Saturday, 23 July 2011

Why I love Twitter

I first learned of the horrific events in Norway yesterday not through traditional media channels but, as is so often the case nowadays, Twitter. I immediately went to the BBC and then The Guardian websites for additional information but, finding only a placeholder news story with minimal information, returned to the social networking site where I was able to immediately find first hand accounts of what had occurred and immediate reaction from a variety of different people. Twitter has changed, and continues to change, the means of people being able to distribute news and opinion. Old media simply cannot compete and this is why I love Twitter.

At first I was sceptical of the medium. I didn’t understand the appeal of something that restricted you to just 140 characters (including spaces). How limiting, how frustrating, I thought. But in many ways this is actually quite liberating. You soon become adept at distilling your thoughts, Haiku-style, into concise and neat little packages. Even better, you do, over time, link up with other like-minded people and you soon find you have a nice little (virtual) community to interact with and share interesting things. Unlike, say, Facebook, where you generally connect with people that you know in real life yet it somehow manages to be excruciatingly dull. It has been said that Twitter connects you to people that you don’t really know but should, while Facebook keeps you in contact with people that you do really know but perhaps shouldn’t.

As ever, there are tedious naysayers who dismiss the entire thing. Here’s Rod Liddle being typically contemptuous of something he clearly does not understand. Or John Humphrys, another curmudgeon who simply does not get it. You’d think, as journalists, they’d be able to easily grasp the potential of such a powerful and simple tool to disseminate ideas and opinions, but no, they join in with the rest of the clueless who think it’s just a load of people saying what they had for breakfast. Well, I dare say a lot of people do use it in this way - I wouldn’t know as I only follow people who interest or intrigue me (or, occasionally, I follow people for sheer curiosity value - there are some bizarre people out there). Accusing Twitter of being a platform for banality is pointless. Banality exists wherever groups of people might assemble: the trick, as with any social gathering, is to weed out the boring, stupid and ignorant and seek out the clever, witty and interesting. It may take a while to find them at first, but they are out there.

By the way, should you be wondering, I had Eggs Royale for breakfast.

Friday, 8 July 2011

The revolting tentacles of News International

My, but how the plot thickens. Today it was Dave Cameron's turn to get a sound kicking: in this case at the Number 10 press conference where he desperately tried to put some clear blue water between himself and News International. Easier said than done, of course, given that he recruited Andy Coulson as his communications director even though he must have known that there could be some rather fishy baggage coming along for the ride. Clearly this was the risk he was prepared to take, so keen was he to have someone who could feel the pulse of the British public. Or so Cameron figured, anyway. I don't know why a former entertainment reporter for the Sun and, later, editor of the News of the World would automatically be the best man for the job. I suppose he wanted his own Alastair Campbell. Campbell had a tabloid background, too, of course, but he was at least a political reporter and editor in his day, as opposed to Coulson who was little more than a stalker of third rate celebrities and a peddler of prurient tittle-tattle.

Coulson was, as predicted, arrested today and later released on bail. Rebekah Brooks will no longer be heading the internal investigation at News International, but is still, somehow, holding onto a job. Her position is now nothing short of farcical. Even Cameron, at his press conference today, said that he "would have accepted" her resignation. It can only be a matter of time.

Brooks met with the dumped NotW journalists this afternoon and seemed to suggest that the real reasons for closing the paper would be clearer in a year's time. Christ knows what this means. "Who is she? The fucking Riddler? asked Charlie Brooker on Twitter. If she is The Riddler, then that must make The Guardian Batman because, through their constant refusal to let this story die, they have delivered News International an almighty kick in the throat.

And hooray for that. I'm not vehemently anti-News International: I subscribe to The Times and think it's an excellent newspaper; I have no beef with Sky TV, in fact it's a great product. But it is very clear that Murdoch's empire has too much concentration of media, too much power and has some revolting tentacles attached to the main body. They deserve everything they are being hit with. If this ushers in an era of politicians being less in thrall to Murdoch and his hideous tabloids then that is a long overdue development and can only be a good thing for democracy in this country.

Thursday, 7 July 2011

Check before you spread News of the World

Sooner or later I had to break my blogging hiatus: it was just a matter of waiting for a suitable jolt to come along. Something that I couldn't let pass without comment. Without doubt, the extraordinary events that have taken place concerning the News of the World, its parent company News International and the implications for the prime minister, the police and the entire news industry was that subject.

By now everyone knows the story, more or less. Tawdry Sunday tabloid allegedly employs all manner of devious and underhand methods to obtain information about celebrities: namely, phone hacking. On the whole, the nation shrugs. Then it transpires they are accused of employing the same methods in the case of murdered schoolgirl Milly Dowler. Cue righteous and justifiable outrage. Then it gets worse: the family of the murdered Soham girls, 7/7 victims and their friends and families, relatives of soldiers killed in Iraq and Afghanistan were all targeted too. There seemed to be no end to the depths of the paper's depravity, no ethical barrel they would not scrape the bottom of to get a lead on a story. National outrage ensued, questions asked in Parliament, much heat on David Cameron (who famously recruited former NotW editor Andy Coulson), accusations of the paper paying the police for information, campaigns on Twitter and Facebook to boycott the newspaper and, indeed, anything else to do with parent company News International. All made the more interesting, of course, by the fact that a decision is due to be made on whether News International should be allowed to pursue its takeover of BSkyB. Soon, reacting to the public outrage, major News of the World advertisers began pulling the plug. News International, meanwhile, announced that they were performing their own internal investigation to be led by chief executive Rebekah Brooks (née Wade), who is herself at the centre of the storm given that she was editor for much of the period under scrutiny.

What a morass of moral torpor.

Then today News International took the remarkable step of shutting down the newspaper altogether. Their best selling and most profitable paper (indeed - depressingly - reported to be the most widely read English language newspaper in the world), brought crashing down in less than a week, after 168 years of publication. A remarkable series of events.

The whole thing still has a putrid stench about it of course. The people paying the ultimate price are the current staff of the newspaper who, as it stands, are not suspected of any wrongdoing (other than being tabloid journalists, of course, which, shameful as it might be, is not actually illegal) while the executives at News International remain in gainful employment. Of course their main motivation is to clear the decks to continue to lobby for BSkyB ownership. They could never do that while there remains such fuss around the actions of the paper. By ridding themselves of this toxic brand they hope to draw a line under the whole affair. Undoubtedly they will at some point soon re-enter the Sunday tabloid market - already rumours abound that the staff at The Sun have been told that the paper should prepare to be produced seven days a week instead of six. Additionally, the web domains sunonsunday.co.uk and sunonsunday.com were apparently registered a couple of days ago. (Meanwhile some wag has already nabbed the Twitter identity....) You can hardly expect News International to give up several million readers to their competitors now can you? Expect The Sun on Sunday within months, if not weeks.

Rebekah Brooks clings onto her job for now despite continuing clamour for her to step down. Somehow she still has the unambiguous support of the Murdoch clan: James Murdoch said earlier this evening that he is "happy with Rebakah Brooks' ethics". Yes, well, when prompted Satan says something very similar about his chief demon. This is not exactly a credible endorsement. I suspect the pressure will continue to build against Brooks and she will, eventually, have to stand down to "protect the brand". We can probably also expect some more incriminating information to come from disgruntled NotW hacks who, come the weekend, find themselves unceremoniously dumped from the NI payroll.

Meanwhile, according to The Guardian, Andy Coulson is going to be arrested tomorrow morning over his involvement in phone hacking and alleged payments to police officers, which could have serious repercussions for David Cameron.

The press. The police. The politicians. The whole story could have been scripted by James Ellroy. Looking forward to more revelations in the coming days.