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It lives!

Posted on: July 13, 2009

Rest assured I am alive, largely thanks to the squirm-inducing guilt I’ve been experiencing for not blogging. I shall be returning to the fold with a proper post tomorrow.

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I read an article in The Times today about Gordon Brown’s plans for an inquiry into the Iraq war.

This is my reply.

Re: the Iraq war inquiry

It is going to be held in private, but it is going to be ‘unprecedented in scope’.

There ain’t much scope behind closed doors. Privacy should not have an effect on the range and depth of the inquiry.

The evidence given will be full and candid.

How will anyone ever know to the contrary?

The inquiry is being overseen by a civil servant, not a judge, and will have no power or status in the eyes of the law.

Once the inquiry is complete, what will come of its findings if it has no authority?

It will report after the next general election.

Surely it should submit its findings when it is ready to do so, not when it is convenient for the Government.

That is all.

If you charge people to read your blog or use your website, you are automatically alienating two groups of users: new readers and casual readers. Why would you want to do that? Only those who have visited your site before and think it’s worth paying for on a regular basis will ever shell out.

Since most people make money from their websites by increasing traffic, as this increases the revenue generated from advertising, doing something that will decrease traffic is shooting yourself in the foot. Eventually your readership would stop growing. It might remain constant for a while, but in the end it would fall due to natural wastage and the fact that fewer sites would be able to discuss, refer to and link to your content – Billy No Mates is invisible on the internet.

Most internet users are loyal to between 10 or 20 websites. They maybe have 40 to 50 more that they enjoy, but read infrequently. People would probably be willing to pay to read their favourites if they couldn’t find an alternative, but they would not pay for the rest.

If your content is largely pretty unique, such as the location-specific stuff produced by the local media, then you could probably get away with charging for it, because you have an audience that cannot go elsewhere to get what they want. But with crowd-sourced information websites on the up, how long is that going to last?

If you are the Sunday Times, for example, you might think you have enough clout to make people pay for what you offer (eh, Mr Murdoch?). The truth is, unless you bag an exclusive or a juicy scoop, readers could find similar information for free elsewhere.

Whether you have unique content or not, and whether you are a big brand name or not, putting up a paywall excludes passing trade and stops you from attracting new users. These guys make up a hefty chunk of any website’s readership, plus they have the potential to become more frequent (valuable) users. If they have their own blog or website, they could even choose to link to your site, which could drive new traffic towards you.

In effect, paywalls are like corsets – in your mind’s eye they look pretty darn sexy, but when you’re three hours into a posh do and you’ve got one on, it’s a different story.

We’ve got to come up with a way to make it convenient and viable for a casual or first-time website user to pay for content…

Aspiring journalists are willing to work for free.

It helps us prove to future employers that we are committed to the profession and possessed of some newsgathering, writing and editing nous. It also gives us the chance to get stuck in. Working in a professional newsroom is like jumping in at the deep end, and that’s a great test of our abilities. We get to learn how things really work; we get to land stories and see them published; as well as getting feedback from editors, forging great contacts and trying out some of the things we’ve been told in lectures or read in blogs or books.

Work experience can markedly improve us wannabe journalists. People pick up important things that wouldn’t occur to them if they weren’t actually doing it. There are a huge number of people keen to get experience under their belt in the hope of snagging that dream media job or prestigious course place; and there are almost as many organisations out there poised to take advantage of them.

At the moment paid entry-level jobs are rarer than a Telegraph leader that doesn’t involve MP’s expenses. Unpaid internships and work experience placements, however, are relatively abundant on the Journalism.co.uk forums and Gorkana.

A good work experience placement is valuable, so please don’t bother doing one that isn’t worth your time. Know what you’re getting yourself into before you go. Don’t put up with frustration and disappointment.

For example, if you feel that churning out copy for a website isn’t advancing your skills that much, why not start blogging instead? It’ll all be under your own name, you’ll have far more control over what you write and you’ll get kudos for showing initiative.

Being allowed into the newsroom of a national newsroom is awesome, but if it’s all tea-making and paper-pushing, ask yourself: am I okay with being here, doing this? Some might argue that being there, poised to take advantage of any stray opportunity, is enough. Others would tell you to run for the hills.

What I’m trying to say is: work experience is an investment. Make sure you’re clear in your own mind what you want to get out of a placement, and that you understand what a paper, radio station, whatever, is offering you before you accept.

Don’t allow yourself to be exploited, and don’t get seduced by visions of an impressively crammed CV into doing things that in reality, aren’t going to mean much to a savvy potential employer. Do what you think is worth doing. Target the places and people you think you would love to learn from, and don’t stop pursuing them (without straying into rabid stalkerdom).

Some interesting posts:

Too Old To Become A Journalist

Work experience – the good, the bad and the ugly

HoldTheFrontPage.co.uk

Securing journalism work experience: how to do it

The European elections are important. Nobody’s entirely sure what goes on up in Brussels (line dancing classes? ritual sacrifice?) but decisions made there shape our lives.

Advance your knowledge about this, the mother of all confusing elections, so you can exercise your democratic right with confidence on Thursday, June 4th.

Basics...

