Archive for the ‘ Personal Blogging ’ Category

Campaigners to picket Ambassador Prosor

Latest contribution to Capture Cardiff. Click below to read the article in full…

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Published work from placement at Media Wales, March-April 2010

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Henman says Davis Cup captaincy would be “steep learning curve” for Smith

TIM Henman has said the appointment of Leon Smith as Davis Cup captain would be a “steep learning curve” for Andy Murray’s former coach.

Photo: Andrew Hayward (cc flickr)

Speaking to me in Cardiff on Thursday, the former British number one said Smith could be just the sort of coach that Britain needs right now to head up the team.

But he also criticised the current crop of players below Murray for not “maximising their potential.”

Henman, who ruled himself out of contention for the job to spend time with his young family said: “It is not an appealing job to take.

“What do all the best coaches have? The best players.

“The bottom line is that the current players are not good enough.

“I think that there are guys that have not been successful because they have not maximised their potential.

“If Leon does get the job then he knows the players well.

“It would be a steep learning curve for him. But he’s a great coach, and it would be a great experience for him.”

Smith coached Murray from the age of 11 for five years, between 1999 and 2004. He is currently the Lawn Tennis Association’s head of player development for men’s tennis.

Last month Murray called on the LTA to allow the players to be involved in the appointment. He said: “It’s very important the players are comfortable with who the captain is.”

Smith saw the current world number four through his formative years, and Murray is said to have remained in contact with since.

He was Murray’s coach when the Scot got his first call-up to Davis Cup duty.

As one of the leading coaches in the UK, Smith could be in the frame as the man best placed to persuade Andy Murray to play more often for his country.

BBC reports Leon Smith in line for Davis Cup captaincy

The vacancy arose after John Lloyd resigned following Great Britain’s embarrassing 3-2 defeat to Lithuania last month.

At the time the LTA chief executive Roger Draper said that there is a “great opportunity for some young British coaches to come through.”

That was widely interpreted to have ruled out Greg Rusedski who had expressed an interest in the job.

The unconfirmed reports that the LTA will parachute a name unknown to the public into the role suggest Draper will follow through on his words when they are expected release their review into the disappointing result next week.

The loss leaves Britain facing a relegation play-off against Turkey in July. The loser will drop down into Group III – the lowest tier in the Davis Cup competition.

Leon Smith has been confirmed as captain of Great Britain’s Davis Cup team.

Tim Henman was in Cardiff to promote Robinsons’ ‘75 kids for 75 years‘ competition. See write up in the South Wales Echo’s Park Life supplement next week.

The digital revolution need not sound the death knell for good journalism

WHEN news of the earthquake in Haiti broke across the media outlets in the United Kingdom late in the evening on January 12, Emily Purser, a journalism student at City University, London, was heading into Sky News to begin a night shift placement.

Communication with the Caribbean island, the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere, was severely hampered, with the landline and mobile phones lines cut off. As part of the production team for the Sunrise programme at 6am fronted by Eamonn Holmes, since the regular means of contacting Haiti were disabled, Emily could have struggled to help gather news immediately from the ground.

But, she turned to the social networking and microblogging site Twitter. Monitoring the hashtags (topic trends) relating to Haiti, she followed the sources of some photographs posted there to Carel Pedre, a popular Haitian television and radio host. She spoke to him via Google Chat, and then used Skype (a computer application that allows users to speak over the internet) to put him on air.

As this case study shows, the transfer of newsgathering skills from traditional journalism methods to the internet is increasingly a feature of the newsroom. But how much trust can a viewer have in a television news report or a newspaper article which uses social media as its sources?

I concede that many criticisms levied against using social media as a newsgathering tool for journalists are legitimate concerns. Can you corroborate sources and confirm their accuracy? How do you assess the context? I do not accept, however, that consequently this need be to the detriment of quality journalism. Good journalism practice can and should still apply online.

The Hutton Inquiry highlighted many issues in journalism’s customs and practices. One question under examination in this case was: can you rely on a single source when making a serious allegation? Broadcaster Andrew Marr wrote: “Many of the reporters slouched at the back of the courtroom…wondered how their own practices would stand up to that kind of examination.” Even as the BBC’s political editor until 2005, he admitted he did it all the time.

Perhaps it should not be ‘new tool, familiar rules’. Newspapers and journalists repeatedly fail in surveys of trust to rank very highly in the public’s esteem. Hutton did nothing to help the cause. Are traditional journalism rules too familiar? Were these rules applied as prudently as was required during reporting?

It seems readers already think differently about online news. According to a TNS  ‘Digital World, Digital Life’ survey, almost twice as many respondents rated online news ‘highly trusted’ compared to newspapers.

