Category Archives: Media

A busy few weeks

Over the last few weeks I feel I have hardly had a chance to draw breath and though at various times I’ve thought “I’ll blog about that”, events always passed me by. I’ve got a bit of time now at the end of the last day before I head off on a couple of weeks leave, so I’ll try to remember some of the points I was going to make.

I was in Brussels for a few days at the start of what will be known as the March Marathon, and one of the reasons was to do a workshop (well, 2, but they were the same) on using social media for Europe Direct Information Centres. While they receive some funding from the Commission for their information activities, they are  individual organisations, and their form ranges from NGOs or Community interest companies, to library services or regional government. So their needs vary and their flexibility to act independently does too. I did a presentation, then asked Europe Direct Leeds to show what they do, then gave them some time to discuss in small groups, share their own experiences, then a few of those in the room showed what they were doing. It was interesting to see how differently they were using the same tools, but there were enough ideas to share, and I’ve already nicked one from Europe Direct Ulm, using the Timeline feature on Facebook to show EU milestones. I was a bit worried about the pedagogical side of running a workshop, but the feedback has been good, so I think I got away with it :)

I then headed back to the UK to do a careers talk at Leicester University. This was a repeat invite (always a compliment to be asked back) and this time instead of just the Modern Languages Department, it was advertised across the university. There were about 60 students there I think and after my presentation, there were lots of lively questions. I’m always slightly perplexed at these events by the weight of interest among the students on internships, rather than the full-time, long-term career prospects offered by applying for the concours. I wonder why that is. It could be that they aren’t interested in the EU as a long-term career, but see EU knowledge as important for other things. Or it could be that they are so fixated on internships as a route into work they miss the turning for the work itself. Frankly it feels a bit more like the latter, though I’d be happy to be corrected on that.

The next day was a Saturday and just to add to the madness of those few weeks, it was the second of my two Open University tutorials. I’ve enjoyed the creative writing course, but I don’t think you’ll be reading my name in the Booker Prize longlist any time soon…

Then on the Sunday it was off to Manchester for the Apeldoorn conference, which brings together Dutch and UK people from across business and society. The theme this time was Higher Education at the Heart of Growth and we had some excellent speakers, including the Universities Minister, David Willetts. Apeldoorn is really great for the people you meet, on your own “side” as much as from over the North Sea, with some really useful contacts made for the future. I also had a #technologywin: with the purchase of one little VGA adaptor I was able to present the conclusions of the workshop for which I was rapporteur direct from my iPad. Just a further example of how my iPad has become the kernel of a mobile office as far as I’m concerned.

The day after I got back from Manchester it was off to Birmingham for the Education Show. Our stall was pretty mobbed, with the Passport to the European Union and Languages Take You Further publications particularly popular. Thousands of people passed through our stall over the three days, and not one was critical or hostile in any way, in fact they were on the whole delighted with the support, particularly for the languages. Whatever the rights and wrongs of the introduction of languages in primary schools, it seems pretty clear that there are many teachers who feel a bit lost and are glad to have ideas of what to do. Obviously we provide pretty bland material, click the links to see them for yourself, and it’s completely up to teachers how they want to use them in their classrooms.

I’ve been back in London since then, but out at some really interesting events. I Storified the Westminster Media Forum event on press regulation. I chaired a fascinating afternoon linked to the European Year of Active Ageing, in which the Greater London Forum for Older People got about 120 of their members together to hear about the cooperation that Enfield over-50s Forum has been doing with twin towns in France and Germany. I was roped in the afternoon before to chair the event as the chair dropped out, and I’m very glad I did, as it was fascinating. One thing that came out very clearly was the strength of attachment to the Freedom Pass. Many older people see it as a lifeline, getting them out of the house and allowing them to have a social life, thereby keeping them healthy both physically and mentally. Mess with it at your peril, Mayor of London, whoever you end up being.

The final noteworthy events took place on the same day. I was representing the office at the British Academy event on the value of a year abroad, and you can read my tweets about it by searching the #yrabroad hashtag. There was a lot of talk about the usefulness of social media in getting students interested in a year abroad, but precious little social media going on at the event. Lizzie Fane at Third Year Abroad is an honourable exception in terms of her use of social media, but I have to admit that there was probably an age thing going on, which is as worrying in its own way. 100% of the students that took part in Lizzie’s graduate survey said their time spent abroad during their degree had been worth it, but the average age in the room of people talking about the policy aspects must have been pushing 50 plus.

While I was at the British Academy, and mainly during the lunch break, I took part in a Q&A on the Guardian Voluntary Sector Network about how charities can access EU funding. The Q&A is here and the best bits summed up here. The Guardian does these Q&As very well; I’ve previously done one on languages for careers and there was another on a similar theme this week.

