SubScribe: January 2014 Google+

Friday 31 January 2014

Murder, missing, mutilated. Yes, women are in trouble - because they're 'getting ahead'

There's a distinctly feminine feel about the fronts today with the verdict in the Meredith Kercher murder retrial, more activity in the McCann investigation and the growing gender gap at university. 

It's instructive to compare the splashes in the old-school Telegraph and the down-with-the-kids i. The former sees it as 'boys' being left behind; the latter as 'women' racing ahead. Boys? Generally people don't go to university until they are 18 - adults. In fact nobody's ahead or behind. It's about the number of applications, not achievement.

The most important story of the day comes from The Times with the Chief Inspector of Constabulary taking police forces to task for failing to tackle honour killings, female genital mutilation and domestic violence. 

To read the full review, please click here and pay a visit to the nascent SubScribe website.

Saturday 25 January 2014

Is it true? Is it new? Does it matter? Do we care?

Today's mishmash has inspired the SubScribe four-point readworthiness test for our printed friends. 

Saturday papers are tricky. Friday tends to be a slow news day as Westminster evacuates to leave a vast empty shelf in the news supermarket.  So, like the Sundays, special projects have to be commissioned. But, unlike the Sundays, daily reporters tend not have the luxury of a whole week to work on their stories. Fridays can therefore be fraught and the next day's offerings variable, to say the least.

Only two papers splash on a story that had to be used today or spiked  - the Daily Star and the Independent.   The Telegraph uses the staple of creating a news story from an interview, while the Guardian and Times engage in a little number crunching that could be done at almost any time. The Mirror joins the police on a raid in Suffolk, but there have been and will be others.

The i's follow-up to David Cameron's 'everyone's better off' claim and the Mail's story about disciplining teachers were born out of developments yesterday, but both could easily have been used inside if a real splash had appeared.

And so to the test:
The Guardian has gone to the Prevasi Nepali Co-ordination Committee for an update on how many have died working on the infrastructure for the 2022 Qatar World Cup.

The figures are shocking: 185 Nepalese victims of accidents and heart attacks in 2013 and at least 382 in the past two years. We have no idea how many others from India, Sri Lanka, Pakistan and elsewhere have died. 
Since the PNCC dossier provides the only statistics available, it is impossible to assess accurately the full scale of the scandal.   But we can hazard a guess: Nepalis account for around 350,000 of the two million migrant workers in Qatar. 

FIFA has been put under pressure to act and has promised to confront the issue, but there is little sign of that yet. The Qatari Government has commissioned the law firm DLA Piper to investigate and promised to take the findings seriously when it reports soon.  The state has promised that the tournament will not be built 'on the blood of innocents'. 
The foundations already have been.

Is it true?  Yes

Is it new?  Yes, in that it's the first time anyone has asked. 
Does it matter?  Yes. 
Do we care?  Not enough.

The Telegraph has interviewed the head of the National Institute of Health and Clinical Excellence, which sanctions drugs and treatments for use on the NHS. Professor David Haslam tells the paper that patients should research their conditions and hassle their doctors to give them the right drugs. Seems odd advice, given the number of stories criticising GPs for handing out pills like sweeties and the general antipathy of doctors to patients who self-diagnose. 

It's one thing to be reasonably informed and to have a discussion; it's quite another to start pestering for something that might not be appropriate. The story is timely, though, coming after reports this week that many cancer and MND sufferers are not getting life-extending drugs to which they are entitled, and that doctors are routinely failing to treat elderly cancer patients properly.

Is it true?  Yes. 

Is it new?  Yes. 
Does it matter?  Yes. 
Do we care?  Yes.

At first glance the Independent's splash should be everyone's lead. An elderly British man who is mentally ill is sentenced to death for blasphemy in a foreign country. 

Muhammad Asghar, who comes from Edinburgh, was convicted and sentenced in Pakistan on Thursday. His crime was to compare himself to a prophet in a letter that was never posted. The document, described by the defence as the private ramblings of a madman, had been taken to the authorities by a disgruntled tenant.
The verdict was pronounced after the court refused to accept evidence of Mr Asghar's insanity. His lawyer had earlier been dismissed from the courtroom and replaced by a state defender.

Mr Asghar - whose age is given in various papers as everything from 68 to 72 - has been in prison since his arrest in 2010 and is unlikely to be executed because Pakistan has had a moratorium on the death penalty for the past five years. These may be the reasons that other papers made so little of the case - it could surely not be because his name is Muhammad?
It made a short page lead in the Telegraph and i, but only a small single, nib or even less everywhere else.

The fact remains that the sentence has been passed and the moratorium could be lifted at any time.
And we should be concerned that such a man is in jail at all. 

Is it true? Yes
Is it new?  Yes.
Does it matter?  Yes. 
Do we care?  We should.

The i has been looking into the figures used by Number 10 to claim that almost everyone's income has increased by more than the rate of inflation. Instinct tells us that couldn't be true and the i has confirmed that view by uncovering some interesting accounting.

Economists found that the claim was based on wages and income tax and did not take into account such elements as personal allowances, tax credits and child benefit.
Good work from Nigel Morris, deputy political editor of the Independent and the i (the story appears in both papers). The Mirror conducted a similar exercise to produce a good page lead.

Is it true? Yes
Is it new?  Yes. 
Does it matter?  Yes. 
Do we care?  Yes.

The Mirror splashes on internet sales of abortion pills made in India. The story is full of dire warnings about what might happen if a desperate teenager took these pills, especially in the wrong dose. There have been no such cases recorded, but there is no harm in sounding an alert. 

