Wednesday, March 29, 2006

French protests: look at who's making the noise

Paris has been exploding in rioutous uproar again. French students' proud history of protesting does not seem to have been diminished by political apathy across Europe. And they have every right to flex their democratic muscles.

But why are they really protesting? It is against a new labour law that prime minister Dominique de Villepin is trying to push through. It would give workers less rights, and make it possible to fire them with much greater ease. In the blink of an eye the Sorbonne was occupied. Memories of 1968 will come flooding back to minds of all those in Europe who are a bit left-leaning.

Like me. I would say I am a bit left-leaning. But I really can't find in within myself to condone these protests.

I want workers to have all the rights they possible can. Of course I do. But as it stands in France at the moment, employers simply won't employ people if they don't think they will be able to get rid of them easily. Yes. perhaps a bit more job insecurity. But youth unemployment in France currently stands at about 20%. More people need a greater chance to get into work in the first place.

And just look at who's protesting. It is the students, the middle-class kids who are kicking off. These are the 'insiders' who will be getting the jobs with all the protection.

And in all this racket, we appear to have forgotten about the 9,000 cars that burnt in France last November. I don't see any of the poor kids in the sink estates rioting now. In many of these areas, populated largely by immigrants, youth employment can reach 40 per cent. A new law would give many of these kids a new chance, a good foot in the door.

And the middle-class kids will still get jobs, no worries there. But to push down unemployment, and reenergise the economy, France needs such a new law.

So ignore the protesters, and stand strong, Monsieur de Villepin. A few miffed, bourgeois kids is better than a pile of burning cars.

Thursday, December 22, 2005

'Ambient' news: that untimely fart

Imagine you are a stand-up comedian. But all your jokes are appalling, and you are about to perform in a venue that is only half-full. And the few guests that have turned really don’t want to laugh at your jokes anyway. Even if they do turn out to be funny. Christ, you are so demoralised that you are finding it hard to think up a gag!

Would you step out onto that stage? No, me neither.

And this, alas, alack, seems to be the lot of modern journalists. I know, and I knew even before starting this course, that newspaper circulation has been falling consistently over the last few years. Just try and push all those DVD give aways aside that falsely inflate the numbers. People really are stopping to buy papers. News has, apparently, become ‘ambient’. What does this mean then? That is sort of floats round the room like an untimely fart, not quite part of the conversation, but nevertheless noticed by everyone? Something like that. There are so many news sources surrounding us (constant radio, internet, 24-hour news channels) that certain big issues are unavoidably in the public consciousness, unless you happen to live in a small dark hole in the middle of no-where.

So, no-one needs to read newspapers, and even when they do, the journalist figures in the public trust only slightly above the estate agent, and below the politicians we so love to hate. But isn’t this idea of superficial ambience the whole problem? Our disconnection, our apathy? Does it not stem from, and form part of this “have everything, know everything” attitude that makes us almost collect knowledge and facts and store them up, like my sister collects tops and shoes. One day it’s fantastically interesting, the next day it’s at the back of the cupboard, sweaty and unwanted.

This speed, this horrible haste, leads to a superficiality of interest in issues that may be impacting on the issues, and making events themselves more superficial. What on earth could I be talking about? Politics, of course. In a bid to win voters, the Labour Party adopted the grinning Cheshire cat known as Blair. And look what the Tory party have picked up of late…that Etonian ball of putty known as Cameron. One size fits all, modern politician, who aims to muscle in on Labour’s middle ground. No, no, no. We don’t want to hear about policies, thank you very much. Because a piece of legislation takes a hell of a long time to draft and turn into something workable, with an unimaginable number of changes along the way. It just doesn’t fit in with our need for speed and ‘ambience’.

In mimicking Blair’s presidential style, Cameron aims to project the future of the Conservative party not through any sort of policy, but through himself. And if he wants to win an election, he’s right to do so. I was sitting with a group of friends and fellow journalism students the other night. They claimed to like David Cameron. But like what?! There simply is nothing to like. Or not to like, in fact. And that’s probably what they liked. Soft focus Cameron will be winning hearts over for a long time, as long as he can keep away from actually having any concrete ideas. I’m just waiting for the honeymoon to end. Then it might get interesting.

So I say, DOWN WITH THIS AMBIENCE! Give me facts not fluff, not this media windmill that takes an issue in and spits it out, without considering its significance.

I still believe in newspapers, and I believe people will continue to read them. And I will still tread the boards of the media world, even if I do get hit with the odd rotten tomato.

Thursday, December 08, 2005


I have been a bad, bad boy. And no, I'm not referring to the other Saturday night. I am, in fact, talking about my inability to write a blog entry in the last couple of weeks. We have just had a sort of summing-up lecture about the online course. I almost didn't go to be honest. But I'm very glad I did (and no, Simon, this isn't just to get a better mark. But if you want to give me one, I won't complain). It was nice to get some feedback on the websites and the blogs. Both Simon Williams and Bob Atkins seemed pretty impressed with the efforts that people had made. Although Simon's comments about a lot of our blogs only having the life expectancy of a butterfly filled me with guilt. And so here I am, to fill in a few of the blanks.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

"F**K! Bu**er! YES!" Pete Clifton scores some verbal goals against Cardiff University

This was the headline slot. Da-da-da-daaaaaaa (that was a fanfare, in case you didn't realise)! Pete Clifton, head of BBC interactive was coming to talk to us in our online lecture. But what would this super-exec look like?!??! I'm always quite surprised just how NORMAL most well-known people are when you finally encounter them in the flesh. I don't know what I was expecting really. A floating head in an over-sized jam jar, sort of Futurama styley, or perhaps a benevolent, Obi-Wan Kenobi figure, spreading the BBC's force throughout the known universe via the cyberspace ether? No, none of that. A, yep, normal looking bloke in a black suit. It was only when he opened his mouth that I realised how he reached his position.

And he seduced us. Mostly, to be honest, by swearing. I didn't quite gauge just what an infant I was until I found myself gaffawing uncontrollaby as Mr Clifton used the words "Bu**er" and "F**K". A lot! He obviously realised what a great reaction this was getting from us litle students and played to the gallery. But not to say his talk wasn't full of illuminating gems about the workings of BBC interactive, and the direction it hopes to take in the future. It was this mixture of Yoda-like wisdom on the one hand, and verbal baseness on the on the other, that made it a great talk for me.

He had an interesting route to the top of the BBC. He cut his teeth on local papers in London, before moving to work for ceefax. Ceefax?!?!? Certainly something that's not at the forefront of my mind when somebody says the word "media". But logical if you think about it. The BBC's website is hugely popular. It has four million unique users, and gets 30 million page impressions a day.

For the corporation, as for many other media organisations, the July 7 bombings were a bit of a watershed, and have led them to focus more on citizen media. They have now created a hub of staff to look into increasing the reach of their citizen media. They have a constant message on their website now asking for more material. Mr Clifton also put up an example of a page the BBC will have on its site in the future, offering all sorts of interactive services to users, and allowing them to upload and send any sort of media imaginable.

I appreciated the guy's honesty. He freely admitted some of the corporations short-comings. Yes, they had been too aloof in the past, but hoped to change this. They planned to put up blogs from editors, who could respond to people's comments more directly. Nick Robinson, the BBC's political editor, was also due to start (has now, in fact, started) a blog. And, yep, they were very worried about Sky News. "We think Sky News is better," Mr Clifton said. They want to get more high-profile presenters from the terrestrial channels onto News 24, as the popularity of these channels mushrooms in the wake of the increasing numbers of people with freeview.

He made a great deal of convergence, of how all services were moving closer and closer together on to one piece of equipment. Broadband TV would be popping up everywhere soon, apparently. Hmmmm...I can see his point, but I still think it's the good old newspaper that I'll be taking to bed with me every night (and no, not just to read 'News in Briefs' in The Sun). But I would say that, wouldn't I? I am studying newspaper journalism after all.

So, a mighty big-up to Mr Clifton. Neither a floating head, nor a character from Star Wars, but still a very insightful (and slightly rude) speaker. The force is, indeed, strong with him.

Thursday, November 17, 2005

Novels and whores

One of my favourite sources of news is the BBC website. It is undeniably awesome. It has fast, accurate, up to date news. The depth of its coverage is also impressive, with its film clips and interactive diagrams. But what I love most, being the mischevious imp that I am, are the stories on the right-hand sidebar. Yep, the ridiculous ones. And the one I found yesterday was one of my favs so far. Apparently entire novels are now being condensed into a few text messages. This is supposed to be for 'revision purposes', but I'm not sure if it quite works. Take a look at 'Pride and Prejudice' designed for your phone:

"5Sistrs WntngHsbnds. NwMeninTwn-Bingly&Darcy. Fit&Loadd.BigSis Jane Fals 4B,2ndSisLiz H8s D Coz Hes Proud. Slimy Soljr Wikam Sys DHs Shady Past.Trns Out Hes Actuly ARlyNysGuy &RlyFancysLiz. She Decyds She Lyks Him.Evry1 Gts Maryd."

Does this really capture the essence of Jane Austen? Hmmm...I'm not convinced.

Another great story that I saw today was about former "Hollywood Madam" Heidi Fleiss who plans to open a brothel in Nevada. The difference here being that it's for guys to service wealthy ladies. Yes lads we could earn up to £145 an hour for having sex. Bring it on!

Monday, November 14, 2005


I was amused to see in the Sunday Times a couple of weeks ago about the huge quantities of cocaine in the Thames. Well, I wasn't that surprised. I was just wondering if this will lead hard-up executives to rush down to the sacred waters and and dunk their heads in to get a fix?! Will it become the Ganges of Europe, with impoverished drug-addled hippies heading for our waters for some free narcotic fun? Perhaps. Or perhaps not.

Continuing with this theme of intoxication I would like to draw your attention to an article I found on the bbc website the other day. Moving as far as possible away from our bustling capital, we find ourselves in a remote part of Sweden. Where there is an old folks' home. Outside of which are some apples. They have fermented. Along come some elks. They eat the apples. They find themselves a little bit worse for wear, somewhat inebriated. They then turn rather savage, not letting the old folk leave the home for a period of a few days. They would have been holding the old folk hostage, if they even understood what the concept of "holding hostage" was. You see how I've moved seemlessy from "cocaine in Thames" to "elks in Sweden", using the word "intoxicating" as my link? Magical, indeed.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

On fire!

I was simultaneously amused and shocked to read in Wales on Sunday that Al-Jazeera is to buy the kids' TV show Fireman Sam. What's going on?! I have nothing at all against the Arabic network buying the programme, but I'm intrigued to know how exactly this will work. Will they just show the programme as it is, and hope the Arabic world will want to watch a Welsh fireman zooming around the valleys? Or will they make it a bit more Bollywood, and have Sam achieve international celebrity status by transporting him and his little red engine to the subcontinent to extinguish an inferno in the Taj Mahal? Crazy, indeed. What next, we may wonder. They bought up Frost, and now Fireman Sam. Will the Houses of Parliament be franchised out and turned into a gigantic balti house? We can only hope so. More people might tune into BBC Parliament if it could be combined with a cookery programme.