Piers Morgan versus the President

The fiction: The West Wing, season one, episode twenty-one, “Lies, Damn Lies and Statistics”. First broadcast May 10, 2000. Directed by Don Scardino, written by Aaron Sorkin.

The newspaper: Daily Mirror

It must be a charmed life, being an Aaron Sorkin character. You’ll be hyper-competent at your job, intelligent and always prepared to drop a handful of witty bons mots into conversation. But your  idealism still won’t be enough to tackle the world’s premier cynical force: the British tabloid press.

Continue reading


Sex, spies, salacious front pages

The fiction: London Spy, 2015 television drama. Director: Jakob Verbruggen. Props master: Jim Grindley/Ewan Robertson.

The newspapers: Daily Express, The Independent Times

Where once a conspiracy thriller’s hero would be a tenacious reporter, or an ordinary man who would approach a reporter to blow the lid off the grand deception, anybody with a USB stick and a laptop can get onto WikiLeaks. So what role is left for newspapers in the BBC’s latest such thriller, London Spy? Well, to menace the hero in a way that would make Lord Leveson tremble.

Continue reading

Twelve cabins, twelve vacancies

The fiction: Bates Motel, season one episode eight – “A Boy and His Dog”. Broadcast May 6, 2013. Director: Ed Bianchi. Props master: Terry Weaver.

The newspaper: White Pine Bay Current

It’s the Psycho prequel nobody asked for and only a few people watch! But those who do are probably tuning in to see such scenes as this one, where Vera Farmiga – as Norman Bates’s infamous mother – goes spectacularly off the rails at a local council meeting in this scene from season two, episode one.

She’s upset (and then some) because the council want to build a bypass which will mean nobody uses the road by which her motel stands. It’s an understandable concern; without that traffic she won’t get as many people staying at the motel – especially given that she’s stopped a human trafficking ring from using the premises (it’s just that sort of show) – and who knows what homicidal urges that will incite in grown-up Charlie Bucket himself, her son Norman?

Mrs Norma Bates came across the news of the bypass by checking her local paper, which is just the sort of thing these publications are designed for. The glory of the fourth estate has blazed into action once more, saving dedicated readers the trouble of scouring local council documents by distilling the most important things into snappy headlines. It’s a fairly thankless task of journalism, reporting on local council affairs, but it’s one absolute worth doing.

bates motel 108

Quite how she noticed the news is unclear, given that the White Pine Bay Current employs the single biggest masthead known to mankind. The International Space Station could see that logo on a clear day because it is ridiculously large. Especially for a tabloid-size newspaper, where it takes up over half of the above the fold space.

And Christ on a bike isn’t an atrocious logo? You think they’d keep that small and quiet so nobody would notice what sort of ramshackle organisation was delivering the news to White Pine Bay. Where to begin?

A picture of Mr Norman Bates and one of his brilliant jumpers, just to break up the design disasters
A picture of Mr Norman Bates and one of his brilliant jumpers, just to break up the design disasters

There’s nothing wrong with blue as a masthead colour, I suppose, but the fonts look a bit amateur hour. “White Pine Bay” looks like a slightly elongated Times New Roman (a classic newspaper font, devised for The Times). Then “Current” is where things really go south: it’s in Impact, which as a sans serif font connotes less seriousness than its pedigree companion above. Then there’s the dual colour wave which looks like WordArt and serves only to underline what the pun being made. They’ve even got some whitespace round the edges just to make sure it really stands out.

Perhaps Norma is right to despise these locals. Because somehow things actually get even worse when you move onto the next part of the paper.

The main story’s headline is certainly not Times New Roman and it’s not even Impact. It’s a subtler sans serif and, to my eye, looks a lot like Franklin Gothic Demi Condensed – which, by coincidence, is my favourite of the Franklin stable and a reliable sans serif for headline writing. I used it myself for that purpose in a university assessment. What I also did was write the headlines in either CAPITALS or in “sentence case”. That is to say, I didn’t start Every Word With A Capital Letter Like The White Pine Bay Current Does, Because That Just Looks Silly.

