people the world over: the need to feel part of a society, the desire to be educated and to work, to bring up a family, to be happy. So of course they shouldn't be allowed here.

Nor should the Bulgarians - though we're not quite sure why. They're Eastern Europeans, let's just lump them in with the Poles and the Romanians and the Slavs and the Hungarians.

There can hardly be a more inflammatory subject than immigration and every opinion is based on exactly the same misinformation, rough estimates, speculation, anecdote and prejudice. Hard facts and figures are hard to come by and official statistics, whether from Whitehall or Brussels, are vague. So the debate is being driven by those who shout loudest, those who genuinely feel threatened and those who like to scapegoat foreigners.

Few shout louder than our glorious tabloids - especially as the clock ticks towards midnight and eyes are deflected from Big Ben, the fireworks and Jools Holland to the hordes swarming at the docks and airports waiting for the magic moment when they will be let in.

Nonsense. Of course it is. They could have come in today, last week, last month. Bulgarians and Romanians have been citizens of the EU for seven years; they are entitled to travel through the community just as anyone else. What they have not been allowed to do until tonight is to come here to work in anything other than specific occupations.

If they want to come to beg and steal, they will have exactly the same rights tomorrow as they have today - the right to come into Britain for up to three months and the right to be taken to court or deported if they sleep rough, bring out the begging bowl, or snatch your handbag.

The new rules lift working restrictions, so there may be more bricklayers, plumbers, nurses and - in the longer term - rather fewer strawberry pickers. Then again, there may not.

The tabloids seem convinced that tens of thousands of immigrants are heading this way. Buses and planes out of Bucharest and Sofia are booked solid until next week. The Sun spoke to a coachload that hit the road yesterday. It found five people who expected to make £20, £40 or £150 a day from begging and stealing, some, apparently working for latter-day Fagins already here. Others had been given advice on what benefits they could claim; England was the promised land.

The Sun also met a plumber and a carpenter who were hoping to earn ten times as much as they did at home. The honest pair were naturally given far less space than the scroungers. And what of the other 45 or so people on the bus?

OK, I'm not naive. Romanians have a reputation for certain types of crime. A friend of mine saw her life's work wiped out in  a 3am raid on her home by a group who had been living rough in the trees at the end of her garden, watching her movements and waiting for the right moment to pounce. 

Every nationality has its villains and rogues. The refusal to confront that fact, for fear of being seen as racist, condemned too many children to sexual abuse at the hands of Pakistani gangs. It is important to acknowledge such un-pc realities - but they need to be put in perspective and not used to define an entire nation, with 'most are law-abiding' added as an afterthought.

A very few Pakistanis are rapists, a very few Muslims are terrorists, a very few Romanians are pick-pockets. Our national speciality seems to be white-collar fraud. We may also care to remember that so many British robbers and thieves set up camp on the Costa del Sol that it became known as the Costa del Crime.

We have police forces to recognise crime trends, to take appropriate action and bring offenders to justice. Some may be worried about the open border - tomorrow's Daily Star tells us that the Staffordshire police commissioner wants an urgent meeting with Theresa May - but who are the 'police experts' the paper says are predicting a 'fresh wave of crime' as the country already struggles with an influx of foreign crooks?  None is quoted.

"Shock figures revealed that the eastern Europeans already topped the crime league tables before Britain opened its borders to millions from the two countries today.
Almost 1,000 Romanians were detained by police in just one county alone over the past three years...
It comes after the Metropolitan Police revealed Romanians are the second most arrested foreigners in London."

Ah, right. Arrests. Not convictions or even charges. But never matter, we all know that if you've been collared by the cops you must be guilty.  But when did the Met do this revealing? And we're all dying to know who came top.

Well, the Telegraph and the Voice of Russia reported that 'second-most arrested' line last February, when the 'top ten' was published under a Freedom of Information request. Polish people were at the top, but we've learnt to love them and even a year ago we were spreading doom about tomorrow's expected influx.

In tomorrow's paper the Star quotes Conservative MP Philip Hollobone (he of the ban-the-burka and bring-back national service Bills) who says

"We are importing a wave of crime... Romanians account for 11% of all foreign offenders despite making up, at the moment, just a tiny portion of residents."
A tiny portion - but aren't the Romanians to blame for the strains on our public services and welfare state? Well they surely will be when the Star's 'millions' start arriving. 

The Star also repeats a Bulgarian travel agent's assertion that all routes to Britain are fully-booked until next Thursday.  The Mail and the Telegraph have been telling us that all week, that budget airlines have put on extra planes and that tickets are 'changing hands for £3,000'.

None of these papers gives a source for the claim or tells us which airlines are putting on extra planes or how many flights there are usually.

Odd that. A quick Google reveals that I can fly direct from Bucharest or Sofia tomorrow to a choice of cities, including London and Manchester, for about £150. If I am more flexible on dates, EasyJet will bring me into Gatwick for £38. 

UCL's migration research centre has meanwhile said that bookings for between now and March are actually lower than for the same three months of this year.

But if our unwanted guests have lots of luggage, they won't want to fly. They'll have to take the bus. The Sun's passengers apparently paid 75 euros. Again the papers offer no details on how many of these 'fully-booked' buses there are.  The best they could do was to say that 16 buses are scheduled to leave Sofia this month - which, if full, would accommodate about 800 people - and that a further 300 people were flying out of Bulgaria.

The Romanian freelance journalist Calin Cosmaciuc took himself to Bucharest bus station yesterday and reported hundreds of people milling around waiting to leave the country. They were bound for Germany, Luxemburg and The Netherlands. There was no bus to Britain, but he writes that there are 'usually two or three' to this country.

There have been enough surveys and studies on immigration to keep the Express in splashes for a year and over the weekend the Mail and the Star did their best to add to the hysteria with their interpretation of a 'hush-hush' report from Reading University. 

The 40-page document was commissioned by the South East Strategic Partnership for Migration, a group of seventy-odd councils whose work is financed by the Home Office. It was naturally concerned only with the possible effects on this particular corner of  England of the loosening of controls on 'A2' immigration. (A2=Romania and Bulgaria; A8=the clutch of countries allowed full employment rights on joining the EU in 2007.)

The result was not particularly enlightening. For example, the report says that greater employment opportunities and higher wages may attract migrants to the area, but that higher living costs might put them off. Insight.

Many councils are worried about Gypsies, it says, but beyond commenting that Roma communities adjust to discrimination and racism across Europe, the report is unwilling to offer comfort or concern:
"Given that key data sources that this report draws on do not include information to separated out such migrants, no attempt has been made specifically to address Roma migration."
Nor are the report's authors willing to guess how many people will want to come to Britain:
"No attempt is made to specifically estimate the number of A2 nationals that will arrive following the lifting of transitional arrangements."
They point out that Britain was once the fourth most popular destination for Romanian and Bulgarian emigrants, and that it is now second to Germany. They also say that our economic recovery and falling unemployment rate may make Britain more attractive and that any new migrants might choose to settle in or near East Anglia, where their compatriots have found employment as seasonal farm workers for the past seven years. Most of us could have worked that out.

