Monday, December 31, 2007

Goodbye 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

Happy Christmas

and may new year bring you everything you hope for.........

Friday, December 21, 2007

I used to be a research fellow don't you know.....

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

News occurs in pre-Christmas week shocker

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). 
Of course when you are just out of college, it can feel like nothing is holding you back. I felt no different when I was 22/3 . I am just surprised that less than a decade separated me and the feature writers I was trying to commission.....and yet I would never have been so indignant at the thought of being labelled a feminist. Was that me or has there been a big change? Maybe the Spices and Girl Power have made more of a difference than I thought.

*and I suspect most of the British public.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Hurrah

Looks like a climate change deal has been agreed.

Earlier  I listened on Today to Yvo de Boer breaking down in tears during the process after two weeks of wrangling and having to be led off the podium.
Blimey anyone who's had a bad few Christmas days at work knows how he feels.......
From parliament to park bench

In between the Diana-Dodi letters dominating the papers, I was just listening to the Today programme and the interview with Ed Mitchell, the former ITN news editor now reduced to living rough in Brighton. The story was discovered by a journalist on the Brighton Argus who was volunteering with a homeless charity (see we are not all bad). Since then all the papers have taken up the story. The pictures of Mitchell then and now stop you short, but what was strange was hearing the umistakeable broadcast tones of a newsreader being interviewed on Today - speaking in carefully timed and modulated sentences.
There are two trends to the story: the credit card spiral that Mitchell found himself in and the alcoholism that according to the papers which seems to have dogged him from his early days as a reporter. There is of course endless debates about whether journalistic lifestyles can exacerbate problems like drinking or whether it is something about the nature of those who go into journalism that means that you tend to find a large number of people susceptible to drinking. My personal belief is that it is a mixture of both.
Whatever, the story at least reveals what most of us turn our eyes to: the idea of the homeless as individuals. My friend N used to volunteer for Crisis every Christmas, I admired him hugely. Listening to Ed Mitchell saying cheerily that he wouldn't starve this Christmas but unable to really answer what his children thought, I felt ashamed for not doing the same.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

One of those days

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

Aid workers vs journalists



Preparing to chair a panel for the Red Cross on Weds on aid workers and journalists I came across this blog post which refers back to my Guardian piece of a month ago....interesting




Canoe Post Two

The canoe story just keeps on giving. This afternoon the police have released a photo that they believe may show John Darwin when he was missing - and this is it....

I spotted it on News 24 and immediately saw in my mind's eye Charles Darwin



Or even Charles Dickens


Are they all related? I think we should be told....
Self harm

One in 15 young people now injure themselves on a regular basis. But as Petra Boynton raises the question - is this the latest manifstation of distress that young people particular girls have always shown - are we seeing the modern equivalent of Victorian 'hysteria'? This may be so but experts are genuinely worried about the scale that is now revealing itself. Here's a piece I wrote for the Telegraph about it.

Saturday, December 08, 2007


Something for the weekend....
I had hoped to be posting on what I might do next...but no official confirmation yet...sigh...so in the meantime I'm recording two things that have added to the gaiety of nations.
First the pseudocide of canoe man (love the new word). I was at a party last night when someone said 'I really can't understand why everyone is so excited about this story'. But for a journalist it has everything - and in vulgar parlance has 'legs'. A man turning up from the dead after five years excites; who has not dreamed of doing the same (in fact my whole novel is about that). Then...a wife who has mysteriously left the country and gives an emotional interview about her surprise at his return....Followed the next day by the appearance of a photograph which proves she can't be THAT surprised. (The woman who googled it  - and every journalist thinks why didn't I think of doing that? - before going to the Mirror lived in a part of the country where the Sun is not welcome.....ah how those old wounds fail to heal). And the fact that they were apparently brought down by an overheard phoencall at a doctor's surgery  failing to say no to posing for an estate agent's picture...you would think if you had perpetuated an alleged fraud then you would think twice...Extraordinary stuff. Not least the fact he lived in a bedsit next door for three years. This is the Mail's latest update
One friend summed it up by saying: "It's the story with something for everyone. The bloke walking in to the police station - men are all sighing inwardly at the thought he got away with doing a runner. The women....she's got all the money in her name. Then for some reason they allegedly fall out - and it ends..."
This is a very British affair - with bedsits and doctor's receptionists, canoes and estate agents. In the US surely there would have been a glamorous broad or two, a breakneck run for the coast, a final cryptic note saying farewell. Instead we have angry boat owners allegedly complaining about non-payment of bills.
Read Andrew Pierce in the Telegraph's account. It made me laugh out loud
Meanwhile this song is my current earworm. I love it though. It makes me laugh every time I hear the rhyme for 'thirty' and 'dirty'

