Saturday, 29 November 2008

Imagining the future of mobile technology

Occasionally I find myself chatting to students or colleagues about where technology is taking us in terms of what we can use to enhance the learning environment.

At present I've bought a couple of small, mobile phone sized, camcorders produced by a company called Flip. They launched their first pocket sized camcorder a year ago, and with a staff of just 90 people now control 90% of the global camcorder market. Simplicity has been the recipe for their success. The camcorder looks like a mobile phone, has a record button, an on/off switch on the side, a nifty USB port that pops up from the top, and contains basic editing software built into the unit. This is downloaded onto a PC or Mac the first time you use it, and allows basic editing. From there it's a breeze to upload onto YouTube, MySpace and so on. The lens is fixed, the video only VGA quality (although an HD version has just been released in the States) and the aim is to use the kit for video snapshots. This is social filming, following on from where Face Book and Twitter have taken us, in terms of text based instant communication.

The Flip camcorders hold up to an hour of material, and I have to say that I am having to physically wrench the ones I bought for evaluation out of my colleagues' hands. Over in Science, they've been used to capture gravity in action, make short presentations on how Statins help reduce cholesterol, and keep records of projects in progress. They've also been used to make sports reports on team matches, while the English department are gearing up to give them a good workout next week.

What's been fascinating is how attractive the kit is to staff who wouldn't normally get involved in technology. The Flip camcorders don't look threatening, are easy to use, and the payback is instantaneous. It doesn't require great filming or editing skills, just a willingness to think imaginatively about how the kit can be deployed. Indeed, given the fact the camcorders come with a TV Out facility, some staff have used them to show experiments in action, with the luxury of having an AVI file stored for future use.

Based on a week's experience, I'm guessing we'll be placing some orders in the not too distant future. 

Meanwhile, a spoof offering made me laugh at the insanity of where miniaturization is taking us. The Pomegranate Phone is a marvelous piece of inventive fun, and worth looking at.  The promo video is below:

The accompanying website is even funnier, and worth a look. You can find it here

Of course, where the satirists lead the reality is sure to follow. I'm quite interested in the opportunities presented by the Optoma Pico a ridiculously small projector, designed to accompany a smartphone, PDA, iPod, or laptop. There are definite possibilities for making instant presentations, multimedia installations and the like.  I tend to get my hands on kit, start with a premise about how it can be used in an educational setting, and then see how those around me respond. The end results often aren't what I imagined they might be. But that, naturally, is the beauty of experimenting with the unknown. 

Friday, 28 November 2008

Greetings to the reader in Kuwait!

You may have noticed that down at the bottom right hand side of this page there's a map of the world. It's produced by a great company called ClustrMaps who offer a rather interesting service. 

Every time someone visits my blog their IP address (the numerical version of a web address, which looks something like 104.23.776.54) is noted by ClustrMaps' software, which records where in the world it originated; and keeps a note of that geographical information. This data is updated once a day and plotted on the world map. Using this I can see where my readers are based.

So, it's with some surprise and delight that I've discovered I have a reader in Kuwait (plus one in Taiwan too). This is fantastic, and is a great advert for the global reach of the Web.

I must confess to being very curious about my reader in Kuwait. Do they teach Media Studies there? Would they like to? So, now that I know you're out there, I hope you don't mind me being nosey and asking you to get in touch. It would be marvellous to find out how you found my blog and what parts of it are of interest to you.  

You can mail me directly at or leave me a comment.

Either way, I hope you're enjoying my postings, and I trust you will continue to do so in the future.

Take care, 


Filming for effect

As my various Year 12 Media Studies groups get stuck into planning the opening two minutes of a film that they must plan, shoot and edit, it seemed an opportune moment to reflect on what makes for a powerful cinematic viewing, when time is tight, money non-existent and resources more limited that one might like.

Quite often, the simplest ideas are the ones that bear the greatest fruit. That means thinking carefully about mise-en-scene - lighting, location, costume, framing and so on - and how to maximise what strengths are available. 

I was reminded of this as I read about a film by the first time director Lance Hammer, who's spent several years self-funding, writing, directing and then editing his feature length debut, Ballast.

Although Hammer shot on 35mm film, he did so using hand held cameras, and then edited the movie over two years using a Mac, Final Cut Pro, Color, and DVD Studio Pro. We have all of the hardware and software in school that Lance himself used. So, from that point of view, taking on board how he made the film, and the lessons that he learnt, are relevant.

First though, here's a link to the trailer for Ballast:

There's a great article about how Hammer did it on the Apple website.

