MADE magazine.

My return to communications, armed with new skills acquired through journalism, has turned up some interesting freelance jobs. One of my most interesting, as content editor of MADE magazine, has this week come to a close.

With a thud, the beautifully formed magazine dropped through my letterbox this morning and I must say, I’m rather proud.

City development company, Creative Sheffield – my first employer a few years back- wanted an all-purpose com­mu­nic­a­tions piece to sell the city’s social, eco­nomic and sport­ing attrac­tions to the out­side world. They worked with Iris Associates, who came up with the idea of a magazine.

It was important that the magazine stood up to the hard-line business tests set by those putting money into it, but it also had to be an interesting read. It needed to have editorial integrity and Iris were intent on producing a glossy, high qual­ity, per­fect bound periodical.

Daniel Evans - the new Creative Director at the Crucible Theatre

I got involved as main content editor. Working alongside the designers and commissioners I was tasked with sourcing interviews, coming up with content ideas and sourcing all copy for the magazine. From tracking down an interview with World Champion heptathlete, Jessica Ennis during one of her busiest periods, to writing business profiles and deciphering the idiosyncratic dialect of Toddla T, it was a busy few months.

Copies of the final product disappeared within days and reprints have already been ordered. In addition to it being a bloody good job to work on, the main focus is still to promote Sheffield and give a voice to its successes so I hope it can go some way in doing that.

Take a look at the whole mag here.

‘Thanks Twitter’ – a real triumph for media freedom

Today we have witnessed, in Alan Rusbridger’s own words, a ‘great victory for free speech.’

As if you didn’t know, this afternoon, after a frenzy of online activity, a gagging order (a ‘super-injuction’ ) was lifted which had been imposed on the Guardian in relation to a question from a then unnamed MP, Paul Farrelly to Parliament about the oil traders Trafigura.

There is little to say on the matter that hasn’t already been said because over the last 20 or so hours I have witnessed the fascinating and wonderfully detailed unfolding of events, and I have been able to do so by reading comments from those in the thick of it, via twitter.

Once again the net has come up trumps, not only in the speed and efficiency that information has been passed on but by making a very important difference in the outcome of the case itself.

The ‘Kafkaesque’ restrictions were originally leaked on twitter by Rusbridger himself on 11 October – if you could call the small amount of information he was allowed to tweet a leak at all.

Alan-Rusbridger-001

Rusbridger thanked Twitter users for their support

Breaking news. Guardian gagged by a company in the High Court. We can’t tell you which company, or why. Er, that’s it.”

In their original front-page story today, the Guardian said it was prevented from identifying the MP who had asked the question, what the question was, which minister might answer it, or where the question was to be found. They were also banned from telling the public why.

This totally unprecedented and ‘doubly menacing’ threat on media freedom, a restriction of reporting on Parliament, was met with fury online where the voices of those who could not be silenced rang out loud and clear.

The transparency and openness of the internet and the immediacy of twitter allowed fervent discussion to take place and revealed not only information about the gagging order but the outrage against those who imposed it.

Frankly it proved that a gagging order will not work when up against intelligent, media savvy internet users.

I follow a fairly media-centric group of tweeters, so it is understandable that my newsfeed was taken up mostly by comment on the #guardian #trafigura and RTs of @arusbridger but one glance at trendsmap shows that it wasn’t just media types entering the debate:

guard

This amount of public involvement in media freedom cases should be celebrated. There was a sense  of accomplishment following the collapse of the gagging order, that the internet – which can often get a hard time from those with a stake in newspapers- made a substantial difference in a very serious matter.

More importantly it made a mockery of Trafigura who, let it not be forgotten should be under the spotlight for the horrendous and illegal fly-tipping of chemical waste on the Ivory Coast in 2006.

The BNP’s presence on Question Time isn’t worrying, but the fearful response from opposing politicians is.

It is a welcome ruffle of feathers that follows any headline that involves the BNP; a sure-fire way to inspire public interest and debate. This time though, I am somewhat flabbergasted. The news that the Nick Griffin may appear on Question Time has been recieved in a pitifully fearful fashion, particularly by the Labour party.

The party, who have previously had a strict policy against sharing a platform with the BNP, have been shaking their fists at the decision from Auntie following “evidence of electoral support at a national level”.

Firstly, if the BNP’s previous performance in the media is to go by there really is nothing to worry about. Those members of the Labour party scurrying away from the prospect of Griffin’s appearance have clearly not spent much time actually listening to him – and don’t even get me started on their website (in the spirit of shining lights on cockraches I have linked here for educational purposes).

The public can be trusted in their reaction to Griffin.

The public can be trusted in their reaction to Griffin.

The majority of what they say is simply non-sensical and factually laughable. So, it is the fear of other potential panel members that they would not be able to highlight it as such which should send shivers down the spine.

Question Time is the perfect platform, for want of a better word, from which the BNP can display their warts.

The decision to exclude them is bordering on media censorship, damages an intelligent audience’s trust in the programme’s impartiality but also marginalises and victimises the party, which are far more dangerous consequences. More to the point, this restriction clearly hasn’t worked in the past, allowing Griffin and co. to swipe a number of Labour’s northern seats from under their noses and consequently settle their despicable rear-ends in Europe. On one hand a restriction on their presence stinks of totalitarianism, on the other it seems lily-livered and worryingly in their favour.

I am still hopeful that many of the people who voted BNP do not share their most extreme views, views which need highlighting on platforms exactly like Question Time where an informed public audience and opposing political representatives can shine a light on their policies. They have only acheived their recent successes by shrinking underneath public scrutiny and proper interrogation.

A pathetic Labour response has included word that they will not “force” any MP to sit alongside Griffin if they objected. Yes, Griffin might not be your first choice at a candlelit dinner party but it seems to me there are slightly more pressing issues here than the sensitivities of Labour members who may not want to sit next to Griffin on TV. They should be chomping at the bit to attack Griffin’s racist viewpoints.

Luckily, the proposal has also been received warmly by those who see the need for an uncomfortable democratic debate to take place. Iain Dale hit the nail on it’s head on his blog:

“People are elected who we would rather not deal with. Tough. The BBC has done the right thing, and if Labour empty chair the programme, it will say more about them than it can ever do about the loathsome BNP.”

The BNP have sidelined themselves and cried victimisation, fuelling curiosity and opening up opportunities for them to peddle their own interests on street corners with little in the way of scrutiny. It is only with responsible publicity and decent interrogation that their ridiculous and sickening policies will be shown for what they truly are. Allow them to dig their own grave.

Coffee and crumbs, why paid for content won’t work for The Sunday Times.

I am acutely aware of my silence on this blog over the past two months. This is partly due to intense periods of work experience (which luckily resulted in my first national front page splash for The Sunday Telegraph), and desperate job hunting. Hopefully there won’t be such a long break next time.

So, carrying on as if nothing were amiss…

According to an article in today’s Guardian Media, The Sunday Times is planning to launch a standalone website. This is exciting news, firstly in relation to the jobs that have started to appear as a result. It is refreshing to see some decent journalism roles cropping up, although with experienced journalists vying for the same jobs as mere trainees this may not be a great benefit to me in real terms.

However, another thing to consider is the rumour that the site will follow the example of the Wall Street Journal and FT in asking readers to pay for content.

Previously Murdoch has hinted at the possibility of the Times Online charging for content. He said: “You can expect to see something in the next 12 months. We are planning to introduce a pay model across all our properties but we will test it first on some of our stronger properties.”

Yes, The Sunday Times is one of Murdoch’s ‘stronger properties’, however I’m not entirely sure that a Sunday paper is the most appropriate arm to test out the pay for content model on.

A tradition too tempting to give up?

A tradition too tempting to give up?

Most people I know savour the Sunday papers, spending lazy mornings (and afternoons) over coffee, losing their breakfast table under reams of newsprint and fighting over supplements. This image loses some romance if you imagine perching on a swivel chair with the rest of the household, scrabbling over a mouse and spilling croissant on your keyboard.

Maybe this isn’t true of everyone, maybe most people will be willing to drag themselves out of bed on Sunday to look at a computer screen. I doubt it somewhat.

Shane Richmond agrees and has suggested so, with four further reasons why the paid-for model won’t work, here.

On the topic of Sunday papers, it was with a heavy heart that I read the news about the possibility that the Observer would be replaced with a slimmed down version and mid-week magazine, or indeed closed. It seems a shame (to put it lightly) that the Scott Trust does not secure the future of both the Guardian and Observer and I hope it will not come to the point where the Sunday paper is lost entirely.

Clearing the clouds: MP’s expenses and a silver lining for journalism

The overwhelming saga that is the MP’s expenses scandal is nothing short of a journalistic triumph. Each day brings further revelations of both the trivial claims and dirtier manipulations of a system now in tatters.

With each new insight into how politicians have cheated the system come their pathetic bleatings as they attempt to shirk responsibility.

‘Oh dear, that particular claim was a mistake; but we weren’t breaking any rules; ah yes, now we look at it you’re right, the system is a little flawed…’

Each pithy excuse fuels further distrust in the current political system and the MP’s obsession with whether rules have been broken leaves a somewhat gaping hole in regard to  morality.

Importantly, the investigation has brought to light the most damning story of political corruption of recent years, and subsequently the power of the media to hold those in power to account has never felt stronger.

Despite a crumbling relationship between the British public and the political institution, we are seeing a new level of engagement between the public and the media, and a renewed vigour for the role of journalism.

The Telegraph’s treatment of this investigation has been nothing short of brilliant, and the sharp increase in circulation proves it.

However credit should go to the ongoing campaign and hard work of Freedom of Information expert, Heather Brooke, who has been fighting for five years to increase transparency and bring into the public domain exactly what we are seeing now. Read her excellent G2 article about her campaign here.

It was encouraging to see Roy Greenslade praising Brooke for her work in his Evening Standard column when the story initially broke:

“Brooke follows in the tradition of journalists who pursue single-minded missions on behalf of the greater good, earning only a meagre reward for their efforts.”

Heather Brooke

Heather Brooke

Journalistic investigations that harness the skills that are all too often now called ‘traditional’ are the ones that will continue to sell the papers.

Journalists rarely get a pat on the back from the British public but there is a great sense of pride in the work done by both Brooke and latterly, The Telegraph. This is the kind of public-interest story that the next generation of journalists take as inspiration.

It is encouraging to know that, in a somewhat shakey industry, it is the foundations of good investigative journalism that still captivate the readership.

Alan Rusbridger on the future of journalism

I wanted to share this video of Alan Rusbridger, editor-in-chief of the Guardian, speaking at an event at the Institut für Medienpolitik in Berlin.

I think his comments about “inverting the journalistic model” are particularly interesting. Journalists can no longer hand out “pearls of wisdom” to people who “actually know more than we do”. Instead we should use the wealth of information available to us and strike up conversations between experts and journalists in order to improve the content of papers…

Anyway, watch for yourself:

Twitter ye not…

twitterFollowing news about the onslaught of new tweeters, inspired by  ‘how-to’ supplement spreads and advice from master tweeter Stephen Fry, that have appeared in recent months, it is interesting to find out that only 40% will continue twittering away 30 days later.

This data (released by Nielsen Online ) comes as little surprise to me. It seems Twitter is a victim of its own medium.

Primarily I use twitter as a professional tool but the majority of people still see Twitter as a self-promotional and desperate attempt by people to engage with people about their breakfast or a missed bus.

I must admit that when given a stage, albeit a miniature one, on which to tell the whole world how you are feeling, it can be tempting to get carried away. It’s human nature to try and tell other people what you are experiencing, however banal, in order to feel connected to the world. (This is a subject worthy of much more consideration and something my friend Jenny Winfield has talked about on her blog.)

Saying this, I am still unsure about this seemingly banal and pointless tweeting. I use Twitter because I benefit from it, professionally. If I only engage with people about how tired/late/hungry they are then I am gaining very little.

For young journalists the benefits of using twitter are  information sharing and, of course, networking (involuntary heaving action should be experienced here). It has enabled me to engage with admired journalists, like @jemimakiss and @indiaknight, and promote my work.

It has also become the platform for a number of important campaigns and has been employed by news stations to track global disasters, such as the Mumbai bombings or #swineflu. These are of course, of interest to everyone but are only experienced after a prolonged and engaged use of the service.

The reason why people aren’t returning, as far as I can see,  is that those without an agenda to push see very little immediate reward in Twitter, unlike those sharing information or using the site for work.

It seems that for most people, with the speed and wealth of information available, anything that gives less than instant and personal gratification is no longer good enough.

Twitter demands some kind of loyalty from it’s users. If these everyday-life tweeters aren’t getting anything in return for devoting their precious time to Twitter, they won’t return to the nest.