More interesting is the nugget that between 2000 and 2012, one Romanian or Bulgarian left Britain for every two who arrived. So however many turn up, there will not necessarily be a commensurate increase in net migration.

On public services, the report expects that to be limited impact other than to put more pressure on areas that are already under strain. In other words, if a few more people need a bed in a hospital or a place in a school that cannot cope with existing demand, it's going to be trickier. Well who knew?

The Reading team does say that if the experience of earlier Eastern European immigration is repeated, we may see more less-skilled immigrants arriving. The team suggests that the extra workers should bring in more tax revenue and that they may fill jobs that people already in the country don't want. There is, the report says, little evidence that Eastern Europeans have reduced employment levels among native UK residents - in other words they are not 'coming over here and taking our jobs'.

There is, however, a possibility that the arrival of low-skilled Bulgarians and Romanians may bring greater competition with lower-skilled migrants from elsewhere. This could drive some earlier migrants out or negatively affect social cohesion. The report also says:

 "In a worst case scenario where A2 migrants were to replace A8 or other temporary migrants at lower wages (worst case) there could be a net income loss."
Note the double caveat of worst case there. The whole section on public services is also prefaced with the statement that the authors have found some evidence of an increase in low-skilled migration but cannot draw firm conclusions. They say that socio-economic change is a key issue for councils in the South East, but emphasises:
"The below points are speculative and raised as points to be considered in planning."
They are not predicting that Romanians are going to drive out the Poles or work for next to nothing. They are saying 'these are things that might happen in a certain set of circumstances, so you may want to think about them'.

Interesting, then, that yesterday's Star chose to interpret the report thus:

The splash headline is based on the phrase 'negatively affect social cohesion', and it is paraphrased in the red 'Crime' box inside:

"Undercutting of the existing lower-skilled jobs of migrants already in Britain could result in a 'breakdown in social cohesion', says the study. That means the threat of violence on the streets between ethnic groups. But it could be avoided if Poles decide to move back home rather than join the dole queue."

Even worse is the box marked Numbers:

"No figures are given in the new report...but it warns that job prospects may mean more come here than the 50,000 or so previously expected."
Expected by whom? Nobody in authority is willing  to guess how many may wish to settle here and - as even the Star admits - the Reading researchers are certainly not laying any bets.

The Star was only following where the Mail on Sunday had led the day before, with this splash:

Again, we have the emphasis on this being a secret report that  'warns of impact on jobs, schools, hospitals'. Except that, as we've seen,  it doesn't.

And there's more inside. In this case, the information from the report is all there. It's just presented in such a prejudicial manner. The box on Schools and Hospitals, for example, highlights the sentence 'Local authorities are concerned about the impact that additional migrant residents may have on school places, health provision, A&E and other services'. 

Of course they are. It's their job to provide such services. But the report simply notes the concern. Then the papers note the report noting the councils' concern. Then the readers become concerned because the paper and the report have noted the councils' concern. It's a circle going nowhere. It is meaningless without some idea of how many people may be  involved - and no one has a clue about that.

The highlighted sentence in the Claiming Welfare box reads: 'A change in the profile of A2s arriving may well result in increases in welfare payments.' The bit that isn't highlighted points out that 13% of Bulgarian migrants and 16% of Romanians claim benefits 'but these are both very low compared to the UK population (40%).'

That little numbers box bottom left is also problematical. But at least it cites the pressure group MigrationWatch as the source of the prediction that 50,000 A2 immigrants will come to Britain every year after tomorrow. And what about those million Poles 'thought by some experts to be in the UK'? Who and where are these experts?

To the Mail's credit, it does, however, run the full Reading report online and here is the link to the PDF.

We know about the Mail and the Sun and the Express and the Telegraph and the political Right's agenda. The Coalition is at odds over immigration. The Tories are scared witless by Nigel Farage and Ukip, which is in turn alarmed about its leader offering a hand of friendship to a few displaced Syrians. It's a game of Who can be the Most Horrible?

But it isn't a game. 

Nobody, from the Government to that chap down the road, is treating the issue of immigration rationally or debating it intelligently. Yes, we are a crowded island. No, none of us (other than John Prescott) wants to see the countryside concreted over. But how can we ever address the question properly until the mainstream Press does its job and reports the truth rather than random 'facts' which are presented to further a particular agenda?

UCL's migration specialists produced a report last month on the financial impact on the country of all immigration from 1995 to 2011. For the Guardian and the FT  the incomers were a £25bn boon, in the Mail, they left a £100bn black hole. It all depended on how far back you went through the statistics and which group of immigrants you focused on.

So here SubScribe is going to cherrypick a few statistics of her own that you may not have read elsewhere and that you may find interesting.

  • In 2011, the UK population stood at 61,353,750, of whom 52,360,031 were 'natives', 2,847,289 were from the European Economic Area (the EU states plus Liechtenstein, Iceland and Norway) and 6,146,430 were from outside that area.
  • More than 60% of EEA immigrants who arrived in Britain after 2000 were in work in 2011. That compares with 48% of the 'native' population, 41% of non-EEA immigrants and 46% of all immigrants since 1995.
  • In the ten years to 2011, migrants were 45% less likely than 'natives' to receive benefits and 3% less likely to live in public housing.
  • 31% of immigrants from the EEA between 2000 and 2011 have university degrees, compared with 21% for the host poulation.
  • People who have immigrated from the EEA since 2000 have contributed 34% more in taxes than they have received in benefits 
  • 'Natives' contribute 11% less in taxes than they receive in benefits. (Source: UCL)

  • Britain is home to 500,000 Poles and 300,000 Germans.
  • Nearly 400,000 Britons live in Spain, a quarter of them pensioners; 150,000 live in France, 100,000 in Germany and 30,000 in Italy. (Source: ONS)

  • The Daily Mail reported last year that 120,000 Romanians and Bulgarians had migrated to Britain since their countries joined the EU in 2007. 
  • The Office for National Statistics said that net migration from Romania from 2000 to 2011 was 32,000 and from Bulgaria 15,000. 

