Sunday, December 23, 2007

A newspaper launch

I'm back in the States with the family now for 10 days. I've been in England for the better part of five months now to help with the launch of Crain's Manchester Business, a weekly business newspaper, based in England's second-most important economic center.

My job has been to interview, hire and train the editorial staff as well as produce a prototype and then help launch the first edition. In that last role, I've been the deputy editor to the editor we hired. My work will be done at the end of January.

The first edition came out Dec. 17 with 15,000 mailed to a select list of business people and 5,000 sent to newsstands. The sample list will be converted to paid, 74 pounds, over a long period. Many of the newsstands had sold out by Dec. 21.

The effort has attracted a lot of attention, since news media are consolidating in Great Britain, just as in the US, and few are launching new print vehicles. The Financial Times weighed in with a piece on regional business media. It has been quite well received so far by local communications professionals.

The UK version of Editor and Publisher published an extensive piece as well.

The Crain's Manchester Business website also went live on December 17, and for the moment, all of the first edition's print content is available, save the lists and record copy, on the site. We've been posting 15-20 web stories a day to keep the pressure on the Manchester Evening News, the principal daily in the region.

After Crain's Manchester Business's editorial crew sent the paper to the printer Friday December 14, there was a small celebration at a pub called the Seven Oaks. This was followed by a visit to an Italian restaurant and then a rock concert. The latter, I decided, was not my cup of tea. When my rib cage and internal organs began vibrating in time with the bass of the legendary band, Happy Mondays, I decided it was time to leave. I prefer to listen to music in a different way.

What's next

I don't have much lined up, and honestly I haven't spent any time doing business development. What I do have is interesting. The US Embassy in Chile has invited me to do a week of seminars in Santiago and other cities in the spring. And I have another newsroom leadership training session for Latin American journalists later in the year. There are two other possibilities for newsroom coaching that could develop into something bigger.
Bolivia appears to be on the brink of civil war (it's closer to the brink than usual), so I don't see going back there any time soon.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Wordsworth's lakes

This is Dove Cottage, in Grasmere in the Lakes region of England, where Wordsworth wrote some of his most important poetry. Wordsworth and his wife, sister and children lived here on the edge of Lake Grasmere for eight years. It's a small place, 400 years old, originally a pub. Samuel Taylor Coleridge and other literary lights visited Wordsworth here.

If you read any of Wordsworth's work in school, it was likely to have been some of his nature poetry. But he was far more than simply a nature poet. He wrote a kind of epic work in which the poet is the hero on a quest through nature. Not a lot of people read "The Prelude" today, but it is a great work and I did want to see the landscape that inspired it, just as one day I would like to go to the site of Troy in Turkey (the Iliad) and Ithaca in Greece (the Odyssey).

The Lakes region does have a dramatic beauty. Surely Wordsworth would be appalled to visit there today, 200 years after he wrote about the region, and see that his songs of praise of natural beauty have attracted mobs of tourists and vacation-home builders. Relatively speaking, the tourism is controlled and restricted, but there is still a lot of traffic, even in December, and you can never escape the traffic noise, even high up in the hills. Below is an example of some of the commercial construction, tastefully done, that serves the tourism industry.

This is Mount Rydal, a half-hour climb up behind Wordsworth's other home in the area. The two homes are about a half-hour apart on foot.
He designed the four-acre garden behind the house, which is a substantial two-story structure and his home for 37 years.

This is the so-called summer house located in the garden where he would spend time.

I was completely immersed in Wordsworth's poetry years ago, especially The Prelude. Attempting to write about the beauty of the landscape described by one of England's great poets is a bit intimidating.

Several slate quarries in the area for centuries supplied building materials for the homes and shops.

Friday, December 14, 2007

More words

There are so many everyday expressions that are different here.

We say, "I want a round-trip ticket to London." Brits say, "I want a return to London."