Another survey conducted by the Committee on Standards in Public Life in 2008 found newspapers fare worse than TV news journalists. 46% trust in television news, while 36% and 10% trust broadsheet and tabloid journalists respectively.

The newspaper industry is suffering from the competition of the Web. Referring to the findings of a Government Communications Review Group setup by Tony Blair and Alistair Campbell, Charles Reiss, former political editor of the Evening Standard, said: “The fact that your readers don’t believe more than 1 word in 10 of what you write is hardly a circulation booster. We simply have to try as hard a possible to tell the truth. Truth breeds trust.”

I do not accept, however, using the internet as a scapegoat for the newspaper slump. They were declining long before online news took-off. In fact, I would say newspapers have to embrace what the internet offers. The level of activity in this area seems to be encouragingly high.

Cision, an American-based media intelligence company, surveyed over 12,000 journalists and editors in the US in March last year on their use of online sources. They found “more than 90 percent using it [the Web] as their primary tool overall in editing and reporting.”

Indeed, media organisations working in the UK are embracing the potential of social media. On January 1, Alex Gubbay became BBC News’s first social media editor, and the Associated Press revealed this month they have appointed Laura McCullough to be social networks and news engagement manager.

The rise of social networking sites, blogs, and chat rooms present exciting avenues for journalists to engage with their audience directly, and to an extent that they have not previously been able to.

Ian Hargreaves, Strategic Communications Director for the Foreign & Commonwealth Office and Professor of Journalism at Cardiff School of Journalism, said about news: “People will gather around, it’s an absolute fundamental to human society.”

Roy Greenslade wrote in the Guardian that those newspapers which will survive in the media age will have shifted from a host of professional journalists, to a newsroom which operates in collaboration with the amateur journalist. That could be the person who blogs about their locality, or an individual tweeting from a grief-stricken corner of the world. For media organisations to encourage their reporters to establish a conversation with their audience can only enhance their reputation for and ability to produce quality journalism.

The collaboration between old and new practices has the potential it would seem to improve trust in organised media. Tim Luckurst, a professor of journalism at the University of Kent, recently wrote: “The internet makes real the relationship of trust between reporter and consumer that was previously asserted but only occasionally tested. This is good for honest journalism.”

2009 was the year that Twitter bypassed puberty and grew up. The Iranian Elections, reaction to Michael Jackson’s death, and the violence in western China played out on Twitter. At times, Twitter became as familiar on the BBC news broadcasts as Fiona Bruce and Huw Edwards. In the case of Iran, it was an invaluable tool for reporters to discover what was happening on the ground, particularly after the Iranian Government had expelled the BBC’s Tehran correspondent Jon Leyne.

The BBC seems to be approaching the appointment with caution, since the post is initially only contracted for an initial 12 months. Indeed, Luckhurst warns that even as “consumers become comfortable with online technology…it will not automatically make journalism better.” He says the responsibility to ensure this depends on the successful adaptation of media models, and with it the survival and transfer of professional journalism values. This is key.

The same scrutiny and verification skills that reporters have traditionally practised (even if it is absent at times in Westminster reporting) must apply to online newsgathering . If not, public trust in online news could start to crumble too.

It is not surprising that behind the BBC and CNN, Google is the third most trusted news brand. Mark Byford, Deputy Director General and Head of BBC Journalism said: “it would be a major moment in the history of journalism if an aggregator was to become the most trusted news brand.” It would be momentous, be perhaps not necessarily a bad thing.

Peter Preston, former editor of the Guardian, said: “The future is misty and in some ways utterly miasmic.” The democratisation of news is undoubtedly changing the nature of journalism. Yes, there will still be the place for original investigation and reporting. And it may be journalism without newspapers as we know them today.

As Emily Purser proved, however, her resourcefulness and journalistic instinct not only got a scoop for Eamonn Holmes to deliver on the Sunrise programme, it demonstrated the digital revolution need not sound the death knell for good journalism.

Rugby players’ banter in 140 characters

TWITTER users are among the most liberal groups in Britain. They helped break the Guardian’s court injunction which banned them from reporting the mining company Trafigura. They attacked Jan Moir’s article in the Daily Mail on the death of gay pop star Stephen Gately. And the historical figures they would follow include Churchill, Jesus and Darwin.

So said a survey carried out by Prospect magazine last December. It also found 76 percent of the population have no intention of using the social media site. But this micro-blogging service has also become popular among rugby players here in Wales.

