Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Goliath and the Stars of David

There's nothing better than watching a little guy with a cause punching above his weight, be it at the foot of a beanstalk, on the set of a kung fu film or in the third round of the FA Cup.

Readers of the JC, whose purse strings I now hold, know the feeling well, having seen their favourite Sabbath distraction feed the national media major exclusives three weeks running; from leaked emails at Clarence House to David Abraham's philosophy of giving to the £2 million-a-year Prudential boss who broke his nose during a Sunday football spat.

None of them came easy. The first was classic use of contacts, the second, days of persistence and refusal to take no for an answer and the third a result of tracking down 22 men in shorts and half a dozen in suits, all of whom were one way or another sworn to secrecy.

It's always good to do. Better by far to do it against the odds. And somehow satisfying that it all emanated from the last remaining national newspaper office in EC4.

Saturday, December 01, 2007

In text advertising? In your dreams . . .

The newspapers experimenting with in-text advertising are deluding themselves if they think there is any merit in allowing companies to sponsor words in stories.

There is not and it pains me to think they are people out there daft enough to think there is.

Sky Sports, Dennis Publishing and the Telegraph have decided to let advertisers choose words that relate to their products, highlight them in text and link through to an annoying - and in terms of any sort of editorial credibility, damaging - pop-up ad.

As the Guardian have clearly realised, this is a massive abuse of readers' trust and the thin end of a very dangerous wedge and, wisely, passed. But in America, Vibrant Media claim they are delivering these ads to 110 million web users a month on nearly 3,000 sites, many oif them owned by papers such as The Indianapolis Star, The Arizona Republic, and the Reno Gazette-Journal.

I've encountered these in several previous lives and, once upset my commercial team by calling a meeting with Vibrant to a premature close with the words: "You're having a laugh."

This is intelligent technology used in a very unintellident way. It has bags of potential within advertising features and, used internally, the coding can open up all sorts of possibilities. But at the moment it is a loose cannon. It short-changes readers and is prone to farcical error.

My last contact with this was a discussion involving an ad campaign for BP and the prospect of them sponsoring words such as oil and emission. I was minded to be more civil this time and suggested that, even if I did lose my marbles and cave in, it would do the sponsor few favours to have their smiley pop-ups linked to words that usually make the news pages via stories involving sea birds killed by spillages or suicides involving exhaust pipes and lengths of hose.

On a lighter note, one motoring magazine editor told me he'd shamefully trialled it to find the sponsored word tyre successfully ignited a pop-up for remoulds. But the word rubber gave readers sex dolls.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

When it finally dawned on the Sun

Not that it's any of my business, but I was just a tad depressed that Rebekah Wade wrote to her staff to ask them to get behind plans to embrace the web and publish on a “truly global scale”.

It's 2007, 13 years since newspapers began to embrace a medium their kids already had and, more significantly for her, more than two years since Rupert Murdoch told editors exactly that.

The Sun has had a very successful site for a long time. Its use of images has, ahem, made it very clickable but, more importantly, they've had a clever editor in Pete Picton who knew all about recreating and enhancing a successful brand online.

A few years ago, Wade blamed the success of Sun Online for the drop in her paper's circulation. Picton was quizzed on this during a panel discussion at an AOP event shortly afterwards and diplomatically sidestepped. But we all knew it was nonsense. Web hits were growing, print sales were falling and the relationship between the two in terms of cause and effect were limited.

Even so, the Sun apart, this does paint a time capsule picture of journalism as a whole and one which rings true.

For too long, too many senior journalists dismissed the Web as they would an advertising supplement, embraced it when the penny dropped that their futures depended on it and are chasing the game in understanding the logistics of how it works.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Blogger blags his way into the NUJ

The NUJ's acceptance of Endgadget blogger Conrad Quilty Harper as a member marks a significant milestone in its history. They've always had strict rules about who qualifies, traditionally judging applications on the percentage of their earnings from actual journalism to root out the village correspondents and pamphleteers.

It shows how far the union and the media have come but begs the question, notwithstanding the NUJ's resistance to many things new media - and taking into account its membership has seen better days - why on earth would he want to join a union in the first place?

Friday, November 16, 2007

So, what does the future hold?

All this talk of the Web 2.0 journalist is causing much disquiet among those who hold the key to its future.

During two lively QandA sessions at Cardiff University yesterday, I was faced four times with questions that, however phrased, boiled down to: "What on earth will employers want from us when we qualify?"

It was no good me reassuring them that their core investigative skills and writing ability would be enough, and that colleges of this quality equip them technically well in the first place, although I do stand by it.

And it didn't help that I predicted yet more redundancies as papers talking up convergence actually converge and work to a business model that gets close to the management ideal of a few multi-skillers doing the job of many - and getting a return on the fortunes they's spent on their infrastructure.

But that's still a way off as it involves a technical interface that publishers are still struggling to get to grips with and a broadcast-style editorial management that is often equally misunderstood.

Anyway, before we get carried away, It's probably worth reiterating that I don't envisage any great sea change in the way these guys will be operating, save for the fact that some of them will be using a bit more kit from time to time than they would have done when the Sun was broadsheet.

(pause here and spare a thought for all those agency hacks of the 70s filing fudges, flongs and snaps, banging off a pic on the court steps, an off-the-cuff page top for the evenings, an overnighter for the mornings, a backgrounder for the Sundays, then dashing to the game and filing updates for local radio live from a phone in the press box)

The real challenge for educators remains in producing reporters who can think on their feet, file quickly, with clarity and authority, ask questions that get answers quickly and develop and maintain contacts that will produce copy to justify a place on an ever emerging plethora of platforms.

As for the technical challenges they're worried about, be they using a microphone or tagging story files for searchability, they'll absorb them before lunch on their induction day. And I speak from years of experience watching interns get to grips with applications it took weeks for the newsroom to grasp.

At the moment many publishers, no matter how they have rearranged their desks, are still operating a two-tier system which distinguishes those who write from those who upload. Because, often, the best uploaders are post-grads who've never seen the inside of a council chamber, let alone doorstepped a minister, and the best writers can't, or won't, lower themselves to filing web-only chunks on a running story, let alone learn how a new CMS works.

So, until the new wave comes through with the attitude and skills to produce well-sourced, old-fashioned exclusives at any time on platforms they see as no more complex than an ipod, we're stuck with newsrooms struggling to make sense of the brave new world.

And it doesn't help that many of the driving forces are so adrift from reality, they are still referring to the crown jewells of their endeavours as "content".

Those who think that's what it is - and defer to it as being "king" - should abdicate.

Monday, November 12, 2007

The rights and wrongs of David Montgomery

David Montgomery is right to criticise pay on regional newspapers. I told my first editor I wanted to learn the trade and was bollocked for using a blue collar word. He left me in no doubt, it was a profession.

That's as maybe but, 30 years on, it's hard to justify paying a daily paper reporter who exposes a paedophile ring in Newcastle or a columnist in Manchester who changes the way a Bill on disability is drafted thousands of pounds less than a graduate who uploads video to a national website.

But he's delusional if he thinks you can dispense with subs and maintain any sort of professional credibilty at the same time.