You can read it here.

There are many stories and examples of people bucking the Hollywood system and following their own dream. The example of how Ballast got made is the latest in a long line of guerrilla film makers, such as Robert Rodriguez.

His seminal book, Rebel without a Crew, became a must-have guide about how to transform the obstacles of film making into advantages. It's worth a read.

Anyway, all being well, I'll have some work in progress to review and show early in the new year. For now, it's planning, planning, and more planning still, to ensure the ideas that are brought to life are the best ones possible.

Wednesday, 26 November 2008

Woz it all about?

It's very easy to become overly fixated on studying audiences and their changing leisure/media consumption patterns, without considering the powerful forces shaping the evolving dynamics of audience/institution interactions at a technological level.

What is often overlooked is the role that engineers play in the empowerment process.

So, it is with much pleasure that I came across this rare interview with Steve Wozniak, one of the co-founders of Apple and the engineering genius behind it in the beginning.

His views on hacking iPhones, the importance of engineers as the forces for change in mass communication, and other matters too, make this an engaging watch. I'm linking to the 12 minute version, but there's  a cut-down version too on the BBC. Personally, I think the longer version is worth the extra wait.

Click here to watch the interview.

Monday, 24 November 2008

Online time is beneficial for teens, says report

This is one of those reports that will either make your heart sink, or leave you with a feeling of smug justification that those fuddy duddy adults don't really know what's going on in the lives of the young.

A three year American study, called the Digital Youth Study, which took an ethnographical approach to teenage online usage, has concluded that teenagers now use Web 2.0 socially based content and content creation software to define themselves, develop friendships and communities, and facilitate peer-based learning experiences.

The interesting aspect for those of us looking at ways to enhance learning in secondary schools is how little this technology has crept into the educational environment, as well as how diverse the knowledge and skills bases are amongst students.

Here's an interview with the lead researcher Mizuko Ito.


In July a report from the University of Nottingham came to similar conclusions. It had spent 18 months investigating the use of Web 2.0 technology in secondary schools. Its findings were that students who used Web 2.0 were mainly doing so outside of school time, and were not integrating it into their learning. 

It's something we're keen to address at Berkhamsted School and hope to integrate Web 2.0 into our curriculum over the coming months. 

Certainly, there's no doubting the fact that students are accessing information in a radically different way to that of their predecessors, even five years ago. The challenge, and it is an exciting one, is to maintain the best practice that teachers are using now and blend it with an appropriate range of complementary and accessible technological tools. 

We live, as the saying says, in interesting times.

Friday, 21 November 2008

Sachsgate the Update

It's the story in the British media that just keeps on giving. Some weeks after comedian Russell Brand and TV host Jonathan Ross made sexually explicit phone calls to the home of actor Andrew Sachs, the BBC's governing body, the BBC Trust, has reported its view of the whole debacle.

The chairman of the Governors, Sir Michael Lyons, has made it clear that Brand/Ross overstepped the mark of taste/decency, but that this outcome was predictable. The people at fault primarily were those in production and editorial clearance teams who failed to stop the broadcast. Interestingly, Brand's show was produced by his own production company, and the Trust has also said that the BBC must review its working relationships with presenters who front shows made by their own outfits.

Additionally, the Trust recommends tightening up disciplinary procedures against those who fail to follow editorial guidelines.

One final point - the Trust also announced that senior BBC executives would be foregoing their bonuses this year. I was surprised to read that they get bonuses at all. Isn't the BBC supposed to be a Public Service Broadcaster? Since when did market forces capitalism creep into Broadcasting House?

Lord Reith, the founder of the BBC, must be turning in his grave.

Thursday, 20 November 2008

One Minute Writing Winner

I don't suppose I'll get many opportunities to brag about my own writing accomplishments, so indulge me this little moment of glory.

At the top right of my blog page you'll see a button, announcing that I was a daily winner of the One Minute Writer Challenge. 

I came across this a week ago, idly browsing the Blog Buzz section. 

One Minute Writer is an idea so simple it's pure genius. Each day Beth Anderson, an American writer, posts a new topic onto her site (motto, 'You have 1,440 minutes a day. Use one of them to write.'). Contributors then have 60 seconds to offer a response. I can only think in verse for such a short response, so have been sending in 60 second poems. It's great fun. Really.

I have to admit to having become an OMW addict, not least because it means I can contribute quickly and then spend a few minutes browsing the excellent contributions that flood in.

If you click on the Winner's button at the top right hand side of my page it'll take you to my entry about vintage clothes. But do have a nosey through the other entries and daily topics. It doesn't take long and it's fascinating.

From an educational point of view, I'm enjoying the intellectual engagement with a new community. This seems to be social networking at a higher, more literate, level, and that's a great result of digital publishing technology enabling audiences to bypass the traditional closed-door approach of publishing houses. Sure, none of us are making any money, or at the most, I guess there are some making a paying hobby out if it, but the truth is that writing for an audience, to which you also belong, is an empowering and very positive experience.

Try it. You might like it....

Tuesday, 18 November 2008

Making money from online video

This is a thorny issue that has vexed professional producers of moving image content, whether it be TV or film, for some time.

On the one hand, video sharing sites like You Tube offer fantastic viral marketing opportunities. On the other, video sharing sites like You Tube offer fantastic video piracy opportunities.

So, the billion dollar question has been for the last 3-5 years, how do you make money out of online video, when the majority of your audience think file sharing is fine ('we'll be paying to go to the cinema the first time round' and other excuses), content appears freely no sooner than it receives a theatrical release, and tracking content round the world wide web is so hard?

A new company is aiming to offer a solution to institutions whose bread and butter work is the production of moving image content. The premise is simple: take copyrighted content, embed metadata (the information about information, or tags as they're known to most of us), turn it into any number of streaming formats, host it, syndicate it to other sites, like presumably, You Tube et al, generate reports about whose using it, then make a charge for providing (a) the means of tracking and (b) the means of somehow stopping pirates.

The company in question is called My Video Rights and I'm interested in it because it's attracted two heavyweights of the British media: Kelvin MacKenzie was the controversial editor of the Sun newspaper, one of the founders of influential if barmy cable TV station L!ve TV (the one with the Person of Restricted Growth, bouncing on a trampoline while reading the weather), and a man who tends to become involved in edgy media projects. The other is Peter Bazalgette, whose TV company Bazal I worked for happily for several years (Groundforce, Changing Rooms etc). Neither man is likely to have put their name to a venture they think has a small chance of success.

However, will it work, is the question I keep asking myself? Certainly, there needs to be some way for media institutions to monetize their online video assets. However, I can't help but think of small drops and large oceans when I try to imagine how this will actually work to the point of reaching a critical mass. 

At a time when advertising revenues have gone through the floor, the uptake of online video by audiences continues to grow, even if it does so at a reduced rate. Trying to square the need to raise revenue from someone, even if it's not the audiences themselves, but perhaps advertisers keen to see embedded links in video, or at the least some sort of metric data that proves eyeballs are eyeing content, is one heck of a challenge.

I wish the creators of My Video Rights all the very best. I am certain they will not be the last institution to attempt to crack this elusive media nut, but it would be great to see a British company leading the way.

Sunday, 16 November 2008

Back to Life, Baz to Reality

I like Baz Luhrmann films. I remember working as the producer of a film review show for a London TV station back in the 1990s. I received an invite to attend the preview of his version of Romeo and Juliet. I had no idea what to expect, but anticipated a somewhat saccharine movie.

At the time I liked to see at least one film a week about which I didn't read the PR blurb. It was fun sitting in a cinema auditorium, with no idea what was about to unfold. And since I was watching films before they'd made it to general release, I enjoyed the incredible privilege of not having friends or family spoil the plot for me. Oh no, that was my job....

I mention this because after a seven year hiatus, excepting the over the top, if remarkable, advert for Chanel, that in 2004 cost millions to produce, Baz is back.

His great epic, Australia, is due to open in the UK on Boxing Day, and has its world premiere next week. The only problem is - he hasn't finished editing it yet.

The press are having a field day over why the $120 million film hasn't been placed in the can and sent off for preview.

Only Oprah Winfrey and her audience have seen a cut of the film, and that was without all the special effects included.

Naturally, the rumour mills are working overtime. The main claim alleges that Fox has forced Luhrmann to change the ending from one that's tragic to one that's happy. 

Entertainment magazine Variety has been following the story. Oprah Winfrey has provided a behind-the-scenes video, which doesn't give away the plot, but provides a quick insight into the challenges facing a cast and crew of more than 300, who decamped into the Outback.

The Guardian features an interview with Baz Luhrmann, in which he explains what makes him produce films that go against the grain of contemporary thinking.

If the ending has been changed because of focus group feedback it'll be a real shame. However, if Luhrmann is making his alterations because of a desire to complete the narrative, in a way that he believes is artistically closer to the ideals he held dear, when he embarked on this adventure, then we should trust him to make the right call.

