Tagged: Blogging

This blog’s new look explained

You’ll have noticed some changes, so I thought I’d explain. I felt the blog needed a freshen up, and I also wanted to address a few issues that I’d come across in the process of keeping this going for a year or so.

I spent some time trying to get my head around wordpress.org. But I ran into quicksand pretty quickly. I will crack it, but I began to realise that I was spending much more time on working out how to use various tools than I was on creating work with them – so much for what I’ve said regularly on this blog! I the past 18 months, I have taught myself how to build a website in Rapidweaver, a blog in wordpress.com, got to grips with Twitter and integrated it with my blog, discovered that Facebook can be used more productively than I at first thought (although I still find elements of it intensely irritating) and started to look at the mechanics of self-hosted blogs using WordPress and Joomla.

That’s a fair bit of tech, and I’ve been neglecting the business of actually writing and creating material. So I’m putting my journey into the back end of blogdom on the back burner for a while. I also wanted to see how far I could push using a free, hosted service in a flexible way. So I’ve stuck with wordpress.com.

What’s changed

I didn’t like the thick band across the top of the old look, it wasn’t a good use of space and I wasn’t that happy with my picture either. I’d also gone off the serif font in the blog title. So that’s gone, replaced with a cleaner banner that sits at the top of the screen, and enables readers to see more immediately what there is to offer. The banner is no design classic, but it provides some personality and a cleaner typeface. It also works nicely with the way the Vigilance theme presents other pages.

I choose Vigilance because it offers more flexibility than most other wordpress.com themes, and of course I like the basic design. I’ve now got a space top right for latest news which allows me to publicise and market work, and to inject some more energy and movement onto the home page. The two column sidebar also allows for more efficient and effective presentation. Paul Robert Lloyd’s neat social media icons replace the rather scrappy arrangement I had before, and the RSS feed option is more prominent and efficiently presented. And there’s a new addition to the blogroll, with all the Spurs stuff now appearing under the title of The Spurs End.

Anyone who wants to know what I look like can find out on the About Me page, which now sports a pic of me attempting to look relatively approachable. Two other temporary pages advertise my latest book and the course I am running in February, with a page linking to my static website rounding off the menu. The new image of my site was created using Realmac Software’s excellent Littlesnapper. The Martin Cloake Blog has become Martin Cloake online because it’s less clunky and a more accurate description of what this blog is. I’m hoping it becomes the first point of contact for me online, the central hub which connects my presence online and in social media.

And finally, I’ve added an easier way to share to the end of the more recent posts.

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A century of blogging

At the risk of navel-gazing, it seemed wrong to let my 100th post pass without some comment. I first posted on 1oth February 2009, so I was not exactly a pioneer blogger. I started because, as my first sentence said: “Like a tailor in a bad suit or a fitness instructor who runs out of puff, a writer without a decent blog sends a negative signal.”

I’d had an online presence through my website for about a year before, something I set up as I prepared to leave my staff job and go freelance. I’d blogged a little on that site, but really just for marketing purposes. I knew I needed something more conversational and, good as I found RapidWeaver in helping me get to grips with site-building, the blogging offer just wasn’t robust enough for what I wanted. So I moved to WordPress.com.

Playing the numbers

The figures aren’t spectacular, but probably pretty fair for a new blog which occassionally gets neglected due to pressure of work. A total of 4,000 views, with a good day currently notching up 50-70 views. The most popular post, on the anniversary of Hillsborough, drew 158 readers, and there are signs of a, small, regular audience who check in even when there are no new posts and appear regularly in the comments. Nothing spectacular, but it’s a presence and there is ongoing conversation.

Reading my first post again, the themes are still familiar and I’m happy I’ve achieved what I set out to do – or at least made a start. I’ve managed to update pretty regularly without getting too stressed when doing stuff, rather than writing about it, has to come first. I’ve found Twitter far more useful than I imagined I would, even though I still don’t use it voraciously.