We all know what shove off means, but the Brits use it regularly to say they're leaving. "We decided to shove off." But if you tell someone to shove off, it means "get lost."

Words I've heard in the newsroom from colleagues:
I'm chuffed with my apartment. (really pleased)
I feel like I've been faffing about all day. (working in a scattered, ineffectual way)
That's kind of naff. (old fashioned, out of date)
He's a dosser. (a layabout, do-nothing person)

"Cracking" is an all-purpose positive modifier that has a connotation of sharp positivity. It was a cracking goal. They were a cracking good group. That company had a cracking year.

If you slag someone off you are basically trashing them. "He's always slagging off his competitors."
Last week, one of the young women in our office actually used the word "blimey" to express surprise. A Londoner on the staff uses what I thought was an Australian expression of surprise -- crikey.

"Rubbish" is a great all-purpose negative. That's rubbish. He's rubbish. It's a rubbish newspaper. They have a rubbish football team. Rubbish. And with a northern accent, it sounds even better -- the U has a nice long sound.

An oddity of speech here is how they use auxiliary verbs. We leave off part of the verb in the States, but Brits don't. Will you go to the game? We say "I will." They say, "I will do."
Have you called him yet? "I have," we say. They say, "I have done."

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Oxford and computer theft

About 16,000 students attend the three dozen colleges at Oxford, and you can see how they get around the narrow streets of this medieval town. It makes you wonder how many parking spaces Oxford has compared to a comparable sized US university. Cindy and I spent a day there soaking up the 800 years of educational tradition. So we can say we both went to Oxford but left before completing our degrees.

You may have gone canoeing on the Mohican River in Ohio, but this is punting on the Thames.

What did Oxford students do before Nokia came along? They might have written to Mum once in a while, seen the folks once a term. Now they instantly ring them up and whinge (rhymes with hinge, means complain) when they get a bad mark. Just like in the States.

Cindy is in the garden behind the home of Shakespeare's daughter in Stratford. Those are yew trees shaped in the background. Shakespeare made a lot of money as a part-owner of a theater and partner in an acting company and he used it to buy one of the biggest homes in Stratford, his hometown. He retired there and bought the house next door for his daughter. His house was torn down in the 18th century but the daughter's remains.

The publishing world of Elizabethan times was like today's music world -- pirates everywhere, no control of intellectual property. An actor or two with good memory would hook up with a printer, recreate an entire play, publish it and keep the money, and to heck with the author. Or they could steal a working script. There are lots of pirated editions of Shakespeare's plays, which makes finding the so-called "true" or "correct" version difficult. The Folio edition published in 1623 by a group of his friends is probably the best and most representative version of his plays and poetry. At least in most cases.

The Palace Hotel is typical of the rich architecture that a stroller can enjoy in Manchester.

A yob (young hoodlum) made a stroll through our office here in Manchester and nicked (swiped) three laptops loaded with information and articles and contact information that we needed for our newspaper startup. The security people showed us a video from one of the ubiquitous closed circuit security cameras that watch every move of Britain's citizens. We saw the guy. He obviously had an electronic key to the office.

The police and security people investigating this theft do not come up to the standards of Detective Chief Inspector Tennison or MI5 or even of Barney Miller. "It was an inside job," they pronounced with finality, since the crook had used an electronic key. They accused us of stealing our own laptops. There are about 10 of us in the office. The crook looked like none of us.

"How many of these electronic keys are there?" I asked the security chief. "I don't know. That's estate's (the landlord's) job." Brilliant. Then we find out from the landlord that there are 99 electronic keys for our office suite and they don't really know where they all are or who might have them. Not your Scotland Yard.

Initially we were worried that we had lost all the information, but we were able to reconstruct it. These kinds of thefts are about getting quick cash, not selling information.
My laptop wasn't taken. I never leave it on top of my desk overnight. It's tucked into a drawer under some files.

