Saturday, January 31, 2009

Still moving

We're still moving to the new blog. The blogroll, graphics, etc. are now up. We're going to put a few posts up before moving everything across.

I suspect it will still have some teething problems, but hopefully those will get ironed out soon too.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Hull boy gets good

Prescott's new blog is really good. I'm not entirely surprised since his TV programme about class was great too.

I've no hesitation recommending him even though he lives in Kirkella, a very, very posh suburb of Hull.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Today's big question

Monday, January 26, 2009

Moving on

I'm planning to move from Forceful & Moderate to a Wordpress blog within the next few days.

The new blog will be under my real name. No one will be surprised to learn that Femme de Resistance is a pseudonym.

I'm going to be posting here and at the new blog for a while.

I'll feel sad blogging as something other than Forceful & Moderate since I've been here intermittently since 2003.

I'm just feeling the Forceful & Moderate brand is feeling increasingly claustrophobic.

But there we are - onwards and upwards!

Sunday, January 25, 2009

The genius of Polly Toynbee

Guido has a wonderful description of Polly Toynbee as a:
Tuscan redistributionist friend of the down-trodden, the three-house-owning, multi-millionairess toff
I disagree with him, though, where he writes:
With the colourful prose that earns her £117,000 basic
It's not her prose that's making her the money. It's that her columns 'provoke'. One reason is she is unselfconsciously hypocritical beyond the dreams of Anthony 'Tony' Wedgewood Benn (formerly 2nd Viscount Stansgate).

Another is she sounds superficially intellectual, while being totally clueless about, for example, finance. This convinces people who agree with her that she's a great thinker while provoking anger and incredulity in those who don't. Intentionally or unintentionally - she's a genius columnist.

I'd like to reassure Tim Worstall that the purpose of a 'non-expert' column (and Polly certainly ain't an expert) is purely to 'provoke' or 'entertain'. No one with a brain listens to what she says "on matters of political import" since she doesn't have a column because of the quality of her opinions.

Her column is commissioned so people buy the paper or visit the website for purposes of praise or ridicule. While there, they might click or cut out an advert. She's the ultimate example of journalism being the stuff shoehorned between the ads.

If you want rid of her - ignore her. Without the oxygen of publicity, she can't make money for advertisers anymore.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Lynne F and scary London housing: a hair-raising tale of floods and narrow escapes

Lynne Featherstone writes about a Haringey woman who was trapped in a two-room, larvae-invested flat for nine years.

After going in "to do battle" with the council, the lady and her family are rehoused.

Unimaginably appalling council housing is a common problem in east and parts of north London (Haringey is in north London).

While on a placement at an east London newspaper, we were called by a hysterical woman who claimed she had lost all her possessions due to water pouring through her ceiling. She said the problem had been going on for three years, she kept having to buy new furniture, the flat stank and was covered in mould, and she was suffering respiratory problems.

I was disgusted and wanted to go down there, but the editor cautioned me. He said that it would have to be truly, unimaginably shocking for them to cover it. Unfortunately, he said, there was so much disgusting housing in the area that they could fill the newspaper every week with stories about it.

I saw this first hand when I went to an estate in east London to interview people about delays to renovation work. One woman said she had to repaint every month because of the amount of mould growing up her walls. Everyone was unhappy about the state of the housing and worried about drug addicts.

The area where I was interviewing looked quite nice. However, the next day I had to go to find the estate tenants' association. It was in the centre of a courtyard surrounded by low-rise brick buildings. Around half the flats in each building were boarded up and there was rubbish piled in the stairway. Windows were hanging off the hinges of some occupied flats. There was no lift and, while I was there, I saw a milkman lugging a pallet of milk to the third floor. Long strips of black paint hung off the bottom of the balconies.

The tenants' association looked like a prison with razor wire on top of a high fence, bars over the windows and a metal door. The association was locked so I decided see if the manager arrived. While I was waiting, I was told by two burly blokes that they wouldn't hang around since the boarded-up flats opposite used to be a crack den.

I can't even begin to imagine what it was like for families living around that courtyard.

*For those who wonder what happened to the flood lady, it turned out that her flat was fine. There was no sign of flood damage and it looked better than some student flats I've lived in. She constantly insisted the flat was so smelly and contaminated that she couldn't survive in it. I tried to nod sympathetically as she shouted and gestured aggressively about the flat, watched by a silent teenager who looked like he did body building (I'm assuming it was her son). I have never run so fast in my life.

Brilliant link from Dizzy

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Spending our way to hell

Second, the old sell-mortgages-to-investors trick that caused the credit boom and subsequent credit crash is being reborn with Brown's own version of the US's Freddie Mac, where the Bank of England will swap these mortgages for Government bonds, created by printing money, which it will then sell on. It will also insure against losses - in return for banks agreeing to Government targets on the amount they lend out.

So we know how well the Freddie Mac trick worked, we know how well Government targets work and we know how well Government run things. And we know how well printing money worked out for the Weimar and Zimbabwe.

...Give it a few months and full nationalision of RBS and Lloyds - and potentally Barclays seems inevitable now....

...Now Vince. Vince isn't as worried about this. In fact, he thinks Brown isn't going far enough and should Nationalise the banks now.
I'm most worried by the so-called "good bank" part of the scheme. Northern Rock will be given Government money for mortgages (see 'expand activities of Northern Rock' in this FT article).

