Monthly Archives: September 2012

Time Out and listings

Time Out went free this week. It wasn’t really a shock, the notion had been knocking around when I worked there, particularly when thelondonpaper and London Lite were stinking up the streets. The success of the free Evening Standard probably sealed the deal. The economics are unarguable: drop the cover price and circulation rises, allowing you to charge more for advertising. If you can simultaneously reduce costs – which they have been doing through regular redundancies – you may have a viable magazine once again. The danger, though, is that once the decision to go free has been made, there’s no going back…

What has it meant for Time Out? Well, the new magazine has less pages but still has plenty of previews, lists, bitty features and clunky ads, with just a couple of longer reads thrown in for us old-fashioned types. What it doesn’t have – along with book reviews –  is listings (at least in any meaningful sense), which was the reason Time Out was invented in 1968. (There’s also no letters page, which is a mistake if they still want to establish that vital personal link with readers, and one I think they will quickly rectify.)

This isn’t really a surprise. Successive TO editors have always struggled with the listings part of their brief: listings are ugly, boring and largely resistant to any sexing up, despite the best attempts of periodic and largely futile ‘redesigns’ (has a redesign of any magazine or newspaper EVER raised circulation?). They are also beyond the control of the editor, who has to leave them to section heads. Even editors who came from within the magazine, and therefore understood the centrality of listings to what Time Out did, didn’t actually appear to like them all that much. They take up valuable space from the exciting things an editor likes to do at the front of the mag and telling a section editor you are cutting their pages is a draaaag.

To make matters worse, listings do not do well when it comes to ‘page views’ or ‘unique users’, the trite and often completely useless method by which the value of anything in print is these days judged. And because people don’t click on listings on the website (for reasons that are so obvious I won’t even bother to explain), the logic goes, they don’t read them in print.

Hmmmmmm.

A number of people have noted that without decent browsable printed listings, Time Out has potentially rendered itself useless, but I don’t want to comment on that. What does interest me is that effect a lack of listings will have London’s smaller venues. The joy of TO‘s listings was that it gave the smallest museum or club as much prominence as the biggest and most well-funded, allowing readers to decide which to visit entirely on the merit of their programming. It’s this that made Time Out absolutely central to the rise of fringe theatre, avant-garde art, clubbing, burlesque and alternative comedy – each scene was created by individuals, but a free listing in Time Out coupled with enthusiastic support from in-the-know section editors took things to another level. Even larger venues have told me they noticed the difference in footfall when they were omitted from listings (by accident or for reasons of space).

Time Out obviously doesn’t have the circulation, and therefore the pull,  it once did and there are other specialist resources for those interested in the esoteric fringes of London’s cultural life, but the loss of listings will surely still be felt by venues that aren’t internet savvy or lack a large marketing department. The solution for many will be a prominent place in the preview part of the existing sections. Time Out‘s section heads will never have been in such demand… And PRs can be a dangerously homogenising bunch.

For more on the new Time Out, here’s Diamond Geezer (positive), Christopher Fowler (not) and Londonist (neutral). 

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Inside the FA Disciplinary Committee

A couple of years ago, I spoke to the FA about writing a piece on their disciplinary system for 4-4-2, which would involve me following a case from start to close.  It never happened, but I did receive this useful briefing document from the panel explaining the basic role they hope to fulfil. 

How do you decide what cases go before a hearing?

All cases, across our entire range (on-field, doping, agents, etc are assessed to see if there is sufficient evidence for a charge to be appropriate. This test is whether or not there is a ‘realistic prospect’ that the case will be found proved. This is consistent with other professional regulatory bodies (and the law!) and ensures that cases are not brought on flimsy evidence. It’s very important to have this objective assessment in football, where there are so many partisan views as to what took place in any given incident.

How do you prepare the case legally?

The detail of preparation obviously varies depending on the case, but broadly, all relevant evidence is gathered, then the charge is issued, and then the hearing is prepared for in light of what the person charged says in their response to the charge. The necessary preparation varies tremendously depending on the nature and length of the case eg, it may be a punch on-field that is on video, and so simple to prepare, or a doping control case involving expert witnesses giving evidence on the effect of certain chemicals on the body, how long they remain in the system for etc.

Do players, clubs and managers have legal representation?

Often yes, but this tends to vary with the level (and wealth) of the club.

Is it like a court case, with witnesses, cross examinations etc?

Yes, as with any professional regulation tribunal, it’s very much like a magistrates’ court.

