Clegg , Vader and Snape: A discussion

After reading the excellent blog post "David Cameron is Voldemort. No seriously" by Mary Hamilton the other day, I mused in her comments section that Nick Clegg may in fact be Anakin Skywalker.

She had cast him as Professor Quirrell or Professor Snape but I wasn't quite convinced so leapt from one successful franchise to another.

Having thought long and hard about it, I am convinced I am right - particularly in the light of last night's vote.

You see, Snape was always a baddie - until it became very obvious at the bitter end he was a goodie. And Quirrell? Well Quirrell was just Quirrell until it was revealed that in fact he was a Quirrell/Voldemort hybrid hellbent on facilitating the murder of an 11-year-old orphan.

I never had great hope that Quirrell was one thing or another - I simply didn't care - whereas Clegg was full of Golden Boy potential in April. The mainstream media was full of the fact that the Lib Dem leader was changing the election dynamic who was taking support away from the Tories by the fistful.

A sneaky peaky into his background shows that he certainly had the potential to be the chosen one.

Yes he comes from a privileged background, yet his family has suffered at the hands of persecution. Everything he does, he does extremely well, which hints to me at a very high midi-chlorian count and he spent a brief period getting his hands dirty (although to be fair, working for the Financial Times, doesn't quite equate to being Watto's slave on Tattoine) before being tipped for greatness and apprenticed by a Master in the form of Paddy Ashdown who must, therefore, be Qui-Gon Jinn.

But of course, his political training went astray following the demise of Master Paddy, and the tutelage of the well-meaning but inexperienced Charles Kennedy was not enough to guide this volatile character away from the Dark Side just as Obi Wan Kenobi could not prevent Anakin's conversion to the Sith.

Just as it seemed that padawan Clegg would fulfill his destiny he was dealt a bitter blow and actually saw the Lib Dems lose ground in the May elections, which parallels The Jedi Council's refusal to grant Anakin Jedi Master status and so he wreaked a terrible revenge.

In last night's vote Clegg urged all of his MPs to break a pledge to scrap tuition fees and instead vote to treble them.

Such is the despicable nature of this deceit and treachery, I can only draw a parallel with Anakin's willingness to murder the Jedi younglings (below).

He is now firmly ensconced in the Dark Side alongside Cameron (didn't Palpatine seem sincere and thoroughly decent during his rise to power?)

Of course, if my Anakin analogy is correct, we are likely to suffer decades more injustice at the hands of this tyrant until eventually he repents having saved the next chosen one, before dying on a distant planet covered in Ewoks; furry, tree-loving and largely peaceful creatures who could certainly be members of the Green Party.

Of course, I could be attaching too much significance to Clegg. In the grand scheme of Star Wars he may actually be Jar Jar Binks - a chirping, ineffectual, grating twat who'll gradually fade into the background under a torrent of negative publicity.

Wikileaks: Can you have too much of a good thing?

Journalism is about information.

Specifically, journalism is about revealing information.

More specifically still, journalism should be about revealing information which otherwise may not be revealed.

So Wikileaks is A Good Thing. Right?

Certainly it would seem so. The revelations following the publication of war logs were superb and shone megawatt spotlights into murky corners of world politics that Tony Blair and George W Bush had sought to keep in the shadows for eternity.

Wikileaks founder Julian Assange is to be praised for his all-consuming effort to bring hidden information out into the open to bear the full brunt of public scrutiny. For too long, the 'War on Terror' has been used as an excuse to 'classify' information and stop us from worrying our pretty little heads about it.

Now we have a third major installment as the US Embassy Cables are being picked over across the globe. But it doesn't feel like a satisfying part of the trilogy. In fact I feel very similar emotions to those experienced when watching X-Men 3 or Spiderman 3 - I had high hopes, some of the old excitement is still there but it has lost its sparkle and originality.

Perhaps it is because much of what is now being revealed is so banal, perhaps even downmarket. Much of it is not what anyone would label primary evidence but more gossip and intrigue - the kind of circumstantial evidence which would have little credence in a court of law.

What do we really know? Well here's three examples:
  1. Prince Andrew is cocky and rude.
  2. Hilary Clinton thinks rich Saudis are bankrolling terrorism.
  3. That the US fears that Qatar has undue influence over al-Jazeera
And here's my reaction to hearing all three bits of info
  1. Well he's an old school royal so it's no surprise.
  2. Considering the US have pointed hundreds of times that Osama Bin Laden is of Saudi descent that is not ground breaking.
  3. The US, and other western powers, actually fear that countries like Qatar have a global media brand as it means they no longer have to confirm to standards of journalism set in the US and other Western powers
There is still great information in the latest data dump. Take the highlighting of America's attempts to control the International Panel on Climate Change.

But it's still ultimately gossip. We are hearing one side of a conversation without context of what questions were being asked, what scenarios were being set. It is akin to judging a Twitter debate by looking not at a hashtag to get all views but only at one user's feed.

I want transparency but we all must recognise that at times, a conversation between two people can be private, otherwise nothing in life would ever be planned for fear that the planning process would be leaked to undermine the outcome. Judging which of those moments should be private is tricky but it seems at the moment that no-one is even attempting to make that call.

The World Wide Web is becoming a place where journalists can investigate and publish in a way that seeks to circumvent the wall of PR and legislation that aims to prevent some truths being uncovered. openDemocracy and HelpMeInvestigate are two great examples of that.

Such is the success of sites like these that the winner of this year's Paul Foot Award for investigative journalism was Clare Sambrook - a journalist who had the bulk of her investigative work published on openDemocracy.

But the standard response to all allegations in the Cables is denial and there is little proof one way or another to currently force a change in that stance. Perhaps they should be run through helpmeinvestigate before publication to stiffen them up a bit?

I labelled the cables potentially downmarket as it shares some characteristics with classic tabloid tales. Take the Lord Triesman sting: Get a pretty young woman to tape him making outrageous claims and print them. Whether or not he believed them or simply grandstanding in front of an audience was irrelevant to the Mail on Sunday.

To go further back, look at the News of the World's treatment of England rugby union captain Lawrence Dallaglio. They put him a room with a bevy of beauties and encouraged him to tell tales of drug taking. Of course he didn't have to do it but what did the story achieve? We didn't discover that the England captain had taken drugs - in fact he was exonerated of all charges - just that he might lie about when seeking to impress young ladies while pursuing a sponsorship deal.

And that is the difficulty with the kind of journalism Wikileaks is currently producing. It's not 'copper-bottomed', 'stood up' or 'evened-out' in a way that journalism usually would be.

So can we have too much of a good thing? Certainly, taking my examples of Hollywood's superhero films, the answer is yes, but what about Wikileaks.

What good is being served by having this kind of information released?

Very little that I can see and I am not alone. Blogger and lawyer David Allen Green has blogged along similar lines. He argues, and persuasively in my view, that transparency as a liberal ideal must be weighed against legitimacy, legality and privacy.

It is interesting to note that in the comments section of Green's blog, there are some fairly frothy postings, just as there have been on Twitter and again I am left ruing this desire of the modern world to see everything in black and white.

For example, it seems from the above that I am not supportive of the Cable leaks. But then I see an article like the one in the Washington Times, which called for the assassination of Julian Assange and I feel the need to point out that I am in no way in that camp. Neither am I with Sarah Palin, who called for Assange to be tried for treason against the US, neatly forgetting he is an Australian who until recently was based in Sweden. (seriously, if she is ever elected president the pictures

No. I'm a shade of grey. I applaud Assange for the work he did on the war logs as it poured bleach on the bacteria that Bush and Blair had cultivated around the War On Terror, but I'm not swayed by anything in this current glut of data until it has been through the journalistic process a few more times.

