All 101 entries tagged News

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February 17, 2007

Bad TV

I’m watching a BBC News report on 0870 numbers and how much they cost. It’s awful.

Check out this bit: “But at over seven pence per minute they can be a very expensive way of complaining… They can be expensive. More than a national rate call. And the longer you’re kept on the call, the more you’re spending.”

Erm, no kidding.

The report then goes down a strange route, meeting a vicar “who spends much of his time flying to Eastern Europe to help children who’ve been abused…”

He spends lots of money booking flights on British Airways. This is bad. But it seems so much worse because the bastards are taking money from a man who’s helping abused kids! It’s very odd, especially as the report admits the BBC is just as bad as BA in using these phone numbers.

The report has a few other clangers in it. Like introducing an interview clip by using the same words as the interviewee. They must think no-one’s watching cos it’s the weekend.


February 08, 2007

Sky wave the white flag at the Beeb

Listen…

That’s the sound of the retreat.

Sky are to pull Sky News, Sky Sports News and Sky Three from the Freeview platform in order to use the space for pay-per-view football and films.

I’m not personally worried by the loss of the latter two, but the absence of Sky News from Freeview is bad news all round.

The channel’s been on the slide ever since its expensive revamp in 2005, culminating in the loss of the channel’s boss, Nick Pollard. BBC News 24 has pulled ahead in the ratings, largely thanks to cross-promotion from BBC One and the increased number of recognisable ‘faces’ on the channel, such as Huw Edwards and Ben Brown.

But the news that Sky News is to retreat from such a popular platform (almost certainly losing a large percentage of its viewers) suggests Sky has little faith in the future of their news operation. The latest figures from BARB suggest 9% of the population see a bit of Sky News every week – but only being available on Sky and Cable will probably reduce this substantially.

Sky News also has incredibly low advertising rates – they’re not exactly rolling in cash, even if the channel’s a bit of a loss-leader for the Sky brand.

But it’s not just bad news for Sky. The demise of the ITV News Channel in 2005 was bad enough, as it was just becoming half-decent when it was killed off. But soon there will be little competition for BBC News 24. And not even the most ardent of BBC fans want to see an end to the rivalry between the two.

It’s not good for journalists, and it’s not good for viewers.


February 03, 2007

Britain has Bird Flu… The best news I've heard in weeks

2,600 turkeys in Suffolk have died of the H5N1 strain of bird flu. This sounds bad. Humans have been known to die from this strain. Adam is scared witless by the thought of bird flu.

But the news of this massive outbreak, the first proper case in Britain, should be seen as a good-news story.

Why?

Because they were to be used in Bernard Matthews products.

Not only will it harm their immediate business (159,000 turkeys will have to be killed) but it will hopefully harm the entire basis of their food production business.

Factory-farmed birds make the fur trade and animal testing look like a picnic. So while this news will hopefully put people off factory-farmed chicken and turkey, it’ll also make people look towards free-range and maybe organic food, which isn’t just better for us, but better for the birds too.

Incidentally, it seems to be a good time to be a journalist in Suffolk. The biggest news stories of the past six months have both come from the same county.


February 01, 2007

Why don't the Home Office like 'paedo–pals'?

A good report on The First Post on ‘paedo-pals’, the very crude term for circles of support which have managed to bring sex offenders’ re-offending rates down to zero. Why it hasn’t been extended is a mystery.


January 31, 2007

Guardian's website has a taste bypass

Cartoon on The Guardian Terrorists were, apparently, planning to kidnap, then behead a British Muslim soldier.

Given that, isn’t the cartoon on The Guardian’s Comment is Free website a little distasteful? It’s caption is Tied Down. Oops.


January 25, 2007

Huw says political 'argy bargy' is a gigantic switchoff

I’ve just met Professor1 Huw Edwards (right). Lovely man. But he’s worried.

The audience is changing. We need to know what the audience thinks and why they may or may not be watching.

Because while big news stories like the Suffolk Murders get big ratings (the same audience as big stories got in the 1980s), there’s been a large general decline in TV News watching.

Huw Edwards, speaking at Cardiff Journalism School, 25th January 2007Since 2001 there’s been a drop of 16% in the number of 16-34 year olds watching BBC News bulletins. It’s been worse on other channels and no, they haven’t all been going online.

