Monday, May 24, 2004

Ode to a post, lost in my head

I had a great post mapped out in my mind over the weekend
It was witty and pithy and cutting
Even cunning.
But now I have forgotten every word
How sad it is to forget a good rant
Does this ever happen to Jeremy Clarkson?
I don't think so.


Monday, May 17, 2004

A wire junkie speaks out

The secret news channels we never get to see

Sometimes I get to go to a newsroom. And the first thing they show you in a newsroom is The Wires. Let me tell you about the wires...

To really get a sense of where they came from, you have to think way back to the old days and a little machine clickety-clicking away in the corner, constantly churning out narrow strips of paper heralding a great story in Washington or a riot in furthest Russia. Even further back you would have Mr Reuter's fastest pigeon landing on the windowsill of a grimy Fleet Street office window, the hottest gold-swapping news from Berlin strapped firmly to its leg.

In the modern day they aren't so glamorous, sitting on your screen along with the email, but they still represent something special and pure about news. Every few minutes something new flashes up from these correspondents all over the world: something's happened. It's fabulous. Some of it may not interest you, but you don't have to read beyond the headline and it's there: from the two dead in a Kent carcrash to escalating violence in a country most news bulletins don't even bother to mention.

And what do we see of the wires, these constantly updating headlines? Well, not much. Journalist 'ethics' being what they are, you can make up a story if you like, but you can't just take someone else's story without making a few phone calls. Even your made up stories have to be based on a few phone calls even if they're to your friends who you can later quote as 'concerned insider'. This is The Rule. It takes time. Therefore, even on websites as comprehensive as BBC News and The Guardian, stuff just doesn't move quite as fast. Things get missed out, headlines are reprioritised on the basis of what we will understand or care about. TV and radio news are roughly the same: think about how many stories there are in a day and yet you only ever here about eight of them repeated on news bulletins throughout the day. If we're going to war that day or it's New Years Day forget about hearing any variations whatsoever. That's the news agenda, and while the web may have given us more ability to pick our own agenda and get big breaking staries fast, it doesn't quite match up to all those people, all over the world, filing little snippets of happenings to the wires.

Sunday, May 16, 2004

A version of this appeared in the Staffordshire Sentinel this week as a letter. The spur was lots of articles moaning about the undemocratic and pointless EU, this in a place which is dying a slow and painful death while other Northern cities sort themselves out. I'm posting it mainly for the benefit of Jess, who I know is interested in these things but has decamped to the land of fried chicken

The Potteries have much to benefit from better interaction with Europe. There is an EU directive which says companies must consult with their workers before any major change. It would have made Royal Doulton's recent actions illegal, but our Government was too slow: it will not be adopted into UK law until March 2005. Another part of Stoke's heritage gone.

Other Northern cities such as Birmingham and Liverpool have been transformed, partly by EU funding and partly by the cooperation of different sections of the community who have had the ambition to take control, attract new businesses and turn their fortunes around.

Meanwhile, Stoke-on-Trent is a priority area for funding but its leaders continue to let its industrial heritage crumble. Millions of pounds are available - for getting on with regeneration instead of arguing about it. Remember the founders of the Potteries who built a world-famous industry and a superb infrastructure of canals and railways? No endless pointless roadwork schemes for them.

Today's leaders should find out exactly what the people want - more likely to be better shopping facilities than the well-meant but ill thought-out Cultural Quarter. As the mass-production potteries go to cheaper places they should support small studios, for there is still an affluent market keen to pay for genuine Potteries products; the remaining areas with kilns would make tourist attractions if cleaned up. Stoke is full of evocative reminders of its past and most of them are falling down.

Far from being undemocratic, every EU decision goes through our own government ministers and MEPs: if they do not act in our interests it is because we are not watching them closely enough. How can we when the media barely covers European politics? The elections on June 10th give us the chance to learn what the EU can offer, so use your vote and demand more action from MEPs.