The age of the troll is over

Friday, 3 February 2012

A common misconception about those awful people in the comment box who screech obscenities at journalists and toss insults as though they were green salad, whom we in the trade call trolls, is that they are sad old – or, indeed, young – men who sit in front of their computer screens in yellowing underpants muttering curses and slogans as they type. Actually, if you were to meet a troll, you probably wouldn’t notice anything odd about him. Or her. But one thing’s for sure: after five minutes, you’d be longing to fling yourself down the fire escape – anything to escape their company.

The dedicated troll is never amusingly eccentric. On the contrary, a troll is a 24-carat bore, someone who has spent years emptying parties with their “small talk”, but who now has the miraculous opportunity to force their way into a conversation. These creatures know they are hated, but because they are hiding behind inane pseudonyms, that doesn’t bother them.

They take delight in the literary equivalent of farting in a lift. Their odour is repulsive, but, when they step out into the lobby, they could hardly look more ordinary. Spruce pensioners with tidy comb-overs and UKIP membership cards in their blazer pockets; 35-year-old “indie kids” who still play bass guitar in dad’s garage; sour-faced primary school teachers who would rather people assume they were lesbians than admit that even the flashers in the park find them off-puttingly plain.


An update

Wednesday, 1 February 2012

I’m delighted to announce two new roles I have this week agreed to take on in addition to my editorship of The Kernel.

Firstly, I am now The Catholic Herald’s Chief Feature Writer, focusing my efforts on a monthly interview slot for the paper. I’m looking forward to developing my interview technique and landing some big names, as well as writing more regularly for the paper.

I’ve helped the Herald out in the past with some digital work and written for it on-and-off for some years. It’s a wonderful paper with some brilliant people on its staff. I’m thrilled to have the chance to work with them more often.

Secondly, Adam Baker, founder of citizen journalism news service Blottr, for whom I have been a columnist for a while, has extended an invitation to join the company as an advisor. I’ll be helping the editorial team develop their content strategy over the next few years. I will also continue to write my Thursday column for the site.

Don’t worry, I won’t be losing my focus on The Kernel. But I’m really happy to have some fun projects running alongside it.


Who is bankrolling Johann Hari?

Saturday, 21 January 2012

Johann Hari, in a hastily-written and poorly spelled blog post has announced his decision not to return to the Independent. Instead, he will be jetting around the world to write a book “on a subject I believe is important and requires urgent action”. What scandal is he about to uncover? The pimping of underage boys by their incestuous older brothers, perhaps? We can only guess.

The other thing we don’t know is who is bankrolling this vanity project by a liar and suspected pornographer who has yet to apologise personally to any of the people he viciously libelled. Because, if Johann Hari is actually at Columbia “retraining”, as he claims, he will have needed to conjure up $50,000 just for the tuition fees.

The only celebrity currently associated with Hari is Sir Elton John. The singer should be warned: this act of “gay solidarity” may come back to haunt him.

Years ago, Sir Elton was grossly libelled by The Sun newspaper, which accused him of using the services of rent boys. He should ask himself: does he really want his name to be linked with that of a self-confessed character assassin – and one suspected, moreover, of writing repulsive dirty stories about rent boys?

If Hari had shown genuine remorse for his crimes – and they were crimes, which could easily have landed him in court – people might now feel disposed to forgive him.

As it is, his latest conceited and incoherent piece of self-promotion will ensure that his name remains synonymous with plagiarism, mendacious fantasy and outright deceit.

And that’s before we even get to the subject of Hari’s finances, which Inspector Knacker might find repay close examination.

Oh, and Sir Elton: perhaps you ought to warn your chambermaids about your young visitor’s less-than-sanitary toilet habits. The brilliant young writer is apparently too preoccupied with exposing injustice (or thinking about donkey-dicked black teenagers) to remember to flush. Wire hangers at the ready!


Why are Italians so cowardly?

Thursday, 19 January 2012

“Jokes about cowardly Italians,” says Christie Davis, at the University of Reading, “Are of French origin and can be traced back to a medieval comic image of the Lombards, the gibes of the disgusting Rabelais and the cold wit of Montaigne.

“This kind of French humour survived in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries and then emerged as a cycle of narrative jokes after the humiliating French defeat by the Axis powers followed by occupation in 1940.