The BBC’s Q&A: European Elections 2009

Let Auntie show you the way.

MiCandidate – European Election Candidate Resource

Database that lets you search for MEPs standing in your manor and gives you facts about the number of seats in your region and the policies of each party.

AboutMyVote explains proportional representation

It won’t make any difference to the way you vote, but it will help you understand the mechanics better.

Want to know what the results of the last Euro Election were?

The UK Office of the European Parliament has the results of the 2004 election published on its website.

ICM European Election Poll results

For those of you who like to speculate, a poll conducted on May 21 and 22. According to ICM, a Conservative win is on the cards (look away now, Mr Brown…)


Ephemera…

The Straight Choice – live election leaflet monitoring project

A collection of leaflets sent out by parties across the UK. Have a nose. See what your preferred party is saying in different parts of the country. Upload yours.

Exposed: ugly face of BNP’s leaders

The Observer gives us a timely reminder, if any was needed.

Party Election Broadcasts

If you’re bored of reading, let the power of video beam knowledge into your mind.

Why did I type ‘The Chap magazine’ into Google yesterday? While browsing, I saw The Chap Olympiad, a competitive non-sporting event organised by the magazine for its dapper readership, mentioned on Time Out London.

I bought a copy of that unintentionally hilarious magazine once, from the Birmingham Bullring Borders. As anyone who knows me will tell you, I am probably the polar opposite of your average Chap reader, but at the time I found it considerably diverting.

A brief root around on The Chap website soon brought this to my attention. The magazine doesn’t have enough money in the coffers to print its June edition, which is charmingly titled ‘Britches and Hoes’, and so is asking its readers for small donations to ‘save it… from financial ruin’.

I’d read a blog post on Dave Lee’s blog about a cult music magazine in America called Paste, which asked its readers for donations to help keep it going. It got more than it bargained for, apparently. Loyal fans showered it in money (over $175,000), and record companies and artists gave exclusive tracks and artwork to Paste so it could reward its readers for their generosity. Not a sustainable business model, of course, and not all publications could command that amount of money and love from its readers, but it’s interesting to see that The Chap hopes do the same. Will the Chaps of the world rise to the occasion?

So I twittered this.

FleetStreetBlues picked it up.

And it ended up on the J-blogs bit of the daily Journalism.co.uk email.

The moral of the story: word gets around, baby.

Read today’s Telegraph yet? Intimate details of Cabinet Members’ expense claims, which seem to have been in the process of being leaked/sold to the papers for weeks, have finally been revealed. And they make fascinating reading.

Most of the time I don’t think of the Government as real people. They are merely the cringe-inducing bods we see on TV every day: trotting in and out of Number 10, chortling on the Commons’ front benches, occasionally visiting places and making speeches, haloed by the great and the good.

They’re not flesh and blood like you and me. They don’t have jobs and lives and unquenchable desires to buy mid-range furniture. Or so we thought.

Publishing MPs’ expenses claims has ripped the lid off their lives and revealed them to be just as pettily human as the rest of us. The PM buys Noah’s Ark blinds for his kids’ bedroom, David Miliband apparently has an obsession with keeping his garden in order, John Prescott has claimed two toilet seats on his second home allowance over the past two years – the mind boggles.

Let’s make this clear. MPs do have legitimate expenses that the taxpayer should meet. Second homes in many cases are part of these expenses. But politicians get paid so much nowadays. It is not necessary for them to make as many additional claims today as they have done in the past. They have enough money in their own pockets to cover the cost of cleaners or stays in hotels, for example.

The minutiae of their purchases interests me because it offers more honest insight into the money-grabbing ways of our ruling class than a great deal of political journalism. (Plus, I’m shamelessly nosy.) I’m glad that this stuff is out in the open, because it’ll knock MPs off their gold-plated pedestals. From now on, whenever Gordon Brown gurns at us on Youtube, whenever Jack Straw or Blearsy pops up on Andrew Marr or the Today program, we’ll be able to look them in the eye and think, ‘you can’t mess with us, we know what brand of toilet paper you use.’

Some of the innuendo the Telegraph has constructed around these expense claims is tasteless, and as expected the Tory-leaning paper have decided not to release details of Cameron & Co’s expenses, or those of the Lib Dems, even though it is likely there are other horror stories lurking in the background.

However, the exercise of getting this information into the public domain sends a clear message. Stop dragging your feet, MPs – welcome to the age of accountability.

The full story has yet to emerge, but already columnists are decrying the sickening abuse of taxpayers’ money that has taken place in some cases. What rankles even more is the obvious scramble to put ‘mistakes’ right, now that the info has been leaked before the planned deadline for publishing the expenses’ paperwork.

Yet again, MPs have been exposed. Rather than running the country, their expenses claims are running it into the ground.

The expenses system is out of date and rotten to the core, no argument, but it has remained in use thus far because nobody, least of all the cream-skimming politicians in charge, is interested in reforming it. Exposure will shame the Government into doing something about it, and I hope they take the time to devise a fairer system, one that reimburses MPs who have incurred legitimate costs, but that equally makes it impossible for preposterous claims to eat into taxpayers’ money. Let’s hope we get real change, rather than a superficial crowd-pleaser.