Has the leaked Reading line up proved a point?

Reading Festival 2011 line-up
Erm... whoops!

Reading Festival organisers and Zane Lowe have egg well and truly on their faces today after an unnamed Kerrang! insider leaked the full line-up yesterday lunchtime, more than five hours before it was due to be announced.

As a result, this year is the first time in at least four years that Reading weekend tickets have not sold out in a matter of hours. I checked 23 hours later and Seetickets was still selling them.

The line-up itself was the subject of a fierce Twitter backlash, with many voicing their disapproval. But in all honesty it’s the same every year. Those with the most vociferously negative opinions will always be heard the loudest in the social media echo chamber. Although that said, the Official Reading Facebook page’s attempt to delete spoiler comments was hilariously naive and just proof that they had something to hide.

Is the line-up worse than in previous years? That’s hard to judge objectively, true there’s less metal, but that trend has been ongoing since 2008. The Strokes and My Chemical Romance are both massive bands, whether you like them or not and Muse’s only festival appearance this year is sure to be something rather special.

Zane lowe bbc radio one dj
Zane ain't happy...

The main difference this year is that the power appears to have been at least partially taken out of the organisers’ hands. Zane Lowe in particular was left looking more than a little bit foolish last night after his grandstanding annual line-up announcement live on BBC Radio One was well and truly gazumped by the power of the internet. As he struggled to maintain his trademark Kiwi cool, he let slip “this was meant to be a celebration and now I’m trending with hate.”

Maybe fans are a bit sick of being treated like unquestioning saps by the organisers, who are pushing towards getting the tickets on sale before anyone knows for sure who’s playing.

They may argue that they’re following Glastonbury’s lead, so they are justified. But this is only partially true, as the Pilton farm mega-fest only asks for a £50 deposit in good faith and they then only demand the rest once the first 20 or so bands are announced.

At the end of the day, I can’t help wondering whether this whole embarrassing debacle will maybe make Festival Republic think twice about their approach to announcing the line-up and selling tickets next year…

In the meantime for those of you that are going and are excited (like me), I humbly present my Reading Festival 2011 Spotify playlist and Neat Little Rows from the splendiferously magnificent new Elbow album:

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.

In For A Penny, In For A Pound

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.

Fancy a flutter on the budget?

Seems Alistair Darling’s historic budget announcement this week hurt more than just earners of more than £150k/year – the bookies also took a battering.

Don't much fancy your tie, Darling
Don't much fancy your tie, Darling

Last Monday, the BBC printed this story highlighting how you could make some cash out of the budget no matter what drastic measures Darling announced. Ladbrokes were taking bets for everything from tie colour to phrases used in the speech. A black tie? 25-1. Using the word ‘sorry’? 14-1.

So how did they fare? Not so well according to Labrokes spokesman David Williams: “We lost a few grand on the tie. When we first saw it, we knew we’d be in for a nightmare. One man rung up claiming that it had a grey stripe, and he bet £20 on a grey tie at 16-1. So we thought, for the sake of £320 we’d let him have it. We normally do these for a bit of fun, but this one really bit us in the bum.”

By the looks of the Chancellor’s tie, anything from green to blue to brown could have paid off. His speech clocked in at 51 minutes, which didn’t cause a great upset, but the main relief for Ladbrokes came with the omission of the word sorry. “We would have lost £53,000 if he had said sorry,” says Williams, “So we’re not sorry that he didn’t say sorry.”


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.

University Challenge: It’s All Just Academic

How seriously should we take University Challenge?
How seriously should we take University Challenge?

I struggle to see why the BBC has made such a ridiculous fuss over the 2009 final of University Challenge. The disqualification of Corpus Christi, the Oxford college lead by virtuoso savant Gail Trimble, seems to be based more on nitpicking technicalities than on any significant grievances.

Where were the hundreds of complains to the BBC? It’s bizarre that the Beeb have pounced on this, particularly when so few were calling for action. Even Manchester, the default winners are reluctant to acknowledge the title as theirs.

Sure, Sam Kay was no longer a student at Corpus when the final was filmed back in November. After failing to get funding for his Chemistry PhD, he jumped ship and landed a job at PWC. Given the sorry state of graduate employment at the moment, I can hardly blame him. But importantly he wasn’t expecting to leave when he applied to be on the show and indeed when he competed in the first few rounds.

Perhaps he should have been honest as admitted that he had left and taken a job before the filming of the final, but no doubt that would have caused a whole host of different problems. Should he be replaced? Should the team be disqualified even if they did nothing wrong? More importantly – who cares? After all it’s just a game. A large part of University Challenge’s appeal is that it doesn’t take itself too seriously and the torrent of satire this show has both attracted and welcomed over the years is clear evidence of this.

