RIP thelondonpaper – Where now for free news?

tlp dead

When thelondonpaper sized up to London Lite in September 2006 it really was a case of ‘this town ain’t big enough for the both of us.’ The showdown between two media titans was mouth-watering: Murdoch vs Daily Mail, the fight of the century.

Today’s closure of Murdoch’s freesheet is sad news for media competition in the capital, (not to mention the 60-odd journalists who made it) but in many ways the main surprise is that it took this long for one of the competing titles to fold. It seemed illogical that both could occupy the same patch in very similar styles for so long, but the disclosure of thelondonpaper’s annual losses in August made for a sobering read. Put simply, both sides have been taking considerable losses just for the strategic advantage. I seem to remember a lecture at City where Roy Greenslade called it a ‘brutal turf war’ .

As it stood, they couldn’t both pull a profit, so it was only matter of time before someone blinked first. Whilst £13m per year may seem like a lot to lose, News International (Rupert Murdoch’s multi-national behind thelondonpaper) were willing to take the hit if it meant they could corner off a growing market and take on The Evening Standard (who, like London Lite and The Daily Mail, are owned by DMGT).

This summer has seen something of a sea-change at News International, however, and with his decision to start charging for timesonline.co.uk and sun.co.uk, it rather seems that Mr Murdoch has gone off the idea of giving away journalism for free. This would make perfect business sense, if it weren’t for that pesky BBC News website…

In the long run we may not have seen the last of thelondonpaper – David Crow at City AM speculates that Metro could yet face a fresh challenge to their morning freesheet monopoly in April 2010, when their London tube distribution contract comes up for renegotiation. Furthermore, he argues that London Lite will follow suit and close as well, having seen off the main threat to the Evening Standard. Despite their best efforts to take advertising to new heights, neither London Lite or thelondonpaper have managed to turn a profit, so maybe the lesson here (and from Metro’s financial performance) is that the morning slot is the only profitable realm for free newspapers.

For the time being, the result will be celebrated as a big victory at DMGT. Other beneficiaries include Free Newspapers Cost The Earth who point out the environmental effect of all that waste paper, but I would argue that the closure of thelondonpaper is a big loss for the average London commuter.

From what I gather, thelondonpaper is the more popular choice and many enjoyed comparing and contrasting the two papers and their coverage of stories. So as a parting salute to thelondonpaper, I’ve decided to try my first online poll (below). Let me know whether you’ll miss thelondonpaper, or if you prefer London Lite, or if you simply don’t waste your time on freesheets at all.

Product Placement – Is It Really That Bad?

So news came through over the weekend that the government has finally ceded to pressure from broadcasters and decided to drop the ban on product placement in commercial programming in the UK.

This is news that can be taken in one of two ways – at first I recoiled in mock horror, imagining the potential sway corporate brands could be granted over the public’s subconscious, but it is becoming more and more apparent to me that this is a necessary evil.

The name of the game's placement, product placement (photo: guardian.co.uk)
The name of the game’s placement, product placement (photo: guardian.co.uk)

It’s easy to get all riled up over the intrusion of brand names into your favourite films and TV shows, but think back to these most blatant examples of product placement – James Bond’s latest mobile phone or watch, Pepsi in Back To The Future, even the humble Sara Lee gateau in Peep Show. The most likely response in each case is mild derision, not an uncontrollable urge to go out and by the product in question.

Product placement is cheesy and obvious – it’s not brainwashing, it’s not even subliminal messaging.

It will be interesting to see how the ad men attempt to take advantage of this change in policy. Will Jeff Stelling start prominently drinking PG Tips on Countdown? Don’t worry, the BBC isn’t eligible due to its publicly-funded status, so we won’t be seeing punters in the Queen Vic drinking Strongbow (liquid refreshment) or eating McCoys (man crisps).

David Elstein argues persuasively that product placement is nothing to be feared in this column for The Times, but then again he would, being a former chief executive of Channel Five. He makes a good point – the government’s nannying intervention is condescending to us as viewers who can be trusted to think for ourselves. But I shudder when Elstein refers to us all as consumers.

