How journalism works: The food chain

EVERYBODY in journalism, from top to bottom, understands that a quote or two might be lifted here and there as a story is hauled up the food chain. Nobody is naive to think otherwise. One or two quotes.

But The Daily Telegraph stretched this principle of give and take and turned it into journo eats journo cannabialism with their page 5 lead on Saturday about Camden Council asking bankers in Hampstead for voluntary contributions.

[Spot the difference: CNJ on Thursday and then the Daily Telegraph on Saturday]

This is the third most prominent page in the Telegraph – and yet all of the quotes are simply scalpeled from the Camden New Journal‘s front page last week. Not one of the quotes is unique. Of course, maybe the writer who recreated the story spoke to exactly the same people as I did –and those people gave exactly the same quotes, word for word. Yeah, maybe that happened. Click copy, click paste, may also of happened.

Two things. One: a little ‘told the New Journal’ would be classier when you are stretching the one or two quote lift convention. Two: It must be a worry for us – writers and readers – that a paper with such a long history and importance in the industry can print a story like this on page 5 without making their own calls to Theo, Tulip, Andrew and Keith. They aren’t hard to get hold of. If I was the editor, it’d be the least I’d expect.

Hey ho – we’ve been here before.

Perfect match

How things stand at the mo in the Mayor’s Diary at Camden Council. Is there something we haven’t been told?

Little helpers

THE Labour group in Camden is still mulling over what to do about who gets to hang out in the mayor’s office next year. Deputy Mayor Abdul Quadir is likely to graduate into the main position. He’s been the deputy twice and enough members feel it would be cruel to choose someone else at this stage to ensure he crosses the line.

But who would be Abdul’s deputy? Labour councillors are actively discussing the idea of offering that role to somebody on the opposition benches. How generous. It’s a departure from the past. Labour has always hogged the non-political role and refused to share ceremonial badges.

There is a catch, however. If the offer is formally made and a Lib Dem or Conservative councillor is appointed as deputy mayor, they would not be offered the chance to follow the age-old tradition of moving up to becoming a full-on chain-wearing main Mayor the following year.

Not in Olympic year!

Instead, they will be asked to be grateful for what they’ve been offered, with the reminder from the Labour group: we don’t have to do this,  you know?

The idea has been discussed, but some members think it’s not worth the trouble and would rather someone like Heather Johnson or Roger Robinson, both former Mayors, were simply appointed deputy and then took on the main role for 2012. The debate continues.

Who got the part of Theo?

GET this: Camden’s Liberal Democrats are more than ready for the upcoming budget-setting meeting at the Town Hall, a night where one of the most eye-watering settlements in recent history will be signed off. It will inevitably be a highly charged evening where some celebrated services finally face a yes or a no on future funding. To prepare for the debate, the group and Lib Dem supporters staged an ‘away day’ on Saturday (*away day = hiring a room in the Town Hall).

At this private session, whispers have it, members embarked on a role play of how the meeting may pan out. With blustery brilliance, John Bryant apparently played the part of heckling Labour finance man Theo Blackwell, likely to be the busiest man in the amphitheatre at the main event. Flick Rea passed the audition as an angry union campaigner. What a scene it must have been. Like Glee club, or something like that.

Bingo night

ON the one hand, councillors say the full council meeting is just a bit of ‘punch and judy’ knockabout. On the other, they say it is a great forum for the backbenchers to have their say.

Last night, those arguments seemed pretty indulgent after perhaps the most uninspiring meeting of recent years. There was a lasting feeling that this session, the only time when all members gather in the council chamber together, is not fit for purpose in its current form. Labour’s deputy whip Phil Jones admitted later that all of the real decisions are taken elsewhere, in private meetings.

For three hours, the council indulged in a hypnotic blame game. Your government is forcing us to cut everything. Well, your government got booted out for mucking up the economy. The debate was rooted in history lessons, rather than new ideas to help people like the poor souls in their tenth decade outside the Town Hall last week, campaigning for centres for the elderly, lifelines, to be saved. You could play bingo by this meeting: ‘Tough decisions’, ‘hard choices’, ‘need for imagination’, ‘no choice but to’, and for the full house: ‘your friends in government’.

Nobody said: ‘This is a terrible time. Let’s work together. Why don’t we do this…’

High salary council officials are paid to sit there and listen to the sparring. They must wonder if three hours of their high salary time could be put to better use. The councillors could then take their punch and judy show elsewhere. The pub, where they could argue it out on their own time. Alternatively, the private debates that Phil refers to could more often (not always, but more often) be public. More people would then feel they had a more realistic chance of affecting council policy. Some new ideas to keep the services loved by people who have no clue about what goes on behind the council chamber’s doors might even tumble into the open.

The Fairness Commission in neighbouring Islington might be a good model to review.

Tamsin from Kilburn reads the Mail on Sunday over breakfast

REMEMBER last week David Miliband forgot all the flak he gets from the Mail and the Mail on Sunday to write a yawn about his love of football.