To top it all, The Times has done some journalistic digging and found out that three previous winners of the UC title also had ineligible players in their team.

It remains to be seen whether this whole fiasco will dent the popularity of Gail Trimble, the brainbox captain who has reportedly

Legend: Bamby
Legend: Bamby

been offered a handsome sum to pose “tastefully” for Nuts magazine. An optimistic offer if ever I heard one and I can hardly imagine her new fiancé will be massively enthusiastic about the idea.

The most damning remarks come from former host Bamber Gascoigne, the only man who seems passionate one way or another: “To fail to produce a series of University Challenge, based on university life, not within a single university year, is pathetic. The whole thing is madness” Speaking of legendary producers, the BBC didn’t take long to get a reaction from the ever nonchalant Jeremy Paxman who seems like he could hardly care less.

On a related note: the qualifying heats for the next series of University Challenge are being held at City University this Thursday at 6pm in the Great Hall. Don’t all rush at once…

De Menezes Déjà Vu

An innocent victim
An innocent victim

Killing an innocent man on a tube train is not illegal.

That much we have already learnt this week from Sir Michael Wright QC.

Today the jury in the Jean Charles De Menezes case returned an open verdict, but I can’t help but wonder if, given the chance, they would have plumped for a verdict of unlawful killing.

There has been considerable fallout from the Jean Charles De Menezes inquest, with pertinent details coming to light every day. Last year the BBC put together a great step-by-step reconstruction of the events of 22 July 2005, which really brings the story to life. You can map the movements of the officers right down to the final actions.  For example, a surveillance officer failed to identify De Menezes as he was leaving his flat, because the officer in question was ‘relieving himself’ as the BBC so tactfully puts it. But, the main question people have been asking is will this happen again?

Well, I don’t think it’s a great leap to argue that it already has. Last week.

The case of David Sycamore may not garner  quite as much sympathy as that of Jean Charles De Menezes. He cannot be described as innocent in the same way – he was armed (albeit with an imitation firearm) and he was mentally unstable. But several of the excuses that have been put forward by Cressida Dick in response to the De Menezes case do not apply. We are not directly reeling from a major terrorist attack anymore and David Sycamore was not a suspected suicide bomber.

In such circumstances, should there be a shoot to kill policy? Understandably Sycamore was identified as a dangerous suspect, but surely there are less fatal ways of neutralising the threat he posed to the public. Attack dogs or Tasers for example? Once again the suspect was allowed to travel through a public area before the police finally made their move. Again we have to ask – if he was so dangerous, why was he not dealt with sooner?

The final moments of David Sycamore’s life are tinged with irony – his family says that he used to go to Guildford Cathedral to find inner peace. The image of a man gunned down on Cathedral steps at 3pm on a Sunday can hardly do the Police’s image any favours.

Once again, the IPCC have been called in to investigate. Once they deliver their findings, it hope this horrific story will get the mainstream coverage it deserves. But at the end of the day, I would not be surprised no decisive action was taken. This is certainly one case I’ll be watching with a keen eye.

Where Have All The Lefties Gone?

You can’t move in the journalistic world at the moment without being faced with worrying questions about the credit crunch, but no-one seems to have any definite answers. It’s particularly daunting for someone such as me, who has no formal economic education, so I readily bow to those who know their FTSEs from their Dow Jones’s.

Take to the streets!
Take to the streets!

The Times’ daily columnists have been doing a great job of making the credit crunch more comprehensible, and today the BBC chimed in with this helpful article.

But I am quite surprised that no-one has risked taking a Marxist view of the situation, even ironically. I consider myself to be a closet Lefty, fairly convinced by Marx’s ideas, but not educated or confident enough to walk down Farringdon Road waving a Red Flag, burning £10 notes.

No matter what your political stance, it must seem unusual that as the capitalist system falters majorly, there is a great dearth of left-wing criticism. Nonetheless, I found this article from the Guardian particularly interesting.

Unquantified though it may be, I think it’s wonderfully ironic that the Germans (who are stereotypically aligned with fascism) should look to their estranged son Karl for guidance during this time of severe economic turmoil. Perhaps I should look to the Guardian more often to indulge my quasi-Marxist tendencies…

Now Playing: Frank Turner – Love, Ire & Song

UPDATE 13/11/08: Don’t despair, some would argue you can even benefit from the credit crunch. David Christopher blogs that a reduction in house prices can only be good for those hoping to get on the property ladder for the first time.