Like many people, I was glued to social media on the night of November 13th as the terrorist attacks on Paris unfolded. When something terrible like that happens, it is easy to become confused and bewildered by the conflicting reports that fly around on TV and online. So I decided to write a guide to understanding and demystifying the kinds of sources (newspaper articles, TV and radio reports, live blogs, social media posts, visual images etc.) that you will encounter in all forms of the media when a major news story is breaking. But what qualifies me to write such a guide?
While studying for a degree in history some years ago, I was taught how to analyse and interrogate sources of all kinds; a skill which has come in handy when attempting to understand how breaking news works. By ‘analyse and interrogate’ I mean placing a source (whether written, illustrated or audio-visual) in its wider context in order to understand and assess it. This involves asking a lot of questions about the source, its origins and its creator – the who, what, where, why, and when that you will see in this brief guide to interpreting and making sense of the media’s reaction to breaking events. The answers to those questions can help you decide whether a source can be trusted or whether it needs to be taken with a pinch of salt…
Who wrote/produced/directed/photographed/filmed this source? Are they a professional journalist/photographer/film-maker? Or are they a member of the public who happened to be there at the time and snapped a photo or filmed events with their phone then posted it on Facebook? If they’re a professional, what do you know about them? What can you find out about them? Are they well-known for personally having a particular political bias? Or do they work for a media outlet known for having a particular political bias? How might this affect their work?
Once upon a time, there were four weekly music papers in the UK. These were Sounds, Record Mirror (both of which folded in the early 1990s), the New Musical Express (still published and better known as the NME) and the grandaddy of them all, Melody Maker, which originally dated back to the mid 1920s and finally gave up the ghost in 2000. Affectionately known as ‘inkies’ because they were once published on the kind of newsprint that covered your fingers in black ink as you turned the pages, these publications were a hugely important part of the lives of generations of British music fans and introduced many a music-mad teenager to the latest, greatest hot new thing. But they didn’t always get it right…
Melody Maker, in particular, began life as a paper aimed squarely at jazz and dance band musicians, and as such they stubbornly and snobbishly ignored the growth of a new kind of popular music that began to emerge in the 1950s – the ‘cheap and nasty’ threat of rock ‘n’ roll. If they did mention it, it was to dismiss it as a pointless and distasteful fad that they desperately hoped would never catch on, as reviewer and broadcaster Steve Race wrote in May 1956:
Viewed as a social phenomenon, the current craze for Rock-and-Roll material is one of the most terrifying things ever to have happened to popular music. […] Musically speaking, of course, the whole thing is laughable. […] The Rock-and-Roll technique, instrumentally and vocally, is the antithesis of all that jazz has been striving for over the years – in other words, good taste and musical integrity. […] It is a monstrous threat, both to the moral acceptance and artistic emancipation of jazz. Let us oppose it to the end.
The irony in this, of course, is that these are exactly the kind of negative things that were said about jazz in its early days too (and worse – a great deal of the criticism aimed at the jazz of the 1920s and 1930s had a distinctly and often openly racist tone to it). Even more ironically, a direct line can be drawn from the British ‘Trad’ jazz scene of the 1950s to the rhythm and blues-based rock scene of the early- to mid-1960s that gave us the likes of the Rolling Stones and the Yardbirds via the ‘Skiffle’ craze of the late 50s (which was where the Beatles started out….).
People are taking the piss out of you everyday. They butt into your life, take a cheap shot at you and then disappear. They leer at you from tall buildings and make you feel small. They make flippant comments from buses that imply you’re not sexy enough and that all the fun is happening somewhere else. They are on TV making your girlfriend feel inadequate. They have access to the most sophisticated technology the world has ever seen and they bully you with it. They are The Advertisers and they are laughing at you.
You, however, are forbidden to touch them. Trademarks, intellectual property rights and copyright law mean advertisers can say what they like wherever they like with total impunity.
Fuck that. Any advert in a public space that gives you no choice whether you see it or not is yours. It’s yours to take, re-arrange and re-use. You can do whatever you like with it. Asking for permission is like asking to keep a rock someone just threw at your head.
You owe the companies nothing. Less than nothing, you especially don’t owe them any courtesy. They owe you. They have re-arranged the world to put themselves in front of you. They never asked for your permission, don’t even start asking for theirs.
Remix culture FTW! I believe this quote comes from Banksy’s 2004 (?) book Cut It Out, but his official website isn’t actually much help in this respect. Please feel free to leave a comment if you can confirm or know better…
What with all the vicious media ranting and disapproving government pronouncements recently, you might be forgiven for thinking that almost every single person claiming state benefits of any kind in this country is actually on the fiddle – and thus getting away with ripping off the Treasury and the tax-paying public to the tune of billions and billions of pounds.
Let me repeat that: Not. True.
I’ve written before about how those on benefits, especially the sick and disabled, become an easy scapegoat for a government who are more concerned with feathering their own nests and protecting the interests of big business than looking after the most vulnerable in our society – and that the levels of fraudulent benefit claims are much, much lower than most people think they are.
This afternoon, I’ve been looking at the official Department for Work and Pensions report Fraud and Error in the Benefit System: 2010/11 Estimates (Great Britain), which was released last week and contains some very interesting statistics indeed; statistics that clearly demonstrate that the current spate of media and political poor-bashing and the demonisation of benefits claimants is based on a tissue of lies.