What it’s meant

I said back then that “the journey would be a large part of the fun” and it has been. I learned a lot about how media can work in new ways and about how people communicate. I’ve found some fascinating blogs, sites and resources, and met some great people who challenge, stimulate and make me laugh. All in all, it’s been a very positive experience. The only really negative note I’d mention is the fact that the net seems to encourage some people seem to conduct themselves in an abrasive manner that I really hope they don’t employ when interacting face-to-face. It takes all sorts, I guess, but maybe that’s something to work on.

So, onwards. I’m contemplating the move to wordpress.org for greater flexibility and control, but I’m apprehensive about the technical knowledge required, especially as I am trying to get to grips with Joomla too. I really need to get more audio and video up on here, especially as I should set a good multimedia example to my students – I’m very conscious this is still largely print online, despite the interactivity.

But for now, there’s at least one more debate I want to contribute to, and I’ve already spent too long on the blog today. Lesson preparation, some marking, and a new business pitch await – and they are not going to do themselves. Thanks to everyone who has contributed to the first century in whatever way. There is a world of opportunity still to explore.

NightJack – some more thoughts

Suppose a serving police officer wrote an anonymous blog which gave his views of the job from his perspective as a member of the British National Party. And suppose an enterprising journalist examined the details in that blog and managed to unmask the identity of the officer concerned. Suppose a little further that the officer tried to prevent publication of his name, but that the court ruled his blog did not give him an automatic right to privacy. What would the shape of the ensuing debate be?

I ask these questions in the wake of the fallout from the NightJack case last week, something which I commented briefly upon on this blog. My observation was included in Judith Townend’s admirably thorough round-up of the affair on Global Voices, and that has prompted me to do what I’d been planning since that original brief post, which is to go into a little more depth.

Just for context, the UK’s Times newspaper went to court to secure the right to name the person behind the anonymous blog NightJack, which detailed the life and opinions of a serving police officer. Times reporter Patrick Foster uncovered the author’s identity, and the paper went to court when the blog’s author tried to prevent the paper unmasking him. The paper’s argument was that “‘he was also using the blog to disclose detailed information about cases he had investigated, which could be traced back to real-life prosecutions.”

Mr Justic Eady ruled for the paper, saying that blogging was “essentially a public rather than a private activity”. This ruling has sparked the current debate, and foremost among the criticisms are that the ruling is a threat to privacy, an attack on blogging, a disincentive to whistleblowing and a demonstration of how so-called ‘old’ media doesn’t understand ‘new’.

In my previous post, I said I broadly agreed with the comment on FleetStreetBlues which said “There is no automatic right of privacy in the street – and neither should there be on the information superhighway.” That doesn’t mean I’m not uncomfortable with some aspects of the case. The Times’s main justification, that the contract-breaking activities of a serving police officer COULD undermine real-life prosecutions is a perfectly logical one. But this explanation doesn’t make it clear to me exactly why The Times pursued this case with such vigour. Did, or does, the paper have information which shows that details revealed on the blog WOULD have undermined real-life cases? If it does, then I’d like to see the story. But if there is no story, because no cases are undermined, then The Times went to court solely on the issue of principle – that bloggers have no automatic right to privacy. And it’s harder to see why the paper put so much effort into establishing this principle – what does the paper have to gain?

Some may see this as evidence of the vendetta against ‘new’ media being waged by the ‘old order’. I’m afraid I see no evidence of any such vendetta or conspiracy, and I think it’s a fairly childish accusation to make. There are various views and various degrees of understanding about various forms of communication, but no one serious is out to ‘get’ any one of them.

But I’m still troubled by what The Times thought it would gain – just as I’m troubled by the vitriol that’s being directed at Foster, a journalist who was doing his job properly. What I think is particularly interesting about this case is that many people seem to be taking positions on the basis of their opinion of the NightJack blog, The Times, or the police. Which is why I posed the questions I did at the beginning of this piece.

For the record, the limited extracts I saw of the NightJack blog made stimulating, engaging and occasionally troubling reading. But you can’t base a principle on whether or not you agree with something – a principle has to apply across the board. You can’t agree with one person’s ‘right’ to run an anonymous blog criticising something you are critical of while simultaneously disagreeing with another person’s ‘right’ to hide behind anonymity in order to push views you don’t agree with. It’s possible to be troubled by what the implications of the opposite ruling by Mr Justice Eady would have been, too.

