Rather a silly situation at work today, with which you might well be familiar even if you don’t work for a newspaper. The situation on the travel desk ever since the then travel editor was promoted to a commissioning editor (but has now left to become deputy editor of a very well-known magazine for genteel women and those who regard themselves as genteel women) is that a freelance journalist is employed as a part-time travel editor, and when he is not there at the beginning of the week, the role is taken up by a woman who was one the travel desk assistant. Before coming to the Mail, she had never worked as a hack and had no journalistic experience. In fact, I don’t know what she did. That she is not pug ugly (though I don’t fancy her – she is one of those tall, willowy types who don’t float my boat and never have done), is impeccably middle-class and graduated in fashion design will not have hindered her first being taken on as the travel desk assistant. She might well have remained in the position for some time to come had management decided not to appoint another full-time travel editor and would have carried on doing what the assistant always did, hunting down pictures, liaising with travel companies and generally – metaphorically – keeping the travel desk tidy. But these days, on Mondays and Tuesdays, she is acting travel editor which means she oversees the paper’s midweek travel feature. That she started in a relatively lowly position doesn’t, of course, mean that she must therefore be incapable. But the converse is also true: that she fulfils the role of travel editor for two days a week doesn’t necessarily mean she is any good. And I’m afraid her lack of previous experience does show time and again. That is not necessarily a bad thing in that the page is read and seen by many people, especially the deputy editor of the day, and they often make changes. But it would help if she didn’t think she could write well and it would help if she could write a headline, which she can’t. I used to get on with her OK, but when she was bumped up a notch to the role she now fulfils after the full-time travel editor left, she developed a bad habit of taking long lunch breaks, often ‘at a meeting’, delivering her ‘marks’ to us late, and then urging me to hurry up because she wanted to go home. I suppose it was that which first got up my nose. I also get rather fed up with women who reckon try to get their way around men with a false smile and by laying on the femininity. I prefer to work with women who are good at their job. Today she read through the page, made her changes and then I read through it, and it was pretty bloody awful. The secret to any feature is to make it interesting, and what she had sent through read like a bus timetable and was even less interesting. There was little I could do about it, but start from scratch, which I did. And this rather got to her. So she decided she ‘wanted the picture to be bigger’, which entailed a cut in the copy, and she set about rewriting again, reducing the piece once more to its previous yawn-inducing state. The whole episode was bullshit from start to finish, because had she ‘wanted the picture bigger’, she could have made it bigger before I set to work and I would simply have had less space. The Mail being the Mail – actually, the Mail being a newspaper, but the Mail has its particular quirks – there’s this idea that the Wednesday travel feature is ‘her page’ and that we subs should bow to her decisions. That would be all fine and dandy, and I would have no problem with it at all if she was any good at what she does, but she isn’t. But I suspect she rather thinks she is. Oh well
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On a lighter note, the ‘British travel industry’ (or whoever speaks for the ‘British travel industry’) today announced that the ‘troubles in Egypt’ will probably reduce this year’s profits by 20 per cent. My heart bleeds. The turnout in Cairo’s equivalent of Trafalgar Square surprised everyone by being far larger than expected. Until last night many of the media pundits were fearing that the protest movement was running out of steam. Despite today’s turnout, I have a terrible feeling that it will: unless the army in Egypt decides enough is enough and kicks Mubarak out, he can more or less hang on until the time suits him to leave, all the while ensuring that the current regime changes its clothes but then it is business as usual. And so far the army has stayed clear of everything. I heard on the radio last week that things will not be that straightforward anyway, as the army ‘owns’ something like 25 per cent of all ‘private businesses’ and will not want to lose that (although I must admit I am baffled as to how the army can ‘own’ anything). But unless the army decides to throw in its lot with the protest, the regime simply has to sit tight, make all the right noises (i.e. form several ‘committees of investigation’) and wait – it won’t be long – until the rest of the world’s media gets bored and shifts its attention elsewhere There’s lots of woolly talk about the winds of change blowing through the Near and Mid East as they did through the former Communist bloc countries, but that strikes me as mere journalism, cacking up the story to keep it on the boil. I’m not the best informed on either topic, but it does strike me that you can only compare like with like. And given that countries such as Romania and Bulgaria have got the same thugs in charge merely whistling different tunes while they count their fortunes, these winds of change – if the same ones are blowing - don’t necessarily mean the outcome will be any better.
The U.S. is coming horribly unstuck over the upheaval in Egypt and gives the impression it is finding it very difficult distinguishing between its arse and its elbow. (I would write ‘the Obama administration’ instead of ‘the U.S.’, but that would sound far too partisan given the George Dubya wasn’t exactly Mr Competent when it came to foreign affairs and I have no axe to grind.) But all those Brownie points Obama gained over the mass shooting in wherever (there are plenty to choose from) and ‘uniting the nation in its moment of grief’ or whatever miracle he achieved are well and truly down the tubes given his and Hillary Clinton dire and utterly incoherent performance over whether Murbarak should stay, leave or simply buy everyone a round or two, tell a few jokes and go home to his palace. Is the U.S. in favour of democracy or not? Well, actually, the real answer is: only when it suits U.S. interests which would be despicable, except that every other country in the world is equally hypocritical. But it has now lost a great deal of credibility over Egypt.
In a sense it is, in fact, quite unfair of me to single out the U.S. over its response to the crisis in Egypt. The rest of the West has also behaved like a one-legged drunk at a hoedown and in a way you can see al Qaeda’s point when it suggests that bombing’s too good for them, squire, and we had that Satan in the back of our cab once, not as bad as he’s made out to be, quite the reverse, really, got some good ideas, has that Satan, no sorry, I don’t go south of the river. (That last bit will be truly incomprehensible to each and every non-Brit reading this, but do I care? Do I fuck.)
UPDATE — We all like a happy ending but it seems that is not what is in store for Egypt. According to the Guardian, the army, which made great play of ‘remaining neutral’ over these past few weeks has ditched that position and is now firmly playing the regime’s game. It did all seem to good to be true.