Monday, December 31, 2007
I am now almost 48 hours without eating, having fallen victim to the winter vomiting bug, and having suffered the joys of the Virgin festive train service going back home (6 hours both way). Yet I seem more chirpy than I was this time last year...or at least it appears so from my Goodbye 2006 post.
There are all the things that didn't happen this year, chalked up to add to the usual collection - and the sadness in particular at one of those. But in general - and for someone born into a dynasty of Welsh Presbyterians this is an unusual statement to make - I feel more optimistic than usual when looking back.
This time last year I had only just started at Nuffield -hardly tasted the delights of high table. I had only just started learning Spanish and I was at a much earlier stage with my novel.
Now from Jan 2008 I'm about to become a visiting fellow at the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism. The book has been largely rewritten in a way that's better, I hope. And I managed to order a beer in Almedinilla without a local laughing. Well not to my face anyway.
Monday, December 24, 2007
Friday, December 21, 2007
However my latest piece for the Telegraph concentrates (ahem) on my more domestic side. Or rather my lack of domestic side....
The advantage of online rather than hard copy is that you only get to see one of the pictures of me and not the ones pulling faces they put in the paper, which has led to smothered laughter from my co-workers, who really should know better than to mock as they star in previous pieces here and here
Oh the joy of the feature writing world......
Tuesday, December 18, 2007
Nick Clegg has been elected leader of the Lib Dems. I am really trying to work up enthusiasm but the contest has largely passed me* by. Clegg and Huhne have suffered by Vince Cable's virtuoso performance as acting leader - although as has been pointed out he has had a much easier ride than he would have, were his leadership term not finite. Still he has had the best line of the year - Stalin to Mr Bean...as John Lloyd formerly of Spitting Image points out, a line Gordon Brown may come to regret.
Still I will try and care more; my emotion today has largely been directed towards the radio, viz the "feminist" debate on Today, a depressing piece of broadcasting. What I do find curious is that 20something women are so reluctant to declare themselves feminists although quite happy to talk about how liberated they are. In a previous incarnation, there was a couple of occasions when I had to commission pieces about whither feminism. What amazed me was that so few young women were willing to identify themselves as feminist; one young woman said airily that she had left feminism behind at college (rather, I felt, like Morrissey posters, dodgy ashtray and a grubby beanbag chair).
*and I suspect most of the British public.
Saturday, December 15, 2007
Tuesday, December 11, 2007
I have either left my mobile at home or it's been nicked.
I am appalled at the sense of bereftness I feel in (for the first time in years; in fact I really can't remember when this has happened before) being without a mobile phone.
(I should add that this culminates a morning in which so far a) the bread failed in the breadmaker b) D ate the last bit of edible bread without telling me, the sod c) I nearly got into a fight with some a*** on the tube d) I forgot my work pass and e) my hair has gone terribly terribly wrong. All before 9.30am)
I excuse my sense of panic being a freelance; the mobile is the way any editor/PR/anyone with a story will get in touch with me. There is something terrifying about being unobtainable and not being able to tell anyone that this is the case. I feel like a non-person (yes I am hamming this up slightly but there is a strange sense of loss which - given I only ever got a mobile in 1999 - means I somehow managed for XXXX years without one. Now however it feels like some kind of disability.....)
I KNOW I should be embracing the chance of freedom, that for one day I could play hookey I cannot be tracked down. But I feel panicky. There must be some kind of psychiatric description of this....Or of me as the epitome of sadness
Monday, December 10, 2007
Saturday, December 08, 2007
Something for the weekend....
Monday, December 03, 2007
Wednesday, November 28, 2007
Tuesday, November 27, 2007
As I mentioned in my lecture one of the consequences of citizen journalism, blogging et al is that for journalists, errors that might have passed by unnoticed in earlier years are frequently seized on. As Leonard Doyle of the Independent said broadsheets can't rely on one stringer in a far off place when often people will have been there on holiday....and will know just as much about the place as a desk bound editor. Reading Adrian Monck's blog he mentions a website I hadn't come across before compiling errors made by journalists called Regret the Error which brings together a list of some of the errors made. These are the ones that the blog's author Craig Silverman chooses as his favourites:
Here's the correction, from the Dallas Morning News of October 2004:"An Oct. 19 article on songwriter John Bucchino incorrectly stated that he doesn't read. The sentence should have said he doesn't read music."The same paper did a similar thing in 2005:"Norma Adams-Wade's June 15 column incorrectly called Mary Ann Thompson-Frenk a socialist. She is a socialite."They remind me of one of my favourite fictional depictions of problems correcting errors in newspapers - as in Adrian Mole, when his mother doesn't get her Giro and abandons him at the (then) DHSS office. After a huge number of errors such as age, relationship etc fail to be corrected Mrs Mole does at least get one thing corrected. The newspaper reports
"Mrs Mole did not say 'Adrian means more to me than life itself'"
Monday, November 26, 2007
Saturday, November 24, 2007
Thursday, November 22, 2007
This week I have been rained on three times cycling into the office. There have been moments when my commitment to a green lifestyle (organic vegetables, no car, recycling paper, trying a bit to stay away from cheap clothing stores) has been severely questioned. London in November - was there ever a more depressing three word phrase.
In the meantime, I have been taken by two pieces in the Independent: first Steve Connor's piece on birth order . Birth order fascinates everyone; the truth is if you are the oldest of four (like me) then basically you are doomed. Conservative, conventional, neurotic and swotty - these are the adjectives that get bandied about. Not for the eldest the freethinking creativity, the lateral thinker, the sociable party goer that everyone wants. No, you're the person who decides to be an actuary at age 11 and spends the next 15 years in a library (apologies to all first born actuaries who are fun loving creatives freaks).
What's interesting about Connor's piece is that it concludes that in the end birth order doesn't really make any difference at all. Which means I could have spent the last 15 years being a freewheeling creative sort instead of being conditioned to think that the world will come to an end if I don't do my homework on time.
So that was one myth quashed. The other is that Jonathan Brown notes a new North/South divide. Northerners like dogs; southerners like cats. I like cats. So I've either lived away from the North for too long or was always a spiritual southerner. A southerner second born.....maybe it's time to enbrace a new life.
In the meantime, I'm watching closely the new DEC appeal for Bangladesh to see what kind of stories come out of it following my fly on the wall stint for the last one; reading Adrian Monck on Andrew Marr and for pleasure as always John Kelly whose voxford blog always cheers up a November day.....
