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

In this great democracy of ours, you shouldn't accuse the Conservative party of dobbing you in to the Mail on Sunday, especially if you are a police officer. Met Police Assistant Commissioner Bob Quick apologised but that hasn't stopped the Tories from demanding his resignation.

Funny to see the party of law and order coming over all Militant Tendency as regards the police. Is it good politics? Iain Dale seems to think not and the electorate will note that, in times of economic turmoil, the issue that seems to animate the Tories is the Damian Green affair, that affects their own rights, rather than ours.
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Bon Iver's For Emma, Forever Ago has cropped up on a lot of album of the year lists. For those who haven't heard it, it's a bunch of well-crafted, tuneful indie-ish songs, played on guitar, sung in a pleasing, treble-y voice, often multitracked so that at extremes it sounds as if it's being sung by a small choir. The effects pedal is used frequently but tastefully, principally to add echo. The effect is at once intimate, thanks to the subject matter (a broken love affair), the vocal style and the use of silence and quiet passages, and sweeping, thanks to the echo and overdubs.

The story behind the album is that Bon Iver, whose real name is Justin Vernon, retreated to a cabin in a Wisconsin wilderness after splitting up with the Emma of the title. He took with him a guitar, a couple of drums, an effects pedal and some basic recording equipment. He spent three winter months in the cabin, writing and recording and emerged with the songs that make up the album. The bleakness of the landscape seems to have chimed with his mood and it is easy to hear in For Emma, Forever Ago a sense of wintry, solitary despair and reflection. "Bon Iver" is, near enough,  French for 'good winter'.

I bought the record in the summer, played it a couple of times, put it on my iPod and forgot about it. I got it out recently and listened to it a few times: I do like it, but clearly not as much as some of its fans.

The reviews have praised the music, but also responded strongly to the back story of the heartbroken young man in his cabin in the woods. The story adds that valuable quality of authenticity: had For Emma, Forever Ago been funded by Simon Cowell and recorded in a studio in West London, good though it is, I doubt that it would have received quite the same acclaim.

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A side note on the current stock markets crisis. For some reason market crashes almost invariably happen in October. Black Monday, the crash of 97, the Wall Street Crash of 1929 - all in October. Four of the biggest single-day falls in market history took place in October, and the fifth was in November. So the worst could yet be to come.
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The BBC is reporting that two men have been taken into custody after setting a fire at a publishing house in Lonsdale Square, Islington. The only publisher I can find at that address is Gibson Square, which has recently taken on the novel The Jewel Of Medina.

This book tells the story of Mohammed's relationship with his nine-year-old bride Aisha (a historical fact that allows a certain kind of person to make provocative comments about 'the paedophile Mohammed') and was dropped by Random House after an academic warned that it might expose them to attacks by angry Muslims.

The BBC is not yet making these connections but it is fairly easy to put two and two together. 
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Estate agents have been badly hit by the recession, to the point that they can only sell one property a week. It seems fair to point out that estate agents have organised things so that their earnings are linked to property prices, by insisting on percentage fees. They do very well out of this when the housing market is booming so shouldn't complain when it is flat.

Stephen Pollard wonders why estate agents exist at all, in the internet age. The reason is that people like to use internet property aggregators, which bring together all the homes available from all the agents in a given area. These aggregators will not take ads from private individuals because they know that, if they did, the estate agents would boycott them. This is what happened to Tesco when they tried to launch a website that mixed estate agents' details with those of private buyers. This was the result.

My suspicion is that the vast majority of buyers find their homes through one of the big property aggregators. This means, in effect, that sellers are paying agents a fat premium simply to get their details listed on an aggregator, rather than being allowed to deal with the aggregator directly. It's a restrictive practice and I can't see why the OFT hasn't taken an interest.

This won't last. The story of the internet has been cutting out the middleman - travel agents, bricks and mortar shops, newspapers - and estate agents won't be able to resist the trend forever.
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A friend drew to my attention a truly nasty Facebook group called "Sweet Memories of The Holocaust" which,  while claiming "we dont have brplem with jews our problem is with izrael and zionz" (their spelling), is predictably full of anti-semitic filth. It seems to have been set up by some death-metal mentalist but is attracting a depressing number of members. 

I shan't link to it but I will point in the direction of a group calling, quite rightly, for it to be taken down. 
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....this is probably why.....

And if that is down too, then in brief, Harry's Place posted an interesting piece about neo-Nazi websites. An academic mentioned in the piece, Jenna Delich, took exception to a sentence in it that linked her with the website of David Duke, the neo-nazi ad former Ku Klux Klan leader. Harry's Place retorts that evidence for their claim is in the public domain. 

