Thursday, 17 December 2009

College needs saviour

WHEN Cumbria University launched in 2007, the motley collection of former colleges had one jewel in the crown, the world famous former Charlotte Mason College in Ambleside.
Named after its founder, the pioneer of modern child-centred education, the college maintained its reputation with generations of teachers. It was also the only campus Cumbria had in the Lake District, with the fells and lakes featuring prominently in the promotional campaign: “Bring your dreams.
So when Cumbria University realised it had a cash crisis, with its deficit now standing at £28 million according to leaked briefing papers, and the axe was sharpened there was only one choice for the chop: Ambleside campus.
Vice Chancellor, Peter McCaffery, appointed this Spring with a brief to sort out the finances, has unsurprisingly been overwhelmed with shrieks of protest from educationalists, students and the local community, when he made the shock announcement that the campus was to be “moth-balled.”
There has been an on-line petition with 4,000 signatures, lecturers have threatened to strike, councils and MPs have launched campaigns.
Students are seeking legal advice after they were told they would have to move to other campuses, even though they only came to Cumbria University because of the Charlotte Mason connection. Nor had they budgeted to travel to Penrith, Carlisle or Lancaster (and certainly not the university’s other teacher training centre – in Tower Hamlets). Some have two-year contracts with Ambleside landlords.
When this was pointed out to Mr McCaffery at a stormy meeting he had no help or advice.
On-line petitions, protest meetings and demands from the local MP, Tim Farron, that the Government intervene had come to nought when, at a meeting at the House of Commons this week (Dec14) Mr McCaffery told Cumbria’s MPs just how deeply in the mire the university’s finances are.
Not only did the amalgamation of the former colleges fail to take advantage of any rationalisation of back office functions, it guaranteed employment to so many staff that the wages bill is out of control.
Worse, the Higher Education Funding Council for England neglected to tell the new University that the former Newton Rigg Agricultural College at Penrith needed £25 million spending on its infra-structure.
Mr Farron is calling on the HEFCE to provide stop-gap funding given that they were partly responsible for the current financial situation at the university.
He is also working with the university to launch an endowment fund for Ambleside, after he secured a six-figure donation to the campaign. But even the energetic Mr Farron accepts this appeal would fall at the first hurdle if the university were to remove undergraduate students from the campus.
Mr Farron said: “Ambleside has proven to be the most successful campus in terms of recruitment. To effectively close the campus is madness as well as a huge blow to staff, students and the whole local community.”
Vice Chancellor Professor Peter McCaffery said: “We are living in difficult times, and like many other organisations, have tough decisions to make. “
The mothballing of the Ambleside campus is expected to save the University £1.75 million pounds a year, a third of what the 600 students and 200 staff are believed to contribute to the local economy, and peanuts compared to the University’s deficit.
In fact many students fear being moved to Newton Rigg, as they believe that it will be the next campus for the chop.
The best hope for the Ambleside campus may yet be a traditional link with the Church of England, which ran St Martin’s College including the Charlotte Mason complex, before Cumbria University’s exciting takeover.
The Chancellor of Cumbria University is the Archbishop of York, John Sentamu.
The Board of Governors will consider the proposals in February 2010, although the academic board, as expected rubber-stamped the plan at a meeting last night (Wednesday, Dec 16).
• An edited version of this blog will appear in next week’s pre-Christmas Private Eye.

