New Blog home

Hi there – I’ve got a new “Jessica Elgot” website (this one was mainly me as a journalism student). Come and take a peek at www.jessicaelgot.com. It’s mainly a home for my work at the Jewish Chronicle and my freelance work, mainly for the Independent. But I’ll be posting comment, travel pieces and arts pieces too, as well as news.

Thanks to everyone who read this blog, it’s had some amazing comments and debate – so don’t really want to delete it.

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Archiving

This blog was a project during my time as a journalism student. I am now a full time reporter for the Jewish Chronicle – and am developing a professional website for my work there and for my freelance work. My CV and contact details are still available here, but I am now blogging at http://www.thejc.com.

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The media exploits interns shock

Um... is there anything, um, you need... oh ok, well, um, I'm just over here if you..ok...thanks

Um... is there anything, um, you need... oh ok, well, um, I'm just over here if you..ok...thanks

I nearly choked on my morning brunch bar when I spotted the Guardian’s lead last week on the exploitation of interns. 

How convenient they’ve chosen to focus on the MPs who exploit interns. Well, let’s turn things right back around. I know work experience. I PERSONIFIED work experience for five years.

Let’s get one thing EXTREMELY clear. It is not the recession which has caused exploitation of work experiencers. This is a very very very very old phenomena. It has just meant there are more people willing to be exploited. Just like the recession hasn’t actually caused the crisis in the media in general, it’s just speeding things up a bit. 

My mum pointed out the other day in said Guardian there was a page on office fashion. One outfit for chief executive, one for middle manager, one for personal assistants, one for your first job and one for….interns. There’s so bloody many of them, there’s even their own fashion category. Jesus.

 

Exploitation is taken for granted, and there are hundreds of thousands of us lining up to be exploited. I spent every summer since I was 17 working for free on local papers. I spent every weekend at university editing the local paper. What did I gain from this financially? Nothing, absolutely zero. If anyone had offered me expenses I’d have been amazed.

 

What did I gain experience-wise?

CLICHED ANSWER: Of course I learnt everything I know about journalism, and it was like, so totally worth it

TRUTH: It was patchy to say the least.

I had some places that were beyond wonderful. My internships at BBC Radio Five Live, Yorkshire Evening Post and at the Jewish Chronicle were fabulous. Why? Not because they went above and beyond the call of duty, because quite frankly, they didn’t. They just stood up to the mark. They taught me hard lessons about my copy, they gave me real stories, not press releases, they let me sit in on conferences, they let me do interviews and they got me published and they remembered my name.

Others were utter shite. One paper had the audacity to say “I hope you haven’t come down to London especially to do this, or cancelled anything, because sometimes people do, and then we get embarrassed.”

So you should be embarrassed! Of course people come to London especially, what do you bloody think?

And while I’m having a rant, the Guardian, for all their preaching are as bad. I’d even go so far as to say they were worse just because of the sheer audacity of their summer work experience scheme exclusively for ethnic minorities. I’m really all for widening access but sorry Guardian, no cigar. All you’ll get is rich, middle-class ethnic minorities whose parents can support them while they undertake unpaid work. What about working class white people? Fuck them shall we? They don’t fit in a diversity tick box.

What would really widen participation, would be to pay these interns. Like the one who probably did the research for the article. My humblest apologies to Mr Ben Carter (as in who did “additional reporting by” in the Guardian’s piece) but because of the subject matter, I’m willing to take a gamble you’re an intern.

So how will we really solve this? Structured internship programmes, in an American style model, paid. It’ll sort the real wheat from the rich chaff.

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Stop the spammers: A Twitter war we just can’t win

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There’s never been any secret that Twitter is a tool for self-promotion.

As my lovely JC colleague Miriam Shaviv remarked upon joining Twitter: “Oh my god! There’s no conversation, it’s just people promoting themselves and talking about how good they are.”

Quite.

But it’s served me well, heck, Twitter even (kinda) got my a job after I showed the JC how it could be used to help them, although I suspect it may have been a just a matter of time before they hopped on the Twitter bandwagon without my help.

I mean, how can you avoid it?

And company promotion, done well, works on twitter. For example, Easyjet’s customer care team are searching for any minor mention of the company on twitter, and anyone who writes a tweet with ‘Easyjet’ in it gets a personal tweet back from the marketing team, apologising for plane delays, or thanking them for being excited about their holiday or finding cheap flights. It’s nice, and it works. And I fucking hate Ryanair.

But it’s getting altogether more sinister. Even little me, with my mere 400-odd followers has become a merciless target for twitter spam. Every cam whore on the net seems to be following me begging me to register and check out their sexy pics. Thanks but no ta.

These people, from penis enlargers to sexy pics of Britney naked to make-yourself-a-millionaire-in-10-minutes-type ads are literally everywhere, following 1000s of people until they get kicked off, but they’re usually around for a good few weeks. And they spam up my inbox as I get alerts telling me who’s following me, and they’re usually from a porn site. I would go mental if gmail allowed such spam emails into my inbox, so how can twitter get away with it?

Sometimes it’s obvious from the User ID, avatar, or if they’re following 12,000 people with only 8 following back. But if you can’t tell initially and you click on your new follower, you see their wares. They’ve won. You’d never open a spam email, but you’ve checked a lot of spam twitter. 

Worse still, they use Twitter trending topics in their posts, and in hash tags to spam innocent twitters as they search the trending tweets.

But what can we do? I won’t protect my updates, I’m a journalist and I don’t want my tweets to be private. I’m a shameless self-promoter dammnit.

We’ve got to fight back, but this won’t be as easy as filtering them out. This might be a war on spam we can’t win.

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Bloggers beware

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This is a sad day for anonymous blogging.

Mr Justice Eady (the media’s best friend…) has put an end to any guarantee bloggers had of anonymity.

Goodbye to the Guido Fawkes, Tory bearsGirl with a one track mind, and Nightjacks of tomorrow. You gave us some of the best material out there because it was never a self-promotion exercise. NightJack, even if the law could not condone him breaking the rules, was a real public service, and I’m very sad to see him outed. Lets hope he, taking advice from other outed blogs, now milks his publicity for all it’s worth. He deserves to.

It’s a real travesty to set this precedent.

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What the new Facebook vanity profiles mean for my CV

Facebook personalised usernames are here, and cue hundreds of pointless facebook statuses about how they’re an invasion of privacy. It’s a real swing towards MySpace, because personalised usernames were one of it’s very few benefits. It’ll also show which of my Facebook friends should be up for a cull if they change they’re usernames to fluffi_gurl_sparkle_2002

But it intrigued me because I’ve recently started putting my Twitter account on my emails and on my CV because I like what it says about how tech-savvy I am, and because I use it for a lot of journalism research on networking. And I wondered, if and when I acquire http://www.facebook.com/jessica.elgot or whatever, whether I’ll be tempted to put that up too. After all, if employers are interested in what kind of a person I am, what I read, what I listen too, the kind of writing I do, (which I’m not necessarily sure they are) then it’s all on my facebook page, and there’s nothing on there I’m embarrassed about.

Facebook HQ has this to say about the unique usernames

From the beginning of Facebook, people have used their real names to share and connect with the people they know. This authenticity helps to create a trusted environment because you know the identity of the people and things on Facebook. The one place, though, where your identity wasn’t reflected was in the Web address for your profile or the Facebook Pages you administer. The URL was just a randomly assigned number like “id=592952074.” That soon will change.

We’re planning to offer Facebook usernames to make it easier for people to find and connect with you. When your friends, family members or co-workers visit your profile or Pages on Facebook, they will be able to enter your username as part of the URL in their browser. This way people will have an easy-to-remember way to find you. We expect to offer even more ways to use your Facebook username in the future.

 

How the usernames will change

How the usernames will change

 

When did it become acceptable to share our social networking? There’s been much in the press in months gone by about the unethical nature of employers snooping on Facebook to check out our drunken photos, which bear no reflection on how good a journalist I am (it’s a stressful job dammnit!)

But social networking is the future, and if I can use my facebook profile as my personal PR assistant, along with my blog and my twitter, while also enjoying them as exciting web tools for personal enjoyment, then maybe I’ll try out sticking my new Facebook page on my emails for all to see. Might need to do some serious detagging first though. And there is such a thing TMI…

UPDATE: Techcrunch reports that “key journalists” will have Facebook usernames reserved for them. *Sigh* Oh to be a key journalist…

... did she like it?

... did she like it?

NOTE TO FUTURE EMPLOYERS: Of course there’s nothing shifty on my facebook. I never once got drunk, or wore fancy dress while I was a student. I sat in the library and thought about journalism. 

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MPs Expenses proving costly

A leader column I wrote for the Cardiff Evening News

THE MOST despicable aspect of the MP expenses scandal is not the flagrant disregard for public money. It is not the frivolity of vast expense on moats, tennis courts, chandeliers and rocking chairs. It is not the wailing of invasion of privacy.

It is the sheer arrogance and utter hypocrisy of the MPs who claim, technically, they have done nothing wrong.

What could have possibly motivated MPs to merely insist they did not break the law? As if this would satisfy us in the face of such monstrous allegations of excess, at a time of economic woe when citizens from businessmen to bus drivers are tightening their purse strings.

