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History shot on the wing
Written by David Gaffney, partner
5 September 2020
Great journalism stops us in our tracks. Beyond simply informing us of facts and events we may or may not have been familiar with, like all stories it can elicit strong emotional reactions, making us feel angry, terrified, grateful, hopeless, or ecstatic. At its best, journalism forces us to think and re-think.
Gathering together this week’s collection of media highlights, I had cause once again to consider how fortunate we are to be able to access readily such a rich and varied online library of reporting, insight, analysis, opinion, and debate.
This week’s opening piece below is a case in point. The Financial Times spent five years investigating a billion-dollar fraud at Wirecard, overcoming all manner of hurdles and nefarious interventions along the way. In an age in which fewer and fewer media outlets have the resources to persist with such an expensive and expansive investigation, it is a timely reminder of the value of this kind of forensic journalism and an independent press undeterred by sustained corporate intimidation.
The second pick is a brilliant piece of opinion writing that forced me to pause, reflect and evaluate my own cosy assumptions and outlook on life.
Our democracy is stronger for the reporting and analysis carried out by the media on our behalf – often without our knowledge or appreciation – each day, that we might better understand the complex world we inhabit and the injustices that exist within it.
Have a great weekend.
Wirecard truths were stranger than fiction
When digital payment giant Wirecard disclosed a gaping £1.7bn hole in its accounts in June, it triggered not only the German company’s insolvency, but a remarkable turn of events. Those included the arrest of its chief executive Markus Braun for falsifying company accounts and the sudden disappearance of chief operating officer, Jan Marsalek, who remains on the run from authorities in Germany and Austria on charges of fraud and embezzlement. In this captivating long-read, Dan McCrum of the FT recounts the bizarre – and at times sinister – chain of events triggered by the newspaper’s investigation into Wirecard, whose senior executives threw the proverbial kitchen sink at attempting to stymie the newspaper’s reporting.
Read in FT.
A closed mind is a happy life
In a world that is as terrifying and heart-breaking as it is rich and exhilarating, are we conditioned to distance ourselves from the harsh realities of life, to seek solace in the well-worn opinions and routines that have become as comfortable to each of us as a favourite old cardigan? In liberal societies, we tend to pride ourselves on being open-minded, even if that sometimes misty-eyed ambition is far from borne out by the reality of our regular habits, as James Marriott explains in this thought-provoking exploration of what he calls “openness to experience”.
Read in The Times.
An Anglo-German love affair
There is said to be a fever at the heart of British government, with no known cure. Germanophilia, that love or obsession of all things German, is nothing new to leaders in the UK and has gained renewed momentum in light of Angela Merkel’s successful response to Covid-19. But while Anglo-German ambitions may be similar – an urge to decentralise power and support technical education – their differences are manifest; not least, in Germany’s consensual political culture and long-term tradition of stakeholder capitalism. Those factors, The Economist‘s Bagehot column argues, might make the task of Britain’s Germanification better suited to Sir Keir Starmer or Michael Gove than Boris Johnson.
Read in The Economist.
Auf Wiedersehen, Pret?
The pandemic and subsequent swift conversion to remote working for vast swathes of the workforce has dealt a blow to normally overworked baristas in central London and other major cities. Pret a Manger announced just last week that it would be cutting almost one-third of its workforce, after COVID-19 wiped out “almost a decade of growth” according to the ubiquitous chain. The lay-offs are emblematic of the crisis now facing many city centres; having discovered that large scale remote working can be effective, there is much speculation about people potentially moving away from crowded, expensive cities. Will we soon hear the tinny tinkling music of the Pret delivery van as it arrives on suburban streets? And will businesses on the high streets of our small towns be the longer-term beneficiaries of white collar workers-from-home looking for their next caffeine fix?
Read in FT.
In the interest of mothers
A fortnight ago, my colleague Sabina took to twitter to voice her anger at the injustices of a student loans system which effectively punishes women who take maternity leave by continuing to accrue interest against the debt during the period they are not earning. I have no idea what it feels like to have a single tweet gain several thousand retweets and countless messages of solidarity and support, but Sabina does now. The issue she highlighted quickly caught the attention of various media outlets, prompting anger, debate, analysis and ultimately escalation of the matter, including this piece in The Conversation demanding the end of “the student loans motherhood penalty”. It also highlighted the need for me to raise my twitter game.
Read in The Conversation.
Indie pop will eat itself
Cultural snobbery is hardly a new phenomenon and while none of us would ever wish to see too much of ourselves reflected in the likes of Lady Bracknell, Aunt Agatha or Hyacinth Bucket (if you’ll please excuse that last lowbrow television reference) we are all, I am sure, guilty of looking down our noses at things from time to time. One peculiar form of musical elitism of which I was unaware until this week, is the categorisation by some critics of a certain brand of popular music in the UK during the noughties as “landfill indie”, culminating in this rather snide and snooty piece of listicle click-baitery in VICE. If it was designed to provoke a response, which of course it was, Mark Beaumont obliged rather willingly, with this withering response.
Read in NME.
A window on the world
Whether out of desperate boredom or a vague attempt at escapism, we all need to stare blankly out of the window from time to time, a gesture which, paradoxically, is often ultimately introspective, a means of turning our attention inwards. Unless, that is, you are peeking through a stranger’s window at WindowSwap. No, I don’t mean spying on their lives by looking in, but by accepting their invitation to look outwards from their perspective. The WindowSwap website, the byproduct of world in lockdown, allows you trade-in the view from your own window with multiple others around the globe. Experience the sights and ambient sounds of a peaceful rainstorm scene somewhere in Bangalore, a magnificent sea panorama on Hutchinson Island, Florida, or the less comfortable view of devastating wildfires in Delta del Parana, Argentina.