From Sky News to The Telegraph, via The Mirror, The Metro, The Sun and the Evening Standard, UK media outlets were falling over themselves on Friday to report the find of a 'giant rat' in East London.
"Rat 'as big as a four-year-old boy' found in London", reported ITV News, where clearly nobody has ever met - or even been - a four-year-old boy.
The story was accompanied by the now obligatory 'forced perspective' photo that accompanies all such 'giant rat' articles (somebody holds the rat away from their body and close to the camera ideally at the end of a long stick to exaggerate its size as much as possible).
Friday lunchtime must have been kind to a few news desks because there was certainly no shortage of outlets repeating claims the rat weighed "25lb" and was "four-feet long". For the whole of Friday afternoon is was as if the media had turned into a pub full of boozed-up anglers whose sense of scale had been forever warped by tall tales of 'the one that got away'.
Few of the outlets that ran the story questioned the obvious forced perspective of the photo or thought it odd the gas engineer and electrician who found the rat had apparently weighed it.
"James, I’ve found a rat."
"Wait there Tony, I’ll get the scales."
Similarly nobody questioned the not-unimpressive physical feat of somebody posing for a photo while holding a "25lb" weight (11.3Kg), one-handed at the end of a stick (try picking up a 25lb dumbbell with a litter picker and holding it at arms length, see how you get on).
After the story had been all over the media on Friday, all that was left was for the Daily Star (the home of giant rat stories) to run it on Saturday's front page and claim it as an "EXCLUSIVE":
Hackney Council has been doing its bit to dispel 'giant rat' panic by pointing out how deceptive forced perspective photos can be.
Other Twitter users were also quick to get in on the fun.
Only one cat can deal with London's giant rats pic.twitter.com/xaIURl9dJs— tom jamieson (@jamiesont) March 11, 2016
And the apparent confusion over perspective put many in mind of this classic Father Ted scene.
A correction published by the Guardian last week began:
"A review of David Astor: A Life in Print, a biography of the former editor of the Observer, contained a number of errors."
They say "a number of errors" and it seems plausible they struggled to count the exact number.
"In the article we suggested William Waldorf Astor was named after a hotel, when in fact his name referred to the family’s native Rhineland village. He didn’t build Cliveden, as we suggested, but bought it, and he didn’t sack the editor of the Observer for spiking his contributions... We said Katharine Whitehorn was women’s editor of the Observer when in fact she was a columnist. We said Patrick Leigh Fermor compared David Astor to Disney’s Pluto; Fermor actually compared the writer Philip Toynbee to that cartoon character. Terence Kilmartin replaced Jim Rose as Observer literary editor, not JC Trewin. During the war, David Astor didn’t merely suffer “a mild attack of dysentery” as suggested in the review. In fact he was wounded in action during a German ambush in the Ardennes..."
But other than that, they nailed it.
Normally such corrections relating to a book review, might go unnoticed, but for the fact it seems quite an achievement to get so much biographical information wrong when the book being reviewed was a biography.
"THE EU has drawn up plans to seize control of the British coastguard service as it creates a Europe-wide border force. Critics say it would result in the biggest transfer of sovereignty since the creation of the euro."
It calls it an "extraordinary measure" and quotes a spokesperson from the leave campaign who heaps on more hyperbole. But the article, towards the end, also quotes immigration minister James Brokenshire saying:
"Britain is not part of the Schengen area and, to be absolutely clear, we will not be part of an EU Border and Coast Guard."
So the EU won't be seizing our coast or our coast guard. It seems the headline was just a bit of anti-EU scaremongering. And this from a paper that last month branded scaremongering a "cheap tactic".
In February, a Sunday Express leader criticised what it claimed were "dire and entirely unfounded warnings" being issued by the pro-EU lobby. But obviously scaremongering from the anti-EU lobby is fair game, which is handy, because without it the Express and Sunday Express would probably struggle for content.
As I pick up The New Day it strikes me how light it is. I wasn’t expecting the Sunday Times but at 40 pages it doesn't feel like it would see a lot of people through an average commute or even a long coffee break, especially as the word count across those 40 pages is kept in check by a lot of pictures, a large font and a clear commitment to brevity.
My other initial thought is about that name. The New Day. It sounds like it should be a religious cult, living in a commune in California.