Press reaction to 2018 failure

So. The World Cup will not be coming to England in 2018. It seemed almost inevitable yet the shock and outrage that greeted the decision indicates that some quarters thought we had it in the bag.

On Monday evening Panorama aired its 'investigation' into allegations of FIFA corruption and I blogged to say I was disappointed by the poor standards of investigative journalism exercised by Panorama but ultimately backed their decision to run the programme.

But today, many of the papers are full of bile and anger about the decision and many are indicating it was a fix.

  • The Daily Mirror is convinced that money must have changed hands to secure the World Cup for Russia in 2018 and Qatar in 2022
  • The Sun's homepage (right) called for a corruption probe (sounds painfully like something the Spanish Inquisition would use), claiming that Russia has been 'bunged' the World Cup.
  • The Daily Telegraph thundered that it was A Disgrace, adding the England had been lied to
  • Even The Independent got in on the act, claiming that England feared foul play
Most seem to have forgotten the spurious allegation that the BBC had cost us the World Cup. It was an allegation that had featured prominently and amusingly in The Sun on Tuesday. It is an allegation repeated by England bid chairman Andy Anson today, alongside a claim that we probably should take our toys home and never bid for the World Cup again.

The Sun's response to Panorama wasn't truly surprising - after all there is no hypocrisy like red top hypocrisy as I discussed in an earlier blog about the excellent film Starsuckers. Surely The Sun must appreciate that reporting on corruption is pretty well timeless, unlike labelling a mentally ill boxing star Bonkers Bruno or running a picture of a topless Royal bride-to-be taken a decade earlier. However, Sun readers seem to have believed the article as Josh Halliday of the Guardian reported that the Beeb had been inundated with complaints since Russia got the nod.

But back to today's coverage. What is obvious from all the coverage is that the media agrees on one thing: it is beyond comprehension that Russia got the bid over England.

The Daily Mirror states:
Russia is a country where, as Wikileaks showed, it's difficult to tell politicians and the Mafia apart because corruption is so rife.

Black and Asian footballers suffer abuse from racist supporters. The new Tsar, Vladimir Putin, threatens the fledgling democracy. Neighbouring countries are warned that gas pipelines will be shut if they refuse to bow to Moscow.

It is a classic myth of British media. It is othering. It is the 'factory setting' of the British media standing up and shouting from the rooftops: "But we are the best. No-one can do it like us and just look at those other countries. They have horrific problems."

No mention that our Lord Triesman was caught (admittedly in a pretty shabby sting) spouting apparently groundless allegations that Spain was prepared to bribe referees or that recent hooliganism is threatening to undermine the sheen of respectability applied to English football after the shame of Heysel in 1985.

No mention of the fact that racism has still not been kicked out of English football or that our leading players seem incapable of behaving in a way that represents the game well.

No. If England lost, it must be down to skulduggery, underhand tactics and outright corruption because that his how the 'other' behaves

Of course, the Daily Mail has another view. According to the Daily Mail, we lost the bid because we had too many foreigners in our own bid video. Images of the Premier League's popularity in places like Africa and Asia must be to blame. If only we had a couple of pictures of bobbies-on-the-beat, paintings from Constable and, dare we suggest, some choice words from Enoch Powell, all would have been different.

To be surprised by Xenophobia in the Daily Mail is akin to being surprised by David Cameron's failure to grasp the economic plight of the lower classes. Still, it was shocking even by their standards.

I for one will look forward to the World Cup in Russia.

Yes I am frequently appalled by the lack of democracy in that country and yes, it has problems with corruption. But when we see our own policemen 'getting away with murder', our own politicians backtracking on promises for a sniff of power and attempts to stifle legitimate protest, are we sure that we can say that it is just them 'others'.

Panorama and FIFA

Interesting - at least from a journalistic point of view - that investigative reporting has been a topic of huge debate in recent weeks. Last night it finally came to a head with the broadcasting of Panorama's investigation into allegations of corruption at the FIFA.

The argument has raged back and forth with accusations that the BBC is unpatriotic for scheduling the programme days before the winner to host the 2018 World Cup is to be announced being countered by the assertion that investigative journalism cannot be silenced for commercial or nationalistic considerations.

But the bid team and our Prime Minister have said they have no intention of silencing free speech but have criticised the timing of the programme and questioned why it could not have been aired some time ago.

As a journalist clearly I want to see investigations come to the fore - I tire of the churnalism that we see day-after-day in the media and of the constant use of celebrity to justify the news values of a story (why do we need Bob Geldof and Bono to convince us that Africa needs our help?).

But what did last night bring to the table? It was difficult to see much new information.

Panorama has given some truly superb examples of investigation but last night was little more than a 'cuttings job' - a story which has been formed entirely from repackaged existing news.

We had a summation of Panorama's previous, and entirely justified, attack on FIFA vice-president Jack Warner four-years ago. The top line to come out is that three senior officials took bribes in the 1990s, and a large part of the reporting was based upon investigative work by the Danish newspaper Tipsbladet.

The most interesting aspect to me was the fact that FIFA insisted that Government change their laws to protect the commercial rights of the tournament's official sponsors. The goes a long way to explaining how a group of women was arrested for wearing orange dresses during the world cup in South Africa this summer. It was seen as ambush marketing by brewer Bavaria which undermined the official sponsor Budweiser - but making wearing a colour of clothing illegal is a shocking victory for commercialism.

However, even that 'revelation' was actually the work of the Dutch Government and not Panorama. It also transpires that similar agreements have already been reached regarding the London Olympics next year and yet that does not seem to interest the BBC.

The Daily Telegraph's eminent sports writer Henry Winter had the following observation on Twitter immediately after the broadcast:
Watched Panorama with eminent sports news hacks here. They shrugged. Btw
David Mellor hardly added to substance.
But Paul Hayward in The Guardian offers a different view. He states:

Three days before the 2018 World Cup vote, the English bid is starting to feel like complicity in the supreme authority's slavering pursuit of the game's
astronomical wealth

And there's the rub. Whatever we think of the BBC's timing, it is FIFA that has failed to tackle corruption within its ranks and it is FIFA that puts the needs of sponsors before that of a democratic judiciary.

Whether or not the BBC should be rating chasing by sensationally timing its broadcasting of such a programme is a side issue - it is FIFA that has done wrong and it is our job as journalists to uncover it.

The Sunday Times' sting operation was hugely criticised by FIFA yet what the organisation failed to deal with was that the newspaper has uncovered yet more corruption.

I love sport and, barring the idiotic minority of football fans, still love the game of football but if we lose the 2018 World Cup because we have journalists willing to challenge corruption when they see it then that is a price I am prepared to pay.

I'm a failed Twitolutionary

It always looks so easy.

Creating a meme or an online campaign. We saw it last year when Killing In The Name Of beat X Factor at number one for Christmas. I've seen Stephen Fry, Clare Balding and JackofKent whip up a wonderful frenzy of outrage or glee.

So, having been delighted with the wonder of Brett Domino's Gillian McKeith song (below), I felt it was time to step up (to use the parlance of the day). I want to see Domino at number one for Christmas.

It's got everything. It would stick it to The Man, jam a stick through spokes of the wheels of commerce, promote a genius 'amateur' comedian, poke even more fun at the awfulpoolady and, above all, amuse the hell out of me.

It had the added bonus of promoting an act rejected by Simon Cowell on Britain's Got Talent (below). It seemed the concept of parody was beyond the comprehension of the mighty Kingmaker of pop.

But, and here's the rub, it turns out I have little to no influence. I thought my compact but respectable 211 followers (as of 26/11/10) would be enough to get something going.

I thought a few well phrased retweet requests to some influential Tweeps would get the ball rolling and I could sit back and enjoy with revolution from the comfort of my newly acquired Powerbook.