More lost computer data

The Labour government are slogging through what passes for a huge scandal here. A clerk in the office of treasury and revenue mailed two CDs containing the private information and banking details of 25 million people (almost half the UK population) to another office by regular post. The discs are lost somewhere. No one can find them. Not Scotland Yard, not Chief Inspector Tennison and not Barney Miller. The scandal has forced the Prime Minister and Chancellor to publicly apologize and the Chancellor may be forced to resign.

There are at least a dozen "why" questions that could be raised about this, and i won't bore you with the answers that have emerged. Suffice it to say that it is classic bureaucratic indifference, idiocy and incompetence.

Geezers and bunny boilers

America and England are two nations divided by a common language, George Bernard Shaw famously said. Living here offers daily reminders of the many differences. It ranges from the spelling of colour and criticise to pronouncing "contribute" and "distribute" with the accent on the first syllable.

Then there there is the word "scheme," which here in Britain means program or deal or procedure, with no negative connotation. A clever child is a smart one, not a tricky or devious one.

Here the word "geezer" just means a bloke, not necessarily an old bloke. But as one of my cultural interpreters in the office here explained, a geezer "can be a bit of a dodgy type, a wide boy. You wouldn't trust him with a tenner" (10 quid or pounds). Anything unreliable or shaky is dodgy.

I have read and heard women referring to other women as "bunny boilers" on several occasions. This is an emotionally unstable "other woman", as in Glenn Close in "Fatal Attraction".

Anything big or huge is massive. He took a massive big risk. It was massively attended. It was absolutely massive.
And if it's good, it's brilliant. "Cheers" means, hello, goodbye, thank you, you're welcome, OK, all right then and almost anything else you can want it to mean.

If it's bad, it's rubbish. It's a rubbish football team. He's a rubbish manager. And if it's BS, it's bollocks. On the other hand, if it's the dog's bollocks, that's really, really good.

Here collective nouns are usually plural, not singular. The Parliament are considering....British Petroleum are investing....the England football team are preparing....

A company's revenues are referred to as "turnover".

Here Cindy and I are at Conwy castle (pronounced Conway) in north Wales. England is a very small place crammed with different accents, dialects, cultures and peoples. The country is smaller than Michigan and yet has a population of 60 million.

The North West, where I'm living, has a bewildering variety of speech. Supposedly Manchester alone has 10 or 12 distinct accent groups, and I believe it. I can hear a couple of different ones just in our little office. If you could imagine compressing all of the regional speech variations of the US into a space the size of Michigan and than multiply by 10, you might get something of the variety of speech in England.

The Welsh accent sounds to me very much like Irish. My office mates make fun of me in my attempts to imitate the local accents. It's hopeless and difficult to get right. Scottish Power representatives have been calling me about problems with my account, and after each call I try to imitate the accent for the benefit of my mates, and they die laughing. It's a hilarious failed effort, in their view. Gr-r-r-r-eat.

I made one weekend trip to London to see Phillip Ens, our daughter Bridget's partner, singing with the Royal Opera in Wagner's "Siegfried." The Covent Garden opera house is a palace. A ticket for the show, which was sold out weeks in advance, cost $500 for a seat at the back of the orchestra.

The changing of the horse guard was quite an impressive sight.

Bridget choreographs a piece for 32 dancers

I went to Stuttgart last weekend to see a dance choreographed by daughter Bridget, who is in the center with her arms around one of the Stuttgart Ballet school's dancers, who performed the piece. Called "Zeitspruenge," or Time Leap, it was a 32-dancer extravaganza performed in the ultra-modern Art Museum's galleries.

The dance was supposed to pay tribute to Willy Baumeister, an artist who turned to stage design for the ballet and theater companies after the Nazis burned his paintings and stripped him of his professorship. The piece, commissioned jointly by the museum and the ballet, also was a tribute to the ballet's 70th (I think) anniverary.

