SubScribe: February 2016 Google+

Friday 12 February 2016

With no Indy to hold its hand, who will write the i?

Independent and i

Amol Rajan reportedly sent staff a "no comment" email about the future - or lack of it - for his 30-year-old paper. But the message to readers via his front page could hardly have been clearer: the Independent was facing a black hole.

Now the death of the print newspaper has been announced and we are all sad.

Commentators far more in touch with the background than SubScribe have written obituaries of the Independent, remembering the great hopes of the "It is, are you?" campaign, running through the series of owners who tried to make the paper pay.

But what I haven't seen addressed anywhere is the question of what Johnston Press will get for its £24m when it takes over the i?

Who is going to write the paper?

It sells well - though less well than it did last year - not only because it is cheap, but because it is the thinking person's tabloid. It has its own editor and elements of identity, but it is essentially a digested Independent.

Do Andrew Grice, Steve Connor, Steve Richards, Kim Sengupta, Mark Steel, Yasmin Alibhai Brown et al consider themselves i writers? When they stroll along the corridors of power, do they say "Hello, I'm Steve, I work for the i?" Do they have the i on their business cards?

Or do they say they're from the Independent?

Of course they do.

So will they stay with the online-only version of the grown-up paper, or are they being sold to a local paper cost-cutter as part of the package? And if the latter, how long will they stay?

My suspicion is that Ashley Highfield is going to have to start pretty much from scratch and build a new paper, so that all he's buying is a title and a circulation that may very well plummet without the star names at the paper's heart.

And if they are not part of the package, how long before the Guardian, Times and Telegraph come along to start poaching them from the online title?

The symbiosis between the i and the Indy (less so the Sindy) runs throughout the papers and is so vital to both titles and it is hard to see how they can face the  future apart. This doesn't apply only to the columnists and senior political writers, but across the board - arts reviews, sport, business, even lifestyle - and, as ever, the unsung heroes and heroines of the subs' desk.

To illustrate the point, here are some bits from today's editions:
junior doctors
saudi arabia
arts reviewindependent feature
i feature

LVG the independent

LVG the i

Presumably Mr Lebedev and Mr Highfield have thought all this through. But there can be few people apart from them who don't think this will all end in even more tears than are being shed today.

Tuesday 9 February 2016

Worrying about the pension

"Money makes the world go round," sang Liza Minnelli.  "Money, money, money," sang Abba.
We'd all like a little more, and editors are as aware as politicians that people tend to vote with their pockets. Which goes some way towards explaining why it was that more than 10 per cent of national newspaper splashes in January concerned finance, personal and public, and the economy. That made it the leading topic for the month, just ahead of crime and policing, and way in front of party politics and showbusiness.

The Express has always been fretful about pensions, but alarm bells were ringing across Fleet Street this month, especially after share prices took a dive in China. The Mirror, Mail, Telegraph and i all splashed on the subject at least once, but if anyone was any the wiser for reading most of these stories, then that bird hanging on the peanuts is a bald eagle.