I trust Harry's Place's testimony, rather than that of Ms Delich, but in any case there is a point of principle. She is, or so it is alleged, trying to suppress the claim by pressuring the ISP that hosts Harry's Place to take the site down. This sort of thing happens a lot and is quite illegitimate. Aggrieved individuals should take up their complaint with site itself, rather than trying to close it down by a backdoor route.  It is reminiscent of the way some individuals used to go after Private Eye, by threatening to sue its distributors, such as WH Smith. It is usually an easy win, as the distributor or ISP has little incentive to fight the case.

Harry's Place was down earlier today, though it is currently available. 

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What an interesting figure Dylan Jones is. In the mid-eighties I used to see him at warehouse parties in places like Battlebridge Road, King's Cross. If memory serves, he may even have organised some of them. It always struck me as a very lucrative enterprise: find a warehouse, get a sound system, buy hundreds of cans of Red Stripe from a cash and carry, charge a fiver at the door, confiscate any drink that people tried to bring in, sell Red Stripe at £1.20 a go (a lot of money for a can of beer in those days), carry the money home in a big bag. Anyway, Dylan may or may not have been involved in that side of things but he always struck me as a man with an eye for the main chance.

In those days he was involved with i-D magazine and has since then woven a path trough the world of style magazines that has taken him to the editorship of GQ, which is a perfectly OK publication in its way. Somehow, however, Dylan has used this modest position to carve himself a significant role in London society. He's always cropping up at this or that event, organising or attending a private dinner for this or that famous person and so on. How has he achieved this feat of social alchemy? Nobody knows, except Dylan. I guess he must be very good with people.

He was, for a while, very pally with Peter Mandelson, which brings me to my point. This week Dylan published a book of interviews with David Cameron, which he has been working on for at least a year. So, not only has Dylan deftly ditched his friendship with the sinking New Labour nomenklatura; he is busily feathering his nest with the New Tories (do the Joneses and the Camerons share tapas in Galicia in Portobello Road? Have they holidayed together? If not, it can only be a matter of time).

But not only all that: he also read the politico-social weather more than a year ago so that, at the very moment Labour sinks below the waves of bien-pensant opinion, Dylan is reinvented as a Cameroonie. Even his Wikipedia entry (and I wonder who wrote that) makes no mention of the Mandelson friendship: it's all about making GQ 'more political (oh, come on) and taking it rightwards. And, of course, despite a year of research his book on Cameron omitted to ask the one question we'd all like to hear the answer to: "Have you ever taken coke". Clever boy.
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Really good use of Google Maps by the London Metropolitan police to provide local crime information by postcode. You can drill down to ward and sub-ward, which is as micro-local as one can reasonably expect to get, see the number of incidents for an area and track trends. It would be nice to know more about the kind of offences - were the five in my area last month burlaries, muggings, murders, thefts from cars or what. Maybe that will come. But in the meantime, well done the Met. As Sir Robert Mark might have said, I believe it's a major contribution to freedom of information.
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When I worked for Yahoo!, I occasionally had to do radio interviews and very often a press officer would accompany m e. She was very nice and efficient and made sure I got where I needed to be in time and knew what I would be asked about. However, she insisted on scribbling notes on a large piece of card and waving them at me during the interview to remind me to say, or not say, one thing or another. It was extremely distracting, to say the least.

But she didn't go as far as the government press officer for James Plaskitt, the work and pensions minister, who intervened in a live interview on BBC World at One today to warn the presenter off his line of questioning, as Iain Dale reports, via PA.

This seems to me to be exceeding the press officer's brief, to say the least, and I can only assume that she thought the interview was being pre-recorded. As did John Prescott, some years ago, when being interviewed by Nick Robinson, who recounted the story on the Have I Got News For You website.

"When I was a reporter on what used to be called BBC News 24 I did a live interview with John Prescott in which he (uncharacteristically of course) got into a tangle about what he was trying to say and then said, ‘Oh no, I made that crap can we do that again?’ and I was forced to say, ‘Well, we are in fact live’."
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Some journalists I know refuse to write about their families. Others have made a career of it: one thinks of the noxious and self-obsessed Liz Jones and Nirpal Dhalirwal

At least those two had a right of reply to the other's whingeing; the relatives of most confesional writers don't have this opportunity. I enjoy Tim Dowling's column in the Guardian Weekend magazine but he paints a pretty uncompromising picture of his wife. I wonder how this works for them at home. Is their relationship as grim as he portrays it or is it a comic fiction? And what does Mrs Dowling make of it?

