Being a cycle commuter: my truth

For four years I was stuck in a car for just over two hours a day as I chugged backwards and forwards to Cheltenham to Oxford.

Freed of that commute in my new job in the swanky area of Summertown, I have been cycling to work from my home in Appleton for the last three weeks qnd it has been a joy.
It’s a round-trip of just under 16 miles, so great training for the triathlon and just general good fitness. I also arrive at work feeling wide awake and don’t have the same sluggish start I often experienced in my previous job.

But I was concerned before I started. Being a keen cyclist, I have seen some of the stuff on YouTube from various cycling commuters who post updates from their daily lives. I am thinking about Cyclegaz, CyclingMikey, Magnatom and a few others and their commute looked like a daily hell on wheels, a continual battle against motorists who course with murderous intent.

Their channels are full of close calls and road rage. It didn’t even begin to resemble my experience of being a cycle commuter four years ago when I worked at the Oxford Mail but, thought I, perhaps things have changed. Perhaps Clarkson and his foolish tirades had bought out a criminal anarchy among car drivers that wasn’t there in the noughties?

But no. My commute has thus far been pretty pleasant. There has been the odd car come closer than I would like and more than the odd silly cyclist taking no care over their own road skills but I have to say that overall my impression has been pretty good.
I have enjoyed the healthy rivalry with a few other speedy commuters who hate the thought of being bested by a bloke on a one-tonne steel mountain bike and many car drivers in Oxford are careful to give a cyclist enough room.

There’s a few who try the old left hook – overtake only to slam on the indicator and brake and cut across you but not too many so far.
The thing that has annoyed me most so far is the amount of cyclists willing to jump red lights. There are some red lights that beg to be ‘jumped’ and I understand that, but seeing cyclist hammer through pedestrian crossings at high speed or totter through a dangerous busy junction without a care for others makes my blood boil.

Red Light Jumpers (even those in lycra) nearly all have one thing in common – I can catch then within about 400m. My suggestion to them would be to get some muscles to cut that commute time rather than endanger other people on the road.
But back to my point. It seems social media is just good as the mainstream media about scaremongering – always best to find out something for yourself.

Blog Action Day: The Power of We

The theme for this year’s Blog Action Day is The Power of We.

That theme resonates very strongly with myself as I have just taken up a new job with Earthwatch, an organisation based around the idea of ‘citizen science’ – getting the ordinary individuals to help in the collecting of data which provides the backbone of research.
The bulk of my time for the next year will be spent working on the HSBC Water Programme, a five-year project to study quality, quantity and biodiversity surrounding  sources of fresh water.

The research will be carried out around the world with fresh water sites already identified in China, Brazil, America, Canada, Australia, Japan, France and London to name but a few.

Research subjects will vary, depending on the location and the local issues, but will focus on:

·         The links between climate change and freshwater quality and quantity

·         The effects of changes in water supply on urban, and near-urban, freshwater ecosystems

·         Identifying the types of intervention that can best protect ecosystems downstream from major conurbations.
But crucially it will not be possible without the 'Power of We'. Earthwatch and our partners will need many thousands of private citizens to come forward in order to collect the vast quantities of data we need to make the project a success and scientifically valid.

Using a Smartphone data app, individuals will input their own research data into a global database, allowing direct comparison between sites and data sets. The resulting online database will be freely available to academics throughout the world.
Earthwatch has a long established record of citizen science and a recent project, the HSBC Climate Partnership, engaged 2,267 HSBC staff from 65 countries to complete the ‘Climate Champion’ programme.

The HSBC employees spent two weeks at a Regional Climate Centre working with scientists to monitor the health of the forests. Climate Champions also took part in discussions to further their understanding of climate change. Upon their return to work, Climate Champions delivered 700 environmental projects that furthered HSBC's commitment to sustainability.

Additionally, 63,000 employees volunteered to take part in environmental projects in their community, gaining practical experience of tackling climate change locally.
So yes, the Power of We seems oh so relevant to me at the moment.


Why I left journalism to save the world

So I did it. I left Higher Education and, to a lesser extent, I left journalism as well.

Why? I hear you ask with half-hearted ‘enthusiasm’.

Well the answer is simple – the job was too good to turn down. I am now Senior Communications Manager at Earthwatch, an international environmental charity which is committed to conserving the diversity and integrity of life on earth to meet the needs of current and future generations.

It is an NGO based on science – establishing facts through detailed, thorough research. I have wanted to work for an NGO for a long time, perhaps because of the guilt I still feel about being a Daily Mail reporter back in the day or perhaps because it has always fitted in with who I am. My ambition in journalism was to be the environment correspondent of the Guardian and at uni I took a Wildlife Conservation module which ended with a highly enjoyable week in Snowdonia taking water measurements and studying local flora and fauna.

It was a real wrench to leave the University of Gloucestershire, where I have worked as online journalism lecturer and Course Leader since 2008. The work was varied and we had made significant strides with the course which now recruits a good number of highly-dedicated students and, I have no doubt, will continue to grow in stature over the coming years.

To leave a job that I enjoyed and found challenging was no easy choice. But, coupled with my interest in the environment, I also felt that as a journalist with more than 15 years’ experience I still had a lot to learn.

Journalists’ attitude to people working in communications for corporations or other non-mainstream media organisations has long been one of patronising mocking – either you couldn’t make it as a journalist or you took the money to work on the ‘dark side’.

But the web and social media has opened up huge potential for self-publishing, not just by the individual citizen, but also by organisations large and small which means that people working in comms can be increasingly pro-active. There is much less begging for a few column inches or a few seconds of airtime and far more creation of content which can reach a wide audience even if the content would be viewed as niche by the mainstream.

So here I am – developing websites and social media strategies, writing copy and using my design skills to work on projects monitoring freshwater across the globe and encouraging the corporate world to help transfer their skills to help manage Protected Areas and World Heritage Sites. What could be better?

All praise FleetStreetBlues and #savethefieldproducer

Sky's decision to clampdown on how its employees used Twitter provoked a strong, if rather predictable response on Twitter yesterday.

Within seconds a hashtag had been launched to #savefieldproducer, in reference to Sky's popular Digital News Editor, Neal Mann (nearly 40,000 followers).

If anyone missed Sky's announcement it is as follows. Employees must not:

- repost information from any Twitter users not employed by Sky
- retweet rival journalists or 'people on Twitter'
- tweet about non-work subjects, or even stray from their own beat
- break news from their own beat on Twitter before passing it to the newsdesk

Thousands of tweets followed on the #savefieldproducer hashtag - @elanazak has helpfully Storified the pick of them.

I even waded in myself:
An incredibly short-sighted decision by Sky. One that seems to have been brought in without thought #savefieldproducer
Then I read a blog post by FleetStreetBlues. It argues, like myself, against Sky's new policy as nonsensical, saying:
At a stroke dozens of active, interesting Twitter accounts are going to become pretty much useless - if all you're going to get is the latest news as reported on Sky News anyway, why not just follow the Sky News Newsdesk account and have done with it
But the post went on to consider the other side, to point out the logic in Sky's decision.
It makes no sense for Sky News to pay journalists to break stories through another medium. It makes no sense for them to pay journalists to amass personal social media followings by promoting rival news outlets.
And they're good points.

Look at the Storified #savefieldproducer hashtag. One Tweet from @PunksatonyPics, in support of Neal Mann, went as follows:
Never noticed @fieldproducer worked with Sky. I know now because Sky is being particularly daft. Leave the man alone. #savefieldproducer
That kind of Tweet will be held aloft in the Sky boardroom as showing they have done the right thing. If Mann's followers don't realise who his employer is, what benefit will it bring Sky - one of the most commercial journalistic outlets in the world.

Consider also, for example the furore when Laura Keunssberg moved from BBC to ITV. In the stroke of key, she went from @BBCLauraK to @ITVLauraK and the audience she had built up utilising the corporation brand unwittingly switched allegiance.

On a personal level I have little problem with this. It is an inevitable consequence of Twitter and to make the most of the medium journalists need to freedom to interact in a more personal than corporate manner.

What I am celebrating is FleetStreetBlues and the desire to look at the other angles. There is too much blind following and assumption on online journalism at the moment and not nearly enough interrogation of the issues.

Twitter was alight with people attacking Sky and this post stood out as a well considered and open-minded beacon. Remember, Twitter isn't always right you know.

So less celebratory slaps on the back for everyone and more consideration to other ways forward please. I might not like the Times behind the paywall or agree with the new Twitter rules but I am glad some people are prepared to break away from the flock.

UPDATE: Just as I hit publish, I saw this blog by Tom Phillips which also takes a view of the Sky rules and suggests how they might 'de-stupid it'. Well worth a read.

Grow up and start charging for online content

For the first time in my life I nearly let out a loud, and very public, "Hallelujah, and Amen brother" in full evangelical style.

Where was I? A church in the deep south of America, in front of a gospel choir watching a preacher perform miracles upon a small disabled child? No. I was in a session at the news:rewired conference in London.

What brought about my conversion to gospel-style outbursts? It was listening to Francois Nel tell assembled delegates that anyone who thought that online content should be free needed to "Grow Up".

Ok, so it's not quite the Road to Damascus that you might have expected, but it was for me. I remember suggesting the same at the first news:rewired two years ago and I feared for my life as I was chased from the building by digital journalists carrying flaming torches and pitchforks.

A bit of an exaggeration perhaps but nonetheless, there has long been the assumption that any attempt to charge for online journalism is heinous in the extreme and bad for democracy.

Take the term 'paywall'. It is a loaded term implying secrecy and subterfuge and not a term ever used, for example, to describe the cover price for a newspaper or a subscription to a magazine.

It wasn't helped when the first person to try to charge for general news content in the UK - as opposed to a more niche publication like the Financial Times) was part of Rupert Murdoch's empire. And anyone who is anyone knows that he is the Magneto to liberal journalism's Professor X.

But journalism is an expensive business and it cannot be done with journalists - and lots of them. That's not simply a plea for employment for my students but a plea for the industry as a whole.

Think about the working hours Nick Davies has had to put in to uncover the hacking scandal currently rocking the industry. Think about the massive amount of data crunching the Daily Telegraph's investigative team had to do on the MP's expenses. Think about the undercover work carried out by the News of the World to expose the corruption within the Pakistani cricket team.

It's not cheap and it's not possible if you have cut back your staffing levels to the point where each reporter finds themselves churning out story after story simply to fill the paper. Read Richard Peppiatt's account of working for a Richard Desmond publication if you want first-hand evidence.

The Guardian has been at the forefront of the 'campaign' to keep online content free. I use inverted commas because there is no formal campaign and Alan Rusbridger claims that he is not doing so for societal reasons but because he hasn't yet found a business model to suit.

But since January 2001, the Guardian's circulation has reduced from 400,000 to 230,000, pagination has been substantially reduced and the print 'paywall' has increased to £1.20 a day.

That is all against a backdrop of failing to find a way to monetise online content through advertising or other activities. Last year the group announced losses on £33m and two years ago, GMG had to sell it's regional newspapers to Trinity Mirror to offset such losses.

More power to Trinity Mirror and, in my opinion, bad for plurality in general as the group takes an even firmer grip on all the big publications in the North West.

Finding a successful model for getting readers to pay for online content is not easy - you're pretty much guaranteed to slash your audience by 80 to 90 per cent overnight - but only if the industry 'grows up' works together can it work in the long term.

The Scott Trust, the organisation funding the Guardian Media Group, is a crown jewel among British journalism. It ensures that at least one national daily newspaper is not beholden to shareholders and commercialism in general.

This is how the Scott Trust describes its core purpose:

1) To secure the financial and editorial independence of the Guardian in perpetuity: as a quality national newspaper without party affiliation; remaining faithful to its liberal tradition; as a profit-seeking enterprise managed in an efficient and cost-effective manner.

2) All other activities should be consistent with the central objective. The Company which the Trust owns should: be managed to ensure profits are available to further the central objective; not invest in activities which conflict with the values and principles of the Trust.

3) The values and principles of the Trust should be upheld throughout the Group. The Trust declares a subsidiary interest in promoting the causes of freedom in the press and liberal journalism, both in Britain and elsewhere.
How possible will that purpose be if the current management fails to find a suitable model for making online pay? Especially as the Guardian is keen to explore all of the new forms of journalism available and, for example, live blog the first appearance of the new presenter of Countdown.

I must admit when I saw that blog I did wonder how it adhered to the second objective - but that's probably a thought for another day.

It may be that they will never find a way of making 'online' pay but that the media audience will naturally migrate to tablets such as the iPad, where most organisations are already erecting 'paywalls' - although they don't seem keen to use the term paywall in this context.

Anyway. It was just joyous for me to hear someone else say out loud what many in the industry have known for a long time.

Francois was not quite as vulgar as I perhaps am and highlighted that it didn't have to come back to cold hard cash. He used the term 'Reciprocity' to underline that he meant that we must ask for something back. He highlighted the Daily Mail as a successful business model as print readership was declining more gradually than other publications and online readership was rocketing.

If I thought it brave to demand paying for online content at a conference like news:rewired, then the chutzpah required to praise the Daily Mail is off the chart.

However, I dislike the Daily Mail's methods here. They separate online and print and seem prepared to shovel any old content online - hence hideous mistakes such as the recent use of a video of an alleged rape. I understand from insiders that such a policy is causing problems as specialist reporters are coming in to find furious messages from contacts who have seen a story posted online, which lacks the kind of contextual information that a more considered form of journalism might bring.

No, for me its about the cold hard cash. I don't want a profit and I don't expect to become rich but I do want my journalism to be well supported financially.

It is great to be part of the digital evolution of journalism, but if we fail to fully interrogate all the issues now, we could fail the industry in the long term.

Newsgaming: Tabloidisation gone digital?

One of the more lamentable aspects of my life as a parent is that I no longer have lots of time to play games. There's a whole PS3, X-Box culture out there that is passing me by completely.

I love getting lost in gaming and escorted Lara Croft around the world to kick a little ass, humiliated Tiger Woods (on the course that is - he's more than capable of humiliating himself off it) and killed more worms than a, octogenarian fisherman.

So it was with great interest that I attended a session on Gaming Mechanics in News at the news:rewired conference. I had already heard a presentation from Philip Trippenbach on the subject of gaming/journalism convergence 18 months ago and was looking forward to seeing how things had moved on.

Key to the session was the presentation by Bobby Schweizer from the Georgia Institute of Technology and co-author of Newsgames: Journalism at Play.

Bobby reiterated a similar point to Philip's from 2010 - that games simulate dynamics so are therefore a highly valuable teaching tool, and one that could and should be integrated into digital journalism.

He highlighted a couple of games specifically. In September 12, gamers are invited to bomb terrorists responsible for the 9/11 atrocity. In doing so, of course, civilians are also killed.

The second game to catch my eye was Budget Hero in which gamers are required to balance and control where the US taxpayers dollars will go.

There is no doubt that both games have a worth in modern society. Being able to personally experience the delicate balancing act of organising the budget for one of the world's superpowers is great experience, just as the lesson learned from blowing up innocent people in pursuit of semi-mythological bogeymen half-way round the world is one that all potential US Presidents should take during the primaries.

But, towards the end of the presentation, a colleague in a magnificent tartan suit said: "I agree this is all very exciting and worthwhile. But why is if good journalism?"

And there's the rub. Tools like these have existed for a long time - The Sims is hardly a new concept for example, but why is it such good journalism?

In these convergent times we can present a story in a multitude of ways for a reader/user to get to grips with it. Well-presented data journalism, video journalism, podcasts, blogs etc etc sit side-by-side and invited the reader to choose how to find out about a story.

My worry is that the oversimplification of an issue through the use of gaming in the way outlined above is an inexorable lurch towards tabloidisation. We have seen an increase in tabloidisation in the past 50 years, be it on television, radio or in print and it strikes me that the promotion of newsgaming could be online's major contribution.

If we look at some of the key aspects of tabloidisation, we can see how my fears may be realised:
  1. Privileging the visual over analysis - I think this is obvious where games are concerned. Actual levels of analysis will be minimal compared to the visual elements of the game
  2. Using cultural knowledge over analysis - the game will become a shared experience, just as the BBC's One in 7bn was in October. But how many moved beyond typing in their date of birth to reading the analysis? It drove millions to the BBC site but was it for the acquisition of understanding or something to post on Facebook/Twitter?
  3. Dehistoricised and fragmented versions of events - as above, how much context can you provide in a limited gaming experience?
Of course, newsgamers are not intending this to happen. The intention will be that the game is 'consumed' alongside the more 'traditional' aspects of journalism but will that be the case? I think not, I think that many people will begin to rely on the games but will participate with less thought to the real issue at hand and more to gaining the highest score.

I need to cut £5bn to make my budget fit? Screw my left wing principles, I am chucking the NHS straight in the private sector and hang the consequences. That's pretty much what Blair was planning anyway.

I'll give you a nice tabloidised anecdote to 'prove' my point once and for all. Look at any footpath that goes round the corner of an open space. There will always be a muddy trail through the grass because human nature will cut corners - it doesn't matter how green your ethics or how polished your shoes, the temptation to rip up the grass and splash through the mud is always there.

Other speakers in the session also highlighted the positive use of such interactive technologies such as The Times's Al Trevino demonstration of an app which will allow users to experience all the Olympic sports. As a feature-driven, experiential piece of journalism I can see that this will have value.

Alastair Dant, interactive lead at the Guardian, highlighted another quiz-type game the Guardian used last year in which they highlighted quotes and invited the reader to guess whether they were from Colonel Gadaffi or Charlie Sheen. It's good fun - try it. I love Mock the Week and the News Quiz when they try this sort of thing.

However, it is also a classic way in which we distance ourselves from genuine atrocities (I'm talking about Libya, not Hot Shots Part Deux - see, now I'm doing it.)

Gary Glitter starts a Twitter feed (or doesn't) we all become Frankie Boyle for the afternoon, North Korean leader dies and there is a huge rush to Tweet lines from Team America. Do we need media outlets to start cashing in on it too?

I would say no. Just because we can, it doesn't mean that we should.

I'll leave you with a quote from Jeremy Paxman:
Good journalism is bad business and too often bad journalism is good business … for journalists to function properly, they have to be given freedom and resources. And those will come only from organisations which believe that their first duty is disclosure, not entertainment.

Joey Barton, The Mirror and big glass houses

Today The Mirror online has run a nice helpful story about Joey Barton and the comments he made about the John Terry case.

Twitter was alight with speculation about the comments soon after they were posted on Barton's @joey7barton account. Barton-bashing is a favourite pastime these days, although to be fair, he does walk around with kick me sign pinned to his back.

The new theory goes that Barton has breached contempt laws by making statements which indicate guilt on Terry's part. In theory, that does breach the Contempt of Court Act 1981.

In theory. In practice we are unlikely to see a prosecution from the Attorney General because the charge against Terry is a summary offence and will not be tried before a jury. Therefore proving that Barton's ill-advised comments have influenced the court will be difficult in the extreme.

I'm sure the Mirror reporter knew this. Odd it wasn't mentioned in the story.

Still, it puts me in mind of a blogpost I wrote last month. You see, several national papers had 'decided' to allow comments on online reporting of the Terry case, similarly breaching the CoCA.

You could argue their breach was much worse than Barton's as all journalists are trained in media law so should at least have known there was a breach.

Now let's see, which news outlet was the worst? Oh yeah, that's right, the Mirror.

The Daily Mail is now speculating that Barton may well be the first person prosecuted for contempt for comments made on Twitter. Interesting opinion - completely wrong of course - but interesting nonetheless. In recent checks however, I do have to point out that the Daily Mail does at least have a decent record in showing it has a good understanding of the contempt law.

Perhaps the law does need changing for contempt now that social media has enabled everyman to broadcast opinions and that not everyone has a solid understanding of contempt. That is particularly true as most police procedural dramas in this country are American and therefore display a completely different law.

What is true however is that the mainstream media does know our contempt laws and with breaches we have seen in recent weeks, including the allegation that Guardian reporter Jamie Jackson named a juror, perhaps they should stop casting stones from their big glass houses.

Juror-naming journalist facing jail

It seems I am starting to get a bit obsessed with this Contempt of Court thing.

My last two blogs have involved contempt of court breaches in the reporting of John Terry trial and the Harry Redknapp trial. My specific point in those two cases was that newspapers were not giving enough thought as to which stories users can comment on online.

Now a Twitter user, and former colleague, has accused me of carrying out a contempt crusade and brought a new case to my attention. It involved an allegation that a Guardian reporter, Jamie Jackson had made two horrific breaches of the contempt of court act in the Harry Redknapp case.

1) He named a juror on Twitter

2) He tweeted details of a legal argument not put before the jury

The case has been referred to the Attorney General by the trial judge, Anthony Leonard QC who has also banned live-blogging and tweeting from court.

My only reaction, and it is currently one free from being contemptuous because Mr Jackson has not been arrested, is to ask: "How the hell can any journalist get something like this wrong?"

In this country the anonymity of the jury is sacrosanct. This is no technical breach, it is a law-smashing sledgehammer of a breach and the consequences could be wide-ranging in the extreme. Any journalist-in-training is told that contempt can carry a jail-term if serious enough and, as much as I wouldn't wish it on any journalist, this is the sort of breach the jail term may be reserved for.

As we all saw recently with The Guardian's live-blog of the new presenter of Countdown. That particular publication wants to get live coverage up on any and all given circumstances. But if you can't get the most basic law right then the chances of the judiciary continuing to give open access is limited to say the least.

We all make mistakes. As a deputy news editor I once let the name of a rape victim get past me on newsdesk - a mistake that still makes me shudder 11 years later - but in the live environs of Twitter with no sub to save you, then you have to step up and be absolutely sure of every word you produce.

The Daily Mail has reported on this fresh breach by The Guardian and you may remember that, much to the chagrin of The Daily Quail, the Daily Mail was on my Goodies list last week. It has adopted a particularly gleeful tone but hey - you give them the ammo and that is what they will do.

You may not agree with the Mail but technically they are often very good at what they do - hence my post last year querying several bad decisions they had made.

A worse contempt of court

Last week I blogged about contempt of court and how the principle of it was being ignored by the main daily newspapers in this country in terms of allowing comments on active cases.

A couple of people, including David Banks, the editor of McNae's Essential Law for Journalists, agreed that it was technically a breach of the Contempt of Court Act. However, they added that in practice no prosecution was likely from the Attorney General as the allegation against John Terry was a summary offence which would not be tried by jury.

I agree however, my main point remains that, at a time in which the press is under huge scrutiny, it is advisable to adhere to all laws and, perhaps more relevant here, the spirit of the law.

So here's the thing today.

Four of nine of the main English nationals are allowing comments containing references to Harry's Redknapp's appearance today at Southwark Crown Court in relation to charges of tax evasion.

I spotted it first on the Independent so thought I would check out all. My methodology was to check any stories on today's websites containing references to Redknapp's appearance in court. Some sites had specific stories, some mentioned it in reports of yesterday's match between Spurs and Man City, and some gave no mention at all.

In journalism we like to have goodies and baddies so let me break it down:


* Daily Mail - no comments allowed

* Daily Telegraph - no comments allowed

* The Sun - no story on the tax evasion (surely the fact that Harry's a Sun columnist can have nothing to do with this?)

* The Guardian - no comments allowed

* The Daily Star - no comments allowed


* Daily Mirror - comments allowed, no pre-moderation

* The Times (no link - paywall) - no comments on the main story about the court case but comments allowed on the Balotelli story, which contains a reference to today's court case. Some comments casting doubt on Redknapp's character, despite the fact they are, in theory, pre-moderated

* The Express - comments allowed, no pre-moderation

* The Independent - comments allowed, no pre-moderation and several clear breaches of the CCA.

Let's be clear that this is no summary offence. This is an indictable offence which will be heard before a jury a body of 12 good men (and women) the Attorney General is always keen to protect.

My point from last week doesn't just stand. It stands proud, gleaming smugly in the sunshine.

If newspapers cannot be trusted to get the basics right - how can editors argue long and hard against statutory regulation?

UPDATE: The Daily Mirror removed the comment facility by 11.45am on 23.01.12

UPDATE: The Independent removed all comments referring Redknapp's court appearance by 1.16pm on 23.01.12

Journalism, comments and contempt of court

So this is a time when journalism is under massive scrutiny.

The Leveson Inquiry is looking in-depth onto every nook and cranny of the industry and threatening to drag out all of the skeletons and then slap the handcuffs of draconian statutory regulation on us all because a minority of hacks erm, well, they hacked.

So why is it that the some titles cannot follow the basic principles of the law correctly?

Yesterday The Sun ran a story on the on-pitch battle between Anton Ferdinand and John Terry. You may recall that on February 1, Terry is due in court to face an allegation that he racially abused Ferdinand during a game between Chelsea and QPR last year.

The story is perfectly acceptable and written with the boundaries of the law as it stands. However, for 12 hours The Sun allowed people to comment on the story.

Some of those comments, as you might expect of modern day 'passionate' fans, were pretty fruity and several stepped so far over the line to be in clear breach of the Contempt of Court Act 1981.

That Act is intended to allow suspects a fair trail and ensure that juries are not swayed in any way by anything said outside of the court room. All journalists know that to print anything which might suggest the guilt of the accused is a clear breach.

You will have to take my word for it that three comments breach that Act is a very blatant way. I have the screen grabs but do not intend to add to The Sun's indiscretion.

About 12 hours after the story was posted, and after at least 21 comments had been left, The Sun realised their mistake and took the story down.

But today, The Independent, has done the same.

Fortunately, at the time of writing this blog no prejudicial comments have been let but it is easy to do so. I signed in to Disqus with a Google account and left the comment to the left.

My comment is not prejudicial in the slighted, containing only words 'My real time comment'. It was left purely to satisfy myself that no pre-publication moderation of comments was happening at The Independent and sure enough my comment was published immediately.

I did a check round and here's what I found:

* The Times - comments allowed but they are pre-moderated (no link behind the Paywall) - my real time comment was published but I was unwilling to attempt to post a prejudicial comment so cannot guarantee a result either way.

* The Telegraph - comments allowed - my real time comment was published immediately

* The Mirror - comments allowed and I didn't need to do a test as the top comment was such a clear breach of the 1981 Act it clearly had not been moderated (screen grab taken)

* The Star - no comments allowed

* Daily Mail - comments allowed - but were going through pre-moderation

If four out of nine mainstream newspapers are unable even to adhere to a basic law governing journalism - what chance do we have of avoiding statutory regulation?

I know that one of the most exciting aspects of online journalism is the interaction with the readers but you cannot publish and be damned - there is no Reynolds Defence in Contempt.

UPDATE: Following queries from readers about whether the Contempt of Court Act 1981 applies in a magistrate's court and for a summary offence (ie that not before a jury), I sought a definitive answer from the Attorney General's office and was given the following reply:

"The Contempt of Court Act applies to any court and applies from arrest."

So that settles that. That's not to say that the Mirror will be prosecuted but it certainly confirms that it could be if someone were to formally report the breach.

Daily Mail and rape footage

I have a history with the Daily Mail.

For starters, I worked there in the 1990s despite being a left-leaning person keen on supporting human rights. Then last year I wrote a blog post about how poor the standards were becoming at the Mail.

The Daily Mail is a favourite of the Twitterati - its right-wing politics and tub-thumping, link-baiting journalism is guaranteed to get us liberal social media types uptight and sniping.

Even when they recently claimed personal and professional success in the conviction of two men for the murder of Stephen Lawrence they failed to win even a flicker of support from their traditional enemies.

To sum up it's a hate-hate relationship.

Today they have stooped so low that makes me feel physically sick to my stomach. And it's a strong stomach I might add.

Today they carried a report of an alleged rape on Big Brother in Brazil.

No problem there - of course they should report on that. After all, the programme is still huge news around the world and a crime has been alleged.

But the Daily Mail was not content in telling its readers about the allegation, it also deemed it necessary to show them what had taken place in a seven-minute video taken from YouTube.

No I won't link to it because in doing so I would republish this mindless, unethical, immoral 'journalism' and I have no intention of doing that.

No doubt the defence will be that the material is already out there on YouTube so why not? Well, the answer is simple: we are gatekeepers of information. We edit and employ logic and ethics to decisions about what and when to publish - that's why experienced people in our trade (or profession if you prefer but you'd be wrong) get more money and the top jobs if they want them.

Snuff movies have been available from dodgy market stalls for years, hard core porn has been available on the top shelves of newsagents or adult shops for decades yet no newspaper editor has felt the need to republish their content.

Just because we can, doesn't mean we should. And in this case that fact is so blindingly obvious to anyone with a brain I can't believe I am even having to write this.

Simply appalling.

UPDATE: The video had been removed from the story by the evening of January 17.

UPDATE: Angry Mob has also blogged to highlight the weirdly spinning moral compass of the Daily Mail

The terror of leaving the iPhone family

I was waking up early with palpitations, nibbling my fingernails and was distracted for a month.
The cause of my panic attacks? The contract was up on my iPhone 3Gs and I had a big decision to face. Scratch that – this was a MASSIVE decision.
I loved my iPhone. It did nearly everything I wanted it to: I checked football scores, kept up to date with current affairs via the BBC News app, social networking on Twitter and Facebook, listened to podcasts on my long drive to work.
It was more than a phone – it was a companion and a status symbol. While I held it aloft it screamed – ‘this man is up with the times’, ‘he is an in the know, media savvy dudester’.
But it was expensive. With Vodafone (the only network to get a connection in my small Oxfordshire village), I was paying £36 per month and yet, because the phone connection was so poor, I was using about 10 per cent of the available free calls and a miniscule number of the unlimited texts.
I wanted the iPhone 4s, but at £41 there was no way my Scottish blood would allow me to chuck more money into the Apple black hole.
So I became obsessive. Constantly asking friends, colleagues and students about their phones and surfing the web for advice.
My anxiety wasn't helped when a friend (a tech-savvy friend whose opinion I trust) stated that giving up his iPhone was the worst thing to happen in 2011 and said Android 'suck dogs' balls'
I am sure it was easier naming my three children than coming up with ideas for a new phone. I can only assume that the kind of separation anxiety I was facing is similar to that experience by married people about to leave their partners.
Sony Eriksson looks good. Or does it? Some have, according to Vodafone, just been recalled due to an error.
I hear good things about Blackberry but I can only get the Curve on my budget. That wouldn’t be so bad would it? But what about my massive thumbs (my brother used to tell me I was born without thumbs and they had to graft a dead man’s big toes on to my hands), would they be able to cope with the Blackberry QWERTY keyboard?
Samsung? A lot of people say a lot of nice things about them. But I feel uncomfortable with the level of copying that goes on between the Galaxy and the iPhone and I had a terrible experience with a Samsung Tocco four years ago. Yes it was a 5mp camera but there was a two second delay between pressing the shutter and the picture being taken. I have loads of photos of the back of my daughter’s head from a lovely holiday in Yorkshire.
I was advised to keep the 3Gs and reduce my contract but heck I wanted a new gadget to play with and I wanted to keep the iPhone to use as an iPod touch as well.
As the day approached I got more nervous. It is no exaggeration to confess that more than once I woke up in a panic at 4am thinking about my iPhone’s replacement.
In the end I got a HTC Desire S on £26 per month. I have had it three weeks now and feel comfortable to blog about it.
Best to list what I wanted to see how it compares.
1) A phone.
The HTC outstrips the iPhone massively. The reception on the iPhone was so weak that I couldn’t use it as a phone in my home village and to send a text message I had to type it, leave it on an upstairs window sill for a minute and then press send. The HTC gives me at least two bars wherever I am in my house.
iPhone 3Gs: 0, HTC Desire S: 1
2) A camera
The iPhone’s 3mp camera was great and shoved the idea that it was all about the mps straight back down other manufacturer’s throats. The HTC’s 5mp camera is it’s equal in terms of taking quality pics and has the added bonus of a flash so I can take pics at night now as well. A narrow victory for the Desire.
iPhone 3Gs:0, HTC Desire S: 2
3) Web surfing.
Similar, but undoubtedly slicker on the iPhone. The double tap to get columns to fill the screen works more accurately on the SGs and the HTC has an annoying habit of putting the text too close to the edge of the screen.
iPhone 3Gs:1, HTC Desire S: 2
4) Apps
Again the 3Gs takes this because the BBC News app – my most used – is far slicker. It fits the screen more quickly, responds more sensitively and is an all-round better user experience.
iPhone 3Gs:2, HTC Desire S: 2
5) Social networking
A tie. Neither is better or worse. Both do what I wanted them to do (along as I avoid the rubbish HTC Peep app for Twitter) so I can’t choose.
iPhone 3Gs:2.5, HTC Desire S: 2.5
6) Podcasts
Initially this was my biggest disappointment about the HTC. The iPod function of the iPhone was excellent at managing podcasts and there was no inbuilt function on the Desire to manage this. But for £4.95 I have bought the BeyondPod app and all of that functionality has been restored. I had to buy it as an extra but as I am saving £10 per month on the 3Gs, and £15 per month on the 4s, it doesn’t seem so bad. Another tie.
iPhone 3Gs:3, HTC Desire S: 3
So it’s a tie. There are other things to consider such as the fact I can now get a free Tetris app on the HTC (they were paid for only on the iPhone), it is cheaper to buy decent accessories such as case and scratchguards for an Android phone and the Notes app on the Android is rubbish by comparison.
I feel I have made out pretty well. I am better off, have an iPod touch at home with all my music on it and am no longer a slave to iTunes.
If the 4s was the same price? You know what? I would choose the HTC Desire because I can now use it as a phone and, after the two years of the iPhone in my house, the novelty value of that will take a while to wear off.
Since settling in to the HTC, I am now informed on a regular basis how many of my contacts are signed up to HTC Sense so perhaps I am preaching to the choir anyway?

The Times behind the Paywall

In the past I have been hovering between coolly-supportive and warmly non-committal when discussing the issue of Paywalls for online newsites.

It's a hugely emotive topic with a large proportion of the London-based media-scene being anti on the basis that content is free and that it is a sign of a burgeoning democracy of information.

The arguments for are, of course, that the media industry is suffering and suffering badly. Would Rupert Murdoch been quite so keen to close the NOTW if the profits had been at pre-Web 2.0 levels? The Guardian - the most fierce critic of paywalls - is in strife and the Guardian Media Group flogged off their regional arm to prop up the huge losses it was making?

I am currently doing a research project into reporting of the transfer window in football and one of the things I was most looking forward to was being 'forced' to subscribe to The Times online and see what all the fuss was about.

What a massive disappointment it has been. I have been looking at the site for almost a month now and I find it littered with poor practice in terms of layout, presentation and navigation.

I'll start with the homepage:

What an unappealing mass of text that is - no sentence breaks, no paragraph breaks just words chucked on a page. Then there's the primary navigation bar. I had to check with a colleague that my eyes weren't going - that it really was that fuzzy and out of focus (trust me, it's not my picture this time).

Then they opt for an extremely clunky hover menu.

I may not have the fastest broadband in the UK but that seems to slow the whole process down and, to my eyes at least, it is not an attractive thing designed to ease your way around their site.

And it does what bad hover menus do - when you drag the mouse from the primary to the top of the secondary (From Sport to Football in this case), you frequently get switched to the Money menu because your cursor is taken over that section of the navigation.

Next we'll go the football section.

More chunky text and this time words are cut off half-way through.

The appearance of that disembodied ",a...." looks incredibly amateur to my eyes.

Moving on through the page and the appearance is decent. The stories are well-ordered according the news-agenda of the day and there is a good amount of white space to make for a pleasant viewing experience.

But there are not many stories on the page and I think I want to find more. I want to read more about the Premier League and I spy that that the titles Premier League and More Premier League are links. But when I click then I am taken back to the top of the page as the link only goes to the main football page. Same with the Columnists link and now I am very disappointed because Matthew Syed is one of my favourite journos.

How about the Championship? My club Derby County are on the up so I'll read about what Clough jnr is up to.

Where, for the love of blood and stomach pills, is the Championship? In the Hover Menu? No. A separate section in the football page? No. A random link in a list? No.

I am sure it is there somewhere but by now I am off to somewhere else. Despite the fact I am paying for the Times, I do not use it for any kind of news information.

The proud claim of the Times was that it was bringing in a paywall to protect and maintain its quality. That has been a mega-fail.

I am disappointed because secretly I had hopes that the paywall would work. Journalism, and particularly investigative journalism (real investigative journalism not donning fancy dress and encouraging people to break the law), is an expensive business.

But you can't ask people to pay and then offer them a significantly reduced service.