Monday, 23 November 2009

Floods lessons to be learned

ENVIRONMENT secretary Hilary Benn was due to brief the House of Commons today (Monday) on the weather that brought chaos to the West of Britain over the last four days.
He may have expected an easy ride as the natural sympathies of MPs to the plight of hundreds of displaced families may have blunted their critical faculties.
But the representatives of the traumatised constituencies may be in angrier mood than he expected.
No doubt one hand will be clutching the begging bowl which may make it difficult to throw punches with the other.
But they will have been doing less than their duty if Mr Benn is not forced to listen to some of the very important lessons that need to be learned from the experiences.
It is tempting to think that the circumstances were exceptional. For a weather front to linger long enough for more than a foot of rain to fall in one area, as it did over the Lake District last Thursday, may be a once in a thousand year event.
But it may not. As Phil Rothwell, head of flood strategy at the Environment Agency, points out:
“The exceptional may become the norm with climate change. The evidence is that these energetic weather systems will happen more frequently.
“Climate change scientists say that very heavy rainfall in a very short time can happen almost anywhere in the country and we should expect more of them in the future.”
So it is important that the statistical novelty of the floods that still afflict Cumbria does not blind the Government to the need for its strategy to take into account the likelihood of more extreme weather.
The first obvious re-think is the propensity to build on flood plains. In nearly all less spectacular floods across the country it is the flood plains that get it worse.
This was a factor in the more dramatic floods on Humberside and in Gloucestershire in recent years.
Insurance companies are now refusing to provide cover for some properties built on them.
Local knowledge warns where they are, yet local authorities are under pressure to provide land for industry and land for affordable housing. This is true of developments around Cockermouth and Workington near the junctions of the rivers Derwent and Cocker. It was also true of Burneside outside Kendal which was a flood victim a day earlier.
So what is Mr Benn to do? Just ban building on flood plains.
Make sure the Environment Agency keeps a central register of all land with a proven track record of routinely filling with excess water in wet weather and give it the power to veto building on those areas.
Authorities will then be forced to seek alternatives and clean up brown, dilapidated and even poisoned sites, which will have a double benefit for the environment and wildlife.
Second, be more questioning of imposed protection status for waterways.
Local residents are convinced that the floods, the second in Cockermouth in four years, were at least partly due to the designation of the twin rivers as of special scientific interest by the European Union, in order to protect salmon spawning grounds.
Local Cumbria County councillor Eric Nicholson said: “That allowed English Nature to forbid the removal of gravel, which is all right in open country, but is no good near town centres.
“They said let the rivers find their own course, well it found its own course all right – right down Main Street. It is outrageous that people have had to suffer because of this useless legislation.”
Mr Rothwell said that no amount of dredging would have prevented the flooding at Cockermouth.
The agency has upgraded the flood defences for Cockermouth since the 2005 flood, which famously devastated Carlisle, but these were over-topped by the sheer amount of water, he said.
Third, there needs to be more strategic thinking about providing places for water to go before it reaches towns.
Coun Nicholson was angry at United Utilities for keeping nearby Thirlmere reservoir, which supplies water to Manchester, brim full since the end of August.
“If they had opened the sluice gates and let water out earlier then it would have had capacity to take some of the flood water when we needed it to,” he said.
Mr Rothwell had more sympathy with this idea, saying that up-country reservoirs or flood plains were being actively explored as an alternative to disfiguring towns and villages with ever more concrete flood defences.
Anyone foolhardy enough to venture into Cockermouth at the weekend would have seen the evidence of the sheer volume of water that flowed into the town.
It may well be that major flooding was inevitable. From the height of the debris, the Cocker was about 15 feet above normal, 20 yards wide moving at 25 mph - impossible to stop. On this occasion dredging the Derwent might not have made much difference.
But stopping to dredge rivers at the same time as allowing building on flood plains looks like a recipe for disaster as the good folk of Cockermouth discovered.
But there are optimistic signs that the authorities, notably the Environment Agency, are able to learn lessons from these disasters.
Mr Rothwell pointed out that the £38 million defences put into Carlisle after 2005 were one of the positive signs of last week’s floods, in that they had done their job. Carlisle escaped the worst of the damage this time.
This was despite the fact that the defence system was still not finished. Construction workers were actually diverted to plug gaps during the worst of last week’s weather.
He also said drain management by local authorities had improved, with constant clearing of blocked surface water paying dividends. This was a particular factor in Humberside’s floods.
Communication and warning tactics had also improved. It was noticeable that residents of Cockermouth who had to be rescued from flooded houses in 2005 say that this time they were moved before the waters struck.
The Environment Agency, however, needs to be wary of having too much reliance on new technology.
There were 46,000 text messages sent to people living in areas under threat and who had registered for the flood watch scheme, and the Agency claimed that 86% of messaged got through.
However in Burneside and Kendal, both of which were flooded before the deluge reached further north, said they had either not received the texts, or were told to expect the flooding six hours after it actually happened.
Mr Rothwell said that he would be investigating short falls in this system.
So, as well as the tributes and undoubtedly deserved praise for rescue workers and community spirit, there is plenty for Mr Benn to address in his speech to the Commons today of practical significance to the whole of Britain.