By the way, I don’t actually think the ruling will deter all future whistleblowers, any more than the imprisonment of Sarah Tisdall in 1983 after The Guardian revealed her as the source of a story did. By its very nature, whistleblowing is a desperate act which is carried out by people who believe the issue to which they are drawing attention is more important than their own safety or prospects. That doesn’t mean we should play fast and loose with the identity of whistleblowers, just that we need to examine the issue with a little perspective. That would also require a recognition that most whistleblowers wouldn’t chose the medium of a blog to make their disclosures, and certainly not one to which they would draw attention by entering it for a prize. Nor would they make the mistake of publishing details from which they could easily be identified.

I also mentioned something a number of people have picked up on, that there could be seen to be a clash between the journalist’s right not to reveal a source and the blogger’s right to anonymity. If you give this particular issue some thought, it’s fairly easy to conclude that the two cannot be compared. There is a difference between the supply of information and the publishing of that information. And that is why journalists have fought so hard to preserve the right to protect sources.

Ever since the mass adoption of email, there has been a blurring of the edges between private and public communication. Because sending an email involved one individual sending to another, there was an assumption that the content of the mail was private, like a letter. But it wasn’t, and there are a thousand stories of employees running into trouble because their ‘private’ correspondence turned out to be public. As blogging has become a mass activity, things have become more complicated. The act of creating a blog is carried out alone in front of a computer screen, but the intention is to make those thoughts, constructed in private, public. So sometimes people conduct public conversations from their private vantage point in a way they would never dream of doing if they were in public.

Anyone who works with media needs to think hard about how the division between public and private has changed in our connected, wired world. It seems sometimes that people want the ‘rights’ of privacy without the responsibility; the ‘right’ to go public without the responsibility to be transparent. We need further thought and debate about how we balance these rights and responsibilites.

I’d add one last point, at the risk of re-introducing my soapbox speech, and that is that the key to much of this is the recognition that we control technology. So many people seem to think that because they have the ability to communicate the minutest details of their lives to a global audience, then that’s what they must do. It’s not the case. We need to think more carefully about how we use our ability to communicate. Asking a single ‘why’ at the beginning of a process may prevent the proliferation of ‘whys’ at a later stage – and that NightJack case does leave a lot of ‘whys’ hanging.

That was the week that was

Suzanne Breen’s court victory in her battle to protect her sources, and – it’s no exaggeration to say, her life – was welcome news in a week which showed that, for all the talk of crisis, there is still much to engage, stimulate and celebrate about the media. Suzanne’s was the latest victory in the long struggle to protect that most basic and vital of principles – that journalists have the right to keep sources confidential. She was backed all the way by her union, the National Union of Journalists. The union is often criticised, but it plays a vital role in helping to defend the basics of the trade, and this should not be forgotten for all the arguments.

Sources have been much in the news this week, with much debate over the unmasking of police blogger Nightjack by The Times. Paul Bradshaw’s Online Journalism Blog, always a good point of reference, carries a round-up of views while tending towards disapproval of The Times’s action. While I appreciate the expressions of regret, I tend towards the view expressed on FleetStreetBlues, which says, “Why should newspapers be prevented from naming the author of a published website just because they’d rather not be named? There is no automatic right of privacy in the street – and neither should there be on the information superhighway.”

Tough questions

But there are some tough questions to confront. The most obvious is the old chestnut of what exactly does ‘the public interest’ mean? All media uses it as justification for publishing what it wants to, but clearly there are degrees, and viewed another way ‘the public interest’ often seems to be little more than the interest of increasing circulation. Another question that needs some thought is whether there is any contradiction between arguing for a journalist’s right to protect the identity of a source and the journalist’s right to expose the identity of someone who wishes to remain anonymous. My view is that there are important differences, but we need to be clearer and more consistent in our application of the public interest defence. If we’re not, we allow those who seek tirelessly to restrict the media’s ability to operate – relatively – independently the opportunity to blur some important boundaries.