Critics are pointing out that Titanic et al did not have happy endings, but still went on to break Box Office records. If Australia has a narrative that offers a plausible ending at its conclusion, together with fine acting and lush cinematography, then the mood of the finale will not matter.

It's worth observing how even those at the top of their game can still feel the heat of indecision and doubt. Remember that the next time you find yourself stuck at a creative crossroads during A level coursework!

The Face behind the Book

Given how powerful Facebook has become it's strange that every interview I read with Mark Zuckerberg, the founder of the world's biggest social networking site, seems rather bland. 

Maybe it's the increasing presence of PR minders, sent to preserve the corporate brand image, or perhaps the guy is genuinely introverted in a techno-geek way, but he manages to give little away about his passion or vision, either when reflecting about the past or looking forward to the future.

Nonetheless, if it's titbits you're after then here's the latest offering, which has appeared in the Guardian.

Friday, 14 November 2008

One Minute Wonder

I came across this fascinating blog yesterday.

It's called One Minute Writer. The aim is that each day a new topic is posted onto the blog. Contributors have 60 seconds to respond, thus keeping replies short and sweet. There's even a link to a You Tube 60 second countdown clock.

Anyway, as it happened, yesterday's topic was technology. I thought it would be interesting to try to compress my ideas, and get them written down in under a minute. What came out was a Haiku-esque poem.

I like the idea of enforced brevity, as someone prone to wanting to play with language and use more words than necessary, when given the opportunity.

One Minute Writer is a great concept, that challenges and embraces the data saturated world we inhabit. I recommend trying it out, or at the very least, having a browse through some of the entries.

Here was mine about technology:

Mobile phone, 
Tactile to touch, 
Brings Web to Palm, 
Fingers caress
While mind wanders.


Thursday, 13 November 2008

Second Life, No second chances

Reality - Virtual - Reality - Virtual....

Mirror mirror on the wall, where the hell am I, dimensionally speaking?

This has to be one of the most bizarre stories about new media technology I have come across.

Here's the headline: boy meets girl in internet chatroom. Virtual chat leads to real relationship. They move in. Boy and girl create avatars (virtual egos) in the 3D online world, Second Life.

One day, girl wakes from a nap and finds real boy having virtual nookie with a virtual lady of the night. Virtual boy breaks up with virtual girl. But they still live together. For real.

Girl decides to test boy by hiring a virtual private eye to set a virtual honey-trap. Virtual boy, created by real boy, spends all night praising virtual girl. They get back together. Virtually. All is well.

Except, real boy gets real friendly with real girl from America. Just chatting using virtual alter egos. Apparently.

Now girl is divorcing boy. For real.

Read the full gory details here. 

On the one hand this is a desperately sad story, but on the other it goes to show that human social interaction is changing its rules and domains with alacrity.

Technological determinism suggests that at some critical tipping point new technology embeds itself, become the accepted norm, and then unduly influences audience responses. This sort of story seems to suggest that humans are remarkably able at disrupting intended uses, finding new ways of engaging with technology, and periodically throwing up the truly unexpected.

15 minutes of fame, a lifetime of misery

Today's media contained a few stories that point to an interesting change in the relationship between audiences, institutions, and the expectations that both sides have for each other.

First up was a report on Radio 4's Today programme, featuring Piers Morgan, one-time editor of the Daily Mirror, and now a judge on Britain's Got Talent, and a French astronaut. The topic under discussion was whether or not the media encourages young people today to focus too much on celebrity itself as a career path, rather than more noble aims such as pushing at the frontiers o science. 

Piers Morgan admitted that as his young sons grow older he feels more game keeper turned poacher, and now fears that the saturation of celebrity gossip flooding into our lives will be detrimental to the emotional and spiritual health of our youth. The astronaut, who was giving a talk about his life and work at a school in North London, explained the intrinsic joy and satisfaction that comes from a career devoted to the greater good of mankind.

It's a fascinating conversation, from which we can deduce that media institutions are sending out unbalanced messages, while seemingly feeling incapable of redressing the status quo.

You can read a transcript and listen to the extract here

Next up is a long article from Helen Boaden, the Director of BBC News. She's posted a keynote speech which she delivered at an e-democracy conference earlier in the week. In a nutshell, she argues that the rise of technological means for recording and distributing still and moving image content, coupled with a willingness of citizens to record events around them, and for broadcasters to take this information and process it, has led to an inevitable change in the way news outfits work.

