About Me

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

Interesting and detailed post on Mediashift about jobs in journalism. Its key m essage, that print jobs are falling away and being replaced by jobs online, should be familiar to anyone working in journalism in the UK.

I've said before that if I was coming out of college now, I would be looking for a job in online journalism, rather than print or TV, not just because there is more work, and more prospects, but because the work is more interesting and challenging. However, it still seems to me that the majority of young journalists would still sooner try to get one of the few, precarious jobs available in newspapers. When I interview for online journalists, quality candidates are still hard to find.

I think it may be changing, though. Recently, I've noticed a small but increasing number of young journalists, just out of college, whose first career choice is to work online and have the skills and enthusiasm needed for success. It's also noticeable how many of my former colleagues in print ask me about the possibility of transferring to the Web.
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BRINGING GOOD NEWS ON A FAST TRAIN, BRINGING FAST NEWS ON A GOODS TRAIN...

Whatever happened to the Desperate Bicycles? Their Smokescreen single was one of the first, possibly the first, DIY single of the punk era and made a virtue of its cheapness and independence, explaining on the sleeve how simple it was to make and declaiming in the lyrics "It was cheap, it was easy, go out and do it yourself." Others, such as the Buzzcocks and Scritti Politti (in those days a fearsomely ideological left-wing group), followed suit.

The idea that you could just go out and create your own stuff - records, clothes, magazines, art - was the key message of the punk era. Back in the Seventies, the world was brought to us through large corporations; by the Eighties, a whole generation had realised that it was possible to reach out directly to the public, by making your own records, setting up your own fashion label, gallery, film company, business... That, more than anything else was the legacy of punk, and it persists to this day.

Why do I mention this now? Because, even though the Desperate Bicycles and their ilk helped us to throw off the mental shackles of believing that we would never be more than consumers of the products of giant companies, they were never really able to reach a huge audience. They could press a few hundred copies of a single and get it played on John Peel but it could never go further (without the help of a giant corporate record label, of course).

Now, the internet has given musicians, writers, artists access to a limitless audience, effectively completing the revolution started by punk. By way of illustration, Rhodri Marsden, a journalist and musician, has accepted the challenge to create and promote a single on the web. I think it may be for an article in the Independent.

It's called Those Rules You Made and you can read more about it on his blog, which is funny and worth reading in any event. The video, shot for five-hundred quid or so, is apparently the second-most watched on Youtube, so his plan seems to be working.

There's a nice circularity to all this in that Rhodri Marsden is a member of the latest (non-political but tuneful) incarnation of Scritti Politti. I wish him luck, though I prefer the Desperate Bicycles.




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THE MIRROR RUMBLED

The Daily Mirror has been caught trying to place a journalist in a salaried job at Tory Party HQ. It seems that the paper's Emily Miller got close to gaining a job at the heart of the Conservatives' organisation but was rumbled during the reference-checking process, in part because officials checked the IP address on the machine that she used to mail her application and found it was a Mirror computer (who knew Tories were so computer-literate?).

If Ms Miller had been offered the job she would have been privy to all sorts of Tory party secrets and could have provided a stream of scoops to the Mirror (in practice, I suspect that, in a small organisation like Tory HQ, the source of the leaks would have been rapidly identified).

Anyway, much outrage from the Tories. Iain Dale, who broke the story, believes the party should break off diplomatic relations with the paper, while some of his commenters go further and, even allowing for party bias, clearly think this goes beyond the pale. On the other hand, libertarian Tory blogger Guido Fawkes thinks the Mirror's stunt was fair game.

One Iain Dale commenter remarks "imagine if BP did this to shell " - and clearly, if they did, it would be regarded as a highly serious case of industrial espionage.

So is the Mirror case any different? The paper would undoubtedly argue that what they have done is legitimate journalistic enterprise and point to other cases in which journalists have gone undercover to get stories.

I find myself rather torn on all this. It's good to see a tabloid newspaper investing time and ingenuity in trying to get serious political stories, rather than tales about celebrities and Big Brother contestants.

However, the question the Mirror will face is 'what is the public interest in the subterfuge?' - particularly if the journalist is shown to have broken the law (it can be a criminal offence to get a job by lying materially on your cv, for example). Was the paper trying to expose wrongdoing or bring to light some buried scandal that could not be exposed through any other means? So if the Mirror could say, for example, that it was on the track of a story about high-level political corruption, it may be able to claim public interest. If, on the other hand, it was simply on a fishing expedition for stories that might embarrass the Tories, it won't have that defence.

The closest recent parallel that I can think of is the case of the Cabinet Office, Claire Newell and the Sunday Times, which seems to have tailed off without a prosecution or an investigation by the Press Complaints Commission. Though there seems to have been no sanction applied in that case, it doesn't mean that what went on was legitimate. Organisations often think it is better to let these stories die naturally, rather than keep them alive through official complaints. Who knows what the Tories will do in this case, but if they do complain to the PCC, the Mirror may have a difficult job defending itself.

UPDATE In Media Guardian, Roy Greenslade, a former Mirror editor, takes a dim view of his old paper's antics. As he points out, it is the second time in a month that a Mirror stunt has been exposed. Perhaps Mirror journalists need a refresher course in investigative journalism?
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SCRAPING THE BARREL

I got a call yesterday from a harassed BBC radio producer asking me to appear on a show which I used to be invited on regularly but haven't heard from for years. "Well, it's August" he explained "and everybody else is on holiday or busy". Funnily enough, I was busy too.
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THE DEATH OF THE UNDERGROUND

Thinking about poor old Tony Wilson made me muse a bit on whether the 'underground' exists any more. In the punk era, there was an active and thriving national music scene that barely found its way into the mainstream media. Newspapers wrote about punk bands only to excoriate them for being anti-social, rude about the Queen etc; on the radio, you heard them only on John Peel and television, with the improbable exception of Wilson's Granada Reports, ignored them entirely.

