Tuesday, 23 June 2009

Who are the people pissing all over past glories?

DONAL MacIntyre ushered in, for better or worse, a new era of undercover TV reporting with his MacIntyre Undercover series for the BBC in 1999. Up to that point, and for a good time after, his courageous and insightful reporting redefined a genre of journalism which had been drifting towards obscurity or consumer gotcha-style Watchdog staidness.
The legions of TV honours which followed were rightly bestowed on the man and his team.
But, his new show on Virgin, MacIntyre's Toughest Cities, a repeat from Bravo from earlier in the year, sees him become a cut price Danny Dyer. Visiting hard knocks, asking them to play up to stereotype on camera and then talking up their hardness sotto voce seems to be his raison d'etre now.
His pitiful show on Liverpool's gangs was a case of disingenuous reporting at its very worst. Playing up the gang violence between two sets of ridiculous teenage crews high on strong weed, pills and Tupac CDs, he made a piece of televisual violence pornography on the back of the tragic death of Rhys Jones.
He then followed this up by taking part in ITV's celebrity ice dancing show - surely nothing needs to be said about that.
Maybe he pays for the better work by doing stuff that is patently beneath him.
But, as he now seemingly takes Ross Kemp's sloppy seconds, is he an example of one of those people who not only prove the Trainspotting adage that you get old and lose your edge, but that he is dramatically demeaning past glories by fronting simplistic, multi-channel age sensationalist bilge?
And if so, who are the others urinating all over their chips chasing the dollar by making stuff clearly benath a bar they set high earlier in their career?

Monday, 22 June 2009

The death of music reviewing - the Twitterverse is to blame

THIS latcheco seems to think that Twitter is going to kill off music journalism and that everyone is looking to this latest social networking site du jour and blogs for new music.
Perhaps he hasn't studied the business model of most social networking - what is going to keep it online 10 years from now? Where's the revenue stream?
Maybe everyone is a journalist now - actually no they are not. Just being able to write a review doesn't make you a music journalist - it just makes you opinionated, at best, and linked to the artist at worst.
If Paul Du Noyer or Dave Hepworth or Andy Gill or Pete Paphides or Caitlin Moran or Dave Fanning or Peter Guy (well maybe not him) say a record is good I may Spotify it (to coin yet another digital age verb) and then buy it. But I will never buy something thanks to a Twitter feed, which is prone to huge manipulation of the music companies anyway.
See what you think.

Sunday, 21 June 2009

Life after death: newspapers and the re-invention of paper technology

SORRY to be the kind of parisite we have been decrying as the death of newsgathering, but Cyberjournalist carries this excellent article on the future of newsprint and paper-based reading.
I suppose it ultimately offers the kind of hugely insightful points that any fule no already, that we read paper and net sources differently - with a deeper analytical understanding coming from the former.
This has massive ramifications for lots of areas of net evangelism - not least online learning portals hailed as the future of higher education. Er, perhaps not yet.
But the points about what print can offer over the net is something we all should be taking note of. Bespoke print products like McSweeney's, although harking back to a bygone age of press, offer a vision of where our newspapers can go in the future. As we diversify into a more (multi-)community model coming with smaller circulation, perhaps we need to look at how print can serve these smaller publics.
We diversify into community education programmes (oops is that the spectre of Newspapers in Education?) and put on classes and become closer and more aligned with our communities - do we print these groups' newsletters and publications? Well, we can't do that if we haven't got presses we have outsourced to centralised units.
The Word magazine remains a glorious example of what smaller circulation, smaller staff models can do hand-in-hand with a vibrant online community and accompanying podcasts/ digital content. Its regeneration of MixMag is testimony to how a knowledge of the readership and good management can make a success of smaller circulations.
So, how do we produce local listings magazines, activist newsletters and bespoke print products which will ultimately have greater impact than throwing everything online and hope that people find it?
That's easy - because we always did - it's just we were chasing a new mistress who seemed much more comely, exciting and more rewarding than our previously staid existance. Like many another (late) mid-life crisis tryst, this new vision has not delivered all we thought she would. (Sorry for the sexist analogy folks).
Can print and accompanying digital content help us find new publics?
Undoubtedly, but at a local or regional level newsletters not newspapers may serve these communities better. Will at-threat newspaper groups in Britain reach these groups? Of course WE will.
But, in the language of recovery - we haven't hit rock bottom yet and have not been forced to accept that online revenues are not the way forward and a step backwards may just be the way forward.
Giving content away for free can't be right nor has there been any kind of profitable innovation suggested by those in the digiterati who say newspapers need to innovate to accumulate.
This step backward will be to look at rationalising the huge wastage of newsprint and produce more targeted products - hey, maybe even geographically specific editions again - and this in tandem with digital content is the future.
Unfortunately we need to replace the generation of skilled and knowledgeable journalists who may have left the profession who could have produced this content in tandem with these new communities.