She provides many fascinating facts: for example, the BBC now has a dedicated unit that ingests audience produced content, reviews it, and then distributes it around the mighty BBC news machine. On July 7th 2005, following the bombing of the London Underground, the BBC received more than a 1000 still and moving image submissions,  3000 texts and 20,000 emails.  What is termed 'Citizen Journalism' is rapidly becoming part of the news agenda. As Boaden herself writes, ordinary people are finding a voice and realising their everyday lives could be newsworthy. For the broadcasters, in a cash-strapped 24-hour transmission world, this development offers audience interaction and cheap programming. To them, it's a win-win situation. Maybe it is too for the audiences who contribute, and get a buzz from seeing their footage online and on TV.  However, Boaden conspicuously doesn't mention what the rest of us think. For that, you'll have to scroll down to read the mainly critical comments that follow. Of course, those who can be bothered to respond are often those who do not match the profile of the silent majority; so, using them as an accurate weather vane of public sentiment is an unproductive task.

Boaden concludes by celebrating the most successful blogs produced by BBC journalists. Justin Webb the BBC's North America editor, with whom I had the pleasure of working in the mid-nineties at BBC Breakfast News, received two and a half million hits to his blog in October. That's phenomenal! It does point, however, to the fact that audiences may well prefer the considered opinions of an expert, rather than a 'have-a-go-Joe.'

Incidentally, Today ran a piece last week about the possible demise of the Blog. Since I'm feeling mischievous I'll link to it here so that you can draw the conclusions that either (a) the BBC is contradicting itself or (b) one part of the BBC is wrong about the other. Go figure....

Finally, I read a tragic story about an obsessed fan of American Idol judge Paula Abdul. The woman, called Paula Goodspeed, had killed herself near the star's home in Los Angeles. Miss Goodspeed had appeared on a series of American Idol in series five. Her singing was criticised by Simon Cowell and the other judges. It's a terrible tale and one that should remind us all that the media is a construct and a re-presentation of one mediated version of reality. It is not an absolute yardstick against which we should judge our own successes or failures.

We each need to live our own realities. And for that no TV, games console, magazine, or MP3 player is needed.

Tuesday, 11 November 2008

Sticks and Stones can break my bones, but only words can hurt me

Today's media outrage involves award-winning TalkSport radio presenter Jon Gaunt.

During a recent broadcast Gaunt called a councillor a Nazi, during a heated live on-air debate about Redbridge council's plans to not allow smokers to foster children.

Gaunt had meant to call the interviewee a 'health nazi' apparently, and did apologise on-air.

However, the damage has been done and following complaints he has now been suspended, pending an investigation.

We spend a great deal of time in Media Studies deconstructing language and its uses. We examine how a range of texts, both word-based and moving image, can and might be interpreted or mis-construed by different audience segments.

The Gaunt saga is proof, if proof were needed, that the pen/spoken word/choice image will always be more powerful than the sword.

Broadcasters in particular are governed by more stringent laws regarding what can and can't be said. To break the rules of taste and decency, especially in an age of heightened sensitivity, seems to be leading to ever more severe consequences.

The libertarians, of course, find this a tricky one. We can keep arguing that the right to free speech means the right to say whatever the hell we like. Although, as MPs debated in Parliament yesterday, there needs to be some balance in British broadcasting between what is populist and what is gratuitous.

It's a never-ending merry-go-round of lunge and parry, as advocates on both sides of the debate aim to make their justifications, either for renewed censorship, or unrestricted freedom of expression.

The best way foward lies somewhere between the two. In the light of the whole Brand/Ross fiasco, it does seem like a sense of perspective has, perplexingly, been lost.

Monday, 10 November 2008

The new face of well worn

Ok, so maybe I'm on a roll here, but it needs to be said.

Back in 1994, when the old guard at BBC news laughed, when I trundled off to learn how to be a videojournalist with Michael Rosenblum, news visionary extraordinaire, I felt like I was getting to live in the future, only now. If you see what I mean.

Reading the following entry about how the Society of Editors is up in arms, about the BBC's plans for national rollout of local VJs, to produce content for its website, I feel a warm schadenfreude-filled glow welling up inside me. Why? Because although I pity those struggling to make a living from a dying medium (and let's be honest, how often do you read a local paper?) it makes me smile to see the use of VJs under the spotlight once more, not this time because of the nature of the job, but because of the job itself.

No-one seems to be arguing that being a videojournalist is a bad idea. In fact, it's a great idea. What the news editors are angry about, gathered together at their annual conference in Bristol, is that the BBC is muscling in on their territory.