Tuesday, 17 November 2009

BBC needs good lawyers

LET’s hope that the BBC had its best team of lawyers on duty on Monday (November 16) when its early evening main news bulletin broke every rule in the book.
Three of its first four items grossly overstepped the guidelines to media outlets and ran roughshod over every basic principle of media law.
Fist up was the arrest of a man, who had already been charged with five rapes and six indecent assaults.
This was expanded to a long piece about a police investigation going back 19 years and featuring a violent and predatory criminal labelled the Night Stalker.
The law says that when someone has been arrested then the media is restricted to basic information like the name of the accused and the alleged offences. The idea is that any further detail could prejudice a fair trial. Once charges have been laid the restrictions are even tighter.
It is natural for the police to go into “we’ve got our man” mode after such a long investigation, but the media is supposed to be more circumspect than this.
Not only did the BBC imply that the man was guilty, it also ran the risk of giving the accused a possible defence at any subsequent trial that the jury and witnesses had been unduly swayed by the report.
For the BBC to repeat the history and scope of the inquiry, and use words like “horrific” attacks, as it did, is a dreadful abuse of the system.
The next report was an allegation from a soldier who had been convicted by court martial of abusing Iraqi prisoners, that his commanding officer was gung-ho in attitude and somehow to blame for what went wrong.
The commanding officer named by the BBC would have had very good grounds for a libel action, remembering of course that under British law it is the media who have to prove statements are true. How could they possibly justify such a damning claim?
Similarly a report on the re-selection of South West Norfolk Tory prospective parliamentary candidate, Liz Truss, cheerfully stated as fact that she had had an affair with a named Tory MP. If he felt so inclined he could probably take the BBC to the cleaners.
The news reporter said that the affair was documented on the Internet. But legitimate news outlets like the BBC surely cannot rely on the Internet to prove stories to be true. At the very least this should have been an alleged affair.
Whether any of these stories had been run past the lawyers we shall never know. Perhaps the BBC, fortified by the routine flouting of legal restrictions by Crimewatch, thinks it is immune to guidelines the rest of the media has to obey.
But quite apart from the risks that the BBC ran of legal action against itself, it must have had anyone interested in the training of journalists and the upholding of the laws of defamation and contempt of court tearing their hair out.

Wednesday, 11 November 2009

Santa's snail mail

IT is the time of year to be thinking about Christmas cards and being in the marketing business, I wanted to impress clients with a company card, to thank all those who had supported my new venture.
New technology would surely help my search for an appropriate design. So I started trawling the internet. Could I find the right message? No I couldn’t. And even if I had the ordering and payment systems were far from straight forward.
And then I had a brainwave. How about buying my cards, from a shop, on the High Street, and paying over the counter, with cash? Quaint old-fashioned thing that I am.
All I have to do now is write them all out, long-hand, with a pen, then put them in envelopes, with addresses, put on a stamp and take them to a post box.
Then a man can come in the middle of the night, in the freezing cold, to take them to Preston, to be sorted, so another man can come round delivering them, by hand (if he's not on strike, that is).
This old technology makes no sense at all and will never catch on. But it still suits me.

Monday, 2 November 2009

Strange story of national media

News values of national newspapers and broadcasters still manage to bemuse. Even after 40 years in the business, I get taken by surprise at their fixations with each other.
Around a month ago I sent a piece about Lake District's own Taffy Thomas accepting the post as Britain's first Story-Teller Laureate.
As a national first, I naiively expected the national media to have some interest. Alas, neither a line nor a sound-bite appeared.
Locally there was some coverage. The Westmorland Gazette was naturally interested in Grasmere resident done good. Radio Cumbria followed up by interviewing Taffy on its prime drive-time slot.
But despite every news desk in the national media being given a prompt, reaction was there none.
Then I happened to mention this lack of response to the news editor of The Independent on Sunday, while discussing other matters.
He asked to look at the story and said he thought it was really interesting. It duly appeared pominently, as a page 7 lead, in Sunday's edition. As the Independent on Sunday has such a restricted circulation, you can view the article at: http://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/books/news/laureate-to-help-storytelling-live-happily-ever-after-1812920.html
It even carried a photograph of Taffy, which was taken by Eileen Wise and not the writer of the article as mistakenly indicated.
Which is all fine and good, but it is what happened next which shows how the national media feed off each other.
On Monday morning, Radio 4's Today programme suddenly became interested, even though they had ignored their own BBC cousins at Cumbria, and there was the full glory of a James McNaughtie interview, during which Taffy told a tremendous tale, The Clever Wish.
Cut and paste this youtube link to re-listen to Taffy's national recognition: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BSE5uu3bvUE
Stranger still the Telegraph suddenly woke up to a story they had nearly a month before and ignored, this time deciding to put it on its web-site, giving credit to The Independent web version! See: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/newstopics/howaboutthat/6478957/Britains-first-storytelling-laureate-named-as-Cumbrian-Taffy-Thomas.html
How about that, indeed. You couldn't make it up, Taffy.

