Archive for August, 2009

Dog bites man

30 August 2009


When I was a trainee journalist, we went through that exercise where we worked out what news was. “Dog bites man” happens quite a lot, so obviously isn’t news. “Man bites dog” is unusual, so probably is.

But of course, it doesn’t actually work like that. When Rupert Murdoch’s son James, now responsible (among other things) for protecting and promoting the commercial interests of one of the largest pay-TV operators in Europe, uses a lecture platform to make a meretricious, and substantially misleading attack on the BBC, it is widely reported as ‘news’.

And without getting into the detail (though Will Hutton has a good critique), James Murdoch has worked in the UK long enough to know the difference between a publicly-funded independent broadcaster and a state-controlled broadcaster, but this is exactly the sort of smearing elision that you see all the time of the Murdoch-controlled Fox News. (Blogger Tom Freeman described the speech as “laughable hypocrisy“.)

What actually happens in a newsroom is that the daily news agenda is driven by the news editor’s “forward diary”, which mostly details the comings, goings and pronouncements of the powerful and the official. Reporters are assigned as a result of this to cover the expected stories, most of which are more about dogs biting men than the other way around. And even ‘unexpected’ news stories, such as earthquakes, have their own expected dynamics; eight days or so afterwards, inevitably, there will be a miraculous rescue of a survivor who’s been trapped in the rubble. Michael Frayn captured this predictable aspect of journalism, hilariously, in his novel The Tin Men.

There’s a better quote about news gathering, from memory, from a disaffected member of the White House press corps: “What reporters do is to hang around the corridors of power waiting for important people to lie to them.”


Brecon jazz

28 August 2009


It was my good fortune to happen to be in Brecon on the first evening of this year’s Brecon Jazz Festival, twenty five years old but pulled out of the ashes of receivership at the last moment by its larger neighbours, the Hay Festival. It was the festival that nearly didn’t happen.

So I took the opportunity to take in both the Stan Tracey Octet and the folk player Seth Lakeman, in quick succession, at opposite ends of town. (I could have gone on to see Sarah Jane Morris afterwards, but didn’t quite have the ears or the stamina.).

Stan Tracey is 82 now, but is still playing with authority. I’m fond of big bands (here and here), and an octet comes close; big enough to swing, big enough for different parts of the band to play off against each other. The line-up: two tenor saxophones, one alto, one trumpet, one trombone, bass, drums (Clark Tracey), and Stan, of course, on piano. I don’t have the names of the rest of the players, in the absence of a programme, but Jazz Review seems to have filled the gap in hindsight. Sometimes the whole brass section played together, riffing against the piano, sometimes the saxes played call and respopnse with the brass. Tracey’s arrangments made the most of the line up, and the soloing was universally excellent, especially the trumpeter (I think Guy Barker), which made me wonder if there were other disciplines where the most technically accomplished were to be found in the most marginal of genres.

There is a review on Jazz Mann.

Seth Lakeman has become one of the stars of English folk music since his Mercury Music nomination three years ago, and watching him it’s easy to see why. Good songs well played, and with some attack and lots of energy, with his own compositions clearly rooted in the folk tradition. Lakeman himself has a good voice and his violin playing, when he does it, is electrifying. (But not electric: the instrumentation is all acoustic, if amplified.) He was in the Brecon Market Hall rather than a more conventional concert venue, and seemed to be enjoying himself, along with his band. As was the audience. Review here, and pictures here. And a review of quite a lot of the Festival by Damian Rafferty here.

The picture of Stan Tracey was taken by Damian Rafferty of, and is borrowed from the Flicker photostream of flykr, where there are lots of Brecon jazz photos.

Dreaming of perfection

8 August 2009

johan-cruyffI can’t think of a better way to mark the beginning of the new football season that with a quote from Jorge Valdano on the teams which fans remember, which I found in Jonathan Wilson’s fine book Inverting the Pyramid, on the history of football tactics:

People often say that results are paramount, that, ten years down the  line, the only thing which will be remembered is the score, but that’s not true. What remains in people’s memories is the search for greatness and the feelings that engenders. We remember Arrigo Sacchi’s AC Milan more than we remember Fabio Capello‘s AC Milan even though Capello’s Milan was more successful and more recent. Equally, the Dutch Total Football teams of the 1970s are legendary, far more than West Germany, who beat them in the World Cup Final in 1974, or Argentina, who defeated them in the 1978 final. It’s about the search for perfection. We know it doesn’t exist, but it’s our obligation towards football, and maybe towards humanity, to strive towards it. That’s what we remember.

The image of Johann Cruyff is from Pitch Invasion, with thanks.