Friday, December 19, 2008

Murray Sayle makes more sales 50 years late

In the UK, this quirky tale about the vagaries of the publishing world puts writer Murray Sayle in the spotlight almost half a century after the fact. Check out the back story, too. The currency may have changed but the intrigues and class wars persist. Brush off the cobwebs. It still resonates today, and Revel Barker's website
goes into it in depth.
He made an excuse, and left

It has taken 47 years for Murray Sayle's classic book about popular newspapers to become readily available.

(Is this a record? – Knowing a bit about publishers, possibly not.)

A CROOKED SIXPENCE tells the tale of a young Australian reporter, fresh off the boat, brimming with excitement, enthusiasm and ambition, securing casual shifts on a mass-circulation Fleet Street Sunday scandal-sheet… and the disillusion that set in very shortly afterwards.

It has been described as:

'The best novel about journalism – ever' (Phillip Knightley)…

'Effectively a documentary, lightly disguised as a novel' (Neville Stack)…

'Wonderful – the best book about British popular journalism' (Roy Greenslade)…

And 'the best novel never published' (Anthony Delano).

In fact the book was published, by MacGibbon and Kee in London and by Doubleday in New York, in 1961. A CROOKED SIXPENCE became an instant hit, and sold to Hollywood for a movie, but it lasted in print only for a number of days.

This was because a near-penniless London aristocrat believed that he was identifiable in the story and wanted to sue.

Incredibly, the would-be litigant was actually a friend of Sayle's; he had no real beef but thought that, since he'd heard that all publishers had libel insurance, he could collect a load of cash without anybody being seriously harmed.

But his get-rich-quick plan backfired because instead of paying up, or bothering their insurers, the publishers simply recalled the book and pulped it. And the Hollywood project was abandoned.

The book had lain dormant, then, until being revived in this edition.

It is available TODAY, from amazon UK (click there to go straight to it) or direct from the publisher at a Ranters' discount, or on order from any decent bookshop.

One of the most distinguished journalists to have taken the boat from Australia, MURRAY SAYLE had started work as a copy boy with the Bulletin while still at Sydney University, later becoming a reporter for the Sydney Daily Telegraph and a columnist on the (Sydney) Daily Mirror.

In 1952 he moved to London where he worked in Fleet Street – mainly as a daily casual reporter for The People – until 1956. Around that time he 'decided it was time to do some serious thinking and light starving and get used to not having a job'.

So he went to Paris and wrote his first novel.

A Crooked Sixpence is the result.

He subsidised his writing with work for Agence France Press in Paris and Geneva. From 1960 to 1973 he was a war correspondent for The Times and the Sunday Times, covering Viet Nam, the Middle East, Northern Ireland, India-Pakistan and Bolivia.

His coverage of Viet Nam earned him the Reporter Of The Year award in 1970. He was made Magazine Writer Of The Year in 1983 for his reports on the KAL 007 incident when a passenger aircraft was shot down by Soviet fighters.

His journalistic scoops included interviews with Che Guevara and with Kim Philby.

He also took part in the International Mount Everest Expedition (reporting for BBC TV) in 1970, the Round Britain Yacht Race (1971) and the Trans-Atlantic Single-Handed Yacht Race in l972 (making a film for BBC, Alone on a Wide Wide Sea, during the race).

In 1975 he moved to the Far East, becoming Asian Editor of Newsweek before going to live in Japan as a freelance. He returned to Australia, where he lives with his wife Jenny, in 2004.

In 2006 his old university – Sydney – from which he had never graduated but where he had he edited the weekly student magazine Honi Soit, awarded him an honorary doctorate and the following year he received the Medal of the Order of Australia – 'for service to media and communications, particularly as a foreign and war correspondent ' in the Queen's Birthday Honours.

After all these years A CROOKED SIXPENCE looks set to be another immediate hit in its second incarnation.

As word spread of its republishing, pre-orders on the designated amazon-uk website last week propelled sales into the top 2½ per cent of the on-line bookseller's ratings.

Classic novel republished

By Roy Greenslade

In the summer I published several extracts from Murray Sayle's classic novel about yellow journalism in the 1950s, A Crooked Sixpence.

Several people wrote asking me to tip them off should it be republished.

Well, I'm delighted to say it's now back in print after 47 years, courtesy of, that wonderful new media outfit that celebrates old media history.

Sayle's landlord, a minor and penniless sprig of the aristocracy, Michael Alexander (Macedon in the novel, geddit?), decided to cash in by suing for libel. He, and Sayle, thought the publisher's insurance company would pay up. Instead, the book was withdrawn from sale.

Some copies did get distributed before the axe fell, which is how Stothard came to have one. Another was tracked down by a German journalism academic, Lorenz Lorenz Meyer, who kindly provided me with the copy that allowed me to run extracts.

Anyway, every journalist should read A Crooked Sixpence. So go get yours now.

I was that reporter
By John Knight

The hero of Murray Sayle's masterwork on the raffish Fleet Street of the early 1950s is Duncan (Tom) Webb, The People crime reporter. He embodied what a 'star reporter' was really meant to be.

His stories were sensational in the real meaning of that abused word. He exposed crooks and crooked policemen, the gross and the ghastly, and was the bellwether of modern investigative journalism. He was his own role model. He talked and walked the part: B-movie good looks, immaculate blazer and silk handkerchief, pipe with best aromatic Balkan tobacco, slightly broken nose, and talked deeply and quietly from the corner of his mouth.

Tom Webb was the works. Time Magazine in 1955 described him, at 37, as 'the greatest crime reporter of our time.' He was then at full throttle and died only a few years later. Murray Sayle had traditionally got off the boat from Australia to make it in Fleet Street and wangled a casual reporter's job on The People. Sam Campbell, the managing editor in charge of the paper, handed him over to Webb as a legman for his series on vice which had the country agog. It was good casting. The Aussie did well. Webb liked the aggressive Sayle who in turn saw a heroic professional reporter among a newsroom of scumbags.

Sayle, who had before him a brilliant international career as foreign correspondent and commentator, made this classic plot into his novel, A Crooked Sixpence, which on publication in 1961 ran into legal problems. Now it is published this week revealing The People, in those post-war years. The paper was hardly drowning in its sewer of hubris and humbug but triumphant with a circulation over five million.

It is the most keenly observed book on Fleet Street manners and mores that has been written, with breath-taking dialogue made for a film script and probably destined to be one. It is presented as fiction but in reality it is a documentary about Murray Sayle as 'James O'Toole', Sam Campbell called 'Cameron Barr', Nat Rothman, his sidekick as 'Nick Starsh' and Tom Webb as 'Norman Knight'. Sayle has portrayed them perfectly. All human and inhuman life was there – as I quickly found out for myself.

I was a very young Daily Mirror reporter, and did a Saturday trick on The People, in fact a double shift that went into the early hours and got the small fortune of £33. For a brief period I was also one of Webb's many casuals who went out into the Soho night for him in the early 1950s.

He was after the Messina Brothers of Sicilian-Maltese and Arabic stock who had a stranglehold on London's brothels and pornographic trade. They had the police bribed and boasted: 'We Messinas are more powerful than the British government. We do as we like in England.' They hadn't bargained for Tom Webb. My role was a junior one – small wonder that Harry Ainsworth, the editor, had said doubtfully to me before I departed to the Soho front: 'Do you think yer up to it, sonny?

My task was to walk up and down Sackville Street, near to Piccadilly Circus, trying to be solicited by streetwalkers. They seemed mostly to be well-padded middle aged French freaks with pantomime make-up. Eventually, one woman took me seriously and led me up to a room nearby.

Now the real work began. I had to establish that it was a brothel; in other words she was not the only prostitute working on the premises. So I cautiously asked her if she had another 'girl' who would join in our fun and games. She looked at me with Gallic incredulity.

'You can manage two of us?'

'Yes, I will pay for two. I must have two.' I tried to sound eager.

A shrug. 'Alice, come down 'ere,' she called along the corridor. Another prostitute more horrific than the first entered and looked me up and down. 'Okay, let's get on with it then,' she motioned to the bed.

I had been told by Webb that in no way was I to have any physical contact with any of the women. It was not going to be difficult carrying out his orders. I mumbled that I suddenly didn't feel up to it and put a couple of five-pound notes on a table.

The women picked up the money and watched me as I hurried out to the street to shrieks of their laughter. I had followed orders and made an excuse and left (this phrase had just been invented by Campbell as he dressed Tom Webb's copy).