Journalists are not the only people who need to ask hard questions about the consistent application of principle. Contrast the frequent attempts by government to intimidate journalists into revealing sources with the unwillingness to publish details of their expense claims. It seems many MPs believe in Freedom of Information About Other People. I’m not going to go too far in joining the national sport of slamming greedy politicians – while this is of course an important story which does not paint the political class in a good light, I wish we’d debate the value of politicians based on their policies. (But I suppose that would mean they needed to have some in the first place.) What really strikes me about the whole affair is the utter stupidity of publishing information in a heavily censored form in the full knowledge that the censored information is already in the hands of the press. I can’t make up my mind if it’s stupidity or arrogance, but either way it doesn’t say much for the mental faculties of those who are supposed to be running the country.

New links

I’ve added a couple of links to the media blogs section. FleetStreetBlues, as mentioned above, and Playing the game are both very readable, challenging and necessarily pithy commentaries on the trade. They are also very entertaining, showing the much-underrated power of humour.

I’ve also been enjoying the #nicerfilmtitles trend on Twitter (my favourite so far is The Brides of Frank and Stan) and sharing the fascination with the micro-blogging service’s emergence as an organisational tool in the wake of the Iranian election. Spending some time at #iranelection also provides a great lesson in how and which of the traditional principles of journalism need to be applied when following a story on Twitter. The most obvious thing that struck me was how easy it is, when caught up in the rhythm of the feed, to accept some ‘news’ as true before verifying it.

End of college term

It’s something which, if I’m teaching at the London College of Communication again next year, I want to introduce as a topic. I’ve heard good news about how students on one of the courses I helped teach on have done, but no news so far on the other. One of the problems of being a visiting lecturer is that we are often outside the loop. It’s been a challenging first year teaching, but it has been encouraging to see the abilities and enthusiasm of a new generation, and inspiring to see that in the midst of all the – often justified – gloom, there are still people who want to be journalists, and who have new and good ideas.

Satire, and punk, not dead

I was going to maintain a low profile over the Easter break, but I just came across a very-sharply observed post headlined How to Become a “Death of Newspapers” Blogger which I wanted to share. Very good. 

Of course, by posting this I could be accused of brazenly attempting to drive up my blog traffic by linking to a controversial viewpoint which will annoy the very “death of newspapers” bloggers who are the butt of the joke, and who coincidentally happen to post a lot in discussion threads such as this. It’s all a bit like a classic noir out there in the media blogosphere, machinations within machinations ;-)

Just in case I’m lucky enough to be deluged with angry new media evangelists anxious to tell me exactly what kind of dinosaur I am, I should point out that I think some very valid points are being made by many people – even the ones I don’t agree with. We all need to convince everyone how uniquely expert we are for basic economic reasons, but I just think we need to get over ourselves a bit sometimes.

On an entirely different note, I’ve added a new link to my blogroll. It’s the site of the excellent Cathi Unsworth, whose new novel is due out later this year, and who is reading her latest short story at Dick Bradsell’s new bar in Soho’s Romilly Street on the evening of 20th April. She’s also featured in the Punk Fiction anthology, £1 from every copy of which goes to the Teeange Cancer Trust.

Blog short back ‘n’ sides

You’ll have noticed a few changes to this blog, and will of course be fascinated to know why they’ve happened. I’ve changed themes in order to achieve a slightly less basic presentation, and also because this is now my main blog.

I had been blogging on my professional site, which is now accessible via the My Website link at the top of this blog, in an effort to keep the  personal and the professional separate. But it’s rapidly become clear that much of what’s on this blog is work-related, so moving to a single blog is recognition of that. 

I’m not much given to revealing large amounts of personal detail on a public forum anyway, so you’ll be spared this, although a little personal colour and reflection from time to time helps the world go around. 

Having got to grips with WordPress, I’ve also found it’s a much more powerful and integrated tool for blogging than my old site blog, which was created in Rapidweaver. RW is a great piece of kit which I used to teach myself the basics of creating a website, and I’m still comfortable using it for my site in order to promote my work and services and show some examples. But for blogging, WordPress has the edge.

