Friday Reading S13E16

Friday Reading is a weekly series of recommended reads from the Guardian’s Martin Belam, covering journalism, media and technology, and other interesting nerdy things he found on the internet this week. It is now in its thirteenth season. Sign up here.

I have very strong feelings about this piece by Meirion Jones: Outrageous libel laws protected Jimmy Savile. At last, change is on the cards

It was the balance of our UK libel laws that stopped Lance Armstrong being exposed as a cheat for years by UK newspapers. It was the balance of our UK libel laws that allowed Liberace to successfully sue the Mirror for implying that he might not be a heterosexual. It was the balance of our UK libel laws that led to me writing this on 29 March just gone:

"As recently as 24 February this year, every time we wrote about Roman Abramovich we tended to have to carry disclaimers like 'Abramovich has vehemently disputed reports suggesting his alleged closeness to Vladimir Putin and Russia or that he has done anything to merit sanctions being imposed against him' as he had very energetic lawyers. Reuters is quoting two sources saying that Abramovich is in attendance at the Istanbul peace talks between Russia and Ukraine. That suggests the nature of his relationship with Putin has either changed dramatically in the course of the last month, or that Abramovich’s lawyers were somehow previously mistaken."

In the piece on Savile though, Meirion Jones says this, which gets to the real heart of the matter:

"We can imagine the conversations. Who are our witnesses who will give evidence if Savile sues us for libel? They were children at the time – can we trust their memories? Some of them might have had criminal records or been involved with drugs. Remember, Savile deliberately targeted institutions where his victims might not be believed in court. They would be facing the best QCs money could buy, representing a man who could potentially call Prince Charles, Margaret Thatcher, the heads of charities, the head of the BBC and the pope as character witnesses. The best guess of the lawyers was that a libel action could cost a million pounds and the Sun would definitely lose."

Anil Dash wrote The Immortal Myths About Online Abuse in 2016 and it was already old news then. Just a reminder:

"Perhaps the most pervasive myth amongst people creating communities online is the idea that addressing abuse is a matter of simply fixing a few technological bugs. Abuse, harassment, threats, and attacks are both common issues and ever-evolving problems to be solved. Yet, unlike systemic issues like service downtime or content creation, most of the technology and media companies that host communities online refuse to assign proper resources to keeping their community healthy. Depending on the size of the community, it requires people who have specifically been tasked with moderating a community, staying up to date on larger social and cultural issues that drive abuse, and learning from other communities about what threats they face. This of course has to be matched with the appropriate technological resources to build systems to protect and empower targets or potential targets."

Shouting "I'm gonna support free speech above all else" ain't it, sir.

Ron wants to be sure that you didn't miss this week's Guardian Thursday quiz: Sad fruit, giant pandas and a host of birthday joy – take the Thursday quiz

It is actually the first year birthday of the Thursday quiz, which I still can't quite believe I get to just write exactly how I want. But echoing what Anil Dash said, it has a lovely community underneath it because I pro-actively manage it. Pretty much with every article or quiz ever published under my name on the Guardian website, I make sure I am in there with the first comment, setting expectations and telling people to be kind to each other. Then I hover on the thread and reply to good interactions, and shun unworthy comments – well with the odd chastisement – and it just sets a tone for the whole thread. People know they are welcome. People know teacher is watching and they will get called out for misbehaving. "Not everyone has time for that!" I hear you cry. Well, that's why the comments are a cesspool. You need to ask why you've got them if you aren't going to manage them.

One researcher’s work has found that, over the past decade, the news media has reduced the number of times the name of a mass shooter is reported.

"I got interested in the issue after several high-profile mass shooting perpetrators were not named out loud by police in the aftermath of attacks. And it seemed that the news media followed suit. I analyzed how often perpetrators were named in news articles within a week of mass shootings between 1999 and 2021."

"The news media seems to be heeding the call to limit naming perpetrators in mass shootings"

The Guardian launches new flagship current affairs newsletter klaxon. First Edition is helmed by Archie Bland and Nimo Omer, who was new journalist of the year in 2021 in a year when it was not easy to be a new journalist. Some press release stuff here – sign up is here. I think they've done a fab job, especially on the design side. I was trying to do email newsletters for the BBC in 2003-2004 and still bear the scars from how hard it is to get right.

