Knock And The Door Shall Be Opened

I’ve upped my game people. I shifting on a national tabloid which actually means I knock on less doors, and when I do it tends not to be Joe Bloggs.

But I am still working nights and have started buying herbal tablets to help me sleep. I hope it’s all worth it. We shall see.

I got my car nicked. The white Nissan Micra, N reg, 1996. The back light held on with duck-tape, the whole thing like a wise old man’s face full of dents and lines.

I had parked it outside work, on the street in east London and I came out at three in the morning to find another, bigger, better car in the space.

It’s a strange feeling, to have something disappear on you. I didn’t doubt where I parked it – I knew it had been nicked from 50 metres away.

I rummaged for the keys in my bag, and they weren’t there. I thought  back to the moment I went into work: I had been rushing. There was a coffee, a gym bag, a work bag, a coat, fumbling door shut, grab the coffee – I was sweating  – and walk. The keys had been left hanging in the lock.

So when I ran in and the security guards offered to “double check I hadn’t parked it anywhere else” I felt bad when I thanked them and watched them wander off into the black street.

Then, the police: “OK miss, is there any CCTV in the area?”

Me: “Ummm… no…. no. No, I think that bit is just outside the camera area.”

The car is worth perhaps £150. I bought it for £50.

Two days later I get a phone call from the police. They had located the car in an underground car park in Shadwell, just around the corner form where it was nicked. I head straight there, but I don’t have my spare key. I just wanted to see it.

It was parked in an above ground car park. There was a bunch of teenagers hanging around it. There was a sonic the hedgehog smoking a spliff drawn on the front bonnet.

KID: “That your car?”

Me: “Yes, yes, it is, and the police know about it, it was nicked.”

KID: “How’d you nick that then, how would you get in? Notin’s smashed innit?”

ME: “Yes, the keys were in the lock.”

There are about  10 of them. Some of them are smoking. A lot of them have their hands in their pockets and they are not looking at me. They nicked it. It is oozing out of them.

ME: “If you fucking touch that car again you are dead. The police know.”

KID: “What? Don’t know who nicked it”

ME: “Yeh well, I’m a reporter at the XXX and I need that car. Go find something to do rather than fucking up my life.”

I am angry. But I leave. I come back the following evening with the key and the car is gone.

A few of the kids are on the street. We are beside a fish market that stinks. It’s quite a mild evening, but it feels as if there are too many smells in the air. It is a tight warm bubbly rubbish smell.

I sit on the curb and look at the kids.

ME: “Where is my car?”

KID: “Don’t know, they drove it off.”

Another kid arrives and they all start speaking Urdu together. Then one of them spots the Om sign on my necklace and asks me about it, I tell him where I got it. He turns to the other kid and says something else in Urdu.

KID 2: “Ok, let me smoke a cigarette, first. What will I get?”

KID 1: “He knows where the car is.”

KID 2: “Yeh, it’s in Shadwell Gardens. What will you give me?”

ME: “Twenty quid. Take me there now, twenty quid and a packet of Bensons.”

Off we go. The kid starts to show of as we are walking there. He talks to people he knows on the street. He says something to a woman at a bus stop who he tells me is his mum. He high-fives a corner shop man who is having a massive carpet delivered as we walk past.

And there it is three streets away, with a parking ticket on it. I get in. Then he gets in. He says he wants “a go”.

I want to get out of the car park as soon as possible, before anyone else comes and destroys my so far successful recovery mission, so I say yes, the kid relaxes.

KID: “They messed with the wrong person innit. You’re alright aren’t you. I mean thing is I think they tried to sell it but it’s such a hunk of shit no one wanted it. I mean not even for £50. It’s the worst car I have ever seen. I used to have an Audi.”

ME: “How old are you?”

KID: “Sixteen. I bought it last year but I got caught driving it.”

I asked if he was just going go round nicking other people’s stuff for ever. He asked me about my job. He said he was clever at school, but then he started “messing around” and got a criminal record, and now he has no GCSEs. He asked for another go.

There was McDonalds and spliff butts in the back seat. and the smell was making me feel sick. I said no. I told him to get out. I gave him my email. They had nicked a bag with my favourite dress in it from the boot. I told him if he could get that back I would help him do something that wasn’t nicking other people’s cars. He said he would.

That was it. I drove off and I could see him in the windscreen mirror walking away and pulling out his phone. 