Thursday, 22 October 2009

Iconic move raises stink

THEY say smells evoke memories. But one story this week evoked an avalanche of memories for me, including a pungent stink.
Strangely the smell was foul: vomit, stale bar towels and sickly sweet beer. But the memories were mostly pleasurable.
The story was the announcement by Scottish & Newcastle (S&N) that it wants to close the Federation Brewery, Dunston, Gateshead, with the loss of 63 jobs by the middle of next year, because of falling beer sales in the UK.
More poignantly that means switching the production of Newcastle Brown Ale nearly 90 miles down the A1 to Tadcaster and the same brewery where John Smiths is produced.
Having been brought up in Newcastle, and weaned on Broon’s sister brew, Amber Ale, the first time I ever got drunk was by quaffing three bottles of the real thing.
It was at a party where the only record was the Beach Boys’ greatest hits album, when they were just a fun surfing band, before the pretentious and over-rated Pet Sounds.
Later associations with Pop music included a Lindisfarne LP, and memorably Bonnie Bramlett, of Delaney and Bonnie (in the days when Eric Clapton was a heroin befuddled second guitarist), staggering off Newcastle City Hall, unable to cope with the effects of drinking Brown Ale on stage.
The famous bottled beer, with its iconic blue star label, first went on sale in 1927. The day after ''Broon's'' launch, it was said the local police appealed to the brewery to make it weaker because the cells were full of drunks.
The ale was also dubbed ''dog'' by drinkers, as they would make the excuse of going to ''walk the dog'' when nipping to the pub.
Like many Geordies, which I am not, I still remember with affection the sweet yeasty smell rolling across the city from the plant in Gallowgate where it was brewed next to St James's Park football ground until 2005.
In the mid-1970s, when I was resting between jobs as my theatrical family taught me to say, I actually worked behind the bar at the working men’s club owned by the brewery workers.
It was opposite the plant, and I remember with a mixture of emotions the huge draymen coming in with bottles of Brown Ale secreted in their dungarees and obviously nicked from the assembly line.
They handed these in as “payment” for their pints of Scotch or Exhibition Bitter. The club steward was delighted with this corrupt arrangement as the Brown Ale was worth more than the keg beers, although what it did to his stock-taking is hard to imagine.
Years later Newcastle Brown won Protected Geographical Indication status from the EU, meaning the Ale had to be brewed in the city, but that became a meaningless gesture with the shift a couple of miles across the River Tyne to Dunstan in 2005.
Now, Federation Ale and Dunstan, where the River Tyne was so polluted in those bad old days that anyone falling in was dead in seconds, conjured another set of memories, again accompanied by a none too pleasant smell. But that's another story.
The Gallowgate plant was finally demolished last year to make way for a science park.
The brand continues to be popular abroad, particularly in the US, but S&N say the decision was forced by falling beer sales, which have created general over capacity in the UK brewing sector.
This smacks of big business making decisions to please the stock market and financial institutions rather than customers and workers.
But then we are so used to this mind-set that it doesn’t even raise a stink these days.

Wednesday, 21 October 2009

Compare the comedies

I actually remember tuning into BBC’s comedy panel show Mock The Week back in August 2008.
I don’t normally have such good recall of the pap that passes as entertainment on television, but this time I did as I was shocked and outraged by panellist Frankie Boyle's personal comments about Olympic swimmer Rebecca Adlington.
As a media pundit and aficionado I had been missing the brilliant and always amusing Have I Got News For You. In its absence I thought I would try out Mock The Week.
It is billed as satire, but I found the whole programme little more than juvenile insults about people who had no chance to answer back or defend themselves.
Well it seems that I wasn’t the only one. The BBC received 75 complaints from viewers. I am surprised there weren’t more.
Now, finally, the BBC Trust has ruled that the game show breached guidelines over the comments broadcast on Adlington.
Panellist Frankie Boyle's remarks were branded "humiliating" and "risked offending the audience" by the body. Too little and too late is the phrase that comes to mind.
It followed the Olympic champion's success at the Beijing Olympics.
The ruling repeats the remarks, which I won’t except to say that Boyle said that Adlington looks pretty weird. Worse, because Boyle judged that her boyfriend was really attractive, he, Boyle that is, made completely unfounded assumptions about Adlington’s behaviour.
Mock the Week’s producer has apologised, admitting: "The ribbing may have gone a tad too far on this occasion".
That just isn’t good enough. Apologies don’t come much more grudging than that.
Well it may have taken the BBC Trust more than a year to come to the obvious conclusion. I acted a mite faster.
I switched off and never again have I bothered to tune in.
Regulation of the Media is always a complex and contentious issue, with Freedom of Speech, sense of humour, defamation, and people’s sensibilities and privacy just some of the conflicting factors in constant tension.
The off switch, however, and to quote a certain Meerkat, is simples.