Of course, technically, they are right. But if those in power truly believe they have the moral high ground because they technically abided by the letter of the law, they have lost all sense of reason and perspective and made a mockery of the political system in this country, which depends on our faith in our politicians to represent us.

But, because those in power have (probably) not broken the law, that is all the more reason why this is a system in urgent need of reform. But should we trust those in power to reform it?

This is a government whose foundations lie not on honesty and openness but on spin and secrecy. This is a government who has everything to hide and it does not stop at MPs’ expenses.

We have welcomed the resignation of Speaker Michael Martin, as a token gesture towards regaining public confidence. Mr Martin, at least, has finally done the honourable thing.

Forced out: Speaker Michael Martin

Forced out: Speaker Michael Martin

 

But this is not just Mr Martin’s doing and our calls for justice will not end with him.

Why give this parliament the power to decide who did and who did not commit this flagrant abuse of public trust, and who should be allowed to keep their position?

The reality is that only an immediate general election can save parliament from ruin.

It is the people who should decide who involved in the expenses scandal should and should not stay in power, and those whose moral character is cleaner have the opportunity to step forward to take their place, whether Labour, Conservative, Liberal Democrat or independent.

No one party can be blamed for this scandal, each has proved to be as bad as the next. It is time for other individuals to take the place of those corrupted by power, whatever their party loyalty, and to call for an immediate general election.

It is the citizens of this country who will give these MPs the vote of no confidence.

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Plan B?

Maybe it’s the recession, because I HAVE NEVER mentioned anything of the kind. I do not have a plan b. Journalism is all I am good at and all I want to do. But maybe I’m in the minority, or perhaps should be more open-minded. I’d like to know if you have a Plan B. Is journalism the end of the road?

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Alan Rusbridger’s reasons to be cheerful

Alan Rusbridger’s lecture at QMUL last night

Newspapers without walls


Listen to the lecture here

Alan Rusbridger, Editor of the Guardian

Alan Rusbridger, Editor of the Guardian

I went to an excellent lecture by Alan Rusbridger last night at QMUL in London, where he talked about the future of journalism. The topics, like UGC, multimedia, and the new journalistic buzzword “conversation” were nothing new to me, but that’s testament to the excellence of the Cardiff course, in that aspect at least.

Rusbridger began by telling us that although it was impossible to find an article on journalism which didn’t read like an obituary (seriously, the staffers at Media Guardian must be driving themselves insane) he found reason to be optimistic, and controversially, cheerful, about the state of journalism today.

It’s hard, as Rusbridger acknowledged, for journalists to come to terms with the mantra

My readers know more than I do

But without that mantra, the groundbreaking journalism that has sprung from the loins of the Guardian this year, including their Tax Gap investigation into offshore banking, their commitment to breaking news on Twitter, their determination to fight for justice for Ian Tomlinson, and their dedication to free comment on guardian.co.uk, could never have taken place.

There are still many places where it couldn’t. And although Rusbridger describes the death of local newspapers as a ‘catastrophe’ and ‘like’ losing a police force’, he knows that old-fashioned local newshounds sounded their own death knell a long time ago.

The new model for local news has to be of the kind the Guardian has created. Where community groups and local campaigns share information, write front page articles and collate information. I might be talking myself out of a job here, but the role of the journalist has to change with it, a role that facilitates this conversation, and casts a critical eye where necessary.

The Guardian’s coverage this year, particularly with regards to Ian Tomlinson, has been exemplary, where all the other main news organsations fell for the police PR about dangerous protesters hook, line and sinker.

It’s the gold standard which gets me excited about working in journalism again.

 

Audio comes courtesy of QMUL- thank you!

UPDATE: Jemima Kiss posted an excellent summary of the talk here.

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How swine flu became a web virus

 

Scientists discover the root of the problem...

Scientists discover the root of the problem...

How useful is the internet in a global pandemic? 

Very useful actually, particularly for typing ‘difference between pandemic and epidemic’ into google. The internet can tell me swiftly that actually pandemic just means a bit bigger than an epidemic. Epidemic is lots of people have swine flu. Pandemic is most people have swine flu.

Now, call me a pedant, but I would guess, by and large, that most people don’t have swine flu. So far perhaps 200 cases have been confirmed. And maybe 500 suspected. So say, at a push, 1000 have swine flu. That’s not most people.

But the net is infected with swine flu. The pigs have infected twitter, comment is free, the blogosphere, facebook and lots of have-a-go-hero sites which list multiple confusing symptoms for swine flu.

A huge number of people now have the ability to worry if they have the sniffles. Should we be worried about the swathes of inaccurate reports and blogs on the disease which might cause a global pandemic of ‘fear of swine flu’?

I think it’s fair to say most people have got that, when USA TODAY reports

  • Search-engine giants Yahoo and Google saw spikes in searches of phrases such as “swine flu symptoms” or “swine flu pandemic” early this week: “Swine flu” rose to the top of Yahoo’s searches this week.
  • Similar terms on Google increased by more than 20-40 times, compared with its monthly average of hits of such key words, a USA TODAY analysis shows.
  • On Twitter, swine-flu-related posts crested past 10,000 an hour on Tuesday.

 

On the bright side, at least the web keeps the hypochondriacs at home, instead of queuing up outside their long-suffering GP’s surgery…

 

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I knows what I likes… A Yorkshire lass comes home

 

The Yorkshire Evening Post

The Yorkshire Evening Post

It felt good to be back in Yorkshire. I’ve done the work experience thing across the country, from Nottingham to Canary Wharf but nothing beats going back to your home town. You know what the reporters mean when they chat about a page lead on ‘that strange bloke outside Kirkgate market’ or ‘those fucking little protégés’ and it’s great never having to ask for directions.

I spent two weeks on the Yorkshire Evening Post, writing anything from nibs to page threes under the watchful eye of one of the nicest news editors, Gillian Haworth, I’ve ever had the pleasure of meeting. It makes such a difference when a news editor, on hearing I was a Cardiff student, starts the week off with the mindset, “I’ve heard you’re going to be good, now work your arse off and don’t prove me wrong” rather than treating you with the mantra, “I’m going to assume you’re a blithering idiot who’s semi-literate like all the other 15-year-olds I’ve had here and nothing you say or do will convince me otherwise.”

Unexpectedly, I loved being sent off with a video camera and shooting and editing my own stuff for the web, although I felt for the reporters who were having their workload doubled by the introduction of video for the website. It made me realise how lucky I am that Cardiff has drilled this into us from the beginning, and video and audio extras will seem like second nature when we launch ourselves upon the world. It’s tough having to pick it up after 50 years in the print business, or even 5 years and we owe Cardiff a lot for making it seem second nature to us.

Yorkshire Evening Post workers on strike

Yorkshire Evening Post workers on strike

But the despair of the job situation really hit me at the YEP. Halfway through my last day, the newsroom walked out on strike in protest of compulsory redundancies of 10 percent of editorial staff. When asking me what my next plans were, reporters looked at me with pity in their eyes like they might look at a starving Somalian orphan. I was thrilled at the end of the week to be invited into a meeting with the editor and his deputy, who personally asked to meet me after being impressed with my video work. They talked to me for ages, gave me advice on my CV, chatted about the industry and assured me of glowing references, that they would send tips about un-advertised vacancies and that they would definitely interview me for a full-time position… if they weren’t making 15 reporters redundant.

The meeting was a huge boost to my self-confidence (as you can probably tell in this rather self-congratulatory blog post) but ultimately it wasn’t a job. And for me and my equally fabulously talented Cardiff collegues, it brought home that these meetings, references and experiences are great for the old self-esteem, but that there’s literally nothing more we can do now. It doesn’t matter how well we perform, how many beautiful speculative letters we craft, and how many editors we impress, the jobs aren’t there. End of. 

So what now?

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Making an Impact

 

 

The new Impact website

The new Impact website

 

My old student paper alma mater Impact at the University of Nottingham has had a super sexy redesign of its website, andquite frankly it looks better than most regional paper’s websites I’ve browsed through. These web-savvy kids are the future of journalism, and it’s cheering to see they’re so good at it. 

I miss the days of student journalism, despite taking ourselves too seriously and occasionally be taken too seriously by students’ union insider tipster who thought they were Deep Throat while passing on a titbit about cutting meals in halls of residence. 

Please do check out the website, it’s lush!

www.impactnottingham.com

 

More website new stuff...

More website new stuff...

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Gunpowder, treason and losing the plot

 

Blowing up the Houses of Parliament...

Blowing up the Houses of Parliament...

I doubted the power of new media, even though I write a blog on it.

I prefer to see my name in print than online. Sue me. But my god, old-fashioned print journos have missed the boat(s) this week.

Along came the godawful business of the Damian McBride smears unearthed by blogger Guido Fawkes. Heaven knows I’m no great Cameron lover, but this is the nastiest business I’ve seen in a very long time, and no-one in politics deserves this sort of shit. The most horrendous thing about the whole vile ballgame is that McBride might actually have been successful if the blogger Guido Fawkes had not exposed the emails.