Don’t be fooled – there is an inherent threat to the integrity of programmers in this decision, which will have to be stoutly resisted by those in charge, but if this is what’s needed to keep ITV and Channel 4 afloat, then so be it. The long-term, lingering issue is how to ensure ad revenue as viewers head online for the on-demand convenience of iPlayer and channel4.com. That is a serious dilemma for all major media providers at the moment, but that’s another blog post for another time…

N.B. This blog is not commercially supported in any way by any of the aforementioned brands… yet.

My new job? Looking for a job

The first day in a new job is always hard; I’m anxious and uneasy, but I think I’m up to the task. That’s right, I’ve got a job. My new job is looking for a job.

Coffee: My new work colleague
Coffee: My new work colleague

I’ve been dreading this for a while like the inevitable onset of Swine Flu or the new Lady Gaga single, but I think the best way to look at it is in the context of any other job. They pay isn’t great (non-existent even), but we journalists should be used to that. My commute is quite manageable: just five seconds from my bed to my desk. There are other perks – listening to Radiohead in my slippers, for example. The canteen is cheap, and if the food is rubbish I only have one person to blame. Best of all I can sneak in a quick blog post during my lunch hour (plenty more of these to come – you lucky devils!).

I honestly believe that optimism is the only way to stay sane in the recession, but I’m not deluding myself. The bottom line is I need a real job, I’ve got a bit of freelance work in the pipeline, but at my age I doubt I’ve got the contacts to make that pay the rent. I know finding work in this economic climate is not going to be easy, but I think the best way to approach it is 9 to 5, focused on the task, with the minimum of distractions.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I better get back to work before my boss yells at me.

The Best of the Boozers: My top 10 London Pubs

Having lived in London for nearly a year now, I feel that I can offer some tips to anyone new to the big city looking for a decent pint that won’t leave you wincing after seeing the price. The following list is by no means definitive, but all are strong recommendations which each have their own certain charm.

1.) The Chandos – Trafalgar Square

Waxy O'Connor's
The Wonder of Waxy's

£2.20 for a pint with a view of one of London’s most famous tourist traps, it’s as simple as that. This place is not exactly a well-guarded secret, more a smart choice for anyone who really knows the West End. The drinks are all from Samuel Smith’s Tadcaster brewery, an independent company which makes gorgeous lager and cider. The only big name brand in sight is McCoy’s, and that is no bad thing!
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2.) Waxy O’Connor’s, Leicester Sqaure

Think of this more as a folk concept album than a pub. Three floors underground with a giant tree in the middle, this place is straight out of Middle Earth, with wooden balconies and low ceilings. The potato wedges are worth their weight in gold and there’s a great range of draughts, just don’t expect much change from your fiver.
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3.) The Rocket, Euston

Anyone familiar with the Scream pub franchise will be aware of their legendary value deals. £3.75 for Beer and a Burger, £1 a pint night, the epic Scream Burger – they’re all here. Convenient walking distance from both Euston and Kings Cross stations, with a giant projector screen, this is my top tip for anyone wanting to watch a football match.
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4.) The Castle, Farringdon

There’s something about this place which gives it real charm. Maybe it’s the friendly staff, the lavish furniture or the delicious food. This Mitchell & Butler’s franchised pub has a great selection of obscure draughts and it’s striking distance from Fabric, if you’re into the clubbing scene.
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The 563 year-old Mitre Tavern
The 463 year-old Mitre Tavern

5.) Ye Olde Mitre Tavern, Holborn Circus

I like to entertain the notion that Henry VIII once drank here. It’s possible (if not likely), since the Mitre was founded in 1546. I’m sure the portly adulterer would’ve loved the choice of real ales, toasted sandwiches and mixed nuts on offer in this distinctly old-mannish pub.
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6.) The Crown Tavern, Clerkenwell Green – Perfect for an outdoor pint watching the sun set.
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7.) The Camden Head, Angel – Spacious and trendy, in the heart of the Camden Passage antiques market.
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8.) The Founders Arms, Southwark – You can’t put a price on a pub with a view of the Thames, which is just as well because this place ain’t cheap!
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9.) The World’s End, Camden – Forget the apocalyptic name (The Underworld metal club is next door), this is a spacious boozer with an upstairs balcony and Victorian courtyard-style décor.
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10.) The George & Vulture, Hoxton – Their quality pub quiz has yielded alcoholic prizes to my team on more than one occasion! They also do a delicious stone-baked pizza.
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As always, I’m open to suggestions, particularly in the Bow/Mile End area, because I’ve just moved there. Normal blogging service (with plenty of weighty political rants in store), will resume shortly…

In For A Penny, In For A Pound

penny
Photo: Paul Revans

Look after the pennies and the pounds will look after themselves, I was always told. Well, according to this article from the BBC Magazine, the pennies could soon be dying out.

