Friday, 4 January 2013

Cambridge Evening News - Why do you hate us?

Actually, they don't. It just appears that they profit out of building up hate towards us - which in practical terms is the same thing.

Look at it this way; half of the population of Cambridge ride a bike. Not every day, but within the city itself that means something between a fifth and a quarter of the share of traffic is cyclists - we're somewhat worse when it comes to getting people across the boundaries of Cambridge, in and out of the city under their own steam, but by British standards we're a cycling city -THE cycling city

The other half of the population walk, drive, or travel by bus and/or train. Pretty much everyone in Cambridge travels by more than one mode, it would be stupid to assume that the city is made up of 'cyclists' and 'everyone else'.

But that 50% figure is just too tempting for our local paper, the Cambridge News Online (or Cambridge Evening News, depending on what you're used to calling it). They've got an issue that neatly divides the city, and boy, are they exploiting it.

Its not easy being a local paper these days - the once lucrative ads sections have long been under threat from  an ever expanding stream of social media and sales sites online. Who wants to pay to advertise their car in the local paper any more when you can flog it more or less for free online? The formerly fascinating list of bric-a-brac you'd see for sale in the ads part of newspapers, the thing that many used to buy the paper for, is pretty much gone now. The small ads are sparse - the golden era of local papers prospering on such ads is a thing of the past.

To survive these papers have to have an online presence, one that generates a significant number of hits; if they can get people coming back time and time again to read the comments section (content that has real value to them, that their readers add for free!) then that is a bonus.

Bluntly local paper Cambridge paper has no financial interest in reasoned, level headed articles about cycling. They want to generate anger - they want bile from cyclists, they want anger from motorists. They want this to remain a divisive subject. Don't believe me? Lets look at one of their (many) recent articles on the subject
Signs banning cycling on a Cambridge footbridge should be removed and measures put in to reduce tension between riders and pedestrians.
That is the call from Cambridge Cycling Campaign, which wants the Green Dragon bridge, a key city route, properly opened up for shared use.
This refers to the most recent newsletter of the Cambridge Cycling Campaign - note that  in said newsletter the Campaign (and my regular readers will know I'm no staunch defender of the Campaign - they do some things well, other things not so well) make it entirely clear that there is no ambiguity as to whether cyclists are 'bannned' from crossing. We're allowed to ride over that bridge, to do so is entirely legal, despite advisory signs asking us not to. 

Bottom line - no one is saying that signs banning cycling there should be removed. The signs there do not ban cycling.

In fairness to the CEN, they go into this in a little more detail further on, but they then come out with this absolute howler:
But the move is unpopular with some. Ronan McLister, landlord of the Green Dragon, which is opposite the bridge, believes it should be pedestrian-only, saying only about one in 20 cyclists dismounts.
He said: “The cyclists do not slow down and you’ve got parents pushing prams along there. The cyclists rule the highways, They want to rule the pathways too.”

From this of course we can immediately draw some conclusions - that 95% of cyclists don't think that this is a safety issue is one, or that as the 95th percentile have chosen its not an issue the signage should be made more clear to reflect that this 95% aren't breaking the law anyway. We could conclude that if its as dangerous as all that there will be plenty of data to support this claim; data on pedestrian injuries on the bridge. Data that is conspicuously absent from the article...

That the Green Dragon is no longer a pub worthy of the custom of cyclists in Cambridge is another (more obvious, in my view) conclusion you may reach. Seriously Mr. McLister? We rule the highways and want to rule the pathways? Are you listening to yourself? Have you ever ridden through the traffic in Cambridge? Wow. I'll be keeping well away from HIS pub if he's got that attitude towards 50% of the population of Cambridge! Guys, do you want to run a successful business in Cambridge? Start by not alienating half of the population. How is it that you don't understand that?

