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Tag: journalism

When A. A. Gill ate mutton in Scotland

Sunday, 28 January, 2018 0 Comments

It was October 2015 and it led to this memorable sentence: “Scotland remains the worst country in Europe to eat in if you’re paying — and one of the finest if you’re a guest.”

Background: A. A. Gill was an English journalist who died of cancer in London in December 2016, at the age of 62. Adrian Anthony Gill was also an alcoholic who stopped drinking at 29 and he followed the Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) “12-step plan” to recovery. In tribute to the fellowship, he began using the name ‘A. A.’ Gill professionally. His finest writing is collected in The Best of A. A. Gill and it covers his observations on food, television, life and travel. In Scotland, he met Peggy McKenzie, “a retired gamekeeper’s wife who was one of the most naturally in-tune, modestly perfect cooks.” Both discovered a mutual passion for… mutton.

“I, like you, had forgotten mutton. With a great marketing and agri con, it was replaced by lamb. If you look at 19th-century cookbooks, you’ll see very few recipes for lamb and hundreds for mutton. Wool is what made England its first fortune. Fluffy gold, sold to the merchants of Ghent. Sheep weren’t slaughtered until they were four or five years old. The most valued were gelded rams. But today, wool has no value, and farmers want an immediate return on their animals, so the sooner they can slit their throats, the better. And the more they add value to young, tender meat, the better. Except it isn’t better. Lamb is a bland, short, monoglot mouthful compared with mutton’s eloquent, rich euphemistic flavour. We’ve been cheated by agri-expediency to eat an inferior, flannelly, infantilised alternative. In fact, we’re led to believe that younger is better for all meat, when the opposite is the truth. Flavour, richness, intensity and complexity come with age. Mutton is the true, base taste of our national cuisine, and it’s gone.”

This is excellent journalistic writing. Staccato sentences that hit the reader between the eyes: “Wool is what made England its first fortune. Fluffy gold, sold to the merchants of Ghent.” Factual and musical is his description of worthy wool as “Fluffy gold”.

Mutton and child


The tough choices facing killer Fords

Wednesday, 17 May, 2017 0 Comments

“Lunch with the FT” is a weekend pleasure and last Saturday it was the turn of carmaker Bill Ford, great-grandson of Henry, to dine with Patti Waldmeir. In the print edition the mealtime was titled “Reinventing the wheel”, while the online version is lengthier: “Motor chief Bill Ford on a Rust Belt reboot for the driverless age.” Morsel:

“The autonomous age will also raise new ethical questions, says Ford: what would a self-driving car do when faced with the choice of crashing into 10 pedestrians or killing its occupant? Human drivers react as best they can. But autonomous cars will need to be told what to do. Will autonomous Fords choose to kill the driver to save 10 bystanders? Will Fords kill the driver, and Toyotas kill the crowd? Will Fords in Detroit do one thing and Fords in Shanghai do another?”

Lunch with the FT is always informative and entertaining, and as the paper says: “High quality global journalism requires investment.”


Trump vs. Media

Thursday, 19 January, 2017 0 Comments

In one of the most surreal moments of these strange times, the Columbia Journalism Review yesterday published “An open letter to Trump from the US press corps” written by a person called Kyle Pope. With no apparent sense of irony, Pope declared, “We will set higher standards for ourselves than ever before.” After eight years of White House press sycophancy, this absurd statement can only be greeted with laughter.

Tom Kuntz is the opposite of Kyle Pope: realistic, honest, serious. His “Trump vs. Media Is Much More Than Meets the Eye” for Real Clear Investigates explains that it’s not just the mainstream media that will be going to war with Donald Trump. The shock troops of the Fourth Estate gathering in Washington are part of regiments with names such Old and Blue, New and Blue, Red and New and Old and Red. Snippets:

“Aside from obvious factors — the mainstream media’s liberal leanings and Trump’s Twitter-centric, anti-elitist combativeness — this perfect storm of presidential-press combustibility reflects a striking transformation of the media landscape since the last White House transition, to President Obama in 2009.

The resulting dynamics seem a fair bet to make Richard Nixon’s relationship with the press in the Watergate era look like a lovefest by comparison.

Every President has faced a press filled with sympathizers and skeptics. Trump may be the first in modern times to face serious fire from all sides. This has as much to do with rapidly evolving media as it does with the man.”

Seconds out!


Bitter-sweet cake, in memory of AA Gill

Sunday, 11 December, 2016 1 Comment

The great Sunday Times writer and critic, AA Gill, died at Charing Cross Hospital in London yesterday, shocking the journalistic community with the suddenness of his death. Only a few days earlier, Gill, 62, had finished what turned out to be his last article — an account of his search for a treatment that might have extended his life. His death robs British journalism of one of its most individual voices.

AA Gill was wholly politically incorrect and he delighted friend and foe with his observations: “There are many wonderful things about Egypt, but none of them is gastronomic. An Egyptian restaurant belongs on the same street as a Fijian ballet school, a Ukrainian tailor and a Nigerian interior decorator.” RIP.

AA Gill cake with citrus

“Death lends everything a metaphoric imperative. Mundane objects become fetishes when the departed no longer need them, and breakfast conversations grow runic and wise from behind the shadows.” — A.A. Gill


The future of journalism

Friday, 27 February, 2015 0 Comments

If you haven’t heard of The Dress meme yet, don’t worry. You soon will. It all began with a simple photo of a dress posted on Tumblr yesterday that some people see as black and blue while others see as white and gold. In a world threatened by the nihilism of ISIS and Putin, there are serious issues to discuss, but at one point this morning BuzzFeed said the dress was accounting for more than half of its traffic. Such is journalism.