It was a difficult commission. She had to bring together a lot of disparate elements -- Baumeister's work, the ballet's history -- and program it for an unconventional dance space. It got rave reviews and fantastic audience reception.

Unfortunately I missed it. SwissAir's flight crew arrived late for my flight from Manchester, making me miss my connection in Zurich, so I arrived in Stuttgart four hours later than planned. Just in time for the cast party.

This is Old Trafford, home of Manchester United, the biggest sports brand in the world. They sell out all 75,000 tickets for every game. Many season ticket holders come from distant places -- Scandinavians for some reason are big fans. In my neighborhood, which is a 10-minute walk from the stadium, I have several times given directions to foreigners looking for the stadium on non-game days. It's a shrine where you go to have your picture taken.

I got a ticket for this match at face value from a season ticket holder whose mate failed to show. It was only £30 ($60). They played the hapless Middlesbrough side and beat them 4-1. Yesterday I went to Manchester City's ground (43,000 attendance) to see them beat Reading.

Greater Manchester has four Premier League teams, which is like St. Louis having four Major League baseball teams. United and City draw big crowds; Wigan and Bolton not so much, but yesterday Bolton beat the mighty Manchester United 1-nil at Bolton's ground.

The stadiums have relatively few food and drink concessions inside, not like the shopping malls that new American stadiums resemble. And absolutely no vendors in the seating area. The football ground is, after all, a sacred space.

Sunday, October 07, 2007

Liverpool and the Mersey Ferry

This is a photo of the mythical Cavern Club, where the Beatles played some 220 gigs in the early '60s. The club is faithfully recreated inside a museum at Albert Dock on the waterfront of Liverpool. From the photos and the replica, it resembles almost every New York jazz club – in a basement, cramped, room for maybe 80 to 100 people maximum. Here the Beatles are in the Cavern with their original drummer, Peter Best, who was judged by their record producer George Martin to be an inferior player, which is why they dropped him for Ringo late in 1962. The singer at right was not identified in the exhibit.

The early Beatles with Ringo. They played a series of five gigs in Hamburg, Germany, where the owner of a club there had them play marathon eight-hour shows and used to egg them on with "Mach Schau" (put on a show, be entertainers). This supposedly helped them improve their stage presence. The Beatles were rejected by every major record label, and George Martin really wasn't that impressed with their music so much as their charisma. He enjoyed working with them so he took them on.

Mathew Street, the alley where the Cavern Club was located, has become a kind of Beatles shrine. A statue of John Lennon is on the street. The original club was demolished in the 1970s for a tramway that was ultimately not built. A plaque marks the spot. This statue on the waterfront looks like Elvis but is really a locally famous rocker from the '50s, Billy Fury.

Edgy modern buildings compete for attention with the older landmarks on Liverpool's skyline seen from the Mersey Ferry. The river is a great highway, more than a mile wide, which made it a busy port of call during the height of the Industrial Revolution. Liverpool played a big role in the triangular slave trade. Manufactured goods went out to Africa and were traded for slaves, who were transported to the Caribbean, Brazil and the States, and products like rum and sugar were sent back to England. The Slave Museum on Albert Dock is an unflinching look at Liverpool's role in that.

During the Second World War, Liverpool was one of England's most important supply depots. It handled hundreds of ships a week. The Germans bombed the city heavily in May 1942.

Liverpool will be the European Union's Capital of Culture in 2008, which means all kinds of events and celebrations will take place there. The city has a half-dozen great museums of art, science and culture, so it deserves the honor. The wealth created by shipping and industry in the 18th and 19th centuries led to wonderful architecture. There is also something of a boom going on today and construction is under way everywhere.

These two photos are on Albert Dock. The red pillars mark the Tate Gallery, which along with the Maritime Museum, Slave Museum and Beatles Museum, make Albert Dock a must-visit place.

Back in Manchester

Bridges for light-rail and mainline railroad lines cross near the ruins of a Roman granary, built around 75 A.D. in the heart of Manchester. This is right by the pool where I go to swim.