He's come in for some criticism from subs who, rightly, shudder at the thought of some of the text-speak masquerading as copy going straight into print. But, to be fair, I think he was talking about new, digital platforms.

If so, and he really thinks all subs do is "check things that don't need to be checked", he's completely misunderstood the way stories are presented - and absorbed - online.

Never mind the words, good Web subbing - chunking, linking, classifying, teasing, updating, editing for SEO - will give "content" the "context" it needs to justify publishing in a free-to-air medium struggling to pay for itself.

And no matter hard you try - and all of the big boys are really trying - I've yet to find software to do that.

What surprises me most though is that the Monty I knew spent as brief a time he as could actually writing anything. His ambition was to get into the editors chair as fast as possible - and he chose the fastest route. Subbing.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Heather Mills McCartney and GMTV

Heather Mills McCartney plans to use the European Court of Human Rights to make the press more accountable, she announced this morning during a gripping 10-minute tirade on the GMTV sofa.

She's been so abused by the press since her split with Paul she has contemplated suicide and even handed a dossier of evidence to a pal to make public in the event of a death threat against her being carried out.

She revealed this to a clearly embarrassed Fiona Phillips who struggled to introduce "balance" by hinting that some of the attention may have been down to her. But She swept it aside, producing scrapbooks the size of windows, strong anecdotal evidence and the kind of controlled emotion and salient detail, the most seasoned interviewer would be pleased to extract.

She rebuffed allegations about killing a neighbour's dog, demanding millions in her divorce settlement, citing 4,400 'abusive artciles', rubbishing claims about her glamour-model past and citing uncomfortable truths in the Tabloid anticents from Hillsborough to Diana to the McCanns.

Phillips shuffled a lot, clearly under pressure to shut her up, not because much of it was uncomfortable lisening, but they needed an ad break.

Mills closed by predicting the press will now have more of a go at her for speaking out and she may well be right. But if she performs like this. certainly in PR terms, she'll make a formidable opponent. And I'll bet hits to Enough is Enough campaign , go through the roof as a result.

I did wonder when the GMTV site, would bother to mention it. It took three hours. Not exactly a breaking news operation, but the videos were well worth a look, until they mysteriously disappeared from view again.

Odd. This'll be all over the nationals tomorrow.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Fleet Street and memory lanes

I was chuffed to bits to get a mention in Patrick Stoddart's speech at the recent Echo and Post reunion in Hemel Hempstead.

Why? Not because I was a star feature writer being courted by Fleet Street like him, but it was where I got my first break in newspapers - as a tea boy.

Yes, I made tea, fetched expenses, ran copy to the composing room and generally ran errands for most of the big names who gathered at Hemel Hempstead football club for what was a decent hours of nostalgia. I once even washed the news editor's car, made the odd trip to the dry cleaners and even played in goal for the work's team.

It was the politically-incorrect seventies and I had the sort of haircut you see on old match of the day clips. Some of the subs took the piss out of my tie-dye T-shirt, Mike Ryder (chief sub) got my name wrong for about nine months and Eric Harris (sports desk) never referred to me as anything other than the "curly-headed twat".

I once nearly stopped the paper coming out when one of the print unions threatened to strike because I swept up cat droppings in the loading bay in breach of some demarkation and was "caught" returning a dustpan to a maintenance locker.

Like I said, this was the seventies. I briefly joined Natsopa to appease the militants baying for blood. Just as well because a week later, I was passing the composing room when I spotted a strip of headline (waxed bromide to anyone under 50) that had come away from a page and was lying sticky-side up on the floor.

The page had been 'rolled' and was ready for plating so I, helpfully, stuck it back at the top of the page - just as the FoC rounded the corner and threatened to convene, there and then, in the car park.

Another time, the chief reporter asked me to fetch a back copy so he could complete a backgrounder. It was urgent, he was on deadline so I legged to stores where an old tosser called Arthur, who sat among six months' worth in a wooden hut, steadfastly refused to part with anything until he'd had his tea break.

Great days for a young blood watching and waiting for his chance.

But it does seem I'm not the only one who's moved on.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

To be a star you need star quality

Janet Street Porter bent a few ears with a rant about the freak show that the X-Factor has become, slagging off judges who spend fortunes on facelifts and hours in make-up before humiliating poor, talentless and massively overweight contestants.

She’s dead right. The conveyer belt that allowed poor Emma Chawner to get through four off-screen auditions before being put in the stocks that is prime time entertainment was designed to feed our insatiable (check the ratings) appetite for seeing lesser mortals treated with ridicule and contempt.

And there was mileage in this story. The Sun got to say 'Fat's yer lot', TV-am had the entire family on the couch (a feat in itself) and Street Porter got to atone for all her involvement in reality shows.

But while all this was going on, one of the best talents ever to have emerged from such TV auditions was treating a few thousand of us to a concert at the Albert Hall in aid, not vanity, but of people close to her heart whose plight deserves far more attention than any wannabe pop star.

Patti Boulaye won the 70s equivalent, New Faces, scoring the highest marks in the history of the series and went on to enjoy a fabulous career doing everything from Carmen Jones to having her own Channel Four show.

But in the two years I’ve known her, she’s hardly sung a note. The voice I’ve heard recently has often been one of near-exhaustion as she takes five minutes away from her relentless toil, raising money for her Aids charity Support for Africa from her Buckinghamshire home. She’s called in favours from showbiz mates, spent hours on the phone, on the road and at her computer doing what most high-profile benefactors would hire legions of staff to do – and built health centres in her native Nigeria and surrounding countries that have saved countless lives.

And all the time her career has been on hold. In fact, when she is asked to sing, she invariably waives the fee in return for a donation. When John Major rang and asked her to appear at an event he was organising, she agreed to sing for free in return for his name as patron; something of little benefit to her but massive benefit to the charity.

Rarely have I met such a driven individual. I’ve often wondered how she found time to sleep, let alone rehearse, but on Sunday she took a break from the office, slipped into something snazzy, lined up alongside the likes of Boney M, the New Seekers and Peter Sarstedt – and blew them off the stage.

Her voice was as powerful and pure as the time in the nineties when she became, in producer Simon Callow’s words, the best Carmen Jones ever. Now, she assures me, she plans to take a break from fundraising and get back in front of a microphone.

I hope so but I’ll believe it when I see (or should I say hear) it. In the meantime, if we really have to endure more TV auditions to find the likes of the next Patti, or Lennie Henry or Les Dennis, may I suggest we spare the no-hopers the heartbreak and cut to a shortlist of one: her daughter, Aret.

I didn’t even know she was a singer until this week, but having taken one of the country’s most prestigious venues by storm, I do now.

Judges take note.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Where there's a Will, there's a way

Glad for the chance to help out my old pal, Will Lewis, yesterday.

The energetic Telegraph editor-in-chief was due to speak at the end of Tuesday's Independent Publisher's Forum conference when he got the wrong train and found himself in Peterborough - instead of Grantham 30-odd miles away where delegates were awaiting his keynote address.

As the final business session ended, organisers made a frantic series of calls, to be assured that, as far as Victoria Plaza was concerned, he had boarded the train from London.