She is, however, an adult, whereas Amy Hanson's sister  Celeste is just 15 yet is subjected to a fearsome character assassination in today's Guardian Family section. Amy, 29, recounts a disastrous-sounding trip to a music festival that culminates in Celeste  "sobbing and screaming and swearing about what a bitch I am and how I've ruined her life". 

Maybe it's all fine - the two of them were photographed together for the piece, which suggests some sort of agreement between the two. But I can't help wondering what it's like for a 15-year-old girl to read an article like that about herself, which says pretty unequivocally that her grown-up sister really doesn't like her that much. I wonder too about Amy's motivations in writing it.

UPDATE It's worse than I thought. Amy Hanson is Michele Hanson's daughter. Michele Hanson writes, inter alia, about her elderly mother and the indignities of ageing. And so does Amy, but with less apparent empathy ("Crapping herself must have been the most exciting part of her day"). Poor Mrs Hanson senior, her every bedridden arthritic and incontinent moment turned into copy by her daughter and granddaughter. Won't someone give her a column, too?
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The clever Agarwal brothers have come up with a replacement for Scrabulous. Wordscraper is now available on Facebook and it looks, at first sight, not unlike Scrabble/Scrabulous: a similar sort of board, albeit with circles instead of squares, letter tiles that you use to make words, albeit the letters don't have numbered scores attached to them. The circles on the board are labelled 2/3/4L or 2/3/4/W which evidently denotes the letter or word score. Apparently, you can configure these as you want at the start of the game. If you don't, I'm assuming the board generates a random pattern. This must explain why in one game I'm playing I'm on 14,000 points after two turns and in the other 500 after six.

Bloggers are saying that the game merely makes a few changes to the Scrabble template (to avoid legal action) but it seems like a much more radical reinvention than that. So far, I don't really get it. And I agree, the board hurts my eyes.
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Jeff Jarvis is puzzled by Peter Barron's move from Newsnight. Not so much because he's joining Google but because he's going in on the PR side.

I don't know Barron at all, though I am a Newsnight fan but, speclating wildly, I suspect money plays some part in it all. Google are pretty good payers and the Beeb, on the whole, are not. Google also feels like a cool company to work for, whereas the BBC can be staid and bureaucratic.

Coincidentally, I've recently conversations with a couple of my print journalist friends, both of whom confided their plans to move out of journalism sooner rather than later. Both of them have very good jobs on two of the country's top papers but are alienated by a combination of the long hours, uncertainty over the future of papers, belt-tightening that leads to falling standards (one told me that the paper - still a highly sucessful one - rarely sends reporters on foreign assignments these days), job insecurity. It's been interesting to see some of these concerns reflected back in the new series of The Wire, which features plots set in the offices of a Baltimore newspaper, involving the kinds of corner-cutting and compromise that will be familiar to many British journalists.

I don't know if any of these considerations apply to Peter Barron but I know a lot of journalists to whom they do. It's unnecessarily melodramatic to talk about a malaise in British journalism but life on newspapers at least, is fast losing its appeal for many.

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Quite interesting to read that Peter Barron of Newsnight is to join Google in a PR role. More interesting to me was the discovery that Google's European head of PR is one D-J Collins. I assume this is the same D-J who once ran the press office at the Department of Education and is, according to Rachel Sylvester in The Times, apparently part of the unofficial campaign team forming around David Miliband who is increasingly tipped to mount a challenge to Gordon Brown before too long.

An odd wrinkle to this is that D-J's boss at Google is Rachel Whetstone, who was one of the inner circle around David Cameron, when he was jockeying to become Tory leader a little while ago.
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On a beautiful London afternoon, I got on my bike, cycled to Hyde Park and had a look at Frank Gehry's Serpentine Pavilion. The park was packed with sunbathers, roller-bladers, beautiful people in summer clothes. The Pavilion is worth a visit - I wonder if Gehry would do me a conservatory.

That's what I was doing. Meanwhile a bunch of people on Harry's Place were doing this. Reading the fruits of their afternoon's labour, I was reminded of this cartoon.

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Rebarbative though it can be, the Mail retains the ability to surprise, pleasantly. There was the Stephen Lawrence case, of course, in which it led the way in exposing racism and identifying the probable killers. For all its liberal principles, the Guardian has never managed anything so brave or important.

Now it gives prominence to Italy's shameful treatment of gypsies, in a report by the excellent Sue Reid, a Fleet Street veteran who keeps alive the tradition of in-depth investigation and reporting. This isn't a story that will strike much of a chord with many Mail readers (take a look at the comments) so the Mail deserves respect for commissioning it and running it so prominently.

