Yesterday this blog declared we had hit peak silly season and right on cue the media duly obliged with that timeless silly season staple: some shark-related holiday horror. Not in Cornwall this time (for a change) but Benidorm.
The Sun reported a 10-year-old boy had been "mauled" by a seven foot "beast" and "holidaymakers fled from a packed beach" (though you'd think most people would know they are safe from sharks on the beach). The Daily Star was unequivocal: this had been a "JAWS ATTACK".
However, despite the Daily Star's obligatory use of a library photo of a Great White shark, the real pictures of the injury sustained rather undermined the headlines and stock pictures of ominous-looking shark fins and gnashing jaws:
A report in the Daily Mail suggests the fish may have been closer to 60cm long and was responding to the boy trying to prod it.
So 'boy nearly prods fish, gets bitten'. Those awaiting storyline ideas for Jaws 5 may have to keep waiting.
It's finally happened. It's been coming for a while, but I am calling it - we are now at peak silly season with news (because I don't really know what else to call it) that David Cameron ate some crisps on a flight. No really. He ate some crisps on a plane. They were paprika-flavoured Pringles, seeing as you didn't ask and probably don't care.
'Silly season' seems to last year-round nowadays but it still has a discernible peak during the summer and we are now, surely, there. With every seagull-related headline it has felt like we've been getting closer by the day, including one claiming seagulls were "poised to sabotage Great British Bake Off" (despite the competition having already been filmed). Then we had the "mythical lizard man of South Carolina" hitting the headlines along with some hairy babies (no idea) and the usual mix of research stories:
As well as being a good time to see hairy babies (still no idea), silly season is a prime time for spotting ghosts and miracle sightings such as Jesus on a bathroom wall, Jesus in the tail smoke of a plane, Vladimir Putin in some starlings and Anne Boleyn in a badly blurred photo of a lamp from Hampton Court:
But not even Vladimir Putin can compete with another world leader eating some crisps on a plane. Crisps. On a plane. Incredible scenes.
Never underestimate the Daily Mail's ability to see 'political correctness gone mad!' in almost anything. Today it is the turn of Bob The Builder who is returning in a new series that will include a black character.
"Not even Bob the Builder can withstand the forces of political correctness," writes a Daily Mail showbiz reporter who possibly never imagined having to type such a sentence. "The cherished series is returning to our screens with the show's first prominent black character."
The Mail has already criticised Great British Bake Off this summer for including too many "fashionable minorities" in its line-up, singling out "a Muslim with a headscarf", "a househusband" and an "Afro-Caribbean".
Of course the Mail knows what it's doing with such ridiculous outrage. It is trying to whip up very real outrage among its readers. And it works - no matter how silly the story. Here's a sample of the responses they stirred up with the Bob The Builder story, with added points for a textbook mention of "leftists":
The Media Blog is now six years old. Below are the top 10 posts from the first six years...
Monday's Daily Star reliably reported:
"Telly hit Top Gear smashed ratings records as millions tuned in last night to see axed host Jeremy Clarkson's final appearance... Last night's final episode starring Jezza, James May and Richard Hammond clocked up huge viewing figures for the BBC."
However, the story, which may well have been written even before Sunday's Top Gear had aired and certainly before official viewing figures were published, was a little wide of the mark.
Cue the kind of high-speed U-turn The Stig would be proud of, with Tuesday's Daily Star reporting:
"Motormouth Jeremy Clarkson's last ever Top Gear show went out with a whimper rather than a bang. Only 5.3 million viewers bothered to tune in on Sunday night for the big farewell."
The truth is somewhere in between. Top Gear's 5.3 million viewers neither "smashed ratings records" as claimed by the Daily Star on Monday, nor could it be classed a "flop" as claimed by the Daily Star on Tuesday. The viewing figures were marginally up on the previous episode of Top Gear (5.1 million) shown back in March and level with the first episode of the most recent series shown back in January (5.3 million).
Chris Evans on 7 September 2014 saying he'll never present Top Gear:
Chris Evans on 11 March 2015 saying he'll never present Top Gear:
Chris Evans on 16 June 2015 after confirming he'll be the new presenter on Top Gear:
There has been a lot of criticism of the BBC in the papers this week and it seems when doing so it is now obligatory for all journalists to liken absolutely everything to a scene from BBC comedy W1A.
