Monday 21 March 2011

How many footballers are Gay?

One. Anton Hysen is officially the only gay professional footballer currently playing in the world. The 20 year old Swede came out last week. He's a brave young man and I wish him the very best for his career on and off the pitch. Plus I am old enough to remember his father, Glenn, playing for Liverpool.

Friday 18 March 2011

How to waste public money on public transport

Today the papers report that the BBC has been organising public transport training days for staff who are moving to the new Salford production centre. Apparently the hapless Corporation minions need to know how to use a bus or tram, particularly in the northern wastes of their new homeland. Initially I wondered why the papers hadn't saved this story for April 1st. Then I checked the excellent Tabloid Watch site in case it was a Daily Mail special. But no it hasn't been reported as a fake, yet.

But a moment's more thought and it does sound credible. Firstly there will be a huge "relocation communications" budget within the BBC one billion pound moving costs that has to be spent. Bugger the World Service or local radio, this is the bureaucrats' money so is bound to be safe. Secondly BBC staff above a certain grade believe themselves to be too important to travel on the bus (oh the stories I could tell), so some persuasion and basic training may well be in order. It's grim up north.


Friday 11 March 2011

romantic hero

This is the intriguing portrait I bought last week. It's a small, unsigned work on a piece of hardwood. To my untrained eye it looks genuine. I am now looking for a frame. I can't help wondering who he is. I fancy some romantic hero or artist -- Blake, Beethoven, Byron, that sort of hero. Who knows, I never will.

Marrakech and Essaouira we come.

All booked. Now I just have to think about what I can possibly say at the conference. Anyway have nearly a fortnight to think about it.

Thursday 10 March 2011

Why we need Sky News

Yesterday morning I watched a remarkable TV report from Libya. At peak time Sky News broadcast a 10 minute package from its team in Zawiyah. It was great journalism, great storytelling, great television. The film simply showed what it was like on the ground in rebel held Libya under attack from Gaddafi forces. The team allowed the story to unfold, allowed us to see and hear from ordinary Libyans and allowed the time on screen to create a memorable piece of reportage. Some of it was shocking and graphic, but then so is war.There was no grandstanding ego stuff from reporter Alex Crawford, just enough commentary to keep us on top of fast moving events. After ten minutes I felt that I understood what it was really like in Libya at the moment. It deserves to be nominated for a BAFTA and if it is, it will get my vote.

The future of Sky News has of course been an issue of late and journalism like this demonstrates just why we need it. The sad fact is that the BBC would never have broadcast something like this, at this length, at prime time and in the raw and powerful way that the Sky team put it together. And this gets us to the very heart of the debate about plurality of provision in TV news.

OK first things first -- why wouldn't the BBC have broadcast it? After all there are a huge number of BBC staff in and around Libya serving a huge number of BBC outlets. Surely someone could have filed something equivalent?  There are several reasons. Firstly BBC News wouldn't want a report as long as ten minutes, especially one as graphic, in a prime slot. There is no particular logic behind this, just that BBC News has always done 3 minute reports. To get the necessary swathe of permissions from the BBC hierarchy to upset the guidelines and traditions and banish the running order templates would take until Christmas. But the second reason is more profound in explaining the BBC way of doing things. The BBC could not countenance broadcasting a report that simply showed a slice of what was happening. The news the Corporation produces has to be mediated in many ways before it reaches the consumer. This piece would fail straight away. Where is the correspondent giving context? Where are the experts? Where is the analysis?  Viewers need to have everything pre-digested by that vast BBC news machine.

I happen to like the Sky "raw" approach. So often the experts know, or can say, little more than the blandly obvious, the analysis is banal or pointless and correspondents are stuck regurgitating agency copy from London. Why not, I say, allow us to see the data, watch the footage, feel the atmosphere and make up our minds.

The debate about plurality in news often diverts straight to an amorphous discussion of political bias, more often perceived than real. But plurality means much more than that. As I hope I have shown, it is also about the type of stories that are covered and the way in which they are told. The Zawiyah report is just one example. Another is apocryphal but worth telling. It's an old hack's tale of  terrible floods somewhere in  middle England. The news teams turn up and set to work. The newspaper boys and ITV and other TV crews start filming and photographing the floodwaters, interviewing the victims, looking for the drowned teddy bear or the sodden kitten or the tearful householder. The BBC team however makes its way straight to the Town Hall to get official confirmation that there has been a flood.

Not true I know. Nor do I want to denigrate the great and brave work of many BBC journalists. After all I have been one myself. However, unlike any other news organisation, the BBC is saddled with a massive  unwieldy bureaucracy and like all bureaucracies it has to exert control. Good journalism involves a high degree of entrepreneurship and that sits ill with multiple layers of management. The results of this seep through to very fundamentals of BBC reporting, everything has to be controlled, filtered, explained, processed  by the those who know best. What the work of Alex Crawford and the Sky team shows is how powerful television reportage can be when journalistic enterprise is given its head, the controlling bureaucrats keep out of the way and the audience credited with some intelligence of its own. That's why we need more than the BBC providing our news and why Sky is doing a great job.            

Sunday 6 March 2011

How to bake bread

... Sourdough Saga...Part 94

After a careful upbringing Dough Bro, my sourdough starter, is ready to unleash himself on the wider world of bakery products. I have been feeding, nurturing, sniffing and, yes dear reader, talking to my little creation for what seems like weeks. Now like a proud but bereft parent at the school gate on the first day of term I have to leave little Dough Bro to make his own way in the world of kneading, rising and ovens.

He made an enthusiastic start, nearly taking over the kitchen when I left him to form a sponge last night -- maybe doing that critical stage of breadmaking after coming home from the pub was a mistake.

Now floured and kneaded to perfection he is out to prove himself by the wood stove. I will have to go for a walk or something as the suspense is killing me...I can only hope that he develops a thick crust to defend himself from a cruel world.

Friday 4 March 2011


The people of Wales have voted yes. Decisively, thank God. I had been worried the Tea Party style non-politics campaign of "True Wales" -- the no supporters -- might have led to a disastrously low turnout, or less than decisive result. It didn't on either count.

Pleasure somewhat diminished by some very poor reporting in the media, particularly the BBC. One that sticks out was from a BBC reporter speculating that the (relatively) low turnout was down to the fact that ordinary Welsh people didn't really understand complex constitutional matters. Frightfully complex things like whether their decisions should be made in Westminster or Wales. Whoever gave them the vote...?

Perhaps a first move for the newly empowered Welsh government could be to restrict the franchise to those who do understand complex constitutional matters, perhaps confine the vote just to the clever souls who work  in the  BBC Wales political unit. Hey ho democracy.