The caption dummy!

Much has already been documented of the resignation of Southern Reporter editor Willie Mack after a dummy picture caption he wrote appeared in the paper ridiculing a local Games event.

For those who managed to miss it, it read: “CAPTION CAPTION: about these pious little bleeders and the lady busser doing those interminably boring thing so cherished by Border festivals. What on earth is going on in this picture – these people have got to get out more often for their peace of mind and sanity.” Now clearly there will be many readers of the Reporter in Selkirk who will have been annoyed by this interpretation of local culture – but weren’t any amused? I know most journalists’ first thought would be, “there but for the grace of God”, their second would be sympathy for the editor, and their third would be some sort of amusement and understanding of what led him to write it.

Subs faced with a page of bland pictures from the local fayre to caption up need to use all their imaginative skill – and most resist the urge to write what they really think, even if they assume it will never see print.

I can understand the anger of the people actually pictured being ridiculed in this way.

But when you read the Games committee treasurer Norman Scott’s comments you do wonder if Mack didn’t have a point.

This is the man who told Press Gazette: “We had a great week of celebrations and now the Southern Reporter has destroyed everything.”

(You would think he was talking about Hurricane Alex).

He continued: “We have a committee meeting next month (there’s a surprise) but it will be my intention to seek legal advice with a view to suing for substantial compensation.”

(For what, for goodness sake?) And his fantastic parting shot is: “Whoever wrote these words must be at least in league with the devil.”

(Mm. An interesting perspective.) In fact I commend Mack, not only for resigning quickly when it was the only option, but for being able to edit a paper for the past four years when this is the sort of great and good he would be dealing with on a fairly regular basis.

I’m all for getting close to readers and reflecting their lives, and taking the piss out of them in the paper is not the way to do it, but Scott’s comments did help me understand Mack’s state of mind when he wrote the dummy caption.

On the same theme, I did notice a picture in the papers last week of a yawning Camilla sitting next to Prince Charles at some Highland Games in Scotland.

No doubt the writs will be flying.

When the Faria Alam/Sven/Palios story first broke, the popular PA had yet to sign up with Max Clifford and sell her story.

So newspapers and readers were reliant on her “friends” to hint at what had been going on in her hectic love life.

I remember reading, with some interest, a “friend” telling us that it was not Sven she was really interested in, but FA chief executive Mark Palios, who was great in bed.

Having been at a couple of footie matches with him, where he was definitely portraying himself as understated but a hard-working dad, I remember thinking that you can never guess what goes on with people in the privacy of their colleague’s PA’s living room floor.

Fast forward a week or so to Faria’s own expensive story in the Sunday papers. This time she declares the sex with Palios disappointing.

“After 20 minutes of sex in the missionary position he was dripping with sweat. But he was only interested in pleasuring himself and was so mechanical he left me totally unsatisfied.”

Not so unsatisfied that she did not hesitate to invite him back to her place three weeks later, but that’s making another point.

No, her description of Palios was so different from the one that allegedly came from her, through a “friend’s” mouth, only days earlier, that it means readers can choose from three conclusions:

A) Palios had distanced himself from her so much throughout the furore that this was payback time (and who wants to read that description of their sexual performance in national newspapers?).

B) The “friend” had as much knowledge of the situation as I did, which was completely zilch.

C) The unnamed “friend” did not exist at all. Take your pick.

According to the Sunday Times, there are so many youngsters coming out of university with decent degrees that employers are looking for something extra on the CV.

Finding the right work experience, say teachers and employment experts, has become a key step to future career success.

It is so competitive, apparently, that one top London public school recently held a charity auction where ambitious – and wealthy – parents could bid for these lucrative placements for their offspring.

Two weeks at an architects’ practice fetched £430, a week at a top London hospital went for £360 and work experience at a big city accountancy firm went as high as £925. But what placement topped that? Two lots for work experience at a national newspaper raised £1,250 each.

As the school admitted: “Our parents are quite ambitious, as are their kids. To get their foot in the door of a top broadsheet is a fantastic opportunity.”

Quite so. And they are clearly prepared to pay for the privilege.

I just wonder how many bottomline focused, cost-cutting obsessed newspaper execs may well have filed this cutting away under “potential money-making schemes for the future”.

Once these well-bred grads have sailed through their work experience and managed to secure an even more hardtocome-by traineeship on a newspaper, perhaps they could spare a thought for Charles Kabonero.

He will be of a similar age, 23, and is still juggling his on-the-job training with studying journalism at the University of Rwanda.

But instead of getting the coffees, rewriting press releases and trying to snaffle the freebies off the features desk, he has been editing Rwanda’s only independent newspaper, Umuseso, for the past six months.

Clearly a high-flier you might think. But Kabonero has taken up the mantle after the three previous editors (all since the paper was launched in 2000) fled the country after being arrested several times and receiving death threats.

In fact he has just been released after his fifth stint in jail since he took over the editor’s chair.

“After all the editors fled, I found myself the most senior person at the newspaper so I became editor,” he said.

Most recently he was held for six weeks. Each time he is arrested he is not given access to a lawyer, any sort of trial, or told how long he will be held for. When he is eventually released he receives death threats.

Not many parents at the London public school would be vying with each other to secure the editor’s job for their child on that particular paper.

Alison Hastings is a media consultant and trainer and former editor of the Evening Chronicle, Newcastle.

Next week: Tom Loxley

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