Tuesday, 2 November 2010

Come back, @stephenfry! We can be the antichrist together

The Twitter world is buzzing. Literally. If there were a bright blue, scarily interactive planet gracing our solar system, it would have gone from a steady spin with a few minor bumps (Trafigura, Cheryl Cole, election debates, etc.) to a full-blown, gravity defying bounce that hasn't stopped for days.

Why? The king is dead. Well, maybe not dead, just 'no longer active'. Twitter is braced for a coup, but what was it that prompted Stephen Fry's sudden abandonment of his favourite form of mass communication?

Well tweetie pies, we did it. Yes, you and I, through our constant following, our shameless @replies and our traitorous re-tweets of a certain broadsheet which in a surprising Sun-like manner has taken immense pleasure in slating the reputation of the man it once heralded as our very own “national treasure”.

The backlash follows an article by the Guardian focussing on a couple of quotes lifted from an interview Fry gave Attitude magazine. Not only were they evidently taken completely out of context, but the headline was cleverly phrased to create this social media frenzy. In an effort to justify its allegation that Fry had “shocked feminists”, the Guardian quoted two women, whose condemnation of the comments was lukewarm at best.

Fry's penultimate tweet “So some fucking paper misquotes a humorous interview I gave, which itself misquoted me and now I'm the Antichrist. I give up”, is a clear indication of how frustrating these situations can be.

I recently wrote a comment piece, clearly marked as comment by a giant title on the top of the page, a cartoon byline and a first-person narrative that reads like an unsubbed diary entry. It is perhaps unfortunate that my view on what constitutes “writing to be proud of” differs drastically from that of the editor-in-chief of this minor publication. However, I complied and wrote a lovely little tongue-in-cheek rant entitled “Why I hate blondes” (please find full piece copied below).

I have now uninstalled the Facebook app on my phone because the endless flashing of messages from people telling me what a terrible person I am was overwhelming. My personal favourite has to be: “vrey professional!! well done!!! im not surprised that all your boyfrends ran away from you, smart ass, to stupid blondes! Hahahahaha)))))” [sic], followed up that evening by: “have nothing to answer? u re a shit journalist then!”.

I thought my article was pointless and silly, but this young lady just proved me wrong. The editor had clearly pinpointed our readers to perfection.

I think a thick skin is the first requirement for a career in journalism. Offending people and receiving copious insults in every form of communication possible has to be completely irrelevant to your work. Stephen Fry has been doing this for a lot longer than I have though, and it looks like he's had enough.

His final “bye, bye” tweet has caused the mourning of millions, but he cannot stay away for long. Just as I will continue to write articles madmouthing any section of society I deem deserving of my scathing words, Stephen Fry will be tweeting again by Friday. I guarantee it.

[as published in the River, 30th Obctober 2010]

I hate blonde girls. Generally, I hate them in all shapes and sizes. Tall, short, fat, thin, mediumly chubby. Dirty blonde, platinum blonde, strawberry blonde, or my personal favourite hate toy: the natural blonde.

There are studies suggesting that blondes are a mutation, and men find them attractive because they are less common than brunettes (whoever came up with that had obviously never been to Oceana on a Wednesday night). Other, more Freudian theories conclude that men are born natural paedophiles and get turned on by traits which remind them of small children.

Either way, they piss me off. Especially the self-righteous ones. You know what I’m talking about, the ones that drown their brain cells in peroxide and then bang on about “stereotyping”. The best laugh I’ve had all week was when a facebook friend posted a status update about the woes of the blonde. And mis-spelled “cliché”.

I could go into long and personal detail about my experiences with blondes. There were the ones that the teachers always liked better in primary school, the popular ones who laughed at my outfits in college, the blue-eyed skinny ones that stole my boyfriends repeatedly... the list goes on.

But the most questionable I think is the “I’m-blonde-and-gorgeous-and-I-want-everyone-to-see-me-naked-but-don’t-judge-me” ones. Lingerie model Rachel Rigby-Jones proudly told the River that she is happy to have sugar daddies who will provide her with the princess lifestyle she has always wanted. I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry,

A degree in Business, a pilot’s licence and another degree on the way and her best shot at a career is posing naked on the cover of one of the least classy of lads’ mags. It almost makes me want to burn my bras and worship the ground Germaine Greer walks on. Almost.

I am not a feminist. I’ll prove that by not even mentioning the women’s rights movement, the right to vote, the media sexualisation of women, or the rising numbers of female eating disorders in the UK. But if the best we can do for male attention is dye ourselves into some resemblance of either a pre-historic mutation or a snotty toddler, perhaps it’s the boys that need to re-think their priorities.

You know what? I don’t even think I want to justify it further. I just hate blondes – no explanation needed. Burn them at the stake, I say. Who’s with me?

Sunday, 17 October 2010

Browne Report - not all bleak

As a student who will graduate at 21 years old with a personal debt of over £30,000, I would fully encourage the abolition of tuition fees. Then again, I would also encourage philanthropists to offer me their fortunes and allow me to spend my life writing ranting blogs and baking misshapen brownies.

I was outraged when I heard that there was a chance tuition fees would be raised and I still fail to see a way in which this would benefit anyone other than the wealthy. But neither can I put my full weight behind a blanket criticism of all the recommendations set out in the Browne report.

