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A few weeks ago I wrote an article as part of a job application in which I pointed out – albeit in a slightly glib manner – that Channel 4 is the King of news reporting.  And not just because of Jon Snow’s funky tie collection.  Anyone watching tonight as they revealed how it appears the News of the World not only hacked the phones of several murdered school girls, but put a police chief in charge of a murder investigation under surveillance in order to get further tidbits, must surely agree.

I didn’t get the job (a weekly column on popular culture), but I thought I would reproduce the article below, to lighten the mood of depression and outrage these revelations have caused.  Twitter is an angry place to be right now.

This week you may have heard the non-story of a farm in Ireland where rogue cows were escaping from a barn before the farmer came to let them out in the morning.

It was the greatest mystery of modern times. Poirot was called in. And Columbo.  And the Old Spice Guy.  Then it was broken to the farmer that the dimension between reality and fiction had a non-permeable membrane, and eventually his brother became so inflamed with curiosity he set up a camcorder to “find out what was going on” and not at all because he found cows sexy.

This highly technical deductive research led to the discovery that one cow had worked out she could push the lock open with her tongue, facilitating a great escape for the rest of the herd.  There followed a lively online debate about bovine intelligence, although Sky News reported, “Daisy seems unphased by her Twitter fame.”  She was probably too busy blogging in outrage about the fact ‘WeLoveChrisBrown’ was trending.  She has a point though.  Did I miss a ‘wife beating is cool’ memo?

Anyway, in the age of globalization and the world-wide-intermatron, news output is far reaching and often nonsensical.  From ITV reporting live outside a building where the accused used to work five years ago to the BBC choosing the weakest line of questioning you could possibly imagine (so Prime Minister, where did you get those socks?), journalists report on anything at all in order to fill the gaps between ad breaks.  And if you have cable TV you can watch Fox News, perpetrators of propaganda so outrageous that Colonel Gadaffi would say ‘Wait, what?’

Having examined the options, you’ve probably come to the same conclusion regarding newsgathering that I have.  It’s abundantly clear the only team who can be trusted is Channel 4.  If Jon Snow were put in charge of all news output in the world, there wouldn’t be a whisper of complaint.  You’d get serious reporting with proper questions asked; sprinkled with occasional bouts of dry humour but avoiding outright whimsy because they’re professional enough to recognise that’s what The One Show is for.

If I were to speculate wildly on why their coverage is better than anyone else’s, I’d say it’s because they all live in a big house together like in The Apprentice.  Jon Snow is the dad, ruling with a hand that’s firm but fair.  Krishnan Guru-Murthy is the mum, making pancakes for everyone in the morning before they go out looking for stories. Alex Thomson and Faisal Islam are the kids who are always picking on little sis Katie Razzall, and all three are forever knocking their knees off things and getting into hilarious scrapes.

Then there’s Uncle Gary Gibbon who likes shouting at politicians, and Cousin Sarah Smith who keeps Skyping from Washington DC to show off about the fact she had dinner with the Obamas again.  They may have their ups and downs, but they work together as a team to bring us The Truth.

Frankly it’s the fly on the wall documentary of the year.  How do I go about pitching programme ideas to Channel 4…?

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Sad Day for Hyperlocal Edinburgh

Everyone has a paper, don’t they.  I don’t mean the local one that you sort of have to get, for births and marriages and news of jumble sales, I mean the national one that you actually choose to read.

In my house, it’s always been The Guardian.

I appreciate it’s crap for news of stuff that’s going on in Scotland, but the Graun has always been good for features.  I’ve found tons of columnists there whose styles I admire and would like to emulate – Charlie Brooker, Grace Dent, Jim Shelley, Alexis Petridis, Hadley Freeman, Lucy Mangan, Zoe Williams, Stuart Heritage, Tim Dowling, John Crace and Mil Millington, to name several completely off the top of my head.

They also seem quite willing to do things that other nationals don’t – support the Liberal Democrats, for example, or pioneer hyperlocal news websites.

I’ve wanted to work for them since I decided I was interested in journalism about a decade ago, and the closest I’ve got thus far was being interviewed for the job of the Edinburgh Beatblogger on November 27 2009.