Tuesday, November 13, 2007
I was very happy to read about Bonnie Brown's retirement - she's the Google masseuse who has become a millionaire because of share options she had with the company. I only wish that I had any shares at all. I was once young and foolish and thought that journalists should not own any shares in case you ever ended up writing about the company. Now I am just old and foolish and broke. But I still think it was probably a good precept.
However shares might have meant I did better on the Times work/life balance test but seriously who ARE these people who put 10% of their income away as savings. I presume that isn't for the tax man. I guess those who still tithe do, but anyone else?
Meanwhile I am still trying to recover from seeing Posh Spice in the Tesco advert - indeed all the Spice Girls. It just seemed...so wrong.
Thursday, November 08, 2007
Since giving my lecture on Monday I have been felled by some kind of bug. I don't know if it is an aid agency taking revenge for my (slightly provocative) comments,or just slight exhaustion after a year's work crammed into 1.5 hours but I am just about coming round now...
I also have to polish up the finished version so that Nuffield can print it and also put it online. I feel rather a hypocrite having spent the night extolling new media that I a) havent done that yet and b) am still struggling to get the Mac to do links properly. Thanks to Adrian Monck, Richard Sambrook and Henrik Ornebring for the links...
Monday, November 05, 2007
Tuesday, October 16, 2007
I was transfixed by the sight of Simon Hughes and Vince Cable outside LibDem HQ last night, trying to explain the absence of Ming Campbell. It was not the Lib Dems' fault perhaps that they choose to topple a leader just as the nights are drawing in, and the ghostly glare of the camera lights made Messrs Hughes and Cable look like dodgy doctors who had - rather like George V -hastened Ming's end to coincide with quality media (instead of the Times now, it's so that the assassins can utter soothing words on Newsnight)
The headline writers have had huge fun with puns on the Ming dynasty etc. Andrew Gimson in the Telegraph is good value
as is Ann Treneman http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/politics/article2666584.ece
But my favourite is Simon Hoggart I particularly like his comparison of H&C as the Walrus and the Carpenter. http://www.guardian.co.uk/Columnists/Column/0,,2192053,00.html
What I can't help remembering is Mark Lawson's description of the SDP all those years ago as the Nice People's Party. Seeing Hughes and Cable on Newsnight last night it seemed a very long way from that....
Now of course the anticipation is, after that gobsmacking revelations of the last Lib Dem leadership contest, what could possibly top that?
Thursday, October 11, 2007
to Doris Lessing, the new Nobel Laureate for Literature. She came to City a couple of years back when I was doing my MA and generally wiped the floor with everyone (she's just been telling Shaun Ley why she is surprised she got the prize on the basis that 40 years ago the Nobel committee apparently told her they didn't like her stuff and she would never win it. In fact she said they were rather rude...).
We had to read The Grandmothers before she arrived...still one of the most unsettling books I've read.
What I like about Lessing is a) she thinks life gets better as you get older (not an ounce of self pity) and b) she thinks writing is something you struggle and work at. As she once said
"I don't know much about creative writing programmes. But they're not telling the truth if they don't teach, one, that writing is hard work, and, two, that you have to give up a great deal of life, your personal life, to be a writer."
It consoles me every time I rip up another page and start again......
PS Ms Lessing's reaction here to being told
Wednesday, October 10, 2007
My new favourite thing is Persephone Books - www.persephonebooks.co.uk - I have to stop myself buying them all up. But apart from the truly beautiful design (these elegant gray covers with cream titles and then inside different fabric designs as endpapers) they are just extraordinary books available.
The idea that these are genteel books by genteel lady authors, now forgotten is rubbish though. They Were Sisters by Dorothy Whipple has an unflinching look at domestic violence. And I've just finished There Were No Windows by Norah Hoult which is one of the most terrifying books I have ever read about what it feels like to lose your mind. This is a review of it in the Spectator http://www.spectator.co.uk/archive/books/21598/losing-the-plot.thtml
I really didn't think about a third in whether I could stay reading it, but it's absolutely compulsive. Claire Temple is a dreadful snob, who has got by on charm and you can frequently sympathise with how difficult she is to live with. But the dismissive way many of her former friends and servants treat someone who is old and losing her memory is chilling too.
Claire is based on Violet Hunt who had once been proposed to by Oscar Wilde and had a liaison with Ford Madox Ford (who is Wallace in the book). Hoult used to go and visit Hunt in Campden Hill Road when the older woman was losing her memory - and used much of the material in the book. (Interesting...could you still get away with that now)
From my point of view finding a book written in 1944 which talks about bad behaviour in the war (in particular a couple caught in flagrante on the sandbags) is great, because it confirms many of the ideas I wanted to look at in my novel (no sandbag incidents there though)....Plus it gives lots of practical details about the war (eg Barkers closing at 4.30 because of the blackout which I found useful). And when she is taken to the pub there is a clear indication how reverence for the 'toffs' has gone, and that no one should really be surprised at the Attlee 45 victory....
The only problem is the books at £10 each plus postage and I can't bankrupt myself buying more....Can I?
Monday, October 08, 2007
John Naughton in the Observer this weekend makes a very good point......
Stick it up your junta
Once upon a time, we thought that the internet was essentially uncontrollable. Our mantra was John Gilmore's dictum that 'the internet interprets censorship as damage and routes around it'. The ruling Burmese junta never had much time for Mr Gilmore's utopian views, however, and so have always exercised heavy control of internet use. A few months ago, the OpenNet Initiative, a collaboration between academics, reported that the Burmese regime blocked 85 per cent of email service providers and nearly all pro-democracy sites. And all in a nation in which less than 1 per cent of citizens have internet access in the first place.
After images of beaten-up Buddhist monks and the killing of a Japanese photographer leaked out via the internet last week, however, the junta took even more drastic steps - apparently physically disconnecting primary telecommunications cables in two major cities. As the extent of the clampdown became clear, John Palfrey of Harvard University, a leading expert on internet censorship, was much in demand. How did this compare with other state-controlled actions? 'I've never seen anything like this cut-off to the internet on such a broad scale so crudely and completely,' he said. 'They've taken the nuclear bomb approach. We've witnessed what appear to be denial of service type attacks during elections, for instance, but nothing so large-scale as this shutdown.'