Take the BBC running free training courses for disabled people who want to be weather presenters, for example. "Some have likened the decision to the BBC’s own spoof comedy W1A," reports the Telegraph, while the Daily Mail says such a "'box-ticking exercise' sounds like a story line from the BBC's own spoof comedy W1A". Mail columnist Richard Littlejohn adds that it "is straight out of the BBC's own, self-parodying series W1A" and the Express suggested such initiatives "mirror onscreen comedy W1A". The Times meanwhile declared: "It could be a plot straight out of the BBC's self-parodying show W1A" and an unnamed source told The Sun "W1A is meant to be a parody, not a documentary".
That latter quote bore a striking resemblance to another quote obtained by The Sun earlier in the week, when a critic of BBC outsourcing costs told the paper: "W1A is supposed to be a comedy, not a fly-on-the-wall documentary".
And what about the BBC changing its staff appraisal processes? "The BBC has aped its own mockumentary W1A," claims the Express, while the Mail pointed out it was "a move which could have come from a plot line to comedy show W1A" and The Times wrote: "BBC bosses have been accused of behaving like their comic counterparts in the show W1A."
And then there was the controller of BBC One who put a lunch on expenses, which sounded "very W1A", to The Times.
Or how about the BBC paying professional services companies such as KPMG and Deloitte to do things like audit its accounts? Not the stuff of comedy you might have thought, but "critics likened the spend to something out of W1A" nonetheless according to the Mail.
BBC critics ramp up their attacks
The Daily Mail and The Sun have this week ramped up their attacks on the BBC, perhaps sensing blood following the General Election and the appointment of BBC critic John Whittingdale as culture secretary.
The most desperate of the Mail's recent criticisms of the BBC picks up on what newspapers Auntie reads. We've seen this story before. It was a pretty shaky story back in 2012 and still doesn't stand up to much scrutiny now.
"The BBC has been accused of 'propping up its friends in the Left-wing media'" claims the Mail, adding the Guardian is "the most popular title in its offices by far" with 80,679 copies bought last year. "By far" is possibly a stretch. The total number of copies of the Guardian circulating at the BBC last year outnumbered copies of the second-placed Daily Mail (78,463) by just 2.7%. Third-placed was The Times (77,167) and fourth The Telegraph (75,308) suggesting right-wing newspapers are more than well-represented within the BBC.
In fact, the overall figures reveal right-wing newspapers circulating around the BBC outnumber left-wing papers considerably.
Meanwhile, The Sun this week claimed: "BEEB BLOWS £100k A WEEK ON PR GURUS". It was a story eagerly seized upon by the Mail who went with lower case and decided to write the number out in full: "BBC blows £100,000 a week on PR gurus".
However, neither headline was particularly accurate. The Mail explained: "the BBC hired 11 firms [including] well-known market leaders… Deloitte, KPMG and PWC" - none of which, it should be pointed out, are "well-known" PR companies or even "gurus" for that matter.
Perhaps both papers thought explaining the BBC had spent a lot of money on auditing, accounting, systems integration and management consultancy, as most large firms do, didn't sound profligate enough so went with "PR gurus" instead.
The Mail wasn’t even sure what these companies were doing at the BBC but suggests they may have been advising on things such as "health and safety" and "money".
You could argue the Mail firing off an angry article when they didn’t really know what they were angry about is a bit shoddy, but actually that's also the BBC's fault according to the Taxpayers' Alliance who are never far away from such stories.
“The Taxpayers' Alliance… told MailOnline the BBC should 'come clean' on exactly what the consultants were brought in to do. Andy Silvester, campaign director for the Taxpayers' Alliance, said: 'Licence fee payers deserve more transparency. Consultants can occasionally help save money in the long term but how can you judge that if we have no idea what they are doing on a day to day basis.”
Good question. How can you judge this without all the facts? Quite easily apparently. The Mail is certainly in no doubt that this is an outrageous sum of money. However, the Mail doesn’t tell us what would be a reasonable amount of money for an organisation the size of the BBC to spend with such companies.
A BBC spokesman told the Mail:
"On occasion, just like any other organisation, we use external companies for specialist services. This saves the BBC millions of pounds because it is cheaper than employing permanent, full-time staff to carry out work which could only last a short period."
And finally...to the weather. The Sun, the Mail, the Telegraph and a host of other outlets have all picked up a story this week about the BBC apparently recruiting an unqualified, disabled weather presenter.