By 2012, if current trends continue, only around two-thirds of the UK will see any BBC News. It’s currently over 80% each week.

Huw’s worried because the licence fee – which pays his wages – depends on the BBC being seen by as many people who pay for it as possible. If they stop watching, people will wonder what they’re paying for.

Another worry – for politicians, and for me as a budding political journalist – is that the public are fed up with what Huw called “political argy-bargy”. It’s a “gigantic switchoff”. And yet that’s what political reporting seems to have become. Because we care about ‘human interest’ stories. So Gordon Brown’s home life is more interesting than his five economic tests. And yet we hate seeing stories about him and Blair having a tussle. Hmm…

Audiences are fickle. And so Huw’s message was that if you watch the news and think “Why are they doing that!?”, then the answer is that it’s because – often – that’s how you want it. Their very expensive research says so.

Listen to some of what Huw had to say (1m10):

1 Professor? Yup, that’s right. He was in Cardiff to give his inaugural lecture as a Professor in the Journalism School.


January 21, 2007

Chris Doidge's Blog Forces Major New Government Policy

Chris Doidge’s Blog, 16th January 2007:

There’s probably a case to be made that the Home Office is permanently “unfit for purpose”, encompassing too many different roles. And it’s rumoured Gordon Brown will split it into two when he becomes Prime Minister. The question is: why can’t that be done now?

BBC News Online, 20th January 2007:

The Home Office could be split into two departments under recommendations put forward by Home Secretary John Reid. One department would deal with security issues and the other with justice under the plans, which are set be to put to the Cabinet for discussion.

This post may have a tongue-in-cheek title, or may be true. You decide.


January 16, 2007

Cock–up after cock–up at the Home Office

Home Office Corporate Logo (somewhat tweaked) As if things couldn’t get any worse…

It turns out that of the sixteen terrorist suspects on control orders, and wearing electronic tags to keep track of them, three have escaped.

This news comes in the week that it was revealed the Home Office hasn’t been updating files on people who committed crimes abroad.

David Davis, the Conservative Shadow Home Secretary, has claimed the scalps of a number of home office ministers. Could John Reid be his next? His department seems completely incapable of doing its job.

There’s probably a case to be made that the Home Office is permanently “unfit for purpose”, encompassing too many different roles. And it’s rumoured Gordon Brown will split it into two when he becomes Prime Minister.

The question is: why can’t that be done now?


January 12, 2007

Kids should stay in school until they're 18

There’s been a strong reaction to the Government’s plans to raise the school leaving age to 18. Some of it’s been a bit misguided – Donal Blaney thinks the school leaving age should be lowered rather than raised, but he also thinks the plans mean forcing kids to be in the classroom (which they don’t.)

Praguetory says Labour wants you in shackles till 18 and then working until you’re dead. But he also seems to assume that 16-18 year olds know what’s best for themselves.

They don’t.

Very few of the people who leave school at 16 end up as millionaires thanks to their own entrepreneurship. They end up on the dole, living off the benefits which Tories despise. If they get jobs they’ll be low-paid ones.

The Tories are sticking to their tedious line of thinking the bottom rung of society should be left to drift. They then complain when they do just that. A lot of kids need another two years of schooling or training, even if they don’t know it. They shouldn’t be expected to learn geology, Latin or maths for another two years. But training them to do something useful, and give them the skills needed for a career can only be a good thing, especially if we’re so keen to get people off benefits.


January 10, 2007

Brown needs a challenger, or else he'll have to call an election

Stephen Byers sees the world through blinkered eyes. He says there are “no fundamental ideological divisions within New Labour”, ignoring the section of his party who consider themselves ‘Old Labour’. And he is as Blairite as they come, which colours his judgement of the Chancellor.

But he is right in saying that Gordon Brown’s coronation would be an unattractive spectacle.

Only Labour’s opponents want to see the leadership contest turn into a bloodbath, but every Labour MP should want an open discussion of the challenges their party faces.

If Mr Brown provides us with an idea of what he wants to do, and not just what he believes in, then the public might retract their demands for a ‘snap election’ to vote on his agenda. Otherwise their calls for greater accountability would be justified.