Monday, 12 October 2009

Lakes inspire ethics charter

THE man who tried to warn the financial world that it needed to clean up its act years before it crashed has now jointly launched a new movement to put ethics at the front of public debate.
A new “Twenty First Century Charter” was launched at the House of Commons on Tuesday, October 13.
The authors are Professor David Jackman, formerly head of ethics and education at the Financial Standards Authority, and Cameron Butland, Rector of Grasmere, in the Lake District, where Prof Jackman now lives.
They say the new Charter draws its inspiration from the Chartists of 1848 who sought to effect change in society through a popular movement.
The Chartist movement was one of the most influential mass political movements of nineteenth century Britain and helped create modern parliamentary democracy.
The new Charter is born out of a belief that there is a need for a new debate as a society about its ethical base for this new century, say the authors.
The hope is that when launched the Charter might be adopted by individuals who will use it to govern how they behave in a number of ways.
First, as a personal discipline, so it may be carried on credit card size sheet in a wallet or in a purse, and used to help make everyday choices in the light of a universal set of values. It is to be hoped decisions based on common values might produce a more harmonious and less divided society.
Second, each statement on the Charter can be a focus of discussion and as part of the launch there will be a web site with the facility to provide a forum of discussion.
Third, it is hoped that the Charter will be applied to many different aspects of community life and by organisations. It will probably provoke further specific charters perhaps in the areas of politics, spirituality, education etc.
The authors say it aims to wrestle with significant over-riding themes: financial responsibility, sustainability, continuing inequality, globalisation and demographic pressure – and to see new ways forward in everyday situations and in building community.
The Charter is divided into ten commitments. The first five relate to individual actions – face, stand, recognize, match and see; and the second five apply these actions in a communal way – belong, risk, give, turn and search.
The co-founders will introduce the Charter to members of the press and an invited audience in Committee Room No.5 of the House of Commons on Tuesday (October 13) from when The Twenty First Century Charter is for everyone to sign on the internet: www.21charter.com.
Cameron Butland said: “The Twenty First Century Charter stands in the tradition of the great 19th century Charter and the social organisations that developed from it, reinterpreted to meet the challenges of today. The Charter is a grass-roots movement committed to engagement in community life and our common future.”
Prof Jackman said: ‘The Charter offers a framework to find our shared values and common ground. This will be vital to deal with the significant challenges ahead. We invite everyone to consider The Charter carefully and to involve others in finding ethical ways forward.’
They say the Charter is independent and not aligned to any political party, cause, creed or interest, but it will strike a chord with those who heard Conservative Party leader David Cameron call for people to confront the culture of irresponsibility at the party’s annual conference at Manchester.
The House of Commons was booked before the recent MPs’ expenses scandal and was more to do with resonance with the Chartists movement than making any political point, said Professor Jackman.
In 2002, in the wake of the crisis at Enron, Professor Jackman wrote a 20-page discussion document, calling for ethics to be accepted as a driving force in the financial sector.
In a section ominously prescient for the more recent crisis, he wrote: “The pressure of short-term gain could be seen to encourage undesirable behaviour. Staff bonus payments may often seem to be geared to pure bottom line success. ..
“Some individuals behave unethically because they think it is worth the risk. This may be related to a short-term agenda, or may be simply personally selfish. People weigh up the pros and cons and take a chance.”
Despite the support of the then chairman of the Financial Services Authority, Howard Davies, not much changed as a result of the report, but Prof Jackman is already taking action to make sure the new charter has an immediate effect.
In a related development he and Mr Butland have set up Grasmere Crucible Community Interest Company to pilot a British Standards Institute standard for a sustainable community.
The community project, with 28 members, will develop a range of sustainable activities, including a community market, employing underused land for a market garden and creating craft workshops, linked to affordable housing for rent.
If the pilot is successful such communities will qualify for a BSI kite mark.

Friday, 25 September 2009

Debate trips up pc brigade

Oh joy! Question Time is back on BBC1. The political debating programme chaired by David Dimbleby is a marvellous show-case for what politicians and the parties are really like and the best entertainment on the telly by far.
It slid back into form with ease, as it would after 30 years of practice.
The most fun is usually provided by the old guard and the same was true last night with Tory grandee Michael Heseltine providing the sort of edgy contribution that only those with little ambition left dare to give.
The most illuminating debates often come from the most unlikely questions from the audience, and again this was the case.
The so-called silly question at the end was whether Arlene Phillips should be given a news readers’ job.
There were of course two separate issues that this was supposed to tease out.
One was the continuing row over whether more mature ladies should be allowed to front up news programmes, with various rows over the demise of the likes of Selina Scott and Moira Stuart, while male counterparts survive into their dotage.
In response to this row BBC director general Mark Thompson has apparently charged his managers with finding a female news reader aged more than 50 years.
Then there is the sacking of 66-year-old Arlene Phillips as a judge on Strictly Come Dancing, to be replaced by the younger previous winner Alesha Dixon, aged 30.
And of course all the panellists on Question Time tried to join in the fun by making silly suggestions, including the deputy Labour Leader Harriet Harman pointing out that it was always a male Dimbleby who fronted BBC political shows, and never their sister, although it wasn’t made clear if they have one.
Even in jest, this answer revealed just how blinkered Ms Harman and her all-male fellow panellists are by political correctness.
No one made the obvious reply.
Arlene Phillips has decades of experience as an expert choreographer and therefore was the ideal judge on Strictly, but not a journalist and therefore totally wrong for news reading. So the right answer was no.
Modern politicians cannot see wood, in the shape of common sense judgement, for trees, such as ageism, sexism or any other species of right-on doctrine.
Neither age, gender, sexual orientation nor similar are the right criteria for making decisions about employability. Experience, training and ability to do the job are.
Trust Question Time to highlight the absurdity of politicians’ muddle-headed thinking.