Building new public spheres

AN excellent article from the Boston Review - flagged up by GM's New Media and Democracy editor, Clive McGoun of Manchester Metropolitan University. It is authored by Evgeny Morozov, an acacdemic and blogger who is thus far skeptical about the ability of the net to facilitate regime change in authoritarian states.
Much of his writing is brilliant and he is certainly emerging as one of the key voices in the debates over the internet and demoracy.
It is a brilliant analysis of some of the more determinist and optimisitic assertions for the power of the internet, blogging and mobile technology in political protest.
His conclusion is perhaps a worthy starting point - it's up to you to work back.
"The problem with building public spheres from above, online or offline, is much like that of building Frankenstein’s monsters: we may not like the end product. This does not mean we should give up on the Internet as a force for democratization, only that we should ditch the blinding ideology of technological determinism and focus on practical tasks. Figuring out how the Internet could benefit existing democratic forces and organizations—very few of which have exhibited much creativity on the Web—would not be a bad place to start."
Read the full article here

Thursday, 18 June 2009

An inspirational piece of writing

THIS is the best piece of writing about the recent electoral success of the BNP in the north. And, perhaps, the best blog name out there.
Please check it out and post it as widely as you can.
Curry and Motown

Tuesday, 16 June 2009

The Parish Pump: It wasn't the vandals that stole the handles - let's take them back

IN a quaint turn of co-incidence for a neo-Habermasian community journalism advocate like myself, to be in agreement with internet impressario Jeff Jarvis is remarkable.
With the advent of Google Wave, the new all-singing-all-dancing browser/ interface from the internet collosus, the focus is again towards a hyper-local model for newsgathering and presentation.
A browser which unites and aggregates every aspect of our online lives is the ultimate goal for Google and a more fulfilling life under the cloud seems to be only a matter of months away. We can create and upload content, blog and flag content with simple keystrokes.
But, it still does not solve the problem of paying for newsgathering - it is still parisitic. But news still has to be gathered in a meaningful and accountable way for any number of ethical and democratic reasons.
And this is where hyperlocal has to come in.
Local is important to us in Britain and Ireland or we wouldn't have the vast numbers of local news outlets that we have sustained for more than a century since the development of affordable press and broadcast technologies.
But, at the local and regional level of news in Britain, the depth of content and engagement in local communities is being corroded by successive rounds of damaging cuts in personnel at news organisations.
In Februrary, and at one fell swoop, a couple of hundred years worth of accumulated local knowledge and talent left the Liverpool ECHO and wasn't replaced - even with cheap recent graduates or the even cheaper work experience/ interns.
We have to understand the uncertain business climates of the big news organisations making staff cuts face. The inherently fractured nature of the internet is not the friend of the centralised conglomerate news organisation - there are too many options for the consumer and these companies have always worked best moving towards monopolies where they could.
But Liverpool, like any similar sized city with a vast history and a highly defined identity needs news organisations rooted in its communities. News organisations, in this way, need social and intellectual capital - people who have knowledge and empathy with their communities in a micro and macro sense.
So how about this: let's summon the power of the community or third sector and devise and implement wide ranging education programmes and outreach initiatives aimed at media education which allows everyone to be part of newsgathering.
Let's have paid-for community workers and teachers embedded in their area telling us what is going on in their communities rather than newspapers and radio stations just reprinting missives from PR organisations paid to portray the activies of regeneration quangos in best possible light. (Among other travesties)
My example of how this could work is in the twin communities of Kirkdale and Kensington in Liverpool. I cycle through Kirkdale and am struck by how there is a huge degeneration of the area but that story hasn't been told - parts of it look like the Baltimore of The Wire.
Likewise the wholesale closures of shops and pubs throughout North Liverpool, thanks in no small way to the huge investments in city centre retail area, are stories which have not made any local media.
There are community groups in nearby Bootle who were working to highlight the injustices of regeneration programmes filtering money to big business 15 years ago - I know because I went to the Strand community centre to interview them. These people have not gone away - let's give them cameras and blogs and let them do their adversarial work. And let's train them to do so in an accurate and engaging way to maximise engagement with readers.
In Kensington, the Kensington Vision group have been highlighting the inadequacies of multi-million pound regeneration agency, Kensington Regeneration, via social and public journalism activism which points the way for the future of media at a macro level in the city.
Crucially, they also train 'ordinary' people to make their own radio, video and print products and get them up on the net. Now, that's a great social history project laden with that most corny of values - empowerment. (As Lewis Black says: 'I learned that word from Oprah'.)
The parish pump was the big buzz word for those of us involved in local and regional journalism until quite recently - it's just that there is no-one left to document those operating the handles.
In recent times, and in keeping with Dylan's lysergic visions of 1965, if the vandals had stolen the handles no-one would have been there to report it. That is, apart from the community activists who had no cash or means of accessing the regional media without first going to PR companies with the contacts to get published.
Let's train people to both operate and document the use of the parish pump. You'll see it will work, it is a no brainer.
And you know what? Free global social networking with the need of vast bandwidth and no visible means of raising the cash for it via advertising is not the answer. At least it is not the ultimate answer and is, at best, only a part of the overall solution for news' revenue quests.
Those of us involved in the media are too much in thrall to blogging, twittering and facebook poking and the fact that we can tell someone in Spokane, Washington that we think Peter Andre is standing strong.
This blinds us to the vast numbers of people who hate the blowhard, egotistical world of social networking's telling to one and all what you (mostly irrelevently) are thinking or doing at any one time.
The future does not lie in 140 character synopses of 'wa gwan' with you and your 'bredren' - no-one, to any meaningful extent, gives a Rat's A.
You may need a lie down and you also may be able to tell everyone from Starbucks in Tianamen Square to the Copper Kettle in Waterloo about it via your @dickhead Twitter account, but ultimately it's never going to be the future of journalism some contend it could be.
With this in mind, look to the blogs and pictures from Iran over the last two days and marvel at the true glory of community and activist journalism. Its glory is in the ability not to tell millions of people that Ronaldo may have shagged Paris Hilton but that a popular revolution is taking place in a nation which has huge ramifications for the rest of the world.
But also remember that journalism when done properly can make a difference to a pensioner whose bins haven't been collected by the council or 40 people opposing the closure of a community centre or thousands opposing the closure of a hospital or primary school.
Regional journalism's power is felt most keenly at the local level.
As Irish poet Patrick Kavanagh said in Epic, the 1938 poem recently voted Ireland's favourite,

"That was the year of the Munich bother. Which
Was most important? I inclined
To lose my faith in Ballyrush and Gortin
Till Homer's ghost came whispering to my mind.
He said: I made the Iliad from such
A local row. Gods make their own importance."
(Emphases blogger's own.)

Suspect devices: The future for newspapers?

NEWSPAPERS 2.0 is the hottest topic on the other side of the Atlantic where a catastrophic downturn in advertising and circulations has seen everyone forecast the demise of everything from small town papers up to, and perhaps even including, the New York Times and Washington Post.
The Times has responded with a fully tweeted up, network savvy social networking editor Jennifer Preston who is now 14th on Twitter's hot 100.
However, the Times is also roadtesting the best mobile devices which could just save news organisations as the dead tree format becomes the anachronism everyone is predicting. Mind you everyone was predicting that Facebook and Youtube were going to be the formats of the future, both are still haemoraging multi-millions with no real signs of getting any of that cash back.
Say what you want, but these devices do look well sexy - but may get damaged when my paper boy drops one through the letterbox every morning.

Nytimes.com: Newspaper 2.0 - Watch more Videos at Vodpod.

Newspapers: A vision of the networked future

KCRW is a fantastic radio station from Santa Monica in Southern California. It is a public radio affiliate and broadcasts some brilliant shows and provides lots of brilliant podcasts.
Among its key staff are the brilliant indie kingpin Nic Harcourt who made his name presenting Morning Becomes Eclectic a one stop shop for live sessions from the hippest bands around.
The Simpsons' and Spinal Tap's Harry Shearer has a brilliant show, but my favourite is The Politics of Culture which is also available on iTunes downloads.
Here, the ever more annoyingly right Jeff Jarvis, media blogger, Guardian media online columnist and Professor of Journalism, argues that the future for newspapers is to mimic the success of google.
I think he has a persuasive argument.

Meanwhile, over at the new Guardian Media US podcast Jarvis is joined by husband and wife team Jon Fine and Laurel Touby where the future for newspapers is deemed to be an ecological shift towards deeper co-operation with smaller publics and a shift towards integration into all echelons of community life. They also ponder major US newspaper groups decisions to discuss price cartels.
Jarvis sees the death of newspapers imminently, I'm not sure.

Monday, 15 June 2009

The best GAA and cycling books

THIS month marks the official start of GMST (Gobshite’s Miscellany Summer Time). It sees the end of cycling’s first grand tour, the Giro d’Italia, and Armagh’s first match in the All Ireland Gaelic Football Championship.
Both started badly with a blood doping accused winning the Giro (Denis Menchov, albeit in very dramatic terms) and with Armagh taking a bit of hiding from Tyrone – the muck savages from over the sheugh. (Irish for drain – in this case the River Blackwater)
Summer starts with the Giro and the first round of the GAA provincial competitions and then moves to the great sporting monuments of the season: Le Tour de France in July and then culminates in the six weekend marathon of drama that is the battles for the two greatest team game titles on the planet – the All Ireland hurling and gaelic football championships.
Nothing tops gaelic games for righteousness on any number of levels. In terms of skill, physicality and stamina nothing comes close, no matter what those convict derived-brutish-enthral-to-Yankee-sport-Aussies decree.
Secondly, nothing comes close to engendering the true nature of amateur team sport in the face of encroaching globalised capitalism than the GAA, a sport whose heroes (usually) are linked in an umbilical fashion to their parishes, clubs and counties in a way that doesn’t exist in the modern world.
That millions travel to grounds across the 32 Counties, often on fools’ errands, and get up at all hours to watch it on satellite TV across the world in our diaspora enhances its righteousness yet further.
It is the very definition of an unthreatening, celebratory united Irishness that modern politics, partition and pretentiousness can’t kill.

Grand tour cycling, and le Tour especially, are the reverse of GAA as the ultimate expression of the individual in an endurance sport.
Thousands of kilometres through France, with several days over the highest mountains with roads, the drama lies in the simplicity of (usually) two riders battling mano-a-mano, eyes out up the highest peaks and in sharp, tough time trials.
There may be team tactics and politics which may have a greater or lesser influence on deciding who takes the maillot jaune (yellow jersey) depending on conditions, but usually one man is stronger than the other, and it is played out brutally in real time for all to see.
In 1987, Stephen Roche showed how far one (Irish) man has to go into his physical reserves to get the greatest prize in cycling. It transfixed the nation, even if Armagh lost the Ulster final on the day of the Ventoux time trial won by Jean Francois Bernard.
The commentary from Phil Ligget in this clip shows the fine line between defeat and glory - Roche went on and won this tour three days later.

The Tour renders the gladiatorial beauty of sport in its starkest most brutal way.
But this time of the year always sees me looking towards the best books, especially about cycling and GAA, to give me succour away on holliers in France. There’ll be no away days in Brittany or the Vendee this year, but the (re)reading will continue nevertheless.
So this is my download and keep guide to the best GAA and cycling books.