I remember I got there ridiculously early (I was worried about going to the wrong place) – early enough to see the candidate before me leaving, actually.  It was a man, a bit older than me maybe, with brownish cords and reddish hair.  I was later able to identify him as Tom Allan, and it was he who got the job.  I did however receive easily the nicest rejection letter I’ve ever had from Launch Editor Sarah Hartley; commending my community knowledge and saying she was hopeful there would be ways we could work together in the future.

I’ve followed the project with interest since that point – or rather, since the site was formally launched in early March 2010.  Whilst the Leeds and Cardiff pages remained in the hands of John Baron and Hannah Waldram throughout, the Edinburgh page was curated first by Tom, then for a few weeks by Nick Eardley (who I believe was just finishing a journalism degree before taking on a job at The Scotsman), and finally by Michael MacLeod, who opened up the page far more and made it many people’s first port of call for local news every day.

I say finally, because as you’ve probably already heard, The Guardian has decided to wind the project down.

According to the paper’s Head of Social Media Development Meg Pickard (who lulled me in to a false sense of security by complimenting my shoes at interview, the cad), “the project is unsustainable in its current form.”

On one level this is understandable.  The pages are free for the public to access, but the paper still has to pay three hacks and an editor to maintain them.  Although one wonders whether they looked at advertising in any serious way – using the notice board on the page is £10 for a week, but the likes of Facebook charge more like $20 a day for an advert the same size.  And inevitably the decision prompted mutterings that if the paper can afford to expand into America, surely it could find a bit of cash for this.

Pickard also pointed out that the project was always experimental.  Now, I knew that, and the people doing the blogs presumably knew it too – but I don’t think it was explicitly stated to the general public.  Which is a little bit insensitive, given those were the people using the service. 

Still, you can’t argue with fact, and these are the notes I wrote after the interview:

As you can see in the middle, I wrote “they have no idea how it would progress – ttl speriment (‘total experiment’ for those who can’t grasp my shorthand!).”

Unfortunately, it seems like they didn’t really take into account the fact that the experiment might work, and that people might be really upset that The Guardian would start up this great resource with amazing potential, then take it away again without warning.  Several readers commented that this would stop them reading the main site again and I can’t say I blame them.  The success of the project has encouraged several other groups to throw their hyperlocal hat into the ring too, supported and publicized by the Guardian bloggers, so it’d make sense to decamp to them.

The page has been used in a variety of ways; from publicising campaigns to save Blindcraft and The Forest Cafe to covering council meetings and student protests.  It’s acted as an umbrella linking to many local sites, including Greener Leith, the blogs of local councillors, The Broughton Spurtle, Tales of One City, Edinburgh Spotlight, ReelScotland, Song by Toad and countless others.  It has given a platform for local authors, journalists and campaigners to get their voices heard in the form of guest posts.  Rather than trying to do everything alone, it has very much been used as a community resource, signposting existing articles, events and experts rather than rewriting stories in a slightly different way. 

It seems odd to me to close the project on grounds of unsustainability, given that so much content has been generated for free via networking and goodwill.  I also can’t help thinking that they knew from the beginning that they were putting money into a model that wasn’t going to make a return. 

I can’t pretend to know the ins and outs of the advertising world, but surely the logical thing to do would have been to employ a marketing person from the start, whose job it would be to generate income from local advertising?  And it wouldn’t have hurt for the blogs themselves to get a bit of promotion – on the Guardian’s main page, at the very least.  There certainly weren’t any posters or bus shelters or events publicizing the thing in Edinburgh, so the success of the site was pretty much entirely down to the networking skills of the individual journalists.

And yet the site was and is known and popular, a testament to the tenacity of those involved (she said, alliteratively).

But even more than making me and other residents aware of a whole host of events, resources and websites across the city, Guardian Edinburgh has helped me develop on a professional level.  Being re-tweeted on Twitter and included in the morning roundup of what’s going on has raised my profile and generated traffic for my own sites, as well as introducing me to other contacts.

It was an RT by Guardian Edinburgh that put me in touch with The Edinburgh Reporter, and contributing to that has given me the opportunity to attend the Film and Television Festivals, to interview a whole host of interesting people, and to help cover an historic election.

My inclusion in the Literary Blogosphere, whilst slightly baffling at the time, was hugely flattering and gave me the impetus to concentrate more on fiction and features – so maybe some of the blame for 12 Books in 12 Months even lies there!

And it was Michael from Guardian Edinburgh who encouraged me to write guest posts, which means I can tell people “I write for The Guardian” just like I wanted when I was a teenager.

It was, from my point of view, a very successful experiment – good enough to continue, in fact.  Hyperlocal Edinburgh, saturated with content though it may be, will be a darker place without it.


Filed under 12booksin12months, adolescence, adulthood, Community News, Edinburgh, edinburghreporter, EIFF2010, GuardianEdinburgh, limitlesspotential, scotland

Let’s Get Lyrical #20 – Bob Dylan

Today, Let’s Get Lyrical have been asking Twitter for its favourite Bob Dylan lyrics. Unfortunately this is eighties week around here, and the eighties were not the best decade for Monsieur Zimmerman. Take this sensitive ditty from 1988’s universally panned Down In The Groove album, The Ugliest Girl In The World.

Well the woman that I love she got a hook in her nose

An actual hook?  That might not be a woman, Bob.  You’re describing something more commonly associated with fish, there.  Have you been fishing lately?

Her eyebrows meet, she wears second hand clothes

There’s nothing wrong with using charity shops, Bob.  You may be a bazillionaire, but not all of us have written Blood On The Tracks or whatever.

She speaks with a stutter and she walks with a hop
I don’t know why I love her but I just can’t stop.

Literally NONE of the reasons you have listed are ones that mean you can’t love her.  What you’ve said is she is poor, has a nose piercing, and may have additional support needs.  That doesn’t mean she can’t be funny, intelligent, or fun to be around.  Seriously dude, what’s with the Andy Gray routine?

You know I love her yeah I love her
I’m in love with the ugliest girl in the world.

Have you seen ALL the girls in the world, Bob Dylan?  No you haven’t.  So shut up.

If I ever lose her I will go insane
I go half crazy when she calls my name

That’s a fairly normal reaction to being in love with someone.  Why should her physical appearance affect that?  If you fancy someone then you fancy them.  You probably haven’t noticed, Bob, but people in relationships are not always slim, well plucked and stylish.  Yet somehow these munters manage to find love.

When she says ‘ ba-ba ba-ba baby I love you

Oh yeah, that’s classy, take the piss out of her stutter as well as her looks.

There ain’t nothing in the world that I wouldn’t do.
You know I love her yeah I love her
I’m in love in the ugliest girl in the world.

This doesn’t sound like love to me.  Why are you questioning it this much?  Why are you ripping her to pieces in a recording studio?  Surely if you loved her you would want to protect her from arseholes that stigmatise people for being different.

The woman that I love she got two flat feet
Her knees knocks together walking down the street

That sounds like a total hassle for her, what a shame.  Just as well she has such a supportive partner.

She cracks her knuckles and she snores in bed
She ain’t much to look at but like I said:
You know I love her Yeah I love her
I’m in love with the ugliest girl in the world

Not only is she unattractive and unwell, she has some annoying habits.  Which I will now immortalise in song format.  Cause that’s the kind of boyfriend I am.

I don’t mean to say she got nothing going

What?  Surely that’s impossible!  You’ve just described in detail what a moose she is and in my book, that’s all that counts.

She got a weird sense of humor that is all her own

She must do, if she’s still going out with you.

When I got low she sets me on my feet

And presumably you do the same for her?  Maybe using your songwriting talent to tell the world how wonderful she is?

Got a five inch smile but her breath is sweet.

Really?  That’s the best you can come up with?  You love her because she brushes her teeth?  Who the hell have you been going out with in the past?!

You know I love her Yeah I love her
I’m in love with the ugliest girl in the world.

Mm, yes, if you say so.  Then he finishes by repeating verse one, to remind us how ugly and impoverished she is.

I don’t know if this is meant to be tongue in cheek, or zany and fun, or what.  The internet doesn’t seem to have a lot of info on the matter either.  But at least it provides us with a grim and terrible warning – even Bob Dylan gets it wrong sometimes.

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A Link

I contributed to a new site, here, and chances are I’ll do it again.

The general premise is to spew hate about what’s going on in the world today, albeit in a humorous manner.  If that sounds like something you’d like to get involved with, you can, either by contributing or following on twitterfacebook.

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#demo2010 – The Scottish Solution

According to BBC Reporting Scotland, students protested in Edinburgh on Thursday to send a message to Holyrood not to follow the lead of MPs in Westminster on tuition fees.