This week, it’s another local lefty tucking in. Tamsin Omond, the independent who ran in Hampstead and Kilburn against Glenda Jackson, pens a piece for the MoS declaring herself to be not as posh as people say she is. She begins by saying she was stirred up after reading a piece in the Mail on Sunday over breakfast last week. Later, in what is actually an interesting profile of her life so far, she declares her love for NW6:

I live in a shared flat (one journalist called it a bedsit) at the wrong end of Kilburn, North-West London, surrounded by betting shops and slightly dodgy pubs.

I love Kilburn but I doubt it’s an area ever likely to mentioned in the same sentence as ‘stylish’ or ‘exclusive’. I don’t think I’ll ever pay off my debt from university, and I can’t even remember what it feels like to be in the black.

I gaze longingly at Sainsbury’s while choosing my vegetables from Kilburn Market (no, it’s not the farmers’ kind). And my dad, John, well he’s just a Czech immigrant, or ‘ dissident’ if I’m feeling fancy.

The ‘lasting friendships’ made in libraries

BACK in the days of that never-ending Labour leadership campaign last year, councillor Tulip Siddiq was in the thick of the vote Ed Miliband campaign.

With more mobile phones than fingers, almost, she looked pretty in-there at the party’s conference in Manchester – Ed’s first week in charge. See right, in the white coat, she’s looking at a hundred text messages from me asking for some face time with the new leader.

Fast forward four months and Ed M has settled in and now says he is worried that libraries including those on his home turf in Camden are under threat due to public spending cuts. He told Dan Carrier at the CNJ this week..

Libraries strengthen our communities immensely. They are places in which people come together to learn, to get to know each other and to form lasting friendships. That’s why libraries are so deeply ingrained in our country. The potential closures in Camden are being brought about by this Conservative-led government, which is cutting local government spending too far and too fast, damaging the services people hold dear. They should think again.

So, surely he should get Tulip on the phone and reunite his crack campaign team back together. He must know that she is the elected politician at the head of Camden’s libary service. She’s been handed the axe but before she wields it, maybe she should brainstorm some alternative ideas with the man she spent last summer with.

Just a thought. A rebellious picture of her on the barricades with Miliband in Chester Road would be front page.

Suits and ties

I HEAR former Camden Conservative leader Councillor Piers Wauchope snuck back into the Town Hall last night. The author of Camden: A Political History was giving a speech to the Camden History Society. In my absence, he whacked this picture up on the big screen: it’s the snap of me interviewing Tony Blair and Raj Chada in 2006. Piers made some giggly remark about how I hadn’t even done up my tie properly to see the PM. I was young, I was in a rush. Still, the legend has it that local journalists were happier with the scoop of interviewing him that day, than Labour Party members locally – including possibly Raj, smiling away with a fully tied up red tie, very smart – were to have him in town in the aftermath of the Iraq War. He wasn’t exactly a vote winner in the local polls which followed. Labour got hammered in Camden that year.

Age against the machine

In case you weren’t there and didn’t see it… film of Tuesday’s demonstration outside Camden Town Hall by elderly protesters bearing the brunt of spending cuts has been put together at See their alternative news site for more.

The expertise of Ed Balls

THE resignation of Alan Johnson as Labour’s shadow chancellor this afternoon has opened the door for Ed Balls to finally get the job he wanted. We all know he’s been craving the job since being overlooked by Ed Miliband last year and told to be happy being Shadow Home Secretary. Has it consumed him? Just look at his visit to Parliament Hill School in Highgate last week: even in a classroom of A-level students with no say on the matter he seemed determined to come up with a recollection allowing him to hammer home where his ‘expertise’ lies.

Charlotte Newton from the Ham and High (link to follow) reports of his school talk today:

He provoked laughter by describing how Tony Blair played a joke on him, a year after he had been elected as a Labour MP. “In May 2006 I got a phone call,” he recalled. “The Downing Street switchboard rang to say the Prime Minister was on the phone. ‘Ed’, he said, ‘you’ve had a good first year as an MP so I’ve decided to send you to Northern Ireland to be a minister.'” “Northern Ireland is quite a tough job,” Mr Balls explained, “and I was expecting to go to the Treasury with my expertise so I was a silent for a few seconds. Then Tony Blair went ‘arrghh I was only joking’. You’re going to be working in the Treasury,” he laughed.

At this point you can imagine them all laughing together like the rum ending of a children’s cartoon, everything having worked out ok in the end. Ha-fudgy-ha. Northern Ireland. Ha ha. Still, I wonder if Balls has spent the last three months telling anyone who will listen where his expertise lies. His perseverance looks to have paid off.

PS: Nigel Sutton’s photo of student eyes glazing over as Balls speaks is worth the 60p cover price for the Ham and High in itself.

PPS: Tony Blair knows how to play a prank, doesn’t he? Did he play the same trick on every MP who had been brazenly angling for a place in his cabinet? I can think of a few other candidates whose expectant faces would have dropped if he had joked they were off to Northern Ireland.