The introduction of tuition fees in 1998 the was hailed as New Labour at its worst, favouring the middle and upper classes to the complete detriment of many underprivileged students who would not be able to front the costs, even with the help of low-interest student loans. The argument that it would discourage the less motivated was a direct contradiction of the 50 per cent target, which allowed university places to be filled by students with lower academic abilities.

An increase in fees would be bad enough, but uncapping them so that universities have carte blanche to charge whatever they want, for whatever they want leads to a de facto privatisation of the higher education sector (or industry, if you will).

Similarly, the idea of government funding for departments deemed by Whitehall bureaucrats to be the most worthy laughs in the face of vocational teaching, and courses in Arts and Humanities becoming more expensive than the sciences will cause creative industries to become even more elitist.

Yet in a slightly schizophrenic turn, there are elements of the Browne report which, if applied, would mean a more progressive system of university funding.

No up-front fees, and a repayment threshold of a £21,000 salary - compared to the current, unrealistic £15,000 - will be beneficial to less well-off students. And Vince Cable's suggestion of a tiered interest system will avoid those with the financial means (or the parents with financial means) to cover the costs from getting away with not contributing their share to the national money bank.

Part-time students would also benefit from the ideas set out in the report. It seems absurd that there is currently no help available to those having to undertake their studies whilst working, as they are often more in need of financial aid than eighteen-year-olds with parental support.

It is unfortunate that the more positive aspects of this reform have been overshadowed by the main issue of uncapping tuition fees. The Liberal Democrats have now set themselves up for a catastrophic loss of support amongst young people - a demographic often overlooked by the main parties whilst campaigning. More worryingly, passing legislation so detrimental to students will likely exacerbate the loss in confidence and trust in politics amongst my generation.

I have often made my position on higher education funding clear. Lowering university places to allow entry to only the exceptional would allow for full funding of those students who will bring something positive to our society and do not have the financial means to subsidise themselves for three years. This way, we would have dedicated, well-educated graduates without normalising debt for an entire generation of mediocre students who consider a university education to be a rite of passage, rather than a privilege you earn through years of hard work.

Monday, 16 August 2010

Internships from hell: My experience

I thought long and hard about this blog post, just as I tweeted not a word about my predicament and remained open-minded and optimistic to the point of dishonesty with most people who asked how my internship at the Independent on Sunday was going. And I do realise that throwing into the blogosphere my contempt for a national paper will not do much for my future job prospects.

I can envisage my more diplomatic lecturers reading this post and shaking their heads: “So much promise,” they might be thinking. But if I can warn future interns of what awaits them, or even give a little bit of insight to the people who caused my distress, then it's worth sacrificing the very slim chance that one day the IoS may have come knocking on my door, begging me to work for them.

I should mention to all those aspiring journalists who are gasping in envy at the fact that I got myself an internship at a national paper that the extent of the screening process was calling up the right person and saying: “Hi, I'm a journalism student, I was wondering if it would be possible to do work experience with you during the summer.” And without further ado I was offered a month's unpaid work placement, which I had to politely decline in favour of a more reasonable two weeks, although even this almost bankrupted me, my only salvation being that national papers don't expect anyone in before 10:30 am so I saved myself the peak-time train fares.

I must say that in my limited experience I have found an inverse correlation between how easy it is to get an internship and how much you enjoy it. My two weeks last summer at the Brighton Argus, which had a similar system of giving away free work to anyone who asked, was enough to put me off the local and regional news industry for life. At the more selective Press Gazette I felt I learnt more than in an entire year of university; the Guardian, which demands CVs, clippings, and application forms gained me two published articles and much-appreciated free coffee; and I have high hopes for the New Statesman, which brought me in for an interview for their coveted internship.

But back to the Sindy. Day after day, in my usual pushy way I would ask for research, transcriptions, stories, tea-making or any other task that the news desk might need fulfilling. I was met with disdain and complete disinterest.

Although at first I assumed that it was a personal, after the first few days it became apparent that of the vast number of interns the IoS takes on, the majority spend their time browsing the web for ideas to pitch and subsequently get rejected without so much as a reasonable explanation. I say the majority because there were exceptions. Namely the Cambridge student who was interning for three months and the Oxford student whose parents got her work experience at the IoS at every available university holiday. They seemed to get quite a few bylines.

Not that there wasn't a highlight to my ordeal: I was sent off to a Quaker house (at my own expense, of course) to do vox pops with very friendly phtographer. Also, the cafeteria soup is cheaper than the Guardian's and the bread is nicer. But I wouldn't want to be inaccurate and infer that we were never given any work; on a couple of occasions someone would come over at 6pm with some 'urgent' research, and when explained two hours later that the information was unobtainable, it turns out that they were pretty sure that was the case already.

This is just my story of two very unpleasant weeks, but every day hundreds of aspiring journalists are put through terrible hardship in order to acquire this kind of valuable “experience”. And for what? In the hope that in the future they will be able to break into the industry. Fingers crossed they don't end up entirely disenchanted before their big break. Fingers crossed they don't pick the Independent on Sunday.

Saturday, 17 July 2010

Has someone missed the point of Facebook?

Government documents, political articles, final dissertations, legal arguments... even blog posts are sort of thing that I expect people to take seriously. But Facebook groups? You must be joking. Oh wait, you probably are!

Back in the days when I was still allowed to ‘become a fan’ of things (much more non-committal than ‘liking’ them, I find) I was a self-proclaimed fan of serial killers, eugenics, coco pops, Beverly Hills 90210 and ‘if the world ends in 2012 I won’t have to pay back my student loan’. Does this make me psychotic, schizophrenic or a cereal-eater? No. It means that I understand that sites such as Facebook are not to be taken seriously.