The absolute brain worms that led to the Spectator commissioning that "I stared at women on the tube all day and none of them directly confronted me about it so that proves it wasn't creepy" article. Or as @Montague_Tigg put it on Twitter: "Imagine writing an article so bad the police get involved."

Talking of birthdays / anniversaries, Nigel Kneale would have been 100 this week. This is a lovely tribute to “The Godfather of (TV) Sci-Fi” by Mark Owen. Toby Hadoke has adapted Kneale’s legendary lost 1963 TV play The Road for audio. It is available for another 40 days or so.

Last week I linked to Matt Round’s fun Bokeh game where you are a small circle and you have to keep eating circles smaller than you while avoiding things larger than you. Matt also gave a running commentary on how he developed the game on Twitter which is fascinating. it starts here:

OK, I’m going to make a little game for the vole site & tweet its progress, probably 1-1.5 days of work in total but I have Other Stuff to do so spread over a week or more, who knows [1/?]

Matt has also usefully made this available – it is the debug checklist he uses for new projects. You plug in your URL and it emulates the way various search engines, social networks etc will see it: VOLE GO/NO GO.

This piece is joyous: “They are totally smashing it!” Bernardine Evaristo on the artistic triumph of older Black women

“As the first Black female recipient of the Booker prize – at the tender age of 60 – it has been career Christmas for me every day since. Winning it at 60 felt like the right time; interviewers are surprised when I don’t express regret at not breaking through earlier. Surely it would have been better for my career if I were younger? That is not how I see it. At my age, I have a body of work behind me, a deeply rooted work ethic, confidence in my creative practice and an ongoing ambition to expand my craft and keep growing.”


There are some good jobs going at the Guardian at the moment. Come and find how annoying I am to work with on a day-to-day basis. We are looking for: assistant production editor (homepage editor), assistant Readers’ Editor (where you literally might have to deal with my mistakes), video news features editor and interactive designer / developer

A long and interesting essay about the rife homophobia of Private Eye magazine: “Poove Power Part I – A Gay History of Private Eye”

“This schoolboy approach was to continue to mark Eye’s coverage of gay men particularly into the 1980s. The representation might have changed — the rouge wearing older pooves replaced by leftist gays — but they remain a target for cartoons that revolve around little more than the fact they exist. In a strange way, these cartoons can be most useful in trying to get a feeling for the sort of attitudes held at the time. Watching It’s a Sin this week, I was thinking about how representations of homophobia in the past are often characterised by violence and aggression. Depictions of responses to the AIDS crisis, for example, often revolve around the idea that heterosexuals were fearful and disgusted by gay men, and queer bashing, spitting and other extreme forms of violence. But much of Eye’s homophobia is marked by a sort of world-weary derision.”

“No animals have experienced a more dramatic makeover in the past few decades than dinosaurs. Animals we used to think had nothing but drab gray and brown scales are now believed to have flaunted feathers in bright colours and patterns. So what colours were the dinosaurs, really? And how do we know?”

This article has blown my mind: What colour were the dinosaurs?

DOCTOR WHO CORNER: I’ve been listening to Doctor Who: Redacted and quite enjoying it although I’m now of an age where I can’t work out whether it represents the way the young people speak or is a badly-written received BBC English attempt at young people speak.

Doctor Who: Legend of the Sea Devils consolidated up on seven-day viewing to 3.4m to score higher than the return of Gentleman Jack later that evening on BBC One. But as ever, Doctor Who’s ratings are the Rorschach inkblot test of the mind.

TRACK OF THE WEEK: You And I by David M Allen. If this had come out in 1980 it would have been slightly too weird for slightly too young me but what a release this is and I love it. For context: David M. Allen (producer The Cure, Sisters Of Mercy, Neneh Cherry etc…) recorded this while setting up new equipment at Martin Rushent’s Genetic Studios while setting it up to get ready to record Human League’s Dare.

Matt Johnson talks about how The The made “This Is The Day”. Nice to see him on the Guardian website – he was pretty pissed off with the BBC and the Guardian when I saw him chatting about the Infected movie in 2016.