But as it came and went and the hapless driver laid on to collect him reported no sign of him or his sidekick, they decided to wind up the conference and let delegates dash for trains of their own.

Faced with the prospect of the great man arriving to an empty room, I discreetly got a message to Victoria that the audience were being told of the mishap and urged to make their way home. Some did, slipping out of side doors as votes of thanks were taken.

Quick as a flash, his wide-awake PA rang my mobile with the news that he was "literally minutes away", having just dived into a cab and Yours Truly had to break the news that the event was "literally breaking up". Anyway, (just for old times. Call me nostalgic)I poked my head back into the room like some apologetic Best Man and caught the eye of the podium.

Seconds later, most of the room sat itself down again, tactfully spreading out this time, and I returned to my seat eagerly waiting to find out what had happenned behind the scenes at the Telegraph since I cleared my desk.

And Will was back where he's most comfortable (in the hub) - and, er, spoke.

Monday, August 27, 2007

Who's World Cup is it anyway?

The lunatics are attempting another coup on the asylum as a sporting body once again gets too far up itself and tries to tell newspapers what they can and can't print.

A few years ago it was FIFA who made a half-arsed attempt to put time constraints on when pictures could be published on websites and limits on the number that could be used.

Then the football leagues insisted they'd only let newspapers into games if they signed up to licensing rules, which included a two-hour delay on pictures being published and a cut of the lolly from fantasy competitions.

Now the rubgy world cup organisers have joined them in cuckoo land with their own accreditation rules. They've produced 18 pages of Ts and Cs insisting, among a host of other things, that "only five images can be used per half", none can be transmitted via mobile phones. And that Rugby World Cup Ltd can use for free any images taken by any accredited photographers.

The Newspaper Publlishers Association are making all the right noises and could hit back by blocking out sponsors names on hoardings and shirts. But it's tit for tat.

The only real response would be to bin all the forms, ignore all official routes, cover games from the stands, cranes or low-flying baloons as necessary and impose the entirely refreshing and justifiable anarchy of the most vitriolic fanzine.

Then we'd have a game.

They need to be told, in the words of the people on the terraces who pay for every Porsche in the car park and every designer shirt on their backs: you're havin' an effin' larf mate.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Racist? Not in the US

Pete Symes has left an interesting comment on my Big Brother race row post below - Emily's out, but it's not black and white. Would I have still been concilliatory had she made am antisemitic comment?

Depends what she said I suppose but he's right to hint at possible double-standards. In the US version, cocktail waitress Amber Siyavus Tomcavage did more than let slip a single word. She let rip with what can only be described as a rant against everything and anything Jewish.

It hacked off the Anti Defamation League when it was shown live in the USBB website and prompted an assurance from CBS that they don't condone such behaviour.

But the tirade was not picked for the edited version of the show that night - and, unlike dippy Emily, motormouth Amber stayed in the show.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Snappy memories

I met a few long-time pals for a pub crawl in EC4 on Friday. We started out in the Harrow off Fleet Street and ended up in the Press Club somewhere down Memory Lane.

Of the group, I was the only one who'd gone 'indoors' to sub, fattened my arse in an editor's chair and joined the suits upstairs, which to traditional ragged-notebook hacks like these, must seriously have nudged me towards the tossersphere.

I was also the last to show; they hadn't exactly been on fruit juice, and proceeded to roll back 30-odd years and take the piss mercilessly.

Now, I'm sure we all put the intro in the last par when we were 19,
stayed for one more over lunchtime and came back to find the jury had delivered and gone but I had to put my hands up when Peter Rose (ex-NoW crime staffer) reminded everyone of the time I tried my hand as a paparazzo.

We were all young bucks on the Herts Headline News Agency, making a name for ourselves among the murders, poisonings and arsons that played out five days a week at St Albans Crown Court.

I'd been covering a rape. It was a trial due to end before the weekend and the Sundays were looking for a picture. Easy peasy. The accused was on bail and always left the building for lunch. All I had to do was snap him as he left.

On this particular day, I'd left a 35mm Practica with the copper on the front desk and run down the stairs at 12.59, a tactical minute before the judge would sniff the decanter and clear the room.

Until then, my photographic training had consisted of scuttling around village streets trying to snap colleagues as they dipped in an out of alleys. I couldn't tell an f-stop from a bus stop but I knew I had to keep the camera steady to shoot a target on the move.

The other thing about shooting thugs is that they rarely pose. Small-time hoods who think they're the Kray twins do. But most of them either take a poke at the lense or leg it.

So I had my chunky-monkey pal Ross Francis stand outside in wait. I then stood behind him, rested the telephoto on his shoulder and held down the shutter, hoping to nab a few frames before the Beast of Borehamwood sussed he was destined for a 25-double on page five and ran for cover.

There was a minor scuffle, and a few snarls, threats and obscenities later, the said perv was, as Mr Rose would have put it, bang to rights. Mr Francis took the camera back to the office, I went back into court and the film was developed. Clear as crystal, I was later told. A result. All we needed was a guilty verdict, a judge prepared to chuck away the key and it'd be money in the bank.

But it wasn’t to be. I rang the office later to plaudits. The pictures were as sharp as the boss's tongue and in the overnight post. I couldn't believe it, I reckoned I'd have been lucky to get one off before his mate in the white suit squared up and blocked my view.

His mate? White suit? You mean, that’s not him? F*** me, it's on its way to the Screws picture desk...

Luckily, Jim Last, the chief reporter had the nous to chase the GPO van from post box to post box all the way back to the sorting office where he begged for it back. They refused, quoting all sorts of rules, but finally agreed to tear it up instead.

And there it lay. On the floor. In shreds.

Just like my pap career.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Blind dates? Don't be daft, we're all watching . . .

My long-term relationship with the Telegraph ended with an amicable parting a year ago as I took my GSOH off in search of a new soulmate.

But anyone looking for a similarly meaningful attachment may well be mightily p****d off if they've used the paper's website to play cupid.

From memory, what greets users of their dating channel is a neat piece of functionality that allows even the most luddite lonely heart to post their details safe in the knowledge that they'll engaging with other Telegraph types.

What they actually risk is their picture being plastered over large parts of the site for all to see.

They're auto-generated and designed to pop up in the right-hand navigation on stories in sections with a leisurely tone. It's a clever device to drive up page visits but sadly typical of some of the more madcap ones I would, in a previous life, have strangled at birth.

They will undoubtedly increase awareness of an area of the site many core readers will not know about but it shows a worrying lack of insight. This type of service, in the wider context, is all about discretion. This is a world of cosy nicknames, box numbers, neutral venues and discreet introductions. Not one in which singletons stand on tables in crowded bars and shout "I'm free."

And certainly, I can't imagine anyone being too chuffed at posting a photo to an area I'd envisaged to be members only and found it appearing next to the headline Scary Monster.

I'm sure that, if the participants wanted their pictures flyposted on billboards or stuck to telephone boxes,they'd have saved their joining fee and done just that.

I'll give it 48 hours before the penny drops and someone chaperones them away from the public gaze.