This was a story that could have been picked up by anyone with a bit of thought - we've all had email spam offering us Viagra and other drugs - so good on Ben Rossington and Martin Bagot for getting on the case. They have clearly been in contact with police forces around the country and built up the contacts that enabled them to witness a raid on a house in Suffolk yesterday. The report is a mite melodramatic, but generally sound.

Is it true?  Yes. 

Is it new?  Up to a point, Lord Copper. 
Does it matter?  Yes. 
Do we care?  Maybe.

The Daily Star is still concerned about the fate of TOWIE Sam in Celebrity Big Brother. Liz Jones, who was evicted from the house this week, told the paper yesterday that Sam had been ill. 

Today the paper says that she was rushed to hospital and that 'fears grow for seriously ill babe'. Not so ill that the Star allows her to keep her clothes on - the paper again carries two photographs of her in swimwear and a little inset of her looking unwell on set. 

The inside heading is 'New fear for 999 Sam'. But if you stick with the story to the end you discover that she was taken to hospital yesterday morning, was seen by a doctor and came out at lunchtime. By last night she was back in the house. Either somebody is being irresponsible in returning this woman to that environment or perhaps she simply has a nasty virus. Let's hope it's the latter.

Is it true?  Half of it is. 

Is it new?  Yes. 
Does it matter?  No. 
Do we care?  No.

Sean O'Neill at the Times has also been number crunching. He finds that 16 people have been stopped on their way to or from Syria in the past three weeks because they were suspected of being involved in the fighting or terrorist activity. That compares with 24 in the whole of last year. 

It's certainly a startling increase, but does it mean that there is a soaring terror fear as the headline suggests (can a fear soar?)Or is Theresa May being more assiduous? 
Security authorities are apparently worried that young people are being radicalised in Syria and trained to carry out attacks in Britain. 
The prisoners' rights group CAGE takes a different view. Its research director Asim Qureshi says: 
'The recent spate of arrests seems misplaced and disproportional. It rests on the erroneous assumption that travelling to Syria transforms one into an enemy of Britain. If opposing the Assad regime is a central part of current foreign policy, why would pursuing that policy be an arrestable offence.'

Is it true?  Yes. 

Is it new?  Yes. 
Does it matter?  Yes.
Do we care?  Not really.

The Express gives its front page to a weather forecast and a Kylie Minogue story that everyone else had yesterday. Need we say more?

Is it true?  Who knows?

Is it new?  Not really. 
Does it matter?  Well we can't do anything about it. 
Do we care?  Yes, if we're planning to go out or do some gardening.

The thought of children being taught by potheads or petty thieves may shock parents, so thanks to the Mail for warning us that convicted teachers could be allowed to stay in the classroom.

The thing is, though, that this has been the case for a while. 

The story is based on guidance from the Education Department's National College for Teaching and Leadership. The document, updated yesterday, spells out factors to be considered by a professional conduct panel when a teacher is referred for possible prohibition - which means a lifetime ban from the profession.
The revised guidelines include tighter rules on class A drugs and all sexual contact with students or pupils.

They also say that the panel should become involved in only the most serious cases and that it is unlikely that a teacher would be referred after a conviction or caution for shoplifting or possession of class B or C drugs for their own use.

This is what the Mail finds shocking.  But these provisions haven't changed.  There is no suggestion that teachers should get off scot-free if they smoke pot or take amphetamines; the DfE explains that to the Mail, saying its primary concern is the safety of children and that heads and local authorities have powers of suspension or dismissal.

The professional conduct panel is all about deciding whether people should be allowed to continue with what most see as a vocation. The Mail is being alarmist, reactionary and unthinking.
Do we really want to toss trained teachers out of work for life over offences generally regarded as misdemeanours?

Is it true?  Yes, within certain parameters. 

Is it new?  No. 
Does it matter?  Yes
Do we care?  Yes.

And so to the Sun and a splash that fails to tell us three of the six Ws, including the all-important 'who'. It obviously can't. So it teases us with the 'sports tycoon' and 'one of Britain's biggest pop stars'.

They apparently had a fling some time last year. We don't know how long it lasted before the tycoon's partner 'hit the roof' and then forgave him.

This is an 'exclusive'.

It is also a con. It tells the reader absolutely nothing and has the juvenile mentality of the kid who taunts friends 
in the playground shouting 'I know something you don't know'.

Was the paper injuncted? Was it scared that one of the Sundays was on the case? If not why publish? 
To stir up internet speculation?

If so, it failed in that as well.

A few sports forums put up some theories but almost all degenerated into arguments, abuse and general contempt for the paper - the word scum featured frequently. The threads are short as contributors quickly tired of the game.

Twitter was similarly uninterested.

Not a triumph then.

Is it true?  Who knows? 

Is it new?  Presumably.
Does it matter?  No. 
Do we care?  Clearly not.

Some thoughts on pictures. Today's were pretty uninspiring: a couple of silhouettes, a file shot of Cameron, a file shot of Nigella (for a story everyone covered yesterday), a file shot of Kylie, a file shot of Sam Faiers, a file shot of Rebekah and Charlie Brooks (at least from this week), a couple of tubs of pills.

There were only two live pictures in the whole bunch: Francois Hollande with the Pope and Grayson Perry flanked by two Beefeaters.

The notion of an (alleged) adulterer and a celibate discussing family life is intriguing and amusing. The Pope's headmasterly look at naughty boy Francois Hollande is caption competition gold. But a picture of two men of a certain age two columns apart is not going to set the news stands on fire.