  • Half of Romanians and Bulgarians who have come to the UK are self-employed.
  • 'Non-active' immigrants who do not contribute to the economy through taxes account for between 0.7% and 1.1% of NHS expenditure - around £1bn per year.
  • More than two thirds of non-active EU migrants are pensioners, students or job-seekers. (Source UCL)

  • The UK granted 152,139 work visas and 216,895 student visas to people from outside the EU last year and 19,916 special visas to Romanians and Bulgarians (self-employed workers do not need visas).
  • A further 284,902 immigrants from outside the EU were granted extensions, 198,952 became citizens and 152,185 were allowed to stay permanently. Just under 60,000 were refused entry or permission to stay.
  • 141,000 British citizens emigrated last year, while 77,000 returned home; 183,000 EU migrants arrived  and 78,000 left. (Source: Public Administration Select Committee)

  • Britain is home to 500,000 Poles and 300,000 Germans.
  • Nearly 400,000 Britons live in Spain, a quarter of them pensioners; 150,000 live in France, 100,000 in Germany and 30,000 in Italy. (Source: The Guardian)

  • Britain is not the only country lifting restrictions on Romanians and Bulgarians tomorrow. Germany, Austria, Belgium, France, Luxemburg, Malta, Spain and The Netherlands are doing the same. (Source: EU)

  • Anyone from within the EU is entitled to come to Britain for three months, but after that has to show that they have work or the money not to be a burden on the state. They can be expelled or face criminal action for fraud or benefits abuse. Under new rules they may also be deported and banned from returning for a year for sleeping in the streets or begging. (Source PASC)

  • More than 100 British organised crime bosses have been ordered to hand over nearly £600m that they have salted away in Europe. (Source: London Evening Standard)

Suddenly that lot at the top don't look so bad, do they? And remember, they may not even want to come here.

Happy new year.

A new SubScribe website with archived blogposts and new features is being prepared and should be ready to make its first appearance early in the new year. If you have any ideas of elements that should be included - or avoided - please get in touch via Twitter, Facebook or email. Thank you.



Tuesday, 24 December 2013

Last chance saloon: the reading list

If you're still on the hunt for books for Christmas (or New Year) here's the straight-down-the-line SubScribe biography reading list:

Listening for a Midnight Tram, John Junor.

Ghastly man, but insightful read.
Did 120-mile round trip for features job interview with him - he asked me if I was in town to do some shopping!

The Insider, Piers Morgan

The Mirror was 'never involved' in phone hacking - but he tells us how to do it.

Diary of a Fleet Street Fox, Fleet Street Fox

From marital disaster to national treasure via a night in the cells, a lot of laughs, too many biscuits and too much wine.

Hack, Graham Johnson
More secrets of life in the redtop world

The Girl Least Likely to, Liz Jones

Maddest woman in Fleet Street tells us what makes her tick. Her name is Liz and she comes from Essex. So is mine and so do I - but there the similarities end.

Editor: An Inside Story of Newspapers, Max Hastings

Just as the Falklands got Maggie re-elected, so it ignited the career of Mr H. Here's his story of ten years at the helm of the Telegraph. (Witherow of the Times was also despatched to the South Atlantic - the defence editor Henry Stanhope was too important to be spared.)

PS: On a Life in Newspapers, Peter Stephens

He edited the Newcastle Journal and the News of the World. He survived Wapping and a fall-out with Murdoch.

Accidental Editor, Richard Harris

You won't see many of these - the memoir of a daily newspaper editor who admits he wasn't up to the job. Now he's back on the ground, in every sense, in a pastoral world of ducks, chickens and agency reporting.

Headlines all My Life, Arthur Christiansen

What was it like to edit the Daily Express with Lord Beaverbrook breathing down your neck? Scary.

Beaverbrook, AJP Taylor
Beaverbrook, A Study in Power and Frustration, Tom Driberg
Beaverbrook, A Life, Anne Chisholm and Michael Davie

And here are three interpretations of the man who did that breathing. Scary.

Maxwell, Tom Bower
Maxwell, The Final Verdict, Tom Bower
Maxwell, Israel's Superspy, Gordon Thomas and Martin Dillon
The Assasssination of Robert Maxwell, Gordon Thomas and Martin Dillon

Nothing like taking two bites of this particular cherry...what you need to know is that he was a big bad man who stole people's pensions. He was also a Labour MP. But then again, you could say that of Gordon Brown.

Murdoch, Jerome Tuccille
Murdoch: Creator of a WorldWide Media Empire, Jerome Tuccille
Murdoch, William Shawcross
Murdoch, the Last of the Old Media Empires, David Folkenflik
Rupert Murdoch, Master Mogul of Fleet Street, Vanity Fair
The Man Who Owns the News, Michael Wolff
Dial M for Murdoch, Tom Watson and Martin Hickman
Fall of the House of Murdoch, Peter Jukes
Rupert Murdoch, the Untold Story by Neil Chenoweth
Murdoch's Politics, David McKnight
The Sun King, George Beahm
Outfoxed, Alexandra Kitty

When you're as old as the Dirty Digger and have upset as many people as he has, there are plenty out there to settle old scores. My favourite insight is probably still Harry Evans's Good Times Bad Times.

Magical Memories, Arthur Edwards

Sweetness and light from the man who took that picture of Di's legs showing through her skirt. He was also rather stupidly - given his physical likeness to the gunman - sent to Dunblane, scaring the children (probably including one Andrew Murray).

Happy reading

Monday, 23 December 2013

A deadline junkie's rescue package: journalism books for Christmas 4

Rupert Friend as American journalist Thomas Anders in the film 5 Days of War

The great reporters

Newspapers, as one distinguished executive would say when challenged once too often, are not a democracy.

At the good ones many voices will be heard, but in the end one person has to make the decision or what to publish and how to publish it. To this end, there is a hierarchy.

If you were to draw the top levels family-tree style the result would look like a coat hanger for an extremely broad-shouldered man. First the editor, then the deputy, then an army of assistants, department heads, staff managers and budget controllers, all of roughly equal rank.

They all have 'editor' in their title: news editor, features editor, picture editor, comment editor and so forth. And each will be at the top of another hierarchy - a coat hanger for a slimmer woman - with their own team of lieutenants to oversee their own little army.

At the bottom of this hierarchy sit the reporters, the critics, the photographers, the columnists.

But aren't these the most important people of all?

Of course they are. These are the people whose words and pictures define a paper's character; the people whose work is sometimes so perceptive or moving or funny that it can stand alone without the security blanket of the newspaper a month, a year or a century after its first appearance.

By coincidence, just such a piece was published by the Guardian this weekend: an obituary of David Coleman written by Frank Keating, who died 11 months before his subject.

Keating was one of the most respected sports writers of the age and his irresistible account of England's cricket tour of the West Indies under the captaincy of Ian Botham in 1981 is still worth a read today. In one book he covers three big issues of life - sport, death and politics - with humour and humanity.

On the field, England wilted under the assault from superfast Holding, supertall Garner and their superstrength teammates. Off the field, Robin Jackman's South African connections led to the cancellation of the Guyana Test. The tour party was also rocked by the sudden death in Barbados of Ken Barrington, the former England opener who was then the assistant manager.

Another Bloody Day in Paradise would be welcome in any cricket lover's stocking - but if you want the original, it will cost you a pretty penny. The text and pictures are, however, available from Red Rose Books for £13.95.

This part of the package is intended to honour writers such as Keating. But it's simple enough to search Amazon or Google for sports books or recent publications. So, given that time is now very tight for even the most addicted deadline junkie, SubScribe is going to focus on foreign correspondents.

