Tuesday 24 November 2015
Based in London; Formerly of New York, Buenos Aires, Fife, and the Western Cape. Saoránach d'Éirinn.


A writer, blogger, and historian, born in New York, educated in Argentina, Scotland, and South Africa, now based in London. read more
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Letter to the Editor

SIPPING a postprandial Coke last week while flipping through the Irish Times, my wandering eye was drawn towards that newspaper’s report on the Madrid congress of the European People’s Party, the grouping of Christian-democratic and centre-right political parties across the European continent (Madrid congress provides forum for delegates from EU centre-right parties, Suzanne Lynch, Irish Times, 22 October 2015). The correspondent first elucidates some of the purpose of these pan-European gatherings before going on to summarise a number of the issues raised. She ends, however, on a bit of a downer by describing Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán’s “lurch to the far right”, evidenced by his “clampdown on media and internet freedoms, apparent support for the death penalty and hardline approach to refugees”.

This breezy litany of crimes is little more than shoddy journalism. The alleged “clampdown” refers to proposed internet legislation which has been withdrawn while other media laws requiring balance reflect the U.S. broadcasting rules rescinded under Ronald Reagan. The “apparent support” for capital punishment is another damp squib: Orbán called for it to be debated as intellectual speculation — a canny “dog-whistle” political move to gain votes without requiring any legislative action or serious challenge to the E.U. ban on the death penalty. (It was abolished in Hungary at the fall of communism and there are absolutely positively no government plans to bring it back.)

The refugees allegation was the most interesting, however. As it happened, I had attended a small meeting of British MPs and Hungarian foreign ministry officials the day before Ms Lynch’s report was printed. The Welsh MP David Davies gave his first-hand account of visiting the refugee camps near the Hungarian-Serb border and reported that refugees were being well-looked-after, with the quality of the facilities on the whole at least as good as when he was in the British Army, often better. An advisor from the Hungarian Foreign Ministry briefed us on the general situation, which has calmed down immensely since the Serb border has been more or less closed. He noted that broadcast media across the continent showed footage of Budapest police’s treatment of migrants gathered at the railway station without pointing out that the police were responding to violent attacks from a small minority of migrants.

Proprotionate self-defence for officers of the law is the norm across Europe, but this has mattered little when it comes to depictions of Hungary: the bien-pensant official groupthink is that anything Hungary does is wrong, so long as Fidesz is in power. Luckily some voices of dissent have emerged. The novelist Tibor Fischer — no conservative — described in The Guardian the media treatment of Hungary as “hysterical” and “ignorant nonsense”.

Anyhow, I felt obliged to send off my “Disgusted of Tunbridge Wells” to the Irish Times and it’s very good of their letters staff to print a diverging (if abridged) opinion. The last letter to any editor I succeeded in having printed was in the Times Literary Supplement in 2008 about P.G. Wodehouse’s career in banking at H.S.B.C. Who knows what the next shall bring…

October 27, 2015 11:42 pm | Link | 4 Comments »

Change in the air at the Catholic Herald

Title will cease to operate as a newspaper and relaunch in magazine format

Britain’s leading Catholic publication, the Catholic Herald, will be relaunching as a magazine before the end of this year. Invites have already gone out to an event celebrating the change to be held in early December.

The relaunch might be interpreted as a move against the Tablet, which styles itself “the international Catholic weekly” and has been nicknamed “The Bitter Pill” by English Catholics for its widely perceived lack of faithfulness to Catholic teaching. The Tablet is associated with the country’s old liberal Catholic elite, counting among its trustees such figures as Chris Patten and Sir Gus O’Donnell. A Herald reader, meanwhile, is more likely to be young, intellectual, and strongly influenced by John Paul II and Benedict XVI.

When told of the news, one young churchman welcomed the change as a good move for the generally orthodox Herald against its looser rival. (more…)

October 23, 2014 11:36 am | Link | 5 Comments »

Italy inspired by Wall Street

Il Foglio is one of the most interesting newspapers in the world, and quite unique. It’s not a “great” newspaper like the FAZ or the Financial Times, with reporters in every major city around the globe, but this little “sheet” — usually just four or six pages — contains both a gazette of the day’s events alongside some of the best analysis and commentary in Italy. I’ve often thought that a London-based newspaper of a similar mould — not an everything-paper but instead simple, accurate, brief reporting combined with intelligent insight — could have an impact in Britain (and perhaps even America).

