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. 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 -

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

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

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

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)