Today is the seventh anniversary of the DJ, broadcaster and all-round music legend John Peel‘s unexpected and much-mourned death in 2004. As one of the many, many music fans of all ages who loved his Radio 1 show and were inspired by the incredibly varied and hugely eclectic music he played, I still can’t believe he’s no longer with us; no longer playing strange records at the wrong speed and introducing an extremely unprepared world to the musical delights of death metal and the likes of the Aphex Twin. So, today I’m celebrating John Peel Day, and #KeepingItPeel in order to honour the great man’s memory and legacy….
It’s possible that John can form some kind of nightmarish career out of his enthusiasm for unlistenable records and his delight in writing long and facetious essays… – RHJ Brooke, John’s housemaster, in one of his school reports.
Born John Ravenscroft to a well-off family in Cheshire on 30th August 1939, he spent his youth at Shrewsbury, a well-regarded public school, where he fell in love with 50s rock ‘n’ roll (much to the annoyance of some of his teachers!), before going on to do his national service in the Royal Artillery – which he didn’t enjoy very much at all:
In many ways, I guess I was naive…
This did actually happen – and it changed the way I view the media forever.
Some background: my secondary school was (and still is) less than half a mile away from the Sky TV HQ in west London. It was August 1994, and I’d already picked up my A-Level results and was hanging around outside the school, ostentatiously smoking and waiting for some friends. Suddenly, a Sky News crew showed up at the school gates, cameraman and besuited reporter in tow, to get some ‘reaction’ from staff and students in the usual fashion.
They asked me and a fellow student if we would like to be interviewed on camera. Excitedly (and rather stupidly – remember, I was only 18 at the time!), I said yes. In retrospect, it was obvious why they chose me – I looked like a freak. I was heavily into grunge and metal at the time, and dressed like it. Badly.
I can still remember the outfit I was wearing that day – battered black DMs with multi-coloured laces and about three pairs of socks, black leggings, a black and white patterned miniskirt, my old Pearl Jam t-shirt (covered in hot rock burns), a baggy blue checked shirt, a truly ridiculous black and white floppy hat, and John Lennon-style shades (which didn’t suit me).
After a day of high drama in the Commons culture, media and sport committee (custard pies included) during which Murdochs Senior and Junior amusingly and inadvertently managed an uncanny resemblance to The Simpsons characters Mr Burns and his grovelling aide Smithers, Rupert Murdoch insisted on delivering a statement. And I couldn’t resist reproducing it in full here for you to ponder over. Or laugh at. Whichever you want, really:
My son and I have come here with great respect for all of you, for Parliament and for the people of Britain whom you represent.
This is the most humble day of my career.
After all that has happened, I know we need to be here today.
Before going further, James and I would like to say how sorry we are for what has happened – especially with regard to listening to the voicemail of victims of crime.
This is such a fast-moving and ridiculously complicated story that in all probability this post will be completely out of date the second it goes up – bear with me!
Unless you’ve been living in a cave for the last two weeks, you can’t fail to have noticed the distinctly disturbing rumblings emanating from the depths of the Wapping HQ of Rupert Murdoch’s News International media empire. Or at least that’s where the rumblings started. Despite an investigation into whether the News Of The World had hacked the phones of various celebrities and politicians that goes back almost a decade, it seems that News International assumed they could keep the worst of it well and truly hidden.
Hidden until now, that is.
Since Nick Davies and his team at The Guardian revealed at the beginning of July that the News Of The World had engaged in some truly repellent behaviour in the shape of hacking the mobile phones of the families of high-profile murder victims, these long-standing rumblings have turned into a massive and seemingly unstoppable shitstorm which has managed to drag not only News International but also the government and the Metropolitan Police into its increasingly unpleasant wake.
Keith Richards is shooting heroin into his eyeballs and still touring… I’m getting mixed signals. I picture nuclear war and two things surviving: Keith and cockroaches. “Where did everybody go-o? I saw a bright light and thought we were on …” – Bill Hicks.
As with many things in life, I’m with Bill Hicks on this one: Keith Richards is the ultimate rock ‘n’ roll survivor. Sex, drugs, rock ‘n’ roll and brushes with the law: he’s done it all and to flamboyantly spectacular excess over the years. Richards is, as described in a Guardian article earlier this year, quite simply
… a human shrine to bad behaviour; a living reminder there’s more to life than being healthy.
And now the man who probably would come through a nuclear holocaust alive, guitar and bottle of Jim Beam still in hand (of course), has finally written his autobiography, to be entitled simply Life. By any reckoning, that’s guaranteed to be some read, particularly if the typically outspoken quotes picked up on by some of today’s papers are representative of the published book as a whole.
This is all very interesting.
A reader* sent me this link to a recent article in the New York Post on the subject of Bono’s non-profit, the ONE Campaign. The idea behind this campaign sounds like an admirable and excellent one in theory – it aims to end poverty and the scourge of AIDS among the world’s poorest people.
But the campaign’s recent promotional campaign has left me puzzled. I’m not sure that if I worked at ONE I could justify sending out promo press packs which contained such expensive goodies as:
“a $15 bag of Starbucks coffee, a $15 Moleskine leather notebook, a $20 water bottle and a plastic ruler”
Which arrived on journalists’ desks at a crucial time for the campaign
“in four, oversized shoe boxes, delivered one at a time via expensive messenger. The boxes were timed to arrive for the UN ‘Summit on the Millennium Development Goals'”