It wasn’t clever. It wasn’t funny. And while its impact was some way short of the unrest provoked in Muslim countries by the Prophet Mohammed cartoons, it was – as it was meant to be – insulting. Sense of humour breakdown or justified indignation? Nic Wiseman, co-creator and co-editor of the long-gone SAFC fanzine It’s The Hope I Can’t Stand (ITHICS), describes the resulting furore and says his magazine would never have run an anti-Mag version of the offending cartoon …
To mark Sunderland’s limp exit from the FA Cup, the Newcastle-based regional newspaper, The Journal, published a cartoon on the sort of page where a political cartoon might normally be found.
Yesterday’s cartoon, signed by someone called Nicholas (not me), featured two fat Mags, one saying to the other, in rather bizarre language and spelling, “Aye, the Makkems will have to go back to acqirin’ silverware in their customary manner!”
Where to start? If you were going to publish a cartoon commenting on our cup exit, then focus on the bizarre team selection, or the antics of Lee Cattermole, not slag off half of the paper’s football-supporting readership.
Twitter has been ablaze with protest and Mark Douglas, the paper’s chief sports writer, has been firefighting and appealing for calm among Sunderland fans.
The paper’s editor, Brian Aitken, apologised unreservedly in a statement released to BBC Look North.
He said: “The cartoon does not follow editorial policy, its inclusion was clearly misjudged and we regret the decision to publish it. The Journal has a proud reputation for being a champion for the North East region and there is no way we would intentionally denigrate any of the people who live here.”
Neil Farrington, a former sports editor of the paper’s stablemate, the Sunday Sun, suggests “it’s most likely a case of savage staff cuts meaning not enough checks being done”. “But even then, Aitken and Dougy [Mark Douglas] will be horrified,” he said.
In another tweet, Aitken says that the “cartoon should never have been published. Sorry to all SAFC fans.”
How could such a thing have happened? When editing ITHICS, though hardly the most bite-your-leg of fanzines, I can honestly say if the cartoon’s message had been turned the other way around and offered to us for publication, we would have rejected it.
Yet here we have a self-proclaimed regional champion doing the opposite. The cartoon isn’t even funny or clever. The language is odd, as if it was written by a sixth former on work experience. That’s probably not too far from the truth.
Some lucky lad found the cartoonist’s castaway scribbles and thought it would be a jolly jape to load it up for print.
With staff cuts biting hard, the page was signed off without so much as a cursory glance and when it hit the streets, it was too late.
Today’s newspaper is tomorrow’s fish and chip paper and it doesn’t seem to have been published online. But it’s a huge gaffe by Trinity Mirror.
An already suspicious Sunderland public will have one more reason to avoid buying the limping rag.
ps On Tuesday morning, The Journal published another cartoon in the same place as the offending one, depicting a Sunderland fan trying to offload a Newcastle season ticket on a bespectacled gentleman, (later, we are told, the cartoonist himself, not Mr Aitken), accompanied by another fulsome apology, entitled “we crossed the line” in its main leader column. The apology raises more questions than it answers by stating its aim was to “poke fairly robust fun at both Sunderland and Newcastle United fans”. In the words of the Hon Robert Halfon MP, don’t defend the indefensible!
* Editor adds: duty obliges us to reproduce the offending cartoon and today’s compensating follow-up. Readers may make up their own minds …
* Ian Black’s book, Geordies Vs Mackems: v. 2: Why Tyneside is Better Than Wearside & Why Wearside is Better Than Tyneside, is availablle atprices ranging from £5.47 to a penny (used but not swag) at Salut! Sunderland’s Amazon link: http://www.amazon.co.uk/exec/obidos/ASIN/184502320X/salusund-21
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