“The jokes are thus a statement of the self-image of the French as the warrior nation of Europe, an assertion of la gloire de la France.”

Come off it, love. Jokes about chicken-shitted grape-stompers abound because at the slightest whiff of trouble they head for the hills faster than you can say arrivederci.


Review: The Iron Lady

Thursday, 12 January 2012

Margaret Thatcher is a divisive figure, it is true. There are normal people who stand in awe at the enormity of her accomplishment, the depth of her integrity and sincerity and the strength of her resolve as a fearless woman in a cruelly misogynistic world. Then there are the whingeing fuckwits who say they can’t stand her as a way of courting popularity with their mates.

But whatever your view of Britain’s greatest peacetime Prime Minister – actually, let’s make that greatest ever Prime Minister – if you have an ounce of human sensibility in your body you can’t but be appalled at the callous abuse of a woman in her twilight years for such shallow dramatic purposes.

I say shallow because there is no artistic purpose whatsoever to the depictions in this film of Maggie as an aging half-wit. They only serve to reduce the time available to its admittedly sublime highlights: those moments during Thatcher’s leadership – her triumphant acceptance speech on May 3, 1979, her fearlessness and clear thinking during the Falklands conflict – that the film manages to re-enact with almost their original grandeur.


Stephen Lawrence: a spectacular victory for the Daily Mail

Thursday, 5 January 2012

The guardians of Britain’s social conscience have had a confusing week. Two of the killers of Stephen Lawrence have been given life sentences, thanks in large part to the crusading bravery of a newspaper determined to expose the racism that inspired the crime.

Our moral arbiters have been forced either to concede, through gritted teeth, that without that other newspaper’s brilliant campaign to bring Stephen Lawrence’s killers to justice that all five of the thugs would still be swaggering around south-east London or, perhaps worse, shut up entirely and miss the best opportunity in a decade to trash the working classes they despise so much and take up their harps for the causes of diversity and multiculturalism.

Had the paper not published that front page, and taken up a ferocious campaign thereafter to bring the killers to justice, the extraordinary chain of events that followed would never have come to pass. Stephen’s parents would never have had justice for their son’s brutal stabbing.

It was, of course, that paper’s valiant gamble on 14 February 1997, when it branded Gary Dobson, Neil and Jamie Acourt, Luke Knight and David Norris as murders, that gave the case a new lease of life after an initial failure by the police to secure a conviction.

And, as the paper’s editor said this week, it was an enormous commercial and editorial risk. Had the any of the five won a legal action against the paper, it could have landed him in prison and cost the owners vast sums of money. So, under normal circumstances, the paper would now be the toast of Fleet Street.


Network Rail

Tuesday, 27 December 2011

I’m coming to the end of a restful long weekend in the countryside, riding horses, shooting small animals and drinking real ale. (OK, just kidding. Obviously I don’t drink ale.)

A few yards from the bottom of the drive to my mother’s house, in the no man’s land between east and west Kent, there’s a railway crossing. For three days, a silver saloon has sat at the crossing. The car has a single, hi-vis jacketed occupant.

When we returned from the East Kent hunt meet in Elham on Boxing Day, my mother wondered aloud who he was, and what he’d been up to. A curious type by nature, this morning I decided to go and ask him.

The chap’s name is Jerry. “I work for the railways,” he says. “Testing the line.”

I point out to Jerry that my mother has quite a good view of his car from the first floor of the house, and that she’s never seen him get out of it, except to use the portaloo that has been unceremoniously dumped on the side of the road. “Well, I’m on triple time, see,” comes the cheerful reply.

Jerry, along with many other employees of Network Rail, does this six times a year. While he is sat in his 2008 Nissan, smoking and listening to Radio 1, no trains can pass that signal point.

I ask Jerry whether the majority of engineering work closures were down to “testing” or whether there were serious bits of remedial work being done. “Out here? Nah, we just come and hang about for a few days.”

Doesn’t he get bored? “Not really.”

What about all the people whose travel will be affected at weekends? Jerry shrugs. Some of them are travelling to and from work, I point out.

“Gives the coach drivers something to do, dunnit,” he says, absent-mindedly.

I wanted to get the train back to London today. I couldn’t: the line was closed. The minicab would have cost me £180. Merry Christmas.


A young bald monarch – just what we need

Thursday, 22 December 2011

Originally posted at Blottr.

