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Can Manx journalists be politically critically - discuss


John Wright
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“So what was it like writing about politics in the Isle of Man?” my date asks me over a drink. I’m in Bangkok, living out some cosmopolitan Carrie Bradshaw fantasy. I’ve of course twisted the truth a bit to my date- they’re probably imaging me as a Zoe Barnes type, digging for the latest scoop and writing high brow political analysis, instead of the tongue-in-cheek reality. 

“Well, you make a lot of enemies”.

Of course, this is, again, an over-statement. I’m hardly going to be assassinated for exposés. Instead, the worst I will get is some whispers coming back to me that I’ve pissed this or that person off, or I’ll be the subject of a Facebook post by an MHK, because they truly have nothing better than do than accuse me of being a misogynist (but I love women! Check my Tinder settings!). 

I’m reminded about this because once again the anonymous (and God, they always are, anonymous) Manx Twitter crabs have been discussing whether the island has any “govment-critical” political journalists. It’s not only the subject du jour but the subject of every fucking jour for the anonymous crabs. And while I might sound like I am just going off on my own crabby rant here, like I am prone to doing, I also think it’s probably time we got a journalist’s (journalist-adjacent? I won’t flatter myself with the big j word) perspective.

Now, it may be a bit gauche (we’re bringing out all the sexy French words today) to be so self-aware of Gef’s reputation here in a Gef article, but as the young (depending who you ask), sexy (ditto) publication on the scene, Gef is often subjected to the most criticism in the political coverage discourse. Despite it being two years ago, Howie O’Clock is still deeply entrenched in the public conscience. To our anonymous Twitter crabs/Manx Forums-enthusiasts, this is evidence of a culture of political arse-licking, instead of a bit of banter while we were all locked at home trying to get through an unprecedented crisis. Times change, but remember that a hell of a lot of us used Howie O’Clock to mark the time of day when it was acceptable to finish WFH (working from home) and start WFH (wine from home). 

Of course, what you come to Gef- or any other local publication for that matter- for is going to determine how satisfied you leave. Covering politics, something I have done occasionally but don’t make a habit of, can entail a couple of things. There’s political reporting: finding out the stuff that goes on and, well, reporting on it. That’s Sam’s domain and as much as it pains me to say anything nice about him, he does a very good job of it. It is a job that requires knowledge, patience and concentration, as well as sitting in some of the dullest meetings known to man to try and pick out the information that is important to the public. If the information is not there, you have to ask the right people the right questions.

Then there is political commentary. This is the stuff that people on Manx Forums think that they do. It’s getting the information (where do you think they come from? I’ll give you a hint: look at the above paragraph) and give your two cents. It’s a very satisfying job because it’s essentially just being gobby and judging the actions of someone else. 

Political commentary is, I think, what people want to see when they want “govment-critical” political journalists. They want people who will see an action by the gov and whip up 800 words about why it’s a terrible decision and why our politicians are crap at their jobs (this is a classic symptom of the Manx Crab syndrome). 

Disregarding how bloody cynical Gef would get if we just constantly and consistently tore each individual action down, there’s also some practical issues too. There’s definitely a time and a place for examining the failures of gov, and we’ve definitely had our pops- nothing unifies the nation quite like discussing Douglas promenade. Yet to get too critical and become too unpopular can make a rod for your own back too. 

By “unpopular” and “making a rod for your own back”, I don’t mean that you stop getting invited to dinner parties, but you start doing reputational damage to yourself. That, in turn, means people do not want to work with you. This is obviously a problem for anyone who wants to keep their options open for work in the future, but the individual effect isn’t the problem- thus the calls for individual anonymity appear to be redundant. As a side, I wonder how successful a writer’s attempt at anonymity could be on an island of 85,000, but that being said, there are still people who never clocked Mystic Chess was me, as if my name and face weren’t attached to the horoscopes- evidence there may be some realism to Hannah Montana after all. The issue is a writer, you’re never just representing yourself, but the publication you’re writing for (oh the pitches I have had shot down!). And if you can’t be taken seriously because you’re just writing op-eds about how the island has once again failed to become a Marxist state, you can’t and won’t survive in the harsh, harsh world of local journalism. 