Gordon Brown and Damian McBride

Gordon Brown and Damian McBride

Where were the lobby in all this? Have they been drinking too much free booze at Tory fight nights? Have they lost their quills and ink? Where were their sources, and why didn’t they get this first?

I’d have expected a top notch, serious lobby hack to have got wind of this before a blogger. But it shows how wrong I am to assume that, and how much the lobby and most other hacks are going to come to depend on bloggers, who finance themselves and take on more risks.

Guido Fawkes has had some dubious moral calls in the past, but he can afford to take those risks where the lobby can’t because of the reputation of the organisation which pays their expenses claims. It’s a two-way system of course, because Guido Fawkes had to handover the emails to the Sundays for the big publicity the scandal warranted. 

I await the day when the sounds in the Westminster lobby is not the scratching of shorthand but the tappity tap of iPhones and Blackberrys to Twitter and liveblogging. Whether that will be a cause for celebration remains to be seen…

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How the JC embraced Twitter, thanks to a lowly work exp student…

 

The UK's oldest Jewish newspaper

The UK's oldest Jewish newspaper

I’m a week into my work placement with the Jewish Chronicle, a Jewish institution. I’ve returned there after doing two weeks there in the summer, and this placement’s going rather better and it really does bring home how you can cement a relationship with people by keeping your hand in. Before I would hover around people’s chairs, hands in my pockets muttering: “Um…I was just wondering, if, um, there’s anything, errrrr….oh, you’re busy, no, sorry, yeah, um, ok well i’m just over there if you….um anything crops up. Ok. Thanks again.”

Ah, the joys of work experience. Although to give The JC the credit it deserves, they put a decent amount of trust in you, give you a reasonable workload, trust you with important stories, or at lest those with some interest, and don’t beat about the bush when they have to give you menial tasks. That’s what you’re there for too. You know it, they know it, I appreciate their honesty.

What’s most impressive about the Jewish Chronicle has been their willingness to embrace new media. Their website has user-blogs, video, polling, mapping and editorial blogs. It doesn’t come naturally to them, but, refreshingly, they’ve got the bloody good sense to slog hard at it, and it will pay off massively for them.

And now I’ve built up more confidence to voice my own ideas there, I’m keen to showcase those multimedia skills I’ve learnt at Cardiff to them. So I decided to sell them Twitter.

This is much harder than it seems. How the hell do you describe Twitter? “Um, it’s kinda texting, a bit like status updates on Facebook, but to people you want to read your stuff…”

 

The JC's Twitter brand spanking new page

The JC's Twitter brand spanking new page

 

 

But I managed to convince Managing Editor Richard Burton, ex-editor of telegraph.co.uk and the JC’s new media guru, to let me give it a trial run. And after a morning’s work at it, it seemed to be going well. We had 50-ish followers, I was tweeting from editorial conferences and we’d had an offer of a column from Richard Madeley. So I sat down with Richard to explain how it worked, showing him how our followers had gone up to 55 in the time I’d been doing the demonstration. And it went well despite some minor hitches, like struggling to get the feed to work, and, after spending 20 minutes getting the feed to work, Richard’s worriedly scratching his head looking at the follower counts, “It hasn’t gone up any more, we’re stuck on 55….”

Bollocks. But inspiration hits again, we need to promote it on the website, and so the The JC kindly gives me a blog to promote it on their website. Double new media guru whammy! (Although there’s only one comment on it so far, something about twits…)

 

My blog on TheJC.com

My blog on TheJC.com

 

 

So lend me your support, and follow (wait for it)

@JewishChron

and check out…

http://twitter.com/JewishChron

Fingers crossed it’s a storming success…

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I heart Google Street

 

Goodness me, what a fuss there’s been over Google Street Maps. How many more fascinating revelations about human life will it throw up? The pictures of Where’s Wally, the vomitors on Curtain Street, the sex shoppers, the mistress parked outside her married lover’s home, this is absolute genius. These glimpses into the humanity of the streets we live on, the human interest is the best thing about this new technology, and anyone who disagrees is a whingy baby.

Those who moan about invasion of privacy are probably the same people who give all the nonsense about ID cards. Unless you are going to burn your credit cards and passports, black out your windows and hide in a cardboard box, we’re going to have to face up the reality that people, by and large, will know where we are and what we’re doing most of the time anyway, and the fact a camera took a couple of photos on the street you live on isn’t going to make a difference to that.

Anyone else think if the vomiting partygoers, the bloke coming out of the sex shop and the Where’s Wally character didn’t want their ‘privacy’ invaded in such a way, then maybe they shouldn’t be drunkenly vomiting in the street, or wearing ridiculous costumes. It’s the risk you take, but people will blame anyone but themselves when they find themselves in a pickle.

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E.COLI Public Inquiry

Yesterday I attended the press conference in Culverhouse Cross, Cardiff for the results of the public enquiry into the E.Coli outbreak in South Wales where a five year old boy tragically died and hundreds were infected. Here’s my reports into the day.

Nathan Jones, Sharon Mills and their son Chandler address the press

Nathan Jones, Sharon Mills and their son Chandler address the press

 

THE PUBLIC inquiry into the outbreak of E.coli across South Wales in September 2005, which infected 118 people and killed a five-year-old boy, has placed blame squarely in the hands of one butcher, and those who did not keep him in check.

It was the largest outbreak of its kind in Wales, and second only in the UK to an outbreak which killed five people in Scotland in 1996.

Mason Jones, a five-year old pupil at Deri Primary School, Caerphilly, died from the E.coli poisoning in October 2005.

Most of those infected were children who ate contaminated meat in school dinners at 44 schools across four local authorities, Rhondda Cynon Taf, Bridgend, Caerphilly and Merthyr Tydfil.

Thirty-one people were admitted to hospital after eating the contaminated cooked meat, where the cattle were slaughtered at the abattoir of J.E. Tudor & Sons Ltd, which supplied meat to John Tudor & Son butchers in Bridgend, owned by butcher William Tudor.

Professor Sir Hugh Pennington, who conducted the £2.3 million public inquiry into the E.coli outbreak which published its findings yesterday (Thurs), said: “William Tudor failed to ensure that critical procedures, such as cleaning and the separation of raw and cooked meats, were carried out effectively. He falsified records and on some issues he misled and lied to Environmental Health Officers.

“Businesses are responsible for producing safe food. The responsibility for the outbreak therefore falls squarely on the shoulders of William Tudor. Despite being well-qualified in food hygeine, he had a significant disregard for food safety.”

William Tudor, of Cowbridge, has already been subject to a criminal prosecution for supplying unsafe food and served 12 weeks in prison.

Professor Pennington

Professor Pennington

Professor Pennington, who also conducted the enquiry into the Scottish outbreak, said he believed the laws in place to license butchers and check food hygeine were sufficient, but were not implemented correctly. He noted Environmental Health officers had missed vital evidence the Bridgend butcher’s food safety was lacking and said they had been misled by Tudor.

“The outbreak should be a lesson for all. E.coli is a real threat. There is no room for complacency. It will exploit weakness and failures in hygeine practices be they down to a lack of knowledge, to sloppiness, or even downright indiffernce to the risk. It is not rocket science. It is not bureaucracy or red tape.

“We owe it to the memory of Mason Jones to learn the lessons from this outbreak and to remember them,” he said

He called for the Welsh Assembly to follow through on his 24 recommendations to improve food standards.

An inquest will now be held into the death of Mason Jones.

 

EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEWS

Sharon Mills

Sharon Mills

Sharon Mills, the mother of Mason Jones, the five-year-old boy who died from E.coli poisoning told exclusively about the son who brought her so much joy, and her devastation at his loss.

“I miss Mason dearly. I would give anything to have him back. He was a great kid and he suffered greatly from E.coli. I just want people to know how bad this bacteria is and how powerless I felt standing by the side of him watching him die from it.

“It’s a lot of pressure on myself and my family, to see me having to push so far for something which should be in place to begin with. But we’re determined to keep this going, because we’ve lost our son for nothing. His death was needless. He should be enjoying his life, he was five years of age. He shouldn’t be where he is and I’m determined to keep fighting. 

“William Tudor has ruined my life, he’s ruined my children’s lives. He’s ruined my whole family’s lives because he has taken away something he will never understand. He never knew Mason and he was such a joy. He was a beautiful little boy and to have lost him to something so needless makes me so angry and I have to keep fighting as long as I’m here. I will continue the fight.

“We didn’t get an apology off William Tudor, but I wouldn’t want one. He’s a criminal, he’s a crook, he’s a coward and he’s deceitful. And I don’t want to be involved in speaking to somebody like him. He’s taken my son’s life. 

“The main culprit is William Tudor and we should never forget that. But the people in the position of public protection has failed us badly. I hope they’re listening to us. Because we really need to be looking at these people and checking whether they’re strong enough when they come up against a rogue trader like William Tudor.”

Pam Sacci

Pam Sacci

Pam Sacci, from Bridgend, mother of 12-year-old Daniel who attended school with Mason and was hospitalised for two weeks with E.coli poisoning today (Fri) told of her ordeal.

“I’m hoping there’s going to be a lot of changes, we can’t have another outbreak. We musn’t have another child like Mason die from this. I’m positive this report will make a really big difference.

“My son is fine now but a lot of the children are still very ill. They’re still having tests in hospital and it’s one of those issues where you just don’t know how children are going to be in the future. You don’t know whether things are going to affect them further along. Unfotunately it’s just a matter of waiting an seeing how children are.

“I think we’ve still got a long way to go, it’s frightening to think if Mason hadn’t died, then children in Wales would still be provided with school dinners from William Tudor’s butchers. So it’s taken the death of a five year-old child to raise these issues. We all eat food, it affects us all. And it’s not about what happened in 2005. It’s about the future, about supermarkets, take-aways, restaurants today coming up to the standard they should.

“I don’t think you can put closure on this, it’s something we live with all the time. It’s frightening to think Daniel could’ve died, he could have been in Mason’s shoes. We’ll live with his death forever.”

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A change of art

I wrote this interview with Sian Lloyd for the Cardiff Evening News

The Welsh weather girl talks about her foray into acting in the Vagina Monologues

The Welsh weather girl talks about her foray into acting in the Vagina Monologues

 

What is it about weather girls we love? Is it that they talk about our collective favourite subject? Is it how they smile on a rainy day? Or is it because, by and large, they’re pretty and they’re smart? Siân Lloyd, the Bridgend girl who stole the show on ITV weather and S4C, had her man stolen by a Cheeky Girl and came back smiling with a hot new husband, and a starring role in The Vagina Monologues ticks all the boxes.
This is Siân’s first foray into the world of acting, playing three of the many roles in Eve Ensler’s The Vagina Monologues at Cardiff’s Millennium Centre, alongside Gavin and Stacey actresses Joanna Page and Margaret John, but a career change is something Sian’s always had in mind.
She said:

“I have always done everything late in my life and this is just another thing like that, launching myself as an actress. I was asked to do it three years ago and I always regretted it. I was too busy. But then, thanks god, I was asked again and decided to go for it.
“It was always a niggling doubt that I’d missed a really special opportunity, that it was something I should have done.

But has the acting always been a secret, indulgent ambition for the Oxford educated weather expert? Sian explained:

“I acted at school, but I would not have put myself forward for it. But I have always just loved theatre.
“Even when I was a poor journalism student, even last penny I had I would scrape together to watch theatre, and to buy the best seats because I have always believed in supporting theatre.
“To me, nothing can match it, you just don’t get that intimate, yet communal experience with a film or even with an opera. I do watch mainly West End things now but I learnt everything I know about theatre and what it means when I was tearing tickets at the Sherman Theatre on Senghennydd Road in Cardiff.”

The daughter of two teachers, Sian grew up in Bridgend, attending Ystalyfera Bilingual School and graduated with first class honours from Cardiff University. She won a place at Jesus College, Oxford to study for a postgraduate degree in Celtic Studies, but left after one year without graduating. Her media career blossomed in Wales as a researcher for BBC Wales Today and an announcer for S4C. She screen tested for the ITV Weather and beat two hundred people to the job.

Sian’s personal life hit the headlines, after her ex-fiancée, Liberal Democrat MP Lembit Opik, stepped out with one half of novelty pop duo, The Cheeky Girls. But since her sudden descent into the media spotlight following Cheeky-gate, Sian has upped her celebrity status tenfold. The rest is history and Sian has become a regular on reality television, appearing in I’m a Celebrity Get Me Out of Here, The Apprentice and scooping the prize for UK Rear of the Year in 2007, the oldest woman to win the title. She’s now a happily married woman to motor entrepreneur, Jonathan Ashman, who she describes as “just so wonderful.”

So now really is the time to take the plunge into a different challenge. But as could be expected from any first time actress faced with the might of the Millennium Centre’s near 2,000 capacity, first night nerves are kicking in, especially as Ensler’s play has been trail blazed by so many Hollywood greats including Kate Winslet, Whoopi Goldberg to Sophie Dahl and Jerry Hall.

“I’m really, really nervous, excited but couldn’t be more nervous. I just don’t want to let them down,” she said.
“I’m so lucky to be doing it with two such amazing actresses. But I just feel in awe when I think about who’s done the parts before. I mean, even Kate Winslet’s done it in New York and she’s just won an Oscar. God, yeah there’s a real precedent.”

But there is also a precedent for non-actresses to explore the play’s honest portrayal of women from all background, ages, experiences and cultures.

“Carol Smilie, Kate Adams, even Mel B’s done it so there are people who have done it who are not actresses.
“It is more a play about honesty, I don’t really see it as acting. And anyone can be honest, in that way. But it does leave you very vulnerable.”
She added: “I went to see the play in Woking, and Anthea Turner did one of the monologues which is a ‘Harry Met Sally style orgasm impersonation and I thought ‘Oh god, I hope he doesn’t give me that one.’”

Performing the piece in Cardiff means a lot to Sian, who has always be open about her love for her homeland and the importance of her Welsh identity.

She said: “Being Welsh is just so, so important to me, I speak Welsh, I grew up here. I couldn’t be more proud of being Welsh. It’s a relief to be doing the play in Cardiff. Obviously I don’t want to let down Cardiff but there is some safety in coming home. People will come to enjoy it as an evening out, after a few drinks.
She added: “It is very much a Welsh production, deliberately so, and we’re all Welsh so we’ve been suggesting geographical references and Welsh slang to use in the play. It’s quite flexible. Some of the Welsh words for vagina are absolutely hilarious. We really couldn’t believe some of them.

So how will the Welsh react, ten years down the line to the piece and its focus of certain parts of the female anatomy? Sian isn’t worried.

“It’s such a great piece to do in Wales, because I think the Welsh are quite prissy aren’t we? We don’t like to talk about our vaginas, or periods or whatever, we’re all a bit old fashioned. For instance, did you know the Welsh slang for homosexual used to literally be translated as “man-stealer”. That’s so funny isn’t it? You can see the attitude there. So it’s a joy to do the play here,” she said.

But it’s the personal challenge as well as the appeal of such a Wales-centered project which really makes this endeavor so special for Sian.

 “I just wanted, more than anything, to do something to get me out of my comfort zone. I think that is one of my faults; I never do anything that scares me. I’m quite happy pointing at clouds all day.”

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Standing up for wonderful Welsh crowds

 I wrote this piece for Hwyl, the Cardiff Evening News’ Arts Supplement

Stand Up Space Cadet

Josie Long: Stand Up Space Cadet

 
It’s not often you meet a stand-up comedian who radiates warmth and optimism from every fibre of her being, in a business renowned callous cruelty or at least gloomy pessimism.

But Josie Long, whose show All the Planet’s Wonders (shown in detail) is at Cardiff’s Sherman Theatre on Saturday, sticks out like a sore thumb in this cutthroat world. And all the better for it. Josie’s not one for whining:

“I’m inspired by everything around me, by things I’m interested in and excited by. That’s what I write about but I don’t limit it, I write about anything, things that happen or things I’ve just made up that are stupid.”

She’s eager to return to the Sherman theatre, where she toured last year: “I just loved being in Cardiff, the Welsh crowd are so kind.

“The city’s so brilliant and I had a wonderful time. I’m really hoping they’ll all still be kind, forgiving people!”

Not all crowds have been as lovable as the Cardiff audience, and at only 26, and having been in this business for nearly 11 years, Josie’s seen it all:

“Bad gigs? I’ve had so many, so many. I’ve had people shouting “Fuck off! Fuck off! We hate you!”

“I had a gig when I was 17 in Peterborough and I just didn’t know how to handle the heckling. It was really hard and I left after about three minutes. So yeah, there’s been some tough ones, I’m not gonna lie to you.”

Comedians are renowned for being the bravest of all performers, making people laugh is a tough job, but one Josie manages with enviable ease : “You do it because you love it. So you’re cheating in a way, because it doesn’t feel brave or hard.

Her first stand-up gig was at the staggeringly young age of 14 and only a year later, she had her first gig on the London club circuit with Jo Brand and Harry Hill performing at the same gig.

She won the BBC New Stand-Up Award at age 17 and went to study English at Oxford University, where she found her inspiration for All the Planet’s Wonder and a fascination for the natural world: “It’s about starting to love science and nature for the first time but its also about how much I love this museum called the Pitt Rivers museum in Oxford, it’s absolutely insane, it’s like this ramshackle collection in this really crowded dark room.”

She added: “It was one of the first things that I discovered at Oxford and it was round the corner from my house so we used to go quite a lot.”

Since graduating she’s been a well-loved touring comedian and a main attraction at the Edinburgh Fringe, where she won the if.comeddie Best Newcomer award in 2006 and where she premiered her show she’s bringing to the Sherman: “ Edinburgh was really intense this year because it rained almost every day and so it was a proper test of strength to see if you could perform with wet feet over and over again.

“But it was fun, yeah. I did a few gigs that I really loved, I did one on a mountain, one in a person’s living room and one in a swimming pool so it was quite good for the variety.”

Since Edinburgh, Josie’s been taking a few tentative steps towards (gasp) television, though like Edinburgh comedy heavyweights like Daniel Kitson and Andy Zaltzman, she remains wary of making the leap to Friday night panel shows: “I’ve been really selective about what I’ve done, I haven’t done anything that would’ve made me feel uncomfortable and done a few really fun things so I think if you’re really careful then you’ve got less to regret.”

Josie is at the Sherman Theatre tomorrow

Josie is at the Sherman Theatre tomorrow


So does she fancy being the next Jonathan Ross or Simon Amstell?

“I don’t know how mainstream I could go. And I don’t think they’d have me to be honest, it’s all well and good for me to say I’d like to, but whether anyone else will actually like it is a totally different thing.”

She adds: “I’m in no rush to do something before I’ve got a really good idea because I really love doing live shows and I never want to stop doing them, that’s my main thing.”

Josie’s live shows are scattered and exuberant, with paper and fruit flying everywhere. She has a fondness for self-decoration, demonstrating her point with laboured diagrams drawn in black marker on her face and tummy.

But these tricks are as much a personal journey for Josie as they are delightful for her audience: “I’m always mean about my tummy and I don’t appreciate it, it’s really hard to accept it for who it is. So I make it pretty by drawing on it because it’s genuinely quite a funny joke and it’s also good for me, because I think of it as nice and not ugly.”

Josie’s act has a uniquely childlike quality of wonder and adventure, and her enthusiasm to share her thoughts with the audience is infectious.

But it’s taken a while for Josie to let the comedy truly come from being herself: “I’m definitely a lot less nervous than I was. It’s just part of my life now, before then I didn’t really have so much material, I just had jokes, and I’d be like “Ah, I’ll do my jokes now.” Whereas now, I write everything.

“My work is definitely more personal now. Before it did just use to be silly jokes. Not that there’s anything wrong with silly jokes.”

Ask any stand up comedian and they will always tell you that comedy is an addiction, and they would never be happy doing anything else.

Never a truer word was spoken for Josie: “It’s like a vocation. I think about it all the time and I’m always thinking about how I can do it and things I want to write about.

“If I didn’t have comedy, I’d just be weeping in a corner. I’d be so gutted, crying: “Oh no! I had it all, and no I’ve got nothing! Nothing!” But if it all went away, maybe I’d like to teach, be a primary school teacher. That way I’d get to play with glue. Glitter glue. And uncooked pasta. That’s my dream.”

 

 

Josie Long is at Sherman Cymru, Senghennydd Road, Cardiff on February 7. Tickets are £7.83-£9.79. Box Office 029 2064 6900. http://www.shermancymru.co.uk

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Oh Barack, please don’t let us down…

Barack Obama takes the Presidential Oath

 

 

I watched Barack Obama’s inauguration today with my six housemates, all journalists, some of them the most lovably cynical people I know. And we were enraptured. Rarely have I seen an audience so captivated by a politician. We all covered our eyes, nervous on his behalf when he fluffed his presidential oath.

This kind of sentimentalism is dangerous stuff when the media is so enthralled by a figure who we are supposed to objectify and scrutinise. But today, we cast aside our doubts and ignored the little chip hotwired into our skulls by Cardiff University which makes us think, in the words of Jeremy Paxman: “Why is this lying bastard lying to me?”

Tomorrow we can argue Obama’s plans for the nation are too simplistic and too pie-in-the-sky, we can nay-say about establishment conservative America blocking any plans he has for healthcare reform or withdrawal from Iraq and Afghanistan.

But today we all had a little faith. After all, the guy hasn’t done anything wrong. Yet. And how wonderful would it be, if maybe, maybe, he doesn’t screw up?

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Seriously the weirdest thing you will ever see…

I’m sure I’m not the first person to draw people’s attention to this on the blogosphere but seriously more people should know about this. I just can’t believe this show is real.
This is a show recently featured on Charlie Brooker’s screenwipe, but also a YouTube treat. It’s the Junior Christian Science Bible Lesson show, made by David Lieber Hart on American Public Access Television.
This is 100% genuine. And it is quite recent, not some 60s throwback. Here are some of the best ones.

i just love how they try and keep it going when they realise there’s a minute or so left to go. And how the guy can’t play guitar. And how you can see the puppeteer’s afro bobbing up and down. And how the guy suddenly rattles off about how he’s lost his bus pass

Seriously, why is she speaking in German? Why?

It gets too weird even for the producers when a man starts imitating Bob Dole and they have to cut him off.

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“God knows I tried” – A tribute to Lasantha Wickrematunge

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There have been few news stories in the past year that have moved me so personally as the story of Lasantha Wickrematunge, editor of Sri Lankan paper, the Sunday Leader who was murdered in a rain of bullets in the capital Columbo on Thursday (my birthday).

Worthy of note and respect enough, but the most remarkable aspect of the story was yet to emerge, the publication of “And then they came for me”, a post-humous editorial, which Wickrematunge had written to be published after his murder, which he had predicted. Alongside hinting at the identities of his killers, and laying blame on the doorstep of the government which he once considered a friend, it included these words, which every young journalist should take with them

If you remember nothing else, remember this: The Leader is there for you, be you Sinhalese, Tamil, Muslim, low-caste, homosexual, dissident or disabled. Its staff will fight on, unbowed and unafraid, with the courage to which you have become accustomed. Do not take that commitment for granted.  Let there be no doubt that whatever sacrifices we journalists make, they are not made for our own glory or enrichment: they are made for you. Whether you deserve their sacrifice is another matter. As for me, God knows I tried.

Throughout this course, we have been told by so many lecturers about the importance of safety, because a dead journalist cannot tell a story. Here, one has told one of the most telling stories of all, and in death he has exposed yet again the dangers of this profession and how much we owe to those prepared to face those dangers. He knew the dangers and he knew his choices and he chose to stand and fight. I will be keeping his editorial in my scrapbook as a constant source of inspiration.

Read Lasantha Wickrematunge’s full editorial in the Sunday Leader here 

Image courtesy of “Stop Genocide in Sri Lanka”

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The bold and the brilliant

journalist

We had a wonderful lecture from Ian Hargreaves last Friday, and an excellent way to wrap up term at Cardiff before I slog the shit out of next term. I thought I’d publish his five points for becoming a journalist, because they are ones people should hear, and I will strive to achieve them not only over the rest of this course, but if I can achieve them over my career, I will feel I have had some measure of success.

1. Stand back from the pace of events and explain what the shape of the action is. WHAT IS GOING ON? WHAT DOES IT MEAN?

2. Express yourself in a concise and original manner that is directly suitable for the audience you are writing for. Good journalist tune into their readers and their subjects and both yield stories.

3. We cannot go against collective values. We cannot be cavalier or offensive. This blocks our ability to communicate.

4.We must always have a sense of place, values, time and contexts. You must always have an anchor and be that anchor and still point when the world is in chaos. You do not provide the chaos.

5. Be as eloquent in print as you are in person, in audio, in video and online. Be brilliant at communicating through any medium thrown your way.

We can only hope…

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May I introduce my good friends Stephen Fry, Britney Spears and Barack Obama

twitter1

 

There’s been quite the furore over Twitter this week from various media types. Nick Curtis, of the Evening Standard, has been trialling twittering. And he don’t likey.

I can’t find any celebrities, or any breaking news, just endless prattle from people with too much time and too little imagination. After two hours, I log out, and I won’t be back. Britney, Barack: if you want to get in touch, you’d better phone me. But only if you’ve got something worthwhile to say.

In many ways, he’s got a point. I can’t quite get over the fact complete strangers follow and talk to me. That was the whole reason I never joined myspace. Quite frankly, I rarely update my Twitter with anything particularly interesting, just letting people know where I’m up to with work, updating them on my blog, and asking my network about issues that I’m researching. I’m not important enough for anyone to care about my everyday life.

Plus, if I want to know about Barack Obama, apart from the endless emails “he” sends me, then I’ll read the paper. And if I want to know about what’s going on in Britney’s life (which I do), then I’ll read the National Enquirer, not her Twitter feed.

But Paul Carr (the Guardian’s Technology correspondent and winner of the year’s best headline ‘We are all on Twitter but some of us are talking to the stars’) has challenged Curtis to a Twitter showdown, asking him to try it for a week and see if he doesn’t change his mind.

Curtis, who describes Twitter as “Facebook status updates on crack” believes Twitter, far from being the faceless updates from people who you know nothing about and care even less about, actually humanises people.

 I used the service’s search feature to follow the attacks in Mumbai as they unfolded, reading updates from people caught in the middle of the horror. Suddenly these were not just nameless faces on the news, but people who hours earlier had been Twittering about their pets or how they were eating a sandwich, but who now feared for their lives. You can’t read that stuff and not realise that, as humans, we’re all in this together.

Twitter’s one of those applications I’ve been learning about on my online journalism course which has divided my opinions, and those of my fellow journo students. 

It’s also divided the opinion of my last Online lecturer, the BBC’s Technology correspondent Rory Cellan-Jones. Although a self-confessed Twitter obsessive, who tweeted throughout our lecture, sending pictures of us to his followers and asking them for advice to dish out to us, he was quick to bust some of the myths surrounding Twitter, especially the attention it got as part of the Mumbai attacks.

As Cellan-Jones writes in his blog, people didn’t Twitter the attacks. They saw the news on TV and twittered for more information. But I don’t think it devalues the service. We’re journalists, and it’s OUR job to tell the news. It’s great when bystanders get involved, but at the end of the day I don’t blame them for running, not twittering.