The only silver lining is that some information has leaked out. When I last checked, the Facebook group 'Support the Monks' Protest in Burma' had 326,981 members.
Saturday, October 06, 2007
According to the BBC the PM has told Andrew Marr that he is looking to 2009 to go to the country. Frankly I'm relieved. People might actually turn up now on Nov 5th if they are not in the middle of covering an election. Interesting according to an economist I interviewed last week, Brown's best chances for maximising his time in Downing Street is if he goes to the country in 2007 or 8; 2009 is late. Mostly politicians go too early - Atlee being the worst example....in fact the only ones who have gone late are Blair and Thatcher in 2001 and 1983 respectively.
I wrote a piece about this last week that got squeezed out (Sigh - the life of a freelancer)
On a more cheerful note I went to the Independents 21st bash last night, held upstairs in the Angel opposite the old offices in City Rd. Spookily even though it's eight years since I left everyone looked the same (and I wasn't drinking so this is not down to alcohol).
It reminded me of being a young and nervous trainee, sent off to the Women of the Year lunch at the last moment, terrified I was going to be late, and sacrificing my last few pounds on a taxi (so as not to get the sack for missing the story).
I had just got in the cab, when a man ran out of the Independent offices, equally in a hurry and asked if he could share the cab. I rather brusquely asked where he was going and gave in with bad grace; weighing up the chance of being able to eat dinner that night if he shared the fare versus being late.
He was niceness itself in comparison and asked me who I was what I was doing at the Inde, what story....I felt I had to reciprocate and rather gruffly asked who he was.
"Oh my name's Andy Marr," he said.
Horrorstruck and expecting to be sacked immediately he could phone the editor to tell him about this grumpy trainee, I could only stammer 'You don't look like your byline picture'...
Luckily I think he never did tell anyone about quite what a gauche northerner they had picked to be one of the trainees that year
Wednesday, October 03, 2007
In between trying to finish my Guardian lecture I wrote this quick blog for AlertNet about how Burmese bloggers were the latest example of UGC...the use of user generated content is a big part of my lecture following on from the seminar I gave earlier in the year entitled Can You(Tube) Save the World?
I think it's very easy to overstate the importance of UGC but I still find it fascinating that only six years ago - at the time of 9/11, the kind of citizen journalism that we take for granted now was not around. When I talked to the BBC about this they said they got no images from ordinary people and only a handful of emails....fast forward to the Pakistan earthquake where they received 3,000 in one day.
Friday, September 28, 2007
So I turn my attention to really weighty matters instead....and imagine Mr Darcy at the cinema...
Now back to guerilla aid workers, parachute journalists and Susan D Moeller.
Wednesday, September 19, 2007
Tuesday, September 18, 2007
Interesting programme this morning. How far should Today get involved with celebrities? Inamidst all the Northern Wreck stuff there was an interview with supermodel Naomi Campbell (who incidentally has a voice made for radio) who showed how she has stayed at the top by effortlessly dismissing any discussion over size zero etc and even managed to get James Naughtie to discuss push up bras (at which point I have to admit I was hiding under the table whimpering 'no no no I do NOT want to hear Naughtie musing about such things)
But that was followed by an excellent interview with Graeme Le Saux and the last taboo in football - being gay. Le Saux said he wasn't but had endured years of barracking because he was seen as an outsider and because he read the Guardian.
Nothing new in homophobia in football but it did make me think that if you substituted sexual orientation with race, how utterly unacceptable the kind of stuff Le Saux has put up with is. (Football has made an effort with the kick out racism campaign). And saddest of all was when Le Saux, asked what he would advise a young player who was gay....and he said that he would advise him to keep quiet.
The interview however ended with one of the best liners I've heard on the programme for some time, but it was indicative of the pressure that Le Saux felt under. Caroline Quinn asked Le Saux if he thought he had chosen the wrong career. Le Saux laughed and said "Maybe I just chose the wrong newspaper."
Wednesday, August 08, 2007
Sunday, July 08, 2007
It's such a tough life being a journalist. I had to spend the whole of Saturday at Wembley watching the Live Earth concert for the Washington Post.
Pop gods: Madonna, Foo Fighters, Kasabian
Childhood dream: Duran Duran (but blimey, a testament to what too much of a rock'n'roll lifestyle can do for you)
Worth hearing: Beastie Boys, Keane
Genius like moment: Spinal Tap
Hugely inappropriate: Que sera sera by Rice and Gray; Geri Halliwell thinking recycling is plugging the Spice Girls in her intro
Wallpaper: James Blunt, Corinne Bailey Rae, Bloc Party
Lapdancer lookalikes: Pussycat Dolls
This is the piece,.. The Mac irritatingly has gone back to not letting me link
Thursday, July 05, 2007
Wednesday, July 04, 2007
Was so glad to wake up this morning and hear that Alan Johnston had finally been released after more than 100 days in captivity.
The interview with James Naughtie at 8.10 was fascinating - to hear about how Johnston had been treated, that he had heard World Service and realised all the demonstrations that had been staged in his support and the petition and the messages of support the BBC had broadcast.
Hugely impressive in the way he was so composed and able to articulate what he had been through; you would think he'd just been on a long story rather than kidnapped for four months.....although in a very non-journo way I just wanted him to be able to get home and see his family and not have to be a journalist for a bit. There was a clip on the 0800 bulletin in which his father, voice cracking with relief, had said they had only managed to snatch a couple of words with him before the phone line was cut.
Hope that Alan manages to get home and is given all the support he needs to recover from his ordeal.
Sunday, June 24, 2007
Friday, June 15, 2007
I've just been to my last ever high table at Nuffield. Oh lord, how will I ever get used to real life again where you don't get served four course meals three times a week with wines selected by the butler.....and get to talk to Gus O'Donnell, Prof Kitzinger and Roger Bannister...
Nuffield is actually one of the least stuffy colleges in Oxford but thanks to Lord N's money serves some of the best food (All Souls is the best apparently but I never managed to wangle an invitation; in fact if you want an invite you'll never get it in one of those unspoken rules). Tonight's offering at Nuffield was red mullet in gazpacho sauce with salad; guinea fowl on a wild mushroom risotto; roast pear and honey icecream. I skipped dessert (claret, port and Muscat) to go to Jeremy Tobacman's bachelor party and then to the Nuffield College cocktail party (avoided the cocktails as I want to be able to go running tomorrow. Well be able to function tomorrow).