At least 20 players from the four Welsh rugby regions are actively tweeting. But about what? The diet of one rugby player includes a bedtime snack of crumpets with peanut butter and jam, and Ospreys and Irish winger Tommy Bowe is no film critic, as his recommendation of George Clooney’s Up In The Air was lambasted by his team-mates.

It seems the good-natured, playful and teasing remarks of the practice of banter is rife. The Urban Dictionary says it is a “term used to describe activities or chat that is playful, intelligent and original.” Okay. Perhaps the middle descriptive is not entirely apt on this study. But spend some time following the rugby players and it’s clear tomfoolery is alive.

@RichieRees snaps @Jamiehuwroberts

Wales and Neath-Swansea Ospreys’ lock-forward Ian Gough (@Goughy4), 33, has been on Twitter for a few months. Judging by his 941 tweets (at the last count) he is quite an avid user, and is being followed by more than 1,100 people.

He said he had been encouraged to sign up since most of his colleagues at the Ospreys are tweeters.  “It’s quite funny for the banter,” he said.

Ospreys’ back-row Tom Smith (@TomSmith8), 24, told me he was forced onto the Twitter scene by friends at the club who made him an account. Like his team-mates he goes on it to “check banter with mates”.

Where does this apparent obsession with banter come from? Mr Stevens, the traditional English butler in Kazuo Ishiguro’s The Remains of the Day, struggled to get to grips with banter. “This business of banterng is not a duty I feel I can ever discharge with enthusiasm,” he says.

Despite being made into an Academy-Award nominated film starring Anthony Hopkins, I suspect this is not the source, since our rugby players discharge banter with great enthusiasm.

It is more likely to have been fuelled by the culture that has spawned digital television channel Dave. Re-airing programmes like Top Gear and the Royle Family, which would feasibly be the entertainment of choice for rugby players, it boasts the tagline “the home of witty banter”.

Sonny Parker tweets with the army

So what if you follow Wales and Ospreys centre Sonny Parker (@sonnytoiparker)? In recent days you would have had an insight through video and photographs into the Ospreys’ army camp training weekend. Asked why he uses Twitter he said: “Banter! That’s it! You only have to be careful on what you write if you have something to hide!”

The very public nature of Twitter, and to a lesser extent Facebook, means those rugby players online have to display care in the content of their tweets. Last month two found themselves at the centre of controversy when their banter brought allegations of homophobia.

After a particularly tough training session, Ian Evans, 25, posted: “Legs and ass are in bits, can’t move”. Fellow team-mate, Jonathan Thomas, replied: ““U gotta stop hanging around with Nigel Owens!”

Owens, who is one of the world’s leading referees and who is gay, was not offended, though Peter Tatchell, the gay rights campaigner labelled Thomas a homophobe.

The episode illustrated just how a platform which can seem to be private when messaging friends, is very much in the public domain and under the media spotlight. Now Evans and Thomas appear to have taken a leave of absence from the Twitter world. Their pages @IanYantoEvans and @xJT6x do not exist any more.

Gough acknowledged the very public nature of the micro-blogging site required caution. He said: “Having seen a lot of people end up in the press regarding their quotes then you realise how careful you have to be.

“But as long as your aware the press are reading and not to put anything too outrageous it’s all okay.”

Alun Wyn Jones (@AWJ456) lies on Ireland

Gareth Thomas (@gareththomas14), Wales and Lions skipper and current Cardiff Blues’ player, posted on his Twitter page: “Just understand dudes, things written on here end up as quotes in the paper. I can feel them watching us all.”

The Welsh Rugby Union have recognised this and before the start of this year’s Six Nations campaign the Welsh squad received a social media briefing from a media lawyer.

Wales head coach Warren Gatland said: “Someone from Schillings talked about Facebook, Twitter and Bebo, those sorts of things.

“We are living in such a global world and things have changed. We are just making players aware of the dangers.”

Simon Rimmer, a spokesman for the WRU, said: “Social networking has an important role for the WRU in communicating with fans and other stakeholders and the medium also has that role for players if used in the right way.

He said there was no formal policy in place relating to players’ conduct on social media.

“Caution is advised but players are adults with their own lives and are treated as such. Players are advised to be careful and offered legal and PR help whenever necessary.

“There is also a Players’ Association which offers similar advice and players will get the same kind of support from their agents and from their regions.”

Roberts snapping Rees reading about himself

The Cardiff Blues echoed the WRU. Gwydion Griffiths, PR and marketing manager said: “We would like to think that they are wise enough and intelligent enough to know what to put on their Twitter pages.

“We treat them like adults and it’s up to them what they put on their own twitter pages.”

A spokesman for the Ospreys said: “There is nothing formal in place, but we are constantly reviewing and evaluating it as a matter of course.”

