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Crocodile tears

23 Feb

“OH, my good lord. ‘Crocodile bites man’s testicles during Zimbabwe river crossing’.” The Misfit places her dish of Moroccan cous-cous on the desk and moves closer to the screen, screwing up her eyes and nose. “Oh, my good lord.”

“Sounds like a good story,” says the Leek Man. “Is that running on the PA foreign wire?”

“No it’s on Digg,” she says. “But I think it’s come originally from a website called the Global Post. Listen to this: ‘Zimbabwe man attacked by crocodile while crossing Chivake River suffers bites on his testicles and penis, but credits a box of tomatoes with saving his life’. Oh, my good lord. Fancy having a crocodile hanging off your penis. Fancy having anything hanging off your penis.”

The Leek Man’s back stiffens and he growls: “That is absolutely horrendous. The last part of that sentence says he credits a box of tomatoes with saving his life. How badly-written is that, for fuck’s sake? It gives the impression the box of tomatoes jumped in the river, wrestled with the fucking crocodile and pulled the man back to the bank. Don’t they read what they’ve written before they send it into cyber-space, these morons who blithely debase our language and murder professional print journalism? Jesus effing Christ.”

“Ooooh,” says the Misfit. “I was going to copy that story and slide it in as a nib on page 26 for the second edition, but I don’t think I will now.”

Leek Man: “You can still do that, but it needs rewriting.”

The Misfit: “Okay. What shall I say?”

The Leek Man, who has by now got the story on his screen: “A Zimbabwe man who was attacked by a crocodile while crossing a river suffered bites to his testicles and penis – but he managed to save his own life using a box of tomatoes. Second paragraph: Meanwhile, up river, a sub-editor from the Nitherley Observer and Bugle tracked down a bunch of semi-literate, spotty-arsed tossers from an internet news provider and crushed their inadequately-developed bollocks on a rock using a hard-backed copy of HW and FG Fowler’s The King’s English applied forcefully beneath a size-ten hiking boot.

“That do yer?”

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Unfriendly fire

16 Feb

THE Leek Man is sitting at his desk reading The Journalist, the NUJ’s quarterly magazine. He suddenly kicks back his chair, and with a hissing intake of breath stomps out of the newsroom. I glance at the Misfit and she glances back. I raise my eyebrows and she raises hers. Then I go to the drinks machine for a coffee.

I climb cold stairs, walk through a series of echoing corridors, open a small door and step out onto the roof. The sky is dark and overcast, clouds glowing in the glare of town centre lights. I see the Leek Man sitting on the parapet between two redundant air-conditioning units. He turns his head, acknowledges me, then gazes out across the roofs.

“You okay?” I venture.

“Yeh. Fine me,” he answers. Then he adds: “Well, no actually. I’m bloody angry. I’ve just read this John Pilger piece in The Journalist and it’s made me feel so bloody inadequate that I just want to fuck off and do something worthwhile like dig my allotment and not bother with this sodding place any more.”

I sit next to him and we gaze out across the townscape. The glass dome of the shopping mall is particularly bright and attractive when viewed from the parapet of the Nitherley Observer and Bugle offices.

“What’s he said, Pilger?”

The Leek Man unravels his magazine and squints at the pages through pop-bottle glasses. “Here we are,” he says. “Pilger’s banging on about how journalists fail in their duty to question governments and get to the truth. He cites the build-up to the Iraq War as an example of how the British press swallowed Blair’s words hook, line and sinker. Listen to this:

Dan Rather, America’s most famous news television anchor, told me that he and others now believed that had journalists done their job and challenged and exposed the lies of Bush and Blair instead of amplifying and echoing them, the invasion of Iraq might not have happened. When will we as journalists consider this is our responsibility too?

“Do you know?” he continues, “Do you fucking know, that during the build-up to the Iraq invasion I questioned everything that came down the PA wire from the British government and everyone in the newsroom took the fucking piss out of me? Remember all those grainy satellite pictures of mobile chemical warfare installations that were issued by the Ministry of Defence as proof of WMD? I said ‘No, they’re just lorries parked in the desert’. And they all fucking laughed – har-fucking-har.