Multimedia and beyond

The future is already here – it’s just not evenly distributed.

William Gibson, quoted in The Economist, December 4, 2003

Who’s William Gibson?

Cardiff tutor and all round digital hound Glyn Mottershead discussed the digital revolution surrounding us now, and began with the quote above.

I use the quote as a reason to struggle on despite the fact that my digital arthritis has led to a little moat of empty spaces around me in the newsroom for fear of being plagued with my whimpering. But if the mountain won’t come to Mohammed, Mohammed must go to the mountain.

In fact  the lecture was full of exciting metaphors for this digital revolution. Some say it is an evolution, but things have happened so fast, and disruptive innovation is so strong a tool, and there is such a vivid sense of uncertainty about the future that this smells like the storming of a Bastille full of tightly zipped up pockets of information and not the steady rise of a chimpanzee. If you claim to know the way forward you’re deluded. Who would have ever thought the pigs would do what they did in Animal farm. For sure it will not be what we imagine.

Sorry to go dark on you there.

Glyn quoted Alison Gow, executive editor, digital of the Liverpool Echo and Post making the point that online journalism gives us the opportunity to be a real pioneer in the art of story telling, audience engagement and new ways of sourcing, sharing and developing information. This is exciting and perhaps the nub of how to view all things revolutionary, not focus too much on the revolution but on the equal distribution of the useful tools that are exploding around us.

And now the utility belt metaphor!  Journalists can pull out many, many more tools from their professional belts then . Technology is a sort of creative currency, whether it be in sourcing from twitter or producing a page using quark or contacting leading experts on the latest invention. Journalists can give sense to and make sense out of the eternal frictions between the things as they are.

If journalism is about channeling a passion for people and communication into something  more useful than having the balls to start a conversation over the urinals, then we should all be very excited about how communication replace old power structures.

Is traditional media just plain antisocial?

Is the future going to be based on User Generated Content and citizen journalism? The BBC has a team who constantly filter stuff being sent to them.

The power of the internet is undeniable when we look at the Iran elections of last year when the Iranian government cut off internet access. The classic gatekeepers, the controllers of the flow of information are nonetheless dropping like flies, and information is no longer a scarce resource.

Perhaps the question to ask is how can journalists distinguish themselves?


Adam Tinworth

Adam Tinworth is Head of Blogging at Reed Business Information (RBI), although he’s the first to flag up the fact that his job title is the last thing that defines what he does everyday.

RBI is Britain’s largest B2B publisher, producing over 50 trade magazines. These provide information and services for professional communities. A profitable but somewhat unglamorous branch of journalism, as admitted by the man himself.

But the crisis in print journalism is taking no prisoners and B2B or commercial mags, national or local papers must get paperless fast. Glamour or no glamour.

Online profit making is the all important step ahead. That’s where Murdoch firmly shacked up.

But I was surprised by Adam Tinworth’s lecture. He flagged up some important markings on the new road to good journalism.

Firstly, everyone can blog so there is  more choice of what to read. Secondly, mediocre journalism will ousted by people blogging about things they genuinely know about, lazy writing cannot be protected as it might have been in an established publication. Thirdly, more voices can be heard and so there will be greater desire to be connected.

The third point is the key. Having had a lot of experience in B2B journalism, which Adam describes as media that does not create communities but offers a platform for groups which already exist, the importance of a truly social medium would have been pretty easy to get excited about.

Adam said, “It simple creates a link between people talking about things.”

Another great point Adam made was this: Journalists are not experts on things but they have to know how to talk to people who do know about things.

The net has become the biggest info distributor humanity has ever conceived of. This sounds worthy of the film-man trailer voice, I know, but I must agree.

A good question to ask now is: Where does the journalist go?

It seems he or she must talk and share and remember that conversation is not opinion. Conversation is discussing topics of mutual interest.

Adam’s got his own blog, check it out


Capturing Cardiff – The hidden zeitgeist

It profits man nothing to give his soul for the world… but for Wales!

Robert Bolt, playwright and Oscar-winning screenwriter

Crossing into Cardiff

It is generally agreed that the highs and lows of Cardiff fit the hallmark of any other thriving European capital. London throws up the likes of Pete Doherty and the Queen, vespa ridden Rome hooks its arms around the Vatican City, Barcelona has its heady mix of Gaudi, sea and commerce. Which begs the question, what is it that makes Cardiff Cardiff? Who are Cardiff’s hidden communities, and how do people feel about each other?

