The fine art of pop-up journalism

A scandal as newsworthy as “Dog bites postman”: the local newspapers have set their face against those delightfully, unintentionally humorous pop-up newspapers distributed by political parties at election time. The party papers, in case none has come your way, pretend to be local newspapers but consist only of plugs for their candidates. They are not exactly subtle. They may appear real to the bored and gullible, which is what all political campaigning does.

Most of them are from the Liberal Democrats, whose novel interpretation of the notions of truth and honesty in campaigning have long been a fascination for students of politics and psychiatrists. We have all loved those ‘Labour’ leaflets that, when opened out say “Labour … cannot win here”.  (I mainly see those in seats where the Liberals trail a poor third.)

The LibDem fake newspapers have been joined by the other parties too though. They all give as good as they can get.  Some Conservative newspapers even carry on throughout the year and provide a more useful village newsletter than the commercial papers do.

Maybe a few people are taken in.  That is not the point though: these newspapers work at a subliminal level – they only need to hook you for a moment to embed the impression of their headline in your mind, and if you then realise to your horror that you are reading a political leaflet, nevertheless in that opening minute you have read it as news and it makes an impression.

I need to get hold of some more examples – they are exactly what I should be using.

The local papers, the genuine locals, are discontented.  They voice fears that these pop-up party pretend papers will sap trust in the integrity of the local newspapers.

Who are they trying to fool? The local papers have done that very convincingly all by themselves.  The political news is simply reprinting the political parties’ press-releases: all those pictures of a councillor standing by a new sapling or a hole in the road are no different from the pop-ups. There is no integrity nor that vaunted neutrality in journalism; that is a phrase thrown around to encourage customers, but there is no integrity in journalism beyond the appearance needed to bring in the widest range of paying customer.

I have sympathy with the newspapers as they have a hard task trying to persuade people to buyer a wad of folding paper when on-line splash stories and antisocial media dominate the attention of their key market.  An irony is that they pay journalists to produce news content as a chassis to feed the adverts to their customers, which is where the real business lies, but oftentimes the newspaper is only bought for the adverts anyway.

The local newspapers long ago blazed a trail in the bringing the news. Now the young apprentice has copied the master’s work, and may excel him.

Maybe the pop-up party paper is the way forward for local journalism. There is motivation for it, and their village citizen-journalists are closer to the ground than those in the town on the other side of the tracks. 

I do not see the pop-up papers in our villages though, not even from the Liberal Democrats: they are good at press-releases, so that the local commercial newspaper looks like their LibDem paper already.

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In fear of Jahannam

Behind the headlines, more mothers weep. Three young lives cut off: two full of hope cut down by one full of hopelessness. Rage cannot make sense of it.

I would have preferred it had the man been arrested, but I will not weep for his fall. His was a suicide. He went out knowing the day would end in his death in this way – “suicide by cop” they call it. I want to understand what brought him to end his life in this way, and to take other lives as he did so. We cannot sit inside his head though.  Those who tried, failed.

The murderer this time was Usman Khan, a Muslim militant radical.  He joins an ignoble list of lone-wolf killers of the last few years seeking fame or mayhem by these atrocities. Those who drove trucks driven into crowds in Nice and the Berlin Christmas market in 2016, and the Orlando shooter of the same year, or several other I could mention, had things in common; they were young men, at that wild, confused age, displaced from their own culture, if they could be said to have a culture. They were convinced Muslims but not devoutly practising: they had indulged in drink, drugs, loose women, and other sins of the flesh. As they sat and compared their lives with their religious ideology, they disgusted themselves. Usman Khan was not like that but maybe his past failure disgusted him, and like them, he was watching the time tick by.

The authorities thought he was cured.  He was not.  Those who taught him to deradicalize him were everything he despised, so of course he sat through and nodded, and laughed at them. The ‘Archbishop Blog’ had a telling insight into this process yesterday.