Its editor is the affable atheist, anti-abortion campaigner, and friend of Benedict XVI Giuliano Ferrara — an ex-Communist and former minister in Berlusconi’s first cabinet in the 90s — and it’s been said that Il Foglio comes closest to being the Italian proponent of a more Anglo-Saxon style of conservatism.

Today is Il Foglio’s eighteenth birthday, and looking back at the first edition, the design of the front page (above) obviously takes its inspiration from that of the Wall Street Journal. Things have changed since then, and while the Italian daily still clings proudly to its broadsheet format, the WSJ converted to what I call narrowsheet in 2006, as reported by us at the time.

In honour of this anniversary, Il Foglio has made available in PDF form its first ever edition (shorn of advertisements) which you can download here. (more…)

January 30, 2014 11:45 am | Link | 4 Comments »

L’Osservatore Romano goes Hungarian

Magyarophiles will be pleased to learn that L’Osservatore Romano, the Vatican newspaper, will begin appearing in Hungarian. The new edition will appear every other week as a four-page insert into Új Ember, the Hungarian Catholic weekly founded in 1945. “We are a small editorial staff,” Balázs Rátkai, editor-in-chief of the weekly, told L’Osservatore.

“However, our intention is to probe and to make our readers think. The collaboration with the Vatican daily is of historic importance for the life of the weekly and of the entire local Church; it not only brings the Universal Church and the Pope closer to us; it will also enrich readers, and through them all of Hungarian society, with new thoughts, opinions and answers.”

Printed as a daily broadsheet in Italian, the Vatican newspaper also has weekly tabloid editions in French, Spanish, English, German, and Portuguese, as well as a monthly version in Polish.

December 17, 2013 11:20 am | Link | 4 Comments »

Zeitung für Deutschland

Given my total obsession with the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung it will come as no surprise that my favourite advertising installation is the massive logotype for the world’s greatest newspaper which spans the railway tracks at the Frankfurter Hauptbahnhof.

In glorious Teutonic blackletter, it proclaims the newspaper’s ownership of the city to all comers:


Photo: Erhard Bernstein

And while it looks great in daylight, as the evening descends it is illuminated in neon blue. Like the FAZ itself, old-fashioned and modern all in one.

Photo: Otzberg

November 18, 2013 9:09 am | Link | 2 Comments »


New York Times Kills Off the International Herald-Tribune

The New York Times Company, owners of the Paris-based International Herald-Tribune, announced recently that they are going to kill off the 126-year-old newspaper. I had predicted back in 2009 that this was precisely what would happen because of the aimless direction the IHT had taken since the New York Times became the sole owners of the title in 2002, after a long period of joint ownership with the Washington Post. The IHT will be merged into the worldwide operations of the Times this autumn and be rebranded as the International New York Times

Hendrik Hertzberg of the New Yorker bids adieu to the Trib, remembering the first time he left the U.S. in 1960. Crain’s New York Business provides a brief overview of NYTCo’s decision. Margaret Sullivan, the Times’s ‘Public Editor’, reduces any appreciation for the Herald-Tribune as mere emotive romantic nostalgia. Nikki Usher mourns the IHT’s tendency to broaden the Times’s typically American editorial lens. Meanwhile, Ken Layne of The Awl is a bit frank about the decision to drop the Herald-Tribune for The International New York Times: “That’s an incredibly shitty name that makes no sense at all!”

May 29, 2013 4:25 pm | Link | 3 Comments »

Arab Newspapers

CAFÉS IN CERTAIN corners of London seem perpetually inhabited by old Arab men in ill-fitting suits with scratchy faces reading newspapers.

Having recently made my first venture into the Middle East, I thought I’d provide a brief overview of the pan-Arab newspapers that are read by exiles, businessmen, and intellectuals in Arabia and the diaspora.