Some of this touches on the subject of a future post – and a piece I’m researching – namely the question of where the lines between personal and professional are in a confessional age of social media. Linking my blog and website has made me think carefully about this, and about the whole issue of applying specific tools to specific tasks. 

Some brain-numbing college prep to tackle later today, so I’m off for a run in order to break from the screen and get my thinking straight. And I’m very excited about the start of David Peace’s Red Riding Quartet on TV tonight. I’m a big fan of his books, which must have been incredibly hard to televise. But the preview buzz is positive, so we could be  in for a treat – if that’s an appropriate way to describe a searing and disturbing tale.

Orwell that ends well?

Much is being made of the fact that, were George Orwell still alive, the great writer would probably be blogging. I can’t help but feel the point is being missed. The great thing about Orwell was the way he used words, and I suspect he would have wanted people to be interested more in what he said than the medium in which he chose to express himself.

As a friend said to me last week, “I sometimes think that, if a meteor hit London and killed a million people, the fact that the news broke on Twitter would be the story, rather than that real human beings had died.”

Football parties, heated debates, a policy breakfast and a boxing postman

A busy few days which have tested my resolve to blog regularly, and this late-night post is more of a round-up than anything.

Saturday brought beautiful weather for 8-year-old son’s birthday football party at Beckenham’s Goals Soccer Centre. Fourteen kids, an hour-and-a-half of football, hot dogs, cake and crisps and yet it all went off surprisingly smoothly. The kids loved it, and the Goals staff were absolutely great – thoroughly recommended. Also managed a great walk in the woods on Sunday before starting the week with another day on the LCC editorial project with the sports students. 

On Tuesday a new client asked me to interview a pro boxer who works on the post in Bolton, and I spent most of the day chasing leads, writing up the interview, and contributing to a blog debate that veered from the sublime to the ridiculous – and back. Not worth going into the full detail here, you can follow the thread if you’re consumed by the need to know, but the manner in which the debate was conducted, how it was reported and what it revealed about attitudes in the new media landscape gave plenty of food for thought. I got some encouraging personal emails at the end of it all which give me hope that something positive may eventually come of the whole affair.

This morning I was informed of a fact which put much of the introspective doodlings of us self-appointed media experts into perspective. At a policy breakfast organised by the National Literacy Trust, a fine organisation, I was told that seven million adults in the UK are illiterate. So much for the shiny new world where everyone has superfast broadband access and as many iPhone apps as they can lay their hands on – we need to pay some attention to the basics.

The breakfast, opened up by Greg Dyke, was conducted under Chatham House rules so I can’t go into detail, but some interesting points about the definition of literacy were raised as part of the NLT’s efforts to develop a Manifesto for Literacy – about which there’s more on the NLT site. I’ll be returning to this theme in a future post, but it reinforced my view that all of us involved in the communications business need to focus more on substance and less on form. 

The day brought not just a breakfast, but a lunch too (it is work, honest!), this time with my old friend Clair, who is trying her best to get used to her new working surroundings in an area populated almost entirely by men in suits, coffee franchises and branches of TM Lewin. 

Tomorrow I’m off to the Newspaper Education Trust in Westferry Road to learn more about what they do and to see if I can help them. Then it’s to Tottenham to support Spurs reserves in their efforts to get themselves knocked out of the UEFA Cup in order to concentrate on not doing very well in the League. It’s one of those games that feels like duty rather than pleasure, but I will at least get the chance to talk to the regulars about our plans for Sunday, Wembley and a Cup Final between English football’s two greatest cup teams.

Nice work, even though I say so myself

I’ve spent a couple of days multi-tasking – see, men can do it – between getting to grips with WordPress and setting this blog up, working up a proposal for short course in convergence journalism, working up a new book project and ensuring my two sons don’t drive my missus round the twist. The latter has perhaps not been as successful as the former, but it’s a work in progress. 

I’ve also been finishing off my contribution to the Publishing Expo debate on production journalism and outsourcing. I feel a little like Daniel entering the lion’s den, but this is a debate worth having and apparently is already attracting a lot of interest. We’ll see. I’m hoping to blog from Olympia tomorrow, but the search for edible food may take priority.