Those of you well versed in the art of social networking will also recognise the tongue-in-cheek aspect of Facebook compared to rivals such as Twitter, or even Myspace in its hayday. Facebook is private; members can handpick who they want as contacts and edit that list with a couple of clicks. In this familiar and enclosed environment, why shouldn’t we be allowed to make jokes with our ‘friends’, regardless of how distasteful others may find our sense of humour?

Cameron’s idea that he could scream out into Facebook oblivion about where spending cuts should lie is nothing short of hilarious, prompting the most popular response from this newly-engaged public to be along the lines of ‘if you can’t work it out yourself then get out of government’. I wonder if Facebook founder Mark Zuckerburg is a closet communist and it was all a set-up.

As if this hadn’t made me sceptical enough of Cameron’s so-called ‘down with the kids’ attitude to social networking, along came the whole ‘R.I.P. Raoul Moat You Legend’ Facebook group affair, which with a little help from his mates at the Daily Mail, our Prime Minister managed to blow so out of proportion to that the poor woman who set it up has had her face plastered all over the press for her ‘sick joke’. I suppose it doesn’t help that she’s a single mother, either.

I recognise the insensitivity the group displayed to the bereaved families of Moat’s victims. I also accept that this group was not only politically incorrect but also downright offensive. However, the idea that a government should be able to remove anything from the public domain based on that set of criteria is not only a travesty to the ideal of free speech but also a prelude to an era of censorship which will see many comedians, writers, musicians and journalists unemployed in the near future.

I rarely update my Facebook status with anything that is not drowned in layers of irony, sarcasm and obscure and useless references that few people pick up on. As far as I’m concerned this is all part of the point. If I were only allowed to write the sort of things that would be considered acceptable by politicians and right-wing media outlets I would delete my account in an instant. And surely that’s not what David Cameron wants.

Sunday, 27 June 2010

Save your soul

I didn't have the privilege of walking past an O2 shop yesterday morning to see dozens of people queuing around the block, rubbing their clammy hands together in anticipation of the iPhone 4. I have been told, however, that it was not a pleasant sight.

Why was I happily surrounded by my Toshiba netbook and ancient Motorola flip-phone as opposed to standing in Oxford Street drooling over Apple's latest gift to humanity, Stephen Fry might ask.

First of all, I don't have a spare £299 lying around to spend on a handset. Neither am I about to take out a mortgage for the sake of owning a better phone, unlike all those extremely unlucky people who recently signed a 24 month contract for an iPhone 3G and are now waving useless Apps in front of fashionably bored iPhone 4 owners.

But to all those of you in the tech-savvy world, with a burning desperation to immediately purchase the latest smartphones, I would put to you that Apple is not the way forward. The knowledge and interest that I lack in the world of technology I make up for in the world of chocolate and I must say that no matter how good a Kit-Kat may taste, I have not bought one in years.

Apple are the Nestle of technology. They're everywhere and they taste good but what about the not-so-shiny shenanigans that go on behind the scenes to create your beloved machines?

Apple outsources the majority of the hardware production to Foxconn, whose factory in China has caused so many suicides that the company sent out a contract to all employees to end its liability should anyone die on site. The media outcry forced Foxconn to withdraw this idea, but the working environment is still a breeding ground for isolation and depression.

Employees told the BBC that the factory that is in charge of creating iPhones and iPads is run like an army training centre. Uniformed employees work at least two hours of overtime each day, and 100 hours of overtime a month are the norm. The pay is the equivalent to around £200 a month and the intensity and pressure put on meeting targets is so extreme that in the run-up to the iPad launch the factory lost 50,000 workers every month because they could not keep up with the expectations.

And if on balance you still feel that the need to buy into Apple's cult-like world, what will you get for your loyalty? Although the smug arrogance of Apple's attempts to ostracise its users from any other company may not seem like a problem at the moment, it will do soon.

Microsoft, Adobe, Google... where will it end? Well, it seems like it's only just begun. Steve Jobs has launched a war against all the big names in the industry. But why will people continue to buy in to a brand that is soon going to be ganged up on by all the other major players who have been shunned and disparaged? The answer is that they won't.

If there were no other alternative out there, I would understand consumers putting to one side their moral dilemmas and pragmatism of the future. But there are so many other smartphones that are just as functional, yet don't require sacrificing your soul.

I mean really, Google's latest operating system is called Android Cupcake. What could be better than that?

Friday, 25 June 2010

Is the end of true debate in sight?

I remember all the arguments against televised debates during the election. I also remember thinking that people who opposed them probably didn't have an understanding of what 'democracy' actually means.

The idea of giving everyone as much information as possible and allowing them to make up their own mind is what I believe makes a society truly democratic. Even if you don't agree with their decisions or their criteria they've used to take them.

Yesterday evening the Free Society hosted the penultimate in a series of four of debates on the theme of libertarianism and hyper-regulation.

Always a fan of a political event, I attended enthusiastically - as much for the hope of some engaging conversation as for the promise of free wine. I was not disappointed on either count. The speakers, who included Isabella Sankey, from Liberty, Philip Johnston, assistant editor of the Daily Telegraph and Mark Wallace of the Taxpayers Alliance, were articulate and impassioned. They even managed to momentarily sway me towards a more libertarian stance.

