Wasted Inches

It was 2002 when I first started blogging. This blog’s first post was in July 2002 and we’ll, no doubt, talk about that more when the time comes.

But earlier in 2002 there had been another experiment. I didn’t know that I was blogging at the time and it all worked using a few bits of Perl that I’d thrown together myself. There was no commenting system and no web feed. But I was writing topical posts on a regular basis, so I guess it would be called a blog today.

I thought I’d lost all the content a couple of server moves back, but a few weeks ago I discovered a backup of the table which contained all of the content. I’ve loaded it into WordPress and I’m planning to publish the posts in “real time” over the next few months. The first one appears today.

The blog was called Wasted Inches and I’m happy to see that some of my earliest writing on the web was on a subject that I’m still covering today. Wasted Inches was supposed to uncover the idiocy of the tabloid press. I wasn’t particularly interested in deep political analysis, I was just pointing and laughing at what the red-tops chose to put on their front pages.

Back then, of course, few of the newspapers had anything like the web presence that they have today. This had two effects. Firstly it meant that I couldn’t find my material online like I would now. I did my research by glancing at the tabloid front pages as I was buying my Guardian every morning. And secondly, I couldn’t link to any of the stories I was discussing. Or perhaps I would have been able to, but just couldn’t be bothered. Anyway, there are no links and I have no intention of trying to find references now.

I will, however, try to add some historical context. Many of the pieces were very much of their time. They assumed that people knew what the papers were talking about and didn’t waste time filling in background. Ten years on that makes some of them a little obscure, so I’ll try to explain what I was talking about – assuming that I can remember myself.

The writing style is itself quite tabloid. Or, at least, what I considered to be a passable impersonation of a tabloid style. There are a few turns of phrase that I’m still very happy with, but a lot of it is quite pedestrian.

There’s not a lot of it. Just over forty posts over about six months. And there are some quite large gaps between posts. None of the posts are very long either. It’s not quite a Twitter stream, but I guess it’s the kind of thing that Tumblr was made for.

Anyway, it’s just a bit of historical silliness that might amuse a few of you as the posts appear irregularly over the next six months.


Watching the Press – Notes

Today, at Opentech, I gave a talk called “Watching the Press“. Here are some notes and references to go with the talk.

Downtown Abbey
The Daily Mail claimed that two hours of material were being cut from Downton Abbey for broadcast in the US – because the plot was too complex for US viewers to follow. They mentioned that it was showing on PBS and that PBS didn’t show any adverts. The original broadcast took eight hours, of which two were taken up by adverts.

The Daily Mail story is here. And here’s an interesting blog post from Jace Lacob who explained this in some detail to the Daily Mail reporter.

Salt in Chippies
The Daily Express ran a headline saying “Salt Banned in Chipshops“. They went on to claim that “Salt shakers are being removed from fish and chip shops in a nanny state ruling on what we can eat”. The truth (as explained if you actually read the story) was that one council were suggesting that fast food restaurants might keep the salt behind the counter so that people had to ask for it.

Winterval/War on Christmas
Sigh. This one has run for so long that the tabloids have just been repeating each others’ stories for well over ten years. But there’s no truth at the heart of the story.

Last year Kevin Arscott did a sterling job in researching the full story of these rumours. His report is well worth reading (not that any tabloid journalists will ever bother).

Most tabloid journalists don’t understand science. Therefore their stories are often disastrous. The best example is obviously the tabloid stories which led to the MMR hysteria of the late 1990s. The tabloids still refuse to accept their part in this and still insist on referring to MMR as a controversial vaccine.

Tabloids also give uncritical coverage to pseudo-science. Three stories pulled at random from the Daily Mail.

The best source for research into pseudo-science in the press is, of course, Ben Goldacre’s Bad Science blog.

What has changed?
None of this is new. Tabloids have been doing this for years. So what has changed? I think that the internet has brought about three changes.

  1. The tabloids have large new audiences. Many of us would never pay for a tabloid newspaper, but if the content is available for free on their web site we’ll look at it. This is clear from most Daily Mail comment threads, where many of the commenters will be putting forward views that you don’t expect from traditional Mail readers.
  2. The internet makes it easier to check facts. The journalists don’t often take advantage of this, but we can. See my recent blog post on Google and Adele for a good example of this.
  3. The internet also makes it easy to share your findings about the press. Jan Moir found this out to her cost in October 2009. She described the reaction to her piece on the death of Stephen Gately as “a heavily orchestrated internet campaign“. It wasn’t, of course. But it very easily could have been.

Some Interesting Projects
Churnalism is a web site for comparing press releases with published stories. The similarities can be startling.
Istyosty is a site which caches Daily Mail content so that we can share links without them getting more click revenue.
Last year some of us tried to suggest some improvements to the Press Complaints Commission. See Tim’s blog post on the campaign for more details.

Press Watching Blogs
The Sun – Tabloid Lies : @the_sun_lies
Mailwatch : @mailwatch
Express Watch : @expresswatch
Five Chinese Crackers : @5ChinCrack
Enemies of Reason :
Tabloid Watch :
The Daily Quail :
Angry Mob :
Nadia Knows :

How can I help?
Follow our 3-step programme

  1. Read the tabloids (Google reader is your friend)
  2. Check facts (at least more than the journalist did)
  3. Share your information (online and offline)

Tell us what you’ve found. We’ll help you spread the message.

The press lies to you. Let’s tell people.


The Sun on Doctor Who

How many obvious errors can you spot in this Sun story: Jennifer could be Dr Who

Ab Fab star Jennifer Saunders is set to be the first female Timelord – for just one episode.

The comic actress is in talks to become Doctor Who as David Tennant, 36, will leave after filming three specials in 2009.

TV bosses are keen to get a woman on board the Tardis for one of those shows.

A source said of Jennifer, 49, best known as Edina in Absolutely Fabulous: “She’s in the running and we all think she would be fantastic.”

Kylie Minogue is in the Christmas Special that previews tonight.

Bit puzzled by that last sentence too. Has someone got their Tuesdays confused?