But now apart from Midsummer Dinner next week, my life at high table is over. So farewell gown (worn for first three courses but always removed for dessert), farewell passing the port (always to the left), farewell pointing out the Nuffield coat of arms to guests (in particular the ox, the beavers and the pears) and farewell the SCR coffee machine (which every evening without fail stumps the finest social science brains around).
At high tables I've tried to understand econometrics and the sociology of work productivity around Europe; debated whether Wolfowitz was set up and why Edwards is the one to watch in the 2008 election; asked whether house prices being 10 times income could be a good thing and argued over whether governments can make their citizens happier; sorted out the New Philanthropy and learned why Royale fell from grace so quickly.
Oh and I told stories about the talking horse and Slapper Napa .....Yes they really got value for money with this year's Nuffield Fellow didn't they?
Now back to low table for the summer....Sigh.
Thursday, June 14, 2007
Wednesday, June 13, 2007
At the time of blogging almost every journalistic friend on Facebook has altered their status to read something along the lines of "X is a feral beast/has gone feral/is more feral than...." I love it.
Poor old Blair. He tries to make a serious speech about the media's effect on public life and this is the kind of effect he has on the media community. No wonder he complains about us being obsessed with impact over accuracy
On a more serious note I went to the Blair/Reuters speech this morning. Must go to bed because I am exhausted and will blog more tomorrow but what I was struck by was
- Blair's admission that while in 1997 they were thinking in terms of an issue a day for the media, by 2005's election they were thinking in terms of one in the morning, afternoon and another by evening
- The hint that newspapers might find themselves under regulation as distinctions between press and broadcast blur through electronic media.
- The sheer amount of time the media takes up in a politician's life these days. Ah but how did this 24/7 culture come across. Blair seemed to think it just happened and that journalists and politicians were surprised onlookers as rolling news, blogs, the internet happened
- Blair's attack on the Independent as a a "viewspaper" (Simon Kelner must be ecstatic...in fact I bet he runs it on the front page tomorrow*)
- But he didn't differentiate between any different bits of the media as being more feral than others (other than right at the end quoting someone who said the media in Britain were the best at their best and the worst at their worst).
The Guardian's round up on what the papers are saying.....
Nick Robinson (BBC) with link to the speech itself
The verdict of those at the Reuters Institute of Journalism...
And what Adrian Monck said.
Richard Sambrook doesn't seem to have blogged on this (he was showing Dan Gillmor round the BBC yesterday...but both he and Peter Horrocks have joined the Facebook group Feral Beasts of the Media...
*he did...and on pages 2,3,4,5 and a whole of an editorial page....
Monday, June 11, 2007
Wednesday, June 06, 2007
Latest AlertNet blog is here. It's all about one of the most famous stories of the tsunami....a story that would undoubtedly be called "too good to check" - and one that I felt as a journalist that many would think "there but for the grace....."
Tuesday, June 05, 2007
Good post from IRIN here posted on Alertnet - which I feel rather relieved at as it's exactly what I found in Batti - but after criticisms wondered if I had got completely wrong...
The tsunami is the great unspoken on the east coast now....And while it is completely understandable, I think some aid agencies are being able to avoid answering questions about why/how they set up some of the reconstruction projects because the plight of the IDPs is so much more pressing.
Certainly it seems odd that beautiful houses can be built, yet there was no co-operation with other agencies to supply these houses with water or electricity...
In amidst spending the weekend looking over my next AlertNet blog, I wrote a quick piece for the Telegraph here - (scroll right down for my piece). A subject dear to my heart obviously....and the kind of erudite thought everyone expects
Friday, June 01, 2007
It's a sunny Friday, the first of June, far too nice to be hurting my head with user generated content and thoughts such as: given the interdependence of the news media and the government it is problematic to argue that one has consistent power over the other in that one can make the other do something it would not otherwise do.
Oh forget it. Look at this instead.
I love St Custard's so much. And I don't think I can better any thought than as molesworth 2 sa reality is so unspeakably sordid it make me shudder
Tuesday, May 29, 2007
Wednesday, May 23, 2007
There's a very interesting story that Megan Rowling of Alertnet has blogged today on why the media has lost interest in Darfur
This story is going to get more interesting over coming days....
And an interesting piece from Nick Cohen on this in the Observer that will annoy a fair few aid workers
Tuesday, May 15, 2007
Monday, May 14, 2007
I'm afraid this is nothing to do with NGOs, the media or emergencies, but I was sent a link to this paper, which makes you rejoice in the diversity of academic research in this country.
Can't get this to link....grrr
Normal service to be resumed asap re my own research.
Friday, May 11, 2007
I'm still grappling with jetlag, trying to write my first blogs for AlertNet and process what I found out in Sri Lanka/Indonesia.
The weird thing about being there was that it was all kicking off in SL while I was there. I was awoken by the powercut the Friday night - the first night of the Tamil airraids. I had collapsed exhausted after the 12 hour journey back from Batticaloa and - with impeccable journalistic instincts at first though I was just perturbed because the fan in my room had stopped. It wasn't until later that I realised what had happened. Saturday night I flew on to Indonesia to find an airport surrounded by military, checkpoints and long queues. I only just made my 0005 flight; at least however the flight went out. The night after the airport was again closed at night, a pattern that is now becoming regular; in fact Reliefweb is reporting today that the airport will be closed at night for the foreseeable future. http://www.reliefweb.int/rw/RWB.NSF/db900SID/YSAR-733SKC?OpenDocument
It's been an extraordinary time. Here's Roland Buerk on the Tigers new tactics.
(Ironically....this made my journey home easier; I had to swap to a Malaysian Airline flight direct from KL to Heathrow rather than stopping off in Colombo.)
Wednesday, May 09, 2007
Monday, May 07, 2007
Yes I'm back after 2.5 weeks of creating the most ginormous carbon footprint (which I'll be asking Andy P about how to deal with), endless hotel rooms including those which came with free frogs and cockroaches in the bathroom, around 50 interviews in total with aid agencies, local journalists and those who are still waiting for their lives to be rebuilt more than two years after the tsunami.
Of my findings, more later.....I'm going to be blogging the main findings on alertnet.org once I've finished them and I'll link to them here.
On a lighter note here's the hotels I stayed in and my recommendations and also the books I read in the long flights and solitary hotel nights.