The dress

The other key story yesterday featured a llama drama in Arizona. Honest. You can’t make this stuff up.


The long-form of Hector Camacho’s vida macho

Wednesday, 29 May, 2013 0 Comments

Those who despair for the future of journalism point to BuzzFeed listicles such as “14 Cats Who Think They’re Sushi“. This is the bottom of the barrel, right? But before we rush to judgment, it should be noted that the same BuzzFeed recently launched a long-form journalism section, which features some excellent writing, such as Amanda Petrusich’s account of a python hunt in Florida. And it’s not just the new players who are making use of digital devices, especially tablets, to present in-depth reportage. The Sydney Morning Herald has started a new section, Immerse, that highlights long-form writing published over the last 181 years.

Regardless of the format, good storytelling will always find an audience. But the storytellers still need to know their trade and the importance of beginning, middle and end: “Hector Luis Camacho was born to be a boxer, which is another way of saying he suffered. But Macho was also born to entertain, to turn suffering into a cross between ‘Benny Hill’ and ‘Sábado Gigante’ on Univision.” That’s from “Hector Camacho’s Vida Macho” by Paul Solotaroff from the April issue of Men’s Journal. The writing is superb: “Early in the 1990s, as his courage eroded and his taste for cocaine deepened, Macho became less a serious fighter than a burlesque hoofer who boxed. His ringwear, always a little outré (side-slit trunks showing lots of leg, head scarves cribbed from Carmen Miranda), turned bawdy and strange and not the least bit unusual at, say, a gay-pride parade on Folsom Street.” The story is almost too tragic to be told, but the writing is compelling and the reader is rewarded with a beginning, middle and end that are not easily forgotten.


We unfortunately can’t pay you for it, but we do reach 13 million readers a month

Thursday, 7 March, 2013 0 Comments

“Thanks for responding. Maybe by the end of the week? 1,200 words? We unfortunately can’t pay you for it, but we do reach 13 million readers a month. I understand if that’s not a workable arrangement for you, I just wanted to see if you were interested.

Thanks so much again for your time. A great piece!”

So writes Olga Khazan, the Global Editor of The Atlantic, to Nate Thayer, journalist. Their exchange is documented by Thayer on his blog at A Day in the Life of a Freelance Journalist — 2013. Backstory: Khazan had read Thayer’s 4,300-word story for North Korea News about “basketball diplomacy”, and she was thinking of running a shorter version of the piece in The Atlantic. What makes Khazan’s offer of zero so shocking is that there was a time, and not so long ago, either, when The Atlantic was offering Thayer $125,000 to write six articles a year for the magazine.

In a damage-limitation action, James Bennet, editor-in-chief of The Atlantic, wrote about the Thayer incident saying “We’re sorry we offended him,” and Alexis C. Madrigal joined the debate with A Day in the Life of a Digital Editor, 2013, which clarifies the “reality” of the situation from The Atlantic perspective. Bottom line: “Anyway, the biz ain’t what it used to be, but then again, for most people, it never really was. And, to you Mr. Thayer, all I can say is I wish I had a better answer.”

There are no satisfactory answers anymore. As The Irish Examiner has just discovered, the old media model is broken and the rough contours of the new one are only now taking shape. Felix Salmon of Reuters put it best when he noted: “Digital journalism isn’t really about writing, any more — not in the manner that freelance print journalists understand it, anyway. Instead, it’s more about reading, and aggregating, and working in teams; doing all the work that used to happen in old print-magazine offices, but doing it on a vastly compressed timescale.”


A terrible year for journalism is ending badly

Friday, 7 December, 2012 1 Comment

From the New York Post, which has abandoned ethics, to Newsweek, which is laying off staff, the journalism landscape is littered with bad news. In Germany, change-resistant publishers are trying to shake down Google, while in Britain the headline makers have been making horrid headlines: “The BBC has issued an unreserved apology for a Newsnight report which led to Lord McAlpine being wrongly implicated in the alleged sexual abuse of children at north Wales care homes.”

Journalism in 2012 was replaced by the very worst aspects of Gawkism and HuffPostism.


The BBC is a Stickler for details. Except when it isn’t.

Monday, 12 November, 2012 0 Comments

“If all goes well we’ve got a Newsnight out tonight about a very senior political figure who is a paedophile.” That’s what Iain Overton tweeted on the morning of Friday, 2 November. It may yet go down in history as the tweet that sunk the BBC. Who is Iain Overton? He is the “Managing Editor” […]

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The end of ink at Newsweek Inc.

Friday, 19 October, 2012 0 Comments

“One day, we’ll see movies with people reading magazines and newspapers on paper and chuckle. Part of me has come to see physical magazines and newspapers as, at this point, absurd. They are like Wile E Coyote suspended three feet over a cliff for a few seconds. They’re still there; but there’s nothing underneath; and […]

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Slovenly Slate, ghastly Guardian, zany Zeit smear of Paul Ryan

Wednesday, 15 August, 2012

The biased nature of what passes for journalism today was on full display yesterday when three media organs participated in a smear of Paul Ryan that would be laughable were it not so dreadful. First up was Slate, where the Andrew Sullivan lookalike, typealike Matthew Yglesias could not resist repackaging unsupported insider trading accusations leveled […]

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