Sunday, 17 January 2010

A book a week in 2010 week 1: A S Byatt's The Children's Book

It's taken a while to write this. The book is a corker (630 or so pages) and perhaps not one I should have started with. But hey ho, I managed it.

It's the end of the nineteenth century. Olive and Humphrey Wellwood live with their children in Kent near the Romney Marsh. Theirs is a liberal, loving family life. Each child has their own distinct character. Each parent, their own secret.

Their friends reflect the intellectual mileu of the time: the talented potter, the museum curator, the German puppeteer, and the anarchist. Olive is a successful children's writer, creating magical worlds of fairy tales with pixies, sprites and other fantastic characters. She also writes individual stories for each child: intensely personal tales that map their personality and journey through life.

But all is not what it seems in this cosy world. Against a backdrop of intense debate around politics, class and equality, the lives of the family and their friends gradually unravel.

When I first mentioned my plan to start the book a week in 2010 with The Children's Book, a fellow Twitterer said she found it to be, well, a bit like hard work. However, I buckled down and persevered. Now, after ninety pages a day for seven days, I see her point. It is indeed, at times, hard work.

When Byatt zooms out from the minutiae of family life and considers the political, philosophical, artistic and ideological arguments of the time, it feels like a Monday morning class of Victorian history 101. There's no doubting her erudition or the research that has gone into the book. But it's a bit worthy, and frankly, at times a bit of a chore.

The book is at its most powerful when she evokes the details of the Wellwood's life. When the children play in the treehouse; as the family gather for the annual Midsummer party; their adventures in Paris at the Universal Exhibition; visiting friends in Munich; and in the studio at the Fludd's house, where the pantry is full of difficult secrets.

This is a book of two halves: half pleasure, half education. If I had not been on such a mission to finish, it might have taken several months. I'm glad I did persevere, but if you plan to read it any time soon, brace yourself: you may be in for a long haul.

Thursday, 14 January 2010

news:rewired city university 14 january - multimedia session

@egrommet gearing up for an interesting debate on multimedia journalism at news@rewired

First off, here's a disclaimer. I'm not a journalist. I may have paraphrased, but I've tried to indicate when I have. I welcome any corrections and clarifications. I will take down anything that is factually incorrect or causes great offence.

These are my recollections of the morning session at news:rewired.

There's a palpable air of excitement in the air at City University prior to the start of news:rewired kick off. Tweeters wander around staring at badges trying to match the Twitter avatar with the flesh and blood of real people. Scary. I manage to catch up with a few contacts: some I met the other night at the Online News Association seminar, others from just getting out and about. We all file into the Oliver Thompson lecture hall. And so it begins.

We hear the introduction from George Brock, head of journalism at our hosts, City University. He welcomes us and plays around with a long and sometimes confusing spaghetti analogy, much to the (be/a)musement of the Twitterati. He is followed by Kevin Marsh, Editor at the BBC College of Journalism. We get numerous snippets of advice on what the challenges and pitfalls of learning multimedia and social media skills with some sound advice to never lose sight of the big picture: it's about journalism and these are tools to tell a story.

Next up is the multimedia stream. Adam Westbrook kicks off with a romp through different kinds of multimedia journalism: video, audio, slideshows, blogging, photographs, graphics/data viz, podcasts, (micro) blogging, print, community. He empahsises the need to use the appropriate form for the story. He's obviously passionate about audio slideshow which he discovered 18 months ago, where audio is mixed with stills, rather than moving images.

I'm paraphrasing here, but these are the key features of audio slideshow according to Adam. They are usually 1-6 mins long. The audio tends to be better quality that with video and you lose the video production palaver. He believes it to be a more practical option for the multimedia storyteller: cheaper, quicker, and with better results. You can tell a good story, more often and without breaking the bank.

Adam uses an example of John Hirst - who killed his landlady in 1979 - which turns out to be an arresting use of stills, documents and a first person narrative. I'll try and get the link to add in here.

What do you need to do this successfully? A good story with a character. The prospect of good photos. Potential for great audio and ability to audio record. A digital SLR camera, editing software and soundsslide.

He cites the New York Times as having a really good site showcasing New Yorkers. They have fortunately published the production cycle:

1 time spent finding good characters
2 characters pre-interviewed on phone
3 audio producer reocrds interview
4 audio producer edits interview down
5 photographers listens to audio
6 photographer returns to subject and takes relevant photos
7 audio and images are put together

Adam finishes with a challenge to everyone to tackle a weekend project and make our own audio slideshows. But remember, you need crisp audio, great pics, but focus on narrative and tell great stories. I see this as a powerful tool to tell personal stories and profile interesting characters.