Friday, June 29, 2007

Trinity, trains its sights on the future

Trinity Mirror has become the latest publisher to send its journalists back into the classroom to learn how multimedia works.

Spending a week learning how to shoot video certainly has practical merit and the fact that they’re doing it in conjunction with the University of Teesside will benefit a lot of them.

But I was most impressed that Editorial director Neil Benson and head of multimedia Michael Hill are doing the rounds of the papers, giving tips on how to optimise their searching.

So many print journalists still know nothing of CAR or the wonders of what we used to call Deep Web, and many think if Google can’t find it, it doesn’t exist.

Over at Reed Business, meanwhile, I gather staff are being taught the benefits of SEO and encouraged to write for “findability”.

Good stuff, but word reaches me that the company plans to put all new recruits through psychometric tests designed to assess their ability to write online.

Search terms fail me.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

TV gives us the press we deserve

Bill Hagerty let his nostalgia run wild with his Inside Story spread in the Independent, recalling six of the best TV media dramas, from Compact (which my mum watched) to Ugly Betty (which my kids watch).

I'd have been peeved if he hadn't included Lou Grant, the news editor I wanted to work for when I was a junior reporter covering Bodmin magistrates and dreaming of covering LA City Hall.

Actually, I secretly modelled myself on Joe Rossi, the Tribune's own Carl Bernstein who drank gallons of coffee, had more snouts than a bacon factory and exposed the crap out of mobsters and politicians on a golfball typewriter.

Hagerty also mentions Drop the Dead Donkey, Hot Metal, and State of Play. But he's left the best ones out, so for the record, there's:

1. Mitch, a grizzled Fleet Street hack played by a post-Sweeney John Thaw in the early eighties. He wore a raincoat, moaned about the world, looked divorced and was convinced life was a cover-up.

Best moment: risking his life to bag a world exclusive and retiring to the Pen and Wallet to be told: 'the printers have walked out again.'

2. Lytton's Diary with sitcom smoothie Peter Bowles; all g and t and cravats and set in the world of the gossip columnist.

Best moment; when it was revealed that behind all the schmoozing was his desire to write a book and that no-one would touch it.

3. Hold The Back Page, which followed sport's Poet laureat, Ken Wordsworth as he left a posh broadsheet to slug it out on a tabloid, pitting himself against a gobshite upstart called Steve Stevens waving a big chequebook and a bigger ego.

It was all about excess. Everyone earned buckets, filed copy from El Vinos and stitched each other up. The opening scene even saw Wordsworth take a 20-yard taxi ride to cross the road to his new job.

It was on during the red top heyday when Kelvin McKenzie's Sun was still rising and no-one questioned expenses.

Best moment; when his paper wanted to sponsor a teenage tennis star they hoped would become Britain's first black 1imbledon winner. They asked their best headline writer to come up with a name that evoked British and winning. He came up with Winston Bingo. When it wasn't erhnic enough, he said Winston Umbingo.

Friday, June 15, 2007

Such big ambitions

I always scan the student journalism awards to see if I can lay claim to any successes and big up my credentials on the back of someone else's hard work.

I'll occasionally see a name from somewhere such as Sheffield, where I've been twice, or Kingston, where I've been once, and convince myself that a 30-minute seminar on 'sharpening style' set some snapper on the road to greatness and they'll see the potential for a column I can write on the beach in 20 years' time.

But today I had to look no further than the student team awards section to find suchsmallportions.com, the product of a group from City University and one I described as the best student site I'd ever been involved with.

Judge for yourself. I have my fingers crossed.

Friday, June 08, 2007

Emily's out, but it's not black and white

Boy, the knives are out for Emily Parr, the loose-lipped BB blonde who blurted out a word Mark Twain couldn’t have completed a novel without.

The Sun have managed to drag up a former student pal who gleefully recalled how she used to make racist remarks at college and the Mirror doorstepped an uncle long enough to confirm he was “sickened, disgraced, shocked and appalled” before even got to the second par.

I admit I was one of the first to condemn the baying mob that victimised Shilpa Shetty earlier this year but had that furore been avoided would we really have had to endure the ritual public execution of a 19-year-old dragged out of bed, bleary-eyed and still in a nightdress?

OK, it was great television. And she didn’t do herself any favours by admitting she uses the word “at home”, something bound to get family and friends running for cover.

But, come on, whatever she has or hasn’t done in the past, what she did yesterday was no more than an attempt at rappin’ with her mates?

And wasn’t the real architect of her demise, fellow housemates Charley (a better Little Britain character than anything Matt Lucas could devise) and the scheming Shabnam, who stoked a spat into a full-blown incident.

As a result, the eviction vote was cancelled and Shabnam was spared the indignity of being voted out.

With not one but two Jews in the house (health worker Carole Vincent may not have come out like former model Zach Lichman, but she is) I can’t wait for the first anti-semite to reveal themselves.

Then we'll have a real reality show.

Thursday, June 07, 2007

Choking on my Cornflakes

GMTV are really plumbing the depths. Their story on the family hounded out of a series of council estates because they have ginger hair was misguided and plain naïve.

I squirmed as the reporter listened intently to their stories of graffiti and abuse and how their young rascals can’t play outside safely. For two reasons.

Only one of them was a real ginger, even after I adjusted my set – and the neighbours were united in their view - that they were the family from hell.

Not the first time the newsroom has learnt to its cost that they may have got the angle slightly wrong. I was once bollocked when a news editor read my council-blamed-for-damp-house story and found a quote from the town hall claiming that they had a paraffin heater in every room and had blocked the air bricks to stop the draft.

It never made page 29, let alone national TV. Odd. That I could find it the Sky News site on but not on GMTV’s. Or maybe it’s not.

Anyway, I'm not alone in thinking a little old fashioned news judgement wouldn't have gone amiss.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Great Britons - or great expectations?

Couldn’t get over the shortlist for ITVs Greatest Living Briton 2007. The Queen v Robbie Williams?

Anyway, it struck a chord, especially when Gordon Brown was rolled out to say a few words. Gordon was at the Guildhall a couple of years ago when, as editor of Telegraph New Media, we helped to launch what was to be an annual Great Britons competition with Morgan Stanley.

I was actually very enthusiastic about this. I don’t know why we are so obsessed with defining our identity but I know we are, and thought it was bang-on what our readers would go for.

Anyway, I did throw myself into it somewhat, often trying every marketing trick I could muster to tease more votes out of readers and give it a good show. The highlight was the star-studded dinner at which the great and the swigged champagne and the winner was announced to a fanfare.

So good were those bashes that, when I left last year mid-campaign on what would have been Great Britons 2006, I reminded the organisers that I was still expecting an invitation, for old times.

Absolutely, I was told. No problem old boy. Wouldn’t be the same without you. Then, when it came to putting names on the seats, they blew me out with a . . . hmm, places are a little tight. We’ll see what we can do.

They didn't.

A British trait? Saying one thing and doing another? Now, that's just too cynical.

Monday, May 21, 2007

Plane confused

A friend of a friend was on a plane, so I’m told, when a chap offered her a paper to read to pass the time. As you do.