When Twitter does break news, it’s generally broken by the media. Or by journalists, like James Buck’s famous ‘Arrested’ message. But maybe that’s no bad thing, and we have to accept Twitter is not the best way for us to find news, but it’s a great way to get news out. And that’s half our job done.

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Bigger than the BBC

Can it be possible for a journalist to be a bigger brand than his/her media company?  Rick Waghorn, creator of myfootballwriter.com, thinks it can.

This, he told us, is the future of journalism, and even if say, Robert Peston, was to up and leave the BBC, his devotees would follow him, because his views, and his market knowledge proven during the Northern Rock crisis means he has become bigger than the BBC

Robert PestonI am somewhat sceptical about this, although I do see that it can happen in a few specialised cases.

Arianna Huffington is the most obvious example, and the ubiquitous Huffington Post (which clutters up my Twitter feed with the most updates I’ve ever seen or would’ve thought possible) and which the Guardian called:

The leftwing antidote to the rightwing Drudge Report,the Huffington Post has also posed questions about the nature of mainstream journalism with its army of volunteer “citizen reporters”.

This new way of reporting that Huffington pioneered meant the website got scoops that other papers would never have touched, including exposing Prince Harry’s service in Afghanistan and Obama’s comments about “bitter” working class Pennsylvanians clinging to guns and religion.

There is a fine example of Huffington as a bigger brand than any of the news organisations that she worked for in the past. Who remembers her as a former BBC journalist?

And there will be the people, the media personalities who will have an audience all of their own, not just Independent/Telegraph/Sun/ readers. Piers Morgan, Germaine Greer and Robert Fisk spring to mind.

But I do ultimately believe it’s the newspaper or the channel’s reportage that we trust. I used to really like David Aaronvitch in the Guardian, especially his American politics, (although our political views are polar opposites, he’s an entertaining and thought-provoking writer) but I haven’t religiously read his columns in The Times. Because I like the Guardian’s political commentators, and I trust their news sense, and they are more important to me than one man (there are exceptions, I wouldn’t trust them as far as I could throw them on the Middle East)

myfootballwriter.com, Rick Waghorn’s creation is an excellent supplement to local reporting, a forum for discussion, at a micro-local level with a sports writer (and soon news writing) whose writing you trust. But I don’t think it’ll ever replace the way people trust the BBC or even the Yorkshire Evening Post.

However, it’s a competition that could be interesting…

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Strange Bedfellows

northcliffe

 

The Independent is moving into a flatshare with the Daily Mail, in a bid to cut those pesky costs.

Well they do say opposites attract…

The Guardian says

INM journalists will be sharing the building with Associated titles including the Daily Mail, Mail on Sunday, London Evening Standard, Metro and London Lite.

It comes at a price though, last week INM annouced their won’t be space in their cosy new abode for 60 journalists, and 90 employees altogether. Excellent news. Glad I picked such a stable career. Maybe I should have gone into something proper and reliable, like business or banking.

Oh. Right.

Full article here

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Writers Sought for “Starting University”

We’re starting an online guide for Freshers. No-holds barred, tell us the truth about your university, the academic standards, the housing, the people and exactly what you can expect for your bucks. No more tired “it’s what you make of it” spiels. This is a guide for those intrepid applicants that seek out the truth. Make sure that prospectus is telling you the truth. But first we need some writers.

Here’s a magnificently crafted video that explains all…

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Welcome to the pick ‘n’ mix

Ok, I admit it. I’m a very typical Guardian reader. I like organic food and Pret a Manger. I don’t believe in SUVs. I’m young, I’m a student and I’m about to enter a respectable profession, and I like to think of myself as well informed. In fact, the Guardian is my homepage.

But recently, although it sometimes feels a bit like a shameful affair from a loyal lover, I have (gasp) been reading other newspapers.

Since the financial crisis reared its mangy head, I’ve become a devotee of the Financial’s Times’ analysis, who are consistently first on the ball with national and international business news, streaks ahead of the other broadsheets. The inimitable Robert Fisk’s blog on the Independent website is unmatchable. And although the Observer was always my Sunday paper of choice, lately I’ve been casting a wandering, lustful eye across to the Sunday Times, whose Style magazine and features supplements are absolutely top notch. The Times has now become my second choice paper (replacing the Independent), and when the Guardian headline annoys me, I’ll often pick up a Times instead (it was the only paper not to have the Ross/Brand hideousness on the front page a few weeks ago, reason enough to give them my money)

(And where else am I supposed to get my daily fix of Cheryl Cole’s latest outfits/dilemmas/ drama? Why, from the Daily Mirror of course, the only paper that’s more obsessed with her than I am. This might be the first year this millennium that Miss Cole has featured on more front pages since Princess Diana.)

 As Shane Richmond, Communities Editor for Telegraph.co.uk told us in our Online Journalism Lecture, communities of readers used to be built around titles, in the way Jim Hacker describes i3038184779_01b0347f8dn Yes Prime Minister.

But now it’s a pick ‘n’ mix free for all. Telegraph readers no longer just go for the fried eggs, they might try a cola bottle once in a while, or even a liquorice allsort.

The single biggest referrer for news is Google. We don’t just head for our favourite news website, like BBC News to find out about a breaking news story. We grab the hint from Twitter, and type it into Google, and see where it takes us. Want American news? Well the best place for that is the New York Times, not your trusty Guardian, although it’s great to have that too.

And audiences can be built at section level, or even purely at columist level or single article level. Now you can have your favourite titbits rolling into your RSS feed, like Media Guardian, coupled with the Times’ sport coverage, and showbiz from the 3am girls.

But newspapers then face a challenge from their polygamous readership. A need to retain brand loyalty, like the stereotypes that once existed is crucial to commercial success, and websites have to work harder to keep readers loyal.

One of the key ways to do this is through online participation. The Telegraph, perhaps against what one might expect from a paper with very traditional news values, has been one of the first to adopt digitalisation, through the creation of My Telegraph, where readers can blog under the Telegraph masthead, and be sure of a wide audience.

As Shane Richmond points out:

We didn’t give them a blog, we gave them an audience. These people, by and large, would not have started blogging otherwise. They are Telegraph readers, so they have similar interests, and they wouldn’t leave because their community is here.”

The same is true of the Guardian’s Comment is Free, and the BBC’s Have Your Say. They have loyal users, who stay true to their online community. And they’re self-regulating, because if views expressed there are too extreme, they will instantly be blasted by other bloggers.

Pick ‘n’ Mix news is one of the most exciting aspects of web journalism, and it keeps us journalists on our toes, because we’ve no longer got the comfort of knowing that readers, once they’ve bought the paper, are hemmed into our news, features and sport. But if we can give them a community, like the one that used to exist between Telegraph readers, and between Mail readers, and between Guardian readers, then perhaps we can keep them faithful too, and hope they don’t stray too far for good.

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BRANDED: How blogging became big bucks

Anthony Mayfield, a digital PR and Marketing expert at iCrossing.co.uk gave us some exceptional insights last Thursday into the number of ways companies are using social media and networks to get my pounds.

Up until now, I’d assumed I could smell a corporate blogger a mile off. You’d find them lurking in comment forums or on Facebook, slyly inviting me to “I love Apple” Facebook groups or commenting on how amazing the Nokia 345678 (or whatever) was on mobile phone websites. Yeah right guys, I thought. You think you can pull a fast one but I am a SMART PERSON.

But the Internet is the most lucrative market of all (what with the death of print and all), and it’s about time these companies wised up to a whole new way of doing business.

In Brands in Networks, an e-book published by iCrossing, Anthony Mayfield details how many places you need to monitor to keep tabs on your brand, like Wikipedia for example, where big corporations are frequently the subject of vandalism. Youtube is another one, check out this hilarious parody from Adam Buxton, making a (very expensive looking) advert for Nissan look totally ridiculous.

Obviously the Internet can be a dangerous place for your brand but if you’re a bit clever, there are ways of maintaining a brand presence which don’t involve prostituting yourself in people’s faces. My current favourite beauty store, SPACE NK, have relaunched their website, including a personal beauty and culture blog by Nicky Kinnard, which is actually a pretty good read in itself, and doesn’t push the products down your throat. (But they’ve got to work on making it a bit easier to find on the front page of the website.)

We can all live together in peace in this online world of ours, consumers and brands alike. We just need to learn clever ways to get our voices heard, without resorting to shouting

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The PC Brigade

The British National party’s membership list has been posted on the internet, apparently by a former hard-line supporter. It means identifying thousands of people as secret supporters of the party and, the Guardian claims, “exposing many to the risk of dismissal from work, disciplinary action or vilification.”

Internet forums have already seen the plotting a Google map for each address of 10, 000 BNP Members (see the still from the Guardian below). So you can as TechCrunch editor Mike Butcher puts it:

Zoom in as near as your own street and see the proximity of your nearest BNP member, just in case you fancy calling round for tea.

map19nov2008

I don’t actually think that it’s a bad thing that these people have been exposed, quite frankly. Lola Adesioye has written an excellent piece on the leak where she writes:

While I find BNP ideology abhorrent, the publishing of this list has brought home the fact that the people who belong to the party are ordinary British citizens. We must not forget that the BNP is a legalised political party which has a seat in the London assembly and which, it has been warned, could potentially win a seat in the European parliament. More understanding of the party and those who belong to it is, therefore, vital.