Grayson Perry in his 'mother of the bride' hat was undoubtedly the picture of the day. There were several to choose from and they were all equally charming. But a transvestite? On the front page? Too scary for most. A pity.

Everyone used a picture somewhere, mostly with only a caption. But the Express ran a story as well. It was worth it, if only for this wonderful quote from the Palace: 

"His attire was entirely appropriate."

Finally, have you noticed that many of the women on our front pages are dressed in red? SubScribe is starting a count, with today's tally 3.

A mini review of the papers will be a feature of the new Sub-Scribe website, which should be alive and possibly kicking within the next couple of weeks. 
A few pages are available for a sneak preview, if you are interested, at 

Friday 24 January 2014

The front pages: Bieber mugs, GM fish food and outraged ex-girlfriends

The Times and the Mail take a twin approach  to appeal to both ends of the age spectrum - a splash on cancer treatment (or non-treatment) of the elderly and pictures of Justin Bieber. The Mail wins by a mile in terms of headline. The Times misses the point: its head could refer to blunders or mistakes in treatment rather than rationing it to the under-75s.

The paper scores, however, with its treatment of the Bieber pictures. Everyone loves to see the mugshots after a celebrity arrest and we want both of them in the stark side-on, full-face format. These baffle GG, though. Why isn't he holding a placard with a number on it? And why is he smiling? Aren't suspects were required to stare blankly, passport style, at the official photographer?  But perhaps 99.9% of them scowl simply because they're ashamed or miserable, whereas for J-Beebs it was just another publicity shot.

The Independent sisters are also dressed as twins today: same splash, almost the same heading, same misinformation. Superfoods? Well, yes - for  fish. To be grown? Well, yes - if the scientists get permission after a three-month consultation period and an official inquiry. It's all a bit naughty. But still interesting. The scientists have copied fatty acid genes from the natural algae that fish eat and pasted them into a plant grown for seed oil. The modified plant should then produce a new source of omega-3 to feed to farmed fish - which might eventually be eaten by us. But not this year.

The Mirror and the Sun are in no mood for forgiveness today. The Mirror is outraged that the singer Ian Watkins is exercising his legal right to appeal against his 35-year sentence for paedophile offences. Or at least the paper is reflecting the outrage of his ex-girlfriend, who has concluded from this routine response of anyone sent down for a long time that Watkins thinks that he is the victim of the case. Not sure about that reasoning. Jo Mjadzelic is equally cross that Watkins has been moved to a prison closer to his mother, who is said to be seriously ill after a kidney transplant. Hmm. Whisper it softly, but it is quite normal for prisoners to serve their sentence near to their families. He is the criminal, not his mother. Why should she be punished with a longer journey to visit him?

The Sun, too, is taking the ex-girlfriend's side. This time in the newsprint spat between Ulrika Jonsson and Stan Collymore. Yesterday Ulrika (a sometime Sun columnist) raged against Collymore's complaints about racist abuse and death threats directed at him on Twitter. Having been on the receiving end of Collymore's temper she accused him of hypocrisy. He responded by reopening his Twitter account to deny that he had punched or kicked her. He had 'hit her once with an open hand' - he didn't use the word 'only'.
'A pro athlete, kicking and punching wildly with aggression. Why no knock out? No bleeding? No bruising? No pictures? Why?' 

The Sun and Ulrika are aghast at his audacity, with Miss J saying that his attitude is beyond belief.
'There were at least 20 witnesses there who know it certainly was not one hit with an open hand. He kicked me in the head three times.' 
Who said time was the great healer?

The Star is also wearing its outraged bikini. This is because there has apparently been a secret fix to ensure that someone called Sam wins Celebrity Big Brother.  It goes without saying that the said Sam features on the front in skimpy swimwear and again on the spread on pages 4 and 5, where the nature of the plot is revealed to us by none other than intrepid reporter Liz Jones, she of the Daily Mail.

Ms Jones, who was evicted from the house yesterday, says that the show's producers want  Sam to be the goodie-goodie golden girl. That means that when she showers in a bikini (?) with the door open, the sequence is edited out. Thank goodness we have the Star to make up for such censorship.

Sam also apparently wants to be liked by everyone and stays out of arguments (an attitude to life incomprehensible to a trained combatant like Liz  Jones) and has anyway been quiet because she has been ill. 

So this is the fix? Sam is really nice. She thinks she should  try to be naughty. But she can't because the powers-that-be want her to be nice. 

Right. Have we all got that? A 'source' explains:
'It's a fact that good people win. Anyone who has misbehaved, caused outrage or trouble never gets crowned the champ...the bosses want people to see Sam in a good light, not like Jasmine.
'They don't want her labelled the same as those other girls, so it's better to promote a more wholesome image.'
Ah, now I understand. So this is why the Star - owned by Richard Desmond, who also owns the BB franchise - is promoting Sam's wholesome image not only on pages 1 and 5, but also on page 3. Where she is seen wearing a bikini with the top half missing. 

It'll have to do better than that. With just under a week to go, slinky TOWIE girl Sam is 15-2 third favourite to win, while  paunchy old comic Jim Davidson, who for some reason doesn't feature much in the Star's coverage, is so far ahead at 5-4 on that some bookies have stopped taking bets.

On to more serious fare from the Guardian and the Telegraph and our mysterious economy in which everyone except the wealthiest is apparently better off by some government yardstick, yet the queues at food banks are still growing. 

The Telegraph reports that the Prime Minister is cautiously celebrating a 'recovery for all' and is to tell the World Economic Forum in Davos that companies will be lured to Britain by low energy prices fuelled by the fracking revolution. Low energy prices? Like those we enjoyed after the discovery of North Sea gas and North Sea oil? Excellent. 