My daily travel to work is along Oxford Road, home of the University of Manchester, largest in the UK, with more than 40,000 students, virtually all of whom get there by public transportation. This is a university without parking lots.

Some brave souls live in houseboats on Manchester's canals.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Shakespeare's home in Stratford

Saturday I went to Stratford-upon-Avon, where Shakespeare was born and bred, and where he spent the last half-dozen years of his life.

Here I am at the house where he was born and lived his early years. There have been two excellent biographies about Shakespeare recently, "Will in His World," which explained a lot about his acting and business career, and "1591," which focuses on the biographical roots of "Hamlet." Both made this visit much more meaningful for me.

When he was in his 30s, Shakespeare was wealthy enough to buy one of the best and biggest houses in Stratford, a large five-gabled affair, which is now gone. This is the garden behind the site. A spiteful minister who had bought the house in the 18th century had it torn down, the story goes, to avoid being pestered by Shakespeare pilgrims and to avoid paying taxes on the house (he lived there only a few months of the year and wanted to pay taxes for only a few months).

This shows his granddaughter's house, with a banner where Shakespeare's house once stood. Shakespeare's granddaughter was the last of Shakespeare's direct line descendants. She had no issue.

Stratford is a lovely place because of its gardens and its restrained tourism. The guides I heard stuck to the facts and avoided the kind of sensationalistic and misleading speculation designed to get laughs that you hear at a lot of places. This is the garden beside the cottage of Anne Hathaway, Shakespeare's wife, with whom he had three children. The death of their son Hamnet, when he was 11, may have haunted Shakespeare and had a role in the writing of his play "Hamlet."

(Shakespeare's favorite kebab house.)

I went to see "Twelfth Night" performed by the Royal Shakespeare Company in a fine modern theatre. It was an excellent production of a difficult play, one of Shakespeare's dark comedies. John Lithgow, famous for "Third Rock from the Sun," among other things, played the role of the foppish Malvolio to the hilt. He was great. (Lithgow's father, incidentally, was the first artistic director of the Great Lakes Shakespeare Festival, so for me it all made a neat circle –Shakespeare in Cleveland with Lithgow pere, Shakespeare onstage in Stratford with Lithgow fils. The GLSF started in Lakewood in 1964, 400th anniversary of his birth.)

This is Trinity Church, where he is buried.
Shakespeare acquired crypts in the sanctuary for himself, his wife, his daughter and his son-in-law, another sign of his wealth acquired from his shares in theaters and acting companies. All four are in the floor right in front of the altar.

The people who suggest that Shakespeare couldn't have written the plays don't know what they are talking about. That canard was created by some 18th century scholars who couldn't believe that someone who hadn't studied at Oxford or Cambridge could have written so brilliantly.

Everyone told me that finding a room in Stratford would be nearly impossible and expensive. I found a perfect B&B through my Lonely Planet guidebook for only $50 a night and walking distance to everything. No froo-froo, and a good English breakfast, almost the full Monty, with eggs, ham, sausage, cooked tomato, beans, toast, juice and coffee.

The next day I took a half-hour bus ride to Warwick Castle, said to be the best preserved, most stunning medieval castle in England. It's impressive, but I was annoyed that after paying the 18-pound admission ($36), I couldn't go up on the walls or the towers because of some private event. After being were politely tenacious in the face of many, "I'm very sorrys" and "there's nothing to be dones", I got them to give me my money back.

A bike race through the heart of Warwick.

Everything in England is twice as expensive as in the U.S. Gasoline is $7 a gallon. A daily newspaper costs $1.60 (80 pence). The average home price in England is $450,000 ($658,000 for detached homes). My short tram ride to work costs $3.60 each way. I made the mistake of ordering the standard buffet breakfast in the Hilton Hotel my first day here -- $33. My room there was $336 a night. Let's not even talk about London prices, which are much higher. When converted from pounds to dollars, journalist salaries are twice as high as in the U.S., but they earn no more in real terms.

