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Month Roundup: January 2010

Simon Pitt | News | Thursday 4th February 2010

January was the month Mark Thompson was made to earn his £800,000 a year. There's been opposition to his seemingly unspendable salary for some time now, but for Mark, this month must have seemed like one continuous argument about how much he takes home. The month began as it meant to go on with PD James collaring him on the Today Programme, and castigating him for paying his executives too much.
Somehow the people who are doing the creative work, who are making the programmes, don't receive this largesse - it seems to be a huge great waste of middle management, a bureaucracy which it's very difficult indeed to justify.
Thompson was left stammering and stuttering. He probably wasn't expecting an 89 year old woman to be quite so sharp at 8 o'clock in morning, the day after new year's eve. He certainly wasn't on top form. This was great for The Telegraph though, which had a bit of a field day with this one, commenting and quoting it extensively.

The month only got worse from here, when poor old Mark got another grilling, this time from his own staff. "Your salary is wrong and corrosive", Steven Sackur of the inexplicably capitalised HARDTalk told the DG. He said that before the interview he had received hundreds of eMails from staff complaining about executive pay. After the interview, Thompson was left rather deflated, saying, "if someone says it's time for me to go ... well, I won't bore you any longer". This prompted The Guardian to wonder what would happen when Thompson does stop boring us.

Thompson's main argument throughout has been that you have to pay large salaries to get the best staff, and that in real terms his salary has gone down (presumably explaining why he had to claim for a 70p parking ticket). The response to this is that working in the public sector is a privilege. Consequently, staff should expect lower salaries than their private brethren. This argument has continued, with pretty much no expansion, for the last few months. Archie Norman, the new ITV chairman gave the knife a little bit of a twist when he pointed out that if the big salaries had recruited all the best people, why had he, someone with no media experience at all, bagged the top job at ITV.

If this wasn't a bad enough month for the BBC, Prime Suspect writer Lynda Le Plante put her (slightly racist) oar in, saying that the BBC would rather commission a script from "a little Muslim boy" than from her. This was despite the fact that she currently has two scripts in development, while most "little Muslim boys" have yet to have a script commissioned. If that wasn't enough it was revealed the BBC had it's lowest share of viewing figures over Christmas for 15 years, while Channel 4 and 5 did better than ever.

On the plus side, that perpetual thorn in the BBC's side, Jonathan Ross, quit, which must have been a huge weight off Thompson's mind. Nevertheless, the BBC were under fire again as they scrapped, among other things, the potentially excellent Decades Project.

This prompted The Guardian to ask what other shows the BBC should cull, while it has the axe out. Even more worrying, the future of whole channels was called into doubt. Thankfully, BBC Four (probably the best TV channel in the world) survived, but BBC Three's future came into question. To combat this continuous storm of bad news, the BBC's marketing department went into overdrive, pre-emptively preparing for the Tories to slash its budgets by showing that it makes £7.6 billion a year for the economy. The Trust also began an investigation into iPlayer, presumably in an attempt to find something that everyone likes.

It was also a bad month for Twitter with news that it's growth had stopped and, in fact, was decreasing in America. It was left to CEO, Evan Williams, to massage the statistics and "prove" it wasn't declining only for news to come through a few days later that Ricky Gervais had left it after just six tweets because he "didn't see the point".

In a month when I began probably the most in depth discussion of Hyperlinks ever, The Guardian made a selection of over the top claims about links calling them "right for democracy" and "a tool for accountability [...] the keystone to free speech online." I, of all people, don't want to play down the role of the link in shaping the Internet, but calling it "a right" and the cornerstone of democracy is going a bit far. On the subject of democracy, something else that was revealed not to be the cornerstone of it was VoxPops, everyone's right to "not have a clue what you're taking about", according to The Guardian.

The Guardian's elegy to links was prompted by News Corp blocking even more websites. This is despite the fact that most online news articles are too long, something that Jackob Nielson has been saying for ages. Writing for the web is different from writing for newspapers, books and magazines, and simply pasting newspaper articles online is not only losing newspapers a fortune, but also boring people as well.

On the subject of links, it was a good month for filesharers, when Alan Ellis, the 26-year-old behind music filesharing site Oink was cleared of all charges. This was a bit of a kick in the teeth for the police, but other than that they had a good month. They finally caught Craig "Lazie" Lynch, the escaped criminal who had been taunting them on Facebook, no doubt poking them and sending them invites to groups about how rubbish prisons are.

The 16th of January saw the launch of the SarcMarc - a new typographical symbol for illustrating sarcasm that everyone forgot about almost immediately. While this may have been useful for improving Anglo-American relations ("Jeez, I finally understand those Brits"), you had to pay to use it, rendering it an almost instant failure.

And finally, there was bad news for Hollywood. Tesco may be adding films their Value range, as they announced they would invest in feature films.

Oh, and Steve Jobs attempted to save the publishing industry by making a really big iPod Touch. Whether this will do for the novel what the MP3 did for the album is anyone's guess. As is how creating a device that will no doubt encourage literary piracy will "save" an industry that's doing pretty well at the moment.



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