When they touched down, he was amazed to learn she was not keen to go for a drink with him. Amazed? Because he’s given her a paper, not once, but two or three times. Surely, he insisted, she understood the ‘code’.

The code?

Sure, the paper represents a pass, a subtle chat-up. Having accepted it, she was “giving off all the right signals”.

She was baffled. And so was I. And so was the fashion editor, the music critic, the nose-to-the-ground columnist and the Rolex-wearing trendy f****er in Paul Smith suits I know in media buying.

Any ideas? I'd love to know.

Mind you, assuming this wasn’t a wind-up, I really should have asked what paper she was offered. It may have given a clue to Mr Mile-High’s intentions?

The Scotsman: Fancy a dram? I’ll pay you back.

The Catholic Herald: I have protection. But it’s under the seat.

The Mail: Education is crap, the health service is third-world and crime is out of control. Let's do it. We’ll be dead soon anyway.

The Independent: Let me bore you rigid.

The Metro: Come on, it’ll only take a minute.

The Big Issue: Sorry, but it’ll have to be your place. Oh, and any chance of breakfast in the morning?

Just a thought.

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Take note (or should i say notes)

Have I missed something or are we really, seriously,
debating the merits of the email interview?.

The spat between Wired and the internet entrepreneur Jason Calcanis seems to have sparked some interesting exchanges in which the likes of Dan Gilmour appear to suggest they are a valid tool for newsgathering.

Surely not.

Any media students reading this take note. Email interviews reduce our craft to that of the market researcher. That's it: form-filling.

Why? Because there's no exchange, no prompting, no interaction between those with something to say and those who will persuade them to say it.

I'm not talking about the quicky Q and A; Metro's 60-second interview, official statements and advertorials. In fact, a written exchange with a reclusive celeb could even be more revealing - I'm talking about the worrying trend to assume that everything can be done from behind a keyboard.

It can't.

Merely publishing email responses would be like asking interviewees to send in footage of themselves for a video slot or a tape for a podcast. Good reporting is all about context. All this seems a step too close to allowing people to check over your notes.

As for the argument that it cuts down on the chance of getting anything wrong. There's a simple answer to that: Try harder at getting it right.

Monday, April 23, 2007

Union hijack

Just when some of you may have thought it was safe to go back into the dear old NUJ . . .

Words fail me. They do. They really do.

Friday, April 13, 2007

Happy birthday NUJ

One hundred and still going strong. I haven't been to a party since your daft letter of condolence to Colonel Gadaffi for bombing his country.

But fun memories nonetheless. Here are my best bits:

1973: As a cub reporter showing my face at the payroll-style window in Acorn House every Tuesday morning to pick up the list of jobs they compiled for those of us on the move.

. . . then disappearing across the road to the Lucas Arms and ringing everyone on the list with my Morris Minor van parked with a full tank outside. Got my first senior job that way.

1979: As a senior reporter attending my first branch meeting in St Albans, a city with (then) a massive weekly, a huge evening, two freesheets and a couple of agencies.

. . . then wondering why only three people turned up and arguing with Ms Millitant over why I wasn't going to join a lineage pool. Left in a huff, got up early and flogged the page three lead to the Daily Star.

1983: As an editor hiring my best mate to run a district office in Biggleswade and persuading him to come over for a chapel meeting "to meet the gang".

. . . then having him emerge a few hours later as FOC and taking me to task for allegedly capping expenses. W***er

1985: As a downtable sub joining Eddy Shah's non-union Today and, a year on and under new management, trudging a mile through Pimlico's back streets to a recruitment-drive chapel meeting.

. . . then joining the steady flow of colleagues back out again, calling it to an early close and complaining they'd left the Mail/Express/Mirror "to get away from all this". Felt ill. First time I'd heard of RSI.

1992: As a chief sub, working through night with a handful of execs during the Montgomery Mirror dispute while all the casuals picketed the front door.

. . . then telling a rookie shipped in from a local paper to f*** off when he tried to book future shifts "if your mates don't get back in". Came out of it unscathed but was attacked for handing out first editions to Monty's security guards at 2am. Blimey. Wasn't their fault.

2000: As a publisher, popping up to Acorn House for the first time in 27 years to discuss the fate of the staff I'd reluctantly had to send home when the company closed.

. . . then, over a brew and a biscuit, sitting down with sensible grown-up people for a grown-up chat knowing we were pulling together for the sake of our pals/staff/members. Briefly, thought of rejoining.

Conclusion 1: As a reporter/sub, I wasn't keen on being part of the collective bargaining system and soon tired of local paper chapel meetings. In the 70s, they were always in the back rooms of pubs serving real ale and the ringleaders wore beards and held whip-rounds for "colleagues" I'd never heard of in countries I couldn't pronounce.

Conclusion 2: As an editor/manager I, oddly, found myself favouring collectivism as a way of knocking company-wide issues on the head. The few dealings I had with head office were even-handed and generally supportive of both views.

Happy birthday. Pint of Old Grumbler next time we meet?

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Going overboard?

Never mind whether it was right or wrong for the Iran sailors to sell their stories, I can't help feeling a pang of sympathy for their claims of over-zealous reporting of their release.

I don't suppose I'd be too chuffed if I’d survived a harrowing ordeal only to be depicted as grovelling before a dictator I'd deliberately greeted with nonchalence.

I do know we rarely favour the weaker verbs when it comes to painting a picture for readers though.

Frank Lampard must’ve felt hard done by when he read in the Mirror that he “cowered” when a fan ran on to the pitch and took a swing. I saw the incident. He ducked rather neatly and was back on his toes in a snap like a boxer.

I’ve been around red tops long enough to know what it's like to hand stories to subs with the instruction: ‘It’s all there. Just work up a bit’. I’ve also seen stories undersold because we haven’t been incisive enough in our description.

One moment springs to mind though. A story about a runaway car “careering” into a shopping arcade would have been dramatic enough without the sub’s intro which began “Terrified shoppers fled as . . .” It wouldn’t have been so bad but for the last par from the witness who said “It was a miracle no-one was in the way.”

The story may have been otherwise well written but the intro and payoff matched like roast beef and custard, which is a point the “witness” made when he rang to ask who, other than him, had failed to spot a single fleeing shopper, let alone a terrified one.

He was as right as the “Irate councillor” who rang me to tell me that, yes, he did insist on getting an answer from the chairman of planning but had barely raised his voice, let alone “raged” or “angrily retorted” when he failed to get one.

And there wasn’t a miracle either. I just didn’t want to point it out at the time.

Friday, March 23, 2007

A funny thing happened on the way to graduation

Heard the one about the students who shut themselves away in a basement for two months without food or water or sleep, just so they could build the best comedy website they'd ever seen?

They almost died laughing.

Boom boom.

Okay, I won't make it on the comedy circuit. But the students just might. Suchsmallportions.com was the brainchild of Josh Widdicombe and fellow MA students at City University in London. What began as an online magazine project with Yours Truly the guiding light quickly gathered pace and became one of the most professional and commercially promising sites I've seen in seven years of teaching.

