Archive for the ‘Journalism’ Category


Booze Books: My drunken writing experiment

April 9, 2013

“WhyIoughtta wiipe zat smile offa yeur face, yer smarrrmy lill weaaazzl,” he slurred, lurching forward, empty Advocat bottle in hand.

This fictional man is fictionally drunk in a fictional price of writing. I intend to turn this scenario on its head.

Inspired by the work of MyHarto in her Youtube series, My Drunk Kitchen, where she gets boozed then tries to cook, I am going to get sloshed/sozzled/binned/battered/muntered and try to write.



Gone are the days where journalists could get Geoff Hooned at lunch and return to the newsroom to finish the splash half-cut, so my experience of drunken writing is minimal. In fact, I actively try to avoid it. If I’ve had anything more than two pints, writing tends to be off the cards for I know it will end up aimless drivel (unlike most of my work, which is bang-on-the-money brilliant, yeh). So, this could be interesting.

This Saturday I have a few plans in the pipeline. Y’know, socially. And will have a few bevvies, like. After these bevvies, I will return to my flat in the dead of night and begin to write. Exactly how, who knows? Exactly what, I’m not sure. I’m not setting myself any guidelines or boundaries and will only consider the content when I plonk myself on my bedroom floor, laptop on knee, salt beef bagel in hand, and begin to write. Or pass out.

Anecdotally, musicians/artists/masseuses find their true creative soul under the influence of drink/drugs so maybe this drunk writing could be the key to success. Maybe. Just maybe. This will be my moment. My big break. I will find myself. I will become one with my writing. It will be like a big, literary, slightly squiffy, sexgasm.

Or. More than likely. It will be a misguided fumble in the dark with the ever-present risk of hurling.




Cambridge chancellor elections: protection, progression, and protest

October 16, 2011

Though a four-way contested election for the position of chancellor of Cambridge University is in itself ‘History’, the result will now become just another addition to the long list of Lords, Dukes, Earls, and Princes who have held the post. It is clear from Brian Blessed’s second place – taking some 400 more votes than third place Michael Mansfield QC – this election was never going to produce the kind of shift in university politics some had been hoping for.

At his hustings on Tuesday, Mansfield, the self-described “radical lawyer”, spoke to audience about a third of the size Blessed pulled in on the Monday. When Blessed was asked on Monday how he was going to widen access to the university, he replied “I haven’t a clue” – yet he polled second place. Mansfield spoke confidently and with determination about how he thought Cambridge University needed to change. But his pragmatism fell largely on deaf ears outside the Union chamber. He suggested short-term five-year chancellorships and a look at the automatic conferment of Masters degrees. He spoke of the need for broader learning, a move away from commercially-tailored degrees, a fight back against the market forces of education. He was the real contender to Lord Sainsbury, the university’s proposed (and preferred) candidate.

At the gates of the Senate House on Friday as voting took place, I was told Abdul Arain, the Mill Road shopkeeper, was a “protest vote”, Blessed, a wasted vote, and Mansfield, the only real alternative to more-of-the-same. Yet, Blessed took 400 more votes. If those eligible to vote – a topic of discussion in its own right – really wanted the university to reassess its values in the light of the commercialisation of education, Mansfield would have been the right vote. Arguably, had it been a two-horse race between the lawyer and former supermarket chairman, Mansfield might have stood a better chance. Add up the votes of the losers and Sainsbury still comes out on top, just. But, I met at least three people outside the gates of the Senate House who abstained – one at protest of who was eligible to vote, another at the farce the election had become. Obviously, that’s a tiny percentage but it adds some weight to the idea those interested in protecting the university were much more unified than those who wanted to progress.

The same commentary can be made many protest/reform movements – from the Chartists to those who took to the streets last year over tuition fees. Had the same number turned out to hear Mansfield speak on Tuesday as had for Blessed, the election would have had some legitimacy, some purpose, but as it was, I doubt a majority of those who watched any of the hustings were even eligible to vote, perhaps especially on Monday night. In my mind, this shows the election was not taken as seriously as it could/should have been.

Interestingly, Cambridge Defend Education and the protest groups at the centre of last year’s marches and occupation did not involve themselves in the election. Had they, there might have been a more unified approach to stand against the university’s proposed candidate. As we saw from the vote of no confidence in David Willetts which narrowly failed, there is opposition within the university to higher education politics, but there is much more consolidated power in the group who believe Sainsbury is the “sensible option” – I believe those who opposed the vote of no confidence and those who voted for Sainsbury are not so far apart.

This election should have represented more than just who would be the new figurehead for the university – remember the real power resides the vice chancellor and the university council. Mansfield told the Union he admired those who occupied the Old Schools last November. He said he would have gone down there and spoken to them, opened a dialogue. This starkly contrasts with the policy vice chancellor Leszek Borysiewicz used – a wall of silence.