Steve Phillips from BBC Radio London is up next. He does a show and tell for an Audioboo they produced with Peter Cockcroft the weatherman for the snow alerts round the capital. It enabled them to do updates with a number of the BBC weather team throughout the day. Not sure we need to hear all the advice on lagging pipes though. Hang on a minute, did he just say the weather would stay to the end of the month? OK, that was worth it then.

He also explains the use of Twitter for live travel alerts and cites an example from this morning when there was a report from Twitter of acrid smoke coming out of City Thameslink station. That explains my hellish journey in. They also use twitpics for journey news with views from a packed station and so on. The use of listener pictures builds a feeling of community with the audience.

Justin Kings (@newsleader) provides a countdown of top ten essential skills for a multi-media journalist gathered earlier in the week via Twitter. (Link to his blog post on it here).

10 technical ability
9 understanding how each platform can enrich story telling
8 understanding how consumers access content
7 self starter
6 team player
5 organisational skills
4 able to cope with pressure
3 adaptability
2 interpersonal skills
1 being a great journalist/storyteller

He says you must never forget number 1 and remember to take risks and not blindly follow news agenda of the day.

In the Q&A session there is an interesting question about why there is no mention of data meshing (although there's a session this afternoon).

The debate moves on to how you can include this as part of the story and how you use data to talk about it.

One of the audience cite their work on the piece on oil company CEOs, their salaraies and the link to the shareholder return: do the two correlate? When you look at the data, no. You can see what they did here.

They used a team with mixed skills to ensure they could effectively deliver a non-linear way of telling the story, which included: a flash designer, coder, reporter and editor. It's about effective and informative data visualisation and someone points out that the unsung hero of this is the New York Times who do it really well.

The challenge is how do you develop these skills in an educational context? It can be tricky to teach. A good blog on data visualisation from the States is by Tracey Boyer at

Do any journalism courses have a module on this as it is very useful / powerful?

Have to say that I found this session hugely useful. It's like one great big focus group for what Skillset needs to think about. More to follow (probably tomorrow as we will have a beer at the end of the day). Until then...

Wednesday, 13 January 2010

news:rewired event

I'll be attending this event on Thursday 14th January at City University. There's been a real social media buzz building and I'm looking forward to meeting some fellow Twitterers in real life.

I'm about to attempt to get the live cover posted on to this blog so you can follow how the day progresses and you might spot the odd Tweet from me (@sashers).

Wednesday, 6 January 2010

Face to face chat on the Journalism standards

This is a article from the Skillset blog I posted earlier today. Feel free to forward on or retweet!

We have been conducting an online consultation into an overhaul of journalism occupational standards which closes this Friday. Earlier this week I provided a brief explanation of what occupational standards are on this blog. There’s been a lot of interest and thanks to everyone who’s been in contact.

We have some face to face discussions organised for next week. If you would like to come along and contribute, contact Julie Hadwin. Meeting venues and contact details below.

Contact: Julie Hadwin | | T: 020 8579 3792 | M: 07802 795509

CARDIFF: Thursday 7 January 1300-1600
Skillset Cymru, 33-35, West Bute Street, Cardiff, CF10 5LH

LONDON: Friday 8 January 1000-1300
Skillset, Focus Point, 21 Caledonian Road, London N1 9GB

BELFAST: Monday 11 January 1400-1600
Northern Ireland Screen, Alfred House, 21 Alfred Street, Belfast BT2 8ED

LONDON: Tuesday 12 January 1000-1300
Premier Inn, 26-30 York Way, King’s Cross, London N1 9AA

MANCHESTER: Wednesday 13 January 1300-1600
Manchester Conference Centre, Room 3A, Sackville Street, Manchester M1 3BB

GLASGOW: Thursday 14 January 1000-1300
Skillset Scotland, 249 West George Street, Glasgow G2 4QE

LONDON: Friday 15 January 1000-1300
Premier Inn, 26-30 York Way, King’s Cross, London N1 9AA

Saturday, 2 January 2010

A book a week for 2010

If you follow me on Twitter (@sashers) you'll have seen my recent RT of Julien Smith's blog

He's written a post challenging us to read a book a week this year and provided tips and inspiration on how to go about it.

I love reading books. My "to read" pile is substantial and in danger of collapsing. It needs trimming down so should provide plenty to get me started. It's an eclectic list, but the chosen January titles are:

Week 1: The Children's Book - A S Byatt

Week 2: Grown Up Digital - Don Tapscott

Week 3: New Europe - Michael Palin

Week 4: The Quickening Maze - Adam Foulds

Spare: Purple Cow - Seth Godin (in case I get ahead of schedule)

Scott Pack's blog meandmybigmouth will provide plenty of inspiration for other months, but let me know if there's a book you think I must read. I'll keep you posted on progress and the target list each month.