It's certainly the first one I've puffed and, if you follow this link, you'll see why. It's packed with news, reviews, quirky podcasts and clips from smokey clubs. There are even some adverts starting to appear. When I joined them to swig champagne from the bottle a few days before the launch, they were already 43p in profit.

Most pleasing for me was the way in which, from the day we met to brainstorm ideas in a classroom, they were thinking commercially. No hobbies, no indulgences, no 'how can I get the guy with glasses to upload my 3,000-word travel essay (think I'm joking?), just a fresh approach to a subject that's ripe for the web.

OK, so they did most of their thinking in the pub, but some - such as design guru Aaron Davis (guy with glasses) did spend up to 14 hours a day underground and PR mastro Anna Winston (girl with a smile) did get get out there and spread the word on the club scene. One promoter even compared their style to early NME which chuffed them to bits.

One of the best features is the Showcase section which allows comedians to submit clips of their act with a promise that they'll appear live if they're funny enough. The ones there so far a worth a chuckle and it deserves to gather pace.

All in all, it's quite endearing to see the surprise on young faces when they present a really quite good idea and get a really positive response. I just hope they stick with it all the way.

Who knows, they could be laughing all the way to the bank.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Just what is it with Kate Moss?

Alexandra Shulman went into some detail when telling the Independent why she has just used Kate Moss on the cover of Vogue for the 24th time in 24 years.

A year ago she was being pilloried by the Mirror in a cocaine expose. There were some who suggested her career was on the wane. But it wasn’t. If anything, her profile rose on the back of some high-profile TV ad spin-offs.

So why does nothing stick to her? Because while she may break a few rules in private, she doesn’t try to bend them in public – and attack our sensibilities in the process.

What I mean by that is, she does what she does and that’s all. She poses, she walks the catwalk, she appears in ads and takes up acres of space in magazines. But that’s it. She isn’t a model-turned-pop-star or a pop-star turned actress or a footballer’s wife-turned-fashion designer-turned UN ambassador.

She does one thing well and doesn’t bore us with trite opinions or reality TV appearances.

Grazia and Heat need her like OK! and Hello used to need Liz Hurley. She’s a story when she wears Ugg boots and when she carries a Dior bag, when her weight drops and when she doesn’t do what most columnists want, and drop her boyfriend.

Cleverly, or very cleverly advised, she just keeps her mouth shut and looks good. And that’ll never go out of fashion.

Monday, March 12, 2007

I've seen the future - and it's a lesson for us all

Students at the University of Westminster took a step closer to the the real world on Friday when their new multi-media newsroom was opened by the BBC's director of news Helen Boaden.

It cost £120,000, several years to get off the ground, is possibly the first of its kind and mirrors the sort of newsrooms major publishers are begining to create.
Boaden was clearly impressed as she joined a large group of invited guests to watch a 30-minute broadcast before being asked to perform the only low-tech function of the day - cut a ribbon.

It's an advance of which the university is rightly proud but also one that will massively benefit students. The best part of the event was watching the students doing their stuff on screen, rough-edges and all. Hundreds of hours in lecture theatres and poring over books can never match the sheer doing of the job.

As a visting lecturer at Westminster I'll be watching development closeley, not least to see what we 'experts' can learn and take back to industry. After all, what better guinea pigs that the bright young people we'll all probably end up working for in a few years.

During wine, nibbles and schmoozing afterwards, several people asked me how that prepared to the Telegraph newsroom but I couldn't oblige as I'd left on the eve of the move to Victoria.

The only insights I could offer were that it's a lot noisier than Victoria (I'm told even those breaking in new shoes do so publicly) and the students buy their own coffees on site. From what I hear the cost of a cuppa is considered so dear, there's a constant stream of people in and out of Starbucks at Victoria station.

Thursday, March 08, 2007

Some things you can't teach

I shared an office this week with one journalist who posed the question, having hacked into a series of net-linked printers in distant offices, surely I'm only invading privacy if I hit the 'print' key my end.

A few minutes later, I 'helped' one of his colleagues sift thousands of online documents quickly by introducing him to the "magic" (his words) of CTRL-F.

Revelation. And it took me back to the point-the-mouse-at-the-icon days when dear old cardigans who defied smoking bans at their desks actually held the mouse in mid-air and pointed at the screen. (And don't let anyone tell you those tales are apocryphal).

On the way home I read Jeff Jarvis's musings on the essential skills he is teaching his journalism students in New York. Amid the maze of multi-skilling, some, he says, fleetingly wonder whether they had made the wrong career move.

It's understandable. There's a lot to take in these days. If nothing else, the demands of multi media mean the shy may flinch at podcasting, those with private lives - or nowt to say - may not want them aired on blogs and there must be more than one out there in the "even my mum says I'm no oil-painting" category who's not keen on standing in front of a camera with a mike in their hands.

Still, it's progress. Ask anyone in Fleet Street a few years ago why they left reporting to sub and they'd invariably say either the regular hours or not having to actually meet the great unwashed they write for.

But the career move stuff is something I hear a lot. I visit six universities on a regular basis to give "the talk" to media undergrads; the tea-boy-to-editor stuff with all the anecdotes.

It's clear seeing them in the classrooms and studios that they eat up the technical stuff because they're already multi-ligual. A 19-year-old who's toyed with Paintshop in his bedroom takes to Photoshop in minutes, the Qarkers become InDesigners and the Flashers become Dreamweavers.

I could have put that better, but you get my drift. Almost always what the young want to hear are tales of phoning every Smith in the book to track the kidnap girl's parents, standing in the rain outside a film-star's flat with a bunch of flowers or covertly following a lorry full of dodgy waste to stand up the Toxic Timebomb headline.

How they deliver the message is more of a detail. Years ago when I worked for David Montgomery at News International, he interrupted my clever-dick guide to direct input to tell out latest star signing 'wrap up the technical crap - we need to talk about exclusives'. His point was, let's get him doing what he does, he'll pick up this screen and keyboard thingy as he goes.

The world has moved on a bit from then. FutureHack does need to be flexible enough to, not only embrace change, but help to shape it.

The tools will change, more will be introduced and their use will become ever more widespread among the multi-skilling fraternity as reporters become presenters, subs become producers and publishers become deliverers.

But while the business at large changes its mind and changes it back again, those for whom the soaking flowers, the mileage and the sheer persistence pay off will flourish.

Friday, March 02, 2007

Doing it in your sleep

One of the best things about working with surfers is the way they email you with cool links to offbeat stuff. That's how I learned about the Onion a few years ago and, now firmly set into my favoutites list, the Framley Examiner.

Actually, I found Framley too realistic to be funny all the time but that's another (extremely badly-written cliche-riddled, mis-spelt) story. The funniest I've seen recently is themanwhofellasleep, a diary of, among other things, conversations overheard on Tube journeys through London.

It's made Greg Stekelman, 32, into the latest blogging-author. Selections have new been turned into a book, another aspect of the print-is-dead, long live the web, conundrum that's equallty amusing.

Friday, February 23, 2007

Local papers pump up the volume

I was asked to judge the Newsquest newspaper website awards a few weeks ago and this week,The Northern Echo received the accolade it deserved.