pensions front pages

The Express set the ball rolling with a warning that there would be a pensions crisis for two decades. This, it said, was because employers could not afford to put enough money into their final salary schemes (which most businesses have done away with). The story is based on an article written by the pensions advisers Redlington, whose purpose was not to scare the workers, but to consider strategies for the fund managers who are their clients.
The Express takes one finding from the Redlington study: that employers are paying less into pension funds than they did ten years ago and that they need to put more in and seek ways of improving the returns on their investments if they are to be able to meet their obligations. The report is not quoted, but one of its authors is, right at the end of the story. 
Neither the Redlington report, nor its co-author, nor anyone else mentioned in the story says there is a crisis or that it will last for 20 years (let's gloss over the fact that a crisis cannot, by definition, last for 20 years).
What Redlington does say is that if employers' contributions remain constant and the returns on pension funds' investments remain at the predicted level, then it will take until 2035 for the funds to be in a position to meet their obligations in full. It then considers various options to remedy the situation. And, as the Express reports, if the funds fall short, there is a safety net which would pay 90% of the expected pension. 
Yes, as the Express says, people may lose out. But offer most workers a choice between 90% of what they'd been promised under a final salary scheme and the vagaries of a money purchase scheme and you can bet which way they'd jump.
But this was the Express in pessimistic mood. The following week it was feeling much happier, 
This time millions were to get a pension boost, thanks to a "state pension revolution" coming in April. Three-quarters of people reaching retirement age over the next 15 years would  receive higher payments, it said. More than three million men and as many women" would benefit, it said (why not six million people?) with low-paid women particular beneficiaries. 
Wow! Whooppee! 
But hang on a minute. Higher payments? Higher than what? Higher than today's payments? Won't all new pensioners get more - and from next year, let alone over the next  - 15 years, what with links to inflation and all that? Suddenly three-quarters doesn't sound such a high proportion. Distinctly low, in fact.
Ah, there's a catch. The rules on National Insurance contributions are changing, the inflation-proofing won't be guaranteed, spouses' rights will be curtailed. Indeed, a pensions expert quoted towards the end of the story says: "The Government continues to focus on the relatively small number of winners,..far greater numbers stand to lose out."
Well, at least the paper is to be commended for including the comment that proves its splash is a little more than a government press release.
The Telegraph meanwhile focused not on the six million winners (if that's a fair interpretation of "three million men and as many women") but on the 16 million who would be worse off. These, it turns out are people now in their 20s, 30s and 40s. Indeed three-quarters (that magic proportion) of people aged 24 will receive a lower state pension than people do today. The big winners are those in their 50s and 60s. That explains it all.
Three days later the Express is feeling miserable again, bemoaning the "end of the decent pension". We're back to the final salary schemes. Yet another pensions expert (the paper has an inexhaustible supply) is predicting that bit companies with final pension schemes are likely to abolish them because they're too expensive. Only 11 of the FTSE250 still have such schemes. Big news then.
pension front pages

While all that was going on, the Mirror and i had been worrying about profligate oldies who, given free access to their life savings instead of being required to hand them over for a rubbish annuity, were busy spending the money on enjoying themselves rather than sitting by a one-bar electric fire eeking out the pennies in case they lived to 102.

i and mail pensions

Then, the day after the Express was bemoaning the death of the decent pension, the Mail and i were bemoaning the death of the decent pension pot. A "stealth tax raid" was going to "punish the most prudent", including nurses and middle managers and others on "modest salaries", the Mail reported. This - like the stories about the three million men and as many women who would be winners and the 16 million losers - was based on analysis of a measure that had been announced months before. 
The "cap" on the amount anyone could have in their pension pot was to be lowered from £1.25m to £1m and those who went over that limit would face "huge bills", thanks to a "penalty charge of 55 per cent".
There is, of course, no cap on how much people can save. But there is a limit to how much they can save with full tax advantages. 
When workers pay into pension schemes the money that goes in is untaxed. If you earn £45,000 a year and have just the basic personal allowance, you can expect to pay just over £1,000 in higher-rate tax and to take home  £33,425. If you saved 6% of your salary in a pension scheme you wouldn't have to pay any higher-rate tax. You'd take home £1,637 a year less - but you'd have £2,700 in your pension pot. And that difference comes courtesy of the taxman. Or rather other taxpayers.
Now obviously the more money you earn, the more you can afford to pay into your pension, the greater the "gifts" you accrue from the taxman. There has to be a limit to how much you can save in this way. It is called the lifetime allowance.
Whether the cap on the lifetime allowance should be set at £1m or £1.25m or £50m is a political decision. No one is telling people how much they can put aside. The decision is how much they can put aside with tax benefits. As to the 55% "penalty charge", you are not "punished" for having too much in your pot. But if you have more than a million in there, and you decide to take the extra out as cash, all in one go, then you would have to pay 55% tax on that money (which does sound pretty steep). If you take it as income, the tax bill is 25%. 
As to the remaining million, on which you never paid a penny tax, the first £250,000 is all yours to do as you wish with. But you'll have to pay some tax as you draw on the rest, depending on how fast you withdraw it and what other income you have. 
The point of the story in the Mail and the i is that when George Osborne announced the lowering of the cap, the Treasury predicted that only about 55,000 of the wealthiest people would be affected. Now Aviva has calculated that up 1.5m people now earning £80,000 a year or more might approach the limit and should check their pensions (there's nothing to prevent you reducing your contributions to stay under it). Old Mutual reckons 460,000 might get caught, and yet another pensions expert (oh no, it's not another expert; it's the same chap who talked to the Express about employers' pension fund deficits) says: "The cuts are not a tax raid on the rich, but a stealth attack on the pensions of Middle England that will penalise the prudent."
Ramping up the angst, the Mail cites "the most extreme example" of a thirtysomething on £45,000 who's putting away £6,750 a year could reach the limit by the time they retired. Yes, that is certainly an extreme example. How many thirtysomethings can afford to put 15% of their salary into a pension? And who knows what the rules will be in thirty years' time when they retire?
There's nothing wrong with challenging government assertions. It's our job. Osborne's team has probably been misleading in the projections of how many people will be affected by this measure and it is right that it is called to account, but the case isn't well made by exaggeration.