Going off the rails is not uncommon in young men.  The rails are constricting and instinct is for freedom away from the one-dimensional line. For those who have been wrenched out of a parent cultural framework and thrown into a new society into which they cannot properly fit with their existing understandings and cultural preconceptions, then there are no the rails for them in the first place.

What is a young man thrown into a big, anonymous city? He is a drop in the sea, going unwillingly with the tide. What all seek though are power and voice. They must be in dejection, which Hobbes defines as “Griefe, from opinion of want of power“.

We know that:

The Passions that most of all cause the differences of Wit, are principally, the more or lesse Desire of Power, of Riches, of Knowledge, and of Honour. All which may be reduced to the first, that is Desire of Power. For Riches, Knowledge and Honour are but severall sorts of Power

The desire for power does not distinguish in the mind those forms which Hobbes enumerates. The base, animal instinct to destroy a thing in the public eye, whether smashing a bus shelter or burning down a building, is to feel an exercise of power as it effects real change. That is fleeting and tends to destroy any opportunity to achieve real power in the future, but young men are impatient. They fight, they break things; they paint crude messages on walls; and in our latter days they make women afraid on social media. It is all the same; an exercise of irresponsible power.

‘Irresponsible’ seems not a bad thing for the powerless man: responsibilities are constricting and breaking free of them is liberation. Society is constructed to restrain, for the public good, and to channel the energies of youth into positive channels, without which life is “continuall feare, and danger of violent death; And the life of man, solitary, poore, nasty, brutish, and short“. When they step outside society they step into “Warre Of Every One Against Every One“.

For Muslims, with those carnally-driven men who nevertheless identify themselves as adherent to Islam, their doctrine has a warning at the end: they are heading for Jahannam, Hell.

Each pint of beer, each temptress and each morning woken in shame, is a weight on the balance against them, for Islam, like Mediaeval Rome, has no grace or salvation but teaches that at the Day of Judgment they face a tilting balance of good deeds and evil, and those who have descended to carnal deeds believe the balance is weighing them toward the inferno.  Every time a lorry passes by too close they think of how close is death; each time they are startled in a dark alley or they are gripped with disease they fear that the end will rush upon them with no time to rebalance the scale. An emergency action is required.  It is not for Islam: it is for themselves.

Waiting for them are the teachers who sell them snake-oil salvation – a get-out-of-Hell-free card. If you live in dread of a swift end and eternal flame, there can be no more joyful teaching than the idea that you just perform one act and all the alcohol, drugs and women are washed away. If it is an act of violence, it chimes with a young man’s desires, and if it is an exercise of power, without responsibility, then it is all they could dream of. The crusades were powered by just such a teaching, and the radical Muslim teachers are no different from the cursed priests of those days.

Here Islam is very distinct from Christianity.  The Roman pontiffs could not call on any Bible verse to justify their own indulgences for slaughter, while the imams can. That is a powerful difference.  However the act and the motivation are independent of the book – they come from the rotten heart of man.

For the desperate believer who has been thinking of his own death for years on end, now given this one hope of Heaven there is another element.  If they perform the act and walk away, the temptations of the world are still there.  They may empty the balance, but begin at once to fill it up.  If you score a goal, you may still lose the game, but if you score just as the whistle goes, it is secure. Therefore for them the motivation is clear:  perform the act and die at once so salvation is secured.

Against this motivation, who can reason?

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Bydded i’r Hen Iaith Barhau

Llongyfarchiadau i di, Boris: the Conservative Manifesto repeats and re-enforces the pledge from 2017, and in 2019 we are promised:

We will support Welsh institutions such as S4C, the National Library and Museum, the Urdd and the National Eisteddfod.

This time the pledge is not in the Welsh local manifesto but the national, UK-wide manifesto.

I pause with the thought that yr Eisteddfod Genedlaethol (what happened to ‘Brenhinol‘ in the name?) and yr Urdd, even before we get to y Llyfrgell Genedlaethol Cymru and yr Amgueddfa Cymru are devolved matters on which Westminster has little influence. Sprinkling a little star-dust, or money anyway, goes down well, and the richness found in the Welsh language should not be confined to the narrow bounds of the Principality: let the bards speak over the world.