So, here is a radical idea...why don't we ditch the videojournalist tag, agree that content production and reporting skills/styles have changed forever, and just call these guys journalists? A journalist could be making audio, video, print, or graphic content. If we move beyond thinking that the medium is the message, as McLuhan postulated, and consider that the medium delivers multiple versions of the same message, then all of this nonsense could be resolved.

There is, of course, the issue of the BBC leveraging its behemoth like weight, aided and abetted by the billions of pounds raised in Licence fees, to distort commercial markets. On that score, the editors have a point, although the BBC's riposte that it is delivering on its Public Service Broadcasting remit, is an interesting one. Does video online count as broadcasting? Answers on a big postcard please....

Certainly, if you're in the newspaper business, and especially at the local end, now isn't the time for bleating or idle ideology. I'm lucky. I'm an educator these days, so I can sit on the sidelines and not worry about when and where the next commission might appear. If I were trying to make an honest buck in the current climate I'd be looking at integrating every which way. Link to Facebook, add audio, video, Twitter text, whatever you can imagine to make connections with an audience on the run from the product you've been touting for the last century.

For those of you in the business and thinking that maybe I'm shooting from the hip, without any backbone to support my argument, let me tell you something. The students I'm working with now, even aged 11, are making films and podcasts that I would have been proud to call my own a decade ago. They're moving into making their own motion gaphics and they are hungry for change.

Technology and rising media literacy means the next generation of paying subscribers will know the production tricks, will be able to deconstruct the machinery behind the content, and they'll be adept at making their own content too. Text on a page just ain't gonna cut it.

To conclude then, change must happen and it must take place fast. Strangely, I look at what's happening, remember the derision that greeted those of us who speculated a decade ago that this might be where we'd end up, and wonder why it all seems to have become so difficult?

Like I said at the start, it's the future waiting for now - but some of us were there yesterday.

Sunday, 9 November 2008

Where does journalism go now?

I worked as a radio and TV journalist for a number of years back in the late 1980s to mid 1990s.

I loved being a radio reporter, found being a videojournalist not really my cup of tea (face made for radio, as they say) but loved storytelling with moving pictures and words.

Back in 1994, many people mocked what the station that I worked for, Channel One, was doing, using journalists who filmed their own material. I was lucky to be part of the launch-team and it was a once-in-a-lifetime experience. 

I was reminded of this recently because the man who taught us VJs how to be multi-skilled, got in contact with me from his New York base. Michael Rosenblum was an award-winning journalist in the States who couldn't see why journalists needed a large and unwieldy team to help make a news report. As he used to say, imagine a newspaper journalist needing to take along a PA to news conferences to write everything down. So, Michael bought himself a cheap hi-8 video camera, went off to the Occupied Palestinian Territories (as they were called then) and made a film. From this he won more awards and started to preach his style of working, which he called videojournalism.

When I joined Channel One on September 5th 1994, for the first day of training, I had left behind a blossoming career working at BBC Breakast News. Most people there thought I was nuts leaving a national newsroom to help start up a small local cable TV station.

However, I could see the potential and it seemed irresistible. Of course, a few years later Sony introduced DV, which made videojournalism a practical way to news gather. We had begun humping around huge Betacams, the type you tend to see camera operators wielding. A few years ago the next evolution took place and high definition entered the equation. Indeed, we have invested in three high def camcorders at school, and these are yielding a great benefit to the sixth formers who are using them.

Over the last six years or so the power of laptops to cope with digital video, together with the software to edit and manipulate content, has grown at an incredible rate, while falling in price at the same time.

The end result of this is that anyone now can be a VJ, and the rise of audience contributed content to news bulletins on TV and the web continues. Indeed, the popularity of You Tube shows us what a cultural shift affordable camcorders, editing software, and broadband access have made possible.

Which brings me to the title of this post. Where does all of this leave mainstream journalism? It's an important question, because no matter how easy it might be to slate the tabloids, or deplore seemingly falling standards and an incessant obsession with celebrity lifestyle, the truth is that a healthy democracy needs a healthy press. 

With advertising rates plummeting, the move to online amongst consumers happening at an ever-increasing speed, and the whole communications landscape appearing to change its appearance every six months or so (last year Facebook, this year Twitter for example), newspapers in particular are scrambling to find their place in the world.

Roy Greenslade, a pre-eminent journalist, academic and media commentator, has written this week about this subject. His article is worth a browse, as it highlights a number of the issues that confront newspaper owners and editors at a time of unprecedented audience shift and financial turmoil. 

Where, then, might we look for signs of the 'new' journalism about which Roy writes in his article? I would suggest my colleague and one-time videojournalist, David Dunkley-Gyimah.

When we left Channel One in 1997 David took a path that was unique amongst those of us who had acquired new skills and then tried to find a place for them in the old-guard landscape of mainstream broadcasting. David learnt web-design, Flash animation, at a time when these technologies had just emerged.  He took his many years of experience in film making, reportage and documentary, combining them with the fledgling skills of the new media.

Since then, he has found an eminence as a producer, trainer,  and academic, investigating, promoting and designing new ways to communicate. He's studying for a PhD at present, looking at ways to embed links within video content itself, amongst other things. He's a fascinating man and I'm hoping to get him into school early next year. 

Check out his excellent online multimedia journalism site, View Magazine. You can also find a profile of David on the Apple website.

Finally, if you're interested in seeing what life was like for us as trainee VJs back in 1994 then check out this film clip, which David has posted on his site. If you look carefully, you'll even see me in a couple of shots! 

Can Gordon do it? Yes he can! Maybe.....

Ok, so I'll provide an addendum to my last post.

It's been a while since I checked out the Number 10 website, and since I was linking to it in my last post it seemed prudent (to use one of our Prime Minister's favourite fiscal words - currently devalued) to have a look-see, before I pointed to it in my tags.

Well, what a surprise and treat was waiting for me. The PM has been You Tubed and since April of last year has had his own You Tube channel. How many hits has this bastion of open democracy in the media age received in the intervening 19 months? Just over 600,000. This isn't impressive, given the rapidly rising numbers of people connected to the Web via broadband.

However, I am encouraged by the fact the PM is now inviting video responses to this week's topic - the economy. He'll then respond to any entries. 

I feel a sixth form homework bubbling away. 'Class, go away and make a short video clip for the Prime Minister. Ask him about your concerns as young people getting ready to enter higher education, where you will have to pay through the nose, so that you can hopefully gain employment in a shrinking global economy.' 

Maybe this time the PM will get back to us. That would be nice....

The Web: can it change American policy? Yes it can! Maybe...

Sticking with matters American, it's hilarious how the powerful in politics like to use the web as a tool for open democracy and reform. 

So, we should not be surprised to see that Barack Obama, the President-elect, has launched a website called Change, to enable ordinary Americans keep up to date with what's happening in the new administration. Readers can apply for jobs (as yet unspecified) with the new government, submit ideas, and share their visions for a revived American future. It's a lovely idea, but does anyone really think it will change anything?

Being a normally positive person you might be wondering from where my cynicism on this matter stems? My answer to that is the efforts of Tony Blair's New Labour government to do something very similar, which left me feeling thoroughly underwhelmed. 

When in office Blair had a new Number 10 website created, where visitors could email the PM directly. Except of course, your emails disappeared deep within Whitehall, to be buried and ignored by some civil service apparatchik. I know this because I spent several years getting my students to email the PM and see if anything came out of it. Nothing ever did.

Having an open government that's transparent is a wonderful ideal and should be applauded, but I think we all know that the real decisions get made behind closed doors. After all, if we wanted a real democracy we'd go back to the Athenian model ( see the following video link for more) where everybody had an active say. However, most of us have better things to do and appreciate being able to vote for someone who we'll spend the next four years slating, when things go wrong. Passing the buck and handing out fault. Ah, the joys of living in a free and wired world.  

Why Wikipedia can be an unreliable source

Sometimes students seem to take my advice that Wikipedia entries shouldn't be taken as the main primary source of information with, well, let's say, a pinch of salt.

It is as if my protestations that the nature of a Wiki - a collaborative document which can be altered and adapted by anyone who feels like it - count for little.

So, for those of you who are doubters, refusers, and general ignorers, have a look at this article. It describes how the entries for American senators were repeatedly vandalised and altered, in order to demean them, in the run up to the recent American election.

I will confess to using Wikipedia on many an occasion. A great deal of what it contains is erudite, useful, and very well written. Nonetheless, the rule of caution should always apply to Wikipedia entries. The bottom line is that the veracity of what it contains can't always be verified.

In conclusion then, think of Wikipedia as the starting point for research, not the finale.

Who is behind Facebook?

I meant to place this link on the blog some time ago and clean forgot until now.

Back in January 2008 the journalist Tom Hodgkinson wrote a highly critical article about Facebook, detailing the allegedly dodgy dealings of the supposed right wing neo-conservative American venture capitalists who have bought up large stakes in the world's best-known social networking site.

The article raises many questions about the dangers posed by using personal data as a currency for online popularity. However, it also raises questions about why we see so little hard-hitting investigative journalism in the UK these days.