So we’ve already got three fonts on this cluttered front page, and the subhead looks like a fourth – less narrow than the headline, though it could conceivably be another of the Franklin family. The picture they’ve chosen looks like any old road, but I’m just being harsh – it could easily be an artist’s impression of the council’s exciting new project.

Or is it a new project? The headline says “new” which could be a touch tautological, given that this is a construction we’re talking about – old things are already constructed, after all. But the subhead says the community has had “patience”, which suggests the whole bypass plan has been in the works for some time, meaning the idea of it isn’t at all new.

The sidebar of trails for stories inside the paper seems perfectly acceptable, and it’s the only part that is. So why is White Pine Bay’s local newspaper so inept, at least from a design standpoint? It’s hard to say, but the town is so full of dodgy dealings and criminal elements that having an inept newspaper is probably the only way to retain them (that’s a good thing, by the way, since the trade contributes loads to the local economy).

A dish best served on the front of the morning edition

The fiction: Revenge, season one, episode thirteen. Broadcast: 18/01/2012. Director: Kenneth Fink. Props master: Ross Anderson.

The newspaper: Hamptons Guardian

Part soap opera and part modern-day Count of Monte Cristo, Revenge centres on a dastardly plan concocted by protagonist Emily Thorne. She’s the daughter of a terrorist, except he wasn’t really a terrorist and she’s out to wreck the lives of everybody who was in on the conspiracy. Naturally, they’re all obscenely rich and spend their time in the Hamptons, a ridiculously expensive collection of villages and hamlets in the United States.

By episode twelve Emily’s revenging plan sees her burning down the house of an author who’s written a book about her dad – except he’s omitted the parts about him not being a terrorist. But the real revenge comes from the fact that his latest manuscript only exists as one typewritten copy at his house.

Even though it’s exactly the same superstitious and sentimental rubbish that ruined James Caan’s day in Misery, this author – Mason Treadwell – hasn’t learnt the lesson and swiftly loses his next book.

“Shouldn't have kept such flammable material,” say police

In the next episode, Emily’s sojourn into pyromania has hit the front page of the Hamptons Guardian, a daily broadsheet paper that doesn’t exist in our world. It seems like a fairly decent paper, cramming at least four stories above the fold.

It seems as if the Treadwell story is just a big picture and a caption, with little in the way of a story – but I suspect there’s a cross-reference to an inside page that the we don’t see.

Kudos to the Revenge team for design a newspaper that looks like the sort of upmarket affair befitting of the wealthy readership it would have in the Hamptons. The story to the left of Emily’s revenge set-piece concerns issues of labour and unions, just the sort of “troublesome pleb” stuff that would keep Hamptons-dwellers mildly angry at breakfast. It’s not nice for newspapers to keep its readers annoyed at the world, but it does help sell them.

The caption is a bit of a letdown, repeating both the phrases “local author” and “up in flames”. That is unforgivably shoddy subediting, and should certainly not have made it past a quick proofread let alone to the printing press. Worse still, journalists have more than one phrase for things being on fire: “engulfed in flames” would at least provide some variation, but options also extend to “razed to the ground”, “ablaze”, “raging inferno”, and so on. Journalists are never ones to shy away from cliché phrases like this and here they even had a reason.

However, given that it is dark when Emily sets the fire it’s possible that it was a very late addition to the paper. If it were rushed into print at short notice, that could also explain the lack of further detail – there simply wasn’t time to gather enough news to write up an article, and the Hamptons Guardian barely managed to get the photo, headline and caption out properly.

To momentarily return to our own reality, there is some lovely attention to detail below the photo to the right, where there seems to be a line of credit for the photographer. It’s smaller than the caption text, and long enough to suggest it probably is a dual credit – one for the headshot of Mason Treadwell and another for the burning building.

Who took the photo is unclear, but they must have been pretty late to the scene or they were in on Emily’s revenging. Otherwise they would have been able to photograph her, given that she decided “sneaky” wasn’t as good a look as the Unflinching Walk.

NEXT WEEK: Emily meets Arthur Brown