Daily Archives: February 25, 2011

Littlejohn confused by Faggots

Today Richard Littlejohn had this little snippet on his favourite topic – gays:

Faggots and peas, sir – no offence!

The former Mayor of Dudley has been accused of offensive behaviour after referring to ‘faggots’ in an email.

Councillor Pat Martin was simply discussing his favourite childhood food with a friend.

For the uninitiated, faggots is a dish of meatballs in gravy, popular in the Midlands and the North.

But it was flagged up by American software used by the council to screen out ‘offensive’ words. In the U.S., ‘faggots’ is slang for homosexuals.

I hadn’t realised this kind of software was common, otherwise I’d never have ordered a pouffe from Ikea online. [emphasis is mine]

Just a couple of small points Richard, Councillor Pat Martin was not accused of offensive behaviour by anyone, the email simply bounced back because of an automatic word filter – it was a decision made by computer software which is not programmed to be offended or to make accusations. Secondly, ‘councillor Pat Martin’ is also sometimes known by her full name: Patricia Martin.

Perhaps Richard was thrown by the way that the local press covered the story: ‘Faggots email cooks up IT storm’, but if he had made it past the typically hyperbolic (and plain nonsense) headline he would have realised that the email had generated precisely zero fuss. He also might have noticed the photo of Patricia Martin staring back at him as well.

I think it should be mandatory to end any blog post about Richard Littlejohn’s serial laziness and incompetence with the fact that he earns nearly one million pounds a year.

More ‘elf ‘n’ safety’ balls from the Mail

‘Elf and safety brigade slaps ban on footballs in the PLAYGROUND… because they’re too dangerous’ Screams the Daily Mail as it heard about one primary school’s decision to stop kids using leather footballs in a cramped playground and use sponge balls instead. The reasoning behind the decision is sound:

Malvern Primary School yesterday insisted the football crackdown was not new, saying the reminder had been issued after a parent complained that a child was nearly hurt.

It pointed out that its cramped playground was shared by pupils of all ages but stressed it was supportive of sport and backed the importance of physical exercise.

In a statement it added: ‘Malvern Primary School treats the health and safety of its pupils as a top priority and has for a long time had a policy of protecting children by recommending sponge balls in the playground before school starts and during breaks, especially as the playground accommodates children from the age of four to 11.’

As someone who always played football during school breaks I can well understand the risks – I lost count of how many windows we broke over the years, but luckily we had big outdoor spaces so we could always be avoided by other kids. If Malvern Primary School has cramped playgrounds shared by pupils of 4-11 then it seems perfectly sensible to make that space as safe as possible. Put it another way, if a group of boys started booting a football around in a busy shopping centre the Mail would be screaming for ASBOs before a sweet old pensioner even took a 20-yard screamer directly in the face. What is the difference? These are both shared public spaces, they should both be used responsibly, the sponge ball is a sociable compromise, not an example of ‘elf ‘n’ safety’ gone mad.

As pointed out in the comments (and currently well in the red):

DM having a go at health and safety again how predictable. Anyone who thinks this policy is wrong should try the following experiment. Find a four year old relative, preferably one you love. Have an eleven year old blast a leather football into them. On the way back from the children’s hospital try to think about what you have caused and how it might have been prevented.

As for the Mail trying to bring obesity into the article as if replacing the material that a football is made of is part of the cause, it really is pretty pathetic stuff. The rent-a-quote wheeled out by the Mail doesn’t even make any sense:

But Tam Fry, chairman of obesity prevention charity the Child Growth Foundation, said: ‘Children must be exposed to risk, otherwise how can they be expected to learn?

‘It may think it is protecting the children, but they could just as easily fall over playing with a sponge ball.

‘Policies like this mean our children are in danger of becoming cocooned cotton buds.’

Point one: what does a child learn from being hit in the face with a football?

Point two: the decision is not being made to protect those playing football (who understand and accept the risks of getting a ball smashed into their groin), it is to protect the other young kids who are using the space. It is easy to avoid being hit by a ball if you are involved in the game, less easy when you’re chatting to friends and get smashed on the back of the head.

Point three: how does making a space more sociable possibly equate with children ‘becoming cocooned cotton buds’ (which doesn’t even make any sense)?

It’s hard to believe that this is what modern journalism has become in the Daily Mail – or that it is now by far and away the busiest newspaper site in the UK with over 56m unique users each month*.


*which is about 56m more each month than this blog.

Will churnalism.com change the way press releases are issued?

I’m sure if you follow me on Twitter you will have already heard lots about the new website churnalism.com and how fantastic it is. Basically, if you can get hold of a Press Release you can copy and paste into the churnalism.com engine and it will trawl news article from 2007 to see if it can identify which news articles have copied and pasted chunks of the press release into their copy. Having played with the website yesterday I can see that this is an incredibly powerful tool to highlight just how much ‘news’ is actually PR guff thoughtlessly injected straight into copy as if it were journalism. In one example yesterday I found a PR that had been copied virtually word-for-word by the Daily Telegraph, as well as another example from the Daily Mail.

What also became apparent from browsing the site was that one website is currently dominating proceedings when it comes to feeding lazy hacks PR drivel: onepoll.com. This company provides an online survey service which seems to work as follows:

  1. Company signs up for an account
  2. Company creates a questionnaire / poll
  3. People fill it in (they are paid a small amount to do so)
  4. Onepoll.com publishes a press release on their website regarding findings
  5. Lazy journalists copy and paste PR and pass it off as news

It’s good business, terrible journalism. However, thanks to onepoll offering open access to the press releases it is extremely easy to see just how many newspapers are happy to copy-and-paste (sometimes word-for-word like the Telegraph above) the results of polls commissioned by companies to get free publicity.

However, I do not see this lasting. I think churnalism.com will result in such material being pulled from the public domain and instead issued only to subscribers – i.e. newspapers – making it harder for the public to identify what is and isn’t PR – or how much has been taken word-for-word. Right now it is still fairly easy to find press releases and identify churnalism, in the future I can see it becoming much harder as companies contact their favourite newspapers directly – as I’m sure already happens – and refrain from publishing such releases on their websites. In may become necessary for newspapers – so reliant is their business model on copy-and-paste PR guff being passed off as news – to insist upon it.

For more examples of churnalism see Five Chinese Crackers.