Monday, December 03, 2007

Of human bonds.....

This is the piece I wrote for the health section of the Telegraph today about the problems some women have forming attachments with their children - linked to a Channel 4 documentary on tonight.....

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Another point of view

I'm currently reading Rhett Butler's People the new "companion piece" to Gone With the Wind (for an interview with the author read Melissa Whitworth's piece in the Telegraph). Actually it's not as bad as some of the reviews have made out, as long as you don't think too much about GWTW as neither Scarlett or Rhett feel like their Mitchell counterparts. It certainly does a very good job in clearing up the uncomfortable parts of the original for a 21st century reader; there's condemnation of the Klan, Rhett's supposed racial murder is explained away....it's a version that is certainly much easier to defend.
But Scarlett appears as a shadowy selfish figure; so far (three quarters in) I'm still not sure what McCaig's Rhett sees in her. Certainly we get a lot more of his inner pain but I'm not sure why he bothers with her. You have to remember Scarlett's attraction from Mitchell's book to be convinced.
Also the selling point of GWTW for me was the transgressive nature of Scarlett - a woman who refused to conform to the boundaries of southern womanhood (while of course being hypocritical about convention). This struggle - and her blindness over Ashley and Rhett is what made GWTW the bestseller it was. RBP loses this whole struggle with Scarlett as a small side character. This is not to say the book isn't enjoyable - it is - it's jsut not the sort that sticks in your mind.
What is really interesting is why it was written like this. The whole point of RBP as Donald McCaig tells it is not to do a straightforward sequel but to tell the same story from another angle - an idea I love
But it also made me think, what makes this approach work and what doesn't? The Wide Sargasso Sea is now seen as a classic in its own right. Why do I think RBP won't work the same?First if you are going to tell a story from another character's viewpoint I think you have to choose carefully. WSS works I think because the first Mrs Rochester is a) a vital part of Jane Eyre but not a character we know well b) has a crucial if tangential part in the plot c) has meaning beyond her character - the whole concept of the Madwoman in the Attic (Gilbert & Gubar) which has taken on the idea of Victorian ideas surrounding womanhood
Why doesn't Rhett work the same? Well he plays too big a role to start off with; there is lots we don't know about his past, but the interest for the reader is his relationship with Scarlett, a relationship that appears shadowy in this book. So far - although an interesting retelling of the civil war I don't feel hugely different about Mitchell's Atlanta, Scarlett or Rhett so far. There hasn't been a dramatic change in view.
The next point seems rather contradictory but I think it does tie together; in a way McCaig as Whitworth says is rewriting Rhett for a 21st century audience - as the New York Times review makes clear - the recasting of Rhett as Everyman. But do we really want Rhett as Everyman? Does that diminish him?
So my thoughts are: you need a smaller character but one on whom the plot hinges in some way; a character who represents an idea bigger than themselves; a character that in some way we have no firm opinion on or a very crude one word opinion of.
It made me wonder which other classics could actually work if rewritten with minor characters pushed to the forefront. Wuthering Heights is already told by multiple narrators. Rebecca has already performed the trick in a way by being written by the second wife. What others I wonder?

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Regrets? I've had a few....