The zeitgeist of Cardiff, today full of diversity, is not as far removed from the past as you may think. In the 1930s and before Cardiff became a capital, it was dismissed as a possible location for the National Library of Wales (eventually built in Aberystwyth) because the library’s founder, Sir John Williams, considered the city to have a non-Welsh population.

In the 1997 devolution referendum Cardiff voters rejected the establishment of the National Assembly for Wales by 55.4% to 44.2% on a 47% turnout, which is a hint  that even among the more established Cardiff communities, identity lies beyond a sense of pure ‘Welshness’.

Recent estimates state that around one in ten of Cardiff’s residents come from an ethnic minority community.  Research by Cardiff County Council’s Cardiff Research Centre found that Cardiff’s ethnic minority community makes up around 8.4% of the city’s population, which equates to some 30, 000 residents.

The Italians are one such example. Giovanni Malacrino came to the capital from Calabria, Italy aged three – his parents were in search of work and an opportunity to make a living. He is now one of Cardiff’s most flamboyant business entrepreneurs, and has established a handful of restaurants and nightclubs including Giovanni’s , Gios, Contis and No 10 . He said:

It seems as if my parents coming here was one pebble dropped in an ocean that has caused ripples across Cardiff. In some ways I feel responsible for bringing Italy to this part of Wales.

He is quick to note however, that the secret of his success is thanks his parents work ethic and vision of a better future. John Fish, from Rumney village just outside Cardiff, is working at Cardiff’s Winter Wonderland this year. Talking about the immigrants he works with, he said:

They’d give their right arm if there was anything I was wanting off them, bar money, you know, they’re very tight fisted with money.

Hear everything John fisher said:

It comes as no surprise that economic migrants, perhaps most notably, polish migrants, have a reputation of working hard and saving.Through working, many of Cardiff’s ethnic minority communities learn to adjust to the nuances of Cardiff life.

Reynette Roberts and a small group of volunteers run Oasis, a drop in centre for asylum seekers at Tredegerville Baptist Church, Roath. Mrs Roberts said:

A lot of people I meet don’t know the British way of doing things, shopping is nearly always done in a different way. People don’t know how to use a washing machine or how to fill out forms.

But Cardiff seems well on its way to addressing these challenges.  Cardiff County Council set up an ethnic minority communities programme to tackle deprivation across the city. One of its projects, directed at areas like Grangetown and Butetown, focuses on identifying and building relationships with minority communities.  The aim is to promote social cohesion through gaining an understanding of community issues, experiences, needs and priorities.

But some of the problems that Cardiff faces in promoting this cohesion cannot be solved at a local council level. Salim, an Iraqi national has been refused asylum having lived in Britain for six years and worked in Cardiff as a dentist for three years.  The Home Office believes it is safe for him to go back to Iraq, but he believes it is not. He has been visiting Oasis which has provided him with essential contact with a wider Cardiff community as well as informing him of options available and helping him with paperwork.

But Mrs Reynolds is dedicated to building up a community around  Oasis which sees 40-100 people pass its doors every week. She hopes that one day they will have their own building and that it will remain open all the time. The centre holds English skills sessions to help people integrate with the wider community. As long as there are concentrated efforts to create a city that embraces everyone, Cardiff’s soul seems to be intact.

Just north of Cardiff Bay the Huggard Centre for the homless is also tackling the problem of social exclusion. Chief executive, Richard Edwards,  addressed the crowd at the yearly Huggard Centre Sleepout a week ago with the following words:

Handouts alone will not provide a step up. At Huggard we know this. In November this year we again opened our winter emergency shelter and accommodated 54 diferent people who would have otherwise been forced to sleep rough in one of the windiest and wettest Novembers on record … But much more importantly then all of this is that Huggard seeks to engage with people. We help individuals to recognise, address and overcome barriers that prevent them from breaking the cycle of homelessness.

Engagement seems to be the key to Cardiff’s soul. In the eyes of the people from the Welsh capital, there’s only one answer to the question “Are you in, or are you out?” – out isn’t it.

My bed on the Huggard Sleepout


Where’s the story?