The housing bubble and market crash was caused by lenders handing out mortgages like candy. Remember the 125% mortgage, anyone? House prices rose to ridiculous levels so that, even this January:
London does not have a single local authority where prices are low enough to enable a purchase at the 4:1 ratio.
Credit was so easily available that UK personal debt is allegedly £1.4 trillion (this always seems an unreasonably large sum). This is equivalent to £23,000 per person.

Inequality rose as the partners of private equity companies made huge windfalls by buying and selling companies using borrowed money, according to Robert Peston's book "Who runs Britain?".

And the Government's solution to this? Encourage everyone to spend more money and buy more houses.

One sensible economist friend is calling for "investment, not spending". He says the Government should be throwing money at Cleantech companies, etc. not high-street shoppers. We need a zero-carbon economy, so why not invest in it now. We can employ the laid-off bankers with PhDs in physics and engineering to work on technological development, and train other people. Other countries will buy our expertise.

I'm not entirely convinced, but it's better than any of Brown's ideas.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Optimists of the week

These chaps who are trying to advertise two-bedroom flats in Chelsea at £950,000 in a recession.

Why optimistic, you say? Even non-Londoners know Chelsea is expensive (no idea why, but still).

Well, the flats are located at the council estate end of the famous King's Road 20 minutes bus journey from the nearest underground or rail station. Despite Sloane Square tube (at the other end of the King's Road) being just one tube stop from Victoria, it would take 40 minutes to get there by public transport. The best way of getting anywhere is by boat.

Again for the benefit of non-Londoners, housing is priced by perceived ease of transport as well as by scuzziness of the area. Places in Zone 4 with fast trains can be as expensive as somewhere closer to central London (Zone 2) on a slow tube line. Living more than 15 minutes walk from a tube or rail station, to a Londoner, is akin to buying a small croft in the Outer Hebrides and trying to commute to the West End everyday.

Chelsea (and Dulwich Village in south London) is a special case - it seems to be expensive precisely because there is no public transport (see Chelsea Tractor). However, if you wanted to drive or take taxis everywhere because you could afford to, you wouldn't live at the council estate end of Chelsea.

The flats are being advertised as being close to Imperial Wharf overground station, which hasn't been built yet. They are also advertised as being close to the King's Road, which is true, provided you are willing to walk through an industrial estate.

Suggest people buy these flats direct from the bank...

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Some of today's most interesting links...

...In my opinion, anyway.

The News of the World on loan sharks (29.9% APR plus extras)

Polly Toynbee wrote about rent-to-buy stores in Hard Work (which is a surprisingly good book) in 2003 and it seems nothing much has changed since.

John Redwood's interesting ripost to the Government's "bad bank" idea

I think he writes his own blog. You can read about the Government's proposals here.

And some of today's least interesting links.

Any woman who does a demanding job must be a bad mother, Daily Wail continues looking for proof

Timesonline presents latest in its series: "Social stereotypes that only apply to ten upper middle- class people living in Maida Vale"

Because there are many people living in Grimsby who will be nodding their heads this morning with recognition upon reading:
It’s horrendous. Everywhere you look, women are juggling careers and children and renovating their houses, all while looking like their hair has been glazed with honey and their bodies toned by Madonna’s personal trainer.
And the good people of Grimsby won't be alone. Most Londoners will look out of their window this morning and see women whose hair has been coated with honey by an overenthusiastic toddler wearing personal trainers.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Translating Guido

In between spreading scurrilous gossip about the government and overusing the "c"-word, Guido Fawkes makes the occasional sensible post about financial markets. Unfortunately, he does so in the lingo of willy-waving trader types (he worked for a hedge fund before losing it all after falling out with his business partner, so this is probably the lingo he used in the office).

Femme-de-Resistance has asked me to translate some of these posts for the benefit of F&M readers, so here goes (linky):
Most of the losses occurred in the last hour of trading. The City is awash with rumours as to why.
The price of Barclays shares fell dramatically on Friday evening just before the Stock Exchange closed for the weekend. (It went back up again during trading in New York after the London markets closed). There wasn't any obvious piece of published information which explained this, so traders in their pubs and wine bars after a hard week's work speculated about what was really happening.
With the Treasury looking at a second round of bank bail-outs it looks like the taxpayer is going to need a lot of lube for another big shafting.
The simple and obvious explanation is that rumours of this government bailout plan announced near midnight, but presumably agreed earlier (you think that they work late on Friday nights in the Treasury?) had spread to some savvy traders. Given that Barclays took dodgy Middle Eastern money rather than accepting a taxpayer bailout last time round, it is likely that they won't do too well out of another round of bailouts.