Webb was waiting in the shadows and reassured me with: 'Well done. Now I want you to do the same thing in Brewer Street and then…' It was a long evening shift.

All this was small beer and Webb saved his big guns for big brothel busts and confronting the gangsters. He had done his homework so thoroughly that he knew all the Messina properties and prostitutes. He had his spies and paid tipsters (some in uniform) all over London's West End. The man who started life as an office boy on the London Evening Standard and fought a brave war in the Merchant Navy had a crusade against the vice barons.

Like me Sayle, who did the real heavy lifting, considered him a kind man but a ruthless operator. 'James O'Toole' in the book would go to any lengths for the 'Norman Knight' of his superb novel. But the atmosphere in the newsroom stank of treachery and duplicity.

It was a place where, as Sayle reports, 'Cameron Barr' decreed that all women under fifty-five were attractive, all Frenchmen hairdressers, and every time an aeroplane crashed some passenger had a dream warning them not to go. A broken doll was always found in the wreckage. Sayle had to make up stories about mill girls who didn't exist, answering advertisements made up by the art department to be models and dragged into sexual slavery.

'It is of no importance that the mill girl doesn't exist,' he says in the novel. 'That's what Cam says the people want to read. It saves me the trouble of convincing some deluded little girl that these things really happened. It also saves my employer some money.' And again… 'It's got the warm friendship of clean, uncompromising dishonesty.'

O'Toole is told by Barr to write a spoiler article about a popular singer whose life story is to be run by the Sunday Graphic. But O'Toole finds the singer's father who spills the beans about his son's meanness, illegitimacy and broken promises. The singer's big-breasted publicity woman successfully persuades Barr behind closed doors to pull it. When O'Toole complains, Barr storms: 'I won't have snide snobbish attacks in my newspaper. This singer is a hero to my teenage readers. It's possible you're keeping snobbish company outside the office and you've picked up some wrong attitudes without realising it. These people pay our salaries. Don't forget it.'

The humbug is complete.

A sex change case – all the rage with Sunday newspapers at that time – had written in offering his/her story. 'Go and con him that we're going to do a heart rending story about his courage,' orders Barr. 'But here's the angle – this pervert has had himself mutilated to get money out of the innocent British public…you contemptible beast.'

The reporter went to see the sex change case and found a perfectly reasonable and charming person. He told Barr: 'I am not cut out for this business. I don't know what I'm cut out for, but this is not it.' And quit.

Unnerving days in Covent Garden where, among the smell of fresh veg and stale beer in the market, Murray Sayle caught the 'delicious scent of fresh ink and paraffin, the way newspapers smell all over the world.' So it wasn't all bad.


A novel end to a literary mystery

By Richard Kay

He was a World War II hero, survivor of Colditz and lover of painter Lucian Freud's sometime muse Emily Bearn.

Now, four years after his death, adventurer Michael Alexander has been named as the mysterious litigant who destroyed the publication of writer Murray Sayle's autobiographical novel A Crooked Sixpence.

Sayle's book is about to be republished this week for the first time since it was dramatically pulped 47 years ago when Stowe-educated Alexander – ostensibly a friend of the author – halted its appearance in the hope of a payout.

His action not only scuppered the book, but deprived the distinguished Sayle, now 82, of a lucrative spin-off from a Hollywood film deal.

Alexander, who was Bearn's lover before she took up with Freud, was penniless at the time Sayle's novel appeared. He was convinced that a character in the book was based on him and thought by complaining he could make some money.

Until now the identity of the person who threatened to sue Sayle - famous for getting the only interview with spy Kim Philby after his flight to Moscow - has been kept a secret. The pulping of the book caused a sensation at the time.

'Michael Alexander believed he was identifiable as a character on the run from creditors and wanted to sue,' says a friend of Sayle. 'He'd heard all publishers had libel insurance and thought he could collect a load of cash without anyone being seriously harmed.

'Incredibly, he was a friend of Murray's. But the get-rich-quick plan backfired because the publishers simply recalled the book and pulped it.'


It's called human interest

An extract from A CROOKED SIXPENCE, by Murray Sayle

Within a short time of getting off the boat train, Australian reporter James O'Toole lands a series of casual shifts on a mass circulation Sunday newspaper, the Sunday Sun. He quickly masters the house style, assists the paper's crime man exposing vice racketeers, and is given a five-part series to write, about a girl from the provinces who ends up in London, leading 'a life of shame'…

The girl was waiting in the appointed coffee-house when O'Toole arrived. Seeing her, he realised she was the first person in London he'd recognised out of a crowd. In the first few days, he'd studied people in the street, expecting to see someone he knew round every corner, startled and disappointed by the continual echo of faces he knew, always of people who couldn't possibly be in London. After a week or so, he'd given up looking for acquaintances: there weren't any.
'Hello, Elizabeth,' said O'Toole, enjoying the minor miracle of her continued existence. 'How's the War Office?'
'Hello, James,' said the girl, smiling. 'Pretty dull, as usual. Actually I'm not supposed to talk about it outside, if you could possibly think of some other form of greeting.'
'Sorry. Strangely enough, I'm probably the only reporter in town your secrets are absolutely safe with. I can't think of a thing that could happen at the War Office that would possibly interest my employers. Especially war. But we can keep your business quiet if you like. What'll you have?'
'Just a small black, please. Slimming.'
And not a second too soon, thought O'Toole, and beat the thought back. You have to allow a certain amount of room for manoeuvre in the matter of figures, and too much always has the edge on not enough.
'What about this girl who leads a life of shame?' asked the girl, after O'Toole had ordered the coffees. 'Was she nice?'
'She's just an innocent mill-girl from Bradford,' said O'Toole. 'I'm writing her confession in five instalments. As a matter of fact, I left her being chased down a back street by a seedy stage-door Johnny in a cloth cap.'
'What happened?'
'I'm not sure. I think she's going to win. The Sunday Sun is a paper for family reading, so I've been told.'
'You mean, you're making the whole thing up?'
'In a way, yes. It's life, but hotter, stronger and neater.'
'What a peculiar way to earn a living,' said the girl. 'Do you tell your readers it's all made up?'
The coffees arrived. O'Toole sugared his heavily, publicly, wondering if he was being spiteful and if so, what about.
'Not in so many words,' he said. 'In fact, not at all.'
'Isn't that just a teeny bit dishonest?'
'Good God, no. I mean, if you'd been connected with the other branch of the newspaper game you'd probably find it a relief.'
'Tell me about the other branch,' said the girl. 'I'm fascinated.'
'I don't believe that either,' said O'Toole. 'But you asked for it. You have to understand that newspapers are all, more or less, in two distinct kinds of business. There's the intelligence side. You know, meat will be dearer tomorrow, the president of Peru just shot himself, bond-holders beware. That sort of thing's supposed to be true. The other side's the one the money's in.'
'That's what you're in.'
'Right. It's called human interest, and it's really a branch of show business. Non-stop vaudeville, changed every day, and always leave them laughing. If you can write revue sketches and begging letters and you can clean up dirty jokes, you've got what it takes. The only difficult part about it is to get members of the public to take part in your productions.'
'This is the side that doesn't have to be true.'
'Not in the pedestrian, literal sense, no. But it has to be true within a set of conventions called "a nose for news". All women under fifty-five are attractive. All Frenchmen are hair dressers. Every time an aeroplane crashes someone had a dream warning them not to go, a broken doll was found in the wreckage, and priests gave absolution to the dying. That's what people want to read, so that's what I write. It's of no importance that the mill-girl doesn't exist, except that it saves me the trouble of convincing some deluded little girl that the things that have to happen to her really did happen. It also saves my employer some money.'
'You really despise it, under your big tough act, don't you, James?'
'You may be right about my act,' said O'Toole. 'But you're quite wrong about my attitude. Most of the time, I love it. It's got the warm friendliness of clean, uncompromising dis honesty. None of your barrow-boys polishing up the apples on the front of the stall. Mind you, I've got to admit that everyone I ever knew who was in a dirty racket said exactly the same thing: what I like about this game is it's good, clean dirt.'
'But it's such a waste of ability.'
'Oh, I don't know. We're entertaining people, too, and T S Eliot would use exactly the same line of defence for his racket. It can be a very congenial atmosphere to work in. The one thing you don't have to be is sincere.'
'Except with the public.'
'I forgot them. Around the office there are one or two people you have to keep a straight face with, of course, but everyone else knows the whole thing is balls. And they know you know it, too, and so on.'
'But it must be terribly unsatisfying, isn't it?'
'You have to remember we've all got something wrong with us,' said O'Toole. 'Booze, wrong class, hungry for power, can't do anything else. There's always a psychological club-foot or a nasty secret somewhere.'
'What's wrong with you, for instance?'
'Oh, I'm lazy. I need some bastard cracking the whip over me before I can write a line and then some other bastard telling me what great stuff it is as I go along. I like the sensation of power, phoney as the power is. Also, I'm an honest man.'
'Making up stories about mill-girls?'
'I'm too honest for business, let's put it that way. I don't have to convince myself people like their milk watered.'
'Couldn't you be just ordinary old-fashioned honest without all these excuses?'
'You're making me uneasy,' said O'Toole. 'Tell me some more about yourself, if the subject hasn't become irrelevant by now.'