The conflict between a 800-year-old institution and the need to modernise is extremely complicated. Mansfield said the university should have led a fight against tuition fees – it didn’t. He said the automatic conferment of Masters is archaic – it is. He said the question of eligibility to vote in chancellor elections needs to be looked at – it probably won’t. Yet another chance to look at progressing the politics of the university has fallen by the way side.

I have no doubt Sainsbury will be a good chancellor (Mary Beard’s views on Sainsbury as chancellor). He has supported the university financially (some £127 million, I think), he has a suitable title befitting to follow Prince Philip, and he has more business contacts than you could shake a stick at. But where is the fight, edge, and progression needed in a one of the most important institutions in the world? As last year showed, it certainly will not come from Borysiewics, if the Willetts vote is anything to go by, it has not taken hold in the Senate, so where?

Tomorrow Cambridge Defend Education will meet to discuss its tactics for the coming academic year. It must build on the momentum of last year, it must work with CUSU – and new president Gerard Tully – if it is to repeat the victory it had over student bursaries, it must remain visible, it must not isolate itself as anarchic or dangerous, it must have clear targets and a sensible agenda, it must call upon Sainsbury to address its concerns, and it needs to remind the university of its position at the forefront of education.

We need to move on from this election and not lament a missed opportunity to highlight the real issues the university needs to tackle. Mansfield might have been able to shake things up, but just as likely he might have been sidelined as a figurehead, Blessed, to quote a just-voted, was “full of hot air”, and Arain’s moment will come shortly as the Mill Road Sainsbury’s application comes to a head.


What if Marilyn Manson died?

February 12, 2010

If there was ever a man as revered as he was feared, as infamous as he was famous, or as alluring as he was revolting, it was Marilyn Manson. Lead-singer of the band of the same name, artist, and the incarnation of every parent’s worst nightmare, Manson, born Brian Warner, was actually an extremely talented performer.

If he was not nervously derided by Middle America, he was conspicuously protested against. Marilyn Manson was to goth-rock what Nirvana was to grunge – revolutionary, epitomising. Often rejected as unintelligent shock music or ignored for satanic symbolism, Manson’s lyrical prowess and provocative stage presence made him a dangerous pioneer in rock music.

Born in 1969, raised by religious parents in Ohio then Florida, he took on the pseudonym Marilyn Manson from idol Marilyn Monroe and murderer Charles Manson and formed Marilyn Manson and the Spooky Kids in 1989, shortening to Marilyn Manson in 1992.

After being noticed by Nine Inch Nails front-man, Trent Reznor, the band were set to turn their destructively furious music on a wider audience. Their second full-length studio album, Antichrist Superstar in 1996, sparked a world tour, regularly picketed by religious organisations, and even denounced by American senator, Joseph Lieberman.

Manson took the controversy in his stride focusing on the cults of drugs and celebrities in his next album, Mechanical Animals. Influenced by the glamour of David Bowie, the album gave the band a much more universal appeal leading to album chart clockings and MTV appearances. While touring Mechanical Animals the Columbine school shootings took place. Once it was discovered the boys involved were fans of Manson’s ‘violent’ music, the blame was pinned on him and his corrupting music.

Infamy of such led to a relatively quiet period for Manson. When he reappeared in 2000 with Holy Wood, supposedly the third part of a trilogy, his Guns, God and Government Tour draw huge crowds. Exploring the links between death and fame in American society while forever criticising blind obedience to religion and government, Marilyn Manson became a household name. Though maintaining anarchist values Manson’s exposure led to a certain desensitisation around the world. Failing to deliver on the pioneering sound of his early work and victim to the celebrity he so critiqued – he covered Tainted Love for low-brow teen comedy, Not Another Teen Movie – Manson seemed to have lost his way.

Recent albums, The Golden Age of Grotesque and Eat Me Drink Me, do not capture the mix of raw angst and unadulterated talent that encapsulated his rise to success. Ever experimental in drugs to the point of destruction, it is unsurprising it has been his downfall.

Despite his dip in form to the end of his years, Manson, for his observant, shockingly obscene take on the dichotomies of society and vehement iconoclasm, will always be the Antichrist Superstar.

CAVEAT – Manson is not dead. Rock is dead.


Legal highs in Cardiff

December 11, 2009

The perception that the prefix ‘legal’ gives drugs can be a deadly one. One by one, more and more ‘legal highs’ are becoming illegal – two, GBL and spice, are set to become illegal this month – but the market is far from regulated.

‘Legal highs’ is an umbrella term for anything that gives the rush or feeling of an illegal drug but is not against the law. This gives users a relaxed perception of them, believing anything legal could not be of harm.