Although I thoroughly enjoyed the evening as a political campaign meeting, I hesitate to call it a debate. There was no premise upon which the panel was set to build a case, no contrasting views and no opposing comments from the audience.

It seems somewhat ironic that a group which claims to promote civil rights would not attempt to make all possible arguments available, allowing the audience to arrive at its own conclusion. Instead, the organisers were guilty of the exact attitude they were recriminating the government for: a paternalistic "we know best" outlook on the rest of the population.

Hopefully it does not become the norm to put on debates for the sake of propaganda as opposed to democracy and people continue to be outraged at the thought that they are being told what to think.

Wednesday, 16 June 2010

We live in public

I really would love to begin this post with a Brave New World quote or some borrowed Orwellian imagery. But the concept of comparing technologically-ruled 21st century life to the police state described in dystopian literature has by now been cliched into oblivion.

However, last night's Channel 4 broadcast of We Live In Public, Ondi Timoner's Sundance-winning documentary about the internet pioneer Josh Harris, left me tweeting slightly more reticently than before.

The image painted of Harris is that of a man emerged in the world of technology. He talks about spending so long in front of the television as a child that he was brought up more by Sherwood Schwartz, creator of Gilligan's Island, than by his own parents.

As an adult, Harris developed an alter-ego to mask his social difficulties. This resulted in him attending business meetings and public appearances dressed and acting as a child-like clown named Luvvy.

In 1999, after various online ventures had made him a fortune in the dot.com boom, he embarked on a new project, this time tainted by his sadistic tendencies. More than 100 volunteers were locked into a bunker wearing matching uniforms, while they were filmed eating, sleeping, showering, having sex and using the toilet, as well as being subjected to emotionally tortuous interrogations.

These were deeply disturbing scenes to watch. The volunteers had been stripped of all dignity and individuality, monitored and experimented with like lab rats by a millionaire visionary with a God complex.

When this project came to an end (in January 2001 the NYPD raided the terrarium), Harris decided it was time to put himself under the same scrutiny and he and his girlfriend moved into an apartment rigged with motion-sensitive cameras and all-hearing microphones. Their life would be broadcast online and viewers would be able to chat to each other, as well as to the couple.

Watching their relationship deteriorate further and further before reaching intolerable levels of dysfunction is a harrowing experience. You feel the urge to shout at them to get out of the game and live real life, where they might have a chance at fixing what seemed like a loving relationship at the beginning. But they don't, as ultimately the experiment was more important and Tania walks out.

I am aware that many celebrity couples have since decided to document their lives for the benefit or E4 and MTV viewers. But I always assumed that this was for the purpose of furthering their careers, or at the very least for the cash. Then again, what about those millions of people whose Facebook relationship status goes from 'in a relationship' to 'single' to 'it's complicated' every few weeks? What are they getting out of making their relationship a public affair?

What about tweeting that you've just had a fight with your girlfriend or blogging about your husband's affair? I wonder how many relationships around the world are being put under unnecessary pressure by our obsession with making our lives a free-for-all.

These matters have, of course, been pondered upon by much more authoritative voices than my own, and I doubt I would have anything new to add to the debate. I would encourage a bit of self-reflection, though. Watching the documentary made me realise how disturbing I find situations which I purposely put myself in on a daily basis.

I'm not suggesting that anyone quits their social networks, blogs, photo albums, youtube videos, podcasts or chatrooms. But perhaps we would al benefit from distancing our online actions to those of real life. Otherwise we may make the step from living in public to barely living at all.

Tuesday, 8 June 2010

The reason behind my blogging hiatus

I find it difficult to describe myself in tech-terms. I am neither a geek, nor a denier, nor an enthusiast, nor a target consumer. I am not ignorant yet I am not particularly knowledgeable either.

In fact, tech-wise, I am probably the equivalent of those kids in school that would hang out with the cool girls one day, have lunch with the nerds the next, then sway indifferently to the goth section only to turn up the next day in preppy chic.

The upshot of such an insipid – sorry, I mean versatile – attitude is that you have a lot of people to invite to a birthday party but no one's shoulder to cry on.

This is what I have been made startlingly aware of in the last few months, as my happily functional little world of tech-indecisiveness began to unravel.

I was emerged in journalism research essay-writing when the first in a string of disasters took place. My main laptop became spyware-infested and therefore, pretty much useless. It is now sulking in the corner of my bedroom waiting to be reformatted by someone who knows what reformatting means.

But not to worry, there's always Kafka, my pretentiously-named, somewhat incompetent but nonetheless trustworthy little netbook.

Oh wait. Now the wireless connection in my house has stopped working .

Phew, I really need a brake from all these technology failures, I think I'll go for a walk. Halfway down the street it turns out my iPod has run out of battery, and stubbornly refuses to charge back up.

And, to ice that lovely batch of cyanide-infused cupcakes that are overtaking my tech-world, my blog was hacked, making me reticent to hand over business cards recently. All I could picture was Alan Rusbridger deciding to give me a chance to impress him and being met with a blog full of links to “Buy Viagra! Buy Rolex! CHEAP!”.

So, dedicated reader, I do appreciate your patience and beg for your understanding. My four-week disappearance was not due to neglect, but to matters out of my control. Today Though My Eyes is now back to its traditional weekly post and Kafka seems to be holding on to the internet for dear life. Still no word on reformatting the naughty one, but seriously, how many computers do I really need?

I'm thinking maybe a Gok Wan-type attitude towards technology might increase my chances of having one trustworthy piece of hardware that will do it all. And that, ladies and gentlemen, is how I became Steve Jobs's dream come true.

Sunday, 9 May 2010

A night to not remember

It was a chilling moment last night when the country gathered around TVs, radios, laptops and iPhones to see the first exit polls suggest that the Liberal Democrats might not blow away the two stagnated, backwards-thinking and barely distinguishable old parties, after all.

April 16 saw Lib Dem supporters enjoy unadulterated euphoria as a few optimistic tweets and yellow-dominated polls after the first televised debate marked the beginning – and the beginning of the end – of the Lib Dems’ very real chance of securing power.

“What happened?” is the thought flashing through the minds of stunned progressives, as the party that just a few days ago was set to win a record number of seats ended up in much the same position they started from.

It was probably naive of me to think that voters who switched to Lib Dem because Mr Clegg looks better on TV would stick with us until polling day. The general air of mourning was perhaps as much for the deflating results as for our now-bruised idealism which let us dare hope that 2010 would be the year to make a real difference to the country.

Britain has spent decades caught between the desperate clutches of a Labour party that has abandoned its grassroot socialist ideals, and a Conservative party whose reactionary core is disguised by a brazen re-enactment of 1997 Blairism.

The only plausible explanation for the Lib Dems’ failure to change this is that British voters got last-minute cold feet.

Pleas of the public to vote tactically and endless discussions about our flawed electoral system would have confused even the most knowledgeable of voters. Is it really surprising that the general consensus was “Oh, well, Cameron will do”?

To all those people I would say no, David Cameron will not do. And neither will Gordon Brown. Immigration, education, environment, NHS, Trident, income tax, inheritance tax, national insurance tax, VAT -- the list of past disasters is endless and I have no doubt that a Tory government will make failure after failure of half-hearted attempts at fixing them.

Perhaps it’s OK for some people to hang around for another three, four or five years, hoping for the best, but something tells me that won’t be necessary. Watch this space: I predict a revolution. But then I predicted a Liberal Democrat landslide so maybe I’m not the one to ask.

Thursday, 6 May 2010

One hour left. Are we making a difference?

I got up this morning, put on my #iagreewithnick badge and went off to vote for Caroline Lucas. In real terms.

Tactical? Foolish? Outrageously disloyal? Probably insignificant, realistically, although I do love to preach the power of every vote to anyone who will listen.

Facebook is telling me that way too many of my “friends” have decided to stay home and press F5 time and time again as opposed to walking to their nearest polling station and actually doing something about everything that’s wrong with this country.

I think that the best idea was undoubtedly for me to spend the night in a university newsroom playing journalist with a bunch of idealistic students that believe we’re doing a worthy deed for society and democracy.

Those of you who know me will not be surprised to read that I am writing comment.

I’ve been told I must have opinions. This is not a tough task for me. But I want to read yours! Tweet @sirenabergman or comment below to help me out. The more opinionated the better. Thank you!

Friday, 23 April 2010

Brighton Pavillion: how do I vote?

Getting me to miss a law lecture is a tough job, but I have to say that my excitement over an hour and a half of politics, journalism and debate won over my conscience on Tuesday afternoon.

The Independent Live debates began in Brighton Pavillion, where those of us lucky enough to get a ticket drank free wine, ate free canapés and then proceeded to get a rare chance to put our candidates in the spotlight.

The panel - which included representatives from the Conservative, Labour, Lib Dem and Green parties - had the chance to give a brief opening statement each and then proceeded to answer questions about education, Afghanistan, nuclear weapons, banks and immigration, amongst other things.

But did this actually sway anyone’s vote? Well, although traditionally averse to such per personality-driven campaigns, it seems the British public is getting a taste for these events and I would not be surprised if more than one floating voter left last night with a clear idea of who the MP should be.

Here is my take on the candidates.

Conservative – Charlotte Vere.
Away from home turf, the Tories perhaps felt their presence was almost a token gesture on behalf of the Independent. A few cynical laughs and ‘boo’s are the most memorable element of Charlotte’s contribution, and she was nowhere to be seen after the debate, when the rest of the panel was mingling with he audience and answering more specific questions.

Lib Dem – Bernadette Millam
Unfortunately for all the Lib Dem voters in Brighton, Bernadette put on a sorry show on Tuesday, barely identifying a single policy, fumbling over notes and generally appearing uncharismatic and dour. Of course few politicians would end up gleaming after ninety minutes trying to take on Caroline Lucas, but even Charlotte held her own better than our Lib Dem candidate. The ultimate mistake came when a member of the audience asked about the situation of the working class. Her answer was “I've been out cleaning lavatories to put food on the table”. Yes, lovely, but what are your POLICIES?!

Green Party – Caroline Lucas
Member of the European Parliament, Party Leader, and soon to be the first Green Party MP? She put the other speakers to shame by eloquently and officially setting forth important party policies - such as the introduction of a living wage, a reformed electoral system and a new generation of council housing. As far as I can see the competition is between her and Labour candidate Nancy Platts and it looks like the seat is going to everyone's favourite tree-hugger!

Labour – Trevor Beattie
No this is not a typing mistake. Neither the current MP David Lepper nor the candidate Nancy Platts were there, leaving the Labour Party representative to be a marketing executive with little apparent knowledge of policies, local issues or public speaking. Given that Mr Beattie is not a politician or candidate I don't feel his performance can be judged in comparison to the other speakers. However I would say that if Labour is hoping to win over any Green voters they need to get their act together and start at least turning up to opportunities like this to recruit valuable voters.