August 29, 2012 9:02 pm | Link | 1 Comment »

FAZ and the art of newspaper web design

There is a certain pleasure in reading newspapers: the feel of the paper in your hands, the comfort of a seat in a café, the wide panoply of stories arrayed before you. Newspaper websites, on the contrary, are generally horrible. They are usually outrageously ugly (the Scotsman‘s website is particularly poor) and neither well organised nor designed with the proper aesthetics in mind. You might remember that the Times of London redesigned their website just before making it totally inaccessibly. I enjoyed their redesign at the time, but upon further consideration it seems a bit insipid.

The Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, widely regarded by correct minds as the best newspaper in the world, engaged upon a wholesale redesign of their website, faz.net, in October of last year. Like the newspaper itself, there is a fine attention to detail, and I think FAZ might just take the biscuit for best online presence for a newspaper. (more…)

March 4, 2012 7:00 pm | Link | No Comments »

Die nuwe Volksblad

Not to be too Gollumesque about things, but I hates it! I always thought Volskblad (Bloemfontein, daily, Afrikaans, f. 1904, circ. 28,000) had one of the most dignified and handsome banners of all the Afrikaans dailies. The logo of the “People’s Paper” exudes a certain classical dignity and seriousness. Previous banners (see slideshow below) conveyed an individuality. I particularly like the chiseled blackletter typeface used in the second banner displayed below: strength, dignity, tradition, age. (more…)

January 11, 2012 8:32 pm | Link | 2 Comments »

An-Nahar Redesign

We don’t pay much attention to newspaper design in the Middle East as their newspapers do not often show up on our radar. Al-Ahram still has a certain cachet, and I’ve always had a soft spot for L’Orient-Le Jour despite its ugly design mostly because I love their doubly old-fashioned hybrid nameplate. The Lebanese newspaper An-Nahar recently underwent a bit of a redesign which might be worth taking a brief look at. (more…)

October 23, 2011 8:02 pm | Link | No Comments »

NRC Handelsblad Goes ‘Compact’

Another broadsheet bites the dust

ONE OF THE most prominent newspapers in the Netherlands, NRC Handelsblad, switched from broadsheet to tabloid size this week. The newspaper claims it is returning to the ancestral format of its predeccesors, the Algemeen Handelsblad, the Amsterdam newspaper founded in 1828, as well as the Rotterdam Courant, founded in 1844. Those two papers merged in 1970 to form NRC Handelsblad, which is the seventh in circulation among the national newspapers of the Netherlands.

The evening newspaper has gained experience in tabloid-size printing since 2006 when it launched its morning compact edition, nrc.next, aimed at young, highly educated readers. Nrc.next has a Monday-Friday circulation of over 300,000, while NRC hovers around 240,000 on weekdays and 270,000 on Saturdays.


March 8, 2011 9:00 pm | Link | 2 Comments »

Journowatch: Headline vs. Story

In an article about the soon-to-be-canonised Australian nun, Mary McKillop, the Daily Telegraph exhibits a peculiar example of the lows of newspaper journalism today.

The headline boldly states “Australian nun ‘to be made patron saint of abuse victims'” only for the sub-headline — “An Australian nun who will be canonised by the Pope next month should be made the patron saint of clerical sex abuse victims, Catholics have suggested.” — to directly contradict this.

Is Mary McKillop “to be” the patron saint of the abused or has it merely been “suggested”? The headline-writer put the ‘to be’ in quotation marks, but the article doesn’t supply a single quotation or piece of evidence showing this decision has been reached, only a quotation suggesting it would be a wise course of action.

I’ve read numerous examples of newspaper articles offering contradictory facts unreconciled, but to do so before the article has even started seems particularly bizarre.

October 1, 2010 2:11 pm | Link | 2 Comments »

Six to One Offered Against Xandover

The Late, Lamented Sporting Life, Daily Newspaper of the Queen Mum

THE MOST FAVOURED daily reading material of the late Queen Mother, The Sporting Life did not survive into the twenty-first century, unlike the beloved former consort (who died 102 years of age in 2002). It was first printed in 1859, but through its 1886 acquisition of Bell’s Life in London, and Sporting Chronicle had a heritage dating back to 1822. Throughout the twentieth century, aside from being the racing newspaper of record, reading it gave a certain connotation of leisureliness, spiviness, or both. By the 1980s, it was thought the Life was getting a bit staid, and it was challenged when Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum founded the Racing Post as a daily competitor.