Except my retweet request fell on deaf Twears (sorry, I'll stop doing that now - it's starting to annoy me a little).

No word from Sunday morning Absolute podmaster Dave Gorman or Chris Moyles. @DavidAllenGreen (formerly known as JackofKent) - someone who I regarded as a banker due to his previous with the Emperor Palpatine-like McKeith - politely declined with the following Tweet:
@MBradbrook Sorry - have moved on from dealing with her ;-)

Disappointing, but not a fatal blow. But the minutes turned to hours and still no retweet. I checked my hashtag #dominoforxmas1 just in case it had been retweeted without my name attached. But one result popped up. My own tweet looked back at me in a mocking way.

Maybe Cheggers would back me I thought. But it turned out he's on a Tweetbattical (dammit that's a bad habit) after coming in for a bit of stick.

Maybe I shouldn't give up. I'm sure Che Guavara wouldn't have surrendered so easily. But Che wasn't operating on the information superhighway (old school).

I can't blame the holders of big Twitter accounts for not complying with every request that comes there way. Dave Gorman in particular is right to be suspicious after his recent brush with a fake account claiming to be raising money for charity.

They have the potential to reach hundreds of thousands of people and, as Uncle Ben told Peter Parker: With great power, comes great responsibility.

We'll see.

Maybe this whining, plaintive blog post might stir some support. The thing with social media is that every Tweet or status is a stone at the top of a hill - it just needs a good push to gather some speed.

If you're reading this and feeling the revolution, go on - give it a go and RT or repost to your status:
Twitcampaign to get @BrettDomino to Xmas no1? Would annoy awfulpoolady and Cowell (rejected him on BGT) #dominoforxmas1

Delicious irony on the Media Show

Just caught up with last week's podcast from the excellent BBC Media Show.

Interesting interview with Sir Michael Lyons (rather bland, political and evasive) with Media Show host Steve Hewlett (informed yet overly forceful and opinionated on this occasion) regarding the deal with the Government to take a £340m cut by paying for the World Service and S4C among other things.

However the thing that made me chuckle the most was the final interview of the pod. It was with Clothilde Le Coz of Reporters Without Borders regarding their Press Freedom Index 2010

But just as Clothilde got to the issue of a lack of press freedom in the UK, Steve cut her off and said they had no more time.

Of course, it was true. But they only ran out of time because they gave so much time so their own Chairman could explain why he had cut a deal with the Government which in a small way compromised the independence of the BBC.

It was all done in a very deadpan way but surely the irony cannot have been lost on the staff of the Media Show.

Anyway, I would suggest you follow the link above and give the press freedom index a good read - it is well worth it.

The Wire and journalism

SPOILER ALERT - contains information regarding The Wire (all seasons)

I have finally caught up with Season Five of The Wire entitled Read Between The Lines.

I was looking forward to it as it involved journalism and I was interested to see how realistic the portrayal was from the excellent David Simon after four superb seasons.

In all honesty it was somewhat difficult to judge as the US style of journalism differs from our own and the newspaper model - few nationals with each city supporting at least one multi-edition daily - is so different from what we have here.

But the themes I saw in the newsroom were familiar from my time in regional papers in the UK and the frustration that city editor Gus Haynes felt when faced by bewildering decisions from above and lack of journalistic effort from below.

Don't get me wrong, I worked with some superb editors in my time and was honoured to work with some of the reporters that I had in my team during my five years on newsdesk.

However, seeing Gus struggle to get genuine journalism - ie articles of depth and insight - into the paper and hold on to journalistic standards resonated with me as it must have done with many news editors across the world.

Seeing the Baltimore Sun chief editor constantly praise a reporter whose sincere pledges of hard work were never backed up as he constantly churned out poorly researched pieces was hard to watch.

It can be difficult to spot when a reporter is pulling the wool over your eyes as we've seen with cases like Stephen Glass and Jayson Blair. But this fictional character Scott Templeton's actions, which ultimately led him to make up news and get away with it, did resonate. It is the danger of the personality in journalism - he was being judged by what he said he was doing rather than what he was doing and, for me, that is wrong.

When I was recruiting reporters I was most interested in their cuttings file and their ability to explain the process they went through when newsgathering. Unfortunately I have heard colleagues say they are looking for an extrovert who'll represent the paper well. Of course, all newsrooms have those larger-than-life characters, but it only works if backed up journalistic ability and endeavour.

For a good example of how to build a feature watch Scott's colleague Mike Fletcher build a rapport with Bubbles. For a good example of how to build an amazing story read or watch All The President's Men and if that doesn't spur you on to become a better reporter you might in the wrong job!

News sense

Good start to the new academic year here at the University of Gloucestershire.

Our new Journalism degree recruited very well and we have 37 strong students raring to go at the start of the year.

Today marks the end of Induction Week for the Freshers and, while most have looked a little bleary-eyed at times in the morning, we did manage to conduct a good experiment on news sense and news values.

On day one we set the students the task of coming back to use with two photographs taken on their mobile phones. One which they regarded as newsworthy and one they regarded personally interesting to them.

We got some good results on the newsworthy. The expected shots of students drinking (bound to be a good few stories in papers across the country on that), a cracking snap of a smashed up learner driver's car and one group talked their way into Cheltenham Town FC to take a pic of their new stand (good work team).

But it was the interesting pictures that yielded the most, well, interesting results.
The two that stood out the most were a shot of a beautifully carved topiary hedge, to which someone has added a smiley face, and a shot of the bubble-blowing fish in Regents Arcade (below).

The Gloucestershire Echo is now following up the hedge story (won't say too much as it would be a shame to ruin the students' exclusive) and of course, the fish clock was designed by Kit Williams who remains a fascinating character to this day and the scandal and intrigue around his treasure hunt book Masquerade makes great copy.

What fascinates me with many journalism trainees is that they don't often link what interests them with what will make news. To me it stands to reason that if they are interested then someone else will be.

If we all just stick to norm and continually regurgitate the same old news then who will read it in the end?

Ray Gosling and a waste of time

I have been following with interest the case of former BBC journalist Ray Gosling.

Gosling was arrested in a blaze of publicity after admitting (twice) that he had killed a former lover who was dying of Aids in order to end his suffering.

It reignited the debate about 'mercy killing', which hasn't been far from the headlines since the Swiss suicide clinic Dignitas opened its doors.

But last week came the announcement that Gosling had been charged not with murder or manslaughter, but with wasting police time.

The statement from the CPS reported that in the initial murder investigation - something that was inevitable once he has confessed to millions of people that he had killed someone - he had been interviewed by police several times and that 'detectives conducted an extensive investigation into the allegation'.

It is clear that the police now believe that the confession was false and that Gosling must now face charges as officers spent so much time investigating the allegation. Under British law, Gosling is currently innocent of any crime and the purpose of this blog is not to decide upon his guilt but to react to some of the coverage the fresh charge has inspired.

Jack of Kent - a superb campaigning lawyer who is on the the right side of nearly all debates (stupid scientology, Gillian McKeith, Singh v the chiropractors etc) - is clear in his stance. In his blog, he believes that the time wasters are clearly the police.

In Jack of Kent's blog, he highlights four areas of concern about the decision to prosecute:

First, a piece to camera which is subsequently broadcast does not seem to me to be a "report" within the meaning of the offence.

Although the 1967 Act does not require the report to be to a police officer, for the word "report" to be extended to include such a broadcast piece seems to stretch the word to the point of meaninglessness.

Second, it is not clear that the content of what Mr Gosling said was sufficiently precise for it to be a statement "tending to show that an offence has been committed".

In fact, it seems too vague to be a report of an offence, if it is even a report in the first place.

Third, the offence requires mens rea (a guilty intention) the time the "report" is made; there is no evidence available that such an intention was present at the time of the actus reus (culpable act).

And fourth, apart from all the above, one cannot easily see the public interest in prosecuting Mr Gosling.

But I take a different view. If Gosling did indeed falsely confess to the crime then the charge is inevitable. Who he confessed to is irrelevant as any one of the viewers of the original programme or the ensuing coverage could have reported to the police that they had evidence that a murder had been committed.

I am not going to debate mercy killings and whether it is right or wrong (mainly because I cannot make up my own mind) but under British law, the deliberate taking of someone's life is murder and the police have a duty to investigate.

I feel uneasy with the principle of the CPS or police interpreting the law as they go along. I am delighted when courts and juries challenge bad law but from my statutory bodies I want implementation not interpretation.

My main concern with the above four points is in point four however. "One cannot easily see the public interest in prosecuting Mr Gosling".

From a journalistic perspective I can see few greater wrongs than falsification and the police and CPS have alleged that Gosling has falsified a confession to a murder.

I abhor the kneejerk 'role model' accusation that is slung around these days to all and sundry when wrong doing occurs, whether it is England captain, Hollywood actors or top golfers.

But surely a respected, campaigning journalist presenting a 'factual' piece about such a deeply sensitive matter is indeed a role model. His word and his actions could have direct influence on the actions of others.

I will continue to follow this with interest but I have a feeling it could be a significant case for journalism and journalists.

I only wish, like Jack of Kent, that the CPS had applied the same strident approach to the decision on whether or not to prosecute PC Simon Harwood.

A journalist's smoking gun

A comment piece byPhilip Johnson in The Telegraph caught my eye today.

OK, first of all I am aware it is a comment piece and therefore made up of opinion. However, there is a lot of material being given as fact which I take issue with.

In a nutshell, Mr Johnson said that a trendy nightclub in London (Tramp - although I am not au fait with it)is installing an area for smokers to "help stem the loss of business caused by the ban on smoking in public places".

He described the ban as draconian and directly blamed it for the closure of pubs, citing a statistic that there are 6,000 fewer pubs than in 2005.

But it's a poorly researched and presented piece of journalism. For a start, it is guilty of the assumption that opinion does not need to be based in well researched fact.

If we assume (and yes I can hear my students chant about what happens when we assume), that the stat is correct, it seems stark and persuasive. But how many trendy new chain restaurants have opened?

It put me in mind of a former assistant editor I worked with. She was a committed smoker and was convinced that the smoking ban would destroy the pub industry so insisted that our regional newspaper carry stories to that effect.

We found seven city centre pubs that were closing. "Ah ha", said she. "Proof positive."

The fact that further research showed that three pubs had opened in the last six months as well as a host of chain restaurants in a new city centre development, could not deter her from wielding her sword of truth to highlight the undemocratic and economically unviable ban.

The smoking ban has been an emotive subject for people from both sides. I smoked when it came in and maintain that without it I would not have been able to give up.

I love taking my kids to smoke free pubs and restaurants and I am pleased that we do not face the ridiculous situation proposed by The Telegraph's Mr Johnson in which we would have smoking pubs and non-smoking pubs giving choice.

Not really a choice for the staff though is it and if you're in a group of friends who smoke then you either need new friends or can suffer the effects of second-hand smoke.

Are we really to believe that the type of people who previously enjoyed all that Tramp has to offer now sit at home and watch Casualty on a Saturday night because they can still enjoy the odd Woodbine inside?

Many of the regulars in my village pub said they would not drink in the pub when the ban came in and gloomily predicted the closure of Appleton's hostelry, The Plough. But really what were hey going to do? Turn their back on their social lives and site at home alone contented in a fug created by 20 Superkings?

In fact the pub has gone from strength to strength. "Proof positive that the ban works", say I. But you know what, I am not going down that route. Since the ban came in the pub has a new landlord and landlady and they serve food and provide entertainment, which has far more to do with it.

And that's my point. Look past the dangerous, knee-jerk assumptions and dig deeper or, as a journalist you are not even doing half your job - even if you're 'only doing comment'.

From the mouth of a babe

The other day Molly, my four-year-old daughter, was asking me about Oxford and I was telling her as much as I could remember about the city.

She then said: "But Daddy, how do you know this?"

Me: "Well, as a journalist I often have to find a lot of things out so I can let everyone know and then I just remember them."

Molly: "But how do you find things out?"

Me: "I ask people and they tell me."

Molly: "But why don't they just tell everyone."

Me: "Well people have always come to journalists to find things out because there was no other easy way of doing it. Now though we have the internet [a concept she is familiar with through the CBeebies website] so anyone can tell everyone everything."

Molly: "Oh..... So we don't just need people like you any more then?"
I thought it was amazing. She succinctly summed up what is happening in our industry with one short conversation.

Of course, 'people like me' are quite useful for bundling all this information together but we're not needed to the same extent.

If she can get it why do so many journalists fail to?

The joy of 100 Followers

The Big Day came, and when it arrived, it was not with a whimper but a bang and subsequent glittery shower of excitement.

Fatherhood? No.

Wedding Day? No.

Significant sporting achievement? No.

I’ll put you out of your misery, it was the arrival of my 100th follower on Twitter. ‘Not a big deal’, you cry? It is to me as I have become enchanted and engrossed in the social media site in the past few months.

Initially I had some reservations - Facebook without the good bits was a frequent complaint about Twitter but it is so much more than you can put into 140 characters.

I came to it late because despite being involved in online journalism for five years, we in the regions viewed anything external - ie not explicitly carrying the corporate brand - as being a trendy waste of time. One of the joys of jumping ship to higher education has been cutting myself free of that kind of thinking and throwing myself into all social media has to offer.

I use Twitter mainly as a way of networking with journalists, students, PR professionals and in that sense it is completely separate to my Facebook page, which I use mainly for keeping up with old friends and family. To me Twitter is a way to make new friends and contacts.

I have also watched some groundbreaking stuff happen on Twitter in the guise of the Trafigura scandal in which a hugely powerful international company and very slick legal firm in Carter Ruck were brought to their knees by the power of the Titterverse.

I also enjoy follow the little spats that get going. Ben Goldacre and Jack of Kent's haranguing of the awful poo lady (Gillian McKeith) and Jack of Kent's later goading of stupid Scientologists have been a joy to watch.

The attacks on Keith Chegwin as a plagiarist by Ed Byrne and David Baddiel have been more confusing as I enjoyed Keith's tweets (such as: Channel 4 dropped Wife Swap & How Clean is your House. Good time to pitch How Dirty is your Wife, Want to Swap) but as a fan of comedy imagine that Byrne and Baddiel will become close friends once my screenplays and novels are finally recognised for the genius they undoubtedly are.

I also felt very much part of a movement who objected to Jan Moir's homophobic opinions on the death of Stephen Gately and are still objecting to AA Gill's homophobic taunting of Clare Balding.

Twitter is a place where secrets can't be kept as Carter Ruck and PC Simon Harwood(the police officer who hit and violently pushed Ian Tomlinson to the ground during the G20 protests, yet miraculously escaped prosecution when the innocent Tomlinson died) found out.

But as professional as I try to be when I use it, the lore of the playground still holds true in that you want as many friends as you can get. I was determined that I wouldn't just seek out our my Facebook friends and add them to Twitter as that would sort of defeat the point but I was positively embarrased when I remained stuck on 24 followers in the first month. 50 felt like a milestone but my envious glances at other people's profiles confirmed that I was still a bit of a social media pariah (Twitteriah?).

But I got a big rush of followers following an off-the-cuff Tweet about David Cameron during the general election:

"In Radio Times Cameron says he doesn't get social media. Good thing he's not from a PR background or trying to run the country then."

It seemed to resonate and it was retweeted several times and all of a sudden I bagged another 25 followers.

I've tried to analyse what made it successful and recreate the core parts with tweets like:

"Looks like Richard Desmond is bidding to be the Lidl to Rupert Murdoch's Waitrose in the evil empire stakes."

and even the more blatant recreation

"So Cameron wants to close Raoul Moat Fb page. Nowt like censorship to create martyrdom. Cam spot on when he said he didn't get social media."

But alas there was to be no new flood of followers, so I thought I would ask some of my existing followers why they followed me and this is what I found:

Only One Ports: "I think I saw a RT of yours during the leaders debate which made me chuckle. Sent a response and you replied. I follow people who chat.....have opinions/are interesting and make me chuckle. Besides ur sporty like me too."

Sarabedford: "As local politician & a user of social media, was amused by tweet @10.49 Saturday re Cameron. I thought I'd give you a go."

niklasf: "actually I don't remember how I started following you. Probably through an interesting retweet."

pinotblush: "Am following because I like hearing/sharing thoughts and ideas with other media people and my hometown is Oxford."

So it appears there's no secret formula. My Cameron tweet drew a few people in and I treat Twitter as a conversation rather than a series of statements (take heed politicians). I might have to try a few more PM-bashing tweets but I'm worried I risk becoming a Twitter version of 1980s Ben Elton.

I was hoping for a reponse from some of my more 'colourful' followers such as Shitlog who posts pictoral updates of his daily bowel movements or some of the ladies who appear to be offering naughty delights of the virtual kind, but sadly they remained silent.

I should really remove people like these from my list but then I might go back to being in the 90s and I can't have that now can I?

I've also faced the quandry of whether I should automtically follow anyone who follows me. But I have decided against it for the following reasons:

1) I don't want to see pictures of someone's daily number twos. I get a enough of that through having two young sons in nappies.

2) I don't want my followers to wonder why I am following ladies of the night

3) Some people are boring. It's harsh but true. One guy I was following just filled his timeline full of bitter and snide comments about any football team that isn't Arsenal. If I want to hear that kind of twaddle, I'll seek out the BBC 606 boards.

But then I also know the pain of rejection when I follow someone who doesn't follow me back. Stephen Fry and Tim Minchin seem unmoved by my 'hey guys I'm funny and technologically savvy too' banter and suddenly I'm back in that school playground again looking at the cool kids and thinking: "if only...."

The Sun and me

It has recently been pointed out to me that I seem to knock The Sun and, more specifically, Rupert Murdoch on a regular basis.

The observation followed a recent Tweet about Richard Desmond's acquisition of Channel Five in which I wrote:

"Looks like Richard Desmond is bidding to be the Lidl to Rupert Murdoch's Waitrose in the evil media empire stakes"
It was a hilarious and cutting observation which spawned exactly no retweets and, beyond the confines of my own head, very few laughs other than politeness.

I then followed it up with a comment on a former colleague's Facebook page in which I (jokingly) advised him to make up some journalism for The Sun because that is what they all do. So far so cliched and borderline defamatory.

But looking back, I do appear to have a bit of a history in knocking The Sun, which is after all one of British journalism's great institutions. It is the country's most read newspaper and the technical quality of the journalism is superb. I'm not just saying that - it is far harder to write 250 words on politics for The Sun than it is to write 1,000 words for the Guardian.

Also, Murdoch has recently seen a slight upsurge in public opinion. An example of this would be the excellent David Mitchell's article in The Guardian recently in which he says that liberal society's dislike of Murdoch is leading to a blindspot over the paywall he has introduced at The Times.

But I still can't bring myself to like The Sun or prevent myself from making sarky comments about it so I thought it was time I buckled down and examined why that might be.

So here's the case for the defence (it's my opinion I am defending in case you were wondering):

1) Many of The Sun's most celebrated stories are fabrication. Take for example, Freddie Starr Ate My Hamster or Elton John has voice boxes removed from his guard dogs. When people talk about stories like these it is often with a chuckle and a roll of the eyes as if making this kind of stuff up is akin to a cheeky child being caught taking two biscuits when one was on offer. It isn't. It's wrong to make stuff up as I readily admitted recently in my silly season confession post. However, The Sun is so proud of its fabrications that if you like they have given permission for them to be reproduced emblazoned on a T-shirt.

2) The Hillsborough disaster coverage: "Oh no, not that again," I hear you groan. But yes that again. Not only did the paper accuse Liverpool fans of revelling the disaster, pickpocketing victims and urinating on those trapped in the mayhem, but it also took an obscenely long time to properly apologise (15 years since you ask). That apology only came about when it was clear that The Sun's circulation figures in Liverpool were never going to recover unless something was done.

3) The Sun is hideously self-important when it comes to politics. I've blogged about this before. Last week I was having a conversation on Twitter with David Dunkley Gyimah (@viewmagazine), who is a video journalist and lecturer at Westminster University, about the fact that modern journalism is ill-equipped to cope with modern politics. I summed up my views rather glibly with the phrase:

"Modern journalism is over-simplistic and modern politics is over-complicated"
Nowhere is this more obvious than at The Sun, which blatantly tries to sway the views of the electorate at every General Election. From being Maggie's lapdog and Kinnock's vanquisher to the uneasy alliance with the freemarket socialist Blair to backing the man-of-the-people/old Etonian David Cameron, The Sun has advised us who to vote for. But are we best served by having Murdoch's mouthpiece steering our vote? Do people know why the recession hit other than because Brown was grumpy and Alistair Darling's eyebrows are a different colour to his hair? There is a potential for astute political coverage in The Sun but it gets lost in the posturing and celebrity-obssessed diatribe we have to put up with.

4) Its coverage forced 10 seasons of Big Brother onto our screens. Admittedly I have little empirical evidence for this but I am sure that the interesting programme that was BB1 and 2 became the mud-wrestle at Aldi it is now because of the shallowness of The Sun.

I know, I know. That all sounds very po-faced and humourless. Believe it or not, I do like a bit of humour in my papers - I just don't want it to be made up or patronising.

Of course, it has been pointed out that I worked for a worse paper in the Daily Mail and that is undeniable. I would offer a critique of the Mail but Dan and Dan have done it better than I ever could.

When even the power of media isn't enough

It has been announced today that no criminal charges will be brought against any police officer relating to the death of Ian Tomlinson.

Mr Tomlinson died following the G20 protests on April 1 last year. Although police told his family he had died of a heart attack after getting caught up in the demonstration, a video was later released (below) which clearly showed him being violently shoved to the ground from behind by a police officer.

A second post mortem was carried out at the instigation of the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) and the second pathologist decided that he had died from internal bleeding. Incidentall, the pathologist who carried out the first examination is currently suspended pending an investigation into matters not related to Ian Tomlinson but which call into doubt his professional ability. A second video was then given to Channel 4 (below) which showed Mr Tomlinson being struck by a police officer before being shoved to the ground. It was then clarified that Mr Tomlinson had no role in the G20 protest and that he was just returning home from his job as a newspaper vendor.

It is clear for all to see and has been in the public domain courtesy of the media and social media - YouTube providing the video and Twitter, Facebook et al linking to it. So how can there be no charges?

The Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) statement can be read in full here but it boils down to the following paragraphs.

"Having analysed the available evidence very carefully, the CPS concluded that there is sufficient evidence to provide a realistic prospect of proving that the actions of PC 'A' in striking Mr Tomlinson with his baton and then pushing him over constituted an assault. At the time of those acts, Mr Tomlinson did not pose a threat to PC 'A' or any other police officer. "

It continues:

"A conflict between medical experts inevitably makes a prosecution very difficult.... As a result, the CPS would simply not be able to prove beyond reasonable doubt that there was a causal link between Mr Tomlinson's death and the alleged assault upon him. That being the case, there is no realistic prospect of a conviction for unlawful act manslaughter."

Common assault does not require proof of injury, but it is subject to a strict six month time limit. That placed the CPS in a very difficult position because enquiries were continuing at the six month point and it would not have been possible to have brought any charge at that stage.

"The Court of Appeal has held that: "The threshold is a high one requiring conduct so far below acceptable standards as to amount to an abuse of the public's trust in the office holder."...As a result, we have concluded that the conduct of PC 'A' did not meet the high threshold required to constitute the offence of misconduct in public office."

So in essence: the videos showed that a police officer assaulted Mr Tomlinson and that, as the victim of that alleged assault, Mr Tomlinson was not threatening the police officers in any way.

However, because two doctors have different opinions, because the CPS dragged its heels during the investigation and because, in the opinion of our judiciary, a police officer striking an innocent man with a baton and forcefully shoving him to the ground is not far below acceptable standards of an office holder, no charges are to be brought.

I am against trial by media in general terms. The principles of our legal system: innocent until proven guilty, tried by a jury of our peers etc are strong indicators of a democratic society.

But this case and way the incident was played out in front of those involved in both the mass media and social media, has shown that the legal system is weighted too strongly in favour of those enforcing it. We can see for ourselves the moment that a police officer crossed the line from being an upholder of law and justice to becoming little more than a thug lashing out at anyone close to him.

Citizen journalism at its finest and at its most powerful has provided the CPS with the evidence it needs to secure a conviction yet it will not even begin a prosecution.

I have no doubt that the officer had no intention of killing or even seriously injuring Mr Tomlinson and I know from my experience as a crime reporter that situations such as these are incredibly difficult for even the most experienced officer.

But can we as a society allow such a thing to happen? Mr Tomlinson appeared to be an innocent man in the wrong place at the wrong time. He was on his way home from his job as a newspaper vendor.

He also appeared to be vulnerable as witnesses report him appearing confused before the incident and the post mortem examination showed that he was suffering the effects of prolonged alcoholism. In short, he was a man the police should have been protecting from the unruly elements of the G20 protests.

We need to wait and see what the IPCC decides will happen to this officer next but, even in the view of the CPS, the assault upon Mr Tomlinson appears to be a criminal act and it deserved a legal response.

If a man who was accidentally caught up in the protest dies in this manner without anyone involved in the circumstances leading up to his death seeing the inside of a criminal court, then the message that has been sent out that this country's legal system actively supports the use of violence in the face of public protest.

This will run and run and I suspect that anniversary protests/memorials will get uglier and uglier and all because justice has not been served.

What next? Will a man be shot dead on the underground for having dusky skin during a time of heightened anti-terrorism awareness. Oh, hang on...

The silly season and a confession

Well, the silly season is almost upon us once again and I am eagerly anticipating a rush of typical stories to accompany the time of year.

For the uninitiated, the silly season refers to the end of July and August - a time when the schools break up, the courts slow down and parliamentarians take a break. All of this, tradition tells us, leads to a news vacuum where news editors cannot find a story for love nor money and go to increasingly desperate measures to fill pages.

Of course, around the world there is a great deal of news going on but our nationals, particularly those of the tabloid persuasion, do not believe that foreign news is suitable for these shores. In the regions, if the reporters hit the streets, do research and work contacts, there is a wealth of strong news stories to be had but apparantly but there isn't the time for that as storied must be churned out to fill a notional news quota.

So you can anticipate red herrings - wildly exaggerated guesswork on future Government policy for example - and plenty of animal stories. Animal stories always do well in the silly season, whether it's black panthers on the loose, dolphins capable of complex sign language or even this legendary (if somewhat belated) 'Squirrels on crack'.

The squirrel story is a classic of our times and I am only amazed that it didn't contain a quote from Bill Oddie or Kate Humble to add further authority to the shocking revelation.

I have to admit to being sucked in by the silly season myself as a young reporter on the Derby Evening Telegraph.

In desperation I was drawn to a black panther story. With a willing accomplice in the form of a game-for-a-laugh police sergeant, I managed to spin out a 'genuine sighting' into a rolling story worth three page leads, four anchors and countless news-in-briefs. In hindsight I do feel some guilt about the matter as embellishing the truth (alright, telling outrageous porkies) is in reality just making fools of your readers.

A good PR professional can make hay during silly season and, as a former news editor, I can confirm that the press releases I dreaded for 10 months of the year were seized upon with glee during the silly season.

I remember the phone calls well:

"What's that you say about a man from Oxford [insert town of your choice] betting £100 that aliens will land on earth before Swindon [insert rival of your choice] win a major footballing trophy? I'll have it"

"A list of the most amusing (and not at all made-up) insurance claims? Sounds like a double-page feature to me."

Of course, a lot of this is built upon the central premise that breaking news is something which happens - ie a court case finishes, parliament makes an announcement etc etc rather than being something that is uncovered. Journalists today are so used to having their agendas written for them that the idea of breaking free is fading fast.

There is news out there. It's just that the British press has become so fixed in its ways that it is difficult to see the wood for the trees sometime - I should know, I was in that forest a long time and only rarely glimpsed genuine timber.

If only the barriers could be shifted somewhat and we could see some intelligent analysis. Instead we get patronising (but amusing) garbage during the summer months as editors wait for the obligatory 'phew what a scorcher' moment accompanied by pictures of young ladies in bikinis.

Easier said than done of course and news editors frequently rely on the equivalent of shooting fish in a barrel to appear to have done some 'investigation'. That means we can expect a good number of stories about, for example, motorists on mobile phones (complete with picture gallery)and cyclists jumping red lights (complete with picture gallery).

A classic in the shooting fish category also occurred in Oxford when a senior newsroom member who shall remain nameless (but has now left) got very excited by bike thefts in the city. He ordered a reporter to leave a bike unlocked and in plain view and 'stake it out' to see how quickly it was stolen. He was a bit excitable and was convinced the headline would read 'Gone in 60 seconds'.

However, a week later the bike was still there; untouched and unloved. For all I know it is still there and the real story is one of the local paper fly-tipping.

Mind you, finding these stories isn't plain sailing and it would be a cop out of me I didn't suggest at least a couple of ideas I might like to pursue. Not complex but better than making stuff up or going for the same old targets.

1) If WiFi is the next big thing (and I assure you it is with the iPhone and Androids becoming increasingly important), why not check out how much of your city/town is covered?

2) We've just come out of recession and are facing 'austerity measures' but how much debt would you be able to get in one day. Send a reporter out to see what they can get in terms of credit and store cards. It won't matter if it is a lot or a little - the story is still there.

Give me shout if you spot any silly season corkers.

WC 2010 and the media

Well, it's all over for another four years and once again ends in failure. This failure is a little bit special though as we have been tonked by the Germans - our footballing nemesis - rather than surrendering on penalties in the quarters or semis like the plucky top eight team we usually are.

Funny to see the media's reaction in this country and it really has highlighted how poorly served this country is by the sports media at large. We get platitudes and cliches and half-baked guesswork from nearly all quarters as the media lurches from patriotic supporter to uber-critic in the space of a few hours.

Desperation for a scoop is behind some of it. A genuine exclusive is almost impossible to come by during a world cup campaign as the pack is in full attendance and the players are flanked by press officers at all times.

As a result, any kind of controversy is blown up and eagerly seized upon by the rest of media. Anyone reading about John Terry's press conference would have presumed he had suggested chasing Capello back to Italy armed with pitchforks. Anyone watching it would have actually seen a senior and experienced player talking about his disappointment at being so rubbish and how he and other players were going to discuss it frankly with the manager.

It was clear that things were not peaches and cream but neither were they worth the kind of blanket coverage they received. Of course the public is interested but can that kind of coverage be said to be in the public interest?

The second aspect I am unhappy with is the way that an answer to a question is frequently used out of context.

Take today's article in the Telegraph which explains why the team is such a worthless and pampered bunch of overpaid prima donas.

Alright so that is a slight exaggeration but it outlines many of the gripes from the players. One is attributed to Wayne Rooney who "alluded to boredom when he said he did not like being asked to go to bed in the afternoons".

But did he? Or was he asked if he liked going to bed in the afternoons and replied in the negative - an honest and obvious answer to a dull question. How many young men do like being asked to go to bed (alone) in the middle of the afternoon? But now that the campaign has spluttered into failure, the answer has been woven into an article proving that Rooney is not a player struggling for form and fitness butking of the whingers.

Then there was Alan Shearer on the BBC's coverage who snorted with derision at Fabio Capello's assertion that the long Premier League season had left his top players exhausted.

The former England striker said: "He can't claim that now because before the tournament he said that the team were in tip-top condition. Also the Germans played more games than us."

Fortunately it wasn't just British journalists/presenters/experts involved and the Netherlands' Clarence Seedorf stepped in with some common sense. He pointed out that no manager would say his players were knackered before the tournament as it would give opponents a psychological advantage.

He also pointed out that the Germans may have played a couple more games but their season is aided by a winter break which allows them significant recuperation. However, that common sense did not sneak into the English papers this morning which invariably repeated Shearer's claims.

My favourite of all the shoddy journalism also came in the Telegraph this morning when chief sports writer Kevin Garside insisted that Capello should repay all the money he had earned and leave now. That was either a comment of a man pandering to the blame mentality afflicting our society or of someone naive to the extreme.

I want to read detailed and accurate match reports, in-depth interviews conducted in a professional manner and investigative reporting when it comes to finances and structures. The rest of the celebrity-based, sensationalist clap-trap I can leave ta.

Not all sports journalists are bad though. For some proper in depth material check out the work of Matthew Sayed in The Times (if you want to venture past the paywall) or Ed Smith .

Paywalls and News:Rewired

Great sessions at the news:rewired conference at Microsoft's swanky headquarters in Victoria. Mind you, I did wonder with it being Microsoft if they keep having to move every six months to overcome irritating problems with the structure that were missed at the designing and building stage.

This was's second such conference. The first was in January and was interesting without hitting high notes throughout but this second event buzzed along with a great variety of speakers from the old (former Birmingham Post editor Marc Reeves) to the very new (Hannah Waldram, The Guardian's Cardiff Beat Blogger).

There's still a lot of assumption from delegates. Many times I heard people say that online has freed the journalists as no-one sits at their desk and churns copy any more. But I'm afraid that I estimate it is still commonplace in 80 per cent of the industry, although no editor or news editor will ever admit it.

I admire enthusiasm and confidence but we should temper it with some reality along the way!

The one speaker I couldn't work out at all was Philip Trippenbach who repeatedly lambasted journalists for being obsessed with the 'story'. You can read his blog through the link and see if you can make more sense of it.

The gist seemed to be that the obsession with the story led to a narrow presentation of complex issues and that a greater use of interactivity - a 'game' in which a user gets to set the budget in a similar way to the classic game Civilisation for example - is a better way of enabling a user to gain an insight into a subject.

I wholeheartedly agree that we need to make a far better use of such interactive tools but cannot see it is a separation from the story. To me the joy of online is the way in which we can use a huge range of multimedia and pose the question 'how would you like to find out about this subject'. The story is a key part of this as are the comments, blogs, video, podcasts, graphics, games etc.

But he spoke with huge passion and intellect so I'll be tracking him down for further debate in the near future.

The subject of paywalls came up again. At the first conference the mere mention of the subject brought a sneer to most of the delegates faces and my suggestion that paywalls may present a workable future for the industry brought forth snorts of derision.

This time however, the tide seemed to have changed with the majority accepting that some form of paywall was inevitable for most sites. It was interesting to see that this sea change had occurred within five months and that no-one seemed to acknowledge there had been a change.

It was enlightening hearing testimony from the likes of The Times's head of online Tom Whitwell and Karl Schneider, head of editorial development at RBI, about their experiences although Murdoch's man was more guarded than a US President on tour in Iraq when it came to revealing figures.

Whitwell, for example, insisted that the paywall enabled his site to focus on quality rather than quantity and put 'the genuine' reader to the forefront of everything they do. 'Genuine' indicated someone who was interested in reading and interacting with the site as opposed to a 'driveby reader', which is a great, if slightly loaded, term for someone who pops in, reads a sentence and leaves without engaging with the site.

Of course, some publishers will go to extreme lengths avoid using the term paywall but whether your charging an app or for a browser subscription, you're still asking for money to let people see your site.

Interesting times ahead.

Did Twitter lie to us?

I tweeted regularly all the way through the General Election campaign and kept an eye on all of the trending topics for most of the day.

For a while - actually all the time after the first Leaders' Debate on April 15 - Twitter gave me hope. It was all about Clegg with a sneaky bit of Gordon thrown in. Cameron was nowhere to be seen unless it was under the hashtag #idontwantdave.

These times, I mused in an unoriginal way, are indeed a-changing. 'Bye bye two party politics' and 'hello three party politics in a new era that has hope for smaller parties everywhere'.

I am not a passionate Lib Dem man. If anything I would love to see the Green Party rise up and take its rightful place at the forefront of British politics. But I was swayed man, really swayed (sorry for the 'man', the Bob Dylan ref in the previous par has overexcited me).

But then the truth came out and it was like cheap, strong cider - so hard to digest that little sicky-burps come out every now and again. The Lib Dems are nowhere. They're worse than nowhere in that they are less supported than they were under Charlie before the genius that is social media really had a chance to develop.

So what happened and what conclusions can be drawn?

I suppose the inevitable conclusion is that as much as Clegg was welcomed as a contender and held aloft as a shining example of a new wave of politics, the elecorate simply did not trust that a vote for Lib Dem was not be a vote for the party they disliked, be it Tory or Labour.

Some of his policies were attacked and then distorted by the frothing right-wing press. His immigration policy, which in fact was a well researched and thought-out plan on how to deal with a genuine issue in society, was summarised in on one word which Cameron repeated ad nauseum: 'amnesty'.

So can it be said that Twitter lied? Of course not. Twitter does not lie as it is representative of the views that are put into its database.

But perhaps the obvious conclusion is that Twitter is a tool most used by Liberal and left-leaning people. This then means that in a situation like the General Election it is not useful as a stand-alone means of assessing the mood of the people.

Of course, the other possibility is that it actually is the perfect stand-alone method of assessing the mood of the people in that actually at least 65 per cent of the population voted for liberal or left leaning parties. That then means that Twitter did not lie but the First Past The Post elecoral system that Big Dave is striving so hard to protect is telling porkies.

And back we come to proportional representation.

Perhaps this election holds hope for us yet. That a fairer voting system which actually represents the people is introduced.

Leaders' debates

So now they're over. We've had three debates and ITV, Sky and the BBC have been given a crack of the whip at giving the Tories, Labour and the Lib Dems a crack of the whip. I think it's fair to say that these US style debates are here to stay but has the experiment been a success?

1) It got people talking: It most certainly did. And not just talking but tweeting and blogging and Booing and Facebooking and YouTubing and all other kinds of social mediaing. There is always a buzz of excitement around a general election but it has been more pronounced this time with water-cooler talk straying from Glee, football and the latest meme to the leaders' debates. And lets face it, after the apathy of 2005 when somewhere between 45 per cent and 60 per cent of the population voted. #success

2) It brought the politicians to the people: Previously to see a leader in action you had to watch carefully edited clips or an interview from a journalist who quite frequently had an agenda be it political or simply the furthering of their own public image (yes that's you Paxman). #success

3) It highlighted the difference between the parties: Certainly each leader was given a soapbox to display their ideologies and opinions. However, they often couldn't agree on what that was. How many times did we hear a leader say 'that is not what our manifesto states' or my personal favourite from Clegg to Cameron: 'Let's assume that every time you talk about our policy, you're going to be wrong'. This did not help with clarifying the parties' stance on issues, if anything is muddied the waters further and identifying exactly what a leader's opinion was became almost impossible. #fail

4) It highlight the opportunity for choice and change: There clearly was choice in that there were three parties represented but two of those parties have swapped power in the UK since 1918 and the third held power before that and has been third ever since. What these debates did was reinforce the prominence of these three parties to the detriment of the wider political democracy and the anger of the SNP, Plaid Cymru, Greens and UKIP. I fear that votes for the minority parties will fall further this year as they struggle to make their voices heard. #fail

So on those four points it would appear to be in the balance but in my opinion, the first two are relatively superficial in that they are involved largely with engaging the electorate with the principle of the election, not with making and informed decision.

As I have already stated, these debates are here to stay - any leader not wanting to talk part would be hideously ridiculed and branded a coward. But perhaps a change to the format would be preferable.

Why wasn't the debate taken to Scotland and Wales with Alec Salmon and Ieuan Wyn Jones given a voice in parts of the UK where they enjoy huge support

Why haven't the Greens and UKIP been given a chance to get themselves heard? Surely that can only add to the opportunity for democratic choice.

Also do we need a referee and not just a facilitator? How many people are going to listen to Clegg and Cameron disagree about what it says in their respective manifestos and then scurry away and see who is right? I would have loved Dimbleby to step in and say "Actually David it does say on page 98 of your manifesto that blah blah blah, are you telling us that is incorrect?" I’m not na├»ve enough to think there is never any ambiguity in a manifesto but at least it would help us make an informed choice.

Still, it has really livened things up on the comedy front with Twitter abound with cracking jokes and comments. Of course some people tried a little to hard but here's a selection of some of my favourites:

@sugarshamen: "90 billion pounds on Trident missiles? Thats hardly enough for even a small nuclear holocaust! We'll be a laughing stock."

@charltonbrooker: "Bloke sitting to the left of questioner has a beard like one of those iron-filing magnetic novelty face things"

@markclapham: "How did all these people see the version of the #leadersdebate where Cameron was remotely convincing? Special 3D glasses with the Sun?"

And then of course you get this great screen grab (although it as, as far as I am aware, taken and circulated by Conservative campaigner @TimMontgomerie before being picked up and used by virtually all media outlets today)

Picking a new Twitter design

Just updated my background image in Twitter.

I felt that as I was now a serious member of the Twitterati (ie completely hooked and spending more time tweeting than I do talking to my wife) I should have some form of personalisation.

Difficult to know what to plump for though.

I thought of a pic of the kids but that seemed so Facebook. After all, the primary function of Twitter for myself is networking on the professional sphere.

So perhaps an image of the University of Gloucestershire where I am employed as a senior lecturer in online journalism? Mmmmm a bit too corporate perhaps, especially when you consider that all views expressed are my own and not representative of the uni (happy now, legal people?)

As I love the internet and most of my Tweets involve it then I should show that but then I needed some kind of image?

Something from War Games with Matthew Broderick or even Terminator came to mind but it seemed way to negative (man they were scared of computers in the 80s). But then this Charles Darwin quote came to me:

“It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent that survives. It is the one that is the most adaptable to change."

I always use it when explaining the print media's relationship with the internet as it exemplifies why some newspapers are struggling to survive as they failed to adapt to change when the wonderful opportunity called the internet came along.

So I found this wonderful picture:

It shows an image Darwin made from plant and animal life.

Stunning picture and it caught my eye immediately.

Makes me feel slightly pretentious but then you don't have to look people in the eye when you're on Twitter do you?

Mind you, I have opted for the tile design and I think it looks a bit busy and might annoy me quite soon.

That's the great thing about the internet - you don't like something then go back and improve it. It's a journey, not a destination.

The Age of Opinion

One thing the internet has truly enabled people to do is to air an opinion to an audience outside of a (formerly) smoky pub.

Online News is full of opinion - blogs, comments, Tweets, Boos etc etc and most of it is welcome despite the BNP's attempt to ruin it for everyone. This is something I welcome as a vital part of the ongoing democratisation of the media.

But forums are where it starts to fall apart for me. Of course I may still suffer from PTSD from my time managing forums for Newsquest Oxfordshire (hence my hatred of the BNP who repeatedly targeted our boards for spamming/trolling sessions).

Have you ever seen a news or sports forum that doesn't descend into name calling? Have you seen one where people share thoughts and consider others' views?

I'm not sure I have. I have, however, witnessed hundreds of ill-informed, soap-box mounted rants which don't seem to do anyone a favour.

Take the issue of refuse collection in Oxford. Councillor Jean Fooks changed from a weekly collection to an alternate recycling and general waste collection. Some people took umbrage at not being able to create as much waste as they liked and mounted an anti-Fooks campaign.

This focused on the issue of rats in the city and how this new scheme had led to a huge increase. Of course, it hadn't and for those reading the small print on the Oxford Mail (local papers love a protest true or not) would have spotted that the increase was due to Severn Trent ceasing to trap the sewers as they had done for decades.

But on an on this raged on the forums. Any time it was pointed out to the anti-Fooks what Severn Trent had admitted they claimed it was a conspiracy. The whole things became pointless as any discussion was ruled out by the swamping effect of the antis.

I used to be a bit of a 606 addict where I would go to 'discuss' rugby. My suspicions about 606 being, well, crap were first aroused during WC2007 when a sizable number of posters repeatedly called for Matthew Tait to be played at fly half. Matthew Tait had never played fly half at schoolboy level but somehow was expected to do so on the world's biggest stage.

But 606 got worse. It's just a place for whingers and wind-up merchants.

Wales are rubbish - everyone hates England - Martin Johnson was a rubbish player - Chris Robshaw is good enough for the All Blacks etc etc

It's just tirade after tirade. I don't think people even read other posts before wading in which kind of makes the whole things pointless.

Recently I have been seeking out forums about the iPhone thinking they would be more upstanding. But even there we seem to have the Montagues (Jobbites) and Capulets (other smartphones) waging verbal war.

I think there is a book in this: The Forum Effect and the Departure from Reason. Mmmmm I think I'll get on to OUP.

Then of course there is a major issue with defamation on forums. It is almost impossible to proactively monitor these sites and you risk libel and contempt of court every day.

With the Government taking a keener interest in online news every day I am sure some form of over-the-top legislation will be brought in to prevent the open-access to these forums. Attempts have already been made to take action against posters and one failure will not put people off

Anyay, as much as I love Twitter and Facebook and the Internet in general, some of the things I discuss will have to remain in the pub where at least people pretend to listen before ripping me to shreds!

My eyes, my eyes

God I love the internet.

I went to an optician recently (Vision Express since you ask) just for a wee check up. That in itself has little to do with the internet.

But they did the full on retinal scan/picture of the inside of my eye thing. Which was interesting in itself but then to top it all off, offered me free copies of the pictures if I went on their website.

Of course I did so I did and here they are for you all to enjoy.

Fascinating no?

I panicked slightly when I saw the white cloud on old lefty but nothing to worry about, it's just similar to a birthmark. Phew.

It's only a little thing but I can't help feel that this has made my life richer somehow.

I spend all my time thinking about how news organisations can best use the internet and then something simple comes along and blows me away.

Don't even get me started on my love affair with my iPhone.