But naming a newspaper in 2016 can’t be easy, nor can launching one. However, this is no ordinary newspaper, we are told. It has no political bias, apparently and no weekly columnists (which should save a few quid). It promises more debate and discussion and has done away with a sport section at the back of the paper.
So where is the sport?
The answer to that question tells us quite a lot about The New Day and its desire to be different. There’s a smattering of sport on pages 16 and 17 where there are 18 news-in-brief pieces, each around 40 or 50 words. Even with sport making a surprise reappearance on page 26 with a slightly longer piece, there is none of the depth you’d find in other papers' sports sections. It is just a random digest of some sports stories.
But sport is an obsession well served online, on radio and on television all weekend and as The New Day looks to differentiate itself perhaps it saw little point in spending time and money on sport come Monday morning. But then, why do it at all? Do it, or don’t do it, but don’t sort of not do it. And that is a feeling I have a few times as I read the paper. There is a similar approach to much of the news coverage - a quick-fire rattling through of some stories you may have seen elsewhere, on pages two and three (much like a light version of the same pages in the i newspaper). Then there are a few more nibs dotted about.
None of this is an accident or oversight. The paper clearly states it is "dedicated to ruthlessly editing the world's events" and is deliberately trying not to "bombard" readers with too much information.
I definitely don’t feel bombarded, though all this brevity does make more room for the debate and discussion which The New Day clearly wants to focus on.
A guest article attributed to Prime Minister David Cameron addresses "Our Big Decision" – the EU referendum. (The paper does like "Big". It also has a "Big Read", a "Big Question" and a "Bigger Picture" section). Cameron's case for staying in the EU is contrasted with doubts expressed by a mum-of-two teacher from London – in keeping with the paper's up front promise to represent the views of everybody "be they the Prime Minister or passer-by on the street". The spread is well designed and supplemented with statistics and key facts. The same is true of its front page lead - a report on child carers that runs over pages six and seven inside.
It’s still a fairly quick read but it is packaged up with relevant case studies and statistics and quickly gets to the heart of matter. It is the most interesting thing in today's paper and deserving of its place on the front page.
The format of The New Day certainly encourages people to keep scanning and keep turning the pages, with its quick fire content in snippets, rather than sections. There are some top tips and a 'news from around the web' page with tweets and the obligatory celebrity selfies and gossip. And with that the paper becomes much as you might expect from any other paper - with some weather, TV recommendations, horoscopes and a few puzzles that might give The New Day a fighting chance of filling that commute or coffee break after all.
But whether all of this gives it a fighting chance of survival is less clear. It is certainly a brave move to launch a newspaper in 2016, but the paper itself isn't as brave as the decision to launch it. While it feels a little different in places, it doesn't feel different enough. .
Another reader, Fred Dutton, suggested the "content felt pretty thin", however, he praised the "measured, civilised tone" and described it as "refreshing". Lisa Cunningham said she appreciated a "lack of nastiness" about the paper, but Sam Boshier said "it's not for me", adding there is "not enough meat to the articles" - a comment echoed by reader Alexandra Womack.
Having tried it for free on launch day, some readers raised questions about the 50p cover price The New Day will be charging.
"No way is it worth 50p", said Joseph Begley, adding that it "makes the i look like War and Peace by comparison".
Recently, I read a list published by Press Gazette of the most unpopular jargon terms and clichés used by PR people. Right on cue, the very next email I received from a PR person explained they were "reaching out" to me (because contacting, or emailing, or just leaving it to the recipient to recognise they have received an email that is presumably about something, clearly aren't clever enough).
"Reaching out" was number one on a list which also featured hackneyed horrors such as "curate", "synergy", "solutions" and the ubiquitous "ecosystem" (which is probably OK if you work in the Eden Project or you’re studying the impact of deforestation or over-fishing, but otherwise should probably be left alone).
Somehow "leverage" didn’t make the top 10, nor did "traction" or "cadence" which I am hearing misused on an ever more regular basis. There are clearly now too many buzzwords being used and abused to limit ourselves to just a top 10 of the worst offenders. But it isn't just PR people mangling language so preposterously. Far from it.