I do understand however why, pragmatically, it’s wrong, as is the exposure of the identity of mother and stepfather of Baby P.

It shows us how dangerous the Internet and this new freedom of access to information, despite it’s illegality, is unstoppable. The information is out there now, and even if the original is pulled down, it can never be taken back.

But the most striking part of this leak for me is how excellent it is to see the BNP get a taste of their own medicine.

For too long, the BNP and other far right groups have been using the Internet as a fertile recruiting ground for members, even infiltrating groups that were not originally racist, like British pride groups. They use forums, social networking sites (particularly sites like Facebook where it’s just impossible to monitor the groups that are created, thousands must be made everyday) and other sites where you would not expect to come across their campaigns. BNP members, and it is consistently the same users across different sites target people in the groups spouting propaganda.

It gets even worse with even more hateful groups such as White Supremacist movement Stormfront (no, I’m not going to link to it) which was one of the first big Internet forums. The site got 2,000 more members the day after Barack Obama was elected, and the site went temporarily offline due to overwhelming demand.

These groups have been the first to harness the Internet for their own gain, and companies and media have been comparatively slow to catch up.

It’s nice to see at least one of them get a taste of their own medicine.

 

Update: Tech Crunch and Mike Butcher have changed the Google Map to a heat map- check it out here

There’s also been another great addition to the ‘Downfall’ parodies that come with every major news event, excellent stuff.

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“Burn 90% of the print business to the ground. And do it fast.” Michael Rosenblum

 

An excellent interview by Jemima Kiss, a blogger and Guardian journalist with Michael Rosenblum, a cutting edge video journalist after his speech at the Society of Editors conference in Bristol this weekend. Rosenblum doesn’t mince his words:

The biggest weakness in newspaper business is the paper part of it.

Should we get get rid of print journalism and concentrate all our efforts online? YES

Should we only employ people who are capable of that transition? YES

Is print journalism dead? YES

Do we just have to let go? YES

I’m really glad he said that. I may not yet have the courage to agree with him, but at least he’s got the balls just to say it. Because, deep down, that’s what everyone else thinks too, apart from the really grizzled old hacks at the back, who will never be converted.

So why not just say it? Forget all this umming-and-aahing. We’ve heard a lot of people saying that in a happy fairy fantasy land where we like to please everyone “Print and Online can peacefully co-exist and nothing needs to really change, it can just expand a bit.” We all know by now, quite frankly, that’s not really true.

I will mourn the death of the paper, and I hope to cling to it for a little while yet. But this is the future and it is inevitable.

Blogging can do everything that print journalism can do. We have the ‘Beat blogger’ who works his local patch like those soon to be pioneered by Trinity Mirror, and one that I’m working on myself for my patch, Grangetown in Cardiff [watch this space- I reckon you'll be hearing more about that pretty soon]. Even my little home town of Harrogate keeps a blog about updates to its shiny new library.

We have expert opinion blogs like Martin Bright’s political blog from the New Statesman and our lecturer for this week, Alan Tinworth’s “One Man and His Blog”.

And we’ve got group blogging, those exciting forums and up-to-the-minute information blogs on a wide range of topics, which can be personal or about one big obsession, like my current frivolous obsession Jack and Hill: A Beauty Blog.

Let’s strike up the violins, print might not be dead, but it’s on its deathbed and we need to give it a good send off.

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Sex, drugs and blogroll

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First they took away our research. UGC is taking care of that. Then they took away our opinions. Now everyone has a blog or a Flickr page, who cares what a journalist thinks? Then they took away the materials. We have to send out a message the way the public wants us to.

But surely, surely, surely, they couldn’t take away how we write, our unique styles, our personal voice? No? And then along came the very sinister world of SEO (search engine optimisation).

Because, as Matthew Yeomans so casually explained in our Online Lecture this week, if your article can come top of a search engine by having words like FREE PORN, BRITNEY SPEARS and QUANTUM OF SOLACE, that are frequently googled, then it’ll generate more traffic for the site, and a rapid dinging of the cash till from advertising revenue.

As ever, the wonderful Charlie Brooker couldn’t have put it better:

“If you do persevere with search-engine-optimised news reports, where do you draw the line? Next time a bomb goes off, are we going to read “Terror outrage: BRITNEY, ANGELINA and OBAMA all unaffected as hundreds die in SEXY agony” Why bother writing an article at all? Why not scan in some naked pictures and have done with it?”

Isn’t there something just a teensy-bit sinister about this? I’ve just accepted the internet journalism revolution for what it is, a really exciting way to get stories to people and get theirs back. But now, of course, what it comes back to is money, the filthy dirty cash. Because the more presence your website has on networks like Twitter, Facebook, Mento, Digg and suchlike, the more traffic comes back to your site and the more MONEY you get from advertisers.

Boo.

Fine, call me a tangly-haired hippy optimist stuck in a time warp of optimism and not living in the real, mean world of the media corporation. But you’ve got to admit it’s all a bit depressing.

(Image: Myki Roventine)

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The path less trodden…

We human beings are naturally creative. We tell the same stories over and over again in the pub, we customise our desktop wallpapers, we furnish our desk with silly little toys, gadgets and photographs in our boring office jobs, just because we can. But so few of us utilise that creativity and channel it into creating something amazing. My boyfriend, a London theatre director told me the other day:

“On average each person in the U.K. spends 42p a year on the Arts. For that much money they could have two packets of Polo’s. Think they wouldn’t take the mints?”

Why aren’t we utilising the creativity that all of us have to potential for? The web is a great place to start. What a refreshing lecture we have had by Dr. Daniel Meadows a documentary photojournalist. His enthusiasm for storytelling was infectious and infused me with a new excitement about Online Journalism as a medium. Particularly interesting was the concept of psychogeography, mapping out an area using stories and ideas from the people there. Joseph Hart, writer for the alternative culture magazine Utne, called it:

“slightly stuffy term that’s been applied to a whole toy box full of playful, inventive strategies for exploring cities. Psychogeography includes just about anything that takes pedestrians off their predictable paths and jolts them into a new awareness of the urban landscape.”

This idea was especially inspiring to me and my fellow newspaper journalism students, having just been given a community ward in Cardiff as our “patch” to scour for gossip, sniff out scandal and essentially to become part of the community and report as an insider.

My ward is Grangetown, a multicultural community in South West Cardiff. It’s got its fair share of problems, including antisocial behaviour, drugs and prostitution, as any traditionally working class area does, but as a reaction to these problems, it does community spirit and involvement like nowhere I’ve seen before.

There is an astonishingly active local history society and community centres bustling with activities to aid integration and education. Local residents meetings and community action groups are packed to the gills with battle-hardened old birds who are the local vigilantes, fiercely and lovingly protective of their community. It’s got character, that’s for sure.

What an amazing place to potentially start a psychogeography project. I was inspired by Daniel Meadow’s mention of [Murmur] an oral history group that records stories and memories attached to specific places in Toronto and other towns, by posting mobile phone numbers to call and listen to a story about the very street you are standing in.

This summer, I took part in a production in a similar vein by the excellent Unlimited Theatre company in Leeds (my neck of the woods). It’s a walking play, based on the experience of a refugee living in Leeds, discovering the city and telling stories about it, that you listen to on your iPod walking on a guided tour of the city. Think radio play meets city-tourist-walk. And anyone can download and do it for free. If anyone’s in Leeds, with an hour to spare, or even plan an hour and purposefully do the walk. It’s a really interesting and thought-provoking experience.

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Link to the Unlimited Theatre audio download here- check out their website and mailing list.

I’d love to create my own piece, a theatrical experience and a journalistic one, informing the reader, giving local news that personal touch in a truly interactive way. Something to think about for my “Capturing Cardiff” project.

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How soon is too soon?

Alison Gow, editor of the Liverpool Post, which has been a trailblazer in online journalism gave us a lot to consider in her step-by-step approach to new media in my lecture last week. She was keen to stress however, that it was still a discussion, not a recipe to be followed to the letter.

But both are true I think. The ethics and practice of networked journalism may still be open to debate but it is here. You’ve only got to look at the main stories in media trade papers and websites, in Press Gazette, Media Week, journalism.co.uk, holdthefrontpage, all the top stories are new developments in Online Journalism, and who’s next to jump on the bandwagon.

 You can’t ignore it, the revolution will not only be televised, it’ll be blogged, widget-ed, twittered, facebooked and dipity-ed. But I’m still finding it hard to accept how over-published everything will be from here on in. Let’s take Nick Davies’ very famous and extensive two year investigation for the guardian into the failures in the prison services. Would it have made so much of an impact if we’d have had constant updates on his findings as he found them, dropping the bombshells via twitter, adding his interviews on video, working drafts of his articles, and comments on forums on the article before it is even fully completed.

Yes, it makes it more democratic, more open and more interactive, and that’s a good thing. But doesn’t it also dull the effect? (That’s a question… I’m interested to know what other people think).