The story isn't quite as billed, of course. There is no job and there is no job ad and the BBC certainly isn't about to put an inexperienced weather presenter on-screen based purely on the fact they are disabled. Rather there is BBC Academy course offering experience and training to would-be weather presenters with a disability:
"The BBC Academy is running a free training opportunity to provide an introduction to the world of weather presenting to help men and women with a disability feel comfortable appearing on television, radio and online presenting weather bulletins."
Participants will be given training and "experience in presenting weather bulletins to camera" but crucially there is no promise of a job at the end. Those who complete the training "will be eligible to apply for future vacancies in the team" but the suggestion the BBC is in the process of appointing a weather presenter on a "no qualifications necessary, must be disabled" basis is a clear distortion.
For more of this sort of thing, see:
BBC bashed for "lavish" lambing largesse
Telegraph bashes BBC for doing its research
"Champagne perks" turn out to be meeting rooms
BBC braced for Glasto "junket" jibes
Daily Mail admits BBC claims were wrong... but repeats them anyway
It must almost be summer because the first SHARK! has been spotted on the front of a UK newspaper.
The shark in question is a porbeagle which apparently poses no threat to humans, not least because it tends to live miles out at sea. This one was apparently caught about four miles off the Cornish coast, according to the Telegraph.
Shark scare stories have been arriving in UK newspapers earlier and earlier in recent years, from their traditional slot at the height of the August silly season. The normal ploy is to try to claim the shark in question is a Great White, or at least lead us to believe it might be. The articles are invariably padded out with library photos of Great Whites taken thousands of miles away.
Back in 2013 The People claimed it had "proof" of a Great White in UK waters, despite the protestations of a host of experts, and last year the media went "SHARK!" mad for a Great White that made it as far as the mid-Atlantic ridge before turning around a thousand miles from the UK.
Earlier in the election campaign the Conservatives and the Telegraph worked up a story suggesting business leaders from across Britain had grouped together and thrown their weight behind the Conservatives in the form of a letter to the Telegraph.
Of course the letter was written by the Conservatives, not 100 business leaders, and many of the business leaders who were asked to put their names to it had very close ties to the party - including a number of Tory peers. It really told us nothing more than Conservative supporters, donors, party members and peers will be voting Conservative in May, though the Telegraph tried to work it up into something more significant than that.
Now they're at it again. This time the Conservative party has corralled 5,000 supporters who it claims are "small business owners" into putting their names to yet another "exclusive letter to the Telegraph", written by the Tories and handed over to the Telegraph to publish.
And again the Telegraph has played ball and is reporting this as a significant front page news story. The paper suggests the Conservative PR stunt is a "boost for David Cameron" (as all Conservative PR stunts are surely meant to be) and calls it "a major intervention" as though it was in any way spontaneous, unexpected or independent.
UPDATE: The problems with this contrived list/non-story don't end there. Alex Andreou has done a great job of aggregating many of the issues which have been highlighted throughout Monday, from the large number of duplicates on the list to the fact a great many signatories clearly aren't really small business owners, including waiters, PAs, charity workers, office assistants, office managers and even some retired people. The list also includes one Conservative club and a handful of Conservative candidates. (Read Andreou's full dissection of the list here). Clearly nobody at the Telegraph checked the list of names before publishing - they just did what they were told - nor did the Conservative party PR person who handed them the copy to publish.
The starting pistol was officially fired for the general election campaign on Monday and the photo opportunities began in earnest. A very self-aware Nick Clegg rushed straight off to get himself photographed next to a sign that said 'Danger Deep Water':
Meanwhile Chancellor George Osborne headed off to Pizza Express to get himself photographed making pizzas. Presumably the message here is all about the economy: Britain is in so much debt that the Chancellor kneads more dough...
Meanwhile David Cameron was chasing the youth vote by telling Heat magazine that he is Kim Kardashian's cousin. One of them of course is often regarded as little more than a famous arse, the other is married to Kanye West. Their family trees apparently meet back in 1555 with a common ancestor called Sir William Spencer, making them cousins 13 times removed. Them and most of the northern hemisphere.
And what about Ed Miliband, what's he been up to this week? All told, it's not been a bad week for the Labour leader, relatively speaking. Despite some roughing up from Jeremy Paxman in the first televised leaders' non-debate, Miliband emerged not only in tact but with a four point lead for his party.