No sooner has he acquired a cool wife than Prince William risks falling back into the tragically uncool bad habits of the Windsor family. One of which – as observers of Prince Charles will be painfully aware – involves “spontaneous dancing” with young women, usually of a different ethnicity.

One likes to think that Prince William, at the peak of his sex appeal as an Eton sixth-former, watched in horror as his father swayed uncomfortably in some tribal township, patches of sweat clearly visible under the arms of his Anderson & Sheppard suiting.

But the photograph of William dancing with Vanessa Boateng, 18, at a charitable shelter makes me worry that the Windsor impulse to make an awkward fool of oneself in public is overtaking him.


Introducing The Kernel

Wednesday, 14 December 2011

From an in-depth examination of how technology is reshaping our lives, to rumours on the entrepreneurial social scene, The Kernel will take on every question in business and technology.

On Monday, the first issue of The Kernel will go live. I say “issue”, but as a digital magazine we’ll be publishing articles throughout the month. Our big pieces and many of our features – the flagship essay, interviews and our digital “agony aunt” column – will, however, appear monthly. In the intervening periods, you can look forward to sharp, entertaining analysis from guest experts, who will attempt to explain how technology is changing our lives, and pieces by our regular columnists. Don’t expect a packed publication schedule right away: we’re about quality, not quantity.

Breaking news isn’t really our thing, which is why you won’t see a news section on the site. We think that market is crowded enough already. Instead, The Kernel will offer comment, reports, analysis and thoughtful and amusing writing about technology, media and business: long-form, high-quality content that gets people thinking. Some of our content is for those in the technology industry; other pieces have more general appeal. You can help us as we find our voice by letting us know which pieces you’re enjoying and which you’re not.

We’re big on entrepreneurs. Not just those in the Silicon Roundabout beauty parade – though we’re certainly covering them too, with tongues planted appropriately firmly in cheek – but the businesses and inventions you don’t hear so much about that promise to revolutionise industries, and the social, political and personal ramifications of technological innovation. We’re also about the people, places and ideas behind the headlines, which is why you’ll find a cheeky and irreverent Scene section about the individuals and events helping to usher in those disruptive ideas and products. There’s also an Editors’ Blog – a place for snappier, short-form content which will be updated more regularly by our senior writers.

The Nutshell

But the website is only half the story. Our email bulletin, The Nutshell, is where much of the action will happen. What were the biggest stories this week? Who’s had a good week? Who’s had a week they’d rather forget? Who was spotted where, and with whom? The Nutshell comes out every Friday afternoon and contains intel, rumours, tips, sightings and speculation, as well as a round-up of the best content on the web, our own and from other blogs, newspapers and magazines.

There’s nothing else like The Nutshell in Europe. We think it’ll rapidly become the must-read weekly bulletin for anyone working in or interested in technology in Europe – which is why, in the future, The Nutshell will be a paid subscription. But if you sign up now, you’ll get it for free for the first three months and you’ll get the option of a discounted rate when we switch to a paid subscription model. We’ll also keep you posted on developments back at The Kernel. There’s no obligation beyond your first three free months, so go ahead and pop your email address in the box below.

You’ll be able to submit tips for inclusion in the newsletter if there’s something you’d like to see appear, whether it’s a brilliant article you’ve read this week or something juicy you’ve overheard at the office. Look out for the tips box on the website on Monday. Of course, everything you submit to us will be treated with the utmost confidentiality.

Mission statement and values

We believe that much of the purpose of journalism is to hold the powerful to account and to reveal facts and express opinions about which those in authority may be apprehensive or uncomfortable – not to act as a mouthpiece for others or a redrafting service for corporate press releases. We will scrutinise those in power, fairly and without fear or favour, but always with a consideration of public interest.

We will be transparent about our methods and honest about our mistakes. Our deep and excellent connections in the emerging technology industry mean that writing about people we know will be unavoidable, but we will disclose relevant conflicts and let readers decide whether our opinions are trustworthy. We encourage you to write to us, to comment on what we publish, and to write responses of your own, which we will point readers to if we consider them valuable contributions to the debate.

