All entries for January 2007
January 31, 2007
Guardian's website has a taste bypass
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.
Race for 2008: getting a bit crowded
It’s turning into a two-year Olympic event. The race for 2008 now has at least 21 serious contenders, 9 for the Democrats and 12 for the Republicans1.
They’re going to need heats and semi-finals long before it gets to the Iowa and New Hampshire primaries next January.
So here’s Round 1:
Who do you find more convincing?
1 There’s also three Libertarian candidates. They don’t stand a chance. The only other possibility is Michael Bloomberg, the New York Mayor, who might run as an independent. He also has little chance. Unbelievably the Prohibition Party still exists: its main policy still being the banning of alcohol.
BBC iPlayer a step closer
The BBC iPlayer might revolutionise television. It’s potentially bigger than Digital TV. And it’s coming. Because today the BBC’s Trust approved the software.
You’ll be able to watch all of the BBC’s programmes online, live. And then you’ll be able to download them to your computer for 30 days. You can set series links and keep hold of series like Doctor Who and watch them all at once.
They’ve made a few changes, some good and some bad. You won’t be able to download some classical music, or keep hold of certain radio plays. But it will have to be content neutral (initially it was Microsoft-only). This is great, but might delay the product launch. It’s already looking like late-2007, early-2008.
It’s what broadband was made for, and I can’t wait.
January 30, 2007
It's raining shit in Blackpool
What the hell.
How on Earth did Manchester get Britain’s first super-casino? They’d given up and were supporting Blackpool. There’s practically no scope for regeneration. They’ve got a Commonwealth stadium. A massive expansion of the BBC. The Lowry. Imperial War Museum. The world’s greatest football club.
Blackpool has pigeons. And the world’s worst football club. It urgently needs some help.
And yet Manchester got the casino. It’s completely beyond explanation.
The real kick in the teeth comes from the fact that Manchester’s casino will be so close to Blackpool, the seaside resort has almost no chance of ever getting a large casino.
Cardiff put in a crap bid. Bookies had them at 50/1. Which when you read the document from the Casino Advisory Panel looks like shoddy odds. The Cardiff’s raison d’etre was completely rubbished, as was their aspiration to help London host the Olympics. And it gets worse – the government consultation was basically run out of Cardiff University.
It’s been a shocking day for the Council in Cardiff, so it’s no surprise the Leader was nowhere to be seen.
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.
Since 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.
Bad news for Doughty Street?
But it’s not all good news for the mainstream media either…
Research by OFCOM suggests that there’s little demand for services like 18 Doughty Street which have a deliberate bias.
Preliminary figures suggest somewhere in the region of 95% of people want their news and current affairs broadcasting to be impartial. 18 Doughty Street’s stated aim is to show the news and offer debate with a right-wing slant to it.
Trust in news
I understand the report will also show some interesting figures about trust in various news sources. While trust in BBC News, ITV News and especially Channel 4 News has fallen since 2002, the people’s trust in The Sun and Sky News has risen quite quickly.
Meanwhile, people say they’re fed-up of ‘celebrity’ news, but do actually like entertainment stories. Interestingly, people think there’s too much politics in the news, and would prefer to see more local stories.
And while television and radio tends to divide people according to their ethnic group (radio seems to be particularly bad at serving Asian audiences), newspapers are actually viewed as positively by Asian and Black people as the population as a whole.
One of the report’s authors, Ian Hargreaves, also thinks that while news websites are getting bigger audiences (27%), the internet might not be an adequate substitute for traditional sources, such as newspapers and television.
Radio in decline?
Finally, radio as a major source of news is in decline – perhaps surprisingly – falling from 59% to 52%. It’ll be interesting to see whether the commercial radio industry take this as a sign they need to invest more in news, or whether they see the trend as a reason to spend less.
All of the figures are preliminary and OFCOM will release its full report later in 2007.
The full report is due out later in the year.