On the other hand, there is a marked contrast between this story and the Mail's attitude towards gypsies in Britain...
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I quite enjoy Zoe Williams' writing in the Guardian but her Antenatal series is wearing terribly thin. "What's the ideal number of children to have?" she asks today. Two seems to be the answer. Coincidentally, it is also the answer to the question "how many articles can even a talented and amusing writer produce about her children before her readers rise up in protest?"
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According to Valleywag, Hambros, the makers of Scrabble have filed a lawsuit against the men behind Scrabulous, which is now the only reason to spend time on Facebook. Valleywag, which is never wrong, says Hambros is bound to win.

I can't help thinking that Hambros are in danger of buying themselves a lot of ill will, given the huge popularity of Scrabulous. If they close Scrabulous down and replace it with their own legit Facebook app, I predict a backlash and a boycott. Wouldn't it have been better to do some sort of deal?
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"Subs is cunts", a former deputy editor of the Observer used to remind me when we worked together on another newspaper. Giles Coren of the Times certainly agrees.

Here he is complaining in an email to subs about the removal of the word "a" from a restaurant review. It's an entertaining mail, clearly deeply felt, if a bit luvvie-ish ("It strips me of all confidence in writing for the magazine" etc).

Though he comes across as a bit of a prick in the mail, Coren is in the right. As he explains, the sub's alteration damaged his final par and ruined a gag. And there was no need for the change other than that the sub thought he knew better than the writer.

What subs are needed for is production and layout - getting the copy on the page and making it look nice - valuable and important work. But provided you've got writers who can write and desk editors who can edit, you don't need sub-editors to rewrite it all. And if your writers can't write, get rid of them and employ ones who can.

UPDATE Coren, or a fair facsimile, now features on Twitter. Meanwhile, just for fun or whatever, I typed "subeditors cunts" into Google ad it seems that Coren and my ex-Observer colleague are not alone in their views. Here's a computer journalist called RAM Raider on the subject and here's a lively discussion about it all. And, look, here's Giles again, in 2002.
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Here's Richard Reeves, the new director of Demos, articulating his own significant place at the very heart of things in an Observer review of Nudge by Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstein.

"Everyone who is anyone has been nudged by the amiable prof (I bought him dinner)."

As Reeves points out, Thaler is very vogueish currently. He follows in a long line of American intellectuals crossing the Atlantic with theories that promise to revolutionise - or at least improve - British society. A few years ago it was Robert Putnam, author of Bowling Alone; more recently we embraced Malcolm Gladwell, twice and Stephen Dubner and Steven Levitt, authors of Freakonomics. There have been others, now forgotten, by me at least. Are we Brits easy marks for flashy US ideas or do Americans simply have the best thinkers these days?

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This is one of those pictures that I imagine we'll see again and again, whenever, in fact, someone wants to make Gordon Brown look foolish. It was snapped at Baghdad Airport on the PM's visit to Iraq, as he chatted to the crew of an RAF Puma helicopter. Seemingly, the gun was allowed to swing round in front of the Prime Minister, so it looked as if he was preparing to shoot someone, all the while with a slightly daft grin on his face. According to the Mail on Sunday, which carried the story, a Number Ten press office went white with shock on seeing the image.

Gaffes do happen, even though Gordon Brown has a press officer whose job it is to stop embarrassing pictures being taken of him (as Have I Got News For You frequently reminds us) 

 UPDATE: I see the Telegraph,  Observer, Express and Independent are all carrying the pic, too, though the Obs nd the Express don't appear to explain the circumstances in which it was taken.

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Roy Greenslade in the Guardian asks some good questions about the tawdry way newspapers dealt with Robert Murat. In particular, he wonders why newspaper lawyers didn't rein in the coverage. In my experience of such cases, lawyers from different newspapers sometimes confer and agree how far they will allow a story to be pushed, even if they know it is legally questionable. The reasoning is that there is some safety in numbers. Not in this case, clearly.

More generally it seems as if papers were seized by a collective delusion that for some reason the law didn't matter in this case. Was it because the events were taking place abroad and they figured that somehow English law was irrelevant? Was it commercial pressure? Or was it that after so long presenting the story as a whodunnit, extrapolating and speculating wildly from a few known pieces of information, trying to tell an entertaining and gripping tale, they simply lost sight of the fact that they were dealing with a real story involving real people?
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There are a few tunes that I've been trying to track down and listen to for a while now: an EP of Fall covers by Sonic Youth, called 4 Tunna Brix and anything by the Desperate Bicycles, about whom I wrote last year.