Incidentally, bad luck on the theatre pic. Simon Russell Beale playing King Lear under the direction of Sam Mendes should be a shoo-in for a 5* review. Sadly Charles Spencer (and other critics) failed to oblige. Ah well, it's still good to see live arts being given respect on the front.

The Guardian is more concerned with interest rates.  The Governor of the Bank of England, also in Davos, says that there is no need for rates to rise just because the unemployment rate has dropped to 7.1%. Why does he need to say this? Because in August (five months ago), he offered 'forward guidance' to give business the stability and confidence to plan ahead: he would not consider raising interest rates until the jobless rate fell below 7%. 

At the time it stood at 7.8% and the Governor's view was that it would take probably until the year after next to drop those eight percentage points.

I wonder who he is predicting will win  Celebrity Big Brother.

And finally to a first (I think) for the Express. A combination of a diabetes cure AND Madeleine McCann. SubScribe doesn't recall seeing that mix before.

Today we are told to expect the first arrests in the McCann case. That's good, because we've been waiting since July 6, when the paper promised 'Maddy arrests within weeks'.

But let's be fair. Sometimes, as Mr Carney at the Bank now realises, developments come more quickly than expected. Last May the Express told us that a daily jab would beat diabetes. Now we already have a cure to end the misery of that breakthrough injection.

But I still reckon most people would  prefer Monday's chocolate remedy.

A mini review of the papers will be a feature of the new Sub-Scribe website, which should be alive and possibly kicking within the next couple of weeks. A few pages are available for a sneak preview, if you are interested, at For updates on progress, please click the button. 

Thursday 23 January 2014

The front pages: burning issues for picture editors and puff designers

Dramatic pictures of the violence in Ukraine dominate three of the four 'serious' papers, with a suspected potential suicide bomber completing the quartet. Yet none of the pages has the desired impact. The Independent's stark image would have worked better on any of the other three papers - and vice versa.

 It all comes down to puffs. The Telegraph has given its picture the best chance by separating it from the puff by a hamper splash. But even though the subject matter is entirely different - Paris fashion - there's something about the tone of the puff images that makes if feel as though they belong with the main photograph and that the models have been decapitated in the fighting below.

The Times has the same picture and the opposite problem. The juxtaposition of the vivid pink puffery and the blazing city, with Miriam Gonzalez Duartez perched on top of a burnt-out coach, leaves you wondering where to look. (By the way, Ms G D prefers to go by her own name rather than her husband's - so it would be a courtesy for a newspaper promoting her views on 'how to get ahead as a woman' to respect that wish rather than turn her into an appendage).

The Guardian has a different photograph and in close-up it may seem the better choice - the flames in the background plus the striking figure of a riot officer in sharp relief to the smoke. In print on the newsstand, however, it comes across as just so much grey. The password puff word 5tRoNg is brilliant - but does it refer to the man in the big picture? The tricolour puff has no theme and the Tom Daley blue jars with the Kieve photograph and with the horizontal ad at the foot of the page.

The Independent, with the most restrained puffs in Not Fleet Street, could have accommodated either of the Kiev pictures with ease. The woman in the pink veil doesn't convey a sufficiently powerful message. She looks more a victim than a murderer, so it needs a headline along the lines of  'Find this woman, she's out to bomb the Olympics'. And there we run into a further difficulty. No one is quite sure whether she is. Ruzana Ibragimova, the widow of a militant, features on leaflets distributed by the police, but there appears to be no evidence of her involvement in a plot, nor even of any plot at all. Do love the phrase on the inside page 'Russian authorities are conducting a manhunt for three women...'

The Times and the Mail both examine the case of Tallulah Wilson who jumped under a train at St Pancras station after becoming addicted to self-harming and suicide websites. The ballet student had a fantasy alter ego as a cocaine-taking anorexic and posted pictures Tumblr of her cutting herself. As with the death of Daniel Spargo-Mabbs yesterday, Tallulah's mother produced the killer phrase at the inquest: 'She was in the clutches of a toxic digital world where we could no longer reach her.' The inquest jury called for a better understanding of online media and the coroner is to send a 'prevention of further death' report to the Government.

Stan Collymore has also been railing against online media, complaining to Twitter about abusive tweets directed at him after he accused the Liverpool player Luis Suarez of diving.

'In the last 24 hours I've been threatened with murder several times, demeaned on my race, and many of these accounts are still active. Why?'
'I accuse Twitter directly of not doing enough to combat racist/homophobic/sexist hate messages, all of which are illegal in the UK.'
'Several police forces have been fantastic. Twitter haven't. Dismayed.'

But his concerns didn't cut much mustard with his former girlfriend Ulrika Johnston who pops up in the Sun to remind us all that Collymore kicked her in the head in 1998.

'It must be horrendous to be vilified for your beliefs, your colour or your sexuality.
'In no way do I agree with trolling or abuse on Twitter. The people that do it are pathetic cowards.
'But Stan is too. He is actually one of the people he’s criticising… If Stan is so against death threats, why was he so insistent on making many death threats against me?
'In a public place, Stan shoved my face to his and said at least twice he would ‘f****** kill’ me. But now he’s the poster boy against threats online.
'No one should give this man a platform to claim he is a victim. With his history of violence, it’s beyond ironic.'

Fifteen years is a long time. Collymore may have grown up and changed. And is it hypocritical to denounce one type of bad behaviour because you have been guilty of another in the past?Cue debate on pots, kettles and redemption.

From vile to evil - the Mirror is in a twist because Ian Brady was given speedy hospital treatment after falling over and cracked his hip. There's a battalion of people ready to complain about how wrong it was that such a monster should go to the front of the queue.

Er, shall we pause and think about this a moment. First, Brady didn't jump the queue, the people in charge of him did (he probably didn't even want to be there). And second, does anyone seriously believe that it would have been a good thing to have him sitting in a public waiting room for hours?

Away from the struggling health service, happy days are here again for the Express and the i, with positive economic news and the fall in unemployment making the splash for both. The i falls into the trap of the 'serious' quartet, with a picture of  a factory line that is clear only on close inspection, whereas the Express lights up the newsstand with its photograph of Abbey Clancy at Tuesday's television awards.

Yes, she's there as eye candy. But she is fully clad and it is rare for the Express to produce the brightest front, so let it have its day. (Shame about the garbled copy inside, which couldn't make up its mind whether it was a fashion report or a rundown of award winners.)

The Star, on the other hand, continues its mission to turn page one into page three. This issue really should be on the top shelf. Oh, and in case you're wondering, the Corrie Kev street robbery is a plot line, not a real news event.

A mini review of the papers will be a feature of the new Sub-Scribe website, which should be alive and possibly kicking within the next couple of weeks. A few pages are available for a sneak preview, if you are interested, at For updates on progress, please click the button. 

Wednesday 22 January 2014

The front pages: three-day-old filly easily beats Formula 1 legend

Health issues dominate today, from one schoolboy apparently killed by an Ecstasy tab to thousands of cancer patients apparently refused drugs that could extend their lives because of where they happen to live. 

The two Independent titles concentrate on a Kings Fund report that suggests patient care may be harmed by low morale among NHS staff - with the i stepping out to a greater degree than its big sister, both on the front and inside. The Express's daily magical cure is for once tangible - a box that sounds a bit like a TENS machine which sends magnetic pulses to the brain to ease pain. It has been cleared for use on the NHS for the treatment of chronic migraine  from today and is also available for rent.

Not that official approval for NHS treatments guarantees that pateints who need it will get it, according to the Telegraph.  It splashes on a report that availability of some drugs is - here it comes - a postcode lottery. An endemic and dangerous postcode lottery at that. In some areas one in three cancer and Motor Neurone Disease patients were not getting drugs that would ease their conditions.

The Mail leads on a boy who told his parents that he was off to a party and then went to a rave. Daniel Spargo-Mabbs, 16, subsequently suffered a heart attack and died on Monday. The Mail reports that Daniel had taken his first Ecstasy tablet at the rave, although of course there is no way of knowing this, and points to the growing danger of the drug whose death toll 'increased fourfold' in two years - from four in 2010 to thirty-one in 2012. Daniel's fate may be every middle-class parent's nightmare, but it is hardly symptomatic of a great national menace. The key point, of course, is the headline (as it should be), the routine farewell phrase cruelly turned on its head to haunt forever.

The Mirror is also gloomy about one man's fate - Michael Schumacher is still in the coma induced by doctors after his skiing accident a month ago. This is a standard 'what's the latest?'  follow-up built into a splash from nothing. The fading hopes are based on a quote from a doctor uninvolved in his case based in Bordeaux, more than 250 miles away from the hospital in Grenoble where the driver is being treated, and speculation on an Austrian website. And, to be honest, what they say only reinforces what many already think. Not the most informative piece of journalism.

The Sun's splash is also a bit of something and nothing. Roman Abramovich's white girlfriend Dasha Zhukova is photographed sitting on a sculpture chair in the shape of a topless black woman. The picture, taken as part of a photoshoot for an online magazine, upset all sorts of people who found it racist and demeaning. Ms Zhukova - who doesn't look exactly comfortable -  apologised and said she regretted posing for the photograph, and the website cropped the picture. The chair itself was designed by the Norwegian  Bjarne Melgaarde and is virtually the same as one of a white woman created by Allen Jones and shown in the Tate in 1969. No one has suggested the artworks are racist. The photoshoot was unthinking and shallow - but the lead to the country's biggest selling paper? Hmm.

And the picture doesn't even make the top three of the best images on the newsstands today. A newly shaven Prince Harry is bound to captivate, and Miriam Gonzalez Duarantez strides across the Telegraph in style, but nothing can beat the three-day-old bay filly on the front of the Times. But that's only to be expected. The foal, born at the National Stud in Newmarket, is Frankel's daughter.

Finally, the Daily Telegraph lost its editor yesterday lunchtime. The fact makes a page lead in the Guardian, a short picture story in the Independent and a nib in the Times. But I'm blowed if I could find it anywhere in the Telegraph. Odd that. Maybe I just wasn't looking hard enough. Happy to be corrected.

A mini review of the papers will be a feature of the new Sub-Scribe website, which should be alive and possibly kicking within the next couple of weeks.
A few pages are available for a sneak preview, if you are interested, at
For updates on progress, please click the button.  

Wednesday 15 January 2014

Five sex scandals and a pop star on the edge - one clear winner

The trio of ageing stars on trial for alleged sex offences dominate six front pages and make pictures or a puff in three others.

The Mail and the Express have the same idea - but the Mail hammers home its superiority in the execution. The puff is truncated, the pictures more dramatic and the page is not diluted with text. The headline is decidedly iffy - yes vile crimes if they took place, but these trials will not be about offences that are known to have been committed by someone, they will be about whether they happened at all.