Welsh, yr Hen Iaith, is the most beautiful tongue in the world and need not stay hidden in the western parts. It is not just a part of British culture and identity, but the oldest, most evocative expression of our nation – it was not always called ‘Welsh’ but used to be called ‘British’, and British it is, found in the place-names of the island far beyond the thirteen counties of Wales: the great cities of London, Winchester, Manchester, Leeds, York, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Aberdeen and others have their names from the old British language, from which Welsh of today has little changed. It suffuses the island and gives it a shape and a name. In the days of Rome, all those native tongues vanished in Italy, Gaul and Hispania, but the Britons did not give up our tongue, and it is spoke still, as Welsh.

It would be worth treasuring for that resilience alone, but there is far more, for it is not for nothing that the song praises Wales as ‘Gwlad beirdd a chantorion‘ (‘Land of poets and singers’): Welsh is peculiarly suited to poetry. You might not see this from the clumpy “Committee Welsh” painted on road-signs, but spoken in the free air it is such that you cannot speak it without singing.

Politics should not interfere, but if it does then at least let it do so with love. Labour’s manifesto says nothing of the Welsh language, nor does the Liberal Democrats’. (Plaid Cymru do, as you would expect, but only in an odd context: they have forgotten that we are out of the EU in weeks.) The Conservative and Unionist Manifesto adds on another project t supporting the institutions: “We will support the ambition for one million people in Wales to be able to speak Welsh by 2050”.

(It’s not like farming and building up a flock, you know – these are people, who can choose what to speak, my wife’s family among them.)

There is a richness to be found from understanding the Welsh language. A million speakers does not mean those who speak it at home, but understanding it is a worth though wearisome endeavour. I can suggest another angle though: do not confine it to Wales. The first Gorsedd and Eisteddfod were held in London, and they have met in Liverpool. Britons outside those western counties might care to recall that once Wales was all Britain, and maybe their ancestors spoke the language, which is therefore a route to our own heritage.

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Boris unleashed

The Conservative Manifesto 2019 sounds daunting at 64 pages long cover to cover, but that is just over half the thickness of Labour’s, and the contrast is massive. Labour give us pages of close text on every subject under the sun that their activists get angry about, but the Conservative and Unionist Manifesto 2019 eschews essays and much of the 64 pages is taken up with feel-good photographs.

The differences make an impact. Labour is anger-blame-command, while the Conservatives have aspiration. The most telling word in the title is not “Brexit” but “unleash”. It is a wonderful word that taps into the British spirit and well chosen. It is also a very Boris word.

In fact Boris suffuses throughout the document, not just because his picture appears at least eight times and his name too, but in the approach and the energy. It must be remembered that the 2017 Manifesto, though reviled now, was praised when it came out as a short, solid, no-frills statement. In fact the short detail it had was enough to give a grip for Labour to leap in with some damning attacks – remember the “dementia tax”? The 2017 Manifesto was a Theresa May document: curt, efficient, workmanlike. This 2019 manifesto is Boris all over.

The content of the manifesto seems less important than its impact. It does, like every other, spend a lot of its time saying how the a Conservative government will spend my hard-earned money on things I will never have use of. (So far so Georgian.) It says income tax will never rise and it hints at eventual reductions in tax, but no more. There is no mention of inheritance tax: the Brexit Party have sworn they would abolish it, so come on Sajid; do the same.

Really it is the aspiration that makes this look a winner. Labour want to clamp down, regulate and seize into government control, while the Conservatives talk of opportunity (the word appearing 14 times). (“Aspiration” appears twice, once in “we understand the concept of aspiration, and enterprise” and once in “John McDonnell’s inexorable
hostility towards aspiration and entrepreneurship”!)

The reception has sounded positive, and nothing has yet caused a killing sound-bite like the “dementia tax” one.