There are problems if you want to ride over that bridge when its busy - I was there on New Years Day with another two cyclists, and we dismounted to cross because of the number of pedestrians (95% don't dismount? My arse!). When its quieter I ride straight over - it is after all legal and safe to do so. When its frosty it can be hazardous, but my answer for that would be to grit it rather than close it to cyclists - and I'm sure pedestrians would benefit from gritting it too. Instead our local paper gives further credence to the same guy saying there should be barriers to stop us sliding on the ice because we end up in the road? How single minded do you have to be to not point out that gritting would solve this?

This is pretty typical fodder from the CEN - look at articles therein over the last few weeks. There isn't any analysis of whether the claims made against cyclists are accurate or fair - its a news source that is happy to repeat any anti-cyclist story - missing the real stories such as the fact that the police were staking out a junction were the end of the cycle route is completely unlabelled, the PCC spouting nonsense that is not supported by accident or injury data, and there is simply no analysis whatsoever of naff County Council pathos.

I'm not asking for the CEN to suddenly become the cyclists best buddy - I understand, guys, you've got to get hits on your site and you phrase articles, especially headlines, in such a way as to get them. But take a step back and ask whether you can achieve the same, or more, through applying better analysis to these stories before you release them? What would you rather have, a juicy article where the PCC is shown to be wasting police resources over issues that are responsible for a tiny proportion of cyclist injuries, or merely another one where people keep coming back to say they hate cyclists? Would you like an article exposing the poposity of county councillors (that'll keep everyone entertained for hours) or do you just want to troll for  anti-cyclist hate?

It isn't (or shouldn't be) the job of journalists merely to report opinion - and as can be seen from the article on the Green Dragon Bridge they're not even doing that - they're seeking to perpetuate the so-called 'war on the roads' - why else would you start the article with the complete fantasy that cycling there is prohibited? Surely a journalist doesn't want to merely be a 'content provider' who generates 'hits' for revenue - you want to be someone exposing the truth. Come on guys, can't we have real journalism reflecting the real issues rather than this road-warmongering?


  1. Clearly the News does not hate cyclists. Or motorists. Or anyone it writes stories about. It just reports issues of local interest. Concisely. It also has a professional habit of attributing views to those who hold them. Should it NOT have reported the views of the commissiioner so that people could discuss them? If experts wish to bring him to task on his views then I am sure the paper would do the same for them. It also carries many positive cycling stories.
    Why do you hate the paper so much? That is as equally valid a question as the one you pose at the top of your diatribe.

    1. Why do I hate the paper? I'm sorry, was there some unintended ambiguity in my blog post? I hate it because its stirring up anger towards cyclists in Cambridge with journalism that could be so much better than it is. If the PCC comes out with a priority that is not a justifiable expenditure of shrinking police resources based on the recorded causes of injury on our roads, something that statistically will have no measurable impact then I want news providers to cover that stupidity in their analysis. When there is no possible way cyclists can know they're breaking the law because the end of a shared use path is ENTIRELY un-labelled, and the Police are staking it out to catch cyclists, I want journalists to treat that as a miscarriage of justice rather than allow our police to use this as a pleasantly little press release.

      Even today, we've got this paper telling us signs ban cyclists from crossing the Green Dragon bridge - this is not only flat out untrue but absolutely contradicts the source of the story, Cambridge Cycling Campaign newsletter. I'd be overly generous calling that lazy - its inflammatory.

  2. its not just cyclists, although I agree that is one of their mainstays, they whip up a divide where they can using quotes from individuals to take the blame. Grr councillors, students, travellers, dole claimers, housing benefit claimers, homeless, dog shit, children, pushchair, StageCoach, the Council, truck drivers on the A14 ...

    My favourite bullshit story in the CN was David Cameron praising local newspapers at their award ceremony for building community. Exactly the opposite of what they do.

    1. The CN is owned by a minor Tory donor

  3. I don't think it's just the Cambridge Evening News. I suspect its all local rags (are they all owned by the same company nowadays, anyway?). Try looking up the Bristol Evening Post at thisisbristol dot co dot uk - we're a "Cycling City" but you'd think we'd legalised puppy murdering, to hear the Post carry on...

