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January 02, 2009

The future of news… BYOB

Time for a gaze into my crystal ball.

I think I’ve seen the future of television news… and it’s called BYOB.

Nothing to do with beer, though. It’s my acronym for Build Your Own Bulletin.

The more TV news bulletins I watch, the more frustrated I get. There’s next to never any technology news, increasingly little foreign affairs and too much speculative ‘cure for cancer’ health news.

TV news is also frustrating because I’ve got a fair idea how expensive it is to produce. The number of people sat in a room behind Huw Edwards or Fiona Bruce would beggar belief. Running a 24-hour news channel is a mammoth undertaking. BBC News 24 costs somewhere between £40-50m per year, Sky News a little less.

So, what’s the alternative?

Rather than a linear, 24-hour operation with 30-minute showcase ‘bulletins’ at regular intervals, the televisual equivalent of RSS feeds. Seamlessly stitched together in a Flash video (like BBC iPlayer), a series of news reports, pre-recorded two-ways and interviews selected according to your tastes. You choose the type of story you’re interested in (UK, Politics, Health, Sport) and rank them according to importance. Then a broadcaster (let’s call it the BBC) makes stories for each of those categories, and ranks them according to their editorial importance. Some sort of algorithm works out how to order your news bulletin, and with the help of some recorded studio links for each piece, a 5, 15 or 30 minute news bulletin is delivered to your computer screen or TV. The unfussy could just choose a generic ‘top stories’ bulletin.

The best bit of all of this is the cheap method of distribution means there’s more money to go out and do journalism. Lengthy news packages might come back into fashion, and consumers would have far greater choice. Imagine a world where every Premiership football game has its own TV preview, every major speech in Parliament gets the analysis it deserves and every important judicial decision is explained in full.

My idea would have seemed a bit implausible a couple of years ago. But things have changed. IPTV (internet protocol television) is a reality, and works. It’s like YouTube on your telly, and it’s not sci-fi. I’ve got it at home and it’s great. It’ll be popular within a year, and widespread within five.

So after 75 years, linear TV channels could become a thing of the past. But surely the news channel, with its enormous costs, small audiences and one-size-fits-all model to news, should be the first to go.

November 26, 2008

What the f**k?

Check out tonight’s Inside Out England on BBC iPlayer later.

How many people must have watched the programme through before broadcast without noticing the ‘f’ word, clear as day, five minutes in?

Lesson One: If sampling Fatboy Slim songs, don’t use this one. (They used the first five seconds of it.)

September 24, 2007


If, as the Guardian reports today, the BBC wants to produce 10% less content, does that mean a rebranding exercise for BBC News 21.6?

July 16, 2007

Storm in a teacup

I’ve had a very unproductive day at work. My office was evacuated following a bomb threat sent to the newsdesk.

It turns out we were sent warning of the Tesco bomb threats that shut many stores on Saturday, although a local postal strike meant the letter was delayed. The Tesco store involved wasn’t evacuated, but we were shut out for around five hours!

It sounded threatening although was apparently fairly amateurish. The lack of actual explosions at the weekend would suggest they were all mouth and no trousers! I suspect animal rights activists or general anti-Tesco people were to blame.

Anyway, I learnt a few things. Did you know that forensics officers are now officially called CSIs? They even have the t-shirts to match. The CSI-man looked a bit like a Bond villain.

EDIT: My office was the second biggest story on tonight’s ITV News. Not sure what that says about the decision-making at ITV News, but hey.

June 02, 2007

Not news

On the boards around Cardiff advertising today’s Western Mail:



May 12, 2007

Wishful thinking

This was a genuine screen-grab from CNN International.

Adam, I hear there may be a vacancy going…

My parents will be so pleased they let me borrow their sat nav…

Writing about web page

It clearly works so well in Wales… This ditzy student followed her GPS system to the letter and ended up getting her car smashed to bits by a train.

Obviously this was the fault of the GPS system, and not the girl who obeyed everything it said.

How easy would it be to add a road to the GPS database that goes over the cliffs of Dover?

May 11, 2007 – not very inspiring

GB’s launched his new website to win over… er, GB. isn’t the most inspiring website ever seen, for the following reasons:

1) There’s a blog written by Oona I love you Gordon, can I have a seat in the Lords, pretty please King, who if you need reminding, was beaten in the general election by George Galloway. The second staged contribution comment came from ‘skabucks’ who thanks Gordon for doing so much to help in the Welsh Assembly elections in Cardiff North. That’s the same Cardiff North that Labour lost to the Tories, despite it being quite a winnable seat.

