An article in today’s Sun entitled ‘Have you no shame’, calls for readers to petition against the lack of apology from social services in relation to ‘Baby P’, denouncing them as “shameful, disgusting, cowardly and disgraceful”.

While this is a one-sided but valid point, putting individual head-shots of social workers alongside tag-lines such as ‘PASSED THE BUCK’ ‘RETURNED TOT TO MUM’ and ‘TAKEN IN BY A LIAR’, asking members of the public who know the named and shamed, to call, text, or email (numbers supplied) The Sun with information, is in itself shameful.

Social services have helped vast numbers of children. And the system they operate under has huge legal and beurocratic restrictions.

The fact this baby underwent enormous physical and emotional pain should not be excused, and the people responsible for what happened should be penalised. But it should not be a witch-hunt.

Radio 4’s Analysis: Responsible Journalism raised questions about whether our newspapers have a responsibility to make the public space a better place.

The programme discussed some people’s attitudes about how ethics have no place in journalism. Jean Seaton, Professor of Media History, University of Westminster, who was taking part on the show said: “The press in Britain feels as if on the whole it would rather there was a scandal and involved somebody in charge’s blood”.

Sure The Sun raises a valuable point. But is it responsible to put faces of vulnerable, and possibly innocent people in the newspaper and online?

Martin Moore, Director of Media Standards’ Trust, was also taking part on the show. He hit the nail on the head: “There is a tone that the press takes. It tends to be sceptical, highly aggressive and somewhat hysterical. And to a certain extent one could argue that this is positive because it raises issues to high on the agenda very quickly, it brings them to people’s attention very fast. At the same time, it can alienate many people from the debate itself because they’re either scared to participate themselves or because they just don’t want to engage in something of such high tempo and such hysteria”. (see here)

Listen to the show, its not very long, but really fascinating.

Journalists who don’t report responsibly will both alienate and potentially harm people. Referring to my blog How the media loses friends and alienates people, from a business perspective, journalists cannot afford to estrange any more of their readers.

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The human nose for sniffing out the simplest and most effective way to fornicate should not be ignored.

And internet dating is, shock horror, becoming a socially acceptable way of meeting people.

Of course there are the still the perverts and sad old men out there, but more and more people are beginning to understand the appeal of dating services that never close. Busy people can now avoid being discovered three weeks after they died alone in a one-bedroomed flat, having been gnawed by Alsatians (Bridget Jones’ greatest fear). 8642751

Do I sense the prick of ears from fellow underpaid and undersexed journalists? Deadlines, early mornings and late nights do no favours to our wild-eyed and over-worked complexions. Is a CV comprising of a well-angled photograph and witty one-liner beginning to sound appealing to anyone in the dating market?

According to Caroline Marcus of the Sydney Morning Herald, the future of TV is also online.

Thats Why You’re Single is a dating television show due to be released on Yahoo7 this December. It is shown in five minute snatches throughout the day to fit in with all of us who spend far too much time having sneaky Facebook checks while our bosses are looking the other way.

It also highlights how television stations are taking note of the changes in store for the industry.

Human mating instincts pounced on the internet as a convenient and fresh way to meet other like-minded people, leaping aboard the bandwagon with a zealousness that is only now beginning to infect the media world.

For the unlucky-in-love, this is the chance to grab the attention of a man or woman who would look straight through you if you passed them on the street. Lets face it; odds on at least somebody out of the millions of visitors to Internet dating sites won’t be repulsed.

Echoing this, for the first time smaller papers and magazines are finding themselves on a level playing field with nationals and big magazines like GQ, turning the industry on its head. Small businesses, small time journalists, small men, you name it, they all have just as big a chance as the big boys. It is astonishing, but unsurprising, that youtube gets more hits than the Guardian website.

But just as your blind date can turn on their heel soon as look at you, small papers that don’t deliver aren’t going to keep readers.