Here we need to address the elephant in the room. Paid content. There’s always a smart arse who thinks they’ve unearthed the Di Vinci code when they realise that the gov pays for some content and publishes an FOI as if it isn’t all clearly labelled. If you’ve actually read the sponsored content, we’re hardly paid to write long, glorious pieces that simply celebrate the glory of the Chief Minister (no, Howard O’Clock wasn’t an official govment public relations strategy. Do you think a civil servant could be that creative? Oh, who said we couldn’t be critical of the govment, again?) but rather along the line of advertorials- like any other client. And clients are necessary for a business to work and for staff to get paid. Because, after all, if you want journalists, you need them to be fed. You 5 can look at the figures if you want: no one is making their millions from writing up some paid pieces. 


So where does that leave us? Can we ever be that critical? The answer is complicated, but ultimately a yes- just possibly not in the way in which the Twitter trolls would expect. The sort of pointless and unstructured criticism is, I agree, satisfying to read, but it’s the clear and considered criticism. It’s about analysis. It’s about being more than being gobby on Twitter. It’s about being an extra clever mongoose

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Was Howie o'Clock ever a thing outside of Gef's desperate attempts to make money out of selling the related merchandise?

This is possibly one of the worst pieces I've read by Gef. Not sure is was penned by a journalist. It's a rambling mess.

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2 hours ago, John Wright said:

the anonymous (and God, they always are, anonymous) Manx Twitter crabs 

Says "Mystic Chess" 😆 (Who, by the way, uses far too many brackets, and swears quite unnecessarily. What a chunt.)

1 hour ago, Roger Mexico said:

It certainly reads like it was written late at night halfway down the second bottle of wine.

I wish I'd been halfway down the second bottle of wine when I read it.

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It's not just politics where we get the Manx crab thing. It's everything.

One of the reasons I'm on here less is I'm just so devoid of the energy for it. Secondly if I'm spending time on that it's time that could be better spent.

Just made an enemy of a mate because I urged him to pay outstanding monies that have been due for over six months. Mental.

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  • John Wright changed the title to Can Manx journalists be politically critically - discuss

I'm not sure that we want critical journalism of politicians. We want journalists to ask critical questions and publish reports that explain what's happening - not just cut and paste press releases, or string together a few quotes without context. But opinion pieces?

The "Howie-Time" era of Gef was excruciating and it's Griddles nostalgia and in jokes are banal. But that's their creative decision and I'm probably not their target market. However, they also give Sam Turton the space to do detailed analysis of employment tribunals, official reports and Tynwald debate and nobody else is doing that at the moment. 

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6 hours ago, Twitch said:

Was Howie o'Clock ever a thing outside of Gef's desperate attempts to make money out of selling the related merchandise?

This is possibly one of the worst pieces I've read by Gef. Not sure is was penned by a journalist. It's a rambling mess.

I quite like the Gef concept but the merchandising (it’s all about the merch) over lockdown was quite sad. I hope they print it all on demand otherwise there must be a mountain if Howie O’Clock mugs propping up someone’s desk somewhere. As for that piece it sound like it was written angrily after a few lines of coke or a good bottle of gin - and a sort of fear & loathing in Bangkok without the quaaludes & Jack Daniels.

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What is required is robust investigative journalism which looks underneath the proverbial hood and is widely published without fear or favour. On the Island Paul Moulton and Sam Turton are as good as it gets, but there are too few of these journalists and they also face political constraints.

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2 hours ago, offshoremanxman said:

As for that piece it sound like it was written angrily after a few lines of coke or a good bottle of gin - and a sort of fear & loathing in Bangkok without the quaaludes & Jack Daniels.

Mystic Chess sounds like the real deal though. A girl you could take out who would get properly hammered and you could have some robust conversation with and then on the way home would be up for doing it over wheelie bin without even dropping her chips. 

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2 hours ago, C Montgomery Burns said:

A girl you could take out who would get properly hammered and you could have some robust conversation with and then on the way home would be up for doing it over wheelie bin without even dropping her chips. 

Ah the days of Jimmy B's. Many an unwitting sperm was donored thus.

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