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Home > Reviews > Panic as Man Burns Crumpets

Panic as Man Burns Crumpets

Author Roger Lytollis

ISBN No 9781472145802

Review date 03/07/2022

No of pages 249

Publisher Little, Brown

Publisher URL

Year of publication 19/01/2022


Our Review


£ 9.99, paperback

This book by Roger Lytollis is aptly sub-titled, 'The vanishing world of the local journalist'; writes Mark Rowe.

It tells of his 25 or so years working for newspapers in Carlisle, and ends in 2020 with his redundancy during one of many rounds of cost-cutting by the American-based, multi-national owners. It's a funny, sometimes touching, sometimes absurd, and painfully honest treatment of an occupation, more painful than the broken knee that I suffered in a collision with Roger, when I played for the Carlisle newspaper works team in 1996, when he played for the opposition, a Carlisle United supporters eleven. Which does not merit a mention in this memoir, even though his team won 5-1.

Of more interest to private security readers, though, besides an honest 'through the keyhole' look at the trade of journalism, is the abuse that Roger chronicles, largely online, but sometimes with the threat of physical harm. You might think that an industry that has gone through economic ructions would earn the pity, or at least indifference, of the wider public. Roger sets out how his local newspaper group and the local press in general have suffered, well within living memory, a catastrophic loss of staff and (print) readership.

It's difficult not to put one and one together - the online abuse has come at the same time as mass take-up of social media. Roger notes the irony that one user that belittled the Carlisle newspaper said that he would take it off his Facebook page; gone are the days of someone threatening that they will stop buying the (physical) newspaper; now, they threaten to stop reading online stuff that they are getting for free.

Roger turns to this online abuse several times. First, page 123:

"Readers' opportunities to comment on our stories online coincided with our papers being worse than they used to be, after redundancies. But this lot would have crucified Shakespeare. Seeing our work greeted by a tide of poison was disheartening. I was annoyed that we were pandering to people who delighted in baiting."

Readers may link this 'hatred' ('extraordinary', Roger calls it) with that directed at any number of other groups - England footballers for missing penalties at the end of the Euros in July; anyone in sport who loses (which at some point is every sportsperson); anyone whose politics they disagree with; anyone in public life. Briefly, to leave Roger for a sec, these malicious people must always have been around, sounding off in pubs and gold clubhouses; the internet and social media platforms, while marvellous forces for good that we would not want to go without, are also tools for the bile-filled and aggressive, who, as Roger suggests, have nothing better to do in their life than 'spouting opinions'. As with any number of people, even the rich and famous, the online nastiness plainly got to Roger ('criticism lingered and burned').

Which does beg the question; why give these hostile cowards the time of day? Roger on this point quotes other figures in British journalism who have for instance described the hostility as 'the new normal'. Roger sets out the wider consequences of these 'toxic times', pushing the thoughtful and those with original and different views out of public life. Roger points also to the mobile phone mast vandalism of 2020 thanks to baseless conspiracy claims online that 5G wireless caused coronavirus.

But the theme of the book is, to return to the sub-title, how journalism thanks to the internet has within about 20 years gone from a bastion of civil society, as certain and reassuring as the postman, the milkman and the bank manager, to a shell of itself, as overtaken by technology as the monastic book-copiers of the Middle Ages were made redundant by the printing press, and the hand-loom weavers of the north of England in the 1820s were priced out of a living by machine looms in the first factories of the Industrial Revolution. One wonders where it will all end; one can only hope that a self-aware and decent chap like Roger Lytollis finds a second career, perhaps even more suited to him than his first; and tells the tale?