There should be no slackening nor inattention: at the time of the manifesto launches in 2017, polls were showing Theresa May with a higher rating than Boris has now and on course for a higher majority than the polls suggest now, but from that point it all went wrong and the poll ratings plunged. There is still all to play for.

Though all could still go horridly wrong, and the country be facing bankruptcy under Mr McDonnell, but the soundings so far are all positive.

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Not a sch-lur but a telling sch-lip

The moment in the Leaders debate passed not unnoticed. Jeremy Corbyn referring to Jeffrey Epstein pronounced his name in the German fashion – ‘Ep-schtein’. Understandably, commentators were hanging on every word and syllable to find proof of Corbyn’s deep anti-Semitism, and here were syllables dripping with meaning – not ‘Epsteen’ as the man called himself, but ‘Ep-schtein’: make him sound German, very foreign, for the man was Jewish and in this way Corbyn could emphasise that and how set apart he was for that reason.

Actually though, I have to defend Jeremy Corbyn to a certain extent. I will not deny that he is an utter twerp unfit for public office, and agree that he has permitted a foul sewer of anti-Semitism to thrive and grow in the Labour Party, and his own remarks put him within that toxic culture so that he might be attracted to Jew-haters’ ideas, if he had an idea in his head. On this occasion though it was something else.

He was trying to be clever and correct. He saw a name, saw it looked German and so pronounced it as German. It is a habit of the Islington classes to try to show their universalism by pronouncing foreign names in the way the foreigners do, and even if they get it wrong, they have the kudos points.

I will admit it myself: I read and speak German frequently enough that I use German pronunciations without thinking even when the word has passed thoroughly into English. In IKEA, I have to check myself to stop using Swedish pronunciations for products (or in fact Swedish-as-mispronounced-by-a-Norwegian). French words that have been part of English for centuries still get a retro-pronunciation as French in some mouths, including some words that French borrowed from English in the first place.

It is not always a show-off (all right, often it is) and it may be a way to display having had an education, or to show ones own cosmopolitanism. Alternatively, and think this is the main reason, it may just be anxiety to get it right and not to mispronounce and be seen to be ignorant.

We get it wrong. How many of us, after all, speak all the languages that come across our plates from day to day? In most delicatessens the staff call a chorizo sausage a ‘choritso’, because they think it is the authentic Mediterranean pronunciation, which presupposes that the first half could be Spanish and the second half Italian. I do not expect them to speak either language, and I now grit my teeth rather than correct them all to the Spanish pronunciation (‘choreetho’). That is one Corbyn would not get wrong – he speaks Spanish very well as most of his wives so far have been Spanish.

Trying to get foreign names right is the best way to get them wrong. Use “Peking” in a newsroom and you could be facing a half-hour dressing-down and insistence that the old name is insulting to the Chinese and it has to be pronounced the Chinese way as “Bay-jing” – if only they knew that names written in Pinyin are not pronounced as if they were English, and the name is actually pronounced closer to ‘Pey-ching’; so ‘Bay-jing’ is surely just as insulting? I cannot think that ordinary Chinese folk care. In any case, a name can be different in different languages – no one bats an eyelid at our capital city’s being called ‘Londres’ in French or ‘Llundain’ in Welsh, and to be fair, the Welsh name is older than the English name. Names have become part of English been transformed to be spoken in English. However the worry about being incorrect or (most horrifying) sounding uneducated, weighs heavily on some, and they keep getting it wrong, and thus proving the limit if their education.

This over-correction is nothing new. Throughout the 1980s the BBC insisted that the White South African government operated a policy pronounced ‘apart-height’: that would be correct if it were German, but it was an Afrikaans word and is ‘apart-hate’ (somehow more appropriate).

It is in this context that Jeremy Corbyn mispronounced the name of the late Jeffrey Epstein: not out of malice to expel his race from society, but out of an ill-conceived attempt to be right. As with most of his ideas, his concern to be right has been exactly the opposite in result.

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