Tuesday, 22 September 2009

Editors incorporated

Yesterday’s ramblings about all these former Editors becoming media consultants had two immediate and unexpected sequels.
First Paul Horrocks has today announced he is quitting as editor of the Manchester Evening News after 12 years (according to that brilliant web-site www.holdthefrontpage.co.uk)
After 34 years with MEN Media, guess what? Paul has decided to set up his own media and communications consultancy next year.
The MEN is probably the best editorship on the UK regional newspaper market but the announcement follows a turbulent few months for MEN Media, with more than 100 job losses and the relocation of all the company's weekly journalists to the MEN newsroom.
Joining the MEN from the Daily Mail in April 1975, Paul worked as a reporter, crime correspondent, news editor, assistant editor and deputy editor before being appointed editor in 1997.
One of the longest-serving regional editors in the UK, he was president of the Society of Editors in 2007, served on the Press Complaints Commission from 2002 to 2006, and is a current member of the Defence, Press and Broadcasting Advisory Committee.
He also sits on the appeals board for Royal Manchester Children's Hospital and is a non-executive director of MIDAS, which promotes business investment in Greater Manchester. So he’s no slouch.
With him in Manchester and Charles McGhee in Glasgow, I feel like the filling in a Lake District sandwich.
And no doubt Paul will soon be joining the ranks of former editors, including yours truly, on www.editorsinc.co.uk a new web-site advertising the wealth of talent available to organisations wanting advice on media matters, training and associated activities.
Although it is a bit sad that these former titans of the local press are now touting their wares on a web-site set up by the Society of Editors, their professional association.
Talking of former editors, Paul’s predecessor and former boss at MEN, Mike Ungar, popped up in another story on HTFP. He is apparently the editorial director of his son’s internet property site, which has just been bought by that irrepressible North West entrepreneur, Nick Jaspan.
The site Place North West, and set up by Ungar junior, also called Paul, has been acquired by How-Do, which specialises in news, information, features and events for the creative and media industries of the North West.
It is the brainchild of entrepreneur Nick Jaspan, whose regional weekly newspaper the North West Enquirer unsurprisingly folded after just five months in 2006. It must have had the worst business plan of any of the ill-fated launches of recent years, trying to attract advertisements with a copy sales penetration of less than one per cent.
Place North West will now become a free-to-access site having been subscription-only since its launch in 2007.
How-Do told HTFP its greater resources would "enhance Place’s established market position while the lifting of the subscription barrier will increase the site's traffic significantly."
Paul Unger, who has won several awards for property journalism, will retain a minority stake in the new business and will remain as editor.
He will be supported by reporter Michael Hunt and his father, editorial director Mike Unger, formerly editor of the Liverpool Daily Post, Liverpool Echo and Manchester Evening News.

Monday, 21 September 2009

Room for media experts

Nice to see the experienced and talented former Editor Charles McGhee has found a new niche in life, even if it is almost identical to my own (www.lakesandbaycomms.co.uk).
The former editor of the Scottish daily, The Herald, has launched his own media consultancy firm.
Charles McGhee was in charge of Glasgow Herald for three years and prior to that was editor of its sister title the Evening Times for six.
Charles' press career spanned three decades during which time he also held senior roles on the Daily Record, Sunday Mail, Scotland on Sunday and the Sunday Times as well as a stint with the BBC.
He is also a former president of the Society of Editors and past member of the Press Complaints Commission.
According to his company web-site www.mcgheemedia.com, Charles offers organisations "a pragmatic approach to developing and improving media products and services".
He is performing consultancy work on external and internal communications and crisis management along with training and development.
In my darker moments I wonder if he, and I, is rather missing the point about the decline of regional and local newspapers.
I was at a Cumbria Chamber of Commerce luncheon on Friday, where all the talk was about internet-based social media being the way to reach customers.
Facebook, MySpace, Twitter, Delicious, Blogging, YouTube and others were trotted out as ways of getting your company known through word of mouth, enhancing your reputation and engaging with customers.
If everyone thinks the web is the way to market his or her organisation, then newspapers, radio, television and old-style media experts may be surplus to requirements.
But I think the game was given away when the presenters agreed that there were now so many videos on YouTube, the trick was getting anyone to look at yours.
In other words, on what Clive James used to call the hyperspace super highway, chaos reigns.
My own experience is that the web is all right if you know exactly what you are looking for, but if there is any element of browsing or wanting to weigh up different options it is a waste of time.
So the traditional media may still have a role to play, after all. But which, when and how?
That is where the experts come in.

Monday, 14 September 2009

Load of balls

THERE is no doubt of the media event of the last seven days: Darren Brown’s so called prediction of the National Lottery numbers.
However before we all get carried away, let’s get one thing clear. He didn’t. Predict the Lottery numbers, that is.
What he did was show the numbers after the event. If he had predicted them, he would have revealed them in advance, which is of course impossible.
If he could do that then the Lottery would be dead as an event.
When it came to his programme on Friday, explaining “how he did it”, it was difficult to decide whether to be annoyed that he would insult our intelligence with the complete baloney, or admire his bare-faced cheek.
The whole explanation was nonsense.
First he demonstrated how people’s behaviour could be predicted when fear was involved. The demonstrations involved a woman scared of mice putting her hand into four boxes, one of which was supposed to contain said rodent.
All that demonstrated was a schoolboy standard sleight of hand with the card showing a mouse. Whichever was the last box, the card would have been revealed next to it.
The man asked to stamp on polystyrene cups, one of which supposedly contained a knife to sever his foot, was even more irrelevant. No cup had the dagger.
Darren Brown had correctly predicted which six cups the man would leave to last by writing their numbers on the back of a cheque for half a million pounds that was supposed to compensate the man for his disability if the trick had gone wrong.
That was a classier sleight of hand. But it was irrelevant to the lottery prediction, especially when Darren later explained that the emotion of a group thinking they had predicted the lottery numbers was interfering in their psychic ability! Either emotion helps or it doesn’t. He can’t have it both ways.
By then Darren had moved on to the theory of crowd wisdom, based on the ability of a number of people to predict the weight on a bull at a country fare if an average was taken of their guesses.
This is quite different to predicting lottery numbers, as country folk do have knowledge of the weight of animals and it is a fixed fact they are guessing.
This is not the same as predicting random numbers.
So the whole experiment of getting a room of 24 people to use averages to guess the lottery numbers was bogus.
The real trick was to get the guinea pigs to believe they were actually having an impact.
Even this was undermined by Darren Brown doing the calculations himself on the actual live lottery attempt and then not even telling the assembled 24 what their guesses had been until he allegedly revealed them on the live broadcast. P-lease!
There are many theories to what Darren Brown’s trick really was. My own favourite was the use of the white board to write down the numbers after the draw. This was completely unnecessary to the visual appreciation of what he was trying to demonstrate and therefore probably holds the clue.
Any modern teacher will tell you that white boards do some pretty clever things. Transferring his scribbles onto the still hidden balls would be my best guess.
None of this reduces my appreciation of Darren Brown.
His great skills are as an entertainer, his showmanship, his cheek if you like.
He can get enormous publicity for his new series. He can enthral a nation. He can get 24 apparently intelligent people to believe they were collectively predicting the lottery numbers when they weren’t.
And nor did he.

Friday, 11 September 2009

Sunshine, thousands of visitors, but poor Media

THE sun does shine on the righteous after all!
Westmorland County Show, one of Britain’s oldest and Cumbria's biggest livestock shows, attracted a record 29,000 visitors who bathed in wall to wall sunshine – not a cloud in the sky – yesterday (Thursday 10th of September 2009), at Lane Farm, Crooklands, Kendal, Cumbria.
The formidable Christine Knipe, chief executive of Westmorland County Agricultural Society, which hosts and organises the show, and her army of helpers made a magnificent job of it.
For once there were no major distractions. There was no animal horror disease, the sun shone and even the visiting government minister knew something about agriculture.
Huw Iranca-Davies is the first Labour agriculture minister for many years who actually has farms in his constituency, in Wales.
He made predictably positive noises about locally produced food and knew enough about less positive aspects of farming, like milk prices, to fend off the odd probing questions. He will have gone back south with his ears ringing with the farmers’ vested interests, however.
Highlights included the Cumbria Axemen, a chainsaw gang attacking huge logs, and, following their highly successful first visit last year, the Sheep Show was again on hand to entertain and educate visitors.
Livestock included Cattle, Sheep, pigs, Goats, Horses, Poultry, Hounds, Dogs and Rare Breeds, together with Alpaca classes making their second appearance in 2009.
The bizarrely garbed Cumberland and Westmorland Wrestling and birds of prey graced the display rings.
Women’s Institute, Learning for Life and Craft Marquees did a roaring trade, and with more than 350 trade stands, and the area’s largest local products Food Hall with special demonstrators and Celebrity Chefs, there was plenty to keep the visitors entertained.
Indeed as most of the visitors left the show-ground they sang the praises of the “fantastic” show, with many of the early starters staggering out at lunch-time, flushed with the heat and staggering under the weight of their purchases.
The trade stands which invested in staff to woo the punters seemed to do extremely well, so it is not just the day’s sales that count, but also the leads and long-term marketing opportunities.
The only black spots were the traffic, with some visitors, particularly those from Lancashire and further South complaining of two-hour waits on the Motorway, and the media coverage.
National media don’t bother or even understand. Local Radio Cumbria had a scaled down presence. Regional TV were noticeable by their absence. And most strangely of all The Westmorland Gazette, which now comes out on a Thursday completely ignored the show in that day's edition, even though it had a stand hoping to sell hundreds of copies.
And the internet coverage was even worse. By lunch time on Friday there was not one word of narrative or one single result on the web-sites of Radio Cumbria, The Westmorland Gazette or even the Westmorland County Agricultural Society. First up was The Gazette at 1.36 pm on Friday.
When the Gazette printed on a Friday it managed to get the full results in the pages of the paper on sale from 4 a.m. on the day after the show (Friday).
The faster the technology, the slower the service, it seems.
Never mind the media, if the County Show could guarantee the sort of weather it had in 2009, it could guarentee the title of best show in the North, and possibly with the demise of the Royal Show, the best show in England.

Sunday, 6 September 2009

Lord, Lady, Vicar but no sticky fingers

I had a charming evening this week at a well-attended and lively launch of Cartmel Sticky Toffee Puddings re-branding.
Cartmel itself is the most attractive of villages on the southern fringes of The Lake District. It has a disproportionate number of successful attractions for such a small settlement.
Sticky Toffee Pudding promises to be the most famous of all.
Although there have been sticky toffee puddings before, notably at Ullswater’s Sharrow Bay and Windermere’s Miller Howe hotels, it is the Cartmel variety which has conquered the world.
Howard and Jean Johns who had a restaurant in nearby Grange moved to Cartmel Village Shop 20 years ago and started making puddings to take away, in a kitchen on the premises.
In winter when the number of visitors declined, they started exporting them by piggy-backing on the distribution network of Woodalls of Waberthwaite, of Cumberland sausage fame.
Soon the likes of Booths, Selfridges, Waitrose, Harvey Nichols and Fortnum & Mason stocked the puddings, made from ingredients such as cane sugar, sticky dates, free-range eggs, fresh local cream and butter.
Now 35 people are employed in a converted warehouse down the coast at Flookburgh, making more than one million puddings a year.
But in true Cartmel fashion the pudding people know they need to keep moving forward and it was re-branded with new packaging and a new web-site this week. Rest assured the recipe remains unchanged.
The re-launch included a re-attachment of apron strings to the village shop, with links to other businesses.
I was invited as I was in the village doing a feature for Lancashire Life. It is going in the November issue, which, confusingly comes out in the middle of October.
Among the other guests were Lord and Lady Cavendish from up the road at Holker Hall, and Cartmel Priory Church team vicar Father Robert Bailey.
After canap├ęs there was an interesting speech from Sticky Toffee Pudding managing director Charlotte White who explained that although the recession had helped the firm, with eating in being the new eating out, nevertheless the brand had decided to reconnect with the place of its origin.
Then tiny puddings were served on the sort of spoons you get to eat Chinese soups, so no-one had to suffer sticky fingers.
Mike Glover
www.lakesandbaycomms.co.uk
Other useful web links:
www.cartmelvillage.com
www.cartmelpriory.org.uk
www.stickytoffeepudding.co.uk
www.blackhorses.co.uk
www.thecavendisharms.co.uk

Saturday, 5 September 2009

Introduction

WELCOME to the first blog by Mike Glover, ex-Editor of The Westmorland Gazette, Yorkshire on Sunday and the Bradford Telegraph & Argus.
During 40 years in journalism, I have also been a trainee and qualified journalist at the Evening Chronicle in Newcastle-upon-Tyne; reporter, sub-editor and news Editor at the Evening Post and Echo in Hemel Hempstead, Watford and Luton; freelance reporter on Fleet Street, when it still was Fleet Street, mainly on the Daily Mail, Daily Star and Sunday Telegraph; researcher on Thames Television; and the Editor in Chief of York & County Press.
So you could say I’ve been around the block a few times.
I now run a media consultancy based under junction 36 of the M6, just outside the English Lake District.
Services include media training, media campaigns, media relations and freelance journalism. You can find more on www.lakesandbaycomms.co.uk
The idea of this blog is to explain why various media cover certain news in certain ways, and to track trends and quirks of the media.
There will also be occasional reports of interesting events or developments.
So if you have any questions or suggestions, feel free to post them on this blog.