Monday, December 15, 2008

Shoes fly at Bush and the lame duck ducks

Dogged coverage is a trademark in the travelling press corps, but here's a new twist. Can a reporter also be a protestor? At a Baghdad presser, this transpired (and the only one who was hurt was press spokesperson Dana Perino, who got a black eye.

Muntazer al-Zaidi, who works for independent al-Baghdadiya television, has shot to local stardom for his attack on Bush and his cry: "This is a goodbye kiss from the Iraqi people, dog."

He has also won instant fame abroad -- a poem on an Islamist website praises him as "a hero with a lion's heart" -- although the Iraqi government slated his "barbaric and ignominious act".

Zaidi's crude public display of disdain for an incumbent U.S. president hit a chord with many in the Middle East. He has suffered a broken arm and ribs, and remains in detention.

Patrick Cockburn of the Independent reports about world response to the'Sole protester' in the press corps:

* "The shoes should be exhibited in a museum as they resemble a rocket that talks on behalf of all Iraqis." - Zahraa, posting on website of Arabian Business magazine

* "The flying shoe speaks more for Arab public opinion than all the despots/puppets Bush meets during his travels in the Middle East." - Asad Abu Khalil, professor at Stanislaus University in California

"Our defence will be based on the fact that the US is occupying Iraq, and resistance is legitimate by all means, including shoes." - Saddam Hussein's former lawyer, Khalil al-Dulaimi, explaining that he was forming a team to defend Mr Zaidi

* "Please listen again. This is the sound of the shoe hitting the wall and missing President Bush." - Radio announcer in Tehran

* "Throwing shoes at Bush was the best goodbye kiss ever. It expresses how Iraqis ... hate Bush." - Musa Barhoumeh, editor of Jordan's independent Al-Gahd newspaper

* "He couldn't have gotten away with something as silly as that without democracy." - Greg, posting on the LA Times website

* "[Our group took] the decision to give Muntazer al-Zaidi the courage award because what he did is a victory for human rights across the world." - Aicha Gaddafi, daughter of the Libyan leader Colonel Muammar Gaddafi and head of the charity Waatassimou

* "I don't like Bush, but I don't agree with this action, it's not civilised. Journalists should use pen and paper to make their point, not their shoes." - Hamza Mahdi, a Baghdad shopkeeper

Bush's boot camp

*The hundreds of thousands of hits obtained by YouTube video footage of Muntazer al-Zaidi's attack on George Bush show that the incident has become a viral sensation on the internet, and has spawned a video game. Bush's Boot Camp puts you in the role of security guards tasked with protecting the President and preventing him being hit by flying shoes.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

WashPo's Graham on Facebook Board

Facebook today announced that Donald E. Graham, chairman of the board and chief executive officer of The Washington Post Company, has agreed to join the board of directors at Facebook next month. This will increase the average age of the board by a big factor. Long in the tooth may correspond to deep pockets.

"Don Graham understands how to build and manage an organization for the long term," explained Mark Zuckerberg, founder and CEO of Facebook. "He has made The Washington Post Company one of the most valued and respected education and media companies while making society more open and understanding. What I most admire about Don is his commitment to build around this purpose -- and not just a business. His decision to join our board means that Facebook will benefit from this insight and experience."
"Facebook has completely transformed how people interact by providing a compelling forum where millions and millions of people can connect and share," said Graham. "Mark's sense of what Facebook can do is quite remarkable."
Graham joined The Washington Post newspaper in 1971 as a reporter and subsequently held several news and business positions at the newspaper and at Newsweek magazine. He was named executive vice president and general manager of the newspaper in 1976. He served as publisher from 1979 to 2000. He was elected a director of The Washington Post Company in 1974. He served as president from May 1991 to September 1993 and has been CEO since 1991. He was elected chairman of the board in 2000.
Graham joins Mark Zuckerberg on the Facebook board along with Marc Andreessen of Ning, Jim Breyer of Accel Partners and Peter Thiel of Clarium Capital and Founders Fund.
About Facebook
Founded in February 2004, Facebook's mission is to give people the power to share and make the world more open and connected. Anyone can sign up for Facebook and interact with the people they know in a trusted environment. Facebook is a privately-held company and is headquartered in Palo Alto, Calif.

SO they say. But you better put your privacy functions in there, so your future boss won't be grossed out by the number of virtual dry humps or narcoproductos coming your way!!

Friday, December 12, 2008

NPR cuts more reporters Day to Day

At a time of record audiences for National Public Radio, the programs Day to Day and News and Notes are being cancelled as of March 2009. It is being cancelled due to cuts as a result of the current economic crisis. The station, which lost more than 60 staffers recently, is soliciting donations even more desperately than usual in order to save the better shows in the NPR lineup. I figure $50 each should do the trick if we get hundreds of people to do it. Save Day to Day!!

People will soon find that without anything too link to or listen to, they will all be clueless. No news Blues.

Huffy Arianna doesn't wanna pay her scribes

Huffington Post, the LA-based aggregate website which has lost steam since the election of Barack Obama, is about to launch a new "citizen journalist" foreign bureau. However, the Greek heiress is not about to pass around much cash from her latest bounty. Articles that are not the celebrity vanity sort of posting will be provided for free by volunteer hacks (perhaps deluded that this constitutes journalism?) Hari-kari, more like it.

One wonders, now that on-line only articles will be eligible for the Pulitzer Prize, if the poor authors will get any of the prize money, should they win for the Mother Ship.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Stengel sting at Time

Jon Favreau, the "hottie Word Guy for the Obama camp" is taking heat for groping a cardboard cutout of Hillary Clinton. So what?

Better than screwing your staff. The supercilious man who is a cardboard cutout himself and is now panting to be Obama's principal speechwriter, Time managing editor Rick Stengel, is an egomaniacal boomer much reviled by Time mag staffers for his mismanagement of the weekly. He has reamed many of the leading print correspondents by being his diffident self--characterized by a lack of vision that led to producing a lame imitation Economist that bores young readers. There seems to be no plan of direction for the magazine at this late point in the game. (Obama, you don't need this joker. He is past his sell-by date.)

Insiders are betting that , if the beancounters are willing to let Time magazine go on life-support and lose $$ for a few years before finding a new audience, the next editor is likely to be the coldblooded Brit, Mike Elliott. If the plan is to sell Time right away to the highest bidder, and allowed the publication to suffer a mercy-killing, the top post will go to a younger non-visionary such as Josh Tyrangiel, the guy who used to produce MTV news and who has taken the website into a tailspin. Or perhaps Romesh Ratnesar, a hardworking Sri Lankan whiz, should Josh chooses not to have the failure of the venerable title on his resume. Sigh

Meanwhile, there's a ripple of excitement about the prospects of Caroline Kennedy Schlossberg running to fill Clinton's senate seat.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Journopalooza - Natl Press Club

Jonathan Landay, an enterprising Washington journo who can handle his axe as well as wield a laptop on deadline, gets his licks down by telling all and sundry about the battle of the bands, or "Journopalooza".

Everyone knows reporters are a competitive breed. There's an apocryphal story about Steve Dunleavy, formerly of the New York Post, getting his tires slashed by a rival trying to beat him to a story. The tire-slasher? Dunleavy's own father.

Trouble is, we don't have many ways to settle who's the best. Sure, the profession doesn't suffer from a lack of awards. There's the Polk, the Hillman, the NMA , the almighty Pulitzer. But that's precisely the problem--much as with college football, the proliferation of awards does not anoint a single undisputed champion. So we've decided to figure this out following a long-held tradition of the Streets. With a battle.