Even the records were hard to come by. Some, like the Buzzcocks' epochal Spiral Scratch, were released in small numbers on independent labels; a few, most notably God Save the Queen by the Sex Pistols, were banned by many shops. The majority were simply not stocked. As a teenager, I would have to travel 20 miles to Liverpool or 50 to Manchester to have any chance of tracking down a release by the Stooges, the Velvet Underground or the New York Dolls, which were between five and ten years old. Many of these trips ended in failure since the majority of records that were more than a couple of years old were likely to have been deleted.

As a result, the music I and others like me loved developed as a subculture, untouched by the mainstream media and its scarcity made it even more precious to us.

Nowadays, as soon as a band seems to be reaching any sort of critical mass with a young audience, it is pounced on by record labels, newspapers, radio and television. The Arctic Monkeys were the subject of fawning articles in the Guardian before they had released a record and as soon as a single came out, their music was unavoidable on the radio, on TV, even as incidental music for BBC2 programme trails. Impossible to imagine Boredom by the Buzzcocks being used in an advert or as television backing music in the late Seventies. That stuff stayed squarely in its own subcultural back yard.

Now, of course, the media is now full of people in their 30s and 40s, who are much more aware of this sort of stuff than were their equivalents in the Seventies. They (we...) want to be seen to be in touch and trendy and we are fully aware of the importance of appealing to vital 'young demographic'. So we seize on anything that looks young, new and relevant and devour it.

There is more media too; more print space and airtime to fill and, in the era of the internet and MP3s, it's easier and cheaper for bands to get their music to a wide audience. Pop music is much more curated than it was 3o years ago, its history and archives preserved and combed through for forgotten gems. It is infinitely easier to get a copy of Metallic KO by the Stooges (it's available in "Deluxe edition with metallic foil and 12 page booklet", apparently)
today than it was for me in 1977, less than five years after its release.

I wonder what this means to the young. On the one hand, it means that bands like the Arctic Monkeys can reach a lot of people quickly and make a lot of money. On the other, might it mean that they quickly become over exposed and stripped of meaning. And have today's teenagers lost something significant because they have to share their music and culture with 40-year-old men like me? Or have some of them, at least, retreated to an underground and subculture that is unreachable by the middle aged, for now at least?
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TONY WILSON RIP

Tony Wilson has died of cancer aged just 57. He was a big figure in my youth because, as presenter of the ITV local news in the north-west, he gave slots to bands such as the Buzzcocks and the Sex Pistols. It doesn't seem like such a big thing now, but back in the 70s, you didn't see bands of any sort on TV outside Top of The Pops and the Old Grey Whistle Test; punk bands were at the time treated with hatred, fear and contempt by the mainstream media, and even on the radio could only be heard on John Peel. So the sight of the Pistols performing Anarchy in the UK or the Buzzcocks with Howard Devoto, playing Boredom, on ITV at 6.20 - live, not miming- was exciting, even shocking.

At the same time Wilson began putting bands on at the Russell club in Hulme, Manchester, which he renamed the Factory. I remember queuing outside to see Iggy, when Wilson arrived in a chauffer-driven car, straight from the ITV studios, still wearing his grey newsreader's suit, canvas artist's bag over his shoulder. "Don't worry, you'll all get in" he called out to the queue swept into the club.

"Wanker", various people muttered. There was always this thing about Wilson, that he was seen as cocky, too big for his own boots (the nickname "Mr Manchester" was certainly double-edged in that respect) but, despite that, people acknowledged his real enthusiasm for the music he promoted, on Granada Reports, at the Factory Club, on his So it Goes TV show, through Factory Records, which gave us Joy Division, A Certain Ratio and a number of other worthy but less remembered acts (Section 25, Crawling Chaos, Crispy Ambulance). Then he went on to open the Hacienda, the first British superclub, that dragged a generation from the gloomy introspection of new wave into the world of dance music and ecstasy.

Meanwhile, he continued his TV career, somewhere along the line adopting the name Anthony H Wilson. I once went up to Manchester to appear on a debate programme, whose name escapes me, that went out live at 11 on a Friday night. We were discussing deaths on the road at a time when there was a general moral panic about joyriding. There was me, a politician, someone who'd lost a relative in a road accident, a road safety campaigner sitting in front of a pissed-up audience, high on tabloid moralising. We all said our pieces, then Wilson went to a member of the audience for a comment - a middle-aged Liverpudlian who said "What the police should do with joyriders is drag them out of their cars and shoot them there and then". The audience cheered ecstatically. Wilson clearly loved the controversy, energy and rage of it all: it was a great wind-up, just as it was when he provoked gloomy, raincoat-wearing new wavers (such as myself) by saying that Ian Curtis's suicide was the best thing that could have happened for Joy Division and Factory (or words to that effect).

There was an item about Wilson on Newsnight Review a few weeks ago, which had the feel of an obituary to it, during which he talked about his serious illness. So, in a sense, it's not a surprise that he's dead, even though it is a shock. Mr Manchester, RIP.

Here's a short tribute from Paul Morley.

And here's an interesting fact from James concerning Tony Wilson and Iggy's Lust For Life cover photo.

And here's an TV interview with Wilson, looking back at the early days of Factory, with some great footage of Joy Division.




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