I worked my way through (literally) several dozen sites from the Abingdon Herald to the York Press during many idle hours before reluctantly deciding on the Darlington daily. I say reluctantly, because I know the bigger papers in these groups win eveything. Problem is, there's no getting away from the fact that, when a paper, to quote my rationale, "comes at the reader in so many ways, interacts with its local radio station and produces its breaking news in such a timely and relevant way" it's going to lead the pack.

Besides, any site that includes a blog from the ghost of a former editor, deserves a deeper look.

Nigel Vincent is doing a good job in leading the online development at Newsquest. Many of the smaller papers are telling stories with video and most are big on interactivity. That's important and Fleet Street can learn a lot from these people, particularly when it comes to developing online communities.

But I was particularly interested in the way they have now let costs run away with them and allowed editors to develop from a few pre-defined templates. This means most of the sites look the same but that's not an issue for the readers as there will be virtually no crossover. The backroom work done, the editors are free to concentrate on the journalism without looking over their shoulders for the next "zillion-pound" redesign.

I chose the South Wales Argus as runner-up for this reason and placed the much smaller News Shopper in third place, mainly for the sheer enthusiasm demonstrated by a handful of people in South London in getting to grips with a new medium.

But don't just take it from me . . .

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Speaking of magazines . . .

I was this month’s guest speaker at an editor’s forum at the Clerkenwell Restaurant in EC1. I was woken by an early call the day before and asked to put a title to the talk. I said Web 2.0 – be there or be square. Bit naff, but, seconds earlier I’d been fast asleep, in goal for Leicester and turning a point-blank drive from Henri round the post. The crowd went mad.

Anyway, back to reality: I gave them a run-through of what I thought were some of the best web offerings in the magazine world at the moment. There’s no definitive jury on this and my preferences change all the time but some are worth sharing with a wider audience.

IPC’s Horse and Hound is really getting to grips with community-building. I can’t stand the thought of fox-hunting but the strength of feeling among the country lobby stretched across 10 very lively forums.

Emap’s Guitar Player is making good use of audio, allowing wannabe rock stars to practice their riffs and play along with other axemen in their bedrooms and Conde Nast’s Vogue Catwalk TV is getting better all the time.

Haymarket are developing their What Car? site into a nice little resource with their road tests sitting alongside the reader reviews.

The common denominator here is the way they are playing to their strengths and using the technology that best suits their purposes, not every bell and whistle in the developer's toybox. I did put a damper on what was a highly interactive exchange by pointing out some of the less successful attempts to embrace the new world – and how easy it is to arrange the best party in town and find no-one comes.

Like I said, the examples were what I saw as the best of the crop on the day. They change all the time in line with innovation. As if to underline that, one of the audience approached me afterwards and reminded me I’d made that point before.

He’d interviewed me for PR Week ahead of a new media conference last summer and asked me for my favourite blog sites. The ones I gave were so dated by the time I joined the panel, I had to read the review to recall what they were.

Monday, February 12, 2007

Solve this and a byline awaits

Here’s a mystery for any budding investigative journalist.

I took my car to a bodyshop after a minor prang. A chap with a clipboard went over very inch of it, noting the tiniest dent or blemish lest I accuse them of not looking after it. He did the same with the courtesy car and then carefully noted the amount of petrol left in each tank. Mine was half full. I agreed and signed his form.

A week later, I picked it up all valeted and shiny and headed out of the industrial estate. But before the first 100 yards, the fuel light came on. I was running on vapour.

I checked the form I’d signed. Half-full when it came in. 19,001 miles on the clock. Now it was empty, but still 19,001 miles on the clock.

I reversed up, asked two people from the office to come and look and posed the questions:

Did someone use it and turn back the clock?

Did someone deliberately add on 100 or so miles to the figure before handing it to me to sign? I never checked the mileage.

Did someone siphon the petrol out?

I got red faces and a cheque for half a tank. But, as yet, no answer. May be worth a few pars in the local paper when I do.

Friday, February 09, 2007

It pays to talk amongst ourselves

These pages got a mention in Press Gazette this week as part of a round-up of the "leading voices in journo-blogging". I have to say, that was a little flattering, given the amount of time I spend doing it.

In fact, putting it into newspaper terms, I must be the quarterly periodical to, say, someone like Roy Greenslade's multi-edition daily.

I'm impressed by the disclipline of many of these "journalism compulsive-obsessives" (Adrian Monck's self-description) and envious of the way they find, or make, the time to keep abreast of everything.

I've been critical of some forms of blogging in the past, dismissing those from all walks of life who risk RSI just to fill a space every day. But, collectively, these journo-blogs - with the aid of Google Reader - have provided the most comprehensive and thought-provoking overview of media thinking I can recall.

Especially to someone who grew up getting their insights once a week from, you guessed it . . . Press Gazette.

Friday, February 02, 2007

Of wigs and pens

Lawyers and journalists have always been good bedfellows. Andrew Grant-Adamson and Martin Stabe were quick to spot the words of wisdom in the recent Slate posting, Bartiromo Innuendo, which highlights the value of lawyers who help get difficult issues into print, rather than keeping them out.

Slate's Jack Shafer's starts his piece by pointing out that “a well-lawyered newspaper distinguishes itself by the way it writes around something".

There's nothing worse for a reporter than knowing something but not being able to say it. I spent many days and weeks in the late seventies and early eighties attending legal seminars by the likes of the NCTJ listening to zillion-pounds-an-hour barristers telling us how papers have been taken to the cleaners for asking why some junior minister was spotted in Shepherd Market late at night, alone.

One of the best proponents of the "write around" skill was not a lawyer, however, it was the late Roy East, the former People investigator who helped shape my early career in the westcountry where we worked on a tabloid hell-bent on exposing misdeeds on the moors.

Many a time I'd take my piece to his study and say, "I know Henry Wotnot gay, everyone knows he's gay but he's not admitting it." Roy would roll in a new sheet of A4 and begin: BACHELOR Henry Wotnot . . . new par . . . Mr Wotnot, who shares a two-bed flat with his schoolfriend Mr . . .

Years later, I recalled his advice when writing about black magic orgies in a block of flats owned by a former mayor who was refusing to be drawn on the subject. I began the third par. Alderman Wotsit may be surpised to learn . . .

Not sure that in our thirst for quick and easy news, we do enough of that these days.

Thursday, February 01, 2007

Never mind God, geeks will inherit the earth

I can't be the only one who hoardes papers; whole papers, not cuttings that are easy to identify but entire editions put aside because there was an article worth reading when I got a moment.

I threw away a few dozen yesterday. In most cases I was baffled as to why I kept them at all. There were a few finds though, such as The Independent's Dec 4 two-page Q and A with the campaigning atheist Richard Dawkins and the Guardian's Jan 22 appraisal of Britain's motorways.

The Dawkins questions ranged from "Is it child abuse to force your kids to adopt your religion" to "What will you say if you ever reach the pearly gates".

The fun was in the wit and style of his answers but I was struck by the number of times he took the opportunity to back up his arguments with web references.

