Someone kindly left Tuesday’s copy of the Daily Express lying around at work, and I present the front-page story to you now as a kind of public service; for in these uncertain economic times, who knows? Should we find ourselves having been made redundant we may have to consider applying for all sorts of jobs that we wouldn’t otherwise look twice at; and if the job centre advertises a vacancy for an Express hack then we may have to swallow our pride in the pursuit of being able to put bread on the table. Tuesday’s paper, then, could prove invaluable, providing for the uninitiated a perfect template for creating an Express lead story, and if you stick to this script then you could get a head start in the interview and selection process. Now, I must point out that I am well aware that the tabloids engage in far more disgraceful behaviour that that featured in this story – see Anton Vowl, for example, on the handling of the recent terror trial – but Tuesday’s paper was a more typical example of what you would be expected to write if employed by the paper, and so is the perfect beginners’ guide. And anyway, it was the only paper I found discarded by an obliging colleague this week.
First the headline: “NOW THEY WANT TO BAN YOUR LAWN”. No they don’t, reply the sane; but remember we’re dealing with Express readers here, so this headline is perfect. At this point a normal person would probably want to skip to the end of the article, to find out the truth in the story which is no doubt completely at odds with the headline; but where’s the fun in that?
The story itself concerns the idea that
An army of town hall snoopers could soon be telling people what they can and cannot grow in their gardens. Fast-growing plants and even lawns could be banned, under Labour’s latest environmental blitz. People would be forced to get planning permission to make changes in their gardens in order to help the Government hit its targets for reducing waste.
Town hall snoopers, of course, are just the latest group to join Muslims and asylum seekers in drawing the Express’s ire, usually for invoking the RIPA to engage in the sort of surveillance that private sector firms like insurance companies can conduct without any such regulation whatsoever. Foolishly, councils have been going around attempting to fulfil their remit and legal obligations by, say, trying to prosecute respectable middle-class people when they have commited a littering offence, whereas we all know that only feral youths should be punished and face the full force of the law.
At this point you may feel there is a need to flesh out this story with a fact or two, perhaps even present some evidence such as a quotation or excerpt from some document detailing any plans. Don’t. Get straight into the quotes from the usual suspects denouncing the proposals, no matter how flimsily you have presented the case. First up you’ll need a compliant Tory MP, in this case Bob Neill, the local government spokesman.
Are they really expecting hardworking people to go along to the council to get building regulation consent to plant their rhododendrons? This is another example of the heavy hand of Labour needlessly meddling in people’s lives.
So he asks a question, and then makes a judgement prior to getting the answer. Excellent. As a bonus, in our example we are then treated to a second Tory MP, backbencher Phillip Davies.
I am gobsmacked that this is something the Government thinks is worth wasting their time with. They should be concerned with saving gardens by stopping developments being built on them, not intruding further into people’s private lives. If this is what Gordon Brown’s latest relaunch amounts to, then God help us all.
This is great, as it ties this story into Gordon Brown’s alleged relaunch, which the media have already judged a failure regardless of whether or not it exists. By now, however, we have learned a little more about these “astonishing measures”, which
are put forward in a policy document commissioned by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. Some lawns could be banned because eco-experts claim that “mulched gardens” are better for the environment. They say that lawns need extensive watering and people toss cut grass in with normal household waste. Gardeners would also be told to avoid plants that need a lot of water.
The eagle-eyed will spot an interesting choice of words there; “commissioned”, “could”, “avoid”. That covers the author’s back, and Express readers will not pick up on such subtleties, they’ll be too busy raging that they want to be allowed to engage in idiotic activities like stuffing compostable materials into plastic bags before burying in a landfill.
Now we need a comment from a think tank or pressure group. In this case the person who has too much time on her hands is the unlikely sounding Doretta Cocks from the equally unlikely sounding Campaign for Weekly Waste Collection.
It is dreadful to think that they are going to start spying on gardens as well.