There is a tendency, particularly on television, for the reporter to become the 'star' of the coverage. It is not unusual now for BBC presenters to interview colleagues such as John Simpson, Frank Gardner and Robert Peston for their opinion of the story rather than leave them to get on and report it. There are newspaper writers, too, who inject rather too much of themselves in their reporting.

Ben Macintyre of the Times put it in a nutshell  in his tribute when the paper's foreign editor Richard Beeston died in May:
"He took his job with intense seriousness, but he never took himself too seriously, and he never made the mistake of believing that he was part of the story."
Beeston, a veteran of Afghanistan, Iraq, Moscow, Lebanon, Jerusalem and other points east and west, was the epitome of the British foreign correspondent: handsome, suave, courageous, witty, loyal, inquisitive, resourceful. Our trade and the world are the poorer without him and it is a shame that there is, as yet, no collection of his work - an omission that will doubtless be rectified before too long.

We can, however, see something of what made him what he was in Looking for Trouble, the memoirs of his father Dick, who reported from many of the same places 30 years earlier:

"I knew from the start that quite the best job in journalism was to become a foreign correspondent. A pleasant way of life thousands of miles away from your editor, being paid to rove around the world at someone else's expense. It sounds almost too good to be true, but that's just how it was."

And for a further example of 'like father, like son', how about this pair of photographs!

 Richard Beeston fils was honoured at Press Gazette's British Journalism Awards this month for his achievements in raising the reputation of journalism and inspiring others. As such he became the first recipient of the Marie Colvin award, named in honour of the Sunday Times correspondent killed in Syria last year. Here is an extract from her final report:
In Baba Amr the Free Syrian Army...have virtually unanimous support from civilians who see them as their defenders. It is an unequal battle: the tanks and heavy weaponry of Assad's troops against the Kalashnikovs of the FSA.
About 5,000 Syrian soldiers are believed to be on the outskirts of Baba Amr and the FSA received reports yesterday that they were preparing a ground assault. The residents dread the outcome.
'We live in fear that the FSA will leave the city,' said Hamida, 43, hiding with her children and her sister's family in an empty ground-floor apartment after their house was bombed. 'There will be a massacre.' On the lips of everyone was the question 'Why have we been abandoned by the world?'
Ban Ki-moon, secretary-general of the United Nations, said last week: 'We see neighbourhoods shelled indiscriminately, hospitals used as torture centres, children as young as 10 years old killed and abused. We see almost certainly crimes against humanity.' Yet the international community has not come to the aid of the innocent caught in this hell.
Abdel Majid, 20, who was helping to rescue the wounded from bombed buildings, made a simple plea. 'Please tell the world they must help us,' he said, shaking, with haunted eyes. Stop the bombing. Please, just stop the shelling.'"
Colvin filed her report on February 19. Three days later she and the French photographer Remi Ochlik were killed when their makeshift press centre was shelled. Paul Conroy, the Sunday Times photographer working with Colvin, was wounded in the attack and smuggled out to Lebanon a week later.

Marie Colvin. Photograph:

Examples of Colvin's work were compiled into  On the Front Line, which  includes reports from almost every trouble spot: the Iran-Iraq war of the 1980s, Chechnya, Kosovo, East Timor, Sierra Leone, Sri Lanka - a frightening catalogue of world turmoil.

Colvin knew that her job was dangerous and her view of her role is quoted at the front of the book:
"Simply: there's no way to cover war properly without risk. Covering war means going into places torn by chaos, destruction, death and pain, and trying to bear witness to that. I care about the experiences of those most directly affected by war,  those asked to fight and those just trying to survive. 
Going to these places is the only way to get at the truth...the real difficulty is having enough faith in humanity to believe that someone will care."
Where does a reporter's responsibility begin and end? Is it to try to shake authority, to stir ordinary people into action, or is it simply to present the facts and leave it to others to respond? It is intriguing to consider Colvin's philosophy with that of the great correspondent Martha Gellhorn, who wrote in 1987:
"A writer publishes to be read; then hopes the readers are affected by the words; hopes that their opinions are changed or strengthened or enlarged, or that readers are pushed to notice something they had not stopped to notice before.
All my reporting life, I have thrown small pebbles into a very large pond, and have no way of knowing whether any pebble caused the slightest ripple. I don't need to worry about that. My responsibility was the effort."
Ian Jack quotes the Gellhorn approach in the introduction to his Reportage compilation of material published in Granta magazine between 1985 and 2004. Gellhorn's contribution is about the American invasion of Panama to seize President Noriega at the end of 1989. Other writers include Germaine Greer, John le Carre, John Simpson, James Fenton and Jack himself.

Colvin and Gellhorn also make an appearance in Eleanor Mills's anthology Cupcakes and Kalashnikovs, subtitled 100 years of the best journalism by women. The subjects covered include war, emancipation, crime, politics, sex and domestic life; and the authors are dazzling: Sylvia Pankhurst, Betty Frieden, Nancy Mitford, Eleanor Roosevelt, Ruth Picardie, Erica Jong, Gitta Sereny, Katharine Whitehorn...

In this volume, Gellhorn is chosen for her report after the liberation of Dachau:
"This man had survived; he was found under a pile of dead. Now he stood on the bones that were his legs and talked and suddenly he wept. 'Everyone is dead,' he said, and the face that was not a face twisted with pain or sorrow or horror. 'No one is left. Everyone is dead. I cannot help myself. Here I am and I am finished and cannot help myself. Everyone is dead.'
The Polish doctor who had been a prisoner for five years said, 'In four weeks, you will be a young man again. You will be fine.'Perhaps his body will live and take strength, but one cannot believe that his eyes will ever be like other people's eyes.
The doctor spoke with great detachment about the things he had watched in this hospital....
'The Germans made here some unusual experiments...they wished to see how long an aviator could go without oxygen, how high in the sky he could go. So they had a closed car from which they pumped the oxygen. It is a quick death. It does not take more than 15 minutes, but it is a hard death. they killed not so many people, only 800 in that experiment. It was found that no one can live above 36,000ft without oxygen.'
'Whom did they choose for this experiment?' I asked.
'Any prisoner,' he said, 'so long as he was healthy. They picked the strongest. The mortality was 100 per cent of course.'"