“The advent of the Racing Post in the 1980s was good for the Life,” Jamie Reid wrote after the older journal shut. “The old paper was in danger of becoming tired. What makes the Life’s closure so hard to take is that in the last few years it was better than ever.”

“The Post‘s editorial style was often a bit dry whereas the Life’s top writers… were clearly not good for you at all. They were basted in alcohol, toasted in tobacco and in constant desperate need of a winning tip.”

That the long tradition of The Sporting Life didn’t have to end is one of the more frustrating aspects: it was the Life’s owners, Trinity Mirror, that bought the Post in 1998 and decided to keep the title of the twelve-year-old paper instead of the one with one-hundred-and-forty-nine years of history behind it. Go figure.

September 26, 2010 4:48 pm | Link | No Comments »

When Newspapers Were Newspapers

One of the things I enjoy about watching older movies is seeing the newspapers they mocked up for them. “The Pink Panther” (1963) featured this shot of an underworld figure reading the Rome Daily American on a Paris bridge or quayside. Often these are mockups of newspapers that never existed, but the Rome Daily American was real. A handful of GIs started it in 1945 when the European edition of Stars and Stripes ceased publication. It took the Herald-Tribune two days to reach Rome from Paris in those days, and the CIA held an arms-length 40% stake of the ownership until the 1970s. The paper was made famous by the 1953 flick Roman Holiday — there was a charming film. Its offices were in the Via di Santa Maria in via, parallel to the Corso, until the paper went bankrupt in 1984.

September 21, 2010 11:18 am | Link | 1 Comment »

The TLS Online

I hope that one byproduct of the Times of London moving to a new website is that the Times Literary Supplement will finally get one of its own. Other Times spinoffs like Times Higher Education and the Times Education Supplement have them, so why not the jewel in the crown?

Also, I’d hate to see my pedantic letter to the editor of October 1, 2008 available only to paying subscribers (see here, scroll down to ‘Banking’, and ignore erroneous spacing).

Come on, TLS. If the LRB can do it, so can you.

June 13, 2010 8:01 pm | Link | No Comments »

The new Times of London online

IAM MILDLY obsessed with newspaper design (in case you hadn’t noticed that already). But even those few newspapers that manage to either be attractive or worth reading (or indeed both) usually have websites that are astoundingly ugly. Check out the websites of The Scotsman, Le Monde, or the Times of India. They vary from awful to “meh”. The website of The Hindu is ugly, but is being replaced by a much more handsome design. Despite the over-sized ad on the index page, Die Zeit‘s website is on the handsome side of things, but that of the Neue Zürcher Zeitung is a mixed bag, some well-done details here, other poor ones there. I despise lefigaro.fr, especially since they started charging for their e-paper edition. The structure and flow of telegraph.co.uk is actually good, but the detailing isn’t and (like faz.net) it poorly reflects its newspaper’s personality.

Along then strolls the once-venerable Times (f. 1785), with a brand spanking new website at thetimes.co.uk. Clear, orderly, precise in its details, and just plain handsome in its overall design. There’s nothing particularly special or over-the-top about it; it’s just well done, but that is shockingly rare for newspapers today. (more…)

June 3, 2010 10:58 am | Link | 4 Comments »

The Old New York Observer Building

No. 54, East Sixty-fourth Street

“FOR 17 YEARS,” writes Peter W. Kaplan, “since The New York Observer entered city life in 1987, it has existed within a red brick and white-marble-stepped townhouse on East 64th Street.” Designed by Ernest Flagg and Walter B. Chambers during their brief partnership, No. 54 East Sixty-fourth Street (between Park & Madison) was built in 1907 as a private residence for Robert I. Jenks. The AIA guide accurately describes it as “four stories of delicate but unconvincing neo-Federal detail… a minor Flagg.” In 1947, the townhouse was converted into offices for the Near East Foundation, which was founded in 1915 to provide relief for Armenian refugees from the Ottoman Empire and later took on greater responsibilities in North Africa and the Levant. It was then bought by Arthur L. Carter, the founder and publisher of the New York Observer for use as the salmon-tinted newspaper’s headquarters.