And I guess it would be, if it were true, we just don’t know yet. Finally, always but always get the TaxPayers’ Alliance to round off your list of reactions to vague speculation by cutting and pasting their usual response. Actually, they probably have a tacit agreement with the Express to allow journalists to attribute whatever words they fancy to the TPA in any article as long as it rails against the public sector, so you can write what you like here. In our example “Mark Wallace” is the name randomly generated as the supposed TPA spokesman.
The Government and town hall officials should realise by now that they are not doing their basic jobs properly, so there is no way they should poke their nose into [insert specific here]. The last thing people need is more busybodies bossing people about.
We should all be interested in how our taxes are spent, but I’m not sure who died and made the TPA our proxy, and on what grounds they can justify their role. I’ve long thought it ironic that they can complain about government waste; yet just what is their contribution to society? If it didn’t exist newspapers could easily come up with such rent-a-quotes another way. How can TPA employees find the nerve to accuse others of having “non-jobs”; how do they fill up their hours? Whatever, free thinking certainly doesn’t seem to enter into it.
We now get a few more vague points where the emphasis is mine: “the report also suggests swingeing taxes on items such as single-use barbecues”, “The moves could raise the price of a pack of disposable razors to £5”, “Bans on junk mail and free newspapers are also suggested”, “Hilary Benn is understood to be among those pressing for councils to have control over residents’ gardens”. They are somewhat bolder in proclaiming “the report backs moves to introduce crippling “bin tax” charges”, although of course we get no specifics, and I have to doubt whether the word “crippling” or anything like it features in the report itself.
So to the very final line of the article, and it is now, and only now, that you should actually reveal the truth and offer the target of your criticisms a right of reply, but you must do so in as throwaway a manner as possible.
But a Defra spokeswoman said yesterday the report was a discussion document and “does not necessarily reflect Government policy”.
So that’s that, this is a non-story, just some ideas being kicked around in a consultation document that Defra has commissioned. But don’t worry; you’re writing for the Express remember, and such nothingness is still eminently qualified to be a front-page splash about banning lawns.
That is the end of the road for this specific article and it is perfect primer on how to write for the Express, but with a few more pointers there is always room for extra credit. In this featured story, for example, there is at least evidence of a real discussion document, albeit not one that justifies the Express’s headline; but there needn’t be anything of the sort, you can get away with pure make believe. When reporting on the trial of Kamel Bourgass, the person found guilty of murdering police officer Stephen Oake during an anti-terror raid, one Express headline read something like “Police so scared of upsetting Muslims they did not cuff suspect…and he stabbed DC Oake to death”. Not only was there no evidence presented to support this allegation, but the claim itself was not even referred to anywhere in the accompanying story or elsewhere. Subsequently referred to the PCC the Express’s job had already been done, however, neatly ticking the “Islamophobia” and “political correctness gone mad” boxes at the same time.
Also, it is essential that you ensure you are up to date on the latest twists and turns in the Madeleine McCann story for which the papers have faced every way possible. It would be terribly embarrassing if you were to now invent something about how an anonymous witness had seen Kate and Gerry McCann acting suspiciously on the night of Madeleine’s disappearance when the press are once again convinced that they had nothing to do with her going missing. For the avoidance of doubt, then, the current position is that Kate and Gerry, as well as Robert Murat, are wholly innocent; Maddie is in Holland or maybe Belgium based upon grainy CCTV footage that could be of anybody; the Portuguese police are at fault for not following up every false lead, red herring and bogus sighting reported by the papers; and we have reverted to the original theory that there is nothing at all wrong in leaving a nearly-four-year-old in a hotel room with just her two younger siblings, indeed to even hint at the contrary is preposerous, and we apologise if we previously gave the impression that this was irresponsible and tantamount to neglect. Remember, however, to check the up-to-date situation just prior to the job interview, because things may have changed between then and now.
Follow these rules and that Express job could be yours. Just don’t make the schoolboy error that journalist Macer Hall commits right at the start of our featured article, including a line that he would have been better to have excised immediately as it very nearly gives the game away. When initially quoted on his response to this plan to outlaw the lawn, Tory MP Bob Neill lets (Freudian?) slip the comment
This is utter nonsense.
Indeed it is. That Defra spokeswoman couldn’t possibly have put it any better if she’d tried.