An over-reliance on meaningless buzzwords and clichés has taken root in many industries and occupations and in part seems a reaction to the cynicism faced by people trying to sell ideas, opinions, consultancy or other professional services. In occupations facing high levels of cynicism, such as advertising, marketing, politics and even journalism, inane language is all too common.
Of course, not everybody in these occupations is guilty. Again, far from it. Smart people in any occupation can overcome cynicism by speaking confidently and sensibly, with clarity and authority.
But it does appear some people, who perhaps feel insecure or inadequate in the face of cynicism, feel the need to dress up their ideas, actions, products or policies in this lexicon of the ludicrous. Some people fall for this of course, but that doesn't make it right - because lots of people don't fall for it and the nonsense merely fuels the very cynicism they were hoping to head off, or at least bore or baffle into submission.
A Stephen Collins cartoon in The Guardian, this past weekend, brilliantly lampoons the marketing efforts of the craft beer industry and its fondness for cynicism-fuelling nonsense.
The FT's Lucy Kellaway does a great job each year of highlighting the guff spoken in the name of big business and was front of the queue to deride the World Economic Forum's recently published list of the '36 best quotes from Davos 2016' which comprised a collection of meaningless buzzwords, soundbites and clichés which will have done little to counter the cynicism surrounding the alpine junket for the super-rich.
The Daily Express on Tuesday leads with: 'QUIT THE EU TO SAVE OUR NHS'. We're told a "Top doctor says migrants are bleeding it dry".
The Express tells us "Britain should leave the EU in order to save an NHS which is being overrun by migrants, according to a top cancer specialist".
We're also told Professor Angus Dalgleish, the 'top doctor' in question believes: "Our membership of the EU is putting an intolerable strain on our NHS".
And the Express makes sure to tell us his endorsement is "a boost for the out campaign".
The Daily Mail has also picked up the story and tells us "The NHS has been left 'on its knees' by uncontrolled migration from the EU", according to Dalgleish.
But what we're not told by either the Mail or the Express is that Angus Dalgleish was the Ukip candidate for Sutton and Cheam at the 2015 general election. You'd think that was a fairly relevant detail under the circumstances.
Twitter's CEO Jack Dorsey has stepped in to address an angry backlash from users worried about rumoured changes to Twitter's timeline (see: 'Twitter To Introduce Algorithmic Timeline As Soon As Next Week' - Buzzfeed).
"I want you all to know we're always listening. We never planned to reorder timelines next week," he tweeted (which isn't exactly a denial, especially if you stress the "next week" bit of that sentence).
Clarifying matters even less, Dorsey added: "Twitter is live. Twitter is real-time. Twitter is about who & what you follow. And Twitter is here to stay! By becoming more Twitter-y."
So there you have it.
Of course it's up to Twitter what they do with their product. A minority of heavy users with strong opinions cannot be the only audience a business ever considers, especially if it wants to grow. But it can seem at times as if the people at Twitter are the only people not happy with how simple their service is to use. Call it tinkering, call it always striving for better.
But having already given us the ability to follow and unfollow whoever we like and block and mute those we don’t, while making lists and using hashtags or clicking on trending topics which interest us, Twitter has provided all the power we need to decide what we see. An algorithmic timeline - like the much criticised 'While You Were Away' before it - seems an unnecessary attempt to complicate matters - something else to side step or dismiss on the way to your timeline.
This isn't about a fear of change - or certainly shouldn't be. Some Twitter innovations are great additions (personally I love the 'mute' function - so much more satisfying than blocking). But typically the innovations which are best-received seem to be those offering something new, something to make tweets more interesting, such as multiple images or streaming video, rather than the ones which impose just another way to rearrange the already ideal way we see tweets.
What do you do if the facts don't suit the story you want to push? Create some facts that do, apparently. Hence Friday's claim from the Daily Express that "92% want to quit the EU".
The Express claims this is a "shock poll result" but the only surprise is that the number isn't higher, given the poll in question was run by the vehemently pro-UKIP, anti-EU Express, on its own website, among its own readers. Did the eight per cent just tick the wrong box? If so, that doesn't bode well for their ability to vote in the referendum.