The Express cannot be parted from dementia or the tantalising offer of a free cup of tea or coffee at BHS - quaintly described as a 'hot drink', so it has less room to play with. The photographs are squashed and the headings leaden.

Not as leaden, however, as the Times's. Hampered by a huge count and not much to say, it comes up with 'TV entertainers', which doesn't do the job. It conjures up the wrong image: Morecambe and Wise were TV entertainers; DLT is a disc jockey and Roache is a soap actor. The photograph of Rolf Harris - with a convenient blonde just ahead of him - would be good if he were the only one in court yesterday. But it was the fact that three household names were on trial on one day that set this story apart, and that was what needed emphasising (as the Mail does) if it was going to work as a splash in a serious paper.

The Mirror and the Star both focus on the Roach case, which is now getting into the detail of the allegations. Here we can see how much classier the Mirror is than the Star. It opts for themore interesting of the two stories aired in court and finds room for the other two cases as insets above the splash heading. The heads are all good and the page is unencumbered by anything other than a modest puff alongside the titlepiece.

Just as the Express is wedded to its diseases of the elderly, so Celebrity Big Brother is obligatory for its redtop stablemate. At least it had the sense to use a picture of a woman with clothes on - and the splash head is fine.

The Telegraph's triptych points to modest coverage on page 4, and the Independent limits the trials' front-page presence to a puff. The Guardian stays aloof,looking instead at another sex scandal - that of M Hollande across the Channel.

The Sun thought that an out-of-focus picture of Liam of One Direction posing on a ledge 360ft up made the better splash. I'm not sure. 1D are certainly more likely to appeal to its young audience and it deals with the court trio neatly in column one. You can hear the case being argued in the conference room: 'We knew they'd been accused, people are tired of old men and child abuse, this is much fresher.'

The two Indies triumph over everyone , however, by going their own way with an investigation into sex-selection abortions - with far more compelling results. The Independent's heading and scan picture win the day.

Monday 13 January 2014

New Year diet advice: eat less and drink more (water - not booze!)

Daniel Lambert weighed over 50st when he died in 1809.  Cheryll Hicks wrote in the
 Telegraph  that the UK now has 100,000  'Lamberts'. Photograph:

How's the diet going?

Which one have you chosen? The DoDo? The Two-Day? The Every Other Day? The No-Sugar?

If you've obeyed all the rules and followed all the recipes over the past week, you should be 'up to' 7lb slimmer by now.

Note that 'up to'. Chances are you've lost a couple of pounds. But you'll probably feel a better even with that little success - because we've just emerged from the binge eating and drinking season, and any easing up is going to help us to feel less bloated.

Christians celebrate the feast of Epiphany on January 6 to mark the coming of the Magi to see the infant Jesus in his cowshed.

Newspapers celebrate the fast of Epiphany to mark the coming of the New You Diet season.

This should not be confused with the Spring Clean diet season, the Bikini Diet season in the summer or the autumn Party Dress Diet season. The January detox is the daddy of them all.

Odd then, that as a nation we are getting fatter, not slimmer, so that we now have the worst obesity rates in Europe.

Today the National Obesity Forum has published a report calling on the Government to take concerted action to tackle our weight problem, along the lines of the anti-smoking campaigns of the past.
(I have a slight problem with this, since tobacco=lung cancer was a simple message that took 50 years to get across. There isn't one single item, such as chocolate, you can give up to avoid obesity. There are plenty of other monsters waiting in the larder.)

The story made the splash in the Mail and the Times, both of which have been plugging diet and fitness regimes over the past week. Joined-up journalism - or old-fashioned marketing?

In his foreword to today's report, the forum's chairman Professor David Haslam points to a 2007 Foresight review which predicted that half the population would be obese by 2050, compared with about a quarter now. He concludes:
"The doomsday scenario set out in that report might underestimate the true scale of the problem..."
(Or, to give you the Express translation, it  "vastly underestimated the true scale of the catastrophe facing the nation".)

Well done, Professor David. The Press will always sit up if you use the doomsday phrase.

The Forum produced its report The State of the Nation's Waistline to coincide with the start of National Obesity Awareness Week, which it describes as
"an opportunity to engage with the public and raise awareness of obesity and weight management – but more importantly to discuss and highlight how these issues can be addressed at national, business, societal and individual levels".
It is clear that there is a problem - the Government reckons that obesity costs the health service £5bn a year - and now is obviously a good time to focus on it, as healthy resolutions briefly replace over-indulgence. So plenty of experts are offering their two-penn'oth.

This has led to jumbled reporting. The Mail, for example, says that the forum blames 'junk food firms for confusing the public', when in fact this criticism came from Dr Aseem Malhotra in a column in the Observer about the dangers of sugar.

It also means that the core recommendations of the forum report are at best truncated and at worst neglected to make room for the talking heads. This is a pity because the report is well-considered and newsworthy. Not because it says we are getting fatter faster than we thought, but for its suggested solutions.

The calls for a hard-hitting campaign and for GPs to be taught how to confront patients about their weight are understandably given the most prominence in the two splashes. But neither picks up on what may be the root of the whole problem: the nation is dehydrated.  

We are not drinking enough - and what we are drinking is the wrong stuff.

Half of children and a third of adults do not drink the recommended 1.5 to 2.5 litres of fluid a day, and water accounts for less than half of that intake.

The forum doesn't put it as baldly as this, but we need to turn our backs on the fancy coffees, the booze, the cans of fizzy drinks, the fruit juice - and turn on the tap.  It might also have added that if we drank a bit more water, not only would our digestive systems and our brains work better, but we'd feel more full and might not eat so much.