Of course people get screwed over…but don’t they in real life? Even Shakespeare, a man famous for his heartfelt soliloquies of love, admitted all ain’t fair in love and war.

But at least the Internet is going some way to help those with smelly feet find a mate. Television, newspapers and magazines have started to take note of the opportunities available using the Internet to maintain readership, but have found themselves facing real and stiff competition for almost the first time.

The Worlds Gone Obarmy…

November 12, 2008

The unprecedented number of young American votes is a feat of which Obama and his team should be rightly proud.

The numbers speak for themselves in that they indicate the extent to which Obama understands the America he has newly inherited…this man knows how to get things done.

And both Barack and Michelle Obama understand how important image is.

Michelle Obama making a speech

Michelle Obama making a speech

In an interview with British Vogue, Michelle Obama talks about the beautiful but classic image she has developed for herself, a look that comes across as no-nonsense but feminine – and a look that many high-powered women find difficult to master.

The President-Elect is an attractive man who always looks impeccable. He is certainly in tune with the young of America, even being spotted in the occasional basketball cap. He also famously intends to install basketball hoops at the Whitehouse080828_obamagym22

writing for The American Prospect, explains how American elections can often be a popularity contest. When working at a bar in Washington during my gap year I overheard a worrying remark that sent shivers down my spine, but has enabled me to understand the psyche governing some peoples attitudes towards voting in the States.

A perfectly normal looking man stated he would vote Bush because “the guy looked like he would be a good fishing buddy”… I have no words.

In part to combat middle Americas instinctive leaning towards republicans for reasons as stupid as this, online social networking has been used furiously by Mr Obama and his team. But as Jose Antonio Vargas of the Washington Post points out, blogging does not make communities but grows around communities that are already there. Obama understood this, which helped him to infiltrate diverse pockets of voters.

The quote on the OBAMABIDEN blog is telling in its insight.

‘I’m asking you to believe. Not just in my ability to bring about real change in Washington…I’m asking you to believe in yours’

What this election hammered home is individual people really do have a voice. But although Mr Obama won the presidency for a number of very good reasons it is unlikely that he would have had the same lead if McCain’s lot had been more web savvy.

The media hype surrounding Obama has been almost sycophantic, but in using the Internet, Obama has exposed himself to criticism too.

Understanding that has enabled him to connect with his countrymen, in a way never seen before. Obama effectively brought politics into the modern era, accepting society today is more interactive, something we as journalists certainly have to adapt to. It has taken the Internet to bridge the gap between politics and its perceived relevance to people’s day-to-day lives.

The media hype surrounding Obama sets standards for the Democrats, which they will find difficult to live up to. And now his campaign has finished I will be interested to see what happens to his Web presence.

News Is A Hot-Dog Stand

November 5, 2008

Artist Charlotte Andrew modelled her C’art gallery on an old hot-dog stand she had shipped over from the States.

But instead of the usual (undeniably tantalising) buns, stuffed with emulsified pig intestines, fried onions and garnished with unnaturally bright yellow mustard, she sells conversation and creativity.

Charlotte muscles her way to her chosen destination with her C’art using National Rail and pure grit, and sets up shop, inviting passers-by to grab a piece of paper and paint, ink, draw or colour a picture. Then they exchange their picture with one that somebody else has left displayed.

The pictures they took home
The pictures they took home

When I had a go, I found it surprisingly difficult. I don’t think I’m alone when I look back to the last outing of my now scattered colouring pencils as a distant memory from primary school.

It made me sit still and really look at my surroundings, and after the initial awkward few minutes I quickly became absorbed with getting right the shape of a goldfish in a beautiful little garden just off Leicester Square – a seemingly impossible task considering they absolutely never stay still!

Charlotte’s creative instincts were rewarded by people’s enthusiasm. A few graphic designers who worked in Soho returned almost every day the gallery was open, loving the opportunity of a creative outlet and like-minded people to chat to.

