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. 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.