express pensions

The next day there was more hand-wringing from the Express as the stock markets went into decline. Then, just to complete the gloomy month, it was concerned that many people were facing poverty in old age because they were healthier and living longer, but not saving enough. 
So you're damned if you spend it, damned if you save it, damned if you don't save it. The message of the month is that old people are going to be a drain on their families forever.
I blame the Express. If it took a more "live for today" attitude, perhaps we'd all die earlier. But, no. This is its mantra:

express live forever front pages

...and, even more terrifying, from November 2014 and again last November:

Kill me now.

Of course the financial splashes were not confined to pension concerns. There were rip-off energy and water charges, more on the Chinese stock market collapse, bonuses for fat-cat bosses, petrol prices, house prices and worries about student loans and grants. 
And then there was the little matter of foreign companies not paying as much tax as perhaps we'd like.
Perhaps we'd better tackle that one next time.

Monday 8 February 2016

January front pages: the stats

most photographed

splash topics

splash headline wordle

RIP Bowie and Rickman, but what about Worsley?

It's rare for a death from natural causes to come as a bolt from the blue and then to dominate every news agenda for 24 hours.
Deaths tend to get that sort of treatment either when they are the unexpected result of some outside influence - murder, a crash, drug overdose or suicide perhaps -  or because the departed was globally significant, as with Mandela and Thatcher.
But it was hardly surprising that broadcasters went into overdrive when the death of David Bowie was announced early on January 11, two days after his 69th birthday and the release of an album called Black Star that included a track called Lazarus whose opening line is "Look up here, I'm in heaven."
For the Press, the 6am announcement meant oodles of time to commission specials and gear up the star writers. And oodles of time to faff around sharing teenage memories, get going, reverse ferret a few times and frustrate the subs, before ending up roughly where they had started at morning conference.
The front pages should have been universally great. But they weren't. Sometimes too much time is the enemy.

bowie fronts

The Guardian and Independent gave Bowie the whole page. The results were striking, but the elegance of the Indy's front was spoilt by the garish ad, while the positioning of the text, most particularly the heading above his ear, took the shine off the Guardian cover.

times bowie coverage

The Times produced one of its wraps on which the front was stunning, the back less effective, oddly marrying a lyric from Space Oddity with Aladdin Sane pictures. It also did a nifty job on the "real" page 1 where a conventional splash was matched with a straight Bowie news story, Bowie puff and and an inspired rainbow photograph that somehow evoked the famous lightning flash without having anything to do with it.
Metro, which doesn't usually feature in these round-ups because it's a freesheet, came up with a beautifully clean front and a neat little trick in turning the "free" flash on the titlepiece into a mini streak of lightning.
The Mirror chose the same quote from Space Oddity, while the Sun and Star both opted for the Lazarus opening line. None of the three could bear to part with their promos, diluting the effect of the poster pages. All were, however, better than this lot:

Bowie front pages

The Mail was a mess. The convention with such stories is to go with a portrait - as every other paper did. The Mail chose a news picture, of two people adding to the collection of flowers under a graffito Bowie mural. There's nothing wrong with a good live picture, but this is not a good photograph. The back views of the people aren't pleasing, their blue anoraks aren't pleasing, the man's rucksack isn't pleasing, the woman's hood isn't pleasing, the slew of type on top of the picture isn't pleasing.
The Express also made a hash of the top of the page. The tribute DVD was a good property to puff, but the word "FREE" is just so intrusive and the expanded font of the puff sits uncomfortably with the news heading above it. The two blues of the panels don't work together either.
The i, like its big sister, was hampered by the ad, but it was also let down by the ill-judged "Ashes to ashes" headline. 
The Telegraph also suffered from the EasyJet ad, so that its front ended up looking like a layer cake. But the page as presented to the casual reader on a newsstand was excellent, with its strong image and hard news splash. 

The Telegraph, Mail and Express would never have considered leading on Bowie. The doctors' strike was an obvious candidate for the Telegraph, and, for the Mail, which had been raging about the response to flooding in the North, the resignation of the environment agency chief was a no-brainer. The Express meanwhile continued its "repeat until funny" approach to news judgment, giving readers further advice on back ache and the benefits of walking. As though it had never done so before.

express front pages

So much for Bowie. A couple of days later, Fleet St was in mourning for another national treasure who had died aged 69 after a "secret battle" with cancer (ie, someone who hadn't told the world he was ill). Alan Rickman wasn't quite the megastar that Bowie was, but maybe he deserved to be remembered as more than "Potter star" (the Sun) or at least to be granted a headline (as he wasn't in the Times). Attaching names and dates to ears had meanwhile become a "thing" with the Guardian

Alan Rickman fronts

Still, at least he made page one in every paper, a rare accolade. Only Cilla Black's death featured on every front last year, and here we had two in January alone. And, of course, "secret cancer" stole another national treasure on the 31st, but we have to wait for the February review to consider that one.
With the demise of Bowie and Rickman, the appetite for death on page one was pretty well sated. The murder of the EastEnders actress Sian Blake was well covered early in the month and the Mirror had been glad to see the back of triple child killer Robert Black on the 13th, but after that, the only deaths to make the front pages were those of the adventurer Henry Worsley and the former Tory party chairman Cecil Parkinson. 
Worsley's death was a bloody good news story that was, in SubScribe's opinion, shamefully neglected, but the lack of interest in Parkinson (on the same day) was perhaps unsurprising. The i carried both on page one, splashing on Worsley. He was also the main photograph in the Times while the Express gave that slot to Parkinson - probably as an excuse to run a picture of Thatcher.

front page deaths

It was a grim month for music lovers with the deaths reported in January of more than a dozen noted musicians, including:

Natalie Cole, jazz singer, 65
Paul Bley, jazz pianist, 83
David Bowie, superstarman69,
John Bradbury, Specials drummer, 62
Aura Lewis, reggae singer, 68
Johnny Rogers, saxophonist, 89
Glenn Frey, Eagles guitarist, 67
Dale Griffin, Mott the Hoople drummer, 67
Colin Vearncombe (Black) singer/songwriter, 53
Stevie Wright, Easybeats lead singer, 68
Paul Kantner, Jefferson Airplane founder, 74.
Denise Duval, soprano, 94
Gilbert Kaplan, conductor (and economist), 74

Others from the music industry who died this month included:

Ed Stewart, disc jockey, 74
Robert Stigwood, impresario and Bee Gees manager, 81
Giorgio Gomelsky, founder of the Crawdaddy Club and first "manager" of the Rolling Stones, 81

Still with the arts, January took:

Wayne Rogers, actor (Trapper John in M*A*S*H television series), 82
Olwyn Hughes, Sylvia Plath's literary agent and sister of Ted Hughes, 87
Dan Haggerty, Grizzly Adams actor, 73
Alan Rickman, actor, 69
Robert Banks Stewart, TV writer, 84
George Weidenfeld, publisher, 96
Sheila Sim, actress and widow of Richard Attenborough, 93
Jane Abdy, art dealer. 81
Silvana Pampini, actress, 90
Abe Vigoda, actor (Mafia boss in the Godfather), 94

Those lost to the worlds of fashion and journalism included: 
André Courrèges, Sixties designer, 92
Serena Sinclair, fashion editor, 89
Edmonde Charles-Roux,  Paris Vogue editor, 95
Georgina Howell, fashion editor, 73

In sport:

Meadowlark Lemon, Harlem Globetrotter, 83
Gerald Williams, tennis commentator, 86
Jack  Bannister, cricketer, broadcaster and writer, 85
Leonid Zhabotinksy, Olympic weightlifter, 77
Stein Eriksen, Olympic skier, 88

And in the outside world:

André Turcat, Concorde test pilot, 94
Robert Spitzer, psychiatrist, 83
John Stokes, mountaineer, 70
Princess Ashraf Pahlavi, the last Shah of Iran's twin sister, 96
Robin Ludlow, Queen's Press secretary, 84
Cecil Parkinson, politician, 84
Henry Worsley, explorer, 55
Brian Tovey, former head of GCHQ, 89
Gordon Goodey, great train robber, 85
Donald Barron, former chairman of Rowntree Macintosh, 94

Friday 5 February 2016

Gold diggers and muck rakers

A word of advice from one who doesn't know: if you know you have won the lottery, don't tell anyone until you have spoken to Camelot
If you think you might have won the lottery, don't tell anyone until you have spoken to Camelot.
If you have no reason to think that you have won the lottery other than that the jackpot ticket was sold in your town and you have a tatty bit of paper that's been through the wash, don't say anything until you have spoken to Camelot.
Do not ask a national newspaper reporter to accompany you to the newsagent. He will not have £33m in his till to give you. He will tell you what is blindingly obvious: talk to Camelot.

How did Susanne Hinte ever get herself into such a pickle? Why did she go to the Times? And why did the Times go on that wild goose chase to Ambleside News instead of telling her to talk to Camelot?
Well of course she wasn't the winner, but Hinte provided the tabs with a few days of fun and even the heavies with some punning headlines. Over that time we learnt that Hinte was a 48-year-old qualified nurse who, had been married twice and had two children and four grandchildren. She was born in Germany. The latter two facts weighed most heavily with reporters pondering how to describe her: she was almost universally a "gran". Now, I don't know about you, but to me the word "gran" conjures up an image of a woman in later years, possibly with greying hair, rather than someone in her forties actively engaged in dating sites. Why not call her a nurse? Or just a woman? Yes,"gran" is more informative than "woman", but it can also be misleading. Was it used to give the impression of someone who should have known better?

But that's just a niggle. The whole episode was cruel. There can't have been a single person in the country - including Ms Hinte - who believed she had a legitimate claim to the jackpot, yet only Camelot demonstrated any common sense towards her. They've seen it all before.
The papers weren't going to let her off the hook that easily (it's public interest isn't it? We want to know where the lottery money goes);  they could barely keep a straight face as they veered from credulity to scepticism to disdain, often within the same article.
The Daily Star, whose owner runs the Health Lottery where punters have a 2 million-to-one chance of winning the £100,000 top prize,  never misses an opportunity to dis the National Lottery, with its 45 million-to-one odds of winning tens or even hundreds of millions. First of all, it was a farce that the jackpot had gone unwon for so many weeks. Then it was a balls-up when hundreds of people claimed a share. Then the statute book became splash material - the crime of trying to gain pecuniary advantage by deception carries a maximum sentence of ten years, not that anyone seriously thought any Lotto hopeful, however devious, would face such a stretch.
The Mail suggested that "German-born" Hinte had a history of financial impropriety, lifted a scratchcard allegation from an unnamed "friend" that had been reported in the Sun,  and went perilously close to contempt in its reporting of some upcoming court cases
The Times, which had set the hare running, was bowled over and left puffed out on the ground as the tabloids raced ahead in pursuit of its quarry. The Telegraph sort of joined in the hunt, while the Guardian and Indy nonchalantly turned up for the kill.
There's no doubt that Hinte brought all this upon herself. But it left a nasty taste.

