Archive for August 2010
Over the weekend, a little tweak to the bus network brought the countryside a bit nearer – the extension of route 320 from Bromley to Catford means it’s easier to get down as far as Biggin Hill, and go for a wander in the countryside at the top of the North Downs. Milking Lane, Leaves Green and Rushey Green, Catford are a world apart, but now just one bus away. The drone of planes from Biggin Hill Airport can be a distraction, but once you’re off the main road, it’s a peaceful area for a short stroll. I’m told it’s also good cycling country.
There’s a few of these little monuments dotted around – coal duty posts, which are dotted around the London boundary and marked the area within which the City Corporation could measure coal and other commodities so it could charge a levy on it.
This derelict farm – one tatty gate bearing the motto “ROYAL COLLEGE OF SURGEONS OF ENGLAND” – has an interesting history. Wikipedia says of Buckston Browne Farm: “Built in 1931 as a surgical research centre by the Royal College of Surgeons (RCS). In the 1980s, the farm caused controversy because of its use of vivisection techniques, and in August 1984 it was raided by anti-vivisection activists.” It’s been a wreck for some years, and there’s now a planning application to turn this into housing. Down House, Charles Darwin’s former home, is around the corner.
I keep meaning to explore this area some more. Because this area falls within Greater London, it’s possible to visit really cheaply by public transport, although the network’s a bit patchy to say the least – an hourly bus back from Downe on bank holiday Monday evening felt more like a private taxi. But now there’s a bus down to this area from Catford, instead of hauling all the way down to Bromley for one, it should make it a bit easier.
Aww, lovely. This week’s edition of council propaganda rag Greenwich Time has lots of happy smiling kids playing and having fun in Charlton. But hold on…
More than 1,000 people attended the ‘World Sport and Community Day’ staged by Charlton Triangle Homes around the sports court in Springfield Grove.
The event was held to celebrate the various cultures living in Charlton through sport, food, music and dance, and promote healthy living in the run-up to the 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games coming to the borough.
One thing. This paper is dated 31 August and will hit doormats in the opening days of September. The event took place towards the end of July, as the school summer holidays were kicking off.
(I think it was 23 July, although as Charlton Triangle Homes doesn’t talk to its neighbours, I don’t have anything to confirm this other than the memory of seeing some posters attached to lamp-posts the day before the event.)
Obviously Greenwich Time is there to promote the council and its allies – but using an event that took place five weeks ago to fill a weekly paper is just a tad cynical.
The sad thing about the News Shopper homophobic letter row is that it obscured a valuable bit of reporting they did on the Greenwich Council cuts that are bound to come our way. Reporter Mark Chandler grabbed a word with council leader Chris Roberts at the planning meeting which reiterated the authority’s opposition to the Greenwich Market redevelopment – a shame the Shopper doesn’t do this kind of thing more often.
Cllr Roberts said: “We’ve been told to expect cuts of 40 per cent in our grants which would equate to £70m.”
But asked where the axe could fall he said: “The only thing I can say at the moment is nothing is ruled out and nothing is ruled in.
“It’s difficult to put a shape on it until we do know the scale. If it appears evasive it isn’t meant to be.”
Actually, this figure is nothing new – Chris Roberts said as much at a full council meeting in July (which was attended by the News Shopper). Discussing the council’s financial situation during the debate on Greenwich Time, he said just that – the 40% cut comes from the rate support grant which central government doles out to local councils. In fact, the situation could be worse, he said, with London councils as a whole facing a further £100m cut in grants which Greenwich takes a double-share of (2/33rds) – which would add a further £6m to the total.
But none of this will be known for sure until 20 October, when Chancellor George Osborne publishes the results of his spending review – so it’s all still speculation.
But the one solid thing that has emerged is that the council is already ramping up its search for savings.
Last year, a leaked document revealed the Labour council was planning £26.8m in cuts but Mr Roberts said officers were now looking at slashing £35m in the coming year.
The document included the possibility of ceasing investment in the Met’s successful Violent and Organised Crime Unit and Cleansweep, but Mr Roberts could not say if this was still a possibility.
Cllr Roberts said: “We’re going to try to be as focussed and targeted as we can in terms of protecting the frontline and essential services”
Behind the scenes, senior officers have been asked to draw up cost-cutting plans, starting by cutting procurement costs and finding ways of sharing commissioning and administration with other local authorities, the police, heath services and universities.
It’s worth also comparing the difference in attitudes between Greenwich and Lewisham…
In neighbouring Lewisham, the council has revealed initial cost-cutting proposals and put them out to public consultation.
But Mr Roberts ruled out a similar approach in Greenwich.
He said: “That’s just not where we start from. I wouldn’t want to come out and say ‘we’re going to close x number of libraries’.
“It risks raising levels of anxiety with people that you might not need to raise.”
Last Monday, 80 people attended a meeting to discuss the future of Crofton Park library – with all 80 voting against plans to close it, while last month elected mayor Steve Bullock managed to call anti-cuts protestors “fucking idiots”. While Lewisham has generally always been keen to be seen as an open authority – especially when compared with Greenwich’s top-down approach – Chris Roberts will be hoping to avoid such scenes as he works out what to do over the next few months.