“Those claims that Saddam’s palaces were stuffed with weapons – I said ‘Show us your evidence’, and all the pillocks did was guffaw and call me a fucking leftie. And remember those pictures of Iraqi military installations set up near ancient monuments, which our Government said had been positioned there to deter us from attacking them or to blame us if their antiquities got bombed? When I said, er, pardon me, but don’t we have a rather important tank training area on Salisbury Plain right next to fucking Stonehenge, they looked at me like I was Trotsky with his ice-pick still sticking in his fucking brain box.

“But the best one, or the worst one, depending on how you want to look at it, was the general assumption that WMD was absolute fact. Time after time I’d be proof-reading pages and insert the word ‘alleged’ before weapons of mass destruction. And it always engendered the same response. The ignorant, gullible twats always laughed. They looked at their proofs and they said ‘Wa-hey, the Leek Man’s had his red pen out again’. The ignorant, small-minded, totally un-fucking-professional pack of bastards. And they were all wrong. And sometimes I felt like ignoring the references to WMD and just leaving things as they were – but I kept on as a matter of principle. And I kept on because I am a fucking journalist, a professional journalist. And I was right. I was fucking well right.”

I look up at the glare of the lights on the clouds, and I say: “I came up here last month in the hope I might see the northern lights. And someone said: northern lights, don’t you have to go to Lapland to see the northern lights? But I came up anyway, though I didn’t see anything. And I felt like a bit of a nerd. Then three nights later it was reported that the northern lights had been seen across northern England. I was right after all.”

The Leek Man sighs and says: “Is that supposed to mean something?”

I say: “Not really. But at least we know we’re sane.”

And we sit there like a pair of duffers, on the roof of a building in the middle of a February night, with our feet dangling over the parapet.

Spit. No polish.

11 Feb

I’M sitting in Friday afternoon conference fighting an overwhelming desire to sleep. Up to now, the discussion has centred on heavy business stories, the economy, and the financial troubles of Nitherley United, the local football club.

The Editor is slouching in his executive chair. Chief reporter Big Bernard is yawning silently. Assistant Editor Tony Malone is tapping his fingernails on the arms of his chair. Blank Frank the website wizard is gazing vacantly through the window at pigeons sitting on the neighbouring roof. The Leek Man is shuffling his papers and preparing to give his presentation on the national news.

It’s more heavy stories – the economy, the Leveson Inquiry into press standards, the plight of Andrew Lansley and his ill-fated NHS reforms, and bonuses for Barclays investment bankers. My eyelids feel like lead weights are hanging from them.

Leek Man: “And finally. Enfield council has launched a bid to ban spitting in the street. They have approached Communities Secretary Eric Fatboy Pickles for permission to introduce a bylaw to that effect.”

A moment’s silence while this information is digested by minds that are far from alert.

Blank Frank: “What if they don’t see yer spit? How can they arrest you?”

Leek Man: “How the hell should I know? That’s nothing to do with me. I’m just telling you what’s on the Press Association news list – ‘Council’s bid for spitting ban’.”

Blank Frank: “Yeh, but if they don’t see yer gobbing, if say you’re walking down an alley and there’s no one there and yer just gob in the gutter, how the hell can they catch you?”

Tony Malone: “But that can happen with any law – murder, assault, using a mobile phone while you’re driving. Democracy is underpinned by our acceptance of the law and our willingness to comply. If you break the law and gob in the street, then you knowingly run the risk of being caught and facing the consequences.”

Blank Frank: “And what if yer out running and yer need to spit – like footballers do? What happens then?”

Leek Man: “Jesus Christ. You’re breaking the fucking law, for fuck’s sake.”

Big Bernard: “What if it’s an accident? What if you’ve got a cold and you suddenly cough and this great big greeny comes out and hits a copper and runs down his tunic? What then?”

Leek Man: “Why don’t you fucking well ring up the chief executive of Enfield fucking council and fucking well fucking ask him?”

Editor, sitting forward in his executive chair: “That’s a fair point. People have accidents. Look at Paula Radcliffe crapping down that drain. She didn’t get up in the morning and say ‘Hey, I feel like a good shite but I’ll save it for later when I’m running the London Marathon.’ It just came over her all of a sudden and she had to do it there and then.”

Tony Malone: “They should do it with chewing gum too.”

Editor: “Do what with chewing gum too?”

Tony Malone: “Ban it along with spitting.”

Big Bernard: “But where would you put your chuddy? You’re not allowed to swallow it because it bungs up your insides.”