Push Yourself a Little Bit Further Johnny Green – former Clash roadie gives an outsider’s view on the surrealist, multi-coloured caravan of obsession that is Le Tour. Not a cycling book per se, but a book about the cultural and political connotations of the tour, the fact that it's by the man who used to catch Joe Strummer’s ‘Ignore Alien Life forms’ Telecaster makes it even easier to love.

Hurling: The Glory Years Denis Walsh – Why do amateur sportsmen put themselves through the tortures of professional sport? This is an insightful look at an ancient game in transition to modern sports practice. It has men living in tents and pulling lorry tyres up sand dunes for the love of their county, and for no other reason than that love. An unbelievable read, purchased for 25p in Southport.

Rough Ride Paul Kimmage - The multiple award winning Sunday Times sports writer was a domestique with the RMO team when he won Channel 4’s 1986 Tour rider competition despite being the lanterne rouge (finishing last). This book openly discusses the physical and mental hardships of racing a bike professionally day-in-day-out and the systematic use of drugs that often results from it. For that, Kimmage was accused of ‘spitting in the soup’ by fellow pros. However, reading the excerpts in the (still) old style broadsheet Sunday Independent while dangling over the couch in my ma and da’s house in the years post Roche 1987 were a thrilling insight for me into the fabled pro peloton.

An Illustrated History of the GAA Eoghan Corry - a peerless, beautiful, book that puts the Gah in its social historic perspective. Mick Mackey and Christy Ring cutting lumps out of one another, cardinals throwing the ball in for the final, the first Bloody Sunday, Mick O’Connell, Dublin v Kerry and the sea of Orange on September 22, 2002. THE essential toilet book. I’ll leave the Seinfeld reference unflagged.

Tour de Force Dan Coyle – despite the author’s Tyrone name, this is an insightful guide to the obsessive professionalism of Lance Armstrong. Not an easy man to like, Armstrong becomes more understandable from this study by Sports Illustrated’s celebrated writer. Armstrong’s attention to detail, his single mindedness come as a given. However, his need to control everything, including cycling writers however comes across as mean and small minded, no matter how favourable Coyle is.
The supporting cast of Cheryl Crowe (Juanita Crow), Robin Williams and Jane’s Addiction’s Perry Farrell make the whole trip a bit more extreme, man, but the subsequent drug cheating fates of his team leave a gaping ethical hole in the achievements. Roberto Heras and Floyd Landis are both there prior to doping bans while former team mate Tyler Hamilton is present despite moving from the US Postal team to CSC.
A man of unresolved issues, Armstrong’s focus, despite its faults, is an inspiration – all truly, good sport books need an inspirational actor at the centre and this one has it. No matter how troubling the reading between the lines brings.

Dublin v Kerry Tom Humphries - This is, perhaps, the greatest book ever written about the intense rivalry betweens two teams in any sport.
The Dublin and Kerry gaelic football showdowns of the 1970s/1980s did, and for once the rhetoric is justified, transfix and divide a nation. My father hates gaelic football but my entry to the GAA family came watching Dublin Kerry in the living room of our old house in 1978.
Even at 5-years-old the colour and power of the occasion hit me. It changed me forever – all I ever wanted to do was play for Armagh at Croke Park after that. This book conveys the madness of amateur players physically and mentally torturing themselves for a sport.
At times brutal and tear-jerking, Humphries also shows why GAA writing is better than any on the Premiership. GAA players are amateur and are as yet not surrounded by a shield of PR and press offices, you get a sense of what the time and the people were about. It has access all areas to the deepest secrets of each team and none of the senior protagonists holds back.
It also shows the dark side of retirement, when the glory days are over – alcoholism, depression and death. But ultimately, it shows the camaraderie and glory of GAA teams that helped transform the games and the nation. The funeral scene near the end is the greatest set piece of any sports book I have ever read. A book to cherish forever.

Monday, 1 June 2009

The greatest abortion gag

The best ever joke about abortion debates - all bets are now off. No-one can beat this. Fact. Don't even watch the video - well, do - but Fetalmania is enough, it's incredibly beautiful as a joke. It is a pun in verbal and typographic terms. I salute the writer(s). The highest point of satire has been reached in this issue. Now stop.

The Daily Show With Jon StewartM - Th 11p / 10c
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