You can download a complete podcast of the event here.

Monday, 22 March 2010

Is Nick Clegg the new Barack Obama?

The first time I heard of the Liberal Democrats was during the run up to the ’97 election. There were those big posters of the party leaders in the Tube stations and I remember asking my mum who they were. She told seven-year-old me about John Major and Tony Blair (he was the "good guy" back then), but when I asked her about Paddy Ashdown in the middle she said: “They're the Liberal Democrats, no one really votes for them.”

And she was right. Despite having Paddy's face splashed all over the Underground, the Lib Dems got only 16.8% of the vote in that election. The following year I would leave the country for a decade and return assuming the “middle of the road” party was just as insignificant as it had been before. Yet in the intervening years, the Lib Dems had raised their votes to 18.2% and then to 22%. If the figure rises exponentially we are looking at the very least at a hung parliament this May.

But does this mean that the Nick Clegg actually has a chance at being Prime Minister? There is certainly a lot of hype surrounding the possibility. With recent announcements that he will take part in the UK’s first televised “prime ministerial” debates, it’s not hard to make a case for a Lib Dem vote no longer being a wasted one.

Re-winding couple of years to the US primaries I can remember the “is it really possible?” excitement that fueled every political discussion in the world. If I had had a say, I would have voted for Hillary Clinton as leader of the Democrats. Not because I like her policies, her hair, her husband or the thought of an ex-president’s wife being the new Mrs President. But because I thought that America was not ready for Barack Obama, and that by nominating him, I would have been giving the Republicans the election.

I have learned my lesson. And I like to think that so has the rest of the electorate. In Nick Clegg’s party conference speech last week he consistently hammered “change” and “yes we can”; told sweet little anecdotes about his children; and attempted a slightly higher than average number of jokes. Is this Obama all over again?

The parallels are undeniable: young, arguably naïve promises of “new politics”, Clegg's tax reform to Obama's health reform, the impassioned speeches about a new political system... But is the UK ready to do away with the old and in with the slightly younger and better looking?

Today Obama's emblematic health reform bill was passed by the US House of Representatives, making medical coverage available to 32 million Americans in a drastic shake-up of the system which previously denied health care to those who couldn't afford it. This landmark event seemed almost as unlikely two years ago as the US people voting in a black president.

But will Nick Clegg's tax reform have quite the same emotional impact? He is definitely trying to make it his trademark and he's doing it very well. He's taken “change” and made it “work for you”. As far as I'm concerned this is a great campaign, albeit an unoriginal one. He is articulate, honest, enthusiastic and fresh-faced, and the people like him.

There is no denying that the British public is as disenchanted with politics as it is disengaged, yet it seems like there has never been a better time for the Lib Dems. While Labour is busy slating Cameron and the Tories are busy slating Brown, I'd say to them both: “Look out Old Politics. There's a new kid in town.”

Tuesday, 2 March 2010

And I thought the BBC couldn't get it wrong again...

Anyone that knows me will know that I go through phases of spending a lot of time in the kitchen. Unfortunately, not many of my culinary experiments are hugely successful, but I enjoy myself tremendously. I also end up feeding a lot of local homeless people on my cakes which have either risen too much, or not enough, or are too sweet, or to salty, or I've just got bored of the recipe while I was making it and have no desire to eat the result.

However, for the last month or so I have drastically reduced the time I spend in an apron. This is because my housemate decided to take his radio, which has always lived in the kitchen, back up to his bedroom, leaving me immersed in the cold and lonely sound of the extractor fan.

And what was it that I had on in the background? Well there was BBC Radio 4 quite often and the occasional bout of Gay Rabbit Station, which was kind of fun. But mainly it was BBC 6 Music. Not from any great loyalty to the station or because I consciously thought it was the best, but it is very listenable, it has an interesting variety of music and it makes your ears prick up every so often.

The news that my favoured radio station faced closure left me rather disconcerted as I walked to the train station this morning, especially as it came with the unpleasant news that the BBC plans to slash its online budget by 25 percent.

I have to say that the thought of “quality over quantity“ does appeal to me. In fact, if I were asked my opinion I might suggest cutting out BBC 3 altogether and allocating the funds to making BBC 4 available during daytime hours. But cutting 6 Music and the relatively innocuous Asian Network seems like a preposterous plan that will do nothing more than shift the public outrage from one aspect of BBC incompetence to another.

I am a fierce defender of the BBC. I believe it is a journalistic treasure and I only wish more countries would adopt the same government-funded model. I bear no resentment at paying my license fee and I even actively defended the exorbitant salaries that employees were getting paid – possibly to the detriment of my future credibility. However, ever the most unwavering of loyalties can be challenged and I cannot see a way around saying that this is simply a step too far.

Within months of a general election, the idea reeks of political interests and barely hidden commercial appeasement. In one fell swoop the BBC has short-sightedly cut out a huge demographic of consumers, obviously deciding that it is not necessary to cater for the very people they aimed to reach eight years ago when 6 Music was launched, along with other digital and online incentives which have subsequently been adopted by practically every private broadcasting company in the country.

Luckily as of yet nothing is set in stone, and I think we have the power to change the outcome. By all means, join facebook groups, email the BBC (trust.enquiries@bbc.co.uk), march outside the headquarters if you have to. But please show them that we do care, we do matter, we do vote and it would be a huge mistake for the BBC to underestimate us.