Can you imagine if this happened in literature? Ian McEwan writes a new novel, drafts are published on line, he reveals major plot twists as they enter his head, he summarises his ideas on twitter, he posts timelines of the events on dipity and creates an Ian McEwan widget with Sprout with updates on the changes he’s making and the characters he’s adding?

There is, of course, an argument for it, but surely it would make his actual finished product a whole lot less interesting. Because we’d have heard it all before. And we might still buy it for the beauty of McEwan’s polished word, but it would be unexciting. No wonder print circulation is down.

 I love investigative features, both reading and writing them. And I like them to drop a bombshell and change the world. If I’ve been hearing the results and the soundbites and the best interviews for the weeks it has taken the reporter to write and research the article, then when it appears, I already know the story. So how do they retain my interest, particularly in something like Davies’ case which took two years? Obviously, our priority does need to be to keep updating the public, keep them informed and keep it quick, and it’s great we can send out a startling new soundbite or development across widgets and twitter.

But (as ever) it’s about striking a balance. Let’s keep that wow-factor in our features too.

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All journalists are born equal?

Is User Generated Content good for a democratic free press? Dr Andy Williams, a Cardiff University journalism researcher (who took my Online Journalism lecture last week) believes it can be, but it’s definitely not there yet.

 

There are the obvious problems. People who post are generally those who are politically active anyway, it’s not really reaching out to edges of the community we’re writing for. And a more troubling concern is if you hide behind an avatar, you can say what you like, and you can get yourselves, your subjects, and the news organisation that picks up your “story” into a lot of trouble. The Dorset Elk is a much cited example, but there are others.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

But I think there’s a deeper problem at the root of UGC, and one that needs addressing. We need to make UGC truly a “conversation” and as equal an exchange as possible.

 

At present a lot of journalists who I’ve met have chosen to ignore or mock most UGC postings or pictures. We’ve only got to look at the derision with which “Your News” from the BBC was treated to see a general attitude towards outside contributors to the industry (although it is pretty stupid). When journalists do bother to listen or reply, it’s usually selfish. We use contributors pictures, steal their ideas from forum posting, and attribute their videos to “a Youtube user.”

 

I’ve done it myself. During my work experience at the Daily Mirror this summer, I spent one day a week working with the 3am girls, trawling the Big Brother forums on the BB website and Digital Spy, looking for fair-weather “friends” of housemates posting dirt on the forums so we could buy the full dung heap for dirty cash. My editors couldn’t care less what other people on the forums had to say, because it wasn’t worth anything to them. But a murmur of past misdemeanours, or a juicy old photo, and bingo! This UGC is a goldmine.

 

But the citizens are taking back the power from right under our noses and it’s at our expense. Roy Greenslade wrote a short piece in Media Guardian two weeks ago about the Teesside Evening Gazette, owned by Trinity Mirror, which is aiming to recruit 1,000 citizen journalists for its individual localised news websites over the next year. The 22 community websites, which feature content written by a combination of 400 non-journalists and the Gazette’s editorial team, attract 150,000 unique users a month.

 

That’s a pretty huge change from how we would normally expect to receive local news, and indeed why not have it coming from the people who experience the news in that locality every day? Isn’t it a coincidence that this interest in citizen journalism and UGC from big media corporations is happening at the height of when regional papers, particularly Trinity Mirror, have annouced more job cuts for journalists. And citizen journalists come cheaper than regular ones. Being made redundant has just taken on a whole new meaning.

 

I don’t think the UGC revolution has quite happened yet. It can’t happen until we, as journalists accept its huge benefits and anticipate its limitations. Then perhaps our conversation with our readers and the rest of the world will be a little bit more balanced. UGC is a wonderful thing, and such a great tool for journalists and for the public to hit the news bang on the nail by working together. Right now though, we’re still too worried the mob are getting just a little bit too close to the ivory tower.

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Journalism is fun. Fact.

Last night, my journalism class and I went to a meeting of the Cardiff NUJ and we heard the current chairman of the union in Cardiff, Martin Shipman, Chief Reporter of the Western Mail speak, himself an ex-Cardiff journo student.

 

I’m sure I wasn’t the only to expect a NUJ meeting to be the doom and gloom brigade, nay-saying about poor pay, job cuts and being replaced by citizen-journalism-robots, and that, children, is why we all need the NUJ.

 

And Martin Shipman and his colleagues did say that, to certain extent, but they also stressed with lovely grins on their faces that the reason we do this, and the reason we’ve worked for a pittance and even for free is because we love it, and it’s “bloody good fun”.

 

Apparently, that’s absolutely true. It is bloody good fun. These professional journalists, who are witnessing the print apocalypse first hand, told us. And that was the best thing they could possibly have said.

 

It made me think again about my Online Journalism training. As complicated as things like Twitter and Dipity and Sprout and all these endless widgets may seem, they’re fun, and they’re there to be played with. I just spent two hours making this blog look pretty when it probably would have taken someone vaguely competent around five minutes. But what the hell? It was fun!

 

If we play around with these tools and learn how to integrate them into the way we think about news, we might just hit on a brilliant way to tell a story.

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Why can theatre do what journalism can’t?

A: Time

 

 

Last Friday, I had the immense pleasure of seeing Sherman Cymru’s superb production of Deep Cut, a razor-sharp piece of verbatim theatre on the four deaths of young soldiers at Deep Cut barracks. Click here if you’re unfamiliar with the case itself.

 

Brian Cathcart, a Private Eye journalist and character in the play who followed the case and the eventual government inquiry that took place laments in an article in the British Journalism Review that:

 

“Journalism dropped the ball. I believe we were outmanoeuvred, tricked by the MoD into letting the matter drop”.

“Is modern journalism’s ‘need for speed’, the minute-by-minute news we discussed in last week’s lecture, causing this?

Deep Cut got its fair share of media attention, an army training camp for squaddies with a reputation for sex, drugs and sadistic officers, and the result was four deaths between 1995-2003. The case for the explanation being four separate suicides, which was what the report eventually concluded, was pretty damn weak. One young recruit is reported to have shot himself fatally…twice. Think about that for a second. And surely that’s what reporters at the time should have been thinking about too. But the government-sponsored inquiry by Nicolas Blake QC into the deaths and their mismanagement by army staff and police, the Blake Report, said suicide. And so that’s what was reported.

Why was this allowed to happen? Because, ultimately, the machine of government was cleverer than us, and it played on our new obsession with speed, speed, speed.

The Blake report was 485 pages long, and there ain’t a hope of twitter-ing that. Though some hacks did scratch beneath the surface, like Cathcart, most journalists relayed the conclusion, the soundbite, the digested read. And, of course, because it was easy and because it was quick, it was the one that the army desperately wanted in the public domain, that the deaths were suicides and that there was no need for a public enquiry.

 

By the time the families of those who died had called a press conference to announce they would continue to fight for a public enquiry, the journalists had gone back to the office so they could make the morning’s deadline. And it was a mere two hours after the Blake report was published.

Brian Cathcart has a stark warning to us:

 

“Governments, when they think they can get away with it, will use this device again. They will spring a mass of information on us in the knowledge that we have no hope of processing it in time to meet that day’s deadlines, and they know as we know that the second and third day’s coverage rarely makes the front page. We should be alert to this and should try to subvert it as we do all the other devices of spin.’

 

I don’t have an answer, I think the public have come to expect fast-food news, I can’t remember the last time I switched on Sky News and didn’t see ‘BREAKING NEWS!’ flashing wildly across the screen, or logged on to the Guardian website without seeing ‘Last updated less than one minute ago’ displaying itself proud-as-punch above the headlines. And we, as trainees, are responding to that demand by learning how to use tools like Twitter and liveblogging.

The problem with Twitter that I have from my extremely limited usage of it so far, and mostly from an observational point of view, has been that the communications that take place over the medium are fundamentally meaningless.That’s not to say that it’s not useful, it tipped me off that Ian Blair was about to resign, but then I kept an eye on the Guardian website for some analysis. And indeed, some came to sate my appetite…within about four minutes. Is that enough time to analyse something that important? And if it was written beforehand, why? Couldn’t I just have waited till tomorrow morning? I was happy to do that a week ago…

All I know is we must tread cautiously in how we use it, because Twitter news in 140 character chunks is only scratching the surface, and because there are spin doctors who will exploit our need to keep things quick.Nothing important can be exchanged in such disjointed bursts of dialogue, which fail as real thought

Glyn Mottershead stressed to me and my fellow wannabe journos in our first Online Journalism lecture that what is key in multimedia journalism is to think what is the best way to tell the story. This, I think, is crucial, and often forgotten in the multimedia newsroom.

The best way is not always the fastest.

 

I’d be really interested to hear what other journalism trainees thought if they saw the play, and whether it aroused the same feelings of uneasiness and frustration as it did in me, aptly timed as it was, to neatly coincide with our embarkation upon our media careers. And of course, thoughts from anyone about the play are always welcome.

Read the rest of Brian Cathcart’s extremely pertinent article for the British Journalism Review here

Image is of Cheryl James, a soldier who died at Deep Cut, courtesy of Sherman Cymru.

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