The Grey Cardigan: 5 January 2007

WE TRUDGE back to the Evening Beast newsroom like Shakespeare’s whining schoolboy, creeping like snails unwillingly with our satchels and our shining morning faces.

If 2006 was a bad year for the Beast, then 2007 certainly doesn’t look like being much better. That brief flicker of light that was the new financial year, bringing with it a modicum of investment in the actual newspaper (yes, paper and ink instead of pixels and podcasts) has been ruthlessly extinguished.

It appears that we are up for sale again, so all forward planning and expenditure has gone on hold while the men in suits pick over our post-Christmas carcass. It’s the same muddle-headed management paralysis that so recently (and quickly) reduced Northcliffe’s newspapers from once-proud representatives of their communities to hamster-wheel crap factories.

(To be fair, I must point to a glimmer of hope with the Derby Evening Telegraph successfully challenging local councillors to confess any previous criminal convictions, despite the protective umbrella of the 1974 Rehabilitation of Offenders Act. The black cloud is provided by the boy in the newsroom at the Grimsby Evening Telegraph who, when questioned by a national hack, had never heard of the legendary Freddie Frinton, one of the town’s most famous sons.)

So now, for the second time in as many years, we face the expensive misery of another band of consultants. We know what comes next: we spend many man hours explaining to them how a newspaper works; they fail to grasp even the simplest principle and then present a plan based on reporters writing their own headlines and making their own pages. And do we really need photographers when there are so many redundant freelance snappers out there? Oh, and that’ll be £1 million please, Mr Prospective Purchaser.

Late in the day, a little levity arrives, with the news of two unexpected promotions and pay rises for a couple of attractive classified girls (or comfort women, as they’re know in the office).

It happens every year. We think of it as the Evening Beast’s New Year Honours list, only in this case the recipients are rewarded for services to a certain senior executive in the back of a taxi after the office Christmas party. And for their subsequent silence. Plus ca change, as they don’t say in Grimsby.

I KNOW that everyone deserves a holiday, but is it really necessary for every qualified journalist in Mediaworld to clear off for a festive fortnight? Christmas just past seemed worse than ever, with work experience kids struggling manfully to turn out painfully thin newspapers and magazines full of boringly predictable end-of-year quizzes and quotes pieces, while TV news broadcasts were a dog’s dinner of missed links, autocue failures and Mr Magoo camerawork, with some bimbo who reads the traffic news on Radio Rutland catapulted onto prime time telly.

You’d think they’d learn, wouldn’t you? It’s not as if they haven’t been caught out before. Wasn’t there a bit of a flood somewhere on Boxing Day 2004? The slacking execs must have been breathing a sigh of relief when the only significant political story to break was the death of Gerald Ford (although I count the departures of Charlie Drake and James Brown as more important). And then they go and hang Saddam. I bet there was much cursing over the cornflakes as all those New Year’s Eve plans went up in smoke.

SPEAKING OF which, Sir Max Hastings, Commander-in-Chief of Her Majesty’s Press at Goose Green, draws a neat contrast in the Daily Mail between Christmas broadcasts past (Mary Poppins, The Sound of Music) and Christmas broadcasts present (the graphic execution of an evil tyrant).

‘This sordid display of mob vengeance will make a martyr of Saddam,’he opines. And where, dear reader, was this ‘sordid display’most comprehensively covered? Why, in the pages of the Daily Mail, where a seven-picture sequence culminated with a close-up of the dead dictator dangling from the noose, his neck at 90 degrees to his body. And for all you blackhearted subs out there, I am sad to report that the accompanying piece did not start with a drop cap or boast hanging indents.

You can contact me, should you wish, at thegreycardigan@gmail.com

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