Best hotel: Hotel Polonia, Medan.....Looked horribly reminiscent of communist-style hotel I once stayed in in Bucharest, all dark browns and gloom, but reasonable, a decent bathroom with hot water, good internet access and really helpful staff.
Most overrated hotel: Swiss Belhotel in Banda Aceh. Billing itself as the first international hotel in Banda Aceh it was around double the price of the Polonia, no internet access available for the four days I was there, phones extremely dodgy. Food was great though.
Best place for lunch: Mount Lavinia Hotel, Colombo. I went here on my one day off in three weeks. Great pool and good Sunday lunch buffet. I spent the rest of my time in Colombo at the Global Towers which was fine but make sure you insist on a room with a) a window and b) with a modern bathroom.
Place that I cannot with hand on heart recommend for romantic break: Hotel Bridge View, Batticaloa. To be fair it loses straight away under Trades Description Act given that there is no possibility of a view of the bridge from there....This is also the place that I shared with frogs and cockroaches. As a result I stuck to the vegetable fried rice the whole time I was here. Good news is that you get used to the shelling every night. The fact that due to the military situation, there has been a blackout on mobile phone coverage, means that it is certainly isolated if you want to get away from it all (get away from everything but a war that is).
Books I read while away
Poppy Shakespeare by Clare Allan. I read this novel twice I enjoyed it so much. Great account of the madness of the mental health system.
Black Swan Green by David Mitchell. Fabulous. Great evocation of the 1980s. The schoolboy slang reminded me of Kingsmead so much (my first school) plus the account of what it's like to be bullied at school brought back the horror of LIVG at Birkenhead High School
Two Caravans by Marina Lewycka. Doesn't stay with you as long as A Short History.....and the sheer amount of characters means you don't have a strong relationship with them but I thought this was a really original take on immigrant workers. Am never eating a factory chicken or a strawberry again.
Chart Throb by Ben Elton. The characters are the same as Dead Famous or Popcorn - evil maestro, naive and dangerous young girlc etc but you don't read it for the characterisation. Made me think about all the wiles reality TV shows use to manipulate you to vote (And just why Will Young won rather than Gareth Gates)
Keeping Faith by Jodi Picoult. I had really enjoyed My Sister's Keeper although I will never forgive Picoult for nicking the title I'd wanted for my book. Had tried and failed to read others of hers. This one however worked, although the ending a slight cop-out
Londonstani by Gautam Malkani. Neither as good as the pre-publication hype or as bad as the subsequent reviews. I really enjoyed this up til the end when the final twist made me feel really cheated as a reader. The world he'd created and its dialect was hugely compelling and I felt that the revelation at the end detracted from that. It's not often I feel really shortchanged - but I did with that.
The Dilemma by Penny Vincenzi - my least favourite Vincenzi, I've read it before but was running out of books at Colombo airport. Still took me all the way from Colombo to Medan completely engrossed.
The Man of My Dreams by Curtis Sittenfeld. Nowhere near as good as the totally amazing Prep which I loved.
Keeping the World Away by Margaret Forster. One of those books that you think 'I wish I had had that idea'. Takes a picture by Gwen John and looks at the women who own it. About how art affects us. I put off reading this til late - wish I had read it earlier.
Lipstick Jungle by Candace Bushnell. Great read for the plane home (in between watching the Queen, Music and Lyrics and Catch and Release)
Babyproof by Emily Giffen. In this novel it's the woman rather than the man who doesn't want the baby.
Sorry this is a REALLY self indulgent blog post. But I'm always looking for book recommendations....
Wednesday, April 18, 2007
From this evening I'm off to Sri Lanka and Indonesia for two and a half weeks, visiting various tsunami sites, getting on more overnight flights than I care to think about and aiming to beat the world record for jetlag.
I just don't have the room in my suitcase for a laptop so am at the mercy of internet cafes to blog from there. I'm also hopefully going to be doing some blogging for Alertnet while I'm out there www.alertnet.org.
Wish me luck. I've done loads of foreigns but I always get nervous before them...ah well....
Maybe I'll even lose weight and get a suntan*
*NB the only proven way of doing this is being sent on a fishing boat in Norway then onto India straight after. Have never been so sylphlike er I mean pushing forward the boundaries of journalism
Monday, April 16, 2007
What I've been observing on for the last month
Will post more later after the launch
Due to a long long day and no time I haven't posted more but I will think about it overnight and do so tomorrow. There was pretty widespread coverage....and I think there were a number of factors that helped that - all very interesting for my research
Now though having been up since 3.30 I just need some kip
Friday, April 13, 2007
Spent the day writing a piece about the wondrousness of DCI Gene Hunt...
Tuesday, April 10, 2007
Despite my attempts to blog seriously about freedom of speech the only thing I'm really concerned today is the end of Life on Mars and my weekly fix of Gene Hunt. Spent the weekend watching the first series over again and trying to work out the ending.
The answer is - I don't know if he's mad, in a coma or back in time. But I'm suspecting due to Ep One of Series One he's in a coma. I'm trying to work out the significance of Craig Raimes from the same episode, and also Marc Warren (can't remember his series name) who was locked away earlier this series in a psychiatric hospital but seemed to hold some kind of key.
There's also all the unresolved mother and father stuff from the first series which hasn't made a comeback.
Think Morgan is the voice on the phone.
Not sure of the significance of the fact that Tyler was a DCI in 2006 but only a DI in 1973...but that maybe again something to do with getting rid of Hunt.
I suppose the most non-surprising ending would be if Tyler manages to alter something in 1973 so that he doesnt go into a coma in 2006.....
But I am really rubbish at guessing things like this, so who knows. Am just gutted that it's the end....
I picked this up from Digital Spy
As for the ending, you'd better tune in next Tuesday night on BBC One, although a more recent David Bowie single than 'Life On Mars' offers a big hint, if you delve into his early '90s material.
Unfortunately I don't know Bowie well enough for that to make any sense to me....
Absolutely glorious ending which makes no sense whatsoever. But - hurrah - after a nervous moment at 9.45 - he makes the right decision......
I've been back home for a few days over Easter and away from the internet. Came back to find several great media stories blooming.