In 2004, the Observer moved down to Broadway, two blocks south of the Flatiron Building (and just a few blocks up from The New Criterion whose founder, Hilton Kramer, was for nearly two decades the art critic for the Observer). The townhouse was sold by Carter to the Russian-born Janna Bullock, real estate developer & sometime Guggenheim foundation board member for $9.5 million in the year the newspaper moved out. In 2005, Bullock renovated the building and had it used at the Kips Bay Decorator Show House for the year before selling it on to the Irish investor Derek Quinlan for $18.74 million. Quinlan put it on the market for $36 million but last year the asking price was chopped to $27 million.

Twenty-five feet wide, five stories, and with over 10,000 square feet, No. 54 was probably the only newspaper headquarters to feature nine working fireplaces, rosewood panelling, and oak wainscoting. But the best feature, by a mile, is the splendid iron-railed staircase, which looks like it was lifted straight from Paris. Elegant and graceful, a rare century-old survival in Manhattan. (more…)

May 3, 2010 8:12 am | Link | 3 Comments »

Some Stocks Fall, Others Rise

In the first quarter of 2010, CNN’s flagship news anchors ratings dropped by fifty percent — half their entire viewership! The New York Times continues to slide towards bankruptcy and irrelevance (who wants to pay two dollars a day to be lied to?). Exhibiting a tremendous amount of cheek, the Times Company (which owns both the Times and the Boston Globe) threatened to shut the Boston Globe unless the staff agreed to $20 million in cuts. This year, the $20 million made by salary and benefits cuts across the board at the Globe were awarded in compensation to just two Times Company employees, Chairman Arthur Sulzberger and Chief Executive Janet L. Robinson. Meanwhile, the Company’s profits are collapsing along with its circulation and ad revenue, while its debt increases.

Not everyone’s stock is going down, however. Anna Arco reports a greater-than-usual surge in Mass attendance during Holy Week at the Stefansdom in Vienna, as well as at Westminster Cathedral and the Brompton Oratory in London.

The only advice one could dispense to CNN, the Times, et al. is the aphorism that he who marries the spirit of the age is soon widowed.

April 11, 2010 8:54 pm | Link | No Comments »

Le « dingbat » du Figaro

Did you know that Le Figaro used to have a “dingbat”? No, neither did I, until I was stumbling through the archives the other day. For a brief period in the 1930s, the Fig stylistically dropped the article “le” from its nameplate, while continuing to be known as “Le Figaro” for all intents and purposes. Simultaneously, they introduced a handsome horizontal dingbat to sit atop the newspaper’s unique name. (more…)

December 16, 2009 3:12 pm | Link | 1 Comment »

The Internal Exile of the Saar

At the beginning of Hitler’s rule, many patriotic German anti-Hitlerites fled to the Saarland, which was Germany but still under French occupation. In a bizarre state of internal exile, anti-Nazi publications, be they Christian, Nationalist, Communist, or Jewish flourished for a very brief period. One of these journals was Das Reich, founded by Hubertus Prinz zu Löwenstein, who (if I recall my personal studies from St Andrews years properly) was a bit of a rogue in his own way, sympathizing with the Red forces during the Spanish Civil War.

A plebiscite on rejoining the Saarland with Germany proper had been scheduled before Hitler’s rise to power (just like the lamentable award of the 1936 Olympics to Berlin, though they turned out to be some of the most influential and well-run games to date) and, while the inhabitants were no keen Hitlerites, they had naturally tired of French occupation and duly voted to kick the French out. Right result, but very poor timing.

The anti-Hitlerites had to flee further, to Paris (where Pariser Tageblatt and later Pariser Tageszeitung were founded), London, and New York. German Jews sometimes fled as far as Shanghai where the English-language Shanghai Jewish Chronicle began a German edition in response to the influx. (There are some interesting stories about Shanghai Jews, and of course the famous newspaper-owning family of Jewish converts to Catholicism in Shanghai, but they’ll have to wait for another day).

December 13, 2009 9:12 pm | Link | No Comments »
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