This element of the report could usefully have been combined with Professor Susan Jebb's call for fruit juice to be excluded from our 'five a day' calculations because of its high sugar content - a suggestion put forward in an interview with Calgary Avansino of the Sunday Times.

The Mail made Jebb  - "the Government's obesity tsar" - an inside page lead under the splash turn (without attributing the Sunday Times); the Telegraph put her on page 8 (with attribution). Jebb oversees the 'Responsibility Deal' that is supposed to encourage businesses to reduce salt and sugar in their products and to make it easier for people to choose their foods and drinks wisely. She was also one of the authors of that 'doomsday' Foresight report in 2007, though neither daily mentioned that.

Jebb's comments on fruit juice coincided with the launch last week of the Action on Sugar campaign by Dr Malhotra and others. They denounced sugar as the 'new alcohol' and called for a 30% cut in our consumption.

So the experts have identified the new villain and they have the recruited the Sundays to their side. While Avansino was writing about the Sugar Trap in the Sunday Times, sweet-toothed Viv Groskop was 'divorcing' sugar in the Independent on Sunday.  Both pieces were choc-a-bloc with statistics and learned opinion. Last week the Mail on Sunday was promoting Sarah Wilson's book I Quit Sugar and today the Mail is promising Sugar Detox 'a major series you can't afford to miss' from Saturday.

So this year's newspaper diets are all about cutting out the sweet stuff, then? Nope.

Long-term change and self-denial don't sell papers. Instant gratification does.

So it's the DoDo for the Express, the Two-Day Diet in the Mail, Slim Without the Gym for the Telegraph and Fast everything with the Times: 10-minute meditations, 8-minute exercise plans and 4-minute lose-your-paunch workouts. The paper has also advocated the Every Other Day Diet and is today telling men how to lose their paunch (again) with the Seven Day Diet.

I can tell you for sure that the body illustrating this feature was not in a possession of a paunch last week, if ever (see below).

And none of these will do any good: 95% of dieters regain all their weight (and often more) within five years. If they didn't, we wouldn't have a £5bn obesity strain on the economy and a £2bn diet industry.

Diet books occupy eight of the top twenty titles in the Amazon best-sellers list, six in the top ten and two in the top two. A search on its site for 'diet books'  produces 62,239 results.

Two million people go to Weight Watchers in this country every year.

Nearly half a million people buy Slimming World magazine.

We've had the F-Plan, the GI, the GL and the IF.
We've slimmed along with India Knight, the Hairy Bikers and even Alan Sugar.
We've followed Hay, Atkins and Dukan.
We've put our faith in Rosemary Conley and Paul McKenna.
We've been to South Beach and Hollywood.
We've tried food combining, low-carb and low-fat.
We've slurped Cambridge soup and cabbage soup.
We've turned to the Juice Diet and the Red Wine Diet.
We've bought every pack of promises on the supermaket shelves.

And still we come back for more.

Gameoldgirl knows of which she writes. She is living proof that diets make you fat - weighing in a good three stone over the point at which she first started a lifetime of calorie counting, aged 15. The Beryl Cook avatar is a sylph compared with the real woman.

But never say die. Ever say diet. Today is day one of the latest 'new regime'. It involves cutting down on the booze and spending less time at this laptop. I won't keep you posted - you don't want to know - other than to say it's time for one last glass of fizz.


Thursday 2 January 2014

Immigration and the Daily Express

Ok, Ok. SubScribe is going on a bit about this. Sorry. 

Forget about living longer, the horoscopes and the obligatory celebrity. I'm looking at the WOB headline on the right, which is a teaser to this spread:

This really is one of the most disgraceful pieces of journalism I've seen in a long time. Apart from the token panel saying 'we want to work', the most honest word on the page is the 'could' in the main heading. The lead story begins:
"Almost one in five Romanian and Bulgarian immigrants will live on benefits, costing taxpayers almost £1.4bn, it emerged last night.
Experts estimate that 350,000 people will flock to Britain over the next seven years after restrictions on low-skilled workers from both countries were lifted yesterday.
But figures unearthed by the Daily Express have revealed the true potential cost of this stampede." 
The 'experts' who estimate that 350,000 will turn up are unnamed, but it's fair to assume that the basis for this figure is the pressure group MigrationWatch. The organisation, which  is not known for its enthusiasm about allowing outsiders into the country, has predicted that 50,000 a year could move here. But even it is restricting its estimate to the next five, rather than seven, years.

No one in authority has been willing to put a figure on how many Romanians and Bulgarians may wish to come here, but there is no reason to suppose that there will be a 'stampede'. The Express does acknowledge the lack of firm data in the next paragraph:
"The Government has no real idea how many will come and which benefits they will claim. When similar restrictions were lifted on Poland in 2004, experts said only a few thousand would arrive in Britain. In the event more than 500,000 turned up."
Presumably these experts were different ones from those whose crystal-ball gazing abilities are so trusted by the Express. There were 75,000 Poles living in Britain in 2003 and there are now indeed estimated to be 500,000. Many of those who arrived in this country after 2004 when the economy was buoyant - remember the scare stories about Polish plumbers? - returned home during the downturn after 2008.
"With the latest influx it has been left to observers to provide a panicked British public with a calculation of the potential impact on stretched public services like schools and the NHS."
There has, as yet, been no influx. Who caused the public to 'panic'? Who are these 'observers'? Who did these calculations 'unearthed by the Express'?