The market was presumably already spooked because another bank that had been expected to survive without a bailout (Bank of America) had been bailed out by the Americans the night before. Saying you can survive without being bailed out now looks increasingly like hubris.
Admittedly it could just be an old-fashioned bear ambush now shorting financial stocks is permitted again...
Short selling is borrowing a share, selling it, and hoping to buy it back at a lower price before you need to return it. Basically, it is a way to bet on a share going down in price. Short selling bank shares was banned for the last three months for two reasons:
  1. Short selling is the fastest way for negative information about a company to affect the share price. So bank executives who wanted to shoot the messenger blamed eevil short sellers for falling share prices, rather than the fact that they were losing other people's money by the billion.
  2. Unscrupulous traders at hedge funds might sell bank shares short, spread malicious rumours to force down the share price, and then buy the shares back cheaply. This is fraud, and is technically illegal. The law is very difficult to enforce, because it requires pinning down the people who started a rumour. Because false rumours in a credit crunch could start a Northern-Rock style bank run, the regulators felt it was safer to ban short selling altogether.
Guido thinks that there is an outside chance that some hedge fund type was stupid enough to try an illegal short-selling trick the first day short selling was allowed. But he thinks (as do I) that it is more likely that a true rumour leaked out on a Friday evening.
*Guido covered his gilt short anyway. when fear grips the markets government bonds tend to rally. Will short gilts again later...
Guido has been short selling UK government bonds. Because the UK government can't go bust (it can just print money) the price of government bonds is driven by long term interest rates. Basically, Guido was betting that UK interest rates will go up a lot at some point in the next 10 years or so - presumably because he expects to see massive inflation. He is temporarily taking this bet off because he thinks investors will panic and buy government bonds (the safest possible asset). Even though government bond prices are driven by long term interest rates in the long run, they are driven by supply and demand in the short run, and he thinks that there will be a temporary increase (rally) in bond prices which does not affect the long-term downward trend.

A long, incoherent rant about LabourList

LabourList is making me really, really angry. Why? Because Labour activists have wanted a decent aggregate/group blog for ages.

LabourList came along and it's so woefully inadequate that it makes me want to scream. I feel aggrieved on behalf of Labour activists everywhere. I'm so annoyed that *I* would produce a decent version of LabourList if I could program CSS well enough to code a Wordpress theme from scratch.

How could people with so much money produce something so buggy, ugly-looking and dull? They have senior PR and advertising professionals contributing articles, for goodness sake. Why couldn't one of them find a decent web designer? It's not like they might have to use the yellow pages because they work in Slough manufacturing sink plungers. There are probably several web designers working in the same office.

It's worse than that. The site is notoriously spintastic and parrots the Government line. Every article is probably checked by a PR professional. So why are they all so boring? There are incredible PR and advertising campaigns being created EVERY SINGLE DAY. Their aim is not to bore the consumer into submission.

Hasn't someone said, "Your article needs heavy reworking because it is as exciting as watching paint dry with a sock over your head. It makes the Labour Party look bad because everyone will think we are a crowd of humourless bores. No one will visit our site except to criticise. We might get sued when someone starts reading an article, falls asleep, drops hot coffee on their baby and suffers concussion as their head hits their desk. If anyone in the army reads it and falls asleep at their keyboard, they might accidently dispatch a small nuke to Belgium. We would have to put up a warning 'Do not read while driving or operating heavy machinery'."

Even Peaches Geldof managed to successfully criticise bad writing when she was a magazine editor. That's how harsh it is - I'm having to compare someone unfavourably to Peaches Geldof [NOTE: Peaches seems a bright girl who doesn't deserve the criticism she gets].

The site justs scares me. It says 'The Government can't even run a website'. Our economic situation is like a 100 manure lorry pile-up on the M25 and senior party officials can't find a decent CSS programmer. Let me kill myself now before they try to run a bath!

A huge welcome to Labourist

Let's give a big hand to Labourist. It's a beautifully designed website hosting the same content as the widely derided LabourList, but without the excessive comment moderation.

But how long will this copyright statement stay on LabourList before being tightened up:
"All content is the copyright of LabourList but we give permission for its use, unless otherwise stated."
Is there anything Labourlist can argue, which would allow it to shut Labourist down now? I bet I'm not the only person asking this question today.

Labourist say they intend to create original content too, which will hopefully be less boring than Draper's site. Unfortunately, bad PR produces bland writing.

If I ran LabourList, I'd be getting people to acknowledge the challenges the ruling party faces in a natural-sounding, positive way. After all, it's easy to criticise, but governing is a difficult job.

Friday, January 16, 2009

A postmodern moment

You learn something new everyday. Today I realised there was a community of people who blog about blogging. Take this man, for example. Or this bloke.

It has this weird, self-referential quality that I can only describe as depressingly postmodern. Why blog about knitting, cats, Gaza or British politics when you can write about the act of blogging? You can even twitter about twittering. Or blog from your iPhone about how you're blogging... from your iPhone.

Maybe I'm a vicious ex-scientist bitch who caustically flays the living flesh from innocents, but I just keep thinking: Further reading - Nathan Barley.

Charlie Brooker is a genius.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

My Godawful Life

While here, I'll plug this book, which may be the funniest book ever written. J. Crow, UK, doesn't agree with me, but he admits to relishing reading about the misery of others so I can safely ignore him.

It's a riotous spoof of the misery memoirs that have littered book shelves in recent years. It starts utterly ridiculous and never lets up. It has a strange resemblance to In Bruges - it's in very bad taste and involves midgets. Replace Bruge with Northumberland.
Kept in a bird-coop by his parents, Sunny McCreary endured a childhood of neglect, abuse and being bullied by pigeons, only to find it was all downhill from there. In the course of the most painful life ever, he survived tragedy and maiming, a savage convent school education, being pimped out in pink-satin hot pants, a degrading addiction to helium, and having a baboon's arse grafted onto his face. Then things got really bad.

Yes, the left can be funny!

Mark Thomas is a one-man wrecking ball to the myth that left-wingers aren't funny. It takes real skill to write a hard-hitting book about worker exploitation and human rights abuse, which is also entertaining, balanced and unpreachy. The humour is pitch black in places, e.g.
'These are for you,' says Luis Eduardo, handing over a bundle of photocopied death threats. Not a traditional parting by any means, but I don't think he had time to get me a presentation tin of regional quality biscuits.
A must-read [he's not paying me or anything - I like the book that much].

He's funnier than John O'Farrell's 'Things Can Only Get Better', which I've just finished reading. This is mainly because O'Farrell's saccharine love-in with New Labour now induces nausea. The first half of the book, which describes his misspent youth as a socialist rebel without a clue, remains absolutely hilarious.
'Dinner parties were obviously right-wing. Apart from being right-wing in themselves they featured a number of right-wing guest appearances such as wine, suits and mangetouts. And concepts like dessert wine and profiteroles were just off the political scale'
Perhaps LabourList could recruit a left-wing comedian to blog. I visited the site this morning and the content remains worthy, turgid and contributes nothing to what's already in the mainstream media.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

The funniest art hoax ever

Great minds think alike...

... And apparently so do Peter Oborne and I. He says in the Mail that:
“not a single member of the Cabinet has ever occupied a wealth-creating job.”
I did a similar exercise just a few days ago when I estimated that around one-third of contributors to LabourList had worked in something besides PR, journalism, think tanks or for the Labour Party.

There is a distinction between this and 'wealth-creating' jobs, though. Wealth is not money. If it was, Zimbabwe would be the richest country in the world. Wealth is something people want and can be a widget, some carrots or a service.

Nursing and teaching are clearly a service that generates wealth by providing healthy workers and educated children. Transactional lawyers (e.g. conveyancing, wills) also provide a service. Sales and marketing are key to a company's success and PR for corporate clients is sufficiently similar to be interchangeable. Journalism done well either provides information or is part of the entertainment industry. Entertainment is a service people will pay for - Hollywood makes money and prostitution is the oldest profession in the world.

The problem with the Political Class described in Peter Oborne's book is that they don't create anything that anyone outside the ruling party wants. Neither do they create anything someone would pay for with their own money - they have to be public- or pseudo-public funded.

Take Polly Toynbee - she's neither entertaining nor informative. She would doubtless be upset if described as 'entertainment' for Tory voters where the 'entertainment' here is similar to that offered by stocks and ducking stools. If I'm totally cynical, no one would pay to read Polly Toynbee, which is why she's bundled with news and public sector job adverts [sorry, Polly, you're the clearest example of a political class journalist I can think of, which is why I keep using you as an example]

It would be great if someone in the Cabinet had experience running a business though.

Hat-tip to Iain Dale

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Spiraling downwards

A treat for anyone who enjoys Downfall mash-ups and, erm, investment banking.

This is a mini-series using clips from the 2004 film depicting the final days of Nazi Germany to tell the story of an investment bank slowly going bust after it buys dodgy financial products shortly before the start of the Credit Crunch. 

I think that's the problem anyway - "The Spiral" starts shortly after the products have been sold for a knockdown price and CEO Adolf Hitler certainly isn't pleased about the situation.

For more information about the dodgy financial product mentioned, look up CDO in our introduction to the economic crisis.

If you'd prefer a literary fix of "very bright mathematical types making utter t*ts of themselves while trying to make silly amounts of money", I'd recommend When Genius Failed. The title says everything.  

I'm considering penning a sequel called: When Genius Failed to Move His Pyjamas From The Bathroom Floor Every Morning. 

Journalism: Rumours of its death (short version)

Yesterday's post was a bit long so I've decided to create a bulleted summary of the main points. 


Doomsayers say declining newspaper sales and the many visitors to big blogs like Guido shows professional journalism is dead. They say that:
  • The internet means people can read content that they previously paid for, for free, putting print newspaper and magazines out of business
  • Bloggers can do the job of professional journalists
The world's oldest profession
  • Journalism won't die since it's storytelling, which is an older trade than prostitution
  • Business and financial professionals, among others, will always need to know what's happening
  • Are mainly part-time pundits. They rarely produce breaking news and often don't have the skills or resources to do the job of professional journalists (e.g. court reporting, which requires shorthand)
  • Will replace columnists, such as Polly Toynbee
  • Will also be used as a source of information for full-time, professional journalists
Online advertising and subscription walls:
  • Work on specialist websites or those providing higher-quality information than is available elsewhere
Onwards to the future

Publications will have to specialise to survive or provide free, low-quality information on a shoestring.
  • Local newspapers: Will probably survive by providing ultra-local news and advertising in areas with a strong community spirit
  • Trade papers: Will continue doing high-quality, newsgathering journalism for people who need to know the truth, supported by specialist advertising
  • National newspapers: Will either specialise (e.g. the Guardian becoming a daily trade paper for the expanded public sector) or give a new angle to generic information reprinted from PR agencies and the Press Association
Wot, no vodcasts?
  • Multimedia journalism is a popular topic of discussion, mainly among journalism students and lecturers
  • It's a red herring since video/podcasts, etc. are just a tool for telling stories, rather like a pen or a notepad

Rumours of the death of journalism have been greatly exaggerated

Monday, January 12, 2009

Journalism: Rumours of its death are greatly exaggerated

Another day, another report of declining newspaper circulations. It's statistics like these that produce the endless flood of articles and books about the end of professional journalists, the informed citizen and, even, modern culture.