4 Tunna Brix, recorded for the John Peel Show may years ago, was never released officially, as far as I know, while the Desperate Bicycles oeuvre never made it to CD. 

It is all to be found online but the MP3s of the songs are scattered around a variety of unofficial fan sites and can't be downloaded. So while you can listen to them, it's a relatively cumbersome process, compared with the simplicity of putting on a CD or firing up iTunes.

Anyway, the other day, a friend told me about Seeqpod, a combined music search engine and player. It lets you search for MP3s and then, via a vaguely Apple-ish interface, put them in playlists and listen to them through an on-site flash player. I tried it, found Tunna Brix and a chnk of the Desperate Bicycles' output, stored the playlists and can now listen to them whenever I want.

So Seeqpod is great. It apparently has eight million MP3s indexed, it's easy to use and the sound quality through the player is fine. You can also use it to search for music videos and articles. I've got a couple of minor quibbles with the usablity of the interface and the log-in seems a bit unreliable (it hangs sometimes for no obvious reason) but I'm sure these wrinkles will get ironed out.

You can't download your MP3s on to iTunes, as far as I can tell though I'm sure some clever person will find a way. You can, however, use it on your iPhone.

Now, it will surprise nobody to learn that a good proportion of the music found through Seeqpod is copyright-infringing and Warners is suing. Seeqpod's defence is to say in essence, that the music is not on its site and it's just pointing to it, in the same way that Google does, and nobody's suing Google.  

Maybe the music industry will succeed in getting Seeqpod shut down. However, my hunch is that Seeqpod is about to become very big indeed and the record companies will have to swallow their pride and find a way of working with it.
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Really interesting article by Jay Rayner in Sunday's Observer on the web's challenge to newspaper criticism, which he blogs about here. As a newspaper restaurant critic, Rayner obviously isn't neutral in the debate but he's produced a fair-minded and compendious survey of the subject, which is well worth a read.

A few thoughts:

1 Several of the newspaper critics interviewed (notably Brian Sewell and Clement Crisp of the FT) argue they are better than their web equivalents simply because they know more, through years of study and following their particular specialty. Well, maybe, but this is treacherous ground to defend. In the end, a journalist is a journalist, and who's to say a real expert might not come along and start blogging?

What journalists bring to the party - and this was rather neglected in Rayner's piece - is the ability to write, to express themselves succinctly and engagingly and clearly on their chosen subject. Few people manage this naturally: it takes practice, discipline and the attention of editors. Journalists do it for a living, day in, day out. Chances are most of them are better at it than most bloggers.

2 In fact, expertise may be overrated. The opinion of the expert may simply be too rareified for the ordinary punter. A critic's job is twofold: to provide recommendations and guidance to readers - is it worth spending thirty quid to see this play, eat this meal, buy this book? - and to establish and enforce standards within the discipline s/he is writing about. The likes of Sewell and Crisp probably take the second more seriously and address their comments to artists, performers, curators and institutions. To me, the first is more important.

3 In a way, more interesting than a head-to-head between individual critics who do essentially the same job whether they write in print or online, is the way the web can aggregate large numbers of individual opinion to achieve some sort of consensus, for example in restaurant websites like toptable and hotel sites like hotels.com.

This is 'wisdom of crowds' stuff and, to many, the web's real point of differentiation.

It's good because they tell you what a bunch of real people have really experienced. A restaurant critic, by contrast, is likely only to have visited the place once, and may well have been recognised and had special treatment. On the other hand, the reviews by the public are self-selecting and undoubtedly include a disproportionate number of disgruntled customers. They are often badly written and unclear, too.

Also, doesn't this aggregation of opinion tend to pull everything towards the soggy middle? What if you personally have minority or extreme tastes - discordant, atonal music, challenging contemporary theatre, weird conceptual art, offal-based cuisine? Would a rating system that simply aggregated the views of the many be any use to you?

4 Rayner selected a number of quite elderly newspaper critics for his piece and some of them, unsurprisingly, didn't like, use or understand the web. A couple of them, Hilary Spurling and Michael Billington, clearly did, however. Encouraging, I thought.

5 For years and years newspapers have reviewed TV programmes the day after broadcast, even though there was no opportunity for people to see what they might have missed, unless the programme was repeated. So if you saw a good review and wanted to see the show, too bad.

Now we have catch-up channels, Sky+, the iplayer and its equivalents, and TV reviews really can do a useful job of telling people what is and isn't worth watching. Yet newspapers are starting to do away with TV reviewers. Odd, isn't it?
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