The ease with which they can be obtained ranges from high street shops to internet couriers. Why risk being thrown in jail when you can get the same buzz easily and legally?

This is what is happening in Cardiff. The users are mostly aged between 18 and 30, however, I did come across several users under 18. The most popular are salvia, a herbal product which is smoked to induce a similar effect to cannabis; similarly, the aforementioned spice, also smoked to the same effect; and mephedrone, a white powder, snorted to induce the effect of ecstasy.

Blue Banana, a shop on Queen Street in the centre of Cardiff, sells legal highs. Alex Ibsule, the manager, said: “Salvia is the most popular. We get pretty good business from them as kids who buy them tend to come back in and buy again.” She hastens to add that they are strict about identification and under 18s are refused service.

Blue Banana, Queen Street

She explains that ‘kids’ is a subconsciously condescending term for the people who would spend £15 on four ‘party pills’ that are, essentially, caffeine. Salvia, on the other hand, is a fairly well established ‘high’ and  not so much a legal alternative for cannabis but more a different effect.

Miss Ibsule said: “The stuff we sell in here is fairly harmless. Research chemicals and drugs not intended for any kind of human use are the real worries. People come in asking for mephedrone but we don’t want to sell it.”

Salvia x5 strength

In Blue Banana, salvia ranges from £9.75 for a gram of x5 strength to £25.75 for a gram of x20. 3g of ‘Hash’ smoking mix is £35 and four Diablo ‘strong as hell’ tablets are £14.95. A legal high lifestyle is by no means cheap, yet many live it.

Rebel Rebel, a shop that sells salvia and other spice mixes in Wyndham Arcade, refused to make any comment. Citing the trouble they got from police the last time they spoke to the media, they would not talk to me. This seems to be in contrast with the friendly nature of Blue Banana, however, it displays the legal ambiguities involved in some of these drugs.

'Party pills' on sale in Blue Banana

Though there are health risks with such herbal highs, the problems arise when man-made chemicals blur the line between research and recreational drugs.

Mephedrone, known as M-Cat, Meow, or by its chemical name, 4-Methylmethcathinone, is sold on the internet for as little as £11 a gram, or a kilogram can be purchased for an arranged price (500g is around £2000). Sold as ‘plant food’ not for human consumption, the drug is as easy to get hold of on the streets as it is on the internet.

Jon Scott, a bio-medial PhD student talks about the science of analogue drugs:

In the smoking area of a Cardiff nightclub I was able to speak to people who had experiences with the drug – many had taken it that night. Groups of friends huddled together for warmth, cigarettes in mouths, discuss how their ‘come-ups’ have been and their ‘come-downs’ might be.

Jack Wakins, 23, on using mephedrone:

One user, who did not want to be named, said: “Mephedrone is brilliant. I can have a great time on it. It’s much cheaper than a night out on alcohol.” When asked whether she thought there was a scene for it in  Cardiff she said it was really easy to get hold of it and knew personally several people who dealt.

Wide-eyed and chatty, her jaw tensed, she said: “It’s much more subtle than pills so the come-down is not as harsh. You cannot just walk into the club with it. It is still seen as a drug in clubs because it’s people snorting a white powder. It’s worth it though.”

The drug has a high profile in the Cardiff clubbing scene and much reaction is positive. It is a designer drug in more than one sense; the kids all want it, while the scientists can make it to fit around the law.

Sharon Griffin, 49, tells of her worries about chemical abuse:

There have been several deaths linked, but not attributed, to the drug – the most recent being only last week a girl died after taking it in a house party in Brighton. The problem with a drug that was born in 2007 is its effects are by no means documented.

There is no saying what the future of these drugs is. Logically, there is no reason most herbal highs should be classified, however, the worrying use of research chemicals in Cardiff clubs must be regulated. As long as the users and scientists stay ahead of the curve, drugs that represent an unknown quantity will not cease to be abused – education, however, is more important than regulation for those putting their lives at risk.


Men and machines

December 10, 2009

Just when it seemed the only thing holy left in journalism was that at least human beings are doing the leg work. Whether the results are printed or posted, we still held the quill and we still pulled the strings. Well, enter CAR – computer assisted reporting. Now, i’m not one for drama, but it seems inevitable that in about three years all news reporting will be done by the News-a-troninator 3000, no? I’m being facetious. In fact this CAR lark is quite a useful, empowering tool for journalists.

More-so for long term projects or investigations as its ability to conjure up graphs, charts, and what-not is second to none. For those of you do not know what CAR entails, you should be on this course – we’re all well clued up. Just kidding. It is the analysis of statistics by programs such as MS Excel, My SQL, MS Access, and other silly acronyms to produce manageable results. Basically, you can run any data you want through these programs and come out with a product that any human brain could analyse. This is the computer bit, so failing the ineptitude of the controller, it will normally do its job.