People’s generosity also shone through. An eight-year-old returned with a new set of pencils for the C’art while she was doing a show at the Liverpool Biennial.

In part for survival and in part because of technology increasingly available to them, journalists too are beginning to appreciate the immediacy of capturing people’s attention using different mediums.

London

Psycogeography is an interesting concept which has been called upon by journalists and artists alike. It encourages the study of human emotions and behaviour to support inventive tactics exploring anything which excites people enough to stray from their predictable paths.

Charlotte’s C’art is a good example of using different kinds of multimedia to achieve just that. She has documented through photographs and video people of all ages – from five-year-olds to 90-year-olds – interacting with their city and other people through pictures, to create…what?

Twins in Londondscn29701

As the saying goes: ‘people is news’. Listening to voxpops on websites like Murmur demonstrates how individuals are far more likely to respond to cities they grew up in or have strong links to. People attach significance to the cinema where they had their first kiss or the bench the local drunk always sat; a sense of nostalgia surrounding places and people inspire responses which journalists can learn to harness.

Dan Meadows, a fantastically charismatic guy who gave an Online Journalism lecture at Cardiff University last week, helped to set up BBC Capture Wales. This project promotes the mantra ‘everybody has a story to tell’ and provides multimedia tools through which people can tell their own stories.

What Dan, Charlotte and increasingly, journalists, are trying to do, is to use the medium ‘as the message’. That is, to involve people using film, photography, pictures, the Internet, and so on, so they can see news (or art) as something which is relevant to them and their lives.

Words and images often carry great weight and are loaded with meaning, particularly when they are used together. The strength of feeling conjured up through nostalgia is a powerful tool that can be used by the media, but should be done so responsibly.

An extreme but poignant example: Irish Republican newspapers published pictures of Bobby Sands, a republican who died in prison after going on huger strike, which specifically conjured up embedded memories of folk law, religion, and symbolic iconology. This manipulated already heightened emotions and tensions and arguably led to many more deaths during the Troubles in Belfast. (For more info click here).

Journalists can use multimedia as an effective way to reach their reader, but they should be aware of the power of doing so.

Simon Pegg had me clutching my sides and falling off my seat…the guy is hilarious. If you ignore the slightly crass moments involving miniature dogs dressed in human clothing (well, it is a Hollywood blockbuster after all), he absolutely nails a role that explores relevant issues about the kinds of stereotypes that surround journalists, and the problems that many journalists may encounter on their way to the 7th room or (forgive me ladies), the Big Boy’s jobs.

One fact is clear. The newspaper industry is losing readers. As Christopher Reiss, ex Political Editor of the Evening Standard, wisely pointed out, this has something to do with the Internet, but not everything.

In a 2000 Ipsos MORI census, journalists got the lowest vote of confidence with only 15% of people saying they trusted them. 15%!!  Painfully, this was even lower than politicians at 20%

But why so low?

How to Lose Friends and Alienate People pigeonholes journalists in two ways. The struggling, but deeply moral good guys vs. the backstabbing, money-orientated scum-bags, who would probably sell their own children to a Moroccan slave trade for a good scoop. The good guys face the decision between a penniless existence and joining the dark side.

How true a perception is this? Did the film hit the nail on the head or is it just indicative of stereotypical and harmful attitudes towards the media?

The film emphasises the shallowness of Hollywood and the people surrounding it. But what effect does celebrity interest and coverage have on hard news? Bunching different types of media together is detrimental, particularly when celebrity news can often be reminiscent of the gladiator arenas of old; a good, ruinous story about a celebrity satiates the public’s appetite for blood, the socially acceptable version, but nonetheless innately human pleasure in seeing the downfalls of others.gladiatorpreview

Ironically this can backfire on a journalist’s reputation, and often readers seem to have no qualms in biting the hand that feeds them. An example of this is the public outrage towards the media for hounding Amy Winehouse (click here), something that they couldn’t get enough of to start off with.amy-winehouse-sick

The film suggests that being successful invariably means writing about what your readers are interested in, however superficial the subject may be – the media is, at the end of the day, an industry. However, changing times call for a changing focus, subscriptions for the Economist have gone up, More on the other hand seems to be struggling with its readership. Unsurprisingly, people are less interested in reading about Madonna’s latest craze, and more interested in reading about the financial market…news with substance is on its way up. For now. Perhaps this will also help to change perceptions towards the media.

Although there are numerous reasons why journalists have acquired a bad name for themselves, the news industry has changed enormously since the days that every journo had a bottle of brandy in the top drawer of their office desk. Editors can no longer afford to be complacent because they are constantly challenged by the accessibility of the Internet, the feedback that it enables and vast competition it offers.

The Internet prevents journalists from pressing their hands firmly to their ears, and thus they have increasingly found themselves in embarrassing situations that ten years ago they would have got away with. Think Andrew Gilligan. Despite public opinion, mistakes are mostly made in good faith, the Internet has forced journalists to do their job more thoroughly, and although changes are certainly needed, journalism is heading in a better direction.

Trust issues are now deeply embedded in the media, and scrupulous attention to detail and facts by journalists are essential if attitudes are going to change. Although arguably better quality news will attract more readers, this is difficult to balance with the fact that so many readers are interested in fast, juicy news, which often has a side-product of sloppy reporting.

In that case, to what extent are our readers fuelling, and in some ways responsible, for the media’s bad rep?

As future journalists we must learn to understand our readers so that as the news industry changes we are able to draw-in and maintain readership.

Overall women still use the Internet less often than men, although this has changed over the past few years to the extent that there is now only a few percent in difference (click here for details).

What is interesting from a journalist’s perspective is that although women are catching up with men in most measures of online life, there are huge differences in the types of ways they use the Internet. Studies have shown that men generally use the internet to find sports, financial and hard news information, whereas women are more inclined to use support groups and interactive forums.

Lumping women (or men) together does not reflect their diversity, but the Internet often reflects and reinforces stereotypes that remove many women from central political debates. This tends to isolate them within platforms that are often not considered with equal weight by malestream media.

Obviously there is a lot of rubbish on the Internet but this is not to say that these platforms are not valuable. firstwives.com gives tips on ‘how to catch your man and keep him’, but is also a great example of an enormous support group of ordinary women who offer advice on subjects from marital law to post-break-up stress.

Blogs provide a forum for open discussion about politics, human rights, stories, ideas, conversation and women’s issues. Black Looks: Musings and Rants by an African Fem, Blog Sisters and Media Girl are the sorts of sites that are increasingly used by men and women who are disenchanted by news and politics in its traditional form. The Internet lends itself well as an alternative to more established news forms because it offers variable platforms for people to undermine the (essentially male-dominated) news industry.

So how much influence do female news consumers have in comparison to men if their strength lies in a different domain? And how can we interest such people in a business that is losing readers fast?

The World Association for Christian Communication issued a report, “Who Makes the News” showing that women’s views, news, concerns, and perceptions, as well as female journalists are seriously under-represented in the media around the world.

The Global Monitoring Media Project 2005 also came to the conclusion that male journalists and their comments are prevalent in the media and highlighted how female journalists are often young and gorgeous, particularly in broadcast. Many of my favourite chief reporters and news editors are women, so it is not entirely a lost cause, but these are worrying attitudes.

Such attitudes disadvantage journalists, both male and female, because the way that news is traditionally presented leaves an enormous gap in the industry, and with increased opportunities to search for news in other places newspapers are losing readers fast.

The potential of the Internet is huge. But it is potential that hasn’t been tapped to its full extent. Many women are interested in politics and we must be wary of stereotypes, however, statistics are enormously helpful in enabling us as journalists to reach our readers and incorporate them in a more balanced way. Hopefully this will maintain maximum readership, using different kinds of platforms to draw in readers and take on board their opinions…keeping up-to-date on any changes along the way.