Cinema never died - it just went digital

I'm just old enough to remember when VHS video recorders became cheap. Likewise when computer consoles and wide-screen TVs became ubiquitous. The media were predicting the end of the cinema. Cinema is still alive and kicking because everyone forgot that people are social animals. They don't want to sit alone in their house all day surrounded by multimedia equipment if they can go for a drink and film with friends instead.

What has this got to do with journalism?

Journalists are, at heart, gossipmongers and storytellers. Anyone who believes there is a grand purpose to newspapers should be made to read 'The Truth' by Terry Pratchett. Ankh Morpork's first newspaper prints factually-correct stories that annoy the Establishment, but only when they're entertaining. Stories about amusingly-shaped fruit and vegetables also abound. 

Storytelling and gossip is as old as prostitution - it's not going to disappear. Neither is quality news since truth is always stranger than fiction. Furthermore, there is a group of people, mainly in business and finance, who need to know the truth because man-eating goldfish move markets.

Enter the doom-mongers

The doom-mongers believe that the internet will kill professional journalism. They argue that newspapers and magazines no longer have a business model since people can find information for free. Online advertising won't work because sites like craigslist mean editorial and classifieds needn't be bundled together. In addition, blogging software means professional journalists aren't required since everyone now has access to a 'printing press'.

They point to high-traffic blogs like Guido and Iain Dale, and the struggles faced by the major regional newspaper groups.

The doomsayers are wrong on several counts. Let me discuss each in turn.

Fisking Pollyanna

First, bloggers. Bloggers are mainly part-time pundits. They can be dilettantes, freelancers or people who pen a few words around their day job. Bloggers are going to kill most newspapers columns because columnists like Polly Toynbee have nothing to offer that a blogger can't provide.

Professional columnists are not necessarily factually accurate and not expert in the subject they're writing about. So why pay for something that an informed or equally ignorant blogger does for free?  The same goes for film, book, music and restaurant reviewers.

Maybe I'm kidding myself here, but even *I* think I can write a better column than Polly Toynbee. Certainly, I'm probably better value for money. As Julie Burchill says here:
I had done two years of my three-year contract and they let me off the last year. They still paid me the money to go. I had got a £300,000-a-year contract; I went for a footballer's contract. I was totally taking the piss.
Bloggers aren't going to kill newspapers because most bloggers are part-time pundits. They don't have the resources to do newsgathering journalism and, if they do, it's sparse and specialist. Guido may boast about breaking national news, but he can't match the 15 or so exclusives a local newspaper will find each week.

Bloggers normally lack skills that professional journalists use to do fast newsgathering, such as shorthand, which is essential in court where recording equipment isn't allowed. They normally don't know any media law either and don't have anyone to give them legal advice to short deadlines. 

Disasters and other major news stories will get photographed and covered by bloggers on the scene, but few people are lucky enough to be sitting in the middle of a major news story everyday. A blogger reporting on a major story in their street is a one-story wonder and is unlikely to have a large readership already. They will still rely on professional journalists to find their blog and disseminate their story more widely. The role of the blogger here is similar to any source or contact a journalist uses to find a story.

Information wants to be free

People are now used to finding information for free on the internet and classified adverts are increasingly hosted on their own sites.

This is, indeed, a threat to the traditional model of newspapers and magazines. This is why the media will look very different in 10 years to how it does today.

Online advertising is working in some places, for example, the trade press. Specialist equipment or services are not something you can necessarily find on eBay. If you are a manufacturer of laboratory equipment, for example, the biggest trade magazine in your sector is probably the best way of reaching your audience.

Content behind subscription walls is also working, but only where it is sufficiently high quality or specialist that people are willing to pay for it.

Onwards the future

These trends suggest journalism does have a future, but it's going to increasingly fragmented and specialist.

National newspapers

National newspapers will cut costs and focus on giving a political spin to stories from the Press Association and PR agencies, since people won't be willing to pay for information of general interest they can find for free elsewhere.  For example, the Metro free paper covers similar stories to the Daily Mail.

In addition, most people don't care whether what they're reading is true, provided it's entertaining. It's therefore cheaper to print a funny PR event than a Pulitzer Prize-winning piece of investigative journalism.

I think the Mail and Guardian will survive best as newsgathering organisations because they understand their target readership. The Guardian will increasingly become the trade paper for the expanded public sector while the Mail will turn into a daily lifestyle rag for women who buy Chat.

Local newspapers

Local newspapers are specialists in local news and will survive where they provide that. Small, usually independent, papers that are deeply embedded in their community will survive as free papers and websites funded by ultra-local advertising.

The quality of newsgathering journalism will probably remain high since people who care about their community also feel duped if they see an obvious lie.

I'm not convinced that the large newspaper groups have the managerial culture to restructure as free, ultra-local news providers. If they collapse completely, however, they will eventually be replaced by a flurry of small news sheets in areas with a strong community identity.

Trade/B2B papers

I'm lumping the Financial Times with the B2B press because it's a newspaper for the City of London. This is why it has a reputation for high-quality journalism - businessmen and financiers need to know what's going on in the world.

The B2B press will survive and continue doing specialist newsgathering journalism. Online advertising aimed at a small audience works with trade magazines. In addition, people working in trades and professions have a real need-to-know about what is happening in their sector. They like to be entertained, but that's not their main reason for reading a B2B paper.

Wot, no vodcasts?

I think the current obsession about multimedia, mainly among journalism students and lecturers, is a red herring.

Multimedia is a tool for storytelling - getting excited about it is like raving about pens or writing for hours about how great your notepad is. 

If you have a stats-based story, use text and a Flash interactive. If you have a talking head, use a podcast - no one wants to see an ugly, middle-aged guy opening and closing his mouth for 30 minutes. If an explosion is happening in front of you, video it. That's it. Not very interesting, is it? 


Things will change, but it's not the end of the world!

Sunday, January 11, 2009

LabourList: Or how to have a career outside manufacturing, agriculture and services...

A few days ago I blogged about Peter Oborne's "The Triumph of the Political Class".

This book claims the UK is run by an alliance of professional politicians, supportive journalists and advertising/marketing professionals. 

Unlike the old Establishment, who had successful careers before entering politics, the political class devote their lives to politics. The temptation to cling to power and enrich themselves while there is therefore strong. Furthermore, since professional politicians have spent their lives doing politics, they don't have the skills to run a country. Their modus operandi is manipulating public opinion and not governing for the benefit of the people. 

I'm quite convinced by his argument, particularly since there are so many excellent examples of the political class around. Take the biographies on LabourList, the newly launched 'indepedent' pro-Government blog [sic - check your spelling, guys!].

Out of 26 initial contributors, I've found nine who appear to have worked in something besides PR, advertising, journalism, think tanks or for the Labour Party. This includes, however, someone who helps run a blogging website and the manager of a socialist bookshop. 

If I define a 'real' job as one where you might make something or deal with the public, the civil service or corporations, I can add a couple of the senior PRs and Piers Morgan, who was a newsgathering journalist. 

It's worth mentioning that many of the self-defined 'journalists' on this list do what I'm currently doing. They write opinionated c**p. They just write opinionated c**p for the Guardian rather than self-publishing it. 

There is another type of journalist who uncovers scandals at ENRON, has their laptop blown up in war zones and talks to bereaved families. Most of the 'journalists' writing for LabourList will have never interviewed a drug addict or called 50 vicars in Westminster trying to get a quote about Gaza.

Likewise 'writers'. I'm a writer. It pays the rent - it doesn't qualify me to run the NHS. 

The 26 are:
  1. Derek Draper: Peter Mandelson's researcher, lobbyist, political editor of a small magazine, occasional psychotherapist
  2. Sarah Mulholland: Full-time youth political activist (I think). Seems to have worked for the NHS at some point, which might mean she qualifies for the 'real job' list
  3. Simon Fletcher: Appears to have worked most of his life for Ken Livingstone (12 years, eight as Chief of Staff)
  4. David Lammy: Briefly (~four years, including a Masters of Law at Harvard) a barrister before being elected to the GLA
  5. Jag Singh: Provides new media advice to political campaigns. No sign of a job in agriculture, industry, services, etc.
  6. Tom Miller: Constituency organiser, previously in youth politics. Full-time hack, in other words
  7. Ray Collins: Professional trade unionist. Seems to be have become a senior trade union official at around 30 and never claims to have started on the shop floor, so probably didn't
  8. Alan Milburn: Professional trade unionist who ran a small socialist bookshop in his youth
  9. Roger Liddle: May have briefly worked as an academic (?) before a lengthy career in think tanks, as a special adviser and a lobbyist. No evidence of a PhD or lectureship.
  10. Chuka Umunna: I don't know you, but I want to hug you. You actually have a day job as a lawyer. AMAZING! As an employment lawyer, he will work with ordinary members of the public delivering a service. SHOCKING!
  11. Sally Morgan: Worked for around five years as a geography teacher and the rest of her career for the Labour Party
  12. Stella Creasy: After doing a PhD, variously worked as a Labour activist, lobbyist and think tank researcher
  13. Pat McFadden: Left university. One year later began as a MP's researcher. Various similar jobs followed until he was elected to Parliament
  14. Spencer Livermore: First job was working on the 1997 Labour election campaign, Special Advisor to ministers ever since. Has just left to do advertising, although it's not clear whether this job involves anything but selling to the Labour Party
  15. Alex Smith: Describes himself as a 'writer and political activist' in the sense of 'I'm not unemployed, I'm a writer'. Looks suspiciously like a recent university graduate. A Google non-entity, unless he's an American football quarterback
  16. Piers Morgan: A man with talent. I've read his books. He is cool. He's a journalist, but he started on local newspapers and managed a national one so he's done a real job
  17. Mark Hanson: A PR professional who has advised big private sector clients. INCREDIBLE!
  18. Peter Mandelson: Mainly worked for the Labour Party, but had a brief period as a TV Producer in the 80s
  19. Ken Livingstone: Worked eight years as a laboratory technician before the usual political jobs. He was also briefly involved in journalism in the most hard-hitting of roles - a restaurant critic
  20. Tristram Hunt: Is an academic with a lectureship in history at QMW. LibertyCat isn't sure if it's a real job. He is a physicist so I am ignoring him, especially because this chap is really nice looking.
  21. Will Straw: Did PR for the Government and is now working at a think tank. 
  22. Luke Akehurst: Lobbyist for the arms industry with experience as a Labour Party organiser
  23. Charlie Whelan: Worked for trade unions and as a 'spin doctor' for Gordon Brown. Subsequently has made money by being a talking head
  24. Philip Gould: Worked in advertising before advising the Labour Party on how to run focus groups
  25. Douglas Alexander: Worked briefly as a solicitor (~ four years) between helping with American election campaigns and working for the Labour Party. 
  26. Ben Wegg-Prosser: A genuine new media professional who works for the company that runs Also managed and published various Guardian websites. He also worked for the Labour Party, but that's to be expected
If anyone can provide me with additional information/corrections, I'd be really grateful.

So who is the bad guy again?

LibertyCat and I have just been to see Phantom of the Opera and, like Spamalot, I was generally disappointed. Not with the music, which was brilliant; nor with the special effects. I was just frustrated by the plot.

Spamalot irritated me by including bad Broadway jokes and a totally unnecessary token female character, which meant it missed the much-loved bridge scene from the original Monty Python film. I didn't realise it was going to miss the bridge scene until near the end, which caused me to leave the theatre moaning about it.

Neither LibertyCat or I realised until two-thirds the way through Phantom of the Opera that the Phantom was not the hero. In fact, he was the bad guy. This was because he was the only sympathetic character in the production, in our view, except for the ballet teacher.

Apologies to those who haven't seen this musical, who won't understand the next bit of the post, but:

Raoul, the male romantic lead, had all the character of the chandelier that crashes down at the end of the first half of the production. In contrast, the Phantom seemed dramatic and mysterious. This meant that Christine falling in love with Raoul after rejecting the Phantom made her look like a shallow individual who only values appearances. I kept wanting to shout at the stage "You daft bird, why can't you see the virtues of this passionate, talented man?"

The management and main tenor were equally unsympathetic so the Phantom killing them seemed like natural justice. In fact, this, and his attempts to blackmail the theatre, turned the misunderstood musical genius into an intriguing bad-boy prodigy. After all, everyone was horrid to him since he had a facial disfigurement so it wasn't like he didn't deserve payback. I also thought the character was supposed to be the same age as Raoul [~22/23] since older blokes in theatre, unless they're bungling and lecherous, don't become that tormented about girls.

Thus, leaving the poor bloke bereft of his love and alone at the end of the production while Raoul and Christine sailed off into the dawn seemed an unsatisfactory ending. The whole thing was a tragedy - why didn't he realise the girl he had tutored was utterly callow? Why couldn't he compromise and run off with the ballet teacher instead, who had remained loyal to him throughout by failing to reveal his hiding place? I was desperately frustrated by the original French author and Andrew Lloyd Webber. However, I did like the special effects... and the music.

Friday, January 09, 2009

For Apple geeks everywhere

Absolutely hilarious...

Hat tip: The Guardian

Sarah Palin on the credit crunch

Available on the FT website here.

It's actually Tony Blair, but it might as well be Palin. Blair doesn't know anything about finance. The contrast between Blair on finance and Blair on the Middle East (about which he knows a lot) is clear. Why the FT thought that asking Blair about finance was a worthwhile idea is less clear.

Lynne and the Dork Board

Lynne Featherstone writes:
I am so excited about fronting the new Technology Board for the Party. Clever move by Nick Clegg I think as I think / hope this will be a good match between me and the need for a non-geek, non-nerdy human being to lead the way (vital and lovable though geeks and nerds are!).
Malcolm Redfellow commenting on Iain Dale's blog seems to take exception to this, writing:
How unfluffy and non-chick-lit of her.
I agree with him... Mainly because I'm a nerd and LibertyCat is a geeky nerd. Lynne sounds like she believes we need a liaison officer to communicate with the outside world (Lynne: give me a shout if that's not what you meant! :))

I make the distinction between geeks, nerds and dorks as follows:

Nerd: A cultural group consisting of people who unselfconsciously enjoy 'uncool' things, such as anime movies, role-playing games and science fiction. This list used to include Apple products and computer games. However, since the Nintendo Wii and the iPod, this is no longer the case. Nerds disproportionately work in 'tech' creative jobs, such as computer programming and digital marketing.

Geek: Someone obsessively interested in one or more topics. These topics are usually something non-mainstream and extremely specialised. Men who know 20 years of match scores for obscure non-league teams are, for example, rarely called 'football geeks'. Politically geeky topics Lynne might encounter include Single Transferrable Vote and historical by-elections. Geeks are so passionate about their specialist topic that they could happily talk to someone for six hours about voting irregularities in Upper Snoring from 1923 onwards.

Difference between geeks and nerds: A nerd will watch anime movies. A geek will have libraries of anime movies and spend hours tracking down obscure titles. On a positive note, geeks have made most of humanity's biggest scientific and technological discoveries - obsession is VERY useful.

Dork: Someone who doesn't realise their listener is asleep/dead/has wandered off [delete as appropriate] when talking about voting irregularities in Upper Snoring.

Difference between geeks and dorks: A geek is quite happy to talk about voting irregularities for six hours but, if they're not a dork, they are socially adept enough to realise it's not a great idea. Unless, of course, they've met someone who shares their interest. A dork... just isn't. You can get dorks who aren't geeky or nerdy. A non-geeky, non-nerdy dork might be the boring guy who bellyaches for hours at dinner parties about how much he earns. You look bored and everyone else can see you're bored, but he fails to notice.

In summary: Nerds and geeks aren't dorks. Geeks, nerds and dorks are often lumped together because you may only know you are talking to a geek or a nerd if they're also a dork. If you're not interested in trainspotting or Studio Ghibli cartoons, a non-dorky nerd/geek will wisely stick to chatting about the weather.