They argue that people simply do not have the time to collect pennies anymore and would prefer to be charged in full pounds. The article continues to say that, despite the recession, no-one is penny-pinching because their time is all the more valuable. You would have to be paid £1.20 per hour for stopping 30 seconds to pick up a penny to be worthwhile, or in a more realistic figure, if you were paid minimum wage then six seconds is the most reasonable time you should have to wait for a penny to be handed over at the till.

For starters, who is paid that precisely for the seconds they work? Even if you were paid in such an anal manner, the argument is still redundant. The time you are most likely to be handling pennies is your lunch hour or your leisure time, and that cannot be quantified by an hourly wage.

The article continues to show how many stores are phasing out 99p pricing in favour of the more honest round pound value on goods. This is much more logical, since consumers have long since come to see through this thinly-veiled attempt to subconsciously make items seem cheaper than they are.

But as for the humble penny, I think it’s callous to overlook its importance. Even if you just toss it to a beggar sitting by the supermarket exit, it can make a difference. My university halls collected up all the loose change in its vacant flats last summer and gave the total sum (a little over £60) to charity, and that cash can go a considerable way towards changing lives for the better. I’d like to think of myself as a case in point – I counted my penny jar the other day and I have saved £3.72 over the past nine months, which will convert into a nice tasty pint at my local. As long as the penny is still legal tender, then it should not be taken as worthless.

Ferrero Rocher – may contain nuts

There are many reasons why people read this blog. Some are just curious and stumble across it by the suggestive WordPress tags above. Many are loyal friends, press-ganged into reading by Facebook statuses and/or Twitter updates. Judging by the number of views of my CV, some may even be potential employers.

The most fascinating of all are people brought here by random Google searches. Some popular results which have lead people to my blog include:Ferrero Rocher

Chris Jefferies, Journalist (fair enough)

Jimmy Carr, Jade Goody, sick joke (one I’m particularly proud of)

Ferrero Rocher (sorry, what?!)

It seems that, despite my effort to ridicule Robert Mugabe and his taste in the cheapy dinner party chocs, they are still massively popular amongst Google searchers, with this image query bringing me hundreds of hits over the past few months. So in the spirit of overpriced chocolate that gets stuck in your teeth, I have great news:

Ferrero Rocher have been cleared of Hazlenut fraud

The relief must be palpable across Europe, since Ferrero are also responsible for the hazlenut deliciousness which is Nutella. Had this case gone the other way, I’m not sure how the French would have coped.

trufflesA fantastic example of an obscure angle being milked to lighten up the business section, (much like this blog post, you may say), so I salute the Beeb for their ingenuity. And they are not the only ones who were taken in by this nugget of a story, with The Times and The Scotsman following suit. So you can rest safe in the knowledge that Ferrero are not being dishonest in the hunt for nutty perfection.

Except for the fact that Rocher are tacky, unfulfilling and unimaginative. If you’re going to a dinner party and want to impress, take some time and make these instead.

The London Tube strike shows that RMT have lost touch with reality

Tube Strike crowds at Canary Wharf Underground Station (Twitter user @hey_dahl)
Tube Strike crowds at Canary Wharf Underground Station (Twitter user @hey_dahl)

Everyone knows how we British love a good queue, but over the past two days, scenes like this (left) have stretched London’s patience to the limit. I have had the good fortune of being largely unaffected by the Tube strike, but the extent of the disruption is clear to see and woefully avoidable.

Former London Mayor Ken Livingstone, in his usual magnanimous manner, has chimed into the debate today in The Times by arguing that if he were still in charge he would have placated the RMT union and avoided the two-day total strike. However it only takes a glance at the current levels of pay and demands to realise that Bob Crow has lost touch with reality and this strike deserves to be met with harsh sanctions and little sympathy.