But he needs to stop answering questions with bland waffle, as he did with Andrew Marr this weekend. Otherwise he leaves himself open to attack from Blairites like Mr Byers, who rightly criticise his failure to indicate where the Labour Party is heading.

Published in the Evening Standard, 10th January 2007.
Written in response to an article by Mr Byers in the paper two days earlier. (No web link available)


January 07, 2007

Blair on Saddam: 'What A Kerfuffle'

Lou and Andy, or Blair and Brown While Downing Street might appear terraced to the untrained eye, houses 10 and 11 are definitely semi-detached.

The relationship between Blair and Brown is now so petty that when Brown jumps, Blair has to rush straight in, desperate not to be left behind.

This morning, Brown told Andrew Marr that the manner of Saddam Hussein’s execution was “deplorable and unacceptable”. It’s taken him a week to realise this, but never mind.

Up to now, Tony Blair has kept a bizarre silence on the execution. He’s left public statements to Margaret Beckett and avoided the issue. But now Brown’s offered some thoughts on the issue, Blair has – in his eyes – had to do the same.

What a kerfuffle.

It’s possible that Blair’s been keeping quiet because he doesn’t want to weaken the extremely-shaky Iraqi government. But everyone in Britain’s going to be thinking he’s trying to keep his hands clean.

Yet again, Blair looks weak and Brown’s forced his hand. It’s obvious Brown is getting the best political advice, even if he’s the dullest interviewee on the planet.

P.S. Iain Dale says the BBC’s topline from the interview (Brown and Blair split) shows how dull the interview was. I reckon Brown’s a bit cleverer than Iain is suggesting. Brown knew he could talk rubbish for 15 minutes, drop in the words “deplorable” and “unacceptable” and write the headlines himself.

Brown decided what he wanted the Beeb’s topline to be before he began the interview. And he knew that ‘Brown gives dull interview’ wouldn’t be a major story in the Mainstream Media. Any Blair/Brown split is coming straight from No 11.


January 06, 2007

Summer wedding for Wills and Kate

Not been picked up much in Britain, but according to Reuters, William Hill are refusing to take bets on a July 19th wedding between Prince William and Kate Middleton. They’ve had people trying to put thousands of pounds on the date, and suspect there may be some insider knowledge at play.

A word of advice: don’t plan on going to London on July 19th 2007 unless you like it busy...

But…

Don’t read too much into it. The ‘wannabe punters’ may well have been tabloid journalists trying to make up a story for a quiet Sunday edition. And check out this paragraph:

Earlier this week William and Kate were given an unusually high level of police security when 10 officers provided the couple with a cordon as they emerged from a London nightclub, fueling rumors of an imminent engagement announcement.

A case of chicken and egg. The high level of security was because there were a tonne of journalists outside hoping to get a photo of a ring. There wasn’t one, so the story was “KATE GETS PROTECTION AHEAD OF ENGAGEMENT”.

It’s all tabloid bullshit and I don’t believe a word of it*.

*For now.


January 03, 2007

Fixing politics, and journalism at the same time

In the leafy autumn of 2004, Boris Johnson found himself at the eye of a storm. The Conservative Vice-Chairman was sacked for lying about his personal life. Now in recent years it has not been an unusual story for politicians to be caught with their trousers down. But Johnson had a safety net in the form of the profession that had brought him down. As Editor of the Spectator magazine, he was both victim and potential attacker.

Boris JohnsonMr Johnson is, thankfully, a special case in British politics. But the relationship between predator and prey is a timelessly complex one, often involving a little subterfuge, deception, and a politics all of its own. The press spit scorn at those who are supposed to run the country, and the politicians fight back with a flurry of spin and bluster. And while sometimes fun for those involved, many argue it has turned off people who aren’t in on the joke.

The 2004 Phillis Report was supposed to provide cures to politics’ ills. It recommended the end of the closed lobby system and drew a line under the years of ‘spin’. But three years after its publication, the report seems to have had little effect. Its critics say it underestimated the usefulness of the system’s faults.

The former Political Editor of the Evening Standard, Charles Reiss, contributed to the report. But he believes the existing system served the purposes of both politicians and journalists, and so was unlikely to change.