Monday, 1 March 2010

Food for journalistic thought

Last Thursday I blustered my way from my warm and cosy room in Brighton to the windy, rainy streets of London for the Future of News Meetup Group which my dad was very amused to hear took place in a pub in New Oxford Street.

Not knowing exactly what to expect but hoping for at the very least some intelligent conversation I was pleasantly surprised. The strange mishmash of people – from students to lecturers and retired columnists – made for a refreshing feeling of acceptance that took a while for me to pinpoint. There is something extremely rewarding about finding a large group of people with ideas and opinions on the subjects that you practically live and breathe.

Bizarre characters were what I was hoping for and I was not disappointed. There was a beer-enthusiast and radio journalist who told us about his trip around the world, an audio-tech guy in jeans and a T-shirt who runs the most successful forum in his field, a Canadian girl with a surprising interest in Starbucks and myself, among others.

The meeting – or perhaps the wine – also had the pleasant side-effect of causing me to spend the whole train journey home talking about the evolution of news and the possibilities for print journalists in the current situation. Needless to say I didn’t see the light and answer all the industry’s questions but I was extremely satisfied and probably smiling like a lunatic when I got home that night.

I recently read a book called One Day by David Nichols (£2.99 with the Times one Wednesday – some good cross-promotion going on there, but I’ll leave that subject for another day), in which one of the main characters expresses his disgust at the late-80s student culture of sympathising with every cause, having an opinion on every issue, needing to change the world, to be an activist, to fight for what you believe... Somewhere along the line the Dexter Mayhews of the real – as opposed to fictional – world found perfection in the form of a generation in which no one cares about anything much more than what they are having for breakfast tomorrow.

I don’t expect Che Guevara T-shirts or campus marches against every war, but some sort of passion for what we are studying should be an underlying common ground, shouldn’t it? It is quite sad that in order to feel like I can comfortably talk about journalism without being considered pompous or precocious I have to go to a meeting full of middle-aged men.

Moving on from my digression into bitter student mode, I have to applaud the event as a relaxed, interesting and free platform for anyone interested in journalism and news. Bring your opinions, your enthusiasm and your knowledge and I can assure you, it will not disappoint.

http://www.meetup.com/Future-of-news/ Future of News Meetup Group
http://search.twitter.com/search?q=%23fong Future of News Twitter page
http://apps.facebook.com/meetups/smallbiz/2605/ Future of News Facebook page

Thursday, 11 February 2010

How I am going to pass Magazine Journalism (maybe)

I picked Magazine Journalism because the alternative was Photo and Video Journalism. I know this isn’t the noblest reason but it’s the truth. Although I both admire and envy those with photoandvideo (in my mind it’s just one word) skills, I would like to pass my degree, thank you very much. Ergo, magazine stand here I come.

Not that I have anything against magazines. In fact, when I lived in Spain I used to get my dad to post me (yes, post!) issues of Mizz and Sugar. But having outgrown them, I certainly don’t read enough current “grownup” magazines to reasonably expect to get a good mark in a module all about understanding them. Although in fairness, that would probaby bankrupt me.

When I found out that the assignment required “working in groups” I got that horrible feeling that I became all to acquainted with in primary school PE classes. You may know the one I mean: your heart beats a little faster; your eyes seem to find your trainers to be the most fascinating thing in the world... Then you fast-forward a few minutes to when your excited classmates are all paired up and the teacher says: “OK, who wants to work with Sirena?” Cue everyone shuffling around the football pitch / lecture theatre muttering about their group being full.

In actual fact, I am happily grouped up and excited to create what seems to be some sort of cross between the New Yorker, Cosmopolitan and Vice Magazine. Sound bizarre? As well it should – I’m involved. But who knows? Maybe this time next year I’ll be rich! Or maybe I’ll just be re-taking the module. Either way suggestions are welcome!

Wednesday, 10 February 2010

Charlie Brooker the height of cool? Why?!

Fashion is a strange thing, especially hard to pinpoint when it doesn’t refer purely to aesthetics. I recently found myself obliviously at the height of fashion when I was given a Hummingbird Bakery cookbook for Christmas and hosted my very own cupcake party, complete with a Cath Kidston apron and everything. I subsequently noticed cupcakes in the window displays of the trendiest shops and a common subject of Facebook statuses.

Fashions also seem to be distinguishable in more intellectual matters. It seems that the current trend in reading and viewing material can be summarised in two words: Charlie Brooker.

A segment of his comedy/current affairs programme Newswipe became YouTube’s highest-rated clip with over 728,833 views last week; his G2 comment pieces for the Guardian are re-linked thousands of times on social networking sites; and his Twitter profile has over 100,000 followers. I have even heard girls name him as their “celebrity crush”, despite having a self-proclaimed “face like a paedophile walrus”.

Last week, award-winning Guardian feature writer Simon Hattenstone guest-lectured at Kingston University, where I attend. In a lecture theatre full of journalism students, hands shot up when we were invited to ask him our questions. With only ten minutes left and perhaps forty students keen to contribute, it was pure luck that decided who got to speak.

One of the lucky students who were picked posed the following: “Is Charlie Brooker as angry and hilarious in person as he seems on TV?”

It does say a lot about the state of universities when that is the best a journalism student can come up with. But more to the point, Mr Hattenstone had shared stories of interviewing the likes of Woody Allen, Helen Mirren and Lou Reed, yet the celebrity he was asked about was Charlie Brooker.

So what exactly is it about this self-proclaimed “embittered cynic” that young people find so attractive at the moment? To be honest, I can’t work it out. Despite moderately enjoying his writing, I am not a fan of his TV persona. The over the top cockney accent and unwavering pessimism make me want to shout at the TV: “Who died and made you judge of the world?!”

Yet in an era when turning on the television subjects you to the likes of Popstar to Operastar, Take Me Out and, of course - the staple of the last decade - Big Brother, I must admit that there is something refreshing about a show that gets an opinion out of you.

But is his elusive ‘cool factor’ a reflection on the quality content of his programmes and writing? Or is it simply a je no se quois that Charlie Brooker innately posses (and I will never learn to identify)?

Comments and debate welcome!

Fewer students is not a bad thing

Getting into university is not The X Factor - Andrew Haldenby (Comment piece in the Times, yesterday)

If you can overcome the Tory rhetoric and get to the main point of the article, Andrew Haldenby makes a very valid point. Since when has a university education been everyone’s entitlement, as opposed to the reward for those exceptional and dedicated enough to deserve it?

It seems that Labour’s intention of making higher education accessible to all young people regardless of their financial situation got somewhat misguided and ended up making it accessible to all young people regardless of their intellectual ability.

Ironically, this has created a situation where a British degree is practically worthless when applying for jobs, which means that those successful in their chosen career are those with the financial means to support themselves while doing countless unpaid internships and work experience programmes.

This is especially true in the field of journalism, where a work placement (ie working for free) actually constitutes part of our degree, and yet we are expected to schedule it for the Summer holidays, when students are usually working in order to be able to support themselves during term time.

Perhaps it would be a more logical approach to limit university places to applicants good enough to deserve them and fund these selected few so that they aren’t forced into thousands of pounds of debt before they even have their first job.

Like Andrew said, if you don’t win the X Factor, you don’t demand Simon Cowell creates more first places, you accept that you are not good enough and move on.

Friday, 5 February 2010

Sex and the City 2 - Carrie On

I am a Charlotte. I have been since the first episode of Sex and the City that I watched. Possibly against my better judgement, I must admit to being a faithful SATC fan. I find the acting is terrible, the dialogue is forced, the clothes are ridiculous and the storylines outrageous. But I have watched every episode. I cried when Carrie left Mikhail Barishnikov in Paris and ran back to Manhattan with Mr Big (sorry if I’ve just ruined the last episode for someone but if you’ve waited until now to watch it you deserve the spoiler).

Friday Night with Jonathan Ross last week welcomed Kim Cattrall (with an oddly transatlantic accent). In case you faithful fans have missed out on the news like I had, the new movie is out May 28th and it appears the plot is being kept a complete mystery. The trailer and interviews with cast members seem to reveal few details about the film other than a trip to Marocco, a terrible soundtrack (out with Henry Mancini and in with Jay-Z seems to be the motto) and the unfortunate Sun-style tagline “Carrie on” that actually made me groan.

It has to be said that despite all arrows pointing away from the cinema, I am desperate to see this film. Probably for the same reason as I felt compelled to watch Saved by the Bell – The College Years, I need to know what happened next! Namely: did Carrie and Big stay together?!

It could be great, it could be terrible. Watch this space, I’ll report back.

Apple strikes again. iPad anyone?

Is there anyone in the Western world that hasn’t ranted or raved about the iPad on their blog by now? Love it, hate it, love to hate it... I have heard more clichés than I can remember over the last few days. It does remind me a little of one of those so-called celebrities that pops up out of nowhere, is suddenly all over the press and in everyone’s conversations but yet no one seems to know what this person has actually done.

I am not an Apple denier. I don’t care that people buy the products because they are “cooler” or in fashion. If I had more money I would probably buy an iPhone; if I had a lot more money I might buy a MacBook Air and feel uber-cool on the train. As it is I have an ancient iPod and that’s as far as I go.

I should also say that I am not tech-savvy. I don’t bother to argue when people tell me the virtues of OSX vs Windows as they’re probably right, but to be honest, I don’t care.

When it comes to my “no opinions” policy though, I do draw the line at this new gadget. Stephen Fry wrote a very amusing article in The Guardian last Friday exulting the wonders of this machine. And to be honest, I was willing to listen. He began by stating the obvious reasons why people would be sceptical: no multitasking, no Flash player, no camera, no GPS. I nodded my head approvingly and waited for him to dismiss these shortcoming in favour of some huge revelation that he has the inside scoop on. His answer: it’s really fun to use.

Forgive me for not being sold.

And other that the tech-problems, the marketing problems (I mean 'iPad'? Really?), I am also confused as to how you are supposed to use it. Are you supposed to put it on your lap like a laptop? You would get rather a sore neck looking down. Are you supposed to hold it similarly to an iPhone in one hand and use the other? Because that doesn’t look very secure to me, and after spending $499 or more on an iThing, I don’t think I’d want to risk dropping it.

The verdict? I would have to agree with Charlie Brooker’s take on it: “It's an iPhone for people who can't be arsed holding an iPhone up to their face. A slightly-further-away iPhone that keeps your lap warm.”

Tragically, though, I am still expecting some Apple magic to touch the pumpkin and turn it into yet another gadget which will undoubtedly wean its way into our lives over the next few years, killing off even more of humanity’s imagination and interaction and probably making poor Orwell turn in his grave.