On Friday it was reported the government is moving 'Northern Powerhouse' jobs to London. The Mirror reports:
"The Government's 'Northern Powerhouse' department is to shut down its office in Sheffield, moving 247 jobs to London in a blow to the credibility of George Osborne's pet project. And a dozen more regional offices of the Department for Business Innovation and Skills - including six in the North of England - are at risk of closure as the department moves to centralise policy staff."
It would be tempting to declare ‘you couldn’t make it up’ or brand such a ludicrously self-defeating plan 'beyond parody', but on this occasion that wouldn’t be true because satirical news site the Daily Mash made up this very story last November:
"The best place for the ‘Northern Powerhouse’ scheme is probably in London after all, the government has announced. The massive investment project for Northern business and infrastructure will now take place in the capital instead, making it easier for government ministers to visit and find a decent restaurant."
The Daily Mail today asked "Why DO so many celebs have knobbly knees?" No really, they actually did.
The Mail concludes that knobbly knees are a result of female celebrities being "slaves to staying slim". But while the Mail does criticise a number of celebrities for being too "bony", it doesn't mention the catty headlines it would write about any celebrities whose limbs aren’t stick thin and pointy. Such as this one...
Not that celebrities should cover up their knobbly knees to save us all from such a sight, because that only makes matters worse. Look at Angelina Jolie. According to the Mail, she has "terrifyingly bony knees" when she appears in a dress but is accused of "covering up her painfully thin frame" if she wears trousers.
In fact, the Mail doesn't like celebrities covering up at all. Those who do run the risk of being called "glum", "frumpy", "downbeat" or "dowdy" if they don't have their knobbly knees on display at all times.
Which leaves putting on weight as the only workable solution to knobbly knees in the eyes of the Mail, and that brings us back to those catty headlines. The Mail can't lose.
After one of the warmest Decembers on record you could forgive certain hapless weather reporters for quietly backing away from their discredited "coldest winter" predictions.
But not so. The Daily Express earlier this month claimed an "Arctic SNOWBOMB" would "smash into Britain" ushering in "the coldest winter in 58 years" and "plunging the ENTIRE COUNTRY into winter lockdown".
Not to be outdone, The Sun got in on the action. "Britain braces itself for coldest winter in 53 YEARS" reported the paper. Cue the Met Office reporting on Monday that we have now seen some of the warmest January temperatures on record.
In other weather-related nonsense, an ongoing spat between Channel 4 weather presenter Liam Dutton and a Daily Express writer reached a wider audience this week thanks to a post on Buzzfeed.
Social media managers may be resolving to pay closer attention to their calendars in the New Year after a few brands jumped the gun with scheduled tweets intended for midnight on New Year's Eve. Sadly for them they got the wrong midnight.
Highland Spring was among those who scheduled a tweet for 00:00 on 31 December 2015.
Of course there are worse things in life than getting the scheduling of a tweet wrong (such as celebrating New Year with fizzy water, I'd imagine).
Pizza delivery company Papa John's also appeared to struggle with the idea that 00:00 on 31 December is only the start of New Year's Eve.
Tower Bridge and Nottingham Castle also jumped the gun, including photos of fireworks displays which hopefully weren't really happening in the small hours of New Year's Eve.
In fairness to all these brands, they may have gone a day early but their scheduled tweets are no more or less insincere for their bad timing and at least their tweets will get noticed, unlike hundreds of brands whose scheduled tweets will be appearing at the right time.
When scheduled tweets attack
The Radio Times found itself in hot water with fans of The Apprentice on Sunday night when it announced plumber Joseph Valente had won the reality TV show before the result had actually been broadcast. The Radio Times had clearly scheduled a tweet announcing the result without factoring in the annual overrunning of Sports Personality of the Year which preceded The Apprentice on BBC1 and pushed its airing back by around 10 minutes.
Many of the Radio Times' followers on Twitter were unimpressed with the spoiler:
On 24 July this year, the Daily Express reported that there are now "311 LANGUAGES SPOKEN IN OUR SCHOOLS". What’s more, its front front page splash claimed "English is starting to die out" due to "mass immigration".
The paper went on to claim that a "Daily Express special investigation" had revealed "English-speaking pupils [are] becoming a minority in hundreds of classrooms". It reported in "some schools English is hardly heard at all".