Cameron, who benefited from an easier ride from presenters Paxman and Kay Burley - sparking complaints to Ofcom - was declared the winner by his own camp, who clung on doggedly to an ICM poll that scored the contest 54 to 46 in the Prime Minister's favour. But Miliband's supporters, not unreasonably, suggested a more meaningful poll was that which showed the reaction among floating voters - a 56 to 30 win for Miliband. That sentiment appeared to be reflected in a marked swing in Miliband's favour in the opinion polls and The Sunday Times - not normally one to unduly champion a Labour leader - certainly declared it a Miliband victory:
Miliband may have won a few people over but the week was not without the obligatory PR gaffe from within the Labour camp. Over the weekend it emerged the party was selling mugs pledging to get tough on immigration. It might be one of their election pledges but who thought this would look good on a coffee cup?
With the possible exception of a UKIP coffee morning, it's hard to imagine a social, domestic or workplace situation that couldn't be made more awkward by handing somebody a hot drink in a mug showing you support tougher immigration measures.
For more posts like this, see:
Cocky or clumsy from Cameron?
The leaders’ debate debacle
The Express and Farage love-in
Clowns and a hybrid car crash
Byker gang targets Miliband
Tory balls and a little pink bus
It's going to be a long election
As publications compete for clicks on social media, far too many are congregating around the hackneyed way of writing tweets and headlines that relies heavily on over-promising - "You'll never guess" (you probably could), "You won't believe" (you almost certainly will), "the best thing you'll read today" (it won't be, I promise) - and under-delivering - "what happened next will blow your mind" (it never does).
Once upon a time, simply not following a handful of publications was a guaranteed way to avoid such clickbait but now everybody seems to be at it (though some have been struggling to get it right as this effort from the Express shows):
The word "this" has a key role to play in the clickbait lexicon. "This" is the shrugging, indifferent teenager of the English language, a word so opposed to being helpful it can turn almost any informative headline into lazy clickbait by simply swapping it in for the subject of the sentence. It is used to disguise the often unspectacular truth of a story just long enough to make us click.
"This actor [who you've never heard of]..."
"Remember when this [thing you won't ever care about] happened..."
"Can you believe this [thing that's crushingly dull] just happened..."
In between, we are invariably asked "Is this the funniest...", "the best..." or "the weirdest..." and everything seems to be "adorable", "funny" a "prank" or we're told it is "going viral" (in the hope it might).
So taking an initiative from the Independent's John Rentoul and his banned list of words and phrases which have no place in good writing, I have started a 'Clickbait banned list'. If you're using one of the below then stop and ask yourself why. If it's because you want to over-promise and under-deliver, thus eroding the trust and respect of your readers, while insulting their intelligence and ensuring you become indistinguishable from everybody else overusing these lazy constructs, then carry on. But if that's not actually your long term goal then it's probably not too late to change.
The 'clickbait banned list' currently looks like this:
What have I missed? Post your suggestions below as comments or email email@example.com.
David Cameron has told the BBC's James Lansdale he doesn't fancy another two terms with him as Prime Minister.
He's probably not the only one.
But it's an odd PR move. Cameron hasn't even won the forthcoming election, yet he's talking publicly about not fancying a third term from 2020.
What's more he's 'fired the starting pistol' for the race to succeed him as party leader and Prime Minister, should Cameron triumph at the polls in May but make may for a new leader to fight the 2020 election, which sounds like the plan.
If Cameron was looking for a statement that would 1) make him appear even more arrogant, 2) Confuse voters, and 3) Divide his own party less than two months from a general election he's struck gold.
According to Ladbrokes, Boris is favourite (5/2) to succeed Cameron. Theresa May (4/1) and George Osborne (7/1) make up the top of the market. Or you can still get 33/1 on Grant Shapps. He can at least count on Michael Green's vote.
For more posts like this, see:
The leaders’ debate debacle
The Express and Farage love-in
Clowns and a hybrid car crash
Byker gang targets Miliband
Tory balls and a little pink bus
It's going to be a long election
The first edition of Saturday's Times appeared with a picture of "children in Wales" using welding masks to look at the eclipse "yesterday". The photo was credited to "Twitter".
But it's not the first time we've met these eclipse-watching kids with their welding masks, giving us reason to believe the picture wasn't taken in Wales yesterday. Here they are in 2012 looking at an eclipse in Japan:
A quick check with Google's reverse image search tool found the 2012 image. It's a good place to start when checking the authenticity of pictures on Twitter, where fake or deliberately misleading photos are commonplace.
The Times quickly updated its front page after the mistake came to light: