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The Morning After The Night Before

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Ireland is waking up with a slight hangover, wondering at what point last night it agreed to go home with a slightly frumpy German girl.

It is OK Ireland, when you met her yesterday you were still fairly sober. The pictures will be up on Facebook by now, anyway, so you can re-live the moment.

Honestly. An “overwhelming” 60 percent of the one half of Irish citizens that could be bothered to come out yesterday, said YES to her on the ballots, even though from the pictures she doesn’t seem like much craic.

When I went to vote in my old primary school I had to fight my way past at least one old woman (by holding to door open for her as she left the voting booth). Not exactly a mad rush, but she looked sober enough to make a reasoned decision.

So what exactly did just over half of half of us say YES to, you ask. I don’t know for sure, but the German seemed pleased.

“The referendum result strengthens the euro zone’s joint course toward the creation of a new, lasting stability union,” the lovely Frauline said in a statement yesterday.

Christ, that doesn’t sound like much fun. But maybe it is because what with the Eurovision just gone, and EUROs starting this month, we all thought we’d better be team players.

In fairness, we’ve been a welfare state, reliant on EU support since the 70s. Maybe we were just being realistic about the facts.

And the place has been in a bit of shambles these last few years, so maybe everyone just though that a bit of can-do attitude might help.

Saying NO, just seems a bit gloomy.

So why has there been so many pictures over the last month of  politicians screaming their heads off at each other, with poor old Caitlín Ní Uallacháin stuck in the middle?

Well I gather the virtues of the German girl caused a bit of controversy.

She is a real keeper, very organised and all that… but a lot seemed to think she is intent on world domination, one outlying European country at a time.

Oh, yes, I just tagged Enda and Eamon one picture looking very pleased with themselves. I gather they were fairly in favour of that German girl, the little matchmakers they are.

But you know, looking around this morning, despite 60 percent of half the country being so positive and saying YES all yesterday, we still seem to be a bit f**ked.

Jobs will continue to be scarce, and the cutbacks and new taxes will continue to grow until predetermined EU targets are met. Maybe at some point in the future this will change, but no one seems to know when.

It is a bit scary to be honest.

Enda and Eamon were the ones nominated to calm everything down. I hope they can stop being matchmakers long enough to let us know what is going on.

They keep dressing up as politicians and talking total bollocks. Sure, do they not know that like the rest of us they will lose their job in the near future unless things improve.

It is OK, though, because we’re all in the same boat. Any day now they will stop politicking for a moment to have an honest chat with us.

It would be great if they could all explain exactly how bad things are, and what their plan is for getting out of it – other than asking the German girl for help.

It is a very complicated situation we are in you see, which is also why I am so happy that we were able to boil it down to a simple YES or NO question that everyone could wrap their head around.

What about the German girl? Ah well, she’s here now. We might as well see what she is like. After all, 60 percent of half the country (that is nearly a third of everyone) thought she might be more help than the lads we have at home.


Written by williamchambers

02/06/2012 at 12:45 pm

Posted in Politics, Society

Le Monde – Sell out, but do it for the good of journalism

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The prize jewel of French newspapers, darling of intellectual and artistic classes, Le Monde, announced this week that it will no longer be owned by its employees and would seek a single investor to secure the paper’s future.

According to editor-in-chief of Le Monde, M. Fottorino, change in ownership would allow the paper to “envisage new horizons, while respecting its founding values, armed with undiminished ambition to invent its own future.”

However, this is not just handing over ownership to a single individual (which of the four bidders it is to be will be decided over the next week or so) but is also another indication that the financial pressures of the 21st century mean that papers need serious investors and business minded journalism.

Concentration of ownership is common in the UK. The Independent was set up to be the pinnacle of independent journalism. It was bought for £1 and the promise of investment this year by Russian oligarch, Alexander Lebedev, who also recently acquired The Evening Standard.

Similarly, Rupert Murdoch has reached boogeyman status through his ownership of the News of the World, The Sun, The Times, the Sunday Times, Sky, Harper Collins… the list is long.

Powerful proprietors are no new thing, but is concentration of ownership a bad thing? There are obvious ethical negatives such as a lack of diverse voices in the media, bias, increased power of advertisers and the ability of an owner to use a publication for personal gain.

The journalism industry is on dubious moral ground when accepting the bailout bucks of big owners, but what are the alternatives to concentrated ownership.

The grassroots journalism of Joe Blogger writing about the council from his bedroom, although less driven by the bottom line, is equally rife with opinion, bias and shoddy journalism. It does not answer to an editor’s code or regulatory body such as the PCC.

Then there are the more democratic ownership models, but do these really give us an improvement on the traditional single proprietor model?

Look at the shareholder owned, Guardian. Is it a good newspaper that practices “quality” journalism? Yes, and is it biased towards a certain ideology and keep a particular demographic satisfied with its coverage? Absolutely.

In comparison, take the Telegraph. It is controlled by a central “Murdoch style” owner, the Barclay brothers but can it still practice quality journalism? Absolutely, The Telegraph broke the biggest investigation of the last few years which is still rumbling on now over a year later – the MP expenses.

Finally, the independent publications: The local papers such as the Camden New Journal, or online news sites such as, SE1.

Digital publishing platform, such as WordPress, require little or no investment, and therefore little or no risk on behalf of the journalist. As this continues to become easier, independent and entrepreneurial start-ups should continue to thrive.

But these publications and sites do not have the resources, manpower or time to conduct large investigations like The Telegraph’s expenses story.

Journalism has a complex food chain and the more interplay between freelancers, grassroots, start-up, local, regional and national media there is, the better for the industry. All the players are needed and no one can claim to have the “right way”.

A story can be picked up by a freelancer which has regional or even national significance and national stories should be distilled down to what they mean for the residents of a particular borough at the hyperlocal level.

The journalism industry does not need saving. Like one large business, it needs diversification of business models and the professional mentality to create a “quality news” community.

21st century journalism faces a financial crisis, with declining year on year sales that are continuing to plummet as the younger generations become less and less interested in reading print. As the industry battles with moving into the digital world, it is the investment of the rich owners which will push it forward. Lebedev’s newly designed Independent had a great election month.

Losing publications like Le Monde, or The Independent to financial pressure is not preferable to having them in the hands of a single owner. All forms of news, national, grassroots or otherwise, are needed for the  industry to thrive.

So rather than bemoaning the loss of the socialist-democratic spirit of Le Monde, we should rejoice that its wordy  journalism may now have a better chance to survive and enlighten future generations.

The future of journalism is more than just talk

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Parasitic web browsers, rampant social networking, tweeting tweeple, media oligopolies, protectionist education, no money and definitely no jobs – welcome to an average conversation about the future of journalism in the 21st century, all of which sounds a bit insane and rather apocalyptic.

Last week in London, freelance entrepreneur, Adam Westbrook, slated a Sunday Times article by Ed Caesar for not mentioning entrepreneurial journalism, saying that this mentality was forcing prospective journalists such as myself to chooses either badly paid jobs and oversubscribed internships.

This prompted a similarly punchy reply from media commentator, Roy Greenslade, who said that Westbrook had his head in the clouds rather than in the reality of the business. Westbrook replied that is exactly where journalists’ heads should be – looking at the media as it could be rather than just the “cold hard reality”.

As a member of the community of young, aspiring and jobless journalists that was the subject of this article, I would argue that debate only gets us so far.

There are really two sides to the discussion of the future of journalism. Firstly the question of print verses online, and secondly the question of free verses paid-for content.

These two questions will shape the future of the industry as we know it, but how much freedom do those starting out in the industry have to be as idealistic as the distinguished commentators like Roy Greenslade or Jeff Jarvis, as grittily realistic as the established Ed Caesar, or as experimental as the multimedia freelancer, Adam Westbrook?

I recently spoke to a self-made journalist and editor of one of the few financially successful online hyperlocal news sites, James Hatts.

 He brought up the point that there is no business model for 21st century journalism:

“There isn’t a clear model there are dozens of different models. I don’t see why their needs to be. People just need to do what works for them.”

This is a view that amidst all the hand wringing does not get aired very often. Despite being good listeners, journalists often error on the side of talking too much, which can be a terrible bore at dinner parties but quite handy when wanting to relate a story.

Whether Google and Facebook are good or bad for online newspapers is not an issue if there is no one out actually trying to run one. Some people trying to do it, but the number of serious operations can be counted on your fingers.

Equally there are still plenty of good opportunities writing news for young journalists. While it might not be on a national newspaper, there are hundreds of business to business or niche publications and online sites that need writers.

Today there are 69 jobs on journalism.co.uk, 25+ on Editorial Content, that many again on sites like Gumtree and that is just what everyone else is applying to.

 Use your contacts, network and talk to friends. Join up to groups such as The Future of News, pretty soon you will be hearing about offers, and getting ideas you might never have otherwise.

The issue is what Mr Hatts called the “hand wringers” who are too busy debating the future of journalism to actually take the leap and do something about it.

 “Whatever works for you” should be the conclusion of the debate between Westbrook and Greenslade.

Every established journalist I have spoken to, every work experience I have done, every job interview I have been to over the last three years has had a similar conclusion: if an aspiring journalist can doing the basics, e.g. finding good stories and telling them well, they will find work. The industry needs creative and intelligent journalism.

How a journalist chooses to tell the story will always be up for debate, but that should never stop them from focusing on telling the story.

This is not to argue that journalists such as Westbrook are not doing their job, but if people really want to be entrepreneurial, or even just get a job, they need to do first and talk later.

On that note of “hand wringing” I will take my own medicine as I am off to a job interview.

How to run a local paper – Local Heroes Conference

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I was recently having a conversation with a few journalists about the rejuvenation of the Brighton pub culture. It seemed that the chic and trendy venues are losing out to more focused, independent locals with character and warmth. According to residents this approach is working and customers are returning.

Oddly enough it was the same sort of ideas that had been being debated all day long at Press Gazette’s Local Heroes conference on local journalism.

As someone who has worked in the pub business for much of my youth before turning to journalism, I know there are a few things that make a good pub: the atmosphere, the quality of drink, the staff, and generally a little business sense is a good idea too.

As in journalism, it has been the chain run, faceless organisations that have lost out the most over the last couple years. The independent brewers are better situated to integrate themselves with the community and turn a profit.

At the conference, Sir Ray Tindle, the octogenarian owner of the Tindle Newspaper Group, spoke out against the “dangerous rhetoric” that forecasts the end of local news. He jibed at debt ridden local paper chains such as Trinity and Johnston Press.

Sir Tindle said: ““We don’t run our titles directly from a head office,” he said. “Each is run locally by local management and a magnificent staff.

“We find this is possible, in most cases, and so far we have come through this recession, which has seen 5,000 newspapermen made redundant, without losing a single title and without making a single journalist redundant and yet remaining completely viable throughout as a group.”

The key to success according to these men who have been-there-and-done-it is remarkably similar to our conversation about pubs.

Punters will come to read good stories just like they will come to drink top notch real ale. If you make the content good enough, people will always want to read it.

There is no such thing as being too focused, be it on a particular tiny area or specific subject. Sir Tindle told the staff of one of his titles that they should know “every cat that has kittens” in their town.

Knowing your market is key and you have to create the right atmosphere for your customers. This might mean being a campaigning hyperlocal paper that calls the council to account, like James Hatts’ SE1, or providing insider expert knowledge of the Yorkshire business community, like David Parkin’s TheBusinessDesk.

Some such as Eric Gordon, editor of the Camden New Journal, even micro-manage how and where their paper is delivered every week to ensure it gets to the customers.

Amidst the optimism, the only real reality check was that it does actually take a little business sense to run a paper. But this can be as basic as, “keep costs down” and “find someone to sell it to”.

The one thing that really stood out was that all of these journalists had a passion for what they were doing. This is not to say that they were all independent owners, but most were, and they were all driven and cared about their work.

Passion is the X factor that separates the Churchill-like Sir Ray Tindle from the more corporate newspaper chains.

As someone starting out in the industry what I have taken from the (along with sage advice about how to get my shorthand up to 100 words per minute) is that it’s not rocket science.

Vision is important. Passion goes a long way, as does character and warmth. This with a little business common sense makes a publication that can really work, even in the middle of the recession.

Or if that doesn’t work out just buy a pub, but at least follow Sir Tindle’s lead and don’t open a Wetherspoons.

Miss the conference? Read my live blog of the day here

TalkTalk say no to Digital Economy Bill

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Shortly after the much debated Digital Economy Bill was passed, TalkTalk, internet providers to more than 4 million UK customers took a stand and refused to co-operate with the government’s measures to combat illegal downloads.

The Carphone Warehouse operated internet service provider (ISP) objected to the controversial aspect of the Digital Economy bill is that it could provide legislation that would force ISPs to disconnect customers who are suspected of online copyright infringement.

The government has come up against the question that has been frustrating newspaper owners and musicians alike since “online” became mainstream: how do you make the internet pay?

While doing research for a dissertation on entrepreneurial media startups I interviewed Angela Phillips, ansenior journalism lecturer at Goldsmiths University in London and she raised a very interesting point.

The internet was invented on the principle of being free. Free communication, free knowledge and as we all have been taught, knowledge is power. The internet was first developed as an academic tool between universities such as MIT, Stanford and UCLA in the 70s.

When the first commercial service providers were okayed by the US government in 1988 there was outrage in the academic community that their project was being used to make money. And so the battle began.  

While investigating funding models for the creation of hyperlocal site East London Lines, Ms Phillips said that she and her colleagues were able to see “what a monster the internet has become”. The same “monster” Murdoch is trying his hand at taming, albeit only with one small part of his empire.

A shrewd businessman he can probably see what the politicians can, that the internet is one of the last free frontiers of modern life. Where rules can be created or broken by a nameless hacker from a farm in nowhere land just as easily as from MI5.

TalkTalk might not be a great example of a democratising force but they might “get” the internet better than Gordon Brown.

It has not been around long but the internet has changed our world, and maybe even for the better. Its freedom is not going to be stopped by clumsy government regulation any more so than by Prince threatening his fans or Murdoch’s paywalls.

The internet is not going to turn into a cash cow for intellectual property any time soon.

So in the meantime don’t feel that you have to sign up to TalkTalk just because you like downloading. Although that might make a good ad campaign…

Written by williamchambers

19/04/2010 at 9:09 pm

Election 2010: A time for history

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2010 Leader's debate

The TV leaders’ debate was a revelation. Unlike the political theatre of the US, they actually provided a platform for reasoned discussion between the leaders of Britain’s three main political parties. It was the same when Nick Griffin went on Quesion Time. The viewing figures for the show doubled. Whatever your feelings on the debate, or lack thereof, it was a moment when people acted as if they were politically engaged. In a country that claims to be disillusioned this is beautiful to see.

The UK is multicultural, full of engaged and creative people, hard workers, top level education systems and good welfare. The politicians would have us believe that it is all going to hell and voting for the opposition will doom us to a life of misery. This is part of the UK’s Jekyll and Hyde complex.

People are not secure and comfortable. Crime drops, but fear of crime still climbs. There seething resentment at the class system, MP’s expenses, those who take advantage of the welfare system, unemployment and of course immigration.

In such an intelligent, open and diverse society there are still so many people who are small minded, bitter or just scared. Why?

I was in a pub recently and an otherwise intelligent friend asked me whether my home, the Republic of Ireland, was part of the UK. To me it seemed like a stupid question worthy of a slap across the back of the head. But it is not the first time I have been asked. And that night I decided mandatory history lessons for the population are what is needed to save Britain.

I don’t mean 1066, Henry V and the battle of Britain, I mean the fact that the UK was at war in Northern Ireland until the late 90’s. I mean the fact that Britain controlled half the world less than 100 years ago that immigrants living here are often from places that were part of the empire. I mean knowing why an English rugby team playing in Croke Park stadium in Dublin is a controversial subject.

The English wonder why the Welsh the Scots and Irish will cheer for each other’s teams over those sporting the St Georges cross. The Celts have a long memory. History lessons are drubbed into us from an early age. They become part of our identity. This has a very important impact on society.

The politicians will all have you believe that they hold the answer. But if the British want to solve their problem of a fractured and ghettoised society, start by knowing history. If you want children of different ethnicity’s to live in harmony start by teaching them the truth about where they are from and why things are the way they are now.

Sure you might create a tribal mindset. But maybe that is what this island needs. Not in the BNP sense of being “ethnically british”, but acceptance that the UK is an amazing hodgepodge of cultures and nations which despite all odds has created the world’s fifth biggest economy.

We do not need a prime minister who will protect big business, protect Britain from bogeyman invaders or speak for the middle class. We need PM to echo the ancient Greeks and carve “know thyself” on nelsons column. It might just be a pipedream but 21st century Britain needs social reform and unification. The first of the parties to show us how to do that gets my vote – be they blue yellow, red or any other colour.

Written by williamchambers

19/04/2010 at 8:18 pm