The knives are out for Reid
Is it the beginning of the end for the Home Secretary?
January 24, 2007
Britishness is dead. Long live…?
The British are feeling less so than ever before. Over the past decade, the number of people calling themselves ‘British’ has fallen from 52% to 44%. And while Scots nationalism has increased, Wales has remained ambivalent about its own identity.
Ask a Scot whether they are British or Scottish, and according to the British Social Attitudes Survey, nearly 80% will say Scottish. Ask a Welshman whether they are Welsh or British, and 60% will say they’re Welsh (the same figure as 30 years ago). And half of Englishmen claim to be British.
This shows a few things…
- We seem to be heading nearer and nearer completely separate identities.
- The English identity is relatively weak
- And the Welsh seem unlikely to want further devolution, even though the Assembly is considered toothless.
Kerry out of 2008
It’s not even begun, but already a potential candidate has pulled out of the race.
Senator John Kerry, who lost to President Bush in 2004, has reportedly said he won’t run again. Instead he’ll seek another six-year term in the Senate.
Kerry will have noticed the momentum in the Clinton and Obama campaigns and realised he doesn’t have a hope of losing his ‘yesterday’s news’ tag. He dashed his hopes during the 2006 midterm elections by making an inappropriate joke about the President.
His withdrawal reduces the main field of Democrat candidates to nine. I’d wouldn’t be surprised to see others follow him over the coming months.
How much Tescofication are you willing to take?
Go on, you know you’re feeling guilty. Every time you go under the strip lighting there’s a tug on your moral conscience. You’re screwing with African farmers, filling the ozone layer with food miles and making small businesses go bust.
And yet you can’t stop yourself.
Don’t worry, neither can I. Our society’s changed so that convenience matters more to us than conscientiousness.
The supermarkets even bitch about each other. Sainsbury’s reckon their rivals Tesco will have 43% of the market by 2010, and that something should be done to stop them. They don’t mention the fact that, while smaller, they are as guilty as anyone else.
Only around 15% of the cost of a loaf of bread goes back to the farmer who grew the wheat. It’s about 30% for eggs and 40% for carrots. Few goods offer more than half of their store price to the producer.
Dairy farmers have been particularly badly hit. In 1995 they got around 59% of the retail price of milk. Today it’s just 35%. The supermarket’s share has risen from 3% to 30%. So it’s pretty clear who’s winning that battle1.
And there’s been a double-whammy for farmers. Because while most products have seen inflation of 48% since 1990, food prices have risen just 27%. It means farmers’ incomes have been plummeting in relation to everyone else’s.
So at what point do we stop praising the international success of a British business and start telling them to get their house in order? Do we expect them to start closing stores? Would a greater variety of supermarket owners make any difference to producers? Are we happy with the inevitable situation where there are only four or five food retailers in the UK?
I spoke to a greengrocer today who was annoyed not just with Tesco’s attitude to producers and small rivals, but with the people who accept it and only shop there. He works alone, in the cold, for ten hours a day, starting very early. He pours blood, sweat and tears into his job.
Is it about time Tesco and others started being put under the same pressure as him by consumers and government? Or are we happy with the convenient monopoly which makes life easy for the big supermarkets?
1. National Farmers’ Union figures
January 23, 2007
My Oscar Predictions
I’m sure you’re all dying to know who’s going to win at this year’s Oscars. So I’m going to tell you. Nice and early. I’ll either look very clever or I’ll delete this entry very quickly on 25th February.
Winner: Little Miss Sunshine
Winner: Paul Greengrass, United 93
Winner: Forest Whitaker, The Last King of Scotland
Winner: Helen Mirren, The Queen
Best Supporting Actor:
Winner: Honestly don’t know.
Best Supporting Actress:
Winner: Abigail Breslin, Little Miss Sunshine
Best Animated Feature:
Winner: Happy Feet
Best Adapted Screenplay:
Best Original Screenplay:
Winner: Children of Men
P.S. Radio 4 just told us how “Burret” had been nominated for Best Adapted Screenplay. Jagshemash!