Wow. I knew the News Shopper deciding to reward the writer of a letter branding gay people as “perverted” with a star letter prize would create a stir – but I was taken aback by the strength of feeling it generated. Naturally, it was picked up by the gay and lesbian media (G3, Pink News, So So Gay), but it also hit media trade site journalism.co.uk and Londonist.
After letters page sponsor Webster’s Pen Shops distanced itself from the letter, it’d be natural to expect the News Shopper to adopt a more concilliatory approach to the avalanche of criticism it faced. Instead, it tried to capitalise on the row by publishing the letter on its website and inviting readers to comment there.
Over on Twitter, despite its sponsor having to disassociate itself from the letter, News Shopper web editor Simon Bull seemed proud to have angered a chunk of its readers. Here’s a few exchanges.
So it’s a thank you for upsetting readers? Keep on digging, Simon… sadly, that exchange was with the Greenwich Conservative councillor who’s led that party’s attack on council propaganda paper Greenwich Time, somebody the newspaper might like to keep on side. Whoops.
But people don’t ask to receive the News Shopper. It comes through people’s doors. People might not want to get this crap pushed through their letterboxes. Highlighting that intolerance is still out there? You don’t need to reward it with a nice pen from Webster’s. I came across some National Front graffiti in Deptford a couple of weeks ago. Did I laud it as an expression of free speech? No, I got Lewisham Council to paint it over.
So the gays are an acceptable target, then? Oh dear.
The problem here is that the News Shopper, a local paper, thinks it is starting a debate about morals. What it actually got was a debate about its own conduct – and when it realised the game wasn’t going its way, it responded with insults and sarcasm.
Yet nobody woke up on Thursday or Friday and thought – “let’s pick a fight with the News Shopper”. Even I don’t want to completely fall out with the paper, despite my criticisms, I’ve tried to maintain a cordial tone – after all, local papers can come in handy, whatever their shortcomings. Yet it seems determined to burn its bridges with a load of its readers – especially ones who know what they’re talking about.
Many of those taking part in the debate were media professionals themselves – other journalists, PR people, web experts – with experience of these issues. They weren’t there because they wanted to pick a fight, they were there because they were horrified at what the News Shopper had done. Brockley Kate, herself an ex-national newspaper journalist, had a similar Twitter run-in with the paper last month over its reporting of the Tidemill School story. She hit the nail on the head in a comment on this site:
What I find amazing about both cases was that News Shopper was, primarily, being criticised by other journalists, many of them very experienced. And yet whoever runs the News Shopper Twitter feed either didn’t realise or didn’t care that they were being roundly trashed by their peers. Not by the ill-informed, unpredictable consumers who all journos moan about from time to time – but other hacks. And yet they were totally unwilling to even engage.
What hope is there for a local paper which doesn’t have the respect of journalists in its area, for heaven’s sake? Hug The Mercury close, it’s all we’ve got.
Still, the News Shopper was defended by Lewisham Labour councillor Mike Harris, who seemed to completely misunderstand the questions being asked.
The paper also boasted of having this endorsement from someone called Andy Dedman, who tweeted: “Hilarious letter from a religious nutcase. Quite rt 2 publish it! How ppl cnt get when yr tongue is in yr cheek is beyond me!” [sic]
Hilarious, eh? In the real world, encouraged by seeing views like the ones rewarded by the News Shopper, people are attacked for their sexuality. That’s people who might even read the News Shopper, or whose family, friends and loved ones might read it. A handful, sadly, have been killed because of it. Two years ago, a man who lived in the street behind mine was killed after a barrage of homophobic abuse.
Still, homophobia’s hilarious, eh? Shame on you, News Shopper.
(UPDATE 10:45AM – I added the Twitter message at the top of the page to illustrate my point a little bit further. The Guardian’s Ben Goldacre joined the row last night.)
The sponsor of the News Shopper’s letters page has distanced itself from the winner of the paper’s “star letter”, which brands homosexuality “perverted”.
Webster’s Pen Shop acknowleged the letter had “caused offence to readers”, but said the family-run firm had “no influence” on the newspaper’s choice of letter.
It said in a statement: “Webster’s Pen Shop would like to reiterate that the views expressed in this weeks News shopper does not reflect the opinions of Webster’s Pen Shop or its staff.”
When asked if the company would be reviewing its relationship with the newspaper, managing director Andrew Webster declined to comment.
The letter, published in editions delievered to homes in Greenwich and Lewisham boroughs, said the newspaper was “promoting perversity” by highlighting a local hospital being mentioned on a website as a place where gay men could meet for sex. A pen from Webster’s, which has branches across the south London suburbs and in Brighton, is to be given to the writer of the letter, which was signed Mrs S Fitzsimons of Lewisham.
The Orpington-based company was unaware of the letter’s contents until it began to receive calls about the issue on Thursday.