Oh, it looks as though it was the Express itself. And judging from the quotes within the spread, the observers and experts are none other than MigrationWatch and Ukip. Perfect.
"Of the 150,000 Romanians already here, 15% don't have a job."
It is hard to keep pace with the various statistics on how many Romanians and Bulgarians have arrived and how many are in work, since the ONS releases figures quarterly and tends not to break down immigration statistics by nationality. It has, however, said recently that 141,000 Romanians and Bulgarians are in employment here.

The latest official immigration figures showed that there were around 120,000 Romanians and 47,000 Bulgarians. These are out of date as there has been some acceleration in recent months - but no reliable statistics have been published to back up the claim that 15% of Romanians are unemployed.
"If a similar number of the fresh wave of migrants fail to find work it would leave around 52,500 reliant on handouts capped at £26,000 a year. The benefits bill could add up to £1.39bn over seven years."
Time to show your workings, I think.

Suppose we accept the Express figures and we now have 22,500 unemployed Romanians who are now entitled to 'handouts'. If they each receive the maximum of £26,000, that will cost us £585m this year.

If another 50,000 arrive, and if 7,500 of them fail to find work and if they, too, are given the maximum £26,000 in benefits, that would be another £195m for this year, making a total of £780m.

If a further 50,000 arrive every year until 2020 and if 15% of them fail to find work, and if they all receive maximum benefits (and if they remain capped at £26,000pa), the rolling bill might look like this:

2014: £780m
2015: £975m
2016: £1,170m
2017: £1,365m
2018: £1,560m
2019: £1,755m
2020: £1,950m

My goodness, the Express hasn't been anywhere near frightening enough. That gives us a total of
Always remember, you can make numbers do anything you want.

Gerard Batten, Ukip's home affairs and immigration spokesman, is appreciative of the Express's efforts:
"These figures reveal just what the UK will have to deal with."
But they still aren't scary enough for Mr Batten, who adds:
"It's also likely the predictions by MigrationWatch are rather conservative and this may prove to be a massive underestimate. 
As well as those who come to collect benefits there will be many more who come to work. Every job taken by a migrant is a job denied to an unemployed Briton. The UK jobs market is heading towards severe overcrowding."
Now that's a particularly interesting observation. The second story on the spread is about jobs available in this country being advertised across Europe.
"Fears that Romanians and Bulgarians will have the run of Britain's labour market appear to be coming true - with UK employers offering more jobs than other countries."
The story is accompanied by a table showing that there are 300,000 posts open in Germany, fewer than 5,000  in Romania and only 4 in Bulgaria. Britain is advertising just under 1.4m.

SubScribe is being a bit thick here. Are these vacancies, advertised on the EU's official jobs website, available only to Romanians and Bulgarians? Is this an attempt to recruit cheap labour in countries where our miminum wage may seem a fortune?

Didn't Mr Batten say the market was heading for severe overcrowding? You might think that if there are 1.4m jobs going, then we shouldn't have so many people out of work. Perhaps our unemployed don't fancy these particular jobs? Are the British too picky maybe? Are British employers finding it so hard to recruit at home that they are advertising wherever there might be willing workers?

This apparently includes Romania's main job site, where nearly 5,000 positions - including some for doctors, nurses, taxi drivers, mechanics and care workers - have been posted. Germany is seeking to fill about 2,000 vacancies and France 500.

The Express offers no details, such as pay rates, terms of employment, hours required,  but Mr Batten is obviously more clued up than the paper allows its readers to be, for he has it all sussed:
"These figures bear up what the critics have been saying all along. The relaxations of restrictions are only about importing cheap labour. Where people are coming here to work they are undercutting British workers, driving down wages and pushing up accommodation costs."
Funnily enough, Polly Toynbee gives weight to this argument in this Guardian column. But who at the Express would read her?

Batten's party leader, Nigel Farage, also smells a rat. He accuses other countries of failing to stick to the principles of the single market in advertising so few jobs, then in the same breath criticises the UK for abiding by the rules.

"Instead of concentrating on ensuring British people can get back into work, we're advertising these jobs to the whole of the EU and paying for the privilege."

The two picture stories are about real people - people from Bulgaria and Romania who say they want to come to Britain to work. The final element is a piece about the prospective burden on Kent.
"Thousands of Romanians and Bulgarians will descend on Kent through busy ferry terminals, pushing local services to breaking point, council chiefs fear."
A study for the county council expects what seems a comparatively modest number of 8,600 people from the two countries to settle in Kent over the next decade. This would cost council taxpayers an estimated £3m a year - although the newcomers would presumably contribute to that - and, according to the council leader, put pressure on schools, housing, and add to crime levels. A Romanian student says
 "Romanians don't come here for free money. If they come it will be for jobs British people don't want to do."

But the last word goes to Tina Saunders, 36, from Dover, who 'voiced the fears of many British-born residents'  when she said:
"Many of them are taking council homes from people like myself. We can't get on the list to get a house because they are being offered to foreigners first."
So the key quotes on the three policy stories on this spread come from the head of  MigrationWatch, the leader of Ukip and one of his spokesmen, a Conservative council leader and a random woman of whom we know nothing.

There is also a government comment in the £1.4bn story:
"These calculations are simply not credible. It's highly misleading to suggest everyone coming to this country claims or is entitled to benefits."
Yes, incredible and misleading. But even this token quote is about defending the Government's reputation against claims that it is a soft touch.

Whatever happened to objective journalism?

This is SubScribe's third post on this subject.  I am indebted to Peter Owen for alerting me to this Express spread. He has written to the paper about it and invites others to do the same. I cannot vouch for his statisics.

You can read the other two post here and here. I do hope not to return to the topic again too soon.

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