The Newport Gwent Dragons said: “All of our players are aware that they are high-profile professional sportsmen and that represent the Region as well as themselves in their interactions with the public.

“The players are advised that any activity on social networking websites such as Twitter and Facebook constitute public statement and that they should bear this in mind when using such sites.”

Rest assured. While Wales has so far struggled to have much fun on the field this season, their pre and post-match tweets show humour remains in abundance in Welsh rugby.

The Llanelli Scarlets were contacted for a comment but had not replied by the time of publication.

Reporting from the Front Line: the embedded v freelance experience

Previous entries in this series…1st and 2nd posts

FOR the first operation, three of us were to be freelance journalists who voiced the concerns of local civvies (civilians – in fact, squaddies from the nearby army barracks) to the troops stationed at their base.

As we approached the barbed-wire fences a soldier shouted down from his lookout position. We stopped, conscious several automatic weapons were pointing in our direction, and shouted we were British journalists and wanted to talk to their commander.

After a few minutes, we were beckoned towards the green shelter (pictured) and told to raise our clothing to show we did not have any explosives attached to our bodies. Satisfied we were not going to pose a threat we were allowed onto the FOB (forward operating base). Patted down, and declining to answer any of our questions, we were ushered into the building, passed lines of ammunition and guns, and marines preparing to head out, and into a far corner where we were told wait.

Before long the sound of automatic weapons could be heard and marines quickly ran passed us prepped and ready to engage the enemy (again, army squaddies). “Can you tell us what’s going on?”, we asked. “Get back”, we were told. A soldier being stretchered in by four marines was brought in. “How is he? What are the extent of his injuries?”, we asked.”Just stay there please, and we’ll talk to you once this is over.”

We quickly realised we would not receive any information from the marines of while the attack continued. We knew of course their priority was to stop the enemy and attend to their injured comrade; not to deal with questions from freelancers who they had pulled in to the safety of the base.  But we were craving information and would persist with our questions until we got it.

When the firing ceased, and the base had been secured, we had our chance to ask questions and get the facts. Three casualties, who sustained injuries as a result of small arms fire from eight to ten enemy firing on the base. Marines are now clearing an area for the injured men to be helicoptered out. Story secured.

Our involvement in this operation revealed to us that journalists can not presume to have the trust and co-operation of the troops. A relationship needs to be built between the journalist and soldier. Major Andrew Ferguson said:

“Troops are generally a bit suspicious of journalists. [Journalists] need to work with the military because they are looking after you.”

Debriefing the marines from Charlie Commando afterward, Major Ferguson said it was necessary for them to know how to deal with the media, who will increasingly be a presence on the ground in war zones. He said:

“Working with journalists is here to stay in liberal democracies, but there needs to be give and take on each side.”

Many of the marines I spoke to later in the day revealed they had experienced having journalists embedded with them. They said it was an extra responsibility they could do without, but strikingly pragmatic said they just get on with the job.

When reports from the front line in Afghanistan continually reveal the dangers our soldiers face, I could not help but think, is it worth burdening our troops with the added responsibility of having to protect journalists while engaging the enemy?

Will Apple’s own Moses unveil a tablet inscribed with rules for newspapers’ survival?

PREDICTING what Apple will unveil next in its technological armoury is as difficult as guessing what gadget Q will deliver to James Bond.

One of the most secretive companies, Apple has proved very adept at keeping information about its new product releases tightly wrapped until the big, set-piece announcement.

Three-years-ago, Steve Jobs stood up and transformed the mobile phone market when he revealed the iPhone. Before that, he did the same with the iPod for the music industry.

And it is widely expected Jobs and Apple will again attempt a third revolution with the launch of a tablet computer later this month. Speculation has intensified in the past month, with technology commentators speculating about where the launch will take place, who will manufacture the tablet components, will it have a 3D interface and even predicting how many tablets it will sell in its first year.

Apple tablet mockup (left) iPhone (right)

It has been known Steve Jobs has wanted to develop a tablet computer for over a decade. In 2004, speaking at the Wall Street Journal’s D: All Things Digital conference, Jobs revealed one of the products Apple had decided not to ship was “an Apple PDA”.

The new tablet is said to have been his priority since returning to work last June after six-months on medical leave. The Wall Street Journal reports it will “be a multimedia device that will let people watch movies and television shows, play games, surf the Internet and read electronic books and newspapers.”

But, while the iPod revolutionised the way we listen to music, and the iPhone shook-up the mobile phone market, will the tablet (rumoured to be named the iPad, iGuide, or iSlate) revolutionise the print industry? Can we expect to be able to read the WSJ or any UK nationals within a few months on an Apple tablet?