“Off-the-record information is a part of journalism in every country you care to name. It’s certainly true in America. Although [American journalism] is praised in some respects, you will often find sensitive stories attributed to a ‘senior Administration official’.”

Reiss agrees with the report’s findings: that ‘nasty’ politics has brought about atrocious levels of public trust in both politics and the media. Research for the report suggests that Members of Parliament are trusted by just 19% of the public, while Journalists are trusted by 13%.

But he disagrees with its recommendations. While Phillis proposed changes to systems – such as the closed lobby – Reiss thinks a change in culture is the only way to improve things. The Andrew Neil school of “why is this bastard lying to me” journalism isn’t sufficient for painting a true picture of government, he says.

When it was released, others rounded on the report’s proposals. David Miller of the Campaign for Press and Broadcasting Freedom said it “sounded the death knell for government information as a public service”. He said the report was full of praise for “PR-speak”, ripped page-for-page from the corporate world.

The former BBC correspondent Nicholas Jones said it “presented a lifeline” to the beleaguered Prime Minister and put upon him no real pressure to treat the media fairly.

Nicholas JonesThere have been changes. Even the online political rebel, Guido Fawkes, can now attend the briefings given by the Prime Minister’s Official Spokesman. And Tony Blair himself gives a televised briefing once a month, laying himself open to Westminster’s finest.

And yet the levels of trust in the process have remained low. According to MORI, who monitor trust in public institutions on an annual basis, politicians are trusted by the same number of people now as during the darkest days of Tony Blair’s government. Journalists’ ratings have also stayed the same.

The amount of trust in British politics is almost identical to that in every other major country. But the 2005 Harris Interactive poll showed journalists were much less respected here than they are elsewhere. In Spain and France, three in five people trust reporters. In Germany, the figure is two in five. In Britain however, it is just one in five. So perhaps the breakdown of trust is the result of bad journalism?

The Shadow Home Secretary, David Davis, thinks so.

“Journalists are driven by deadline dynamics, by getting things out on time. If you’re turning out a fast-paced, attractive newspaper, there’s going to be hyperbole and exaggeration, and I’m afraid people are quite properly going to say ‘this is very amusing, but I don’t believe a word of it’.”

Charles Reiss admits that journalists work on a “razor’s edge”. Stories have to be taken as far as they can legitimately go without crossing the line and entering into speculation and guesswork. Clearly it doesn’t always work and mistakes are made. But it seems the razor isn’t sharp enough to tempt journalists back from the edge.

So while Phillis has – with limited success – addressed how politicians can earn the public’s trust again, a similar investigation may be required in order to foster better reporting by political journalists.

Perhaps the uniquely-qualified Boris Johnson should chair it.


December 27, 2006

Two very different politicians

Gordon Brown and Gerald Ford

A question being asked after the death of former U.S. President Gerald Ford is whether a politician of his kind could lead today. Ford was thrust into the Oval Office after Nixon resigned following Watergate. He hadn’t even been elected as Vice President, but had been placed there after another scandal.

Despite not seeking the job, his achievements in two years were impressive. He failed in the 1976 election because of his decision to pardon President Nixon. At the time he was strongly criticised for the pardon, but as time passed Americans realised he took the difficult, but correct decision.

Contrast him with the Chancellor, Gordon Brown, and you have to wonder whether an accidental politician could ever prosper in Britain or America in the 21st Century.

It seems to be to the detriment of politics that there are fewer public servants like Ford.


2006 through African eyes

Adam Westbrook has been complaining that many journalists are lazy at Christmas and complain of “no news” when there’s plenty going on outside cosy Britain. He’s right, as usual, although broadcasters have been kept busy this year thanks to plenty of famous people popping their clogs.

There’s been a few rays of light amongst the lazy stuff though. Kate Silverton’s been dispatched to Basra to spend Christmas with the troops, where she’s providing plenty of material for News 24 and covering the daily events as well.

And BBC News Online have managed the near-impossible. A ‘Year in Review’ which doesn’t tread well-trodden ground.

Using the cartoons of two African cartoonists, Jonathan Shapiro and Tayo Fatunla, they’ve proven that pictures are worth a thousand words. Not surprisingly, it’s one of the most popular stories on the site. And it’s the only “Year in Review” that makes the top 10 articles.


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