Seven reasons why…
...Mika is the most exciting thing in music:
- He’s written a song that’s gone to Number 1 in the charts, on downloads alone
- It’s a Number 1 that’s actually good
- He wrote it himself
- A poll of music executives says so
- The video to his single is pure mad
- He’s a bit like Freddie Mercury
And my favourite:
- NME have refused to feature him because he appeals to too many people, which is surely reason enough on its own
Supermarkets are getting an easy ride from the Competition Commission
It’s several years since supermarkets were last checked to see if they were anti-competitive. Since then, the answer’s become even clearer. Corner shops and convenience stores are lucky if they’re reporting declining sales. At least they haven’t shut up shop already.
But despite this, the Competition Commission has given the supermarkets plenty of breathing space while outlining their ‘emerging thinking’ today. And where’s the evidence? Well, it’s on the right. If the stockbrokers think that an across-the-board rise in supermarket share prices is appropriate, it probably means they’re going to get an easy ride.
The inquiry says it’s now going to “go local”. But you have to wonder if they’ll bother to speak to any of the thousands of people put out of business by the 800lb gorillas in the market.
January 22, 2007
DiCaprio speaks out over 'objectification'
An interesting one for the feminists (and others) to ponder…
Leonardo DiCaprio wanted to give up acting for a time after the hit movie “Titanic.” DiCaprio was back to being considered a “another piece of cute meat” after the 1997 film’s spectacular box office success, an image he had wanted to get away after his days on the cover of teen magazines, he told Newsweek for editions on newsstands Monday. “It was pretty disheartening to be objectified like that. I wanted to stop acting for a little bit,” he said at the magazine’s Oscar panel discussion with other actors. “It changed my life in a lot of ways, but at the same time, I can’t say that it didn’t give me opportunities. It made me, for the first time, in control of my career.” From AP
Meanwhile, I noticed today’s News of the World (yes, I’m very well read) had two ‘showbiz’ stories amounting to little more than “snapped” photos of topless celebrities on holiday. One of the two looked staged for sure, the other was harder to tell.
So in the week that the House of Celebrity nearly came crashing down around Jade Goody’s feet, is it time to ask how much of this shit we’re willing to take? The public – aided by the media – has become far too fickle and shallow. How many of the millions of people who saw Titanic will head to the cinemas to watch DiCaprio’s new flick Blood Diamond?
Isn’t it about time we put art back into mainstream culture?
January 21, 2007
Google's is the only model for digitising books
Have you ever tried converting vinyl or tapes to CD? Ever tried transferring video tapes to DVD? It’s a nightmare. Imagine doing this on an industrial scale. It would cost millions.
So I’m surprised whenever I hear opposition to the Google Books Library project. The project’s aim is to scan (mostly out-of-copyright) books and make them searchable online. So as if scanning the books wasn’t hard enough, you then have to use optical character recognition so the words can be ‘read’ by a computer.
It costs millions and takes decades.
But publishers are so upset by the plans they have set up their own ‘Open Content Alliance’ which is a not-for-profit organisation. They’re annoyed that Google might make a profit from the system by placing adverts alongside online books.
These publishers are probably worried that Google will eventually charge for content. In which case they don’t get Google’s business model. Google makes billions of dollars from its tailored advertising, which props up many of its not-for-profit businesses (like the consumer versions of Google Earth, Google Desktop, GMail). It’s unlikely that Book Search will ever directly make Google any money, let alone cover its costs.
Adverts alongside the books seems to me the least intrusive and most cost-effective way of getting these books online. The alternative is to hope for donations from big-money philanthropists, who may not have a huge interest in paying for the conversion of foreign-language or niche books.
Monopolies aren’t a good thing. But Google is leading the way in this technology, as with many others. And book publishers should get on board.