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

The mental scars....

a piece about soldiers' mental health coming back from Iraq and Afghanistan.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

From bonnets to boutiques

Here's the piece I wrote for the Telegraph after watching Cranford. I surprised myself by really enjoying it....

(enjoyed watching it that is; I enjoyed writing it but expected to)

Thursday, November 22, 2007

The Girl Who Came In From the Cold

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

Tuesday morning life

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

After The Wave

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

The day dawns.....

Off to Nuffield to give my lecture. Finally. Yikes. In the meantime here is a potted version as written for Media Guardian

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

No More Mr Nice Guys

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
http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/main.jhtml?xml=/news/2007/10/15/nming615.xml

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

Congratulations

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 favourite things....

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

The limits of citizen journalism

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

So Gordon Brown has bottled it?

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

No more secrets....?


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.


Meanwhile I am trying to think about morality and disaster reporting. One of the most famous images of famine is one taken by Kevin Carter. In 1993 Carter a member of the so-called Bang Bang Club – a group of white South African photo journalists known for their images of apartheid - went to Sudan to shoot pictures of famine victims who were then dying at the rate of 20 an hour. Seeking relief from the masses, he wandered into the open bush where he saw a small, emaciated girl collapsed from hunger. Then a vulture landed a short distance away. Carter waited 20 minutes hoping the bird would spread its wings and make a better image. It did not and after he snapped several pictures and chased the bird away.


The powerful picture, first used by the New York Times was reproduced around the world. Hundreds of people called the Times to find out what happened to the girl. Carter was praised for capturing the horror of famine and censured for not rescuing the child. Two months after winning a Pulitzer Prize for the photograph, he committed suicide. He had earlier told a friend “I’m really really sorry I didn’t pick the child up”


As Susan D Moeller comments “Being close enough to photograph the starving child meant being close enough to help. The responsibility to bear witness does not automatically outweigh the responsibility to get involved." And Jim Dwyer, Pulitzer Prize winning columnist for the late New York Newsday says the only ethical justification for a reporter’s intrusion into a victim’s life is that he will help.


But if you take that as a starting point where does that leave objectivity?
And (particularly if you take Amartya Sen's dictum that there's never been a famine in a democracy with a free press) what then happens to reporting?
It's difficult to have a debate like this without even sounding heartless but what is the responsibility of the journalist?


Friday, September 28, 2007

Displacement activity while writing up great thoughts on aid, the media etc

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

Is nothing sacred?

Fantastic story here on Media Guardian about the latest Blue Peter woes here. The BBC denies it. What I want to know is what the inappropriate name for the cat is....

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Today and celebrity

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."

Sunday, July 08, 2007

Live Earth


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

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2007/07/07/AR2007070701201.html

Thursday, July 05, 2007

Online marches on

Roy Greenslade on a new study that shows how seriously newspapers are now taking online operations.

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Humanity and aid work
Interesting piece by Mark Snelling of AlertNet about how we talk about "humanising" disasters....
Alan Johnston released

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


Midsummer

It's been the end of term in Oxford; went to the Sheldonian on Thursday to hear Jimmy Carter speak (best line of the night: he said he had once spoken to John Paul II about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The late Pope said there were only two possible solutions: the realistic and the miraculous. The realistic was divine intervention from above; the miraculous would be the Israelis and Palestinians coming to an agreement themselves).

Friday it was Midsummer dinner and yesterday I went to St Hilda's for a garden party to mark Lady English's retirement. It was strange to be there....to see all these women of a certain age, veteran fighters for women's education and rights, with the grey helmets of hair and sensible suits; some with hats and determinedly cheerful faces... and to realise that St Hilda's won't be the same again from 2008. I had accepted that the college has to go mixed, but there was a sadness there in that a vital institution in the fight to get women treated seriously in the university is leaving and when the next principal retires the atmosphere in the farewell party will be very different.

(Before I sound too po-faced on the subject I am well aware that in my time there the college inhabitants were known - still are - as Hildabeasts - and the college itself referred to as the Virgin Megastore. What would Miss Beale and Miss Buss have said).