2) As part of Gordon’s Big Conversation (oh no, we can’t call it that, Tony tried it and gave up) we can have our say on the important issues of the 21st Century in Gordon’s poll. So this week, the question is: What should this site be talking about this week? Is it a) The NHS, b) Education, c) International Development or d) The Economy. Obviously Gordon’s decided to tackle his least confident topics first. Strangely absent are e) Iraq, f) House prices, g) Tax and h) Immigration.

3) The front page features a poorly compressed photo of Gordon surrounded by adoring kids. Well, mostly adoring. One or two look scared witless, but they’ve probably just been told how much their university tuition will cost.

4) In a brilliantly original feature, you can Follow Gordon around the country. This is remarkable similar to Guido Fawkes’ Where’s Gordon? feature which asked the same question during the elections when he was remarkably quiet.

5) My favourite page is the Policy one. It benefits from Gordon’s signature, some ‘values’, and a warning about how bad the Tories are. But seemingly no policies…

6) I LOVE the Terms and Conditions. They’re a hotbed of irony. Especially this bit: “Also, we want the debate to be civil, so posts that use offensive, racist or homophobic language won’t go up.” I wonder why they singled out racist and homophobic but not sexist or xenophobic…

Apart from that, it’s lovely. Completely devoid of anything useful, but lovely nonetheless.

Gordon Brown's Leadership Announcement: Live Blog

Yesterday, Tony left the stage. Today, Gordon enters stage right (or left?). He’ll be announcing his candidacy in a few minutes time at the ‘Imagination Gallery’ in London. Will it be as fluffy as Tony’s speech was, or will he actually say something new? We’ll see.

10:56 A girl on BBC News 24 has just made thousands of Labour students look very very daft. Apparently Gordon Brown will be “a new face”...”he hasn’t run his own show before”. Not sure who she’s got Gordon Brown confused with. Now she’s talking more vacuous nonsense. Get her off.

10:57 The weatherman’s excited. He’s just told us it’ll rain in East Angular. I didn’t know Jade Goody had a new career. And a sex-change.

11:00 Anyone want to place a bet on Gordon announcing he’s creating a new Super Home Office, incorporating the police and justice functions in one department? No, didn’t think so.

11:02 Do we think Gordon is ‘bovvered’ whether Tony endorses him or not? It’s all a little late now, isn’t it?

11:04 How much does graphic design tell you about Gordon’s campaign? In the backdrop – presumably the motif for the next seven weeks – is a blurred Union Jack with: “Gordon Brown for Britain” written in a fancy modern font. Very British Airways. Not Blairways.

11:10 Blair’s the ultimate conviction politician, right? He could give a speech telling us that the sun was blue and some of us would believe him, right? Well why is his endorsement of Brown so stuttered, so unbelievable, so carefully worded that it’s fairly apparent he doesn’t mean it. Is he deliberately trying to trip Gordon up? Iain Dale said the same thing.

11:11 Brown’s being introduced by a well-spoken twelve year-old girl. And there’s a major logistical cock-up. The autocue screens are in the way of the cameras.

11:13 “Today I announce I’m a candidate to lead the Labour Party and a new government”. Didn’t see that coming.

11:14 “Britain is a great country that can become greater still”. Not very on-message. Blair said we were ‘best’ yesterday.

Gordon Brown11:15 A little more substance than Blair yesterday, but we still can’t see his face.

11:16 “Your priorities will be my driving purpose”. Does that mean he’ll run a government by plebiscite?

11:17 Ah I see how he’s going to be driven by ‘our priorities’. He’s going to tell us what they are. So far, no answers as to how though.

11:18 “The way we must govern must change too…When you fall short, you listen, you learn and then are confident enough to set new priorities…For me, this starts with governing in a different way”.

New Policy: Greater power to Parliament. A code of conduct for MPs and Ministers.

11:19 I tell you what, I wasn’t expecting this. I’m actually impressed. I actually think he could win the next election. He also looks a little bit younger – maybe because he’s not talking about economics.

11:21 He’s going to engage on a big tour of the country, finding out what people want. Tony Blair did the same thing a few years ago, calling it ‘The Big Conversation’, but it got canned soon after being announced.

11:22 There’s clear red water emerging between Blair and Brown. Gordon’s suggesting mistakes have been made in the past ten years and he’s the man to correct them. But they still have something in common – education, education, education…

11:23 “I’ll lead a government of all the talents” – Erm, is he suggesting a cross-party cabinet or just using fancy words? (Newsnight’s Political Editor, Michael Crick, asked Brown to clarify this later: Brown says he’s ruling nothing out. Lord Ashdown for the cabinet???)

11:24 A draft Queen’s Speech will be announced over the Summer, to allow for public consultation. It sounds new, but it’s basically a non-election manifesto.

11:25 “I will listen and I will learn. I want to lead a government humble enough to know its place… on people’s side.” And that’s it.

11:27 Fourteen minutes – a bit shorter than Tony Blair was yesterday. Questions from the media now. Nick Robinson threw him a fairly easy one.

11:28 “You can’t meet challenges merely by legislating” – erm… I thought legislation was what government was for? Will the Brown era be government as pressure group?

11:29 Ah, that’s more like it. Adam Boulton throws him a tougher question about Blair. Jack Straw won’t reveal how many nominations Brown has, but Brown quips he got at least one this morning – from the incumbent.

11:35 Tony Blair seems to be trying to bury bad news. He’s over at Wembley Stadium opening his white elephant legacy.

So he gave us one policy to chew on for a while – increased powers for parliament. He’s not been specific, but I think he might mean Parliament would always be given a vote on whether to go to war. The end of Royal Prerogative, perhaps?

He also promised a consultation on the Queen’s Speech. While this sounds fantastic, it’s merely Brown’s attempt to seek a mandate without having to go through an election. Just like the consultation that goes before a manifesto, without the vote at the end.

A well-judged speech, I thought. Within a few months he might just seem Prime Ministerial.

May 10, 2007

'This is the greatest nation on earth'

Britain I can tell you what a number of newspaper op-ed pieces will ask over the next few days: Is this the greatest nation on earth?

Tony Blair says it is. And he says we know it, and the rest of the world knows it too. It’s a grand statement, unlike anything he’s ever really said before. And unlike anything most of us have said before.

You wonder if he’s been caught up in the euphoria of leaving one of politics’ great offices, knowing there’s more chance of him getting a Sainthood than becoming UN Secretary General.

But you also find yourself wondering if he’s right. We’re not a nation for posturing. “We’re best” almost seems to be an unfashionable, American motto, but it’s not a notion the British are very comfortable with. A Kiwi colleague of mine laughed when he heard Blair say it. No-one in the room defended our PM. But no-one vocally disagreed with him either.

New Zealand and Canada are two countries who always seem to be in with a shout of being a ‘nicer’ nation than Britain. Given the cultural and language similarities, many of us have probably thought for at least ten seconds about moving there for a while.

And you can hardly blame many of them for thinking they’re better than us. Just look at Johnny Foreigner – our ambassador in T-shirt and shorts, wearing sandals with socks on, and drinking a can of Stella in countries where they actually brew their own lager.

Weakening our claim for ‘best nation’ status is our lack of nationalism. The Union Jack has been hijacked by racists, our cultural institutions seem to acknowledge their continental equivalents are superior, and few of us seem to know what it means to be British.

It’s ironic that Blair believes we’re the best, when if most people were asked, they’d probably say it was he who had made it worse. But outside of politics, is there much that is completely and deep-seatedly wrong?

We are, perhaps, the most upwardly mobile nation on the Earth, and yet few of us try to leave, to try bigger and better things than Britain alone can offer. Is that lack of imagination or satisfaction with what we’ve got?

It’s unnaturally patriotic for most Britons to suggest, but is it true? Is ours the greatest nation on earth?

I’m not sure. But I know I wouldn’t want to leave.

May 08, 2007

The news after Virginia

At 7.15am, Seung-Hui Cho walked into Emily Hilscher’s room and shot her and another student dead with a semi-automatic handgun. He then walked across the Virginia Tech campus to post a parcel to the New York offices of NBC, post-marked 9.01am. Inside was his ‘multimedia manifesto’. He then murdered another thirty people, before killing himself.

Even during the most appalling atrocity, the perpetrator found time to contribute to news bulletins around the world and make himself a star. Even after they asked ethical questions of the material – Should we show it? When should we show it? – most news organisations showed the tape. Even while dead, the killer took the credit, and offended the victims’ families even more.

It’s probable no-one has questioned the benefits of the modern news more than those families.

Cho’s video was a clear sign of the times. Broadcasters now compete for user-generated material, each keen to better reflect their audiences and imbue a sense of belonging with one outlet rather than another.

Not all of the material broadcasters use is sent to them directly. During the Virginia shootings, broadcasters relied on social networking sites like Facebook and YouTube for first-hand accounts of what was happening.

Media commentator Jeff Jarvis believes that the role of the journalist in the event of breaking news is to ‘link’ between reports, some of them from newswires, many from the public. But does this require more skill or less? Jarvis suggests that in time, citizen journalists will be capable of broadcasting live to the internet. Under what circumstances would broadcasters use this material live?