The best bit was when he was asked "how did such a geek like you get such an attractive wife" (he's married to the actress Lalla Ward), He laughed off the question but objected to the use of geek, likening it to the sort of racial epithets I won't repeat.

I've been reprimanded a few times for using the term but I'm nopt sure why. It's an endearing collective for everyone from the systems admin lot that boot our PCs to the hard-coders who give us the platforms we covet so much. They don't have to dream in binary.

A few post-grads had the giggles when I said it recently and it drew the odd muted gasp at a after-dinner speech. I mentioned it over drinks afterwards and opinion was split. In my corner was a teacher who married one. In the other was the chap who gave the vote of thanks who said it was a "mite offensive".

Offensive? Do me a favour . . . Geeks are the new avante garde and should celebrate the fact. The term has Orwellian simplicty and a resonance that rivals hack (which I don't mind being called as you drop the prefix drunken old). I draw the line at nerd to keep the few teccie friends i have.

Incidentally, it was never Jack Bauer that saved the world every 24 hours, it was Edgar Stiles. My system crashed when the terrorists got him. Point made.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Bye bye Big Brother, enter Little Britain

Channel Four should be congratulated for unwittingly doing more to expose Britain’s racist undercurrent than any TV documentary.

I say unwittingly because it’s, sadly, the natural consequence of putting such a cross-section of our so-called integrated society under the microscope.

No amount of subterfuge, lapel cameras, hidden microphones or Donal Mcintyres could have unearthed the uncomfortable attitudes and reactions we are now having to face.

From the moment three girls giggling under a duvet like some teenage sleepover began to isolate Shilpa Shetty to Channel Four’s denial, Ofcom boss Ed Richards’ refusal to “rush to judgment” and Gordon Brown’s repeated use of the world “tolerance,” Big Brother gave way to Little Britain.

What does that collectively say? We simply don’t know we’re doing it. If we do, we’re in denial and if we’re not, we simply don’t like to talk about it.

In fact, so cautious have been some broadcasters that many are still referring to these blatant ethnic attacks as “alleged racism”.

Viewer complaints have been rising by the hour like the death toll after an earthquake. Technology has helped here. Bloggers, dedicated websites, email discussions, SMS appeals by TV and radio have opened up the discussion. But they haven’t inflated the issue as some have suggested.

Many have found it good sport. Sheena Hastings of the Yorkshire Post summed up the scene more vividly than most when she described an Afghan hound surrounded by pit-bulls.

Every time we have to deal with something so uncomfortably close to home, we trivialise it on the basis that we all know it happens but, hey, life goes on. Then we ask, why aren’t the papers reporting the real issues such as global warming, famine or or Iraq?

They are. But this is the issue of the moment and the press is good at tapping into the public mood and writing about what people are talking about. And I make no excuses for repeating myself here - that’s the saving grace in all this.

I’d rather this appalling reflection of ourselves prompted public outrage than the uncomfortably silence that allows it to happen.

PR tip to Gordon Brown: don’t overdo tolerant. We tolerate noisy neighbours and unruly kids, not someone who has carved a fabulously successful career in one of the most thriving film industries in the world.

PR tip to Dirk: When is the A-team going to show its Face and come to the rescue?

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Big brother, bigger issue

I’m dismayed but not a bit surprised by the racism that has been pervading the Big Brother house of late. But I’m also encouraged by the sheer numbers who have recognised it and complained to Channel Four and Ofcom.

Sadly, the perpetrators – an Essex girl, a WAG and a fleeting pop star – are probably not even aware of it. And that’s the saddest thing of all. Factory floors, pubs and Jeremy Kyle shows are full of people who think racism is throwing stones at corner shops and making monkey noises on football terraces. Suggest they were guilty and they’d dismiss it by showing you their Beyonce albums.

As if to prove the point, TV-am led on it this morning – along with a flood of letters from viewers dismissing the claims as over-sensitive. I rest my case.

If the show really is to live up to its claim of creating a human laboratory and not just an outlet for the once well-known to revive their careers, this could ironically be its moment.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

It can't be wrong, it's in the paper

How not to set a good example. I've just completed a gruelling two days of marking on a student media project. To pass, the students have to have something published. To do well, the unsubbed version has to be worth paying for. I mark everything with a red pen like the one the Daily Sketch prodnose wore behind his ear in the Printer's Pie.

One lad scored well with a vox-pop for a local paper but included the phrase: the building will be demolished and replaced by retail outlets and residential units. I circled them and wrote in the margin: shops? - flats?

Then I read the cutting he'd added at the back. It was in print. A result. A page lead, complete with byline and pictures. Oh, and and retail outlets and residential units.

Memo to subs: careful you don't end up hiring students who know more than you.

Monday, January 08, 2007

Sites for sore eyes

Spent many hours at the end of last week judging the online category for one of the country’s leading local paper publishers. Not saying which one as I’ve made my choice and will keep shtum until the night.

The prospect of surfing literally scores of sites and navigating my way through endless podcasts, videos and blogs from people I’d never heard of appeared quite a quest.

Happily, the experience was quite different. Having drawn up a pretty strong shortlist I found I bonded with a few of them and began following the progress of stories in places I’d never heard of. I actually felt quite a lift when a posting at 10.40 headlined something like: Man held in pelican crossing death inquiry suddenly switched to Man charged with pelican crossing death half an hour later.

While the rest of you were following developments in Northern Ireland and the fallout in Iraq, I was awaiting a timeline of tragedy on what was surely the worst blackspot in Nether-Bottom-on-Tweed.

Seriously, some of the innovation was heartening. Local papers are no longer enjoying the heydays I knew but they’re making a good fist of new markets. I noted quite a few ideas and circled one or two as “possibles” for a project I’m about to work on myself. And there was one piece of video so off-beat, I made a mental note to try to headhunt the editor over canapes at the awards do.

The best of it though was that many of these sites were staffed by what, old Fleet Streeters would call a man and his dog.

You wouldn’t know it though.

Thursday, January 04, 2007

Big Brother - who's in the running?

I’m not surprised celebrity Big Brother drew an audience of more than seven million last night. The entertainment value of what has become the ultimate in fly-on-the-wall viewing is only strengthened by the sight of so-called celebs meeting for the first time and wondering who everyone else is.

Aside from Carole Malone, a tabloid columnist who recognised everyone, as you’d expect, and the pleasingly savvy Leo Sayer, what a joy it was to see the footballer’s wife and a low-rent rock singer oblivious to the presence of one of the leading film directors of his generation.

One of my most enduring memories of the last London marathon was watching from a Docklands pavement as notables past without note, eclipsed by the huge reception given to BB winner Jade Goody.

Until recently, I would join the trail of joggers along the Thames path from Canary Wharf and often found myself overtaking (she was slow, I wasn’t fast) a certain 70s comedy star only I appeared to recognise.

That was Cleo Rocos. Cleo who? to anyone I spoke to after the third or fourth meeting. I guess she’ll jog with a minder after this.

When Max Hastings was editor of the Telegraph, he banned use of the word celebrity, asking us “what does it mean?” I thought at the time we were losing a valuable generic.

Now, I’m more inclined to agree.