Anyway, after all that and judging the UACES/ThomsonReuters Reporting Europe Prize, I think I’ve earned my two weeks away. So I’m off. Have a great Easter, everyone.

Reporting Europe 2012

Nominations are open for the UACES – Thomson Reuters Reporting Europe Prize 2012. There have been some interesting winners in the few years I’ve been going along. It’s very far from a hagiographic prize, as a brief glimpse at some of the former winners will show. I’m very honoured to have been invited to sit on the jury this year, so I won’t be doing any nominating this time. But in a year when we’ve seen European Union issues covered to an unprecedented extent, I’m sure there will be lots for the jury to get their teeth into.

#Polis11

I went to a really interesting conference on Friday, organised by the POLIS research centre at the London School of Economics and entitled “The POLIS Journalism Conference 2011: Media and Power “.

It started with a keynote by Helen Boaden, head of news at the BBC, in which she talked a lot about impartiality, and the BBC complaints procedure. I then followed a fascinating session on “Political journalism – is it working?” with Carolyn Quinn of the BBC PM programme and those involved in the Number 10 media set-up in the past, Lance Price and Simon Lewis. I then attended the least impressive session of the day on “An Informed Society?”, finishing with “Has the press lost its power?” which got us right back on track.

I’m not going to report on all the sessions – if you want to see what I thought at the time, I was tweeting a lot, and there are many other interesting tweets to be found on the #polis11 hashtag. But I thought it might be helpful to set out the main insights I got from the conference.

Lance Price, former Director of Communications for the Labour Party, was very frank about the relationship between political editors at major British papers and the Labour Party communication machine – to the extent that Alastair Campbell “wrote” headlines and opening paragraphs. Price spoke of the “complicity” between the spokespeople and the journalists. Simon Lewis, former Director of Communications at Number 10, under Gordon Brown, spoke very forcefully in favour of opening up the parliamentary press lobby system, perhaps through televising the briefings. The experience related by both men contrasts so sharply with my experience working for the Commission, in the two different milieux: Brussels and London. Even in Brussels there is never that level of intertwining. Working out why that is could be my master’s thesis, I reckon, but one possible explanation that could be worth digging into is that power is so much more diffuse through the EU machinery. Talking to the Commission gives just one aspect – there’s also MEPs and Member States to consider, whereas in the UK, with a whipped House of Commons, the Government of the day has much more control over the agenda and much more individual power.

The other very enjoyable and thought-provoking session was on “Has the press lost its power?”. Well chaired by Paul Waugh of politicshome, it started out with the provocative assertion that the appointment of Craig Oliver – ex-BBC – to the Director of Communications job for Cameron showed that the newspapers had lost their grip. I think maybe what the debate lacked was clarity about whoever this power was being wielded over. In simple terms, I think the dailies are less influential on the general public than they were even a generation ago, but they still hold sway over what you could call the Westminster Village, the City and the Brussels Bubble. In terms of general impact, a policy referenced on EastEnders or the Archers is going to be bigger than something on the front page of the FT, but that’s not always the way it’s seen.

Anyway, many thanks to the POLIS team and all their speakers for what was an informative and enjoyable day.

#EUuk event, 10 December 2010

Friday was the culmination of several month’s work with Eurogoblin, Cosmetic Uprise and others, the bloggingportal event on EU and UK political blogging. I was rushing about sorting out the Wifi and making sure people were there, so you should head to Eurogoblin, Walaa Idris or Dick Puddlecote (any I’ve missed?) for a sense of how it went.

Anyway, better than reading what someone else said, you can watch it for yourself – we videoed both panels and are uploading them to the Rep’s YouTube site. They’re huge files and are going up in parts, so please bear with us.

Update 16 December 11am: I’m adding Jon Worth to coverage of the event. Though it’s not a report, it reflects what we conceived the event to be about – how to link the EU and UK political blogospheres, and mentions our event.

Update 10 January 15.45 And here’s the European Citizen’s post on it. He’s Bruno Waterfield’s favourite Euroblogger, dontcha know :)

Talking it over

There’s been a lot of discussion about how this hasn’t been the “social media” election everyone thought it was. But, like some others, I believe that those writing about it are viewing it the wrong way down the telescope. No, social media may not have replaced the role of newpapers, or even TV. But as I tweeted “#ukvote SE7″ this morning to help log turnout and clicked “Yes I voted” on the Democracy UK page on Facebook, it seemed very clear to me that things were different to how they had ever been before. Social media aren’t about replacing the old media, thaty’re about doing things differently and doing different things. The New Statesