Posts Tagged ‘The Royal Gazette’

David L. White (1933-2013)

I was saddened to hear of the death of David L. White, former editor of The Royal Gazette, who passed away last night after a long illness.

While he and I did not always see eye to eye professionally during our time at Par-La-Ville Road, we enjoyed a far more cordial relationship after he retired and I came to respect his talents and generosity of spirit that weren’t always appreciated or valued in the chaotic and dysfunctional nature of a daily newsroom.

In fact, had it not been for David I would not have ended up in Bermuda at all, let alone call it my home for more than 30 years as it was he who interviewed me at the Berkeley Hotel in London in 1982 for a job on the sports desk of the Gazette.

It was the longest and most entertaining interview I’ve ever had, largely because by the time we’d finished, it was early evening and he insisted on buying dinner. As we sat down, he asked me what I would like to drink. Not knowing the protocol one should take with a prospective (and foreign) employer, I asked what he was having. “I’m having a f******g double vodka and tonic!” he declared loudly. “The single measures you Limeys serve are a joke!”

And so we proceeded to consume an absurd quantity of vodka and good wine. I have no idea what we talked about from then on but as I stood swaying on the Tube platform later that night waiting for the train home, I remember feeling confident that I would be leaving England for a tiny island in the Atlantic later that year.

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Judging from the many comments, phone calls, emails and texts I’ve had about my recent post on editorial independence, a lot of people share my concerns. Today’s Royal Gazette is another reason to be concerned.

RG-wrap

Here’s the news … but first a really annoying word from our sponsor.

It features what the industry calls a “wrap” – advertising that masks part or all of the front page. The Gazette certainly isn’t the first paper to do this and it won’t, sadly, be the last. Wraps, which are lucrative revenue earners for cash-strapped newspapers, are controversially creeping across many of the world’s newspapers.

The Daily Express in the UK took a lot of flak in 2009 when it obscured coverage of Barack Obama’s historic inauguration with a four-page wrap marking the first birthday of the Fiat 500. Ditto The Guardian, when it carried its first wrap last year for a phone company. In 2010, an appalling wrap for the Johnny Depp film Alice In Wonderland mimicked the front page of the LA Times.

Newspapers seem to be returning to the 18th and 19th century, when the front pages of many leading publications were completely full of ads. As journalism and professional reporting became more established, news content grew and became the main driver of circulation. The front page became sacrosanct and defended by editors and owners alike against front-page ads of any kind.

LA Times: re-defining the front page "mock up".

LA Times: re-defining the term “front page mock up”.

A few years ago, Gene Roberts, a former managing editor of the New York Times and executive editor of the Philadelphia Inquirer, told the American Journalism Review that front-page ads were another in a series of industry mistakes triggered by short-term thinking. “It’s one more in this kind of death by a thousand cuts that the newspaper business seems to be administering to itself. In the long run, the big necessity is to get and maintain readers, and I think without question that front-page ads work against readership.”

Every advertiser naturally wants to be on the front page because it’s the most-read page in a newspaper. Although my company plans and produces advertising, I never recommend wraparounds and dissuade clients from doing so. Why? Because I believe they are counter-productive and not worth the premium rates that media organisations charge. Journalists and editors naturally hate them and readers generally resent them in the same way they resent ads that often pop-up when you load a web page. I’m sure I’m not the only reader who immediately rips off the wrap and chucks it in the nearest trash bin.

I’m not sure if today’s half-page wrap is a first for the Gazette but we’ll be seeing more and you just know that a full page wrap won’t be far behind.

I hope that the Gazette resists this trend and is able to find an alternative revenue stream for many of the same reasons that I stated the other day. When advertising becomes the front page, it tells readers that the news is not important. It devalues the very reason that newspapers exist for in the first place and further blurs the line between news and business interests.

Wraps are part of a slippery slope that turns a newspaper into an advertising free-sheet. And if newspaper owners and advertisers risk alienating the very people they are trying to attract, then what’s the point?

RGLtdWhat on earth is going on at The Royal Gazette these days?

Over the past weeks there has been a rash of unusually soft front page lead stories that would have normally run on feature pages at best while more important news articles were carried – some would say buried – on inside pages. Last week this reached a nadir when the front-page lead stories included:

These stories certainly have a place in the paper. They are worthwhile community stories but they have no place being the lead story itself.

So what’s going on here? Have acting editor Jeremy Deacon’s news senses deserted him or, as PLP leader Marc Bean claimed recently, have Gazette journalists “been told by their editors, and their board of directors, that nothing negative about the OBA Government, or Bermuda in general, can be on the front page, let alone reported on”?

Jonathan Howes, the Gazette CEO, angrily denied this and threatened to sue Mr. Bean, prompting one reader to write this week: “We expect [the Gazette] to hold every organ of this Government accountable. As uncomfortable as it may make Mr. Howes and the board, the evidence of bias is clear; deliberate or not.”

Mr. Bean and the letter writer may be a little wide of the mark politically – ‘Jetgate’ has had plenty of coverage in the Gazette, for example – but it is my understanding that the board of the Bermuda Press (owners of The Royal Gazette), through its publishing committee, has indeed been putting increasing pressure on the editorial department to run more “positive” stories on the front page, and wants closer control over editorial content and direction. I understand that none of the publishing committee have any journalistic experience.

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Some of the commentaries worth reading today after yesterday’s election:

“If we want a better Bermuda, we need to do much more than vote in a new government. We are going to have to demand more accountability from everyone, but starting with ourselves.  Succinctly, we must start practicing collective responsibility.” – Bryant Trew in the Bermuda Sun.

“This election … proved that appeals to racial loyalty are not effective. The PLP attempted to make this election about race, especially in the last days, and voters seem to have rejected that in favour of an improved economy. Unemployment knows no bounds and even the anti-business rhetoric which infused the PLP campaign at the end failed to mobilise the PLP base and may even have backfired.” – Analysis in The Royal Gazette

“The PLP is reflective of all the people of this island. Yet they wish to label us as a black party only to subliminally tell whites not to vote for us … We know there are many PLP supporters and members of many different races. However, for a multitude of reasons they seem a bit hesitant to come forward and publicly involve and engage with our events and activities … Persons such as Dorothy Thompson, David Allen, Zane De Silva, Jonathan Smith and Dr Barbara Ball must not be the exceptions .They must be the norm.” – Christopher Famous in the Bermuda Sun.

“The new team (OBA) must be genuinely — not rhetorically — transparent. It must be genuinely direct – not obtuse and non-commenting and non-answering. Above all else, this new team must genuinely embrace all residents and all Bermudians – and not just those who can be described as “our people”. – Larry Burchall in the Bermuda Sun.

“The hope of this newspaper is that this election will open a new chapter in Bermuda politics, which will be less divisive, less reliant on race as a motivating force, more open to problems all Bermudians face and more constructive. The next few years will not be easy, but they can lead to a better Bermuda, provided all people are willing to work together for the betterment of all.” – Editorial, The Royal Gazette.

“The first job for the new government is mending fences. Because the biggest threat to our economic stability is the massive debt and a dearth of ways to repay it, I believe the OBA government must make peace with our income generators and take clear steps to woo them back. This will not be an easy task because of the race-baiting that has been a dominant theme in how previous administrations beat up on their political opponents.” – Stuart Hayward in the Bermuda Sun.

“Posturing, arrogance,  hubris, defensiveness, an unwillingness to change policies that aren’t working out … the list of damaging side-effects of UBP-PLP hatred goes on and on. And it has gone on and on, for way too long. There were understandable historical reasons why it developed. But the great hope that the OBA has offered us this week is that it need not go on forever. Bermuda, Bermudians and the Bermudian political system can move forward, grow and mature. The time has come, and here is our opportunity.” – Tom Vesey in the Bermuda Sun.

My friend and former Royal Gazette reporter Neil Roberts is a man after my own heart. “What is life without football and music?” he asks towards the end of Blues & Beatles, his entertaining new book about growing up obsessed with Everton FC and the Fab Four – even though the band broke up the year before Neil was born … well south of Merseyside in St. Alban’s, Hertfordshire.

This book is in the same vein as Nick Hornby’s Fever Pitch and will strike a familiar chord with us obsessives whose memories and moods are defined by the ups and downs of their chosen team and life’s milestones are marked by great albums and memorable gigs. I thought about writing a similar book about QPR and Rod Stewart – only I would have probably topped myself having to write about the R’s depressing 15 years in the wilderness and Stewart’s pitiful squandering of his God-given talent since the late 70s.)

In Neil’s case, his twin obsessions were passed down from his dad Colin, who hails from the Wirral, and the book tells how these become the touchstones through which father and son communicate and remain connected through the turmoil of a family breakup. I worked with both Colin and Neil at the Gazette (it was Colin, then the deputy editor, who picked me up at the airport when I first arrived in Bermuda in December, 1982), so I got a kick out of the island episodes – although knowing both of them, it was painful to read some of the more emotional episodes.

But as someone who wears his heart on his sleeve, that’s to Neil Roberts’ credit. A former BBC and ITN reporter, he writes in a short, snappy style almost as if he is talking to camera and is unabashed about revealing his feelings, which are frequently touchingly sentimental, whether he’s recalling grandparents, old girlfriends or nervously meeting his heroes like Duncan Ferguson or his beloved Paul McCartney. He is, and always will be, a fan at heart and that passion runs throughout Blues & Beatles which is all the better for it.

The person you end up really feeling sorry, though, for is young George, Neil’s son. At age 7 he is already following the twin family traditions (or curses?) even though he must already realise that Everton will only get into Europe again if there’s a war and that the chances of Macca making another decent album at his age are as likely as a Beatles reunion.

The poor lad is doomed to a life of disappointment. Still, it will give him something to moan about in later life – just like a real Scouser!

[adapted from original review on amazon.co.uk]