Two Scoops, One Flake: Is NotW the Only Paper With Investigative Balls?

In May of this year John Higgins, the three-times world snooker champion, was caught on camera saying he would accept payment from an illegal gambling syndicate to lose frames. The news broke on the morning of this year’s World Snooker Championship final.

Last Sunday, with the final Test match of the summer at Lords, cricket got its turn in the spotlight. The format was almost identical.

Chapeau to the News of World. Both the sting and the timing of the publication were impeccable.

But where were the other newspapers? Is NotW the only paper interested in investigating such a story? There were enough pointers for the competition: the Higgins story demonstrated the reach of illegal betting (and the opportunity for spot betting, rather than match fixing), and there were plenty of rumours about Pakistan’s patchy performance over the last year (in matches against Australia and England). How come it was only the NotW that could put two and two together and chase up this lead?

I’m usually a big fan of the Guardian but I’m becoming increasingly disappointed this kind of scoop is something they don’t seem to bother with – save to run dozens of opinion pieces, after the fact, and jivvy along their comments section. Their desk-bound sports writers seem to have an opinion on everything, and a geeky memory for events of 20 years ago. Ace, but the internet has no shortage of opinion and reference.

Rupert Murdoch says he wants users to pay for news content online; the Guardian is determinedly free. It will be a tough gig getting people to pay, tougher still if you’re expecting people to pay to read some statto’s opinion. Sunday’s scoop at least shows Murdoch’s journalists are willing to make the effort.

Bicycle Lock Down

Spotted on Lloyd Street, off Deansgate: a secure lock-up for bikes. To my knowledge such a facility is as rare as hen’s teeth in Manchester city centre. I’m assuming this one belongs to the adjacent St John’s House, and is available for employees only.

Take a 30-minute stroll through town on any given weekday and you can count on the fingers of one hand the number of bicycles you’ll see chained up. Manchester is to bikes as Vulgaria is to kids: they’re there, but hidden.

Bike theft is a real problem in the city, with thieves tooled up to crack most locks. (I had my bike nicked from outside the gym in February; the police did return my call but said I’d have more chance of winning the lottery than ever seeing the bike again. I bought a replacement off Gumtree, though I suspect the seller hadn’t ridden a bike in 20 years.)

I’m not convinced much is being done to deter thieves and help cyclists. A dozen more secure sheds around the city centre would be a start.

**Apologies. I’ve since discovered Manchester & Salford councils commissioned a feasibility study from Cycle England on secure cycle centres across the cities. The report can be downloaded here.

Brewing Up: North Tea Power & Franchise Opportunists

Can a tea shop retail brand go national? Could there ever be tea alternative to Starbucks/ Caffè Nero?

During my time in Dubai I covered Unilever’s attempt to create a retail presence for its Lipton brand (market leader in the Middle East). They spent a good chunk of change opening a Lipton T-Junction outlet in Emirates Towers in 2003 with plans for 56 stores (a strange number?) in the region within four years. I left in 2008 and don’t recall seeing too many others. Plenty of new coffee shops opened during the same period.

No matter, maybe the objective is to create a destination for tea drinkers rather than close down coffee retailers.

North Tea Power on Tib Street (pictured) has been seeing some decent reviews. As of today, its busy Twitter feed has 440 followers (the more established Teacup on Thomas Street has 340, if that matters to you). I’ve been a couple of times and enjoyed mint tea and a flapjack; one visitor has asked if NTP can open a Chorlton branch.

Is it capable of going city-wide, national or international? Continue reading

A Deluge of Clichés

It has rained for most of the last 24 hours. It is Manchester.

This, for many people, is all they need to know: Manchester is rain; rain is Manchester. Radio 5 kept banging on about it during last night’s match. Of course, it’s nonsense, as the man from the Met Office explains:

“You can’t stop people making the usual assumptions about weather in the North West in general and Manchester in particular. But, contrary to Manchester’s reputation, there are wetter cities.”

Manchester is certainly not the wettest place in the UK, it is not even the wettest city (Swansea, Londonderry, Glasgow, Plymouth, Cardiff, Preston, Belfast and Bristol all saw more rainfall) – though Manchester Science Festival research reckons we’re getting wetter. Still, it is drier and has fewer rainy days than the UK average. And there are no weather warnings for this week.

Harmless cliché? Maybe. That depends whether this slur is detrimental to Manchester’s fortunes. Was it a fear of this non-stop rain that scared off the BBC’s new Salford HR director? Did the IOC buy into the falsehood that Manchester is wetter than Sydney (average August rainfall: 5.57cm v 9.73cm) when awarding the 2000 Olympics?

No. That would be silly.

But I’m not sure that the association with rain is a compliment (doubly insulting given the current hosepipe ban). What to do? Zero tolerance coupled with re-education? Or ‘own’ the slur, like some kind of weather-obsessed Niggaz With Attitude?

Man Shitty

Popped out of the office just now. A Scotsman came up and asked me where The Monkey pub was. Said I didn’t know. He was wearing a Man City scarf, said he was down here for tonight’s match, and it was clear he was full-on drunk. He nearly walked under a bus. He’d also soiled himself; either that or sat on his Nutella sandwiches. He did not seem to mind.

It will be a full house tonight at City of Manchester. Good luck to anyone sat next our Scottish visitor.

Feline Lucky

This article originally appeared in a Dubai alt-weekly, The Buzz, in 2006. I was Group Editor at the time, charged with relaunching the title and hiring new staff. The project was a good one, but the company was a mess (not atypical of Dubai publishing). I left after the boss failed to pay the wages three months running. The Filipino receptionist, on $200 per month, and also unpaid, walked out and took the office printer home with her.

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Dubai has earned a reputation as a city of opportunity; a place where a humble plumber can become a CEO. But how far are job hunters prepared to go to advance their career? We placed a job ad in an effort to find out. Wanted: lion tamer’s assistant.

It is an unremarkable Wednesday in August, not the busiest day of the year, but far from quiet. Our job ad is in black & white and, at 5cm by 12cm, is the smallest on the page. It is one of 282 vacancies in the appointments section of that day’s Gulf News and one of 308 in Khaleej Times. There are ads for radio station managers, Russian speaking property consultants, wound care midwifes, banquet managers and an antimoney laundering officer. Only the headline lifts it from the page: Lion Tamer’s Assistant Continue reading