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Do we need a return to stuffy institutions?

Until last week I hated institutions. I've hated institutions all my life.  I'm a fervent republican who's never attended a graduation ceremony because I see no point in silly gowns and readings in Latin.

I didn't even want to get hitched because I agree with Groucho Marx that "marriage is a wonderful institution... but who wants to live in an institution?"

I certainly didn't see the point in ties, morning suits, speeches by the best man or wearing a blancmange, not least because it would get awfully sticky. In fact, post-Christmas turkey Bride Wars could be a film about Vogon nose wrestling for all the sense it makes to me.

In the book, he argues that politicians in the old Establishment believed that they were small fry. They saw their role as upholding ancient institutions, such as parliament, which were far bigger and more important than a single ego.

He says that a modern Political Class has emerged that views tradition with contempt, just as I do. Like me, they have sought to ignore and knock institutions down. They do not feel part of anything larger than themselves so behave dishonorably and in a self-serving way. The result, he says, is not freedom, it's authoritarianism. With institutions neutralised, people can abuse power as much as they want and no one is willing to stop them.

If any what Oborne argues is true, it is enough to chill those with a liberal bent. It's even enough to make me hanker after the monarchy. Oborne argues that when the Queen and parliament were of paramount importance, the prime minister was playing a medium-sized part in a vast play. Blair could not have adopted a presidential and unaccountable style of government. Once the Queen and parliament were devalued, Blair became the face of government instead.

French, glamorous and a new mum...

If I could look this good at age 43, five days after giving birth, I could die a happy woman.

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

FSA short-selling ban: The canary lives again!

I was never in favour of the FSA banning short-selling so am relieved they've decided to let the ban expire.

I blogged about this back in September when the ban was introduced, pointing out that short-selling acts like the proverbial canary in a mine. It alerts the market to who's going to go bust next.

Recessions are miserable and painful (especially if you're looking for a first serious job in one), but they are also a good way of clearing the chaff. Companies such as Woolworths and Waterford Wedgwood were not viable before the recession - the downturn has merely dealt them a mercifully swift death blow. Wedgwood, for example, had debts of £415 million and hadn't made a profit for six years. 

Any institutions knocked out by a frenzy of market speculation probably wouldn't survive that much longer anyhow. Some killings are better done quick.

Monday, January 05, 2009

Chiropractors - as bad as ***** *******

I wanted to slag off the British Chirpractors association for suing Simon Singh but my lawyer told me not to. I want to bite lawyers right now.

Sunday, January 04, 2009

Want to throw your Manolo Blahniks where it really counts?

Do you find taking sides in a two-sided conflict too challenging? Want to throw your Manolo Blahniks where it really counts? May I recommend the Zimbabwean and South African embassies.

The Zimbabwean Embassy is conveniently located on the Strand so you can finish your protest with tea in the Savoy. Better yet, it's just a short march with placards to the South African Embassy on Trafalgar Square.

It's also a beautifully simple situation - Robert Mugabe is an insane f**kwit. He has wrecked his economy, his people are dying and no one likes him (except possibly his relatives and the army). Unfortunately, the South Africans have been really rubbish at blowing raspberries at him and ensuring he leaves office feet first. And barely any of the usual suspects on yesterday's Israel protest have mentioned the thousands and thousands of Zimbabwean people sh***ing their way to oblivion in an shocking cholera epidemic.

The people of Zimbabwe are counting on you to throw your shoes at the really ugly, tacky memorablia in the Zimbabwean Embassy window. Ignore fashionable causes, buck the trend and protest!

Rebels without a clue

Somewhere between 12 and 60,000 people wasted a fine winter afternoon protesting about Israel/Palestine in front of 10 Downing Street yesterday.

I say 'wasted' an afternoon because the Prime Minister of the UK can do absolutely nothing useful about Israel. He can make some noise, but no one will listen to him anyhow and it's not really any of his business. Several hundred protesters grabbed a cluebat and protested outside the Israeli Embassy, but only after they had wasted precious hours throwing shoes at Gordon Brown's front door.

Speaking more broadly - I remain confused about why a small Middle Eastern country attracts so much attention compared to, say, Zimbabwe. The only explanation I've dredged up is that it's the intellectuals' equivalent of wearing a Man U sweatshirt - it shows which team you're on. And, like wearing a Man U t-shirt in a Chelsea supporters' pub, all bets are off if you lament the death of Palestinian toddlers in a room of people buying artery-clogging junk food for the Israeli troops.

As someone who isn't interested in football for the political classes, I can't understand why no one is calling for everyone to stop sending money to both sides. This would mean they would have to stop shelling each other and instead throw rotten vegetables or something.

Less facetiously, it would be reduced to the level of the 'Troubles', which has happily now been resolved after much heartbreak, horror and tragedy. I can't emphasise enough that terrorism and conflict destroys lives. Which is why people on the other side of the world using it to make sure they get invited to the right dinner parties makes me quite that mad.

Once the problem had been scaled down to pre-Good Friday Agreement levels, I recommend a two-step plan for stopping people dying. First, provide appropriate sanitation, healthcare, etc. for all the ordinary families who are doubtless heartily sick of the whole situation and just want to do normal things like have grandchildren and go to work. And, second, once both sides realised no one gave a flying f**k about them anymore, they would have to broker some sort of agreement.

The Arab/Israeli conflict - solved before 10am - amazing!