Express-readers were up-in-arms. On 27 July the Express carried letters from outraged readers appalled that "our children are not taught the language of this country" and demanding to know "How much longer can this continue?". Another concluded that "eventually migrants will take over the economy then we will have no country to call our own".
However, the Express readers need not have worried because it turns out the newspaper's claims were almost entirely bogus.
Nearly five months later, at the request of the industry-appointed regulator IPSO, the Express has published a correction to the story which makes clear:
"English is the language of instruction in all maintained schools in England. The Daily Express accepted that the article may have suggested inaccurately that pupils who did not speak English as a first language could not speak English at all, and that English is not spoken in some classrooms".
"The article's claims that English "is starting to die out" in schools and that English was "hardly heard at all" in some schools were completely unsupported. “These claims distorted the data cited by the newspaper, which did not include any information about the frequency with which English was spoken in schools, by either pupils or teachers."
The Daily Mail has reported:
"Donald Trump tonight faced calls to be banned from Britain over 'obnoxious, repellent and dangerous' claims that police in London 'fear for their lives' because some communities are so radicalised... In an unprecedented condemnation, Mr Trump came under fire from Scotland Yard, Downing Street and the leading contenders to be London Mayor after he claimed areas of the British capital are too dangerous for police, sparking calls for him to be banned from Britain."
For regular readers of the Mail however, Trump's widely-criticised claims about 'no go' zones in Britain will be nothing new. Another right-wing blow-hard with a penchant for controversy and ill-informed opinions was banging on about this a full seven-years before Trump:
"This country is littered with 'no-go' areas, not just physically, but culturally, spiritually, intellectually and academically, too. Our very liberties are being torched in the name of 'diversity'. The pernicious doctrine of multiculturalism has turned us into a society where people are frightened to speak their minds and justice has been flipped on its head... It is beyond dispute that there is a concerted campaign by Islamic extremists to force sharia law on to significant areas of Christian Britain. And there is no doubt that in predominantly Muslim areas, they are winning."
Richard Littlejohn, 7 January 2008
All of which raises the question: If Trump gets banned can we also ban Littlejohn?
The Sun has apologised for a story it ran over the weekend and confirmed a "Sun investigator" who claimed to have crossed Europe by boat and train without a passport actually flew using a valid passport and subsequently lied about evading border controls and police.
An apology in The Sun says:
"In an article of 5th December, headlined "6 days to terror", we published the diary of Emile Ghessen… who said that he had smuggled himself from Turkey to Paris without using a passport… Mr Ghessen used his passport to enter and leave the Croatian city of Zagreb. This has been confirmed by the Croatian authorities. We also now believe that he made use of his passport at the other border points within Europe. His story did not, therefore, demonstrate that the borders of Europe had lax controls. We apologise for publishing misleading information."
The Sun took its story down over the weekend when Croatian authorities shared evidence that Ghessen, who was working as a freelancer for the paper, had entered the country using a valid passport and left via Zagreb airport bound for Paris.
The New York Daily News has attracted worldwide attention over the past week with a series of provocative front pages (below) which followed the latest mass-shooting in America. At first the paper was uncompromising in its honesty - pointing out the lies, hypocrisy and meaningless platitudes politicians hide behind. But having made its point with the first two front pages it seems the paper has chosen to mock the fact its honesty was clearly too much for some people with a frankly remarkable front page consisting of cat and dog pictures and a polar bear with a traffic cone on its head.
The Sun has been accused of running a falsified account of how "A Sun investigator managed to smuggle himself 2,000 miles from Turkey to Paris in just six days without showing his passport". It's article was headlined: "6 DAYS TO TERROR" and claimed "WE REVEAL HOW EUROPE IS STILL WIDE OPEN TO DANGER".
The paper claimed its investigator had moved freely across Europe, without checks, by paying people smugglers and hiding in a train toilet to evade Croatian border police - the suggestion being terrorists could do the same. However, the Croatian Interior Ministry has claimed it did register The Sun's investigator both as he entered and left Croatia. It has even published a scan of his valid passport which he apparently presented, according to website Total Croatia News.
The statement from the Croatian Interior Ministry also appears to contradict claims the investigator took "a series of trains up to Paris, dodging the guards on the way" as it says he exited Croatia at Zagreb airport, where he showed a valid passport.
The Sun has removed the story from its website.