This stark, almost callous, view of the atmosphere and attitudes engendered by conflict of all kinds - and of the difficulty outsiders have in comprehending the suffering of those in the midst of it - is a common feature in war reportage.
"The sun was blazing hot outside, and even under the relative shelter of the aircraft hangars the hudity was intense. Packed resignedly inside, thousands of Belgian civilians, mostly women and children, waited their turn to be airlifted out of the newly independent ex-Belgian Congo, out of Africa and to new lives in Belgium. Some had been driven out of remote, upcountry towns by the excesses of Congolese soldiers and rebels on the rampage. Others had succumbed to an understandable fear psychosis and had fled mostly imaginary terrors, leaving everything behind, save their pathetic bundles.
Into the middle of this crowd strode an unmistakably British TV reporter, leading his cameraman and sundry technicians like a platoon commander through hostile territory. At intervals he paused and shouted, in a stentorian but genteel BBC voice, 'Anyone here been raped and speaks English?'"
Thus Edward Behr recalls his first vision of the Congo in 1960. The experience is reprinted in a further memoir in the mould of Dick Beeston's Looking for Trouble. Again there is that mix of the frightening, the funny and the bizarre. And you can get hold of a copy for a penny plus postage. Can that be bad?

How do journalists cope with life moving from one troublespot to another? And what about afterwards, when they go home? My former colleague Janine di Giovanni describes the impact on her own life in the most candid and compelling story of love and war, Ghosts by Daylight. 

She writes of how she and the French cameraman Bruno Girodon met during the siege of Sarajevo, of their growing relationship and their attempts to live a 'normal' life in Paris. She writes of the irresistibility of journalism and the strains it causes, of trying to live with someone suffering from post-traumatic stress. And she writes of motherhood.

It is touching, warm and frightening in equal measures. Ultimately, the relationship cannot hold. And therein lies a reality that too many journalists in every sphere will recognise with sorry familiarity.

James Cameron. Photograph: the Guardian

It would be remiss to blog about books by foreign correspondents without mentioning James Cameron, for many the doyen of the trade.  Point of Departure is what he described as his 'experiment in autobiography'. This reflection on his life isn't really a chronological narrative of his experiences. Nor is it a panegyric to Fleet Street - "which now fatigues and bores me to the point where I have not, other than accidentally, set foot in it since the death of the News Chronicle". Neither is it a travelogue. It just sort of is. And worth reading.

Writers are not the only journalists (as subs are constantly at pains to point out) - photographers are, too. So here are a couple of more recent books with the accent on visual reportage. They are both weighty tomes, but hardly coffee table fodder, given their subject matter.

Photojournalists on War is a collection of thoughts and images from Iraq that has been put together by Michael Kamber and published by the University of Texas Press. Journalists from various news organisations, including the Guardian, Times, Washington Post and Reuters, have shared their experiences on the difficulties of covering wars, of the moral issues involved and the problems of censorship and getting the message home without endangering lives. Many of the pictures are harrowing.  Vietnam: the Real War by Pete Hamill is in similar vein, the story of the conflict told through photographs from the Associated Press.

Finally, a reporter who did make himself the story, but through no fault of his own. Chris Ayres was a business writer for the Times who found himself covering 9/11 on his first day back on Wall Street after a holiday -  the new New York correspondent was mid-Atlantic on the QE2.

He was later despatched to Los Angeles to cover celebrity fluff, but the serious-minded foreign news editor had little appetite for such fare in the most peaceful of times - and the West was hurtling towards war. If Ayres wanted to get something into the paper, he had better file something a bit harder. So he went to look round an American warship. Before he knew it, he was being asked whether he'd like to go to war.

Ayres was to be embedded with the US Marines. 'Real' war correspondents don't care to be embedded; it limits their freedom to move and they fear they will be fed propaganda. But by a twist of fate, all  the real war correspondents found themselves kicking their heels in Kuwait - having been ordered out of Iraq by their editors - while Ayres found himself heading for Baghdad, the Times's only reporter near the front line.

His reports made spectacular reading because they were written by a man who knew he shouldn't be where he was and had no desire to be there; a man completely out of his depth. Eventually, Ayres was offered a way out. He dearly wanted to take it, but he hesitated.  Should he go on to the capital with the possibility of glory - or death - or should he quit while he was ahead? Advance and risk his life or retreat and risk humiliation? 

He discussed it with one of the Marines.
'So you don't have to be here?' he asked
'No,' I replied.
'But you get a big-assed bonus for this shit, right?'
'No. Nothing.'
'So you're not getting paid...and you don't have to be in Iraq?'
'No, not really.'
'Then what the f*** are you doing here?'
And so Ayres pulled out and found that he wasn't ridiculed. He wrote War Reporting for Cowards and has never looked back.


Ok, I surrender. SubScribe has missed her own deadline. If this package was to be of any use for the stated purpose it had to be delivered by today. And I've run out of time.

So planned sections on learning from the past, biography, the 'great satan', and style will have to wait for the website which is now, as they say, 'in development'. If you are going out to a real shop tomorrow, it's worth looking out for The Wipers Times, both Ian Hislop's account of the First World War trench newspaper and the book containing replicas of the paper itself.

You may also be able to find a copy of All the President's Men, Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein's book about how a hotel robbery ended up with the resignation of Richard Nixon, largely thanks to their dogged journalism at the Washington Post.

That one should be in every journalist's library.

Thanks for reading SubScribe through the year. If you've enjoyed it, please do tell your friends.
A new website with archived blogposts and new features is being prepared and should be ready to make its first appearance early in the new year. If you have any ideas of elements that should be included - or avoided - please get in touch via Twitter, Facebook or email.

Wishing you a joyous Christmas (even if you have to work) and a happy new year. GoG



Saturday, 21 December 2013

A deadline junkie's rescue package: journalism books for Christmas 3

The newspaper industry

Nobody loves us, everybody hates us, going down the garden to eat worms...

It's open season on the Press. Two of its most powerful figures are on trial at the Old Bailey. The country has just spent millions on a public inquiry to bring it into line.

At the same time readers are deserting newspapers for the internet, as happy to glean their information from passers-by with an iPhone as from journalists trained to sift the truth from the propaganda. Have we ever been so hated? So disrespected? Is there any road back into public favour?

The picture above is of George Crabbe, a poet born in Aldburgh, Suffolk, in 1754. His narrative verse voiced disapproval for the rotten nature of  18th century governance, the ill-treatment of the poor and other social failings. The story of Peter Grimes - turned into an opera by fellow Aldburgh resident Benjamin Britten three centuries later - was the work of Crabbe, an element of his masterpiece The Borough.

A commentator on social issues to rival Dickens, Crabbe wrote in 1785 about what he saw as a new threat to the culture of society: the Newspaper. The date is interesting because The Times was first published on January 1 of that year. The date is not, however, particularly significant. For Crabbe had his sights on papers established since the 1750s, likening them to swarming insects, 'a base but constant breed'.
"I sing of NEWS and all those vapid sheets
The rattling hawker vends through gaping streets...
"Like baneful herbs the gazer's eye they seize,
Rush to the head, and poison where they please:
Like idle flies, a busy, buzzing train,
They drop their maggots in the trifler's brain..."
There were even harsher words for the Sunday Monitor, first published in 1779 by Elizabeth Johnson, owner of the  British Gazette. The  paper was just like the daily, apart from a religious column on the front page, but Crabbe was not persuaded and his words could as well be describing the 'I made my excuses and left' journalism of two centuries later:
"Then lo! The sainted MONITOR is born,
Whose pious face some sacred texts adorn:
As artful sinners cloak the secret sin,
To veil with seeming grace the guile within;
So moral Essays on his front appear,
But all is carnal business in the rear;
The fresh-coin'd lie, the secret whisper'd last,
And all the gleanings of the six days past." 
Crabbe bemoans the influence of the 'serpent-critic', notes that puffs are given more space than the arts and mocks advertisers who 'pay to be read, yet find but few will read'. He accuses the Press of damaging people's lives, of having too much influence on government and, most of all, of peddling lies and slander.
"Such are our guides, how many a peaceful head,
Born to be still, have they to wrangling led...

"With clews like these they thread the maze of state,
These oracles explore to learn our fate;

Pleased with the guides who can so well deceive,

Who cannot lie so fast as they believe."
So our card was marked from the very beginning. And moving forward to the 20th century, we find that even today's upheavals are nothing new. Without the phone hacking, perhaps, but we've seen everything else before, including three royal commissions that each led to new regulatory bodies.

The demise of the News Chronicle in 1960 was as sudden and dramatic, in its own way, as that of the News of the World.  A liberal paper that opposed Eden over Suez, the Chronicle was caught and swallowed whole by the rightwing Mail.

It was soon followed to the graveyard by the Daily Herald, which resurfaced briefly as a broadsheet Sun before the title was bought and relaunched as a tabloid by Rupert Murdoch, and the Daily Sketch, another morsel sacrificed to feed the Mail's voracious appetite. All three victims were selling more than a million copies a day.

There are a surprising number of books charting the rise and fall of the industry through the last century, so it's a case of 'you pays your money and takes your choice'. Roy Greenslade's 2004 book Press Gang goes back to the end of the Second World War and Beaverbrook's period of overwhelming influence and forward to the Wapping revolution.

Lord Beaverbrook. Photograph: The Guardian

Where today Rupert Murdoch's intimacy with government ministers and influence in Whitehall is under scrutiny, William Max Aitken's role in state affairs was taken for granted in the 40s and 50s. This passage from Greenslade's book could have been written - and, indeed, was by other authors employing different language - half a century later with a single change of name:
"The importance of Beaverbrook was the way he came to personify a form of newspaper ownership, however outdated, which had profound effects on the public perception of the Press.
It also affected the views of journalists and politicians. The insistent calls from 1945 for restrictions on the power of proprietors and a brake on the growth of media monopolies were largely traceable to hostility to Beaverbrook. He was the lightning rod for every complaint about Press misbehaviour...Beaverbrook was seen as Britain's own Citizen Kane, a role he appeared to enjoy.
For fifty years he virtually ruled the fortunes of Fleet Street, holding sway over other owners, mixing and meddling in their activities. Similarly, in his ubiquitous roles as political fixer, adviser to prime ministers and confidant of the business and political elite, he exercised enormous influence behind the scenes. Or to be precise, he seemed to do so. With Beaverbrook it was difficult to tell the difference between appearance and reality...
Beaverbrook rarely meant what he said. He flattered his enemies. He wrapped praise inside criticism. He ruthlessly exploited people he called his friends. He indulged in random acts of kindness to people he hardly knew...there is perhaps no better short description of him than a single sentence by Bob Edwards, twice editor of the Daily Express: 'He was kind, brutal, considerate, selfish, honest, eccentric and a bit mad, but utterly sane in his judgment of newspapers.'"
It was that judgment that led him to appoint Arthur Christiansen as editor of the Express at the age of 29. Christiansen has been hailed as one of the greatest editors of the last century and Greenslade identifies the collaboration with Beaverbrook as one of the most successful newspaper partnerships:
"It worked because Christiansen, who had not the slightest interest in politics, was happy to let Beaverbrook do as he wished in that sphere. As he was later to say 'I was a journalist, not a political animal; my proprietor was a journalist and a political animal. The policies were Lord Beaverbrook's job, the presentation mine'...
But it wasn't anything like as harmonious as it sounds...Beaverbrook intervened in every area of the paper, including staffing features content, deciding which writer should take which assignment, even deconstructing the way stories were worded. He was a hard and relentless taskmaster.
This 'torture' had the effect of destabilising the paranoiac Christiansen...There is anecdotal evidence to show that 'Christiansen was a toady'. As Chris once confessed 'All I ever want to do is make Lord Beaverbrook happy.' This may appear weak-kneed, though it should be seen as pragmatic acceptance of reality.
Christiansen, like all the editors whose jobs depended on the whim of Fleet Street's Lord Coppers, would not have survived without bending the knee to his owner. He recognised that Beaverbrook owned the trainset.
Here, then, comes the lesson: as privately owned commercial enterprises and, having developed from personal political platforms, most newspapers were not democratic institutions. There was no public service ethic embedded within them, demanding independence or neutrality.
Owners might pay lip-service to such an ethic in order to assert their own independence from the state or other vested interests. They might even claim that they had a public purpose as part of their sales policy, a pretence to attract readers. Editors might shout loudly about having complete independence from their owners; they, and they alone, made decisions about what went into their papers. But it was all a masquerade. Ownership conferred rights on proprietors which allowed them to do as they wished."

Raymond Snoddy, probably our most respected media correspondent, also made the point that criticism of the Press was nothing new in his 1992 book The Good, the Bad and the Unacceptable. He notes that a Gallup Poll across six EC states found that public confidence in the British Press had dropped from 29% to 14% in the decade to 1991, while in the other countries it had risen from 32 to 35%.

The British Social Attitudes surveys over the years have produced more heartening numbers, but an equally sorry decline. This year's poll of 950 adults showed that 27% thought our Press well run, the lowest since 1983 when the figure was 53%. This jumble of numbers may simply prove that statistics should always be taken with a pinch of salt, but the trend is undeniable.

What isn't changing is the fundamental argument in trying to strike a balance between the right to privacy and the need for a free Press that is allowed to monitor and investigate. Snoddy could have written this next passage last week:

"Almost from its earliest days there have been allegations of inaccurate, irresponsible, scurrilous and sensationalist reporting. Of course, these accusations often come from those in positions of power or with something to hide, but the history of the Press is littered with scandals, forgeries, blatant political bias and, at least until the early years of the 19th century, the payment and acceptance of political bribes.
It is also peopled by journalists who have made a contribution to society: who have exposed injustices; championed individuals, causes or freedom of speech; changed laws - and sometimes ended up in jail for their pains.

During the last 50 years, concern about everything from concentration of Press ownership to the invasion of privacy has led to a series of royal commissions and inquiries...that this concern was debated with a new intensity in the late 1980s can be shown by any available measure of unease - the number of complaints to the Press Council, the large sums awarded in libel settlements, pressure in Parliament for legislation, and warnings from journalists themselves about the state of their craft.
If the complaints came only from politicians they would deserve to be treated with scepticism...but when some of the most illustrious tabloid journalists of the last generation issue dire warnings about the state of popular journalism, it is clearly time to listen."

 In searching for a solution, Snoddy quotes Henry Porter of the Observer, who wrote in 1984:

"Ultimately we must hope for some benign intervention from the proprietors, who are still the strongest influence on the national Press. Cynics will suggest this is a vain hope; in the past they have displayed a greater concern for the commercial viability of their products than their integrity.
However, they may be able to recognise something which their editors have conspicuously failed to do; that unless newspapeers improve their standards they will at some time indubitably become the subject of legislation which will permanently injure the freedom of the Press."
Snoddy says the point was right and suggests that 'a small number of men' had the power to improve standards almost overnight if they chose to. He names Conrad Black, Rupert Murdoch, Lord Rothermere and Lord Stevens. They and Mirror Group Newspapers, he writes,
"control 90% of the British Press and close to 100% of the problem." 
Snoddy also agrees with Greenslade that the notion of an editor's freedom to edit is a myth:

"They have as much freedom as their proprietors are prepared to allow them, and editors who turn out not to be in general harmony with their proprietor's view of the world tend not to last long."
The sentence that follows concerns editors' role in setting standards expected of their journalists. It is common sense, but probably best not to reproduce it just now while That Trial is going on.

The Henry Porter quote came from his book Lies, Damned Lies and Some Exclusives, which examined the state of the Press in 1983 - the last year that British confidence in our journalism was at low as it is now. I'd quote from it further if I could find my copy, but it's disappeared, so all I can do is recommend it; as with Snoddy and Greenslade, it is sadly as relevant today as it was when it was published.

Another book from the past that sheds light on the way the industry works in a most readable and engaging manner is My Trade by Andrew Marr, published in 2004. Any journalist could legitimately buy this for their partner - and then pinch it back to read for themselves. The chapter headings alone are a delight: Snobs and soaks; What is news?; The dirty art of political journalism; Lord Copper and his children; Into the crowded air and Two aristocracies (foreign correspondents and columnists).

He writes a little of his own career - we all know him from his Sunday morning television programme and may remember that he was the BBC's political editor, but we may have forgotten that he was a political correspondent under Tony Bevins when the Independent was launched in 1986 and later its political editor. He even edited the paper, briefly and unsuccessfully, in the 90s.

But this book is essentially about people, about the  characters of the trade, the way they operated, the moods of their newsrooms. The section on David Montgomery's time in control of the Independent will make interesting reading - and certainly ring a few bells - for the journalists going through the turmoil of his Local World revolution. I couldn't resist putting the middle paragraph in bold.

"Montgomery had relaunched the mid-market Today newspaper with catastrophic consequences and been booted out by Rupert Murdoch as a result. He wanted to prove that his original vision, a Yuppie paper full of stories for and about expensive, ambitious people, preferably being mugged for their Rolex watches in Mayfair, could still work...and he wanted that paper to be the high-minded Independent.
He thought it could be produced at a fraction of the cost of an ordinary paper, with relatively little ordinary newsgathering journalism, but plenty of rewriting, and big-name columnists to fill up the spaces.
He had a ruthless management of the excellent editors he sacked said 'what he did showed a breathtaking disregard for keeping his word and a merciless savagery unheard of even by Fleet Street's bloodsoaked and hypocritical standards', though some of us would put it a little more strongly than that."
My Trade is  so full of snippets and quotable passages, that it's hard to stop. Marr tells us, for example, that the Times veteran Philip Webster reckoned he had to maintain 160wpm shorthand to keep up in the Commons - and trainees still struggle to reach 100! Suffice to say that anyone with any interest in journalism just has to read this book. But for the time being, here is one final taster on modern news values:

"With fewer murders and sex crimes to lavish attention on - paedophilia being the glaring and controversial exception - editors believe that the British today are most interested in their number one leisure activity: buying stuff. So shopping mad have we become that the adverts...are now becoming the news.
Take the London Evening Standard on Monday 17 March 2003, the momentous day when diplomacy to avert a second Iraq war finally collapsed and Robin Cook resigned from the Cabinet.This is professionally, if briefly, reported on the front page, and well reported later in the paper. But page three was devoted entirely to new bikinis and tops being sold by Marks & Spencer.
The 'story' was as think as the see-through top used to illustrate it - simply that M&S had bought space in the fashion magazine Vogue to illustrate the new line."
Marr is as chirpy as he is dismayed in his analysis, but the ever-stern, ever-intense John Pilger was portentous five years earlier in expressing concern about what he saw as the failure of journalists to question hard enough or to dig deep enough.

His book Hidden Agendas ranges across the world from Australia and America via Burma and Vietnam, and across issues from the Cold War and disarmament to Liverpool dockers and popular journalism. He is not a happy man.

"Hidden Agendas is about power, propaganda and censorship...I have become convinced that it is not enough for journalists to see themselves as mere messengers, without understanding the hidden agendas of the message the myths that surround it.
High on the list is the myth that we now live in an 'information age' - when, in fact, we live in a media age, in which the available information is repetitive, 'safe' and limited by invisible boundaries.
In the day-to-day media, much of this is the propaganda of Western power, whose narcissism, dissembling language and omissions often prevent us from understanding the meaning of global events."

Pilger quotes Michael Parenti's view, expressed in the 1993 book Inventing Reality: The Politics of the Mass Media, that journalists rarely doubt their objectivity as they 'faithfully echo the established political vocabularies and prevailing orthodoxy'. They cross no forbidden lines, so they are not reined in and are therefore probably unaware that they are on an 'ideological leash'. Thus, Pilger continues:

"The true nature of power is not revealed, its changing contours are seldom explored, its goals and targets seldom identified. This is counterfeit journalism because the surface of events is not disturbed.
It is ironic that, while corruption among the system's managers and subalterns is at time exposed by a small group of exceptional journalists, the wider corruption is unseen and unreported."
You may not share Pilger's outlook or care for his attitude. But he is definitely right about one thing: we seem to have forgotten that our role is to question.

Looking back over previous SubScribe posts, that failing is at the heart of almost everything that goes wrong or ends up looking silly. The notion that a couple of hotdogs will kill you, the Mensa handouts about the precocious kids with IQs 'higher than Einstein's'.

What's stopping us from taking a moment to do a bit of our own research when we all have the world's knowledge at our fingertips? Are we that short of time? Are we that afraid of knocking down a story and displeasing our news editor or chief sub? Fear not, we may find a better one on our travels.

These are the sorts of things exposed by the Guardian's Nick Davies (he of the hacking saga) when he dared to break the rule 'dog doesn't eat dog' and put the microscope to media practices in his book Flat Earth News.

Davies points to the story of Paul Hucker, an England football fan from Ipswich, who spent £105 insuring himself for £1m in case he suffered emotional trauma during the 2006 World Cup - he was, he said, particularly worried about penalty shoot-outs. The story was reported by PA and within 24 hours found its way into papers and on websites and radio and TV stations across Britain; within 48 hours it had reached Australia, America, Malaysia, India, Canada, Zambia, South Africa, China and beyond. The Times, Telegraph, Guardian, Scotsman, Mail, Washington Post and Sydney Morning Herald all published it either in print or online.

For Davies, the story was preposterous. Was any football fan that neurotic or greedy? Was any insurer daft enough to issue such a policy. He turned to Google.

"It took only a minute or two to find out that this was not Mr Hucker's first appearance in stories about insurance. A year earlier he had popped up in a story in the Daily Mail, as a member of the public buying a house and looking for the right policy to cover his mortgage. Luckily, he had found 'just the right one, which has saved me £600 a year'.
And he had helped out, too, with a story on an insurance website as a member of the public celebrating the comfort of being covered against losing his job... 
In both these cases that so pleased Mr Hucker, the policies were sold by a Mr Simon Burgess of Braintree, Essex, who also turned out to be the managing director of, which had created the policy for Mr Hucker in his state of anxiety about English football.
At the same time Google revealed that Mr Hucker is a marketing director who specialises in promoting web-based companies, including those of Mr Burgess, with whom he has shared several business ventures. 
So within five minutes it was clear that this was a publicity stunt...five more revealed that the story was not only unreliable, it was old. 
Mr Hucker had appeared in exactly the same story before - as the football fan insuring himself with the same Mr Simon Burgess for fear of the same emotional trauma in the run-up to the previous World Cup in 2002...even the quote was similar: 'I'm scared that one day I'll be pushed over the edge - especially if there's a penalty shoot-out.'"

Nick Davies's book was published in 2009. SubScribe would be failing in its duty if it didn't take a moment or two to google Mr Hucker to see if he tried to repeat the stunt for the 2010 World Cup. He doesn't appear to have done - but that hasn't stopped his previous 'investments' being cited repeatedly in stories, factboxes and Q&As about 'weird and wacky insurance policies' in print and online.

Davies started work on the book after the controversy over Saddam Hussein's supposed stash of WMD, but he found himself going off at tangents and came to a worrying conclusion:
"I had no idea how prone we are to fail to tell the truth. I'm not talking about journalists making mistakes. Mistakes can be honest. I'm not talking about the individual dishonest hack scumbags who bring our whole profession into disrepute. There are still good, brave, honest people working in this industry.
I'm talking about the fact that almost all within a kind of professional cage which distorts their work and crushes their spirit. I'm talking about the fact that finally I was forced to admit that I work in a corrupted profession." 
All right, all right, I hear you cry. This is supposed to be a Christmas list. Where's the cheer? We know the problems, stop looking backwards and tell us the good news. Where are the modern publications offering solutions?

Chris Frost has for many years been trying to help with his book Journalism Ethics and Regulation, whose third edition was published at the start of 2011 - before the hacking scandal erupted and Leveson, but after the jailing of Clive Goodman. Of that he writes:

"That some journalists at least feel obliged to push the limits of ethical nicety was underlined by the Goodman affair...the part played by his editor, Andy Coulson, who quickly resigned, and other NoW executives will probably never be fully known, thanks to what the Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee described as collective amnesia in its 2010 report."
Well not everyone can be clairvoyant. Even with the fallout from Leveson and the prospect of a new editorial landscape with well-defined topography, Frost's book offers commonsense, practical guidance for the journalist who has to make small ethical and moral decisions every five minutes. This will never go out of date.

The final two books in this section look to the future, focusing not only on ethical issues and the ramifications of Leveson, but also on the journalistic and economic challenges presented by what they each describe as the 'perfect storm' of falling circulations, rising print costs, the supremacy of the internet and social media networks, and the proliferation of citizen journalists.

Unfortunately, neither George Brock's Out of Print nor Bournemouth University's Journalism: New Challenges is able to offer a happy ending. But nor do they predict unhappy endings; they spell out the sequence of events that brought us to this point and consider possible routes away from it.

The Bournemouth book is a training aid put together by Karen Fowler-Watt and Stuart Allan, featuring 30 essays by writers including a clutch of academics plus Sandra Lavalle of the Guardian, and Kevin Marsh and Ceri Thomas of the BBC.

Each essay - subjects include  radio interviewing, photojournalism, live blogging and reporting on disasters - sets out the situation as the author sees it now, poses four 'challenging questions' and suggests avenues for further reading. It is intended as a book for academic study, but the issues tackled make it suitable reading for those outside of the classroom.

Brock's work is also academic, as befits a professor of journalism. It is wide-ranging geographically and technologically. He considers evidence from India, America and continental Europe. He examines statistics on internet use, the demand for news and reader engagement. On almost every level he finds overcrowded markets, with the biggest problem uniformity. There are just too many suppliers offering potential customers the same thing.

"This slow convergence happened because of pressures on reporting resources, laziness and the common herd instinct to imitate success. But most of all it happened because it could; readers didn't know or care about the diminishing differences between news media because they never compared one with another...
Jonathan Stray chose a story reported by the New York Times tracing the responsibility for hacking American company computers to two technical schools in China. He analysed 121 separate versions of the story; seven of them were based on original reporting and the rest were rewrites involving paid effort but with little or no value added."

Time, says Brock, for journalism to rethink itself again. The professor's central belief appears to be that the trade has always been in flux, probably always will be - but that it will survive. He even concludes that while print is in rapid decline, that decline may still not be terminal.

"Human beings like reading words from paper. For many, paper is both optically more attractive and carries greater authority....
Newspapers are very reluctant to die. they may cut staff, hollow out their content, be a shadow of their former selves and change their readers - but actual extinction, taken as a whole across developed societies, still remains rare.
Printed newspapers will be a lower and less important layer of the news system in many countries, but it is not likely that they will vanish entirely... 
One key the wide understanding that print has long been a main carrier of news not published elsewhere. Television is, and will remain for some time, the dominant news medium by reach...the internet will often carry the widest-ranging and quickest comment...
Newspapers - printed or online - have specialised in trying to produce news that no one else has. The ability to see a story - to frame selected facts readably - produces bad results when it goes wrong. But at its best, it sharpens the attractions of information."
Exactly, exactly. The whole point of professional journalism (in the sense of experience and expertise, not that journalism is a profession) is that it is carried out by people who - for all their faults and foibles - know what they are doing. People with the ability to gather and assess information and then to disseminate the most important elements in the most appropriate manner.

If every citizen can now be a journalist, then every trained journalist must now be an editor.

Next time SubScribe will be looking at some of the stars of the trade - the great reporters.

A new SubScribe website with archived blogposts and new features is being prepared and should be ready to make its first appearance early in the new year. If you have any ideas of elements that should be included - or avoided - please get in touch via Twitter, Facebook or email. Thank you.