Editor: “You should do a Paula Radcliffe and spit it down the drain. The drains go into the sewers, don’t they? That’s probably why Paula got away with it – the drain went into the sewer so all she did, technically, was bypass the loo.”

Tony Malone: “No. The wastewater systems that take rainwater from the roads and the sewer systems are not interconnected, Boss. They discharge in different places, otherwise you’d get poo popping out of the drains every time it flooded.”

Editor: “Is that right? I didn’t know that. Anyway, spitting ban. Great story.”

Only two paragraphs on Enfield council’s spitting ban appear in Saturday’s edition of the Nitherley Observer and Bugle, yet it generated more discussion than the economy, the Leveson Inquiry, bankers’ bonuses and the state of the NHS rolled together. And it kept us awake.

Art of the matter

26 Jan

IT’S afternoon conference and the Leek Man is running through the Press Association list of stories that will appear on the Nitherley Observer and Bugle’s national news pages in Friday’s edition.

Leek Man: “And finally, as they say, the new David Hockney exhibition is causing a bit of a stir among art critics – Brian Sewell slagging it off as overblown, corpulent, garish and raw – so seeing he’s from down the road in Bridlington I thought we’d do a bit on it.”

Blank Frank the website wizard, holding his hands in the air, palms outstretched: “Sorry, sorry. David Hockney? Who’s he please?”

Leek Man: “David Hockney is a famous northern artist.”

Deputy Editor: “David Hockney is probably Britain’s most famous and controversial living artist.”

Blank Frank: “Well I can honestly say I’ve never heard of him.”

Leek Man: “Everybody has heard of David Hockney.”

Moment’s silence.

Leek Man, to the Editor, who is slouching back in his executive’s chair: “Have you heard of David Hockney, Boss?”

Editor: “Er, yes. Why did you ask me before you asked anyone else? Did you assume that because I’m a rough-arsed knob-head from Scunthorpe that I don’t appreciate culture and have no knowledge of the art world?”

Leek Man: “Not at all, Boss. I was merely being polite.”

Blank Frank: “Well I look at it like this. I’m a man of the world, and if I haven’t heard of David Hockney, then is there any point in me uploading this story on the website if I’m representative of the ordinary man in the street? Indeed, is there any point in putting it in the paper in the first place?”

Leek Man: “Well I’ll tell you what. We’ll just fill the newspaper with stuff people already know about, then that way they won’t feel culturally challenged and they can get on with walking their fucking whippets and scrubbing their fucking steps.”

Editor: “Hey. That’s enough. The Hockney stuff can go up on the internet like everything else. And it can go in the paper as a bit of colour. Have you got anything to illustrate it with?”

Leek Man: “We’ve got some file pics on the archive.”

Editor: “Great. Matchstick men. I love his matchstick men. Right. Next story.”

Lost in space . . .

15 Jan

THE light streaming down stairs at the end of the darkened editorial floor emanates from the Deputy Editor’s office. I wander along the aisle between empty desks where, during the daylight hours, reporters finger keyboards and answer calls from the Nitherley public. Then I climb echoing steps to a cold, semi-circular room overlooking the town centre. It’s Sunday night and the streets are quiet.

The Deputy Editor is peering through his window at the night sky. He turns around when he hears me enter, then sighs and slumps in his chair.

“I can’t understand it, Pork Chop,” he says deflated, pink fingers turning the pages of a small yellow book on his desk. “I thought I had, at long last, completed my first I-Spy book, but just thumbing through my classic 1966 edition of I-Spy the Sky – which is surely a collector’s item – it transpires I have not observed the constellation Orion. Or, to be more precise, I have actually observed it but failed to record it and, most importantly, failed to make a note of the date.”

“Does it matter that much?” I venture, removing a box of Airfix models from a chair and sitting down.

“Well, the thing is,” he continues, “if I just enter any old date and Big Chief I-Spy checks it before validating the book and sending me a certificate, then I’ll be up the creek and my reputation as a journalist will be in tatters.”

“Hmmm . . .” I attempt to help him out of a black hole. “Have you had a look tonight? You won’t see it from this window because Orion is quite low in the southern sky at the moment. You need to be up on the roof.”

“Gosh, Pork Chop. I didn’t know you were a star-gazer. I might just do that later. Thank you ever so much. Right. What brings you up here? What can I do for you? I was about to go home, but I see you’re clutching a piece of paper that looks like it might be terribly important.”