First this http://technology.guardian.co.uk/news/story/0,,2053278,00.html
As the Guardian says this has provoked a storm from bloggers saying that any attempt to restrict comments would impinge on freedom of speech. But this is becoming more of an issue thanks to the Kathy Sierra case - in which she cancelled her ETech speech because of death threats that had been made on her blog.
What do I think about this? As a journalist I've been on the receiving end of bitter and abusive anonymous comments which I've accepted as part of the territory. I've never had death threats although I've sometimes kept letters that seemed to be more than usually abusive in case anything escalated.
As someone who's worked in old media where libel laws and the need to avoid affecting public outrage and decency, I'm used to having the kind of language I use monitored and restricted every day. So perhaps I am conditioned to having my words restricted. Plus having been on the receiving end of abuse...I don't like it.
But I certainly also have sympathy with Dan Gillmor's point, as quoted in the Guardian
To define unacceptable behaviour is to create a monster, he says, as "Who'd be the judge of it? The government? Libel lawyers? Uh, oh."
(PS Paula Scher in the New York Times op-ed pages points out the life-cycle of a blog: http://blog.pentagram.com/)
Then there's also another big freedom of speech issue being discussed...that of Faye Turney et al selling their "kidnap and tell" (thanks to Geoff White for that turn of phrase) stories for up to £100,000 - from taking the Queen's shilling to the Murdoch pound. This, most people agree has turned out to be a complete mess. No one comes out of it well: the MoD for agreeing and then doing a U-turn; the sailors who took the cash, the papers who offered it.
The Guardian in its editorial points out that the world has changed thanks to mobiles and the internet; as it says there is no way the slaughter of the First World War could have happened if "our great grandfathers were blogging every night from Picardy". And it asks the question: should we condemn the navy personnel when Sir Christopher Meyer and Alastair Campbell have been able to do similar things. It calls for a thorough review over selling stories to the media that goes wider than just the military
But Allan Mallinson in the Telegraph also raises a pertinent point, making a comparison with Pte Johnson Beharry's memoirs:
There is nothing wrong, or against regulations, in writing about one's military experience. The rules simply require the manuscript to be scrutinised by the MOD to ensure there is no breach of operational security. Had the captives' story been one of true heroism rather than "victimhood", there would surely have been only public admiration.
Was part of our disquiet that this was not a glorious tale to tell?
Monday, April 02, 2007
The Mac doesn't seem to like to let me link - but I enjoyed this piece that Richard Sambrook posted about how Darfur may be the first conflict fuelled by global warming...
Also check out www.sambrook.typepad.com for the Jib Jab US news value clip.... Very funny
I haven't been blogging very much because I've spent the last two weeks observing at Oxfam - trying to work out how a press office operates and how they see journalists.*
I'm also trying desperately to sort out my trip to Sri Lanka and Aceh...with no great success....It'll get there in the end but it's at that unsavoury stage of half-organised, half-not.
Meanwhile I'm back to my roots this weekend seeing my parents for their 40th wedding anniversary. Congratulations Mum and Dad...
*No I'm not going to blog ANYTHING about my time in Oxfam house! wait for the lecture
Tuesday, March 27, 2007
I was going to write about the Liverpool half marathon which nearly killed me this weekend but I was really pleased I got done. As the person who was always picked after the class fatty for the netball team, I've always been hopeless at sports. So taking up running years afterwards when Mrs Richards isn't sighing with impatience from the sidelines has proved an unexpected pleasure (although not at around 11.30am last Sunday morning it's true).
Anyway I can't be bothered to say any more; I got a postcard today sent to college, slagging off me for last weeks article. No address and a signature I can't read properly. I don't usually mind stuff like that - it goes with the territory but I think working from 3.30am-6pm two days running on top of all the other stuff last week - and I just feel really down.
Thursday, March 22, 2007
is currently happening. I'd have loved to have gone to this - particularly after all the work I did on user generated content for my seminars. But the conference organisers, despite lots of pleas from me, pointing out that I was the GRF, would not waive the £300 fee or give me a reduction in price. I'm currently living on baked beans and toast to finance part of my field trip next month to the tsunami zone so I couldn't pay for this as well.
So I am going to keep an eye on it via the blogs of Roy Greenslade on the Guardian site.
http://blogs.guardian.co.uk/greenslade/conference/ and comment when I see interesting stuff....
UPDATE: Just have to post this Nick Higham quote that Jemima Kiss refers to. A very good point:
BBC correspondent Nick Higham, who is chairing the event, shares his own "Higham's law" with us: "Whenever it is predicted that a new tech will utterly will transform a market, the full impact is ten years away".
Wednesday, March 21, 2007
I wrote a piece for the Telegraph that appears today after Muriel Gray criticised the submissions for the long list of the Orange Prize. It is a slightly tongue in cheek approach to women's fiction:
I'll try to get the link to work properly later when I am back in college.
I should know that you mess with Heyer fans at your peril. A very kind friend put up a link to it on the Guardian talkboards. I was really touched he did so. However I've immediately been told off by the Guardianista bloggers for my first sentence being cringeworthy, and making them wince. (Ladies, in the spirit of Heyer, I was going for comic exaggeration and contrast - sorry if you took it as boasting).
My favourite is someone who asks sniffily 'what IS a Guardian research fellow?' (I'm not sure I know myself)
Maybe I should blog and reply to my critics. And at least put them out of their misery re the identity of the disabled man. Charles Audley of course, loses his arm at the Battle of Waterloo in An Infamous Army.......
Wednesday, March 14, 2007
Thursday, March 08, 2007
Channel 4 updates its website....http://www.channel4.com/news/watchlisten/morning-report.jsp
Wednesday, March 07, 2007
So this is how you spend a Wednesday lunchtime, feeling the hand of history on your shoulder where Roger Bannister broke the four minute mile barrier, running for 5.8 km round the Iffley track, Christ Church meadow and Donnington Bridge. Or if you're me mainlining Strepsils and hoping it will all be over soon. Nuffield, it is alleged fielded more teams than any other college; what this says about social scientists (and whether this is a good thing) is up for debate.
I would like to say that the abiding memory I will take away from the relay is the team spirit, the feeling of doing something for college, the joy of pushing oneself to achieve athletically. Unfortunately I am sure it will be the sight of someone trying to take a short cut along the flooded towpath and suddenly disappearing with a shriek up to his shoulders in water.
Hey I'm a journalist not an academic. That's the sort of thing we laugh at.....That's why we become journalists.
Tuesday, March 06, 2007
On a more serious note a long overdue and wellwritten report from the International News Safety Institute (and I don't just say that because the bulk of it was written by a former colleague and friend, Ken Payne) into deaths of journalists around the world. More than a thousand journalists have been killed - two a week - over the last ten years. Only one in four are killed in armed conflict - the majority are local journalists working on stories that people don't want published. Here's the actual report - Killing The Messenger
It's a good reminder when lots of journalism is attacked as shallow and frivolous that out there there are people who are paying the price for trying to expose the truth.
I remember in 2003 going to Dhaka to lead a British Council course on journalism, Bangladesh was at that time the most violent countries place for journalists according to Reporters without Borders . Yet young people I taught still wanted to become journalists despite the risks they face. This is the piece I wrote about it then Safety First
I have caught the Nuffield lurgy and have been feeling very miserable and ill. Only cheered up by my cleaner's patent remedy ("You must boil red wine and lemons together and then drink it and go to bed. You will wake up better" she said forcefully*. As if I would need encouraging). Then depressed again by the Guardian's Battle of the Workouts here
I have been running for at least 3 times a week since Christmas due to Liverpool Half Marathon Fear, done one Pilates class a week and now do at least one yoga class and yet am nowhere near the body of a goddess this article suggests I should have.
Oh pants. Life is so unfair sometimes.
*Curiously I do feel better today. Not sure whether that is the lying in bed, the Lemsip Max or the red wine remedy. You decide.....
Wednesday, February 28, 2007
Went to the latest Reuters Fellows seminar at Green College today - it was Lucy Hooberman from the BBC talking about participation journalism.
These are some of the points she made
1. Participation is nothing new - think back to the 17th century pamphleteers; Tom Paine etc; the birth of Channel 4 in 1982 was specifically designed so that diverse and minority voices could be heard.
2. After 1990 the range of experimental programming really stopped in C4 (she says). Then there came the rise of the "observational" film which was the precursor to reality TV. She now feels we are at the end of that cycle.
3. 1996 saw the first use of weblog, now in 2007 there are over 60m blogs - however that means that 97 per cent of humans are still blogless before we get carried away.
4. Journalism is adapting to new media - as Arthur Sulzberger put it "I really don't know whether we'll be printing the [New York] Times in five years and you know what, I don't care either."
5. www.tomski.com/archive/new_archive/000063.html for the 15 principles of blogging
6. She believes that many of the arguments over freedom of speech on things like Comment is Free is because we have lost the understanding of defining the vocabulary of debate. People need to be taught media literacy so that it does not descend in vitriol and slanging matches. Is the role of the mainstream media to mediate the debate?
7 She also asks why are people not engaging with news? And is news consumption the right measure of engagement.
8. She suggests the following blogs to look at: Global Voices, Comment is Free and Berkshire Stringers (I'll work out the links later)
9. Her theory is that participatory is no less journalism - and its unproductive to think that way - there is a different kind of journalism, a different entry point and these are new tools. It could turn into a kind of Pro-Am journalism. In the next five years it will be very interesting to see what happens...
My thoughts on this: I agree, I think it is unproductive the fights between mainstream and the blogosphere. I think there is an issue that mainstream media always tries to neutralise the radical (or put less pejoratively, utilise the radical and therefore take away some of its power). I think there is an issue here over using blogs and UGC in authenticating it - if something does go wrong where does responsibility lie?
One questioner asked does the rise of the blogosphere mean opinion will replace facts? I think the argument can be made that that has happened for years before the blogosphere....and sometimes the blogosphere has acted as a useful check on facts in the mainstream media
Other things to consider: I mean to search out the BBC participation project headed by Adrian Woolard and also the AHRC knowledge transfer project headed by Rowena Goldman to find out more about that.. Also Geostories a trial led by Priya Prakash; Labs, a team project led by Matt Locke and Backstage BBC feeds and API made available to all.
One question she asked was: when did you first recognise spin (the point being that it wasn't New Labour who invented it). I'm struggling to remember when....Was it as a health journo and the DoH putting things out late on Fridays/Christmas Eve? Or before that. I need to think.
UPDATE: Just found this paper on participation media on Richard Sambrook's blog - http://ideant.typepad.com/shows/fp4.html
Thursday, February 22, 2007
First - have borrowed this link from Richard Sambrook on the piece that Stephen Coleman has written about new media for Ariel here...
Lent: OK here goes. Only urgent work related texts from now til Easter Sunday. And only looking at research related blogs. Too much time wasted on YouTube et al. And five chapters rewritten.
Wednesday, February 21, 2007
The fact that it's Ash Wednesday has just come home to me. I haven't thought what I can give up for 40 days. Although the positive thing would be to do something new instead of give up.
1. Give up alcohol/desserts or texting. Texting is an idea - I do so much of it. It really would be a struggle and would actually require me to talk to people.
2. Put aside a certain amount of money each week for a charity. Although am on a fairly strict budget already as a penniless academic. I suppose that's no excuse..
3. Try to change something mentally. Think positive....Hmm. Not sure.
4. Get in contact with my siblings at least once a week.
I guess I better decide quickly.
UPDATE Just listened to the 1800 news on Radio 4...and I think W H Auden may be an inspiration. As part of a piece celebrating the centenary of his birth, the reporter pointed out that Auden always stopped work on the dot of six to drink a martini......
What's good enough for one of the century's most foremost poets....
FURTHER UPDATE: My brother has just texted me to ask if I'm giving up texting - and nearly caught me out....Perhaps that talking to siblings once a week thing is overrated.....!
Well I got through the seminar ok - just. Saddo that I am I went to a yoga class at 7.45 this morning to calm my nerves. Urgh, it felt like the middle of the night. You wouldnt think I get up at 3.30.
Anyway the PowerPoint worked (most of the time); I didn't drop my papers or swamp the computer in water.
I might post my seminar up here if I can work out how to do it.
Anyway rather than go and have a stiff drink which is what I'd really like, I'll post the questions that came up that I should now be thinking about.
1. How do different media outlets use User Generated Content? Ie does News 24 use UGC in a different way to the Ten O Clock news (prelim answer: yes and I think rolling news is the sort of situation where UGC can start to skew the news agenda towards the unexpected and the sudden)
2. Is the tsunami really the moment the world changed in regards to UGC as Dan Gillmor alleges? Several people cited 9/11, Buncefield, or 7/7 as more significant. (I still think it is; Suzanne Franks put it better than me when she pointed out that the tsunami was the significant moment because it is the event whose iconic image is a UGC one. The 9/11 ones were not UGC.)