Are journalists so in thrall to the corporations and PR companies that they fear the consequences of publishing unflattering copy? Have the skills of investigation and analysis been lost? There are many fine training institutions offering such skills, such as the schools of journalism at Cardiff and City Universities. So, what is stifling debate in the British press? Indeed, I find it sad that Panorama, once the major BBC flagship hard news documentary programme, has been reduced from a 60 minute to a 30 minute popular documentary strand, taking a populist approach to difficult stories. Not all of the world is itching to succumb to the lowest common denominator, and in keeping true to the aims of Public Service Broadcasting, surely there's space for programmes that dig deep, ask the awkward questions to the unwilling, and are prepared to make a stand?

Certainly, I remember being struck by how unusual Tom's article was, and thinking that despite not knowing what Tom's hidden agenda, if any, might be, nonetheless I was impressed to see someone in a national newspaper writing a polemical piece. 

Personally, I think there is a greater need now than ever for investigative journalism, to cut through the gargantuan amount of information with which we are bombarded every day.

As the Guardian's own motto says, 'Comment is Free but Facts are Sacred.'

Cutting it fine

I'm liking the new OCR Media Studies A level syllabus. 

We're finding that the new two-unit structure is making it much easier to make explicit links between theory and practice.

I'm now running the coursework module on my own, while my colleague Laura gets stuck into teaching textual analysis and representation via British TV drama.

On the coursework side, one of the main changes has been the introduction of a preliminary task. This allows students to try out new technologies and techniques, while also ensuring that everyone has to have a go at shooting and editing a basic video sequence.

The classes have almost finished theirs, and I'll post them to You Tube shortly. Some of them are showing real flair and I'm looking forward to seeing how they get on with the main task of making the opening title sequence and scene to a film of their own creation. 

It's great that everyone has had first-hand experience of the film-making process, although it's been more time consuming than I had anticipated.

Hopefully, I'll get some samples up later this week.

How private is your data online?

I have reminded my students on numerous occasions that placing personal information about yourself online can result in that data being seen by those whose prying eyes you might like to keep focused elsewhere.

There is a simple rule: if you don't feel comfortable with the idea of people seeing information about you, then don't publish it online. 

With that in mind I would like to share the following article. Although it's about a person posting images of themselves on Facebook holding guns from their collection, this is in America, so the guns are owned legally and no crime is being committed. Nonetheless, it's transpired that the individual's employers used something called Administrators Access to gain access to the user's profile 

This allows a range of interested parties to apply for access to your profile. You can read the full online article here. Think about it. What have you posted that you wouldn't want a university admissions tutor to see or read? 

Be choosy. Be careful. As the saying goes, 'Knowledge is Power.' And the power of personal data that's been misconstrued or taken out of context might cost you dear at some point in the future.

Better late than never

I must apologise for the lack of entries over the last month. 

A combination of an autumnal cold, followed by a mountain bike fall, which left me with a broken rib, have stopped me posting.

However, that hasn't stopped me tagging numerous events, about which I'll write now, nor of course has it stopped the world of the media doing what it does best - educating, informing, and re-presenting the world around us.

I'll start with the whole Russell Brand / Jonathon Ross debacle. Today Brand has been interviewed by the Observer newspaper and in it he reveals how he meant no malice in insulting the actor Andrew Sachs and his grand-daughter; the 25 year old producer had thought Sachs had given his permission for transmission; and since it was a pre-recorded show Brand and Ross felt they could be more free with their tongues, safe in the knowledge that someone else would edit the content.

For my money's worth, based on my own experiences in the media, based on what I see and hear working now with young people, this is what I think ought to have happened:

  1. Resignation of both presenters, or sacking if they refused to jump. Brand has at least been honourable. Ross has yet to reveal his position, as he is suspended for threee months. He might return but personally I think he should quit, go into a media exile, reflect on what influence the media has on its audience, ponder whether his actions are appropriate for a man in his late 40s, and then re-build his reputation. Let's be honest, at £16,000 a day he can afford the time to review his life.
  2. A swift response from the BBC. Why it took them days for senior brass to offer a half-hearted response is beyond me.

The broadcast apology that was made on Radio 2 yesterday seemed too little too late. The damage is done, and the insults have been hurled. Several weeks after the event and the BBC continues to be silent on who authorised what, and how far up the chain of command the approval to broadcast went. The BBC should stop hiding its failures, come clean, and make sweeping changes. 

The hard earnt reputation of the BBC, which is maintained by the many decent employees it possesses, is being eroded by the self-interest of the over-paid few. That, at least, is how it seems from the outside.