The neighbour pays a call

The Guardian, 10 September 2019

Yesterday morning, on the way to the garage where I buy my newspapers, I saw the tail end of the motorcade carrying Boris Johnson disappearing fast along the canal road towards his appointment with Taoiseach Leo Varadkar in Government buildings. By the time I got home the TV showed that his car was drawing up, so they had made good time.

Johnson was pretty restrained during his brief press conference, but the contrast between his demeanour and the calmness displayed by Varadkar is well exemplified by the lovely quartet of photographs used today by The Guardian. You can imagine the little whoop of joy from the picture editor working on the spread when he or she came across this sequence, and realised what a nice combination image they would make.

There was also a great remark from a commenter in yesterday’s rolling coverage: “For the Irish, Brexit is like having a neighbour smash the fence between your adjoining properties, and then come to your door demanding that you pay the bill to have it rebuilt.”

Exactly the sort of people you want living next door.

Whose Christmas is ruined?

News that two completely innocent people have had their lives ruined by the UK’s tabloid press will come as no surprise to those who follow its vicissitudes.

Paul Gait and Elaine Kirk have said today that they are deeply distressed by what they called their “disgusting” treatment in sections of the media, after they were detained in relation to the drone flights that brought Gatwick airport to a standstill last week.

They were released after 36 hours of questioning. Their friends expressed dismay that the couple had been arrested in the first place. Within a few hours of being arrested, their pictures appeared on a number of Sunday newspaper front pages. The Mail on Sunday went furthest with its headline “Are these the morons who ruined Christmas?” Meanwhile television presenter and ex-newspaper editor Piers Morgan had to apologise after describing the pair in a tweet as clowns – a description which he later deleted.

It’s very reminiscent of a case from 2010 when Bristol landlord Christopher Jefferies was arrested on suspicion of murdering his tenant, Joanna Yeates. His character was thoroughly maligned by the press, although he was completely innocent of the crime. Jefferies ended up winning substantial damages. Let’s hope Gait and Kirk also get their day in court.

Shome inconshistenchy shurely

Reading Frank McNally’s Irishman’s Diary in last Wednesday’s Irish Times, I spotted what I thought might be a change in the paper’s policy on swearwords.
But it would seem the answer is ‘No’, because here is a piece in yesterday’s sports section by Keith Duggan.

Maybe the sports subs use a different stylebook than those on the op ed page?
The publications which are most coy about swearing are of course the tabloids, which add asterisks to the most low level profanities. So we get Trump’s remarks about Africa and Haiti described thus in the Daily Mail:

Knowing that the Guardian is much more relaxed about using swearwords, I checked out its style guide, and was amused to see that the use of asterisks or blanks was condemned by no less an author than Charlotte Brontë.

If it was OK by her back in the 19th century, then I reckon it should be OK for the Old Lady of D’Olier Street in the 21st.


Talking to plants

This photo was in the Guardian on Friday. It is supposed to show a lonely Theresa May in Brussels, in a room on her own waiting for an EU delegation to arrive. But as an informative blogpost by Jon Worth points out, May wasn’t alone in the room at all. She had arrived with British delegation colleagues including Tim Barrow and Gavin Barwell, but had then made the mistake of taking a seat before the EU delegates arrived. Here’s the sequence of pictures, all taken by freelance Geert Vanden Wijngaert, working for AP:

Wijngaert confirmed that May wasn’t alone in the room, telling Worth in an email: ‘She just was the first to go and sit at the meeting table when others were still standing. I framed the image so you only could see her. That’s what press photographers do all the time to illustrate news stories.’ Great work from the photographer, given that he probably only had a few seconds to see and get the shot.

How journalism works, 2017 style


Late in the evening of Friday 20 January there came an announcement that the winning ticket in that night’s Euromillions lottery, worth €88.5 million, had been sold in Ireland. Cue the national hysteria which always follows such announcements. ‘Who has the winning ticket?’ ‘Where was it sold?’ ‘What would you do with the money if you won €88.5 million?’ Journalists were dispatched to all corners of the country briefed to find out the answers to these important questions, and virtually every radio programme and TV news bulletin contained an update.
These days, of course, there is another player in the market, ‘social media’, and this fed the rumour mill. Before long, word had spread that the ticket had been sold in Cork, in particular in the village of Glounthane, and even more specifically in Fitzgerald’s shop. ‘Everyone’ knew that this was the case, and even ‘the dogs on the street’ had found out that the winners were a syndicate based in Janssens Pharmaceuticals on a nearby industrial estate.
Cue more hysteria. RTE News had a live feed into the main evening news. The Wednesday morning tabloids ran the story on their front pages and by the afternoon the shop’s owner was telling a chat show that her mother was hoping the publicity might get her a husband.
By Thursday morning, the owner’s potential suitors might have been reconsidering. Nothing more had emerged from Cork and the satellite trucks pulled out of downtown Glounthane. Then came rumours that the ticket might have been sold elsewhere in the country, probably in Dublin.
And so it proved. First thing on Friday morning the National Lottery told RTE’s Morning Ireland that they would be making an announcement as to which province the ticket had been sold in. But when the spokesperson went live on air, he went further than this and announced the actual shop in which it had been sold – the Applegreen service station on the M1 motorway in Lusk, Co Dublin.
More pandemonium. The first ‘National’ edition of Dublin’s ‘evening’ paper, The Herald, had already gone to press.


The front page splash had reported how a Clondalkin shopkeeper had posted on Facebook that he had sold the winning ticket in his branch of Tuthills. The next day, he overheard one woman saying to another: ‘Did you hear the winning ticket was sold in Tuthills? I just thought it was hilarious.’

Within hours, The Herald had replaced its front page for the ‘City Final’ edition. Photographers and film crews had descended on the Applegreen service station where the happy staff posed with glasses of Bucks Fizz for pictures. And there was also plenty of publicity for the service station’s decision to drop the price for fuel to 88.5c per litre until stocks ran out.
But just who were the lucky winner (or winners)? The Lottery was staying quiet on that, other than confirming they had been in touch with them about collecting their prize. Will there be a concerted drive to find out who they are? Or will their obvious desire for privacy be respected? Time will tell. But if there are any rumours, or false posts on Facebook, then you can be sure that the Great Irish Press will be on the case.