3. Was the tsunami so important in UGC terms because it was "half a world away". It was argued that the reason it took off so quickly was because of the decrease in foreign correspondents - UGC filled the gap (True - except for the fact there were actually a lot of journalists holidaying there. Although there is an ongoing debate about whether the use of UGC is merely so attractive because of the business incentive - its far cheaper.)
4. How can we keep the quality of newspapers/broadcast up to scratch when citizen journalism can often be so biased/not as good quality (Ah this is a potential problem; I think a lot of people see UGC through rose tinted spectacles. It can be very poor, boring and unfocused. It needs labelling properly and editing properly. The pictures of 9/11, the tsunami and Saddam which appeared in the mainstream media had all been edited for taste and decency)
5. Why was it South Korea the first country to really go for citizen media - cf Oh My News etc.(Now this is what I would like to know; Sang Woo Kim, one of the Reuters fellows usually at YTN suggested it might be something in the divided nature of the country).
6.Who are the people who are providing UGC? And are the people who send into the BBC different to those sending into Channel 5 for money? Could make a fascinating study. The truth is I don't think we know - we are just assuming we know.
Tim Gardam made the point that in the 70s and 80s when the BBC had far less funding that ITN it used a lot of different sources - anything it could - some of which it could not verify the provenance of. The question is when the dramatic starts to squeeze out analysis.
Now time for a G&T.
Monday, February 19, 2007
A piece I've been working on for about six months made it on to the World At One today - it's about the long-running shortage of diamorphine in this country. You can read about it here
And if you want to listen to it click on the link to "interviews with those affected by the shortage" at the side
This drug is used to treat cancer sufferers, heart attack victims and women in labour. But diamorphine's also the clinical equivalent of heroin and so it has come back into the news because of Ken Jones (president of ACPO)'s calls for drug addicts to be prescribed it on the NHS. He's not the first cop to suggest this - the interesting thing is that no one seems aware there has been such a shortage. It took a long hard search and requests under the Freedom of Information Act to find out the figures - and then an equally long hard search to find the figures that show the price of the drug has risen by a third over the past two years. So while the Department of Health can say quite rightly spending is nearly back up to the previous levels....that isn't the same as saying there's the same amount being prescribed.
Thanks to those involved in the investigation who kept on being patient the long time it took to bring it together....There were times when I never thought it would end!
Friday, February 16, 2007
Does anyone know how to write a seminar on Can You(tube) save the world by next Wednesday? Please?
It's Fifth week in Oxford - and that's the usual week where students here complain about Fifth Week Blues - that bizarre sensation that more than half the term is over, and you're behind schedule. Oh and why aren't you like that annoying tutorial partner who is scoring alphas while running Cherwell and starring in about three plays?
I felt like this at 19. I never expected to feel like this a decade on (well er slightly more than a decade)....So far I have been grateful to receive calls from my mother, my sister-in-law and my best friend to all distract me from the horror of having to produce a single piece of work.
I am trying not to think about the time in journalism where I used to be able to write two news stories and a feature per day. There weren't very many staff at the Inde at the time...
The one benefit of this is that I have recently upped the amount of rewriting on my novel and the length/frequency of runs. So at this rate I should have a completely new book and beat my brother in the Liverpool Half Marathon no problem by the end of March. L'optimiste c'est moi.....
On a more focused note I enjoyed Vin Crosbie's rant about citizen journalism here
which corrects some of the balance of the current adulation of all things UGC. I particularly enjoyed his quote:
Letter-to-the-Editor are as much journalism as a man's video of his kid's wedding is cinema. Or as much as a woman putting a Band-Aid (or 'plaster' the British would say) onto her kid's bruised knee is practicing medicine. Or as much as a guy appearing in traffic court to dispute a parking ticket is practicing law. It's too much of a rhetoric stretch.
Does its publication in a newspaper somehow make a person's opinion be journalism? If so, you might as well shutdown college schools of journalism. No need for those.
On another note here is Andrew North's account of how Google Earth is being deployed by the insurgents in Iraq - fascinating
Tuesday, February 13, 2007
Is finding after very many years two new Georgette Heyers that I'd never read before (Cousin Kate - very Gothic and the Quiet Gentleman). For those who read novels this is the equivalent of the Holy Grail - you hope and hope that you'll find a new one but it never happens. OF course it all ended in tears; I stayed up late reading the QG which meant I got 3.5 hours sleep before going to do the Morning Report (nb staying up late means midnight when you have to get up at 3.30am). Still for those who have never had a comfort author that you return to again and again then you can't imagine the joy this was.
When I was doing my MA I did an extended essay on Why Read Georgette Heyer or What Good Feminists can Learn from Historical Romance. Answer = a lot. My favourite story is that GH used to be fuelled on gin and Benzedrine while churning out a book a year to pay the tax bills and support her family ("Another bleeding romance" she remarked on finishing No 37, April Lady)
But my favourite quote has to be
“All the girls who read the filthiest books like yours” (Australian librarian to Georgette Heyer)
Wednesday, January 31, 2007
after a small interlude which was terribly journalistic and didn't at all involve being out of the country near some mountains. Honest....in case any of the Scott Trustians are reading.
I'm due to give a seminar at the Reuters Institute of Journalism in three weeks entitled Can You(Tube) save the World? How user generated content is changing how natural disasters are reported.
Do you agree with the premise? I am panicking slightly at the thought of talking for half an hour on the subject.
Anyway I think UGC won't take over journalism but it is definitely altering it - disasters that we would have waited days to get reports back from in the past are now being heard about within hours. That doesn't mean to say that citizen journalists will take over the world but you can't have a situation like the (perhaps apocryphal) story about how the Bengali famine of the 1940s was covered - a paragraph in the Times.
Two months later.
Finally - thanks to Adrian Monck for this on nobility and journalism - http://adrianmonck.blogspot.com/2007/01/higher-calling.html
I'm not sure I agree. I would love it if it was a higher calling - but I am always fervently reminded that until recently in censuses and other social class evaluations journalism comes firmly out as a grubby trade not a profession - and perhaps we should remember that.
That's enough from the ivory towers for today anyway....