Monday, 20 July 2009


Alastair Campbell is an interesting chap. The former press secretary of Tony Blair is widely renowned as an exceptionally intelligent man who masterminded Labour’s image in the late 90s and early 00s, and this is certainly true. But when I announced to one of my Tory friends that I was reading his book, The Blair Years, she scowled and said: “I wouldn’t touch anything that man wrote with a barge pole.” Fair enough coming from a right-winger, but I still thought his 756 pages deserved my attention.

It’s a great read, no doubt about it, and I now understand much more about how a government and prime minister work behind the scenes. It’s fascinating to read how Blair coped with 9/11, Princess Diana’s death, foot & mouth, petrol shortages and ongoing tensions in Northern Ireland. But it’s Campbell’s tone towards journalists that I’m not so sure about. He was one himself at the Daily Mirror, but the stern condemnation in his book of the likes of Nick Robinson (BBC), Matthew Parris (The Times) Paul Dacre (Daily Mail) and especially Andrew Gilligan (then BBC now Daily Telegraph) is somewhat unnecessary.

It seems that every journalist he mentions is referred to as an awful human being, but the ones I’ve listed above are all excellent in my opinion. Yes, Gilligan may have made a big mistake over the notorious WMD war dossier claims, but he is a very good investigative journalist and has since won awards for his great work exposing Ken Livingstone. Campbell is a hard-nosed man who put in a tremendous amount of good work for Blair, and it’s interesting to read how he was so good at staging events that when things happened like Cherie announcing a baby was due, and the Queen Mother’s death announcement, people thought he had carefully timed them too. I suppose that’s the price of his success, but I just wish he would congratulate some of the journalists he mentions rather than ridicule them.

* * *

I was at The Guardian a couple of weeks ago for a special live recording of a podcast I listen to every week called Media Talk. There was a very interesting discussion on the future of newspapers, with the general consensus being that the internet does everything newspapers do but better - as long as you can get people to pay for it. And that’s the catch. But all of the panellists seemed to be united in the theory that online is better than print. I disagree. The thing is that I commute to London every day and always buy a paper to read on the train. I enjoy getting a different paper every day and looking at the design and pictures as well as the text. You just don’t get that same feel online, and I actually very rarely read newspaper websites.

I listen to lots of radio, watch a bit of television and read newspapers. But I just don’t like reading news online. The web has evolved into something which people use with a very short attention span. I spend 45 minutes reading a paper, but I can’t remember a time when I’ve spent more than two minutes on a single news website. By reading a newspaper from start to finish I get all of my news in one go. And instead of getting early reports that can be conflicting and confusing as citizen journalists exchange facts on Twitter, I can read a properly-sourced and checked report in the newspaper. I would rather wait that extra time to get a better quality output, and that seems to be one thing that the internet lacks. In the words of the Press Association: ‘Get it right. Get it fast, but get it right.’

The Guardian Readers' Editor, Siobhain Butterworth, today explained that someone wrote into her saying: "I know I can go to your website for the information but I want to see it in print over breakfast, and I certainly don't want to bring my computer to the breakfast table." Got it in one - sometimes it’s just better to see things in print.

* * *

I’ve been away for the last week in the Canary Islands - specifically Fuerteventura - and enjoyed the sun, which explains the lack of blog last week. Apologies about that. Anyway I’ve got a bone to pick with Thomson Flights after I experienced possibly the least amount of leg-room in the world on a form of transport. I’ve flown with EasyJet, Flybe, Ryan Air, EgyptAir, Polish Airlines and British Airways in the past - but never have I experienced having to stick my legs out into the gangway for the whole flight! This is the problem when you’re 6”5’, but I’ve never had such a major issue on any train - and I travel on trains a lot - or an aeroplane. So just to warn you, if you’re over six-foot tall, prepare to be squashed if you travel with Thompson! It’s a perfectly good airline, but just needs a bit more leg-room for people like me...