Do you all sit in a room watching replays of the same incident from different angles?

Yes, all relevant evidence is considered, and so if it is an incident caught on video, then all available angles will be looked at.

What sort of evidence is permitted?

The overriding test is always whether the evidence is relevant. The law of the land is also followed. Within those two limits, all types of evidence may be used.

What have been the most difficult cases?

That’s a very difficult one to answer, as cases vary tremendously. Some can be technically difficult (doping, agents cases involving complex transactions) and long. Sometimes you have to ensure that any high profile personalities (or issues where a case has been all over the media) involved do not overshadow the actual issues that need to be focused on, but probably the most difficult are when a person is not legally represented, as then you have a dual role to present the case for the FA but also to assist the other party a great deal to ensure fairness.

Are bigger clubs tougher to deal with than smaller clubs?

Not as a general rule. Dealing with people with no legal representation can sometimes be very difficult and that will often be smaller clubs. Whilst big clubs may use lawyers, this does not necessarily make it tougher – it can help to take the emotion out of it (which is often a big factor) narrow the issues and streamline the case. Many lawyers we deal with approach the cases reasonably. But of course it all depends on how sensible any particular lawyer is.

What are the benefits of the system?

We apply consistent tests to all cases, which aim to ensure that cases are only brought where it is appropriate. We have a small pool of professional (lawyers etc) people dealing with them, which helps consistency.

What are the drawbacks of the system and how could it be improved?

We need to always be aware that we are dealing with a sport, and one that excites tremendous public interest, and so we are always looking to deal with cases quickly in a way that everybody understands. However, the trick is getting the balance right; for simple on-field misbehaviour (eg, a punch caught on video), speed and simplicity is easy, and you can keep legal challenges to a minimum. However, some cases can be quite technical and lead to very involved legal issues. We are always trying to improve our system so all cases are dealt with as appropriately as possible.

Do players and managers bear a grudge?

Probably! One player n his autobiography mentioned wanting to put the lawyer who presented the doping case against him “through the wall”. Thankfully, that’s never happened, but it would be naïve to think some players and managers don’t have similar thoughts – they’re unlikely to be overjoyed with a three match suspension! That said, certainly at the time of the hearings, the vast majority are absolute gents, perfectly polite and take it all very professionally. After all, it is all part of the job…

Photos: Young London, Permissive Paradise, 1969

These photographs of London in the late 1960s are a wonderful commentary on the scene of the time. Frank Habicht, who also took some great images of the Rolling Stones, is particularly adept at drawing out the contrasts between the carefree young and the more traditional side of the city. Enjoy.

All photographs are from Frank Habicht’s Young London, Permissive Paradise (1969)

The Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood in London

Tate Britain’s rather brilliant exhibition on the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood opens this week. It cover much the same ground as the recent and slightly more brilliant Cult of Beauty at the V&A, but with  – naturally – greater emphasis on the visual arts over the decorative.

One interesting thread running through the exhibition is the use of London as a landscape. The PRB were all connected to London and liked to paint outdoors so the city naturally appeared in a number of their paintings, often uncredited. This painting by William Holman Hunt – Rienzi, Vowing To Obtain Justice – was painted outdoors in Lambeth and Hampstead Heath, while famous images like Ophelia by John Everett Millais used the countryside of now suburban Ewell as the backdrop.

Another of the most famous PRB paintings is The Death of Chatterton by Henry Wallis, a tragic tableaux in which London’s skyline can be glimpsed through the open window. The vividness of Chatterton’s hair, incidentally, really has to be seen in person if possible.

More obvious London images were to follow. This is Charles Allston Collins’ bucolic take on May, In The Regent’s Park, from his home in Hanover Terrace. Collins was not an official member of the PRB, but his style was sympathetic and this was considered ‘absurd’ when first exhibited, though presumably not because of the sheep seen frolicking in the park in the background.

Also closely affiliated with the PRB was Ford Madox Brown, and his wonderful view of Hampstead from his bedroom window – An English Autumn Afternoon. Again, this was considered ugly by contemporary critics. Kenwood House can be seen top left, but London remains a distant – if rapidly advancing – presence.

Brown offered a very different and more recognisable take on Hampstead in perhaps his greatest painting, Work, which depicted navvies digging up a Hampstead road to lay water pipes. It’s a marvellous evocation of a London street and I’m pretty sure those navvies are still laying water pipes in London to this day. See them all at Tate Britain from Wednesday 12 Sept, 2012.