About Me

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I'm a journalist, ex-national papers, now working in what we call "new" media.

A few years ago I wrote a piece for the Express about the practice of outsourcing jobs, especially to India. Back then, the focus was largely on call-centre jobs but it seemed to me that once the principle was established, it would be bound to spread to other areas and that, unless there were strong physical and geographical reasons why your job had to be done in the UK, it was at risk of outsourcing, I ended the piece asking "Is your job safe? Is mine?"

I mention this now because just last week, AOL, where I worked until August, told its editorial staff that many of their jobs are to be outsourced to India. As I understand it, dozens of UK web editorial people will be made redundant and the AOL UK sites will be managed in Bangalore (I think the same is happening to AOL France and Germany). Grim news for my former colleagues, who have endured a series of 'restructures' over the years, and a bit of a first, as far as I am aware. I've never heard of editorial/journalism jobs being outsourced in this way and it will be interesting to see what effect it has on the quality of what's on offer at AOL.
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I walked down Atlantic Road at dusk this evening. They were hosing down the market but the fishmongers and greengrocers that open on to the street were still doing brisk business. There was music from a car parked outside the hairdressers, the smell of frying food and, as ever, the sound of sirens. The lights from the shops and station seemed perfect against the darkening evening sky. The Portuguese deli that does the best taramasalata I've tasted was just closing. I've lived in or around Brixton for the best part of 20 years and, even though I'm only moving up the road, I do believe I'm going to miss it.
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When I was a financial journalist, Northern Rock had a reputation for being a little, well, sharp. The deals they offered to savers and borrowers looked attractive but it generally paid to look below the surface. On one occasion, I recall, they shifted many thousands of customers out of one account into another that paid less interest, without any warning at all. Here's a contemporary account from the Telegraph.

Over the years, in other words, Northern Rock has run the reserves of customer goodwill dangerously low. So even though most experts agree that savers' funds are not at risk in the current credit crisis, customers see little reason to trust the Rock and are withdrawing their funds in droves.

Banks used to be viewed as solid, rather staid, but entirely reliable institutions. These days they are regarded (quite correctly) as rapacious, profit-driven and untrustworthy. No wonder the Rock's customers are rushing to get at their cash. Whatever the experts say, if I was a customer, I'd be doing the same.

I predict that within a year, the Northern Rock's assets will have been sold and the brand, tainted beyond repair, will have disappeared from Britain's high streets. And you have to say it serves them right.

UPDATE: Robert Peston's blog on the BBC explains the obstacles to a sale of Northern Rock. One way or another, though, I still reckon it will happen.
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The Madeleine McCann story has become a news phenomenon, holding the interest of the public day after day after day. Even when there is little to report, stories about the McCanns top the most-read lists of online news sites. And when, as over the last few days, there are genuine developments, the Madeleine story is, news-wise, the only game in town. I hope someone at Hitwise or Nielsen produces some analysis of the Madeleine effect on news websites.

It's the same story with newspapers, of course. Here, courtesy of Mailwatch are a few recent front pages from the Daily Mail and the Express.

The 'quality press' has gone to town on the story, too, filling page after page with speculation and, that traditional standby of the broadsheet, articles that hypocritically decry the nation's obsession with the story, while simultaneously fuelling it.

Taken in the round, the media coverage of the case is not a terribly attractive spectacle and it's left many journalists feeling uncomfortable. I was talking to the head of one of the biggest online news organisations a few days ago and he told me that he wasn't at all keen on the blanket coverage of the McCann story and had been trying to scale it back, but the extraordinary level of interest in the story made it impossible.

It feels like a cycle of exploitation; the McCanns using the media for publicity, the media using the story to boost audiences, the public getting some sort of emotional fix out of the rawness and mystery of the tale and its thriller-like narrative drive. I sense it is going to continue at this pitch for a good while yet.
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