We also believe that scepticism and rigorous enquiry are central to the practice of journalism. Some of our writers hold very strong opinions. We see no shame in occasional contrariness when it is thought-provoking and well-argued, so we will encourage them to make their case forcefully, but with care, supported by appropriate evidence. No single writer or column should be interpreted as reflecting the opinion of The Kernel, and no writer is exempt from our exacting editorial standards and processes.

That doesn’t mean The Kernel has no opinions of its own: where there is consensus among our editorial board on a particular issue, we will use leading articles and editorials to express our view.

Finally, we believe that having a sense of humour is important. You can expect send-ups, satire, gentle teasing and even the occasional bit of coarse language from our columnists and on the Editors’ Blog. Technology is often not, in itself, a particularly enlivening subject, but we aim to make our writing entertaining as well as informative. As Kingsley Amis put it, “There’s little point in writing if you can’t annoy somebody.”

What you’ll see at on Monday is a snapshot of the kind of content we think is lacking elsewhere. Much remains to be added and we look forward to soliciting the advice and contributions of our readers. Over the coming months, we will be adding new columnists, more staff writers and we will be listening to readers’ responses to our content. We are open to critiques of all kinds and we will be responsive to them.

So dive in on Monday, take a look around, and let us know what you think. In the meantime, follow us on Twitter and Like us on Facebook to be kept up to date. And if something inspires you to write an article of your own, do get in touch.

Stephen PritchardManaging Editor
Milo YiannopoulosEditor-in-Chief

The Kernel


Tech City has spent £1million on admin in one year. Where will it end?

Monday, 12 December 2011

It’s the object of widespread ridicule from those not endlessly flattered and sucked up to with invitations to swanky drinks parties. It spent £55,000 on a website everyone hates and which fails to meet even the basic standards of modern web design. It is coming under increasing fire for shameless appropriation of others’ achievements.

But Tech City, the wasteful pet project of trendies in Downing Street that has so successfully used internet businesses in east London as PR for the Government, has already burned through at least £1million.

I was surprised at how small that number was, initially. But of course it doesn’t include all the other bits of Government chipping in to help, the extensive schmoozing going on overseas and God knows whatever else they’ve charged to someone else’s budget. Nor does it include the investment fund. So the real total cost is probably something like three times that amount. Think what three million quid would have done if simply given to Seedcamp to invest in start-ups!

Thanks to a Freedom of Information request I submitted in November, the annual budget of Tech City has been revealed today as well. £150,000 is set aside for marketing and communications. £250,000 for events. £220,500 on employing civil servants elsewhere in Government. And a little under £1.2million in staff and consultant costs.

These are staggering sums. How much of that is chief executive Eric van der Kleij’s salary, I wonder? (Tech City wouldn’t say: they’ve come up with an ingenious way to dodge FoI requests, and public accountability, by muddying the employment arrangements of their staff with contracts from PA Consulting and Grant Thornton.)

I ask again: what, precisely, has been accomplished with this massive splurge of cash?


My new magazine launches 19 December

Friday, 9 December 2011

My new online magazine covering technology, business and innovation from a European perspective will go live to the public on Monday, 19 December 2011. We’ve assembled an excellent set of writers and commissioned some fascinating and thought-provoking content from entrepreneurs, investors and academics.

We’ll be in open beta until January, at which point more content will drop, we’ll announce the full line-up of columnists, the design will be finalised and we’ll have a party. That’s all for now. See here and here for background.


Competitive Daily Mail hating: the most tiresome game on the internet

Thursday, 8 December 2011

In offices up and down the country, there is one newspaper that invariably goes missing long before the others. It’s the one you hear people asking after; the one you see secretaries stuffing into their handbags on their way out the door. It’s not the Express, the Mirror or even the Sun. It’s the Daily Mail.

Now, you might say that the Mail appeals to the worst side of human nature. That it plays on our jealousies, our insecurities, our most antagonistic impulses. But that, of course, is precisely what makes it so fabulously readable. That, and the fact that the comment pages are packed with some of the best writers in the country. Who in their right mind would sneer at a full-page op-ed by Max Hastings, one of Fleet Street’s most distinguished editors? Or the eminently readable Stephen Glover? Who can resist a glance at Ephraim Hardcastle? And who can read one of Quentin Letts’ fantastically bitchy Commons sketches and not quiver with delight?