Via SSYP website

The twitter hashtag #solidarity suggested a more general motive of support in my eyes, but what do I know.  Watching the rest of the beeb’s report, I couldn’t help thinking they haven’t bothered to get the full story at either side of the border.

For one thing, they branded every one of the London protestors with a hood up as being a troublemaker. Watching the footage back that was evidently not the case – some were undoubtedly just a bit cold. It is winter, you know.  I’d have been more inclined to judge that bunch of reprobates who were all dressed in black and wearing masks whilst they smashed the windows of the Treasury.

Anyway, back to my point. Are Edinburgh students genuinely worried that the Scottish government will renege on one of the key issues of devolution and suddenly start charging people £9,000 to go to university where at the moment it’s free to Scottish students?  They only scrapped the graduate endowment when I was in fourth year, a mere three years ago.  Surely politicians are not so fickle?! *cough* Clegg *cough*.

MSPs are all swearing blind this will not happen, although nobody has been particularly forthcoming on an alternative funding model as yet.  There will be a green paper released on the subject next week, and in a chilling piece to camera on STV, president of NUS Scotland Liam Burns warned that he WOULD BE WATCHING.

But if Scottish students do continue to study for free (excepting of course their cost of living, books and actual graduation after four years), what does that mean in terms of finances for our universities?

MP for Edinburgh East Sheila Gilmore has been quoted this week as being concerned that universities, who have struggled with some fairly brutal cuts over the past few years, may take higher quotas of fee-paying students from England and abroad to try and raise some money, to the detriment of bright and able young Scots.

Taking this to the logical conclusion, we’ll still be churning out graduates, but they’ll presumably decamp back down south after graduation and the Scottish economy will see none of the benefits of their (alleged) higher earning power. Meanwhile we’ll have a larger number of unqualified natives working three or four menial jobs to try and make ends meet.
Sorry, but this smacks of scaremongering, and xenophobic scaremongering at that.  Whilst there are a lot of English students in Scotland, there would need to be an exponential surge in numbers for them to overtake the levels of Scottish students.  According to data collected by The Higher Education Statistics Agency in 2006-2007, out of 223, 532 people studying for their degrees in Scotland, 21,514 were from England, whilst there were 158 983 Scots.

However, the nationality of our students seems irrelevant given that the chance of anyone getting a decent job after graduation is fast becoming an urban myth.  The jobs market in Scotland is a barren wasteland, littered with the dead aspirations of graduates who wanted to do something interesting and found instead that it was bottom rung data entry, retail or dole.  One of my friends tells a story of how last year he attended a training session in an Edinburgh branch of Waterstones where one St Andrews graduate (who also had an MLitt from Edinburgh University) taught four other recent graduates how to lift a box.

We don’t have to start paying back our SAAS loans until we’re earning more than 15k, and I only know about three people who have got to that stage.  I graduated in 2008.  Meanwhile the new legislation from Westminster gives people till 21k before they have to start paying things back.  It could take years to get to that stage.  The way things look right now, it might never happen.
In that case, what is the point of getting a degree in the first place? You’d be as well doing your 6 months on the dole straight from school, then getting on the career ladder ASAP.  Except that when you then want to go for those middle management, 20k promotions in your late twenties or early thirties, they turn round and tell you that you do need a degree after all.  Not because you can’t do the job, particularly, but because all the other candidates have one.  It denotes a particular aptitude for handing in paperwork that you may not have as someone who came to work straight from school.

Furthermore, according to a Universities Scotland report, employment growth will continue to be concentrated at graduate level over the next few years.  Although as far as I can gather, ‘graduate level work’ almost exclusively involves moving to London and working for companies like Deloitte doing something you have no real interest in.

This is probably a product of my arts degree.  I didn’t go to university to become an historian; I went to work on the student press as part of my quest to become a journalist.  Whilst the experience has done nothing to get me work paying more than 13.5k pa; it was a valuable and worthwhile experience which taught me to think and communicate in a number of different ways.

As a result, I do think that people ought to have the option to go and on a personal level I’m open to the idea of a graduate contribution to facilitate this.  Who can really argue against putting something back into a system that enabled you to go as far as you could intellectually and financially?

I don’t know what our ‘Scottish Solution’ to the problem of Higher Education is going to be, but I do think that a graduate contribution of some kind makes sense.  Just as long as the Scottish Government don’t present it in the same cack-handed way as Clegg and the coalition, because that makes people angry.  And people put their hoods up when they’re angry.

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