THERE are times when I really wish I could give up news, like Catholics giving up eating meat for Lent – or booze, or some other guilty pleasure – or Muslims with their fasting through the holy month of Ramadan.
I think part of the problem is that in the internet age, news is 24/7, 365 days a year and it bombards you from all angles. Short of living in a cave, you’re stuck with it.
Check your phone messages and up flashes a news headline. No escape.
None of which would be bad if it was just the ‘news’, unadulterated, stripped of comment or hyperbole, as old Dragnet detective Joe Friday was reputed to say (although he never did in that exact term) “Just the facts, ma’am!”
What is becoming even more prevalent, is that the agenda is overtaking the story before it’s even been written. Vested interests are diving on the bandwagon before anyone’s even hitched up the horse.
Take the terrible Grenfell Tower catastrophe last week. I’m not sure anything could make worse the grief of those involved beyond what their own imaginations are torturing them with.
The plight of those people trapped in that raging inferno doesn’t bear thinking about.
But their ashes weren’t cold before class warriors and anarchists were manipulating the tragedy to their own narrow, troublemaking intents.
I have no idea who, how or what was exactly to blame for Grenfell. I trust we will get answers, fast, and that the guilty parties will be made to pay. Nothing less is acceptable.
But in many quarters, the guilty were already having their scaffolds knocked together. From the rather vague notion of Conservative austerity to Theresa May’s ham-fisted reaction (she really is a rabbit in the spotlight right now), to the entire staff of Kensington and Chelsea Borough Council, anyone and everyone was fair game.
It’s what this country has turned into, and it’s pretty ugly.
There was an feral mix of glee and fury on the faces of the mob that stormed the council offices – thank God it was a Conservative local authority, eh?
It wouldn’t have a made a difference if it had been Labour-run though – in that instance the mob of left-wing agitators would simply have directed their attack on the gates of 10 Downing Street, or maybe Conservative HQ.
But then we find out that as many as 600 high rise buildings across the country have the same potentially lethal cladding as Grenfell. So they’ll all be Tory councils will they? Of course not.
Still, you can’t let facts get in the way of a good riot, can you? All councils – regardless of colour – are financially stretched. Do you think it was some plum-accented Tory grandee who negotiated that Grenfell refurb? No, it was a non-political member of staff. He/she and a dozen colleagues do the same thing every day.
It really was not a plan to burn to death dozen of migrant families who tragically appear to have borne the worst of it. The only surprise is that someone hasn’t suggested that already.
JUST a word of praise for the reaction and the restraint of the Muslim community around Finsbury Park after the latest instance of a maniac at large.
The imam who prevented understandably angry locals from giving alleged van terrorist Darren Osborne his just desserts did the whole nation a favour.
Being beaten possibly to death for trying to kill or maim that group of people might have been natural justice, but it wouldn’t have helped an already precarious social situation.
That gentleman’s actions also meant that, for once, we might get to the bottom of the attacker’s motives.
Unfortunately it’s tough to unpick the ideology or state of mind of madmen who are intent on dying alongside their victims.
That’s what we really need to get inside, if both we and Muslim moderates want to tackle the ideology behind these attacks.
A LADY popped into the office recently to enquire about the cost of a small advertisement. How small? It had about as many words in it as this paragraph, maybe a few more, but in smaller type. Small.
She’d come to The Press because when she rang the Batley News (even though she was connected to someone in Leeds or Halifax, or possibly even Bombay) they’d quoted her a price which rather took her breath away.
The ad was what we call a public notice – a legal obligation for things like public licences, local authority plans, traffic regulations, or if you’re doing something as relatively insignificant as putting a blue plaque on a listed building.
The breathtaking figure? Have a guess. Double it. And again.
For this advert the size of a bus ticket, Johnston Press, the flat-broke owners of the Reporter group, wanted £750. Plus VAT of course. A total of £900.
That’s how much advertising costs in the Batley News? Don’t talk daft. They give it away half the time. Those full-page property adverts? Some estate agents pay just £100 a page.
Of course, regular advertisers, people who take bigger space, will always get discounted rates in any newspaper or magazine. Those property pages just aren’t worth the bother since the Reporter group lost the business to us 10 years ago, but got it back at loss-making margins. They’re welcome to it.
Interestingly, their owners Johnston Press recently wrote down the value of the business by £300 million – not bad, given that their cash-to-debt ratio means they are effectively bankrupt anyway.
Last month, shareholders whose holdings are worth a tiny fraction of what they were, blocked Chief Executive Ashley Highfield giving himself a 180 per cent cash bonus.
What a surprise – unlike the fact that that lady then placed her advert with us and saved her organisation a small fortune.
KIRKLEES Council has been hit harder than many authorities by central funding cuts. I’m aware that the executive has been reshaped, the officer class actually contracting along with large numbers of regular staff who have been made redundant.
It is never nice – although I am jealously aware of one newspaper executive who has had four different six- or seven-figure payoffs in the space of 15 years.
It doesn’t mean the place isn’t still awash with the sort of money to make your blood boil – take this week’s advertisement for a job based at Ravensthorpe Community Centre as an example.
Last year’s accounts show slim pickings for the Garden Street centre – just £411,000, down from almost £500,000 in 2015 and £480,000 the year before.
Ravensthorpe – one of whose directors, Lubsir Latif, ran Savile Town’s Taleem Community Centre at the time we exposed their questionable gravy train – seems to be the place coining it in these days. From their heady £500k-plus days, Savile Town is down to a measly 30 grand a year.
Ravy’s riches notwithstanding, Kirklees is appointing someone on a salary of close to £20,000, based at the centre, to encourage residents to use their green recycling bins.
There may well be a similar officer based at Thornhill or Chickenley community centres, although I suspect not.
I half hoped the advert would require applicants to be multi-lingual, but Kirklees’s diversity oberleutnants aren’t that daft – the appointee will just need to be able “to communicate with a diverse range of people”.
You can say that again, in the melting pot that is modern Ravensthorpe.
Still, the council aren’t going full-on spendthrift by any means. The successful applicant can forget a company car or even van – they have to be able to ride a bike!