I'm sitting here in Oxford on Sunday morning trying to rewrite part of my novel and uneasily aware that I've got to work out what I am doing next. I need to find a writing fellowship in order to put off real life further.
PS R4 is obsessed with Glastonbury - I love it when R4 tries to get down with da kids; poor Carolyn Quinn etc. To combat this, I just have to add Adrian Monck's story from Glasto past and to say that I can't wait for Giles Wembley Hogg's take on Tuesday...

Friday, June 15, 2007

The highs and lows....

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.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Managing the Media Banda Aceh style....

My last Alertnet blog on tsunami subjects - how villages in Aceh are using the media to get aid agencies to do what they want.....
Tony Blair take note...
Beauty and the Beasts

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

They still haven't found what they're looking for....

Larry Elliott's verdict on aid and the G8 summit....

Oh and congratulations to my funders, the Guardian - it's the 50,000th issue today

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

The truth about Baby 81

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

How to rebuild after the tsunami
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...
Kiss and make up

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

Skool's out



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

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Reporting Darfur

There's a very interesting story that Megan Rowling of Alertnet has blogged today on why the media has lost interest in Darfur

http://www.alertnet.org/db/blogs/20316/2007/04/23-095243-1.htm

This story is going to get more interesting over coming days....

Also see
http://www.alertnet.org/thefacts/reliefresources/11794931502.htm

And an interesting piece from Nick Cohen on this in the Observer that will annoy a fair few aid workers

http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/story/0,,2089247,00.html

Monday, May 14, 2007

The joy of academia

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.

http://jasss.soc.surrey.ac.uk/9/2/1.html

Can't get this to link....grrr

Normal service to be resumed asap re my own research.

Friday, May 11, 2007

Frequent flyers
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.
http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/south_asia/6496381.stm

(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

Rather him than me....

A friend of mine is cycling from Lands End to John O'Groats....for a good cause. So I thought I'd put up a link.

http://www.justgiving.com/phillejog2007

Monday, May 07, 2007

Back from Batti and Banda Aceh
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

Radio Silence

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

Oxfam appeal on Chad and Darfur

What I've been observing on for the last month

http://www.guardian.co.uk/international/story/0,,2057971,00.html

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

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

The end of Life as we know it


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....

SPOILER ALERT
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....

UPDATE:
Absolutely glorious ending which makes no sense whatsoever. But - hurrah - after a nervous moment at 9.45 - he makes the right decision......
Mind your language
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.
http://headrush.typepad.com/creating_passionate_users/2007/03/as_i_type_this_.html
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

Getting back to my roots


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...
http://www.theatlantic.com/doc/prem/200704/darfur-climate

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

Ups and downs....

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

Guardian Changing Media Summit.....
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

The stuff of dreams....

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:

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/portal/main.jhtml;jsessionid=HPLVLOP1O2MOLQFIQMGCFFOAVCBQUIV0?xml=/portal/2007/03/21/nosplit/ftchicklit21.xml

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

Is nothing sacred?

What would Peter Purves say?

http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/entertainment/6449919.stm
Happy Birthday D

Have a great day
x

Thursday, March 08, 2007

Limits of the internet?
Thanks to Adrian Monck for this piece by Eli Noam in the FT a few years ago before we all get too evangelical about the internet
here



Morning Report

Channel 4 updates its website....http://www.channel4.com/news/watchlisten/morning-report.jsp

Wednesday, March 07, 2007


Running water



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

Killing the messenger....at the rate of two per week

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
Still Ill

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

Happy Birthday
to a friend I lost touch with. I am sorry that it happened - I was angry at the way I felt you treated me.
But I hope you are well and thriving wherever you are. I have every faith you will be.
Pro-Am Journalism?

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

Borrowed and Lent...


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

Deprivation....
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.
Contenders:
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.....!
Survivor
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

The truth about heroin on the NHS

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

Help
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

Happiness....

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

I'm back....
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....