Archive for July, 2009

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Since I last read the New Statesman around a month ago, they’ve revamped the homepage, reducing clutter and opting for the minimalist approach.

It’s really quite nice, I thought to myself. Then I went off and did something else, came back to the page, and thought to myself once more;  ‘Since when did the Guardian use red headlines?’. Well, they don’t – I just couldn’t tell the difference, and had forgotten I’d had the New Statesman open. A quick comparison between the two reveals extreme similarities in the layout, and even the font used.

I wrote a paper for an MA last year in which I compared, amongst other things, similarities between the Guardian and the Telegraph’s homepage and online approach. In fact, althought these two are still quite similar, it’s getting even harder to spot real differences in approach to layout between major Western papers, be it  El Pais Le Monde, the Sydney Morning Herald or even, but perhaps less so, the New York Times. Interestingly, I read a few German papers from time to time and none of them seem to be going down the same route, be it the conservative Frankfurter Allgemeine, the left-leaning Sued Deutsche or centrist Die Zeit.

As for the New Statesman, maybe it’s just another sign that what media convergence really means is as much about delivery of content, as to how it looks on the virtual page. Currently, ‘broadcasters’- that is organisations that focus more heavily on broadcasting than they do on their online approach – present their online information quite differently to ‘newspapers’, even though both are bound to feature a mixture of text and video content. Let’s bet that we’ll see more presentational convergence across the news-providing board just over the horizon.

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Too outraged was I at this video on yet another blatant abuse of civil liberties by London’s Metropolitan Police was I to initially notice another important point: The Guardian website finally offers full-screen video, via use of the Brightcove platform, which they have ostensibly been using for some time, but failed to ‘big up’ to full screen capability.

This is important, as in this day and age, you need top content in presentational terms as well as in terms of editorial and journalistic quality. For too long, top-rate news providers (from ‘newspapers’ to ‘broadcasters’) have been getting away with low quality video solutions. Or more accurately, not getting away with it. Until very recently the Guardian was a brilliant example of a news organisation with world leading journalists and a shocking video player to display them in. Now with high quality video and the ability to full-screen it, we can sit back, and try to relax as we spit in disgust at the end of freedom and the British public’s apathy.

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So, Labour and Alan Milburn have expressed real concern at the lack of social mobility in Britain. Finally, Labour are conceding that this is not the meritocratic utopia we all thought it was. All day long on BBC Radio 4, Milburn’s comments to the Today Show were being relayed. It is, we’re told, much harder to get into the ‘top jobs’ if you didn’t go to a private school. We’re known this for a while, but it’s great to know that a Labour government has done nothing about it, instead presiding over decreasing social mobility for the last 12 years.  Producing a report on the eve of several terms of Tory government will achieve, if you’ll excuse my French (or Latin?), fuck all.

Yet hearing of this shocking news via the media, and in particular BBC Radio 4, it’s even more interesting due to the frequent references made to fields such as law and medicine. I imagine it’s extremely hard to break into these fields; not only do you have to be bright and extremely driven, apparently you also need the network that goes with a public-school education.

But hang on, Radio 4! You forgot the media! In Britain, if you did not got to a public school you face a much trickier time getting into the news-gathering sections of the media, with perhaps the exception of the tabloid press (which I know little about).  As much as those with great jobs in broadcasting and broadsheets might fail to mention it, nepotism and networking are just as important in ‘getting in’ to ‘the media’ as they are when securing other ‘good jobs.’  The BBC, unfortunately (for all its many qualities), is not a place where the steps to the door of employment are at the same height for all who want in. Almost two years ago I underwent a work-placement at the Milbank offices, and was even asked what school I went to. He didn’t know of it.

Yet the answer to the problems of elitism and social-mobility, whether in media, law or politics, is clearly not to be found easily, or else a centre-left government would have probably made some inroads. I currently freelance for ITN where there are such things as placements available for either skilled ethnic minority candidates or ‘talent’ schemes such as Generation Next – which was my fortunate route in.  But the fact of the matter is, it’s usually very, very hard to get a foot on the ladder without knowing that special someone (not least in the midst of industry-wide hiring freezes).  I’d argue that those working at Radio 4 today coudl have somehow made a passing reference to this. But with all those toffs running the rest of the country, they clearly couldn’t find the time.

Update. The dependable Roy Greenslade has picked up on this.

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The argument that live news and sport will save live TV for years to come has been around for some time now. And the fact that the English Premier League is on its summer break means I’ve been watching (thankfully) less football than usual, and therefore less linear TV.

So that leaves news alone for programming that entices me to watch live, using Zattoo, Livestation or the BBC iPlayer.  Working from home today, it’s good to start the day with Andrew Marr and his guests’ take on current affairs  (before the soppy middle-class ‘Sunday’ features on average actors in boring films takes over).

It’s worth remembering in these days of linear versus non-linear TV, that sport and news will just never have the same oomph played on demand. Add to that the fact that there is simply, as it stands, far more opportunity for advertisers to sneak their nasty but necessary messages in, I don’t think it’ll be gone entirely for some time yet. Once in a while it’s nice to be guided, no? Well, maybe not. But it’s first thing in the morning on a Sunday and switching on the telly – or a live stream – is probably just a lot easier.

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A comment piece in the Guardian today lays it on the line – pay walls or bust.

Citing Rupert Murdoch as the possible saviour of newspapers (on or offline), the usual insults fly in the comments section. Yet when the Guardian’s hacks are chirping the end of free online content, and the erection (or re-erection for some newspapers) of pay-walls, well, the times are a changing, yet again. As an insecure (in terms of job security, I assure you) journalist, but a long-time new-media proponent, I’ve been undecided on this for some time.  But now, surely, action must be taken to save the fourth estate!

Id’ love to see where we are in a year’s time. For my money, I would now be happy to fork out a few pounds per month to read a quality paper, such as the Guardian. But the trouble occurs when I want to look further afield to smaller publications I read weekly or even monthly. Subscribe to them? Unlikely. There’s going to have to be some collaboration involved here….

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Isn’t The Independent’s SEO implementation good? Well, I never thought so until now, impressed as I was with The Guardian, The Telegraph, and the Mail (when searching for Britney Spears, of course).

I just googled ‘Private Prisons More4’ to come up with the news package I pitched and researched for More4 News – and up came the Independent in first spot, with Channel 4 /More4 in third.  Strange online world. Always found Channel Four (at least Channel Four News) to have good SEO itself.

To summarise the package, despite the growing use of online prisons, they don’t seem to be performing quite as well as our good-old state-run prisons, according to a range of criteria. Funny that.

So anyways, here’s the report I laid all the paving stones for before handing over (not bitter – bloody happy to be working for a quality news provider at the moment!), while here is the Independent’s take on our findings.

I include this as I have found it interesting, the last few months, to view a colleague’s ability to gain coverage for our More4 News stories – at least those involving investigative journalism and original work – by feeding print journalist details pre-broadcast, ensuring a good name check for More and presumeably some more viewers. Mind you, in 2009 the least they could do is link to the damn report online. Oh well. Old dogs, new tricks…

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