It is, by a considerable margin, the best serious newspaper in the country. (Indeed, one of the reasons the Telegraph’s news coverage is so good these days is that the paper is run almost entirely by ex-Mail executives.) And yet, if you spend any time at all on the internet, you’ll know that this marvellous organ, this brilliant commercial product, this superbly well-crafted and expertly targeted editorial proposition is the subject of the most appalling daily abuse.


Is Simon Kelner throwing a lifeline to Johann Hari with his new journalism foundation?

Monday, 5 December 2011

Even though I made fun of it in my last post, I’ve heard there could be a serious purpose to Simon Kelner’s new journalism foundation. Unbelievably, it seems that Kelner’s new enterprise may be Johann Hari’s route back into British journalism. The Independent has not sacked Hari, despite steadily growing evidence of his malicious lies, fantasies and character assassinations.

Current Indie editor Chris Blackhurst would like nothing better than to sack Hari – but his hands have been tied by Kelner, who apparently promised Hari that he would be welcomed back after “retraining”. Matters weren’t helped by Andreas Whittam Smith’s geriatric “inquiry” into Hari’s behaviour, which appears to have overlooked any piece of evidence that might force the star columnist’s dismissal.

Kelner’s foundation could well be in a position to employ Hari, thus allowing Blackhurst to quietly let him go. It’s no secret that, if the editor does welcome Hari back, he’ll have a newsroom mutiny on his hands. The real mystery is why figures as self-regarding as Baroness (Helena) Kennedy would allow themselves to be associated with a venture run by someone as discredited as Kelner.

Let’s see how long this silly venture lasts – and what use Johann Hari makes of it.


Revealed: The first ten lectures to be given at Simon Kelner’s new journalism foundation

Monday, 5 December 2011

Simon Kelner, the editor who so shamefully covered up Johann Hari’s lies, has launched a journalism foundation. Sorry, yes, let me repeat that. Simon Kelner, the editor who so shamefully covered up Johann Hari’s lies, has launched a journalism foundation – with money from the Lebedev family.

I guess you’re wondering about the principles and philosophies behind this esteemed new organisation. Well, thanks to my trusty spies at the Independent, I can exclusively reveal the first ten lectures to be delivered to lucky grant winners:

1. Covering up for sociopaths: an editor’s perspective

2. How To Succeed In Left-Wing Journalism Without Ever Really Telling The Truth

3. A Rose by any other name: choosing your sock puppet

4. They’re coming to take me away!: How to work the crowd for sympathy about your fragile mental health

5. Rose-tinted spectacles: how playing to the gallery over Israel and gay rights gets you off the hook for serious breaches of professional standards

6. The Liar, the Witch and the Orwell Prize: calling on influential friends in times of need

7. Gone with the Wind: basic sanitation for recently suspended hacks

8. Black Beauty: spice up your day off by penning racist gay incest porn

9. Headless: how to create harrowing but falsified narratives from war zones

10. The Joy Of Sex: how to seduce imaginary Nazis and Jihadists

Seriously, though: do Baroness Kennedy, Lord Fowler and Sir John Tusa – all listed as trustees of this new foundation – realise what they’re getting themselves into here?


‘Racist tram woman’, the glorious product of thirteen years under Labour

Thursday, 1 December 2011

This week we were afforded a terrifying glimpse into the real Britain – the one that lurks menacingly on council estates, in northern cities and across the poorer London boroughs, and which normally rears its head in the safer confines of The Jeremy Kyle Show. “Britain is nothing now. Britain is fuck all. My Britain is fuck all,” bellowed Emma West, 34, of Croydon at the start of a foul-mouthed racist rant directed at her fellow passengers on a London tram. Unhappily for her, a black woman sitting opposite recorded much of the outburst: West has since been charged with a racially-aggravated public order offence and will appear in court on Tuesday. Now, forgive me for being opportunistic, but I think I might take the opportunity here to explain why this incident speaks volumes about the country in which we live.

It goes without saying that West’s toxic outpouring was reprehensible, and that she deserved to be silenced. But that, I think, is all she deserved. Because, while there’s no doubt that West was obnoxious, it’s worth considering the environment that produced her – and the millions of people in Britain who feel resentment at being unable to find a job – and to ponder what might make a young mother feel so angry that she would direct abusive language like this to strangers in the presence of her own child. (And don’t say alcohol: there’s no evidence she was drunk when the video was filmed.)