Let’s deal in facts for a while:

Tube drivers earn £40,000/year on average, 25% more than nurses for a 35 hours week.

The waiting list to be a Tube driver is over 18 months.

Bob Crow, head of the RMT union, is demanding a 5% pay rise for all drivers and a promise of no compulsory redundancies.

Britain is dealing with a painful recession, bringing with it deflation and job losses.

How on earth can anyone believe that this callous and greedy strike is justified? (We’re back into opinion now, in case you missed that seamless segue.) It seems like a brash solution, but why not just fire the striking drivers and give their jobs to the un-unionised folks on the waiting list? That may be the least left-wing thing I’ve ever said, but in times like these it is simply boorish not to realise how lucky you are. A £40k/year job pushing buttons and sitting down all day is not to be taken for granted. Stephen Pollard, editor of the Jewish Chronicle, brilliantly explodes RMT’s argument in this article for The Times’ Thunderer column.

Perhaps voting out Bob Crow as leader of RMT would have a similarly desirable effect. His popularity is at a predictable ebb, according to this Comment Central poll, but he cannot take all the blame. Every striking driver has to take a long hard look at their reasons for letting down the entire city.

A quick Twitter search shows that one of the main upsides of the Tube strike seems to be that many Londoners have escaped the rat-race tunnels and taken in the delights of over-ground travelling in the capital. I am, by no means, suggesting that London’s businesses and industry could survive without the Tube network, but it is refreshing to be reminded of the joys of walking and boat travel, even if the buses provide a less than desirable alternative.

By 7pm tonight the latest in a seemingly endless series of strikes will be over and business as usual is meant to resume on Friday, just in time for a weekend of maintenance work. Oh, how I love living in the city!

HIGNFY: So sharp, so relevant

Barack ObamaFriday night saw the return of Have I Got News For You? and it’s hard to think of a time when this show has ever been more relevant or important. This latest series in a long line of successes comes complete with new titles, featuring Barack Obama shooting hoops.

Series 37 kicked off with Frank Skinner at the helm. Bouyed by his recent welcoming into the world of journalism via his Times column, Skinner delivered his lines with the dry composure which has been the hallmark of some of the best HIGNFY hosts. The Beeb could do a lot worse than to pick him as the new permanent anchor.

Rotund funny-woman Katy Brand put in a suprisingly intellectual turn on Ian Hislop’s team: “You’re not actually allowed to take a picture of the police or film the police, or even look at the police because of the Anti-Terrorist laws.” Someone has been doing her homework. Paul Merton’s reply? “That’s gonna knock the stuffing out of The Bill, innit?”

But the real highlight came when Hislop laid into the token politican and Shadow Leader of the House of Commons, Alan Duncan MP, for his second and third homes. As Hislop put it “I’ve been doing your second-homework.” A truly no-holds barred grilling of the would-be Tory home secretary and a fine example of just why we love Penfold.

What with the world-summits, political scandals and police bust-ups of late, Friday nights have been yearning out for the return of HIGNFY’s unique brand of dry, witty satire. God knows I’ve missed it, and you can tell by the zeal with which Hislop stove into Duncan that he’s missed it too.

Last night’s episode can be viewed on BBC iPlayer for the next 6 days, here.

Islington Now; Blog Hiatus

Islington Now: A shameless plug!
Islington Now: A shameless plug!

Any regular readers will realise that this blog has not been at its prolific best over the past few weeks. This is because I have been working for a new online publication, Islington Now, as part of my course. Last week I was working on the production desk, designing the paper copy on Quark and making the masthead you see atop this post. This week I have been dispatched to work on business, but I’m also working on news and features.

Please have a look through the site – my course-mates have been really busy putting up some excellent copy. You can follow us on Twitter or subscribe via RSS.

My first effort is here and more will follow over the next few days.

Arsenal fans without Setanta Sports are strongly advised to follow my esteemed colleague Faaez Samadi who will be live-blogging their FA Cup Sixth round tie against Hull, tonight from 7.30pm. David Christopher‘s audio slideshow which chronicles Islington street art and our rather snazzy news map are also highly recommended.

Normal blog service should resume in April.