On January 9, prepare for an all-out musical assault at the National Press Club. Four of D.C.'s best bands -- composed of journalists from the Washington Post, the Los Angeles Times, McClatchy Newspapers, the Washington Independent, Bloomberg News, among others -- will try to claim for themselves the title of Best Reporter-Based Washington Rock Group. Who will prevail? The bluesy thump of Nobody's Business? The New Pornographers-esque power pop of Anchorage? The eclectic sounds of Suspicious Package? The spare, dark indie rock of The Surge? Only the first annual JOURNOPALOOZA will determine who wears the crown.

And just as the best journalism is that which serves the public good, JOURNOPALOOZA is a rock festival with a charitable mission. All proceeds will benefit two very worthy causes.

The Committee to Protect Journalists is an advocacy organization that aids our colleagues in their efforts to bring out the truth under the harshest of conditions. Half of the money raised with Journopalooza will go to CPJ's Journalist Assistance Fund, their emergency resource to save journalists who must go into hiding or exile to escape threats; journalists in need of medicine and other material support in prison; and journalists injured after violent attacks. The other half of the proceeds will help fund the National Press Club's efforts to hone the skills of the next generation of newsgatherers with their array of training programs and scholarships.

Fear and Trembling in the Time Mag Tower of Doom as Axes fly

Tick Tock.
Only six of the required twenty staffers have stepped forward for the chop at the New York headquarters of Time, an inside source informs us. The cullout starts today for the end of the year adjustment required by the Time Warner beancounters, who seem intent on bleeding out most of the magazine's talent. Dark Week is approaching. Managing Editor Ricky Stengel is said to have rhetorically volunteered to sacrifice his own job "if it would make any difference", but steadfastly remains at the top of the masthead.
Insiders say Stengel hankers for a place in Obama's administration and has few regrets about presiding over the ransacking of Time, Inc. A celebratory game of hoops with the Prez-elect would cheer him up immensely and is his deepest desire. (See Stengel's line of questioning in a candidate Q/A over a year ago!) This is a man who likes to be liked. So he's leaving the firing to his more coldblooded cronies such as Brit Mike Elliott, the foreign editor, who has been busy racking up frequent flyer miles for the past few years as scalps fly, and Condi Rice groupie Romesh Ratnesar, who has a stronger work ethic than flair. (Is he a wannabe Fareed Zakaria? No one wants to be that guy, even Fareed himself.)

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Luddite-lite Murdoch spurns technology

Michael Wolff spills the beans on tycoon Rupert Murdoch, who apparently covets the ownership of the New York Times, in the current Spectator.

To be with Murdoch, to view him, to get inside his head, and to understand how he does business, you have to take away all technology — that is, all the web-searches, all the data, all the correspondence, all the communications resources, that executives everywhere rely on. Murdoch, at 77, can’t use a computer, doesn’t get email, can’t get his cell phone to work properly, can’t even imagine changing the variables on a spread sheet. (The fact that News Corp, which owns MySpace, often bills itself as a technologically farsighted, aggressive and clever company is amusing to everyone there.) During the campaign to take over the Wall Street Journal, Murdoch’s spies and surrogates would email Murdoch’s 39-year-old wife, Wendi, and she’d read to him from her BlackBerry. Indeed, while many people at News Corp were trying to talk about the cross-platform synergies at the Wall Street Journal and the future of electronic publishing, Murdoch was only ever talking about a newspaper.

Psychologically, he is far from modern too. He can’t question his own motivations (a curious problem for a biographer). He truly doesn’t believe in interpretation. His face draws back, and he scowls in a remarkably dismissive way if you try to suggest that there might be a deeper pattern to his actions — that there might be meaning beyond living to fight another day. (When I asked him if I could interview his 99-year-old mother in Australia, he said, ‘I guess you need colour.’) Accordingly, he has surrounded himself with a cadre of unanalysed people who believe it’s best to act before thinking too much. Curiously, his children are reasonably nuanced thinkers, which is perhaps one reason he thinks they are the most brilliant people in the world.

He has no historic interest — even in himself. This sets him at odds from most men of accomplishment, who generally cherish all their achievements. Murdoch hardly remembers his. The past has receded. He cuts himself off from it. In conversation, he often loses or transposes decades. This is only partly age. More to the point, he obviously has no use for memory. That’s a distraction. He is not demoralised by defeats. He’s not aggrandised by victories. When you interview him, you can’t, profitably, ask about what has occurred, you can only engage with him if you talk about what’s going on now. What’s on your mind this morning, Mr M? Who are you feeling competitive with today? What fly is buzzing near your face?

He is, and runs his company like, a newspaper man. He’s a city editor. No more, no less. No better, no worse. What he values is the ability and inclination to make split-second decisions. He’s rather proud when that ability is not slowed by too much information or explanation. He is most motivated by the last interesting thing someone told him — whether it is true is not as important as how it will read. Sitting with Murdoch for so many months, I’d regularly see the odd bits of information come in (my stock obviously went up when I offered him a tidbit), and be directed to a news desk, or become part of his world-view or some instant business decision-making process. (At a cocktail party, he meets someone from Afghanistan, who suddenly informs his view of that conflict; at another party he meets someone who knows a policeman on Long Island, and that colours his view about buying Newsday, the Long Island newspaper.) He has no interest in understanding himself, because he sees himself as an everyman. He’s Mr Basic, Mr Uncomplicated; he has no airs, no fancy aspirations. He can trust his own gut. And why should he remember the past, he has to get out tomorrow’s paper? And once again beat the competition.

I have sometimes had the feeling, over the past year of talking to Murdoch and News Corp executives, that his people are humouring him. That he is not so much, in Andrew Neil’s formulation, the Sun God, who people cannot question, but instead a sort of long-running joke in which everybody at News Corp — so many of them career employees — is complicit. The joke is that this greatest of modern businessmen, the architect of the synergised, cross-platform, integrated, global media company, has no vision, no method, no strategy. Nor, likewise, does this man, perhaps the individual with the single most powerful political voice of our time, have any politics — save for what makes for good newspaper copy (‘Vote for Obama,’ he advised me, during the presidential primary season, ‘he’ll sell more papers’), or puts money in his own pocket. Rather it’s all made up — what he buys, how he spends, what he believes, who he supports — on the fly.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Don't count on a pay parachute if you're fired by USA Today

Now USA Today will eliminate 20 positions next month, according to
Romenesko. These absolutely mad paper cuts keep stinging.
A memo sent Sunday evening says those whose jobs are eliminated will receive severance consisting of 1 week of pay for each completed year of service, with a minimum of 2 weeks and a maximum of 26 weeks of severance.

Talk about a lead parachute! This paltry compensation is a far cry from the usual package of one month's pay for every year as a staffer.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Associated Press will cut 10 per cent of jobs

Hatchetmen are everywhere as the year draws to an end
With perhaps a bit too much glee, the rival wire agency Reuters has reported the impending job slashes at the Associated Press. At least 600 jobs will be axed, about ten per cent of their employees. Whatever next?

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Murdoch disses worried journos for 'self-pity' and shrugs off 'cruel future'

In Rupert Murdoch's Boyer Lecture, delivered on Sunday night, the Crikey! website pointed out

He is clearly as enthused about the opportunities presented by digital technology as anyone and, judging by Friday's announcement that David Penberthy has been lined up to run a wholly new, integrated multi-media product that is unlike anything seen in Australia, he is prepared to act on this excitement.

Where others see doom, Murdoch appears to see opportunities, which is what you would hope for in a chief executive. While he is also preparing to make cuts to cover revenue shortfalls (although we would counsel him against savaging his editorial teams), Murdoch is clearly also prepared to invest in journalism, which is refreshing to see.

However he does tend to come over a bit Thatcherite when dismissing the concerns of those in the newsrooms who are worried about their future or concerned they might be left behind as their mastheads rush to new forms of delivery.

He spoke of some journalists as "misguided cynics who are too busy writing their own obituary to be excited by the opportunity". These people he dubbed "doom and gloomers", wrapped in "self-pity", which he says -- rightly -- is "never pretty".

It was all a little redolent of the days when the UK was suffering the worst unemployment for decades and the Tory home secretary advised those who couldn't get a job to "get on your bike" to find work.

Would it were as simple as that. There is pessimism in the industry -- you only have to read any of the news sites -- such as Media Guardian in the UK or Paper Cuts in the US -- to learn almost daily of struggling newspapers announcing plans to retrench more staff. A recent debate about how many journalists you would need to start up a newsroom were all the newspapers to fail in, say, Philadelphia or Dallas (about 35 was the finding of a recent workshop at the City University of New York. That's 10 per cent of the current editorial staff on the Philadelphia Inquirer, by the way).

The Media Alliance recently conducted a survey of newsrooms and found there was a great deal of enthusiasm for new media and the new ways of doing things. Most journalists have accepted that the new landscape means more work, usually over more hours and, again, usually without being paid any more for doing it.

But the biggest concern isn't pay and conditions, it is that their managers, by trying to squeeze a print edition of a newspaper and a constantly updated website out of no extra staff -- indeed, in most cases, less journalists -- risks sacrificing quality.

So it's not self-pity, but pride in their work that is fuelling concern among a lot of journalists.

The other main finding of our research, which we will be releasing in a report on the future of journalism at a major conference in Melbourne on November 26, is that journalists are rarely being given the training they need to face a changing future with any confidence.

This appears to be the main concern of working journalists -- especially our freelance members, but also those actually in the newsrooms: that they will be left behind as the pace of change quickens. For freelance journalists this is a natural concern: their business model has been shaken more profoundly by the digital revolution. They face the double-edged sword of recession, with the concomitant fall in demand for their services, and a revolution in the industry they serve, which is creating in newsrooms a new world at which they can only press their noses against the glass.

But when we talk with members inside newsrooms we get no sense that they are being properly prepared for the way their work is changing. Too often we hear that journalists are "just being given what they need to do their jobs". As our report finds, only a tiny fraction of respondents said they were being given a comprehensive multi-media reskilling.

For all I know our mainstream media is preparing to roll out comprehensive training courses that will turn employees -- in the words of Joanna Geary, a UK blogger on journalism: "from dinosaur to digital natives". Geary has been tasked to design modules to do this over a five-day training course for the Birmingham Evening Post. We could use the same kind of consciousness-raising exercise here.

Next week the Alliance is holding the third of its discussions on the Future of Journalism in Melbourne. We've hosted similar events in Sydney and in Brisbane. Some of what we have heard has been uplifting, some -- frankly -- pretty scary. We've heard Roy Greenslade mourning what he sees as the almost inevitable death of newspapers and Phil Meyer, after more than five decades in journalism, wishing he was just starting out so that he could compete with today's young journalists in using all the exciting new tools available.

Meyer is speaking at our event again next week and he makes for inspiring listening.

You won't hear of doom and gloom from him. But Meyer operates on twin mantras: you must uphold quality if you are to survive and journalists must be given the training they need to compete. He's spent the past twenty-odd years in journalism education doing just that.

And Australian journalists don't want to hear of doom and gloom, either. But like Meyer, they want to remain proud of what they do and they need to be given the skills to flourish in the new world.

Hat tip to Roberta!

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Danish Muhammad Cartoonist due back with New Work

What a riot.
One of the controversial Danish cartoonists who sparked riots in the Muslim world in 2005 by drawing caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad is set to return soon with new works reflecting on the incident. Kurt Westergaard, the Danish caricaturist forced into hiding after the publication of his depiction of the Prophet Muhammad in the newspaper Jyllands-Posten in 2005, is set to return with a new set of potentially controversial drawings.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Working hack's hero

Steve Z, aka Adam Smith, has become the blunt-spoken print hack hero of the moment, thanks to a Dutch tv news spot made viral via the blog Gawker. He joined the Obama campaign, mostly to party in a "swinging" state, and by the end of election night, was flat on the sidewalk in Miami Beach and "properly pissed."
Without guile, Steve dmits to being in the debt of the BBC website..."Cut and paste, baby..." Hat Tip to Dion Nissenbaum for the link.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

MSM Coverage of Obama's Historic Win

Some Georgia crackers are still in denial, if this local paper is anything to go by. Get this, the historic victory for Obama, the 44th president and first man of color to win the White House doesn't make it above the fold. But dog bites child in playground makes it. The Brits got a bit more excited, as evidenced by this excitable tabloid spread, below:

Skimming through the usual jumble of headlines on the Drudge Report (Drudgery), the Feral Beast spotted this pair: Republicans Ponder Path to Renewal... Jogger runs mile with rabid fox locked on her arm... and considered briefly whether the featured jogger was a certain keep -fit Sarah Palin, until I realized that she must be back in Alaska, to the first igloo or wherever. Newsweek's snarkiest election line was describing the "Wasilla hillbillies looting Neiman Marcus from coast to coast," charging new clothes for Dad and the kids to republican donors. Meanwhile, the Caribou Barbie was sometimes clad in only a couple of towels!

Monday, November 3, 2008

vlad and friend boris presents 'Song for Sarah' for mrs. Palin

Here's a performance for laughter and forgetting before the US election is done...and so perhaps are all of us.

Hat tip to immigration correspondent at the Sacramento Bee for the link!

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Ouch- More Paper Cuts!

The latest tally - 600 jobs to be scythed at Time Inc before Xmas. 75 down at the LA Times. No more Christian Science Monitor except online. Dead tree journos are beginning to go extinct.

Reporter: My Viagra Question Convinced McCain To Cut Off Press

Confesses Maeve Reston, an LA Times reporter, on the day that 75 more jobs were axed from the Pacific Rim's great paper:
It wasn't my intention, but I played a role in shutting down John McCain's Straight Talk Express. ...

The questions meandered across more than a dozen topics, but I asked if he agreed with his advisor Carly Fiorina's recent statement that it was unfair for some health insurance companies to cover Viagra but not birth control -- because McCain generally opposed those kinds of mandates.


In the driveway of the airport motel on the evening of the Viagra question, McCain's aides made an argument that would shape their attitude over the next four months: If reporters were going to ask about issues that they deemed irrelevant to voters, why should the campaign give them access to the candidate at all?

Salter told me I had made the case for those who thought McCain should curtail his exposure to the press.
Hat tip to HuffPo for the post. Hmmm V is not necessarily for Victory. Little blue pills are available so the real Red State men can stand up and be counted.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Bono Pro Bono

Bono the musician is slated to write 10 op-eds for the New York Times next year, Radar reports. It may be as a balance to the right of centre Bill Kristol. Bono has had practice, being the editor in chief of the "red" edition of the London Independent (which by all reports, was pretty well-read, if not well written.)
Of course, in belt-tightening times, it's important to note that the ink of the high-holy U2 crooner comes free of charge: "Nothing," said Rosenthal of Bono's pay rate, noting that the Irish millionaire will muse on Africa, poverty, and, importantly, the music of Frank Sinatra. And while Bono may seem an odd choice for such a contract, Rosenthal did mention his current obsession with learning the guitar, and even shuffled freshly downloaded riff tablature together with his lecture notes. And though Rosenthal didn't announce any other celeb contributors, he did allude to re-recruiting the pen of Queen guitarist Brian May, who just earned his doctorate in astrophysics, and expressed admiration for previous opinion writers Bruce Springsteen and Larry David.

Of actual journalists, Rosenthal said he admired the work of the Atlantic's Megan McArdle and the National Review's Byron York.

Which is all fine and well, but are there former contributors Rosenthal doesn't like? "Condoleezza Rice is a particularly bad op-ed writer." And Tom Wolfe tends to write very long. So no Rice, less than Wolfe, and more in the spirit of Bono. Given that the Times' opinion pages could be the most competitive 800 words in journalism, any other pointers on how to make sure a fledgling contributor's submission will get printed? "Take a position in support of any Republican you care to name," the editor joshed. But it's a fine line, he noted with a smile: "The problem with conservative columnists," said Rosenthal, "is that many of them lie in print."

Monday, October 20, 2008

Crazy Like a Fox - Judith Miller to affiliate with 'faux news'

or, so the Washington Post is predicting...

Back in Action

Fox News is expected to announce today the hiring of a new contributor, a veteran national security correspondent who has shared a Pulitzer Prize.

Her name is Judith Miller, and she is nothing if not controversial. Miller left the New York Times in 2005 after testifying in the trial of former White House aide Lewis "Scooter" Libby that he had leaked her information about a CIA operative. Miller's conduct in the case, which led to her serving 85 days in jail for initially refusing to testify, drew rebukes from the Times executive editor and some of her colleagues.