Sunday, September 09, 2007

From Manchester to York

I'm in Manchester, England, for the next four months to help with the startup of a weekly business newspaper here, Crain's Manchester Business. My former colleague at American City Business Journals, Arthur Porter, had always dreamed of doing this. Manchester is his hometown. At the moment, we're interviewing candidates like mad and have hired a few key people.

Manchester is in northwest England, about 30 miles upriver from Liverpool. It has quite a mix of modern architecture and old brick buildings. It's a city on the move, and growing rapidly. Manchester was the first industrialized city in the world and was a center of textile manufacturing for the better part of three centuries. Today much of that industry is gone, but it is England's No. 2 economic center and is growing in business services.
I have a studio apartment for the next few months in the old industrial quays area which has been rebuilt with apartments, condos, etc. The old ship channel is now used for recreation. I haven't seen a single barge or ship. The slips have names associated with the Great Lakes -- Ontario, Erie and Superior basins, and Detroit Bridge. Haven't the foggiest why. Must ask.

Medieval York

Saturday I took a train east about 90 miles across the Pennnine Mountains (hills, really) to York, which is famous for its miles of medieval walls still standing. It was mobbed with English and German tourists. The narrow streets in the city centre are quite charming.

The walls are impressive. The first ones were built by the Romans, and you can see the remains of those in several places. They established a fort on the site in 71 A.D. Those walls were the base for many of York's later walls, which were extended up to 20 feet high. The Romans pulled out in the 400s when protecting Rome from barbarians seemed more important.

This is a ruined abbey in the center of the museum park. Lots of young people hang out and medicate themselves here. The city of York got its name from the Vikings, who called it Jorvik. They invaded and took over from the Anglo-Saxons in around 870 A.D. A lot of their words survive in place names. York street names often end in "gate" -- Highgate, Deansgate, etc. -- from the Viking word for street. DNA tests of York residents show a high percentage have Viking blood. In some parts of the Scottish isles, the percentage is as high as 60.

While living in Bolivia, I despaired over my inability to understand more than half of what any cab driver was saying to me. Now I don't feel so bad about that, because I understand only half of what any English cab driver says. Sitting on a train to York yesterday, I was next to a bunch of guys who were going to Leeds to watch a rugby match on television. (There are televisions in Manchester, so there is no logical explanation for this. It's a guy thing.) They were all pounding down beers at 10 in the morning and talking at a fast clip. I believe they were talking about sports, drinking, sex and cards. Perhaps they were talking about Yeats's poetry and Renaissance sculpture. There is evidently a requirement that the F word be in every sentence and subordinate clause, either as a subject, verb, adverb, adjective, object, imperative or interjection.

Sunday, July 01, 2007

Last week in Bolivia, then Mexico and home

The editors of La Razon have a little coffee and snacks after another session of leadership training. The last week in Bolivia, June 11-15, I did two leadership training sessions a day, one at La Razon and the other at their crosstown rival, La Prensa. A training consultant has to be like a confessor -- total confidentiality.

Cindy met me in La Paz, Mexico, which is near the southern tip of Baja California Sur, where we've been considering a move. On a boat trip in the Sea of Cortez, hundreds of dolphins surrounded us. Later, three timid manta rays glided along beneath the boat. At the island of Espiritu Santo, sea lions laze on the rocks.

My first day back in Baltimore, I trimmed the hedge that runs for about 150 feet along the sidewalk. Working out in the sun was a relief after a day wedged into airplanes.

Saturday night, we made our annual family outing to the ballpark and saw the Orioles beat the Angels in a very well played game. That's me, Cindy, daughter Christine and son Patrick. What did I notice about baseball after being away? People for several rows around us, young and old, were pounding down the $6 beers (10 times what they cost in Bolivia). The effect was obvious.