These changes set the scene for rolling news channels to become news aggregators. As the number of potential news feeds grows to include every person on every street, the role of the traditional broadcaster might be little more than to choose between them, rather like the now-unpopular concept of users choosing ‘alternate angles’ on a DVD. Bulletins, in turn, might become the place for a ‘best of’ compilation of the day’s best bits, with senior journalists behaving as ‘analysts’ of the day’s events rather than ‘reporters’. The appointment of Roger Harribin as BBC News’ Environment Analyst symbolises the trend.

Many traditions continue though. Hundreds of satellite trucks rolled into the Virginia Tech campus, transporting news anchors to the heart of the story. As much as the public wants to see every angle, every nugget of information, from every source, they also want it packaged together by someone that they trust.

But where does all of this leave the investigative story? The citizen journalist doesn’t have the resources to investigate the news in any depth, and is less likely to check their facts properly. Political blogger Guido Fawkes has found this out the hard way after suggesting the BBC’s political editor was one of his sources, when he was anything but.

CNN has been most explicit in its wooing of potential citizen journalists. Its ‘i-Report’ project has received hundreds of videos and photos from viewers who want to be on the cable news channel. The project’s TV trailer boasts of how you can say “I-Report for CNN”.

Many students at Virginia Tech did just that, sending in many of the most iconic images of the media ‘event’. But in the days that followed the tragedy, families and friends grew increasingly tired of the media’s gaze. Psychologists spooled through every frame of Cho’s words, and the relative anonymity of the internet was invaded as the media sought to ‘cover’ people’s emotions.

But it seems there are lines that still can’t be crossed.

Viewers expect quality as well as quantity. Few would be comfortable with the intrusion that the media’s stare brings, and audiences seem to rebel against invasion of privacy almost as often as the victims of it. And surveys of viewers’ opinions often suggest they want more foreign affairs, suggesting that they tune in to learn about the unknown rather than to hear about the mundane. It is up to editors to mediate between what people say they want, and what they actually expect.

When participatory politics is little more than a concept in a textbook, participatory media should be a good thing for society. Except neither broadcasters nor viewers quite know the parameters of this dialogue yet. Only through events such as the Virginia shootings is this new relationship being tested to its limits. And based on the evidence from Virginia Tech, broadcasters need to proceed with great caution. An unfortunate slip, and they could easily lose the trust of the audiences they pursue.

May 06, 2007

Clutching at Straws?

From today’s Sunday Times:

David Cameron would win a general election by 54 seats, based on voting patterns in last week’s local elections, according to a study published this weekend.

The world and his dog know that local elections are used as protest votes and are always worse for the Government than a general election.

There’s not much here for Tories to crow about.

March 30, 2007

South Park Kills the Queen

The Queen is Dead. Long Live Comedy. British newspapers have reacted in outrage to an episode of South Park, where in an homage to 24, the British Queen is behind a plot to take over the United States government. The plot fails, and she blows her head off with a gun.

The Sun called it the show’s “sickest point yet”. The Daily Mail said it was “its most spectacularly offensive episode yet”.

Chris Doidge said it was “the funniest thing he’d heard in a long, long time”. A spokesman for Chris Doidge added he was still laughing now, even though he should be writing his law coursework.

March 24, 2007

And the No Shit, Sherlock award goes to…

Writing about web page

Children who blame themselves for their parents’ relationship difficulties are more likely to have academic problems, Cardiff University research has found. Psychologists involved will now survey 3,500 parents, children and teachers in Wales to discover why pupils whose parents argue under-perform in school.

February 25, 2007

Richard Branson

I was on a Virgin train on Friday afternoon, travelling up the West Coast main line. Only as far as Preston thankfully, and several hours before a crash on the line. But at the start of the journey, a precocious kid had been asking his parents why trains don’t have seatbelts. His dad’s answer? Because trains don’t crash.

I bet they had an interesting conversation yesterday morning.

Anyway, the crash is proof that these new trains really don’t need seatbelts. I was amazed that the train will probably be repaired and sent back out onto the tracks. It is, as Sir Richard Branson said, “built like a tank”. In fact we should sent them to Iraq – they’d probably do a better job than many armoured personnel carriers.

Branson has gone up in my estimation since the crash. He might be a publicity-seeking maverick, but he’s not afraid to show his face even when things have gone wrong. Many people would have shied away.

According to the News of the World, the driver may have paralysed himself by staying at the wheel and wrestling with the train’s controls until the last second. Little kids might be afraid of the fast speeds that trains manage – but with drivers like him and trains as sturdy as Branson’s, they shouldn’t be.

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