So did The Sun, which had been the most cynical about the claim, feel a qualm once the game was up? It suddenly went soft, publishing a largely sympathetic interview, accompanied by a more flattering photograph.
Of course it didn't. It was a clear case of mutual self-interest: an exclusive for the Sunday paper, a chance to put across a different image for Hinte - and, presumably, a windfall of not-quite-lottery-winning proportions.

As to whether she deserved her tabloid mauling, we'll have to wait and see. If she's got any sense, Hinte will disappear back into obscurity, reappearing only as a question in the end-of-year quizzes. But if she turns up on some reality show or on the club circuit - as the Star's tame impresario suggested she could - we'll have our answer.

The chase

January 23 
The story that started it all: The Times page 5 lead

January 25 
After a busy weekend, the tabloids unmask Hinte  and she is not happy.  

Lotto coverage 25-01-16

January 26 
Scepticism sets in. The Sun starts asking questions and collars friends and family, the Mail has a dig into the past,  the Star has a dig at Camelot and the Mirror conducts a simple experiment. The Times just about keeps the faith.

Lotto coverage 26-01

January 27 
The Star and Express start issuing threats, the Sun examines the ticket, but the Mail isn't quite sure it has its hands on the evidence. The Mirror thinks the newsagent's CCTV might be helpful.

Lotto coverage 27-01-16

January 28 
The Express comes late to the party to "reveal" the "winning" ticket, the Mail and Mirror scour the court lists and the Sun uncovers the most unflattering picture yet. The Telegraph rejoins the game and beats everyone else with the real news story.

Lotto coverage 27-01

January 29
The real winner or winners come forward - and sensibly remain anonymous, spoiling the fun, but opening the way to a new set of puns. Everyone, including the Independent and i, piles into the story. The Star predicts that even though she hasn't scooped the £33m jackpot, Hinte could still become a millionaire. The Sun comes over all CS Lewis in its splash head.

Lottery coverage 29-01

January 30 
The Star is reluctant to let go and leads page 9 with Hinte's estranged husband's opinion.

daily star page 9 30-01

January 31
The Sun on Sunday ends the month with a more appealing portrait of Hinte, contrite, smartly dressed and with her hair done. She has her say, the paper has its exclusive. 
But it still doesn't believe her.

Sun 31-01-16

Monday 1 February 2016

February front pages

Monday 29 February
front pages 29-02-16

Sunday 28 February
front pages 28-02-16

Saturday 27 February
front pages 27-02-16

Friday 26 February
front pages 26-02-16

Thursday 25 February
front pages 25-02-16

Wednesday 24 February
front pages 24-02-16

Tuesday 23 February
front pages 23-02-16

Monday 22 February
front pages 22-02-16

Sunday 21 February
front pages 21-02-16

Saturday 20 February
front pages 20-02-16

Friday 19 February
front pages 19-02-16

Thursday 18 February
front pages 18-02-16

Wednesday 17 February
front pages 17-02-16

Tuesday 16 February
front pages 16-02-16

Monday 15 February
front pages 15-02-16

Sunday 14 February
front pages 14-02-16

Saturday 13 February
front pages 13-02-16

Friday 12 February
front pages 12-02-16

Thursday 11 February
front pages 11-02-16

Wednesday 10 February
front pages 10-02-16

Tuesday 9 February
front pages 09-02-16

Monday 8 February
front pages 08-02-16

Sunday 7 February
front pages 07-02-16

Saturday 6 February
front pages 06-02-16

Friday 5 February
Front pages 05-02-16

Thursday 4 February
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Wednesday 3 February
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Tuesday 2 February
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Monday 1 February
front pages 01-02-16