In the run-up to the Iraq war, Miller reported stories on the search for Saddam Hussein's supposed weapons of mass destruction that turned out to be untrue, some of which were cited in a Times editor's note acknowledging the flawed coverage. Miller, now with the conservative Manhattan Institute, wrote when she left the paper that she had "become a lightning rod for public fury over the intelligence failures that helped lead our country to war."

Miller will be an on-air analyst and will write for Fox's Web site. "She has a very impressive résumé," says Senior Vice President John Moody. "We've all had stories that didn't come out exactly as we had hoped. It's certainly something she's going to be associated with for all time, and there's not much anyone can do about that, but we want to make use of the tremendous expertise she brings on a lot of other issues. . . . She has explained herself and she has nothing to apologize for."

Friday, October 17, 2008

TV Guide sells for one measly buck

OpenGate buys TV Guide for $1;Macrovision sells struggling magazine for cheap

A dollar won't even buy you a cup of coffee these days, but it will buy you TV Guide. No, not an issue of the weekly mag -- those go for $2.99 -- but the entire publication.

Yep, $1. The eye-popping sale price was disclosed Thursday in a Securities and Exchange Commission filing from TV Guide owner Macrovision, which revealed it had struck a deal to sell the magazine to venture capital firm OpenGate Capital on Monday

In fact, the deal is even sweeter for OpenGate because Macrovision has also agreed to give the firm a $9.5 million loan to help it run the magazine for the next few years. And who said the credit markets were tight? The loan comes with a 3% interest rate and is due in 2014 -- not exactly stringent terms.

The $1 sale price for TV Guide brings to mind the sale of another once-venerable journo brand: United Press Intl., which was unloaded for a buck by Scripps to two private investors in 1982.

The generous deal with OpenGate underscores Macrovision's stated goal of buying Gemstar-TV Guide Intl. strictly for the technology that fuels its electronic listings guide and the TV Guide brand name. The magazine is projected to lose about $20 million this year, after incurring heavier losses in the recent past.

Once the most widely distribbed mag in the country, TV Guide now has a subscription base of about 3.2 million.

Macrovision is also in the process of unloading the TV Guide Channel cabler, which has failed to drum up any interest among major media players (By CYNTHIA LITTLETON, Daily Variety).

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Shocker: Tribune Co. Gives Notice To Drop AP

This may be the beginning of the end trend (AP is available 'free' online anyway, the papers' editors must figure). Journalists are shocked by this move, splashed in Editor and Publisher. Read more here.

On the cover: Crotch shots sell magazines. Duh

Esquire Magazine have recycled their famous Platon "crotch shot" of Bill Clinton with a far more flattering Cliff Watts portrait of their "sexiest woman alive", Halle Berry. Hat tip to the photography blog, The Year in Pictures. Hey, don't point that thing at me! (Er, the camera. Just kidding)

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Timid Scaredy-hacks condemned by Dan Rather

Dan Rather has gone from being a pillar of the press to a fierce critic of it, according to Portfolio.

At Time Warner's Politics 2008 Summit, the former CBS anchor made some noise this morning, turning a panel on media bias into a forum for his complaints about the creeping timidity he sees in journalism.

"The press, in the main, has been in a defensive posture for some time," he said, opining that complaints from conservatives, in particular, have succeeded in engendering "self-censorship" by big media organizations. "The press should be independent with a capital 'I.' Fiercely independent and even ornery from time to time."

He picked up this theme again at the conclusion of the panel, delivering a peroration that drew spontaneous applause from the audience:

No one is fearless, but fear shouldn't be in the DNA of an American journalist.... American journalism stands for clear-eyed, well-researched, know the facts, look 'em in the eye, ask 'em the tough question, don't back down, don't back away, just keep coming. That's the kind of coverage the American public deserves.

It's not the kind of coverage the American public has been getting from the presidential debates, however, Rather said.

"First of all. these aren't debates. Let's get that straight right from the beginning. They are a something, but they're not debates."

"These so-called debates are put on by the two major political parties, for the two major political parties and their candidates," he added. "These so-called debates are not by the people, for the people. They are by the parties, for the parties. That's what's wrong with them."

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Nosh on this: Giles Coren's Deathless Prose

It's pistols at dawn for a Sunday Times freelance food critic, Giles Coren, and the hapless desklings who had edited his copy, removing the article "a" and receiving this spew of tirade. The editors then offered this rather pointed response.
Hat tip to McClatchy's Dion Nissenbaum for the heads-up.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Up Close and Personal - Palin under the Newaweek magnifying glass. No airbrush!

Republican VP candidate Sarah Heath Palin's defenders on Fox News have no notion of "warts and all" scrutiny, it seems, if their outrage over an unretouched Newsweek cover shot is any indication. It set them in a more frenzied than usual mode of media-baiting. A few under-eye wrinkles, magnified by the specs, plus the hint of a permenipausal 'stache has alarmed them. Not a very congenial way to treat an ex-beauty queen, they admonish. And an earlier Newsweek cover which showed a vintage shot of her with a shotgun, drew complaints because it showed careless handling of a firearm. Hmmm An even more embarassing look at Palin, which has gone viral online, is a photograph of her high school Scholastic Aptitude Test, which at 841 out of a possible 1600, ranks her as a woefully mediocre student. Incidentally, she scored grades of a D in foreign language, 2 Bs, and the rest Cs. This is Wasilla High, mind you, not the nation's most rigorous high school.

More letter grades for Ms Sarah: OMG! LOL GOP MILF

Murdoch doesn't get airbrushed

If anyone should complain about no airbrushing, it's FOX's owner, global press tycoon Rupert Murdoch. But each one of those Australian jowls and skinfolds is worth millions. The sun down under must be a tad crueler than in Alaska.

Rupert Murdoch is the CEO and majority stock-owner of Newscorp., a public company which owns major media enterprises, among which are the FOX broadcast network, the Fox News Channel , 20th Century Fox Film Corp., The New York Post, Reganbooks and HarperCollins Publishers, the BSkyb satellite company, The London Times, and many others around the world.

Did you know his first name, which he rarely uses, is Keith??

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

South American Election Strategy: Change your name--perferably to Barack Obama!

In Brazil, where politicians often adopt new names for
elections, six candidates had taken the name Barack
Obama. Other candidates called themselves Cattle Ana, Jeep
Johnny, Big Charlie Knives, Jorge Bushi, Chico Bin Laden,
DJ Saddam, King of the Cuckolds, and Kung Fu Fatty.

Maybe something gets lost in translation. These sound lke samba band leaders, not statesmen

Hat tip to Harper's Weekly

Dateline Wallachia - Clown King in Court

Love the Beeb. What other network has correspondents even in fictitious foreign countries? Had to share this report from an imaginary kingdom deep in the Czech Republic whose passports apparently are accepted in Palin's Alaska, but nowhere else.

A court in the Czech city of Olomouc is to deliver its verdict in one of the oddest legal disputes in the country's history.

Comic actor Bolek Polivka is suing former business partner Tomas Harabis over the rights to the fictitious Wallachian Kingdom.

The court must decide whether Mr Polivka is the true "king" of the fairy-tale realm.

"Wallachia is a real place with real people and real history," says Tomas Harabis, creator and "foreign minister" of the Wallachian Kingdom.

"But a lot of the attributes of the Wallachian Kingdom are not real," he adds.

We are standing on the top of a mountain, watching the sun cast its long evening shadow over a forest of maple and spruce. Tomas is trying to explain to me where the real Wallachia ends and the fictitious Wallachia begins.

It is a fine distinction, one somewhat blurred by the four glasses of Slivovica - Wallachian plum brandy - we've just downed in a local pub.

"What about the hat?" I ask, referring to the pointy black hat that features on many Wallachian symbols.

"Oh, that's real, that's a traditional Wallach shepherd's hat," says Tomas.

Mr Harabis says he got into Alaska with a Wallachian passport

"But the Wallachian passports, they're not real passports, they're fake, right?" I venture.

"They are fake. But I did get into Alaska with one."

The fake Wallachian passports were Tomas' idea. As was the make-believe Wallachian currency, the Jurovalsar. And the non-existent University of the Wallachian Kingdom, with its made-up Faculty of Distilling and Slivovica Science.

Wallachia, as Tomas says, is real.

It is a mountainous region in the south-east corner of Moravia about the size of Luxembourg. It was settled over many centuries by migrating Romanian shepherds called Vlachs, herding their sheep westwards along the mighty Carpathian mountain range.

The Wallachian Kingdom is not real. It was founded by Tomas and a couple of friends as an elaborate practical joke.

But as practical jokes go, it's a money-spinner.

Since its creation in 1997, the Wallachian Kingdom has grown into one of the most successful tourist ventures in the country.

Local hotels, restaurants and breweries quickly saw the potential of encouraging people to visit this little-known region. Last year, Tomas applied for, and won, EU funding.

Almost 90,000 people now own a Wallachian passport, and 10,000 or so are well on their way to becoming fully-fledged Wallachian citizens (a process that involves many, many glasses of Slivovica). The "kingdom" has "consulates" all over the world.

But all is not well in the Wallachian Kingdom. The foreign minister is being sued by the king.

In 1993, four years before the "kingdom" was created, Bolek Polivka - who is also a trained clown - had had himself crowned "Wallachian King, Boleslav I the Gracious, Forever" on his TV show.

When Tomas Harabis began casting around for a monarch to head his fictional kingdom, "King Boleslav" was the obvious choice.

It was a harmonious relationship at first. Bolek allowed his signature to appear in the passports, and presided over royal events organised by Tomas, including a lavish coronation ceremony in the town of Vsetin in 2000.

Soon afterwards, however, the relationship began to sour, and - listening to Tomas tell the story - the lines between fact and fiction once again become blurred.

"The moment when King Boleslav became king, he started confusing this fiction with a real position in the kingdom," he explains.

"He was trying to rule the economy of the kingdom, which was very important for the stability and the idea of the whole thing."

In other words, "King Boleslav" began acting like a real monarch.

In 2001, Tomas led a "palace coup", announcing that "King Boleslav" had been overthrown. A "Queen Mother" was appointed to rule the troubled kingdom in his place.

The "king's" lawyers were not amused. In 2002, they filed a lawsuit to stop Mr Harabis from using the Wallachian Kingdom trademark he had registered in 1998, claiming he was profiting unlawfully from Mr Polivka's name.

A series of phone calls, emails and text messages failed to procure an audience with "King Boleslav".

However, he had the following to say in an interview with Czech Television earlier this year: "For me the main thing is to stop Mr Harabis preventing us from having a laugh."

"He claims that because he owns the copyright to the kingdom, I am not the King of Wallachia, and that I'm misleading the public. I don't think he should be allowed to get away with it," Mr Polivka said.

In December 2007, Mr Polivka lost the case, and appealed. The Olomouc court is now due to issue its final verdict on that appeal.

It must decide whether Mr Polivka is truly "Wallachian King, Boleslav I, the Gracious", and whether he also owns the intellectual property rights to the Wallachian Kingdom as a whole.

Or whether Mr Polivka is living in the realm of fantasy, and King Boleslav exists solely as a figment of his imagination.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Correction of the Week - accent the positive!

As Colonialists, the French used to be known for their adventurous palates and few Frenchmen were adverse to trying out and adapting native cuisine, however odd it might appear to, say, an Englishman. In that light, check out the correction that the Israeli daily Haaretz ran today following their interview (in English) with the French foreign minister Bernard Kouchner:
The minister intended to say that Israel would "hit Iran" before it obtains a nuclear bomb, and not "eat Iran".

Hmmm. And the French must be "angry", rather than "hungry", about the all too typical misunderstanding. Perhaps this little mix-up helps explain why French used to be the language of diplomacy instead of English.
The op-ed page of that same daily warns the designated Israeli Prime Minister, Tzipi Livni, not to strike Iran out of political ambition, as a means to show aggressive ballsiness. The foremer Mossad operative has been criticised for her diffidence in making "cruel decisions", ie code for taking out Tehran's nukes in a pre-emptive strike.
Cross-posted from Israelitybites

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Who'll be the top dog? Will press stop hounding candidates?

Gawker cried fowl when the rather staid Nature magazine inadvertently placed a back display ad that echoes the political front cover. Tongue in cheek, they wonder about racism, speciesism, whatever. Commenters say the yellow dog looks confused, the dark one hopeful. Wagging tales.
Don't you have a dog in that fight? Which dog don't hunt? Will an old yellow dog learn new tricks? The cliches go on and on.

Homer Simpson tries to vote for Obama

This viral video on YouTibe has been making the rounds, via HuffPo. Diebold industries links to possible vote rigging for the Republicans has been investigated by the British reporter, Andrew Gumbel, but has received short shrift from much of the American press. Can we expect some attention to this important wrinkle in the election beat? There should be a paper trail of all ballots!

Friday, September 26, 2008

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Foreign correspondent massaged in the Israeli snakepit: a serpent's tale

One of the bizarre spa treatments now available in Israel involves a "writhing braid of live snakes" rubbing on your bare skin. A session costs 300 shekels, and you are likely to be willing to pay more to end it sooner. Surprisingly, there are plenty of return customers. These slithering masseuses recently were put through their paces on the face and belly of the intrepid war correspondent, Tim McGirk, of Time magazine.

He reports that the effect is quite calming, at least for non-Ophidiophobes, and the spa even has awakened sensuality in some of the clientele who regularly trek to a carnivorous plant exhibit near Caesaria. Surprisingly, this spa treatment could even be classified as Kosher, according to Bible researchers who trace the symbolism from Eve to Aaron's Rod in the Torah and on to the New Testament.

Surely the serpent will bite without enchantment; and a babbler is no better.

The words of a wise man's mouth are gracious; but the lips of a fool will swallow up himself. --Quoting from Ecclesiastes, chapter 10

"be ye therefore wise as serpents, and harmless as doves."-- Matthew, chapter 10

Hmmmm. One wonders how these verses apply to war correspondents cavorting with serpents. Is the media really a venomous snakepit? This seems like awfully good preparation.

McGirk shows that this unorthodox snake massage is not a case of snake-handling, but rather letting the snakes handle you. He handles the experience surprisingly well, though he confessed to second thoughts when a snake upchucked a half-digested mouse moments before his snake massage session got underway.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

GOP ad approval spoofed

A candidate himself, Al Franken has scripted the latest skit about McCain attack ads.
It aired last night.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Go to Zell. Staff sues LA Times owner

Romenesko reports here about the latest class action suit.

Friday, September 5, 2008

OMG it's too easy to steal an identity online

CLick here.
Read it and weep. And be forewarned, guys.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Gawk at the Palin brood, but don't press it

Family values are under the spotlight at the GOP convention, and much criticism has been launched at the media for following up on the announcement by Sarah Palin that her teenage daughter is pregnant. Palin's initial beef was with bloggers, who had questioned whether her last child was actually her grandson because of the Governor's reported delay in seeking medical attention in a high-risk birth. This Associated Press analysis examines the contradictions in the Republican party's mixed messages to the 4th estate, on a day when the stage threatened to collapse under the combined weight of what some bloggers call the Clampetts of the North, associated with John McCain's "trophy vice", as Maureen Dowd dubbed the feisty fundamentalist politician otherwise known as Sarah Barracuda.

ST. PAUL, Minn. - People: Make up your minds.

For two days, the chorus from Republicans on TV news and in the halls of the convention has been resounding: Back off and let the Palin family be. "That's out of bounds," said Minnesota's Republican governor, Tim Pawlenty. "There's no need to be intrusive and pry into that."

Yet Wednesday found the following scenes unfolding:

_Sarah Palin's pregnant, unmarried 17-year-old daughter and probable future son-in-law stood in a nationally televised, politically packaged airport receiving line to meet and greet the Republican candidate for president.

_The extremely cute and bubbly Piper Palin, 7, made her debut on her mother's behalf, appearing in a video on John McCain's daughter's blog. "Vote for my mommy and John McCain," she said, giggling as Meghan McCain grinned.

_Bristol Palin and her 18-year-old boyfriend, Levi Johnston, sat and held hands as they watched the Alaska governor deliver an acceptance speech that, in its opening minutes, focused heavily on her family and children. Later, the family — including Johnston — ascended the stage, basked in an extended ovation and waved.

Huh? The Republican message about the Palin offspring comes across as contradictory: Hey, media, leave those kids alone — so we can use them as we see fit.

If you doubt this scenario, consider this: On Wednesday morning, a teenage boy from Alaska stood in a receiving line on an airport tarmac, being glad-handed by the potential next president of the United States — because he got his girlfriend pregnant. TV cameras were lined up in advance. The mind boggles.

"Either the children are out of bounds, and you don't put them in the photo ops, or you don't complain when somebody wants to talk about them. You can't have it both ways," said John Matviko, a professor at West Liberty State College in West Virginia and editor of "The American President in Popular Culture."

"Right now, it looks like they're being used by the campaign more than the media are using them," he said.

Though candidates for national office, and those close to them, are under more intense scrutiny than ever before in the American information culture, there is more to this situation than simple celebrity chasing.

These are two young people trying to figure out what to do in a difficult personal situation. The global scrutiny of it is a teenager's worst nightmare, and under normal circumstances they would be allowed to find their way unbothered.

But one big obstacle stands in their way: Sarah Palin the candidate.

Yes, she has asked the media to "respect our daughter and Levi's privacy as has always been the tradition." Yet Palin has packaged herself as a PTA member and "hockey mom" — culturally loaded terms calibrated to evoke appealing images of middle America, the middle class, exurbia and strong 21st-century family values.

"Our family has the same ups and downs as any other, the same challenges and the same joys," she said, one of many general and specific references to her family in her speech.

Using one's relatives as accessories in the political arena can have its pitfalls, despite McCain's remark to ABC News on Wednesday that Palin has "got an incredible resume, including a beautiful family." Candidates open themselves to charges of hypocrisy if they demand the ability to boast but reject the attention that can ensue when the road gets rougher.

McCain spokesman Tucker Bounds, however, takes issue with that conclusion. He says both positions are possible.

"There's a long-standing precedent of children of the candidates being in the public eye as members of families involved in public service," Bounds said Wednesday night. "There is also a long-standing precedent of candidates' children being left out of the hardball politics of campaigning for higher office."

Barack Obama said flatly that the Palin kids should be "off limits," but he has engaged in the same thing — though to a lesser extent.

In July, he and his wife, Michelle, appeared on a four-part "Access Hollywood" interview with daughters Malia, 10, and Sasha, 7. Obama later expressed regret about his decision to put them forward, saying, "I don't think it's healthy, and it's something that we'll be avoiding in the future."

Nevertheless, the Obama girls have made other appearances. They stepped on stage twice at the Democratic National Convention last week — once to talk to their father via video hookup after their mother's speech, and again after Obama accepted the nomination during the convention's climactic moment.

Let's remember one thing, though: Behind all the political machines and maneuverings, these contenders for the country's highest office are human beings and parents. And a parent is no more infallible than a candidate.

On her blog Monday, Meghan McCain expressed solidarity with the Palin kids, saying she understood the things they were grappling with. "It's a rough go being the son or daughter of a politician," she wrote. "You can't fully understand it unless you have lived it."

The road is bumpy for sure, and the media probably aren't helping. Sadly, though, the candidates themselves aren't doing much to make things better, either.


EDITOR'S NOTE — Ted Anthony covers American culture and politics for The Associated Press. Comments about Measure of a Nation can be sent to measure(at)

Monday, August 25, 2008

Gaza peace ships at sea again

Angela Godfrey-Goldstein reports that the SS Free Gaza, one of the Greek-registered boats that broke the Gaza siege on Saturday, today joined six Palestinian fishing boats 8 miles off the coast of Gaza. Though these ships were being circled by three Israeli Dabur naval vessels, no warning shots were fired across their bows, which ordinarily would happen if they ventured out so far. The fishing boats are exercising their right to fish up to 20 miles off the coast of the Gaza Strip, as stipulated by the Oslo Accords. Recently the Israeli Navy has enforced an arbitrary 6- mile limit for security reasons, so the Free Gaza Movement has breached that naval blockade, too. The Israeli authorities seem to be purposefully pussyfooting around the confrontational tactics of the peaceniks, mindful of the propaganda risks of manhandling publicity-seeking westerners, and reportedly intend to let them all leave port, as long as they do not attempt to smuggle out the Gazan engineering students who cleared US security checks but are stranded in Gaza because their exit permits were denied by the IDF.

Professor Jeff Halper, an Israeli peace activist, now is aboard one of the fishing boats.
His exuberant interview with Haaretz newspaper about landing in the Gaza Strip ran on the front page yesterday:

"We proved that ordinary people can do something and succeed," he said. "Even Tony Blair can't go to Gaza, but ordinary people with drive can. The welcome was amazing. There were tens of thousands of people. People came out in boats and on windsurfers to meet us. Children swam out to sea and flashed the victory sign. I feel like we're fresh air entering a prison where a million and half people are living.

"I tell myself: We're in the modern world, the 21st century, and yet such excitement - over what? Over something we take for granted, that two boats arrived. Here it's a national holiday. Their isolation is so complete," he said.

Halper said that Gazans were eager to speak Hebrew with him, and to reminisce about the years they spent working in Israel. "Our impression that Gaza is Hamas, that there is only hatred there, is mistaken," he said, adding that he learned that "we are more of an obstacle to peace than the Palestinians."

Professor Halper chose not to dine with the Hamas leader Ismail Haniyyeh, who does not recognize Israel's right to exist. However, it was widely reported that he did, because his doppelganger, a white-bearded lawyer from Zigzag, Oregon named Tom Nelson,
accepted a medal from Hamas and kissed Haniyyeh three times. Cheeky. Check out the two grisly activists below (Halper is on the left)

Anti-War Protesters Meance Intrepid Fox News Reporter!

A clueless FOX news reporter meets his match when he attempts to interview the "recreate '68" marchers outside the Democratic convention in Denver.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Oops. AP calls Joe Liberman a "prick"

A classic typo was briefly circulated in a major Associated Press dispatch. Many lefty "moonbats", who have frequently snarked about turncoat Sen. Joe Lieberman -- the Democrat turned Independent who has endorsed John McCain -- found it all too apt, according to the sharpeyed folks at Editor and Publisher.
The typo, in an article about the upcoming vice presidential nominations due from McCain and Barack Obama and written by one of the top AP political writers, Nedra Pickler, was soon corrected but can still be found viewed via Google at numerous news sites early this morning.

After focusing on Obama, the article discusses several possible McCain picks, and relates, "His top contenders are said to include Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney. Less traditional choices mentioned include former Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Ridge, an abortion-rights supporter, and Connecticut Sen. Joe Lieberman, the Democratic vice presidential prick in 2000 who now is an independent."

Friday, August 15, 2008

Ultimate Feral Beast: Bigfoot

It must be the traditional August silly season. Or there's a couple of wars on and a restive and gullible public to distract Claims by Georgia hunters that they bagged Bigfoot in the woods and, while they hauled its body away, three other furry crypto-hominds looked on in silence are gaining attention in the media and igniting cyberspace. Matthew Whitton, Rick Dyer and the Bigfoot huckster Tom Biscardi showed a photo which
looks like a costume with some fake guts thrown on top for effect. Even if [the bigfoot carcass] had have been eviscerated by a predator or a scavenger, [the entrails] wouldn't just be sitting up on top like that

The trio of bigfoot enthusiasts hosted a press conference in Palo Alto which left scientific experts shaking their heads in dismay. Most are extremely cynical after the two DNA samples taken from the thawed carcass showed results that were 95 per cent human in one case, and the other-pure possum. A University of Minnesota professor, Curt Nelson, anaysed the samples. At 7 feet 7 inches and 500 pounds, the erstwhile ape-man is barely taller than some pro basketball players, though quite a bit heavier.

photocredit: iStockphoto

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Rielled Up? Edwards' Mistress talks

The folks at 23/6 have produced a wacky video interview of Rielle Hunter, the blonde California videographer and aging bimbo who brought down John Edwards. Who knew the whimpering excuse, "My wife's cancer was in remission" would become a new low in political husbandry?

Thursday, July 24, 2008

The editor who used his book pitch as a cover story in the name of Mandela

Time magazine's top editor, Rick Stengel, wrote a big cover story the other week, in honor of Nelson Mandela and his leadership style. Fair enough, the Nobel peace prize laureate was just feted in London with an AIDS benefit concert for his 90th birthday, and Stengel had helped collaborate on the great man's autobiography (in the mid-90s, ie last century.) He was on all the talk shows peddling the Mandela name and the special issue. He left out the little bit of news he was sitting on.
It turns out that Rick has more to say. The cover story was also his book proposal, and a day after the issue was out on the stands, Crown publishers gave the editor a huge advance and a contract to produce a new Mandela tome. Slick. But kinda exploitative.
It's said that some of the proceeds will go towards charity. We'll see. Something about this guy screams ethically challenged. Prove us wrong, Rick.