The News Shopper has both defended its story and attacked its critics. Web manager Simon Bull used Twitter to say on the paper’s behalf: “Well, the letter in the Greenwich edition this week seems to have hit the spot for getting lots of attention and sparking a strong reaction. Just because a letter wins the pen, it’s in no way an endorsement from us of the author’s views.
“In fact, it’s surprising so many people are having a go at us about it instead of responding to the author and what she thinks.”
Bull’s comments – posted two hours before he linked to any stories from the paper’s website – only served to increase criticism of the newspaper, with even a California-based Twitter account, NewsWorldToday, spreading the story. Greenwich Conservative councillor Nigel Fletcher called the letter “bigoted” and said it was “very poor judgement”.
The Eltham North representative added: “And [it's] a big mistake to crow it’s ‘hit the spot’ in sparking disgust.”
The newspaper, based in Petts Wood and part of the Newsquest media group, directed people to its web forum to debate the letter’s contents. By 1.45pm on Friday, nobody had used the newspaper’s forum to comment on the letter.
Phew. I know the News Shopper does have a reputation for reacting really badly to criticism – take a look at the bizarre comments thread tagged onto this odd little story about a patch of blood being found outside their offices. But I’m amazed at the spite in its reaction. Twitter has got a high proportion of journalists and other media types using it. Many of those people criticising the News Shopper were journalists who live in its circulation area. Wouldn’t it be wiser to engage with its critics, instead of going on the attack?
Suppose you ran a local newspaper, and you were looking for a cogent, witty piece of correspondence to head your letters page with. There’s a nice pen as a prize from Webster’s Pen Shop, so you’d better make it something which really hits the spot. Of all the ones to choose, how about… this?
Yes, that’ll be the one that calls gays “perverted”. That’s worth a prize, isn’t it? I wonder what Webster’s Pen Shop thinks about its products being used to reward such an unpleasant little rant?
It’s someone else’s opinion, but it’s the News Shopper’s choice to reward that opinion with a prize.
Unfortunately, it’s all a game for the News Shopper – they’re clearly hoping people will be so outraged they’ll flock to its website to complain. But alienating a tenth of its readership, and many more besides, is just a childish way of doing it. But when your paper can’t be bothered to do boring things like attend council meetings, whipping up false controversy is a cheap substitute for actually bothering to gather news. This isn’t responsible local journalism, it’s the equivalent of a child taking a dump in the kitchen to get attention.
The Shopper recently had a vacancy for a web editor. As a critic of the paper – but someone with a decade’s experience in online journalism – I thought about going for it because I think its website strategy is all wrong – desperate attempts at interactivity like boring rants that nobody responds to, blog entries from complete loons (and don’t start slagging off places in your circulation area), a blind eye turned to offensive comments placed at the foot of news stories, and a web forum which hardly anybody contributes to. For a paper with a circulation area containing about a million people, that’s a failure.
Any sensible newspaper would sweep this crap away and start again – there’s a whole world of possibilities for local newspapers to interact with their readers, to create a trusted guide to a local community. I even enjoyed putting a few ideas together for it, but in the end decided against applying.
Because the big cross against it was that the News Shopper’s attention-seeking brand of pretend journalism seemed set in stone, and it would be hard to find room to change things. Endorsing an anti-gay rant in its letters pages proves that for me. You might expect something like this in a distant backwoods newspaper with a four-figure circulation, but in a paper distributed to two inner-city London boroughs, which together have the same population as Liverpool, it’s downright stupidity.
Sadly, if it’s going to endorse crap like this, the best place for the News Shopper is in your recycling bin. Alongside Greenwich Time. They deserve each other. And people wonder why local papers are dying?
London mayor Boris Johnson has apologised after early morning workers were left stranded by the closure of the Blackwall Tunnel last month.
Bus passengers were left stuck at Canning Town station early on the morning of 11 July after services on route 108, which normally runs via the Blackwall Tunnel, terminated there because of building work inside the crossing.
They were told to continue their journeys by Tube to North Greenwich – but while the bus dropped them off at Canning Town at 5.50am, the first train was not until well after 7am.
The mayor said the bus “should have continued its journey across the river and been escorted through the Blackwall Tunnel”.
“Unfortunately, human error meant that the scheduling of the 108 bus service did not take account of the later start of the Jubilee Line on Sunday morning, hence the termination of your bus at Canning Town”.
Transport for London would work to “maintain a public transport service aross the river at all times during forthcoming weekend closures,” he added.
The next closure will be from 8-11 October.
If you don’t complain, you don’t get a result. Boris’s full letter to me is here, should you want a peek. I heard nothing from Transport for London during the six-and-half-weeks since the incident, although London Assembly members Darren Johnson, Jenny Jones, Caroline Pidgeon and John Biggs were good enough to reply to me within a week or so.
Fair play to the mayor for personally apologising – yes, that’s a real signature at the foot of the letter. I hope the incident doesn’t get repeated – not necessarily for my sake (coming back from a mate’s party), but for those who actually need to cross the river.