About Me

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

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.

Read more

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.
Read more


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.

Read more

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...
Read more

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?"
Read more

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?
Read more

"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.
Read more

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?

Read more


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.

Read more

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?
Read more

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.
Read more

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?
Read more