A bishop defending the religious sanctity of Christmas laughed as BBC’s morning news presenters Sian Williams and Bill Turnbull tried to pigeon hole him as a Scrooge and carol hater. Armed with quotes from the bishop’s book, BBC reporters, who had a sketchy understanding of the book’s argument accused the bishop, Rt Rev Nick Baines, of trying to take the joy out of Christmas.

Althought the chastising was playful(painfully so) the bishop was pitted against a carol loving musical aficionado to whip up a good argument.

I was suddenly disappointed to see the journalistic Story Hunting cogs on such shameless display. The bishop has written a book inspired by his experience of the kids in Croydon (his diocese) who thought Christmas was a celebration of Santa Claus. Quite rightfully he has attempted to shed some light on the origins of  what has now become a commercially driven mayhem full of magical creatures such as Santa.

In the book he says: “I can understand the little children being quite taken with the sort of baby of whom it can be said, ‘no crying he makes’, but how can any adult sing this without embarrassment?” This makes the distinction between fact and fiction which, in the wider context of the book, is what the bishop is trying to do.

But this wasn’t really what Sian and John wanted the Rt Rv Baines to try to explain. They wanted a  carol-hating, furry-vest-wearing piece of journalistic cannon fodder.


Newspapers: the ultimate gadget

I love this ad. I found it on http://www.paidcontent.org. Really interesting site that discusses the future of the media.

But it seems a little soft in comparison to this next video which Arianna Huffington shone light on in her speech at a newspaper conference in Washington addressing the question “How will journalism survive the internet age?” If it whets your palate, check out paidcontent.org for more great roundups.

But in my opinion the future of good journalism will not depend on whether old forms of media survive or not. It will depend on whether those in the trade are willing to stand amid the spits and shouts extracting facts, aware of their commitment to verification, accuracy, authenticity, regulation, and readiness for open, transparent communication with their audiences despite market pressures. This is not a new challenge.

Could the unprecedented power of the digital revolution, eventually, untie this awareness? Perhaps yes. Good journalism needs time, support and money and these are in short supply. So far there are no successful means of producing profits from online newspaper publications, and job cuts in media organisations means that many journalists do not have the time to for sustained journalistic inquiry. As a profession, journalism could die out.

But if it does not, journalists will have to defend their professional values to avoid being consumed by online communications. And if this happens, the prognosis of what will remain is, in my opinion, very good. Even those at the heart of the money-making media giants are showing signs that good journalism must be protected.

The-son-in law of Rupert Murdoch, Matthew Freud, recently spoke to the New York Times about the despicable journalistic standards upheld by the Fox News Channel boss, Roger Alies. He said: “I am by no means alone within the family or the company in being ashamed and sickened by Roger Alies’s horrendous and sustained disregard of the journalistic standards that News Corp, its founder and every other global media business aspires to.”

Fear not! We shall remain!


Joanna Geary: A thoroughly modern Lois

We had a lecture last week by Joanna Geary, web development editor (business) of The Times, who told the story of her career so far.

A wonderful if somewhat cautionary tale for those of us at the doors of a job in newspapers. She began as many of us did, watching Lois Lane played by Teri Hatcher in Superman. After drifting away from journalism when the abyss between Lois and real life dawned, she returned after uni to a stint of work experience on the Solihull Times, then landed a job on the Birmingham Post.

But unlike some of her colleagues, who have been made redundant (and I saw on my own work experience the ghosts of busier times fill the Birmingham Post newsroom) she has been head hunted by The Times and is making it with news and tools like Nigella Lawson makes it with sugar and spoon.

Her story is great. It’s a story, it’s unusual, it’s full of random tweets between her and her next big break. She landed her current job after she was tweeted by the editor of The Times who had been tracking her ideas and online news philanthropy for a good while.

Her secret? She is journalism’s Nigella. She works it. Not by weirdly seducing copy but by being inventive and intuitive about what journalists can offer now. She began by leading the Birmingham Post into the blogosphere, having noticed that an online arts blogger was outdoing her own attempts to keep Birmingham up to date on the latest arty news.

The fact that Joanna now works for The Times and is not either working from home in her pants or not working at all is because she’s got what newspapers need and always needed. This is not expertise, it is rather a willingness to embrace the next big thing.  Joanna’s success is not because she needed something, anything to survive in journalism.

She has been doing what any journalist has always done, got to grips with the best way for getting news to her audience. Today this is the news potential of social networking and the massive explosion of news-providing tools we have at our disposal. She’s just the noughties version of old school hack with his ear to the phone.


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