  4. According to Cycling: the way ahead, the recommended course of action when planning the network is to analyse journeys (headcounts / online surveys / interviews / statistics). I would be interested to know how many of the cyclists who cross the Green Dragon Bridge head east down Fen Road, and how many head north up Ferry Lane / Water Lane.

    Also I note that the Sustrans map shows the Green Dragon bridge as a link between NCN Route 11 and NCN Route 51. According to them, cyclists are required to dismount when crossing this bridge. Google Street View reinforces this message.

    It's not unusual for an NCN route to feature Cyclists Dismount signs, and this one, which appears on NCN Route 1, takes some beating since it appears as though the bridge was built fairly recently.

    I can well understand why cyclists are getting royally pissed off by the way in which they are treated. Generally the standard of provision is lousy, on top of which the wagging fingers refuse to cut us any slack.

  5. I don’t think there is any point hating a local newspaper, any more than there is in hating sharks – they are killing machines and occasionally bite lumps out of human swimmers but hey, it’s in their nature. Same applies to newspapers.

    I think you are spot-on in much of what you say about their business model. Let’s face it, there is little which is genuinely newsworthy happening at a local level so you ave to make the best of what ou have (“best” in newspaper sales terms, of course). If you can whip up a controversy about nothing at all, and better still provoke heaps of comments on-line, you rack up the page-impression meter which calcuiates the advertising charges from which you make your money these days. The Mail stable are past-masters at this, with their dodgy correspondents like Petsy Wyatt with her singularly unfortunate mother (unfortunate to suffer a series of identikit collision with cyclists, and unfortunate in that Petsy’s friends laugh out loud at mum’s misfortunes). If multiple enraged cyclists and “you don’t pay road tax” or “you should be licensed” loonies then leave comments, bingo! The advertising dollars roll in. There is an answer to this – ignore them, and never, ever link to them in a post or a tweet, that way you are merely boosting their revenues.

    As to that bridge, I have never been there, I can only go on press photos (in Cambridge News online) and I personally wouldn’t want to stand on my dignity about the legality of cycling across it. Oftentimes that would be plain inconsiderate and rude, to parents with pushchairs, or perhaps elderly or disabled pedestrians. I wouldn’t want to become like so many motorists who behave that way even when in fact the reverse is true – they use the roads under licence, while cyclists and pedestrians do so as of right – but of course you know that, as reflected in your post.

    Is there a town & gown thing going on here? Are bicycles largely associated with students? From my own (long past) days at Oxford, I recall that town v gown tension was always considered to be far worse at Cambridge. This was probably because Oxford was a much bigger city with (then ) a major car plant, and the student body was largely incidental to the fortunes of the town, whereas Cambridge (then) was heavily dependent on the University, plus the (then) polytechnic, language schools etc etc for its economy. In that environment students were possibly viewed in much the same way as many now view Poles, or the next wave of immigrants, the Romanians and Bulgarians. Perhaps the bicycle has the same imagery as a hijab or a turban?

    1. I find that said bridge is fine if there are a couple of pedestrians and they're walking towards you - but if you're approaching them from behind and ring your bell, then by the time they look round, both go in opposite directions and start to move you may as well have dismounted. I would also dismount for pushchairs - but otherwise, its fine to ride over. Its not that I'd do so out of enforcing my rights, its more that it isn't unsafe so I wouldn't refrain from doing so. Normally you smile at the oncoming pedestrians there, they smile back, everyone goes about their business with no conflict.

      Bit of Town and Gown to Cambridge but not like Oxford. So much of the town is dominated not only by the University but by related industries (the 'Cambridge Cluster') that said distinction is really very blurred. A heck of a lot of town folk ride bikes here. During term time however, students on bikes do come in for particular stick - imagine, if you will, a small town with a massive, instant, annual influx of inexperienced cyclists who ride in a generally fairly safe but not always legal manner. Plod time their annual lights crackdowns usually to just after the clocks go back to catch them out - after some criticism for that (its generally ineffective) they timed it for December this year and of course they're getting stick for missing the students!

      So with that proviso, no, its not really a town and gown thing here. Definitely still too 'them and us' for my tastes though.