Apple execs are said to be less than enthused by a newspaper market which has an “unattractive industry structure”. Though commentators say this would not stop Apple from proposing and negotiating with their own business model.

Ezra Gottheil, an analyst with Technology Business Research, told Gregg Keizer of ComputerWorld he believes Apple will have already formalised and signed deals with newspaper publishers, along with book and magazine publishers, movie studios and television networks.

Gizmodo reported in September that Apple are “aiming to redefine print” and had updated iTunes to manage sales of print items. The consumer electronics and technology weblog said:

“Two people related to the NYTimes have separately told me that in June, paper was approached by Apple to talk about putting the paper on a ‘new device’.”

Bill Keller, executive editor of NYTimes.com

Bill Keller, the executive editor of NYTimes.com, told a gathering of his digital staff in an internal, and supposed to be off the record, speech about his plans to best integrate their print and digital operations. Towards the end of his speech, he revealed that they would intend to use the “impending Apple slate” as one of the new forms for which they would have to produce the “right journalistic product”.

Rupert Murdoch has said he expects News International titles to introduce paywalls by next summer. So if the New York Times is working towards the tablet, why not at The Times? Might we be able to subscribe to The Times or The Sun through the iTunes Store? And what is Will Lewis doing at The Telegraph‘s new “entrepreneurial unit” in Euston? Producing visually sleek, stunning, interactive versions of the newspaper ready for a tablet-style product?

I’m just speculating. I have no inside knowledge about their work. However, the Sydney Morning Herald did report in October that Apple had approached Australian media companies about putting their content on the tablet. If Apple have been Down Under to do business, wouldn’t they also have come across the pond?

Surely it would make commercial sense for newspapers to be lobbying for a deal with Apple. They could do worse than knock on Jobs’ door and ask for him to sell their papers via iTunes. Apple design cool products – the Macbook, iPod, iPhone. They are commercially successful, particularly with the younger generations, largely because of their cool factor, and not just for the technology they offer. One commentator has described Apple’s new venture as the “Jesus Tablet“. For newspapers to tag themselves to the next big thing could be the lifeline they need.

iPod, Macbook Air, iPhone (Left to Right)

Newspapers would have to come up with designs and a product that was compatible with the Apple image. New ways of incorporating social media, expanding on television-style news reports which already appear on news sites, simple navigation and usability, and tailored services to each subscriber’s preferences are just a few ideas. A radical redesign would be needed if newspapers are to encourage people to pay. But, at the start of a new decade when commentators have written about the final demise of newspaper, it is needed.

Apple isn’t the only company developing hand-held tablet computers. Microsoft CEO, Steve Ballmer, is expected to launch a new HP tablet later today, and here’s the Voltron from Lenova. But, even if newspapers move to the tablet or the like, it will not be an instant panacea to the problems afflicting the industry. Several factors still need to be considered. Not least the subject that dominated much of 2009. That of paywalls.

Rupert Murdoch announced last summer that News International titles would be introducing paywalls from this year. The question of whether this will turn around falling revenues is not known. No one really knows whether people would be willing to pay for content they have been able to access freely for the last few years once the paywalls go up.

Signs coming from those charged with this task are not good. Here are the iPhone Apps launched by the Telegraph and Guardian. The Telegraph’s is free, and the Guardian markets its “Pay Once. Browse online. Browse offline.” It is perhaps an indicator they wont be heading in the direction of paywalls – indeed, the Guardian has said its online content will remain free. But, if they have worked with Apple on the iPhone, have they already/would they negotiate(d) a deal for the tablet?

If the Apple tablet is to play a role, what will it cost? The WSJ says sources have told them it will be priced at $1,000 – around £625. Quite a hefty price tag for newspapers to count on its readers going out to buy. But, like the iPod and Macbooks before, within a year or two it will become a much more reasonable buy. Though add to that the cost of any newspaper subscriptions (and any other music, television, magazine subs that will be offered on it) and it could stay an elite media tool.

The hyperbole surrounding the rumoured tablet will stop once three days pass at the end of this month. The Financial Times reported last month Apple will occupy the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts in San Francisco between 25-27 January. If, as widely expected, Jobs takes to the stage and unveils a tablet computer, the media hippies will start to blog about its brilliance. If not, those same bloggers will stop (just for a week maybe to lament the time they have wasted anticipating a product dead before its arrival), and then begin demanding Apple do produce one.

With the help of an Apple tablet or not, there will be a very real battle for newspapers’ survival over the coming years. And hopefully, I will have found a job in the industry to be reporting on who, if anyone, emerges the victor.