“Yes,” I say, unfolding the sheet of A4. “This is a story that’s just dropped on the Press Association wire. It’s outlining who will be appearing next week before the Leveson Inquiry into press standards. The main person is Ian Hislop, TV personality and editor of Private Eye. Then further down we have a list of editors from the regional press. Let me read you this paragraph.”

“Further testimony will be provided by regional newspaper editors from the Yorkshire Post, the Irish News, the South Wales Evening Post, the Belfast Telegraph, the Manchester Evening News, the Scotsman, the Ipswich Evening Star, the Herald, and the Nitherley Observer and Bugle.”

“Deary me,” says the Deputy Editor. “Our illustrious Editor has been called to appear before the Leveson Inquiry – but unfortunately he is, at this very moment in time, on a bright orange jet bound for Majorca and a family holiday in the sun. What will happen when he fails to appear before Leveson?”

“Dunno. Contempt?”

“But is the inquiry governed by the same strictures as a criminal court?”

“It’s being held in the Royal Courts of Justice. And Leveson is a judge.”

“Ooooh. He is in a pickle. Anyway, more pressing business. You say that we can probably see Orion from the roof?”

“Yes.”

“Right. Shall we avail ourselves of a couple of coffees from that horrendous machine and take a stroll up there . . . ?”

Keep a dog. Bark yourself

21 Dec

THE Editor is excited. He’s been watching a video about a talking dog on YouTube – and the Press Association has filed a story on the dog and he wants it in tomorrow’s paper. So we’re sitting in his office ready for afternoon conference and he turns his computer screen round so we can all watch the vid.

Editor: “Watch this. This is the most viewed video on YouTube this year and it’s absolutely brilliant. This is the talking dog being teased by its owner. I want it in the paper with a headline that says Chatter Boxer. Only it isn’t a boxer but that doesn’t matter. Watch this.”

The video comes on and we watch the talking dog. A man’s voice tells the animal he has eaten all the good things in the fridge and given the rest to a cat. And the dog says things like: “Oh no, not the maple syrup-flavoured bacon.” It’s mildly entertaining. Then the video finishes and the Editor sits back in his executive chair and smiles.

Editor: “Bloody great, that. That’s a classic.”

We all smile with him. And now that the entertainment has drawn to a close, we wait for him to invite Barry the Business Editor to open conference with a rundown of his top business stories for tomorrow’s paper. But Barry the Business Editor jumps in first.

Business Editor: “Yeh, well the dog wasn’t actually talking, it was some bloke in the background who was throwing his voice when the dog opened its mouth.”

A moment’s silence.

Editor: “Yeh. Thank you Barry. I think we grasped that. I think that if the dog had been genuinely talking then that might just have been the biggest fuckin’ story since Noah’s Ark.”

Business Editor: “Well I just thought I’d point that out because you told us it was a talking dog. But it wasn’t a talking dog. It was a dog opening and shutting its mouth in time to a human talking.”

Editor: “What? Are you saying the dog knew what the bloke was going to say so it opened its mouth like a ventriloquist’s dummy? Are you implying there was some sort of co-ordination here or that the dog was following a script?”

Business Editor, smiling pleasantly though shifting uncomfortably in his chair: “No, Boss. I was just pointing out that it wasn’t a talking dog. It was just an ordinary dog and a human throwing his voice.”

Editor: “Jesus. Right, that’s enough. Unless you’ve got something constructive to contribute to this conference, Barry, I’d be obliged if you’d just fuck off back to your desk and leave us to get on with the important stuff.”

Business Editor, still smiling: “Okay, Boss. I’ll leave you to it. But I’ll just say, to give you credit where credit’s due, that it was a real, genuine dog – not a toy dog or a make-believe dog. I’ll give you that.”

Barry the Business Editor leaves the office and closes the door behind him. The Editor shrugs his shoulders and gazes round the room.

Editor: “Jesus fuckin’ Christ. If ever the position of Investigative Journalist comes up and I suggest appointing Barry, tell me I want my fuckin’ head examining will you?”

FAST FORWARD: This morning all the nationals go with the story about Ultimate Dog Tease being the most viewed video on YouTube in 2011. Everyone is talking about the talking dog. Few people, though, notice this article tucked away at the foot of the business page in the Nitherley Observer and Bugle: