Nov 012013

Like many other people I was saddened to learn of the death of Lou Reed this week. It was like another piece has been chipped away from me.

I took the time to listen to a few tracks, most notably the version of Perfect Day released by the BBC in 1997 to support Children In Need and featuring a myriad of stars.

I also fondly recall Lou’s appearances in one of my favourite movies – Wim Wenders’ Faraway, So Close! – where he sang Why Can’t I Be Good.

I happened to be in a HMV music store on Monday and it was playing its own tribute with a track that I instantly recognized but could not remember the title. I had it on a compilation double cassette tape – remember them? – called Sounds of The Sixties or something along those lines. One of the other tracks from the compilation that sticks in my mind is My White Bicycle by Tomorrow, which I have just discovered was Steve Howe’s band before he joined Yes. What would we do without Google and Wikipedia?

For several days, the melody of the Lou Reed track has haunted me. Finally, today, I checked out iTunes to see if I could come up with the name. I called up Velvet Underground and stared at the list of tracks. None of the titles listed leaped out at me. I thought I was going to have to work my way down the list until I found the track in question. But then I had one of those inexplicable moments. Something deep in the recesses of my mind prompted me to click on Venus In Furs, part way down the list, and it was the track I had heard in the store.

The search for employment continues. I was invited for an interview at 48 hours’ notice. The interview was scheduled for 2:30 pm on Thursday and would have involved a four-hour train journey. Unfortunately, I had a medical appointment on the same day. I had been waiting two weeks for this appointment and was loathed to cancel, so I contacted the company and asked if I could reschedule the interview.

Here is the reply:

Unfortunately we are only holding interviews on Thursday at this stage, I have another interview slot at 9.15 if this would be more convenient.

I also enquired about getting my travelling expenses reimbursed. It would have cost me in the region of £70 to attend the interview. I was told that the company was not in a position to reimburse travelling expenses. I also gained the impression the interview was a preliminary one to draw up a shortlist for a second interview. So had I been successful and made it to the shortlist, I could have had to spend £150 attending both. I think £150 spent on Lottery tickets may have produced a better return.

I did a bit of research and learned that the US parent of the company in question paid out $158 million in dividends in 2012. Further research revealed that the company in question was not a particularly good employer to work for. Journalists are routinely made redundant in order that the directors can pay themselves huge annual bonuses. I think I dodged a bullet there.

It is no coincidence that all of my former colleagues at The Birmingham Post who have remained in the UK, with the exception of two, are no longer working in the regional newspaper industry. I now know the reason why.

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Mar 082011

As a former newspaper man, more and more these days I find myself despairing of the fall in standards in journalism. Poor spelling, incorrect facts and serious omissions seem to occur with greater frequency in newspapers on both sides of the Atlantic.

A day seldom goes by without me shaking my head at the computer screen and muttering, “What is happening to journalistic standards these days?”

Today, I learned of the death of Sir Arthur Bryan from the Obituary section of The Daily Telegraph. Sir Arthur was the former chairman of the world-famous pottery firm Wedgwood. From a humble background, he rose through the ranks of Wedgwood and also became the Lord Lieutenant of Staffordshire.

Sir Arthur’s name was often mentioned during my childhood. Like me, he was born and raised in Penkhull and attended the same school as my late mother. She often used to reminisce of times when they used to play together in the school playground.

In its obituary, The Daily Telegraph correctly stated that Arthur Bryan was born on March 4, 1923, at Penkhull, Stoke-on-Trent.

Eager for more information, I checked out the This Is Staffordshire web site of the Stoke-on-Trent newspaper, The Sentinel.

In the web site’s tribute to Sir Arthur, The Sentinel’s Louise Psyllides wrote: “Sir Arthur, who was born and brought up in Stoke-on-Trent, joined Barclays Bank at Trentham aged 17 after leaving Longton High School.”

The local paper could not be more specific as to Sir Arthur’s birthplace than to state Stoke-on-Trent?

How did the omission of Penkhull get past the news editor, the sub-editor and editor?

And where is the internal logic of this story? It specifies the Stoke-on-Trent district of Trentham for Sir Arthur’s first job but cannot state the district where he was born and grew up.

This poor standard of journalism makes me recall one of the stone hands, a man called Dennis, when I worked the stone sub shift on The Birmingham Post.

It was the job of the stone sub to catch the errors that occasionally slipped past the chief sub-editor. Sometimes, the errors were real howlers.

As Dennis was cutting the bromide of the corrected version of the story to be attached to the page, I would say in an apologetic tone, “We can’t get the staff.”

In his Brummie accent, Dennis disagreed. “We can but they are crap!”

Fifteen years on, it would appear that the pithy words of Dennis still ring true for The Sentinel and a great many more newspapers the world over. What is worse, those running the newspapers do not seem to care.

As for The Birmingham Post, it ceased to be a daily morning newspaper in November 2009 and became a weekly, or should that be weakly, publication. I guess it was a good thing I left in 2000 and came to America.