The tricky part lies in sourcing the data, wrangling the data, and generally knowing what you want when you begin. CAR is much bigger in the US because freedom of information is much bigger in the US. Much of CAR is used to work with information found out through Freedom Of Information requests. For this reason, journalists must be trained to use this integral act to its potential. Appropriate questions must be asked and in the right direction, however, one must not ask for the answer, one must ask for documents relative to the answer.

This is vital. If you want to know who the most corrupt politician in the North West is, they may very well turn round and tell you it is Mindyour Ownbusiness MP, however, if you ask for expenses forms etc. and do the research yourself, you can come to your own conclusions on the issues you want to highlight. Knowing the ins and outs of the Freedom of Information act is as, if not more, important than understanding CAR. Once you have worked the data and CAR has done its job, the trick is communicating the data; turning the data into a story.

Now we return to the man in the newsroom. The man who chops wood, smokes cigars, and fights over meat with other men. Yes, the alpha journalist. He, or she, writes up the story to singe the eyebrows of the stunned public, sits back, and waits for rapturous applause. Well, not quite, but you catch my drift.

Contrary to the luddite-inspired introduction, CAR is nothing to be afraid of. It is to be embraced. I have not put the FOI act to the test but when I do CAR will be the first thing i consider, well, second, after finding someone who knows what MS SQL, then back to CAR. Though internet-burdened-computer-machines may be threatening the old ways of the newspaper, this computer-related-analysis-buffer could well give power back to the hacks.


Should video equipment be available to everyone?

December 4, 2009

From the evidence of this video, no. My original idea was a cracker – stand in the middle of town with a camera and a sign and get people to tell me lies that they have told and then say whether they were sorry or not. It would have been an emotional roller-coaster of a film. On setting up in Queen Street, it became immediately clear that this was not going to work. People were not willing to tell lies they have told, or they did not understand what I wanted. Consequently, the public used this opportunity to make hilarious lie-based jokes such as, “Your hair looks good”, “I like your scarve” and other blinders. This backfired for some of the more intellectually challenged when their own wit caught them out and they ended up complementing me; “your breath stinks.” Well done.

The plan was ambitious but I had hoped to get some insight into the frequency and bitter-sweet approach to lying. Everyone lies but nobody wants to admit that. In the end, I got a series of poor, poor jokes cut with pictures of Patrick Stewart face-palming. I had fun, it was an experience, and I learnt a little about video-editing. Oh, and I ended up with a mildly comical video about nothing. Enjoy.


Survive or die trying

December 1, 2009

It seems strange and almost pathetically romantic but when the conversation of how journalism is to make money crops up I feel, not uncomfortable, but more ‘why do we need to make money, anyway? Let’s just do it for the news. Yeh!” *Pumps fist in the air to complete call to arms* Then I realise that it is not about journalists being rich, it is about journalism surviving. This is not about luxury, this is about subsistence.

The industry needs money to support itself, not to keep hacks in the middle class. This is the scary thing. As more papers close or cut staff it is becoming clearer that this profession will disappear or be no longer recognisable in a decade. Now people may point to online advertising as our white knight but advertising is not making up for the shortfall in the loss of newspaper sales. Where do we go? It is unlikely newspaper sales are going to pick up enough to support revenue single-handedly and so, another solution must be sought.

As much as ingenius, revolutionary advertising methods may help, and this is indeed crunch time for that industry too – the pressure to remain fresh and interesting is high – the word(s) on everybody’s lips in the media world is… wait for it… paywall.

Are the public prepared to pay for news? As Rob Andrews, our guest lecturer last week, told us, essentially, no. Surveys show they are not. This can be tinkered with – online access with the paper, yearly subscriptions, pay-per-article – but let us consider the issue at large. If people are not prepared to pay for news and the sources of free news are becoming bigger and better what is to become of journalism?

I am quietly confident/blindly optimistic that our profession can not collapse. The lower it goes is potentially the higher it will bounce back. If journalists drop off one by one then the quality, and maybe, but not necessarily, the quantity, will decrease dramatically. Hopefully, to the point where the public will crave for professional accurate news. News aggregators will be a thing of the past as men fight to give their credit card details to paywalls higher than Icarus, and hopefully more successful.

Murdoch is toying with paywalls as are a group of six or seven local papers, the Guardian have said they will not introduce one, however, I can not help but feel it is inevitable. Whether this will increase media revenue or force potential newsreaders further into the hands of Yahoo is hard to say. I like to consider these times an uninvited purge of the profession. It’s flood time and Noah is inviting anyone who cares enough to get on board the boat that has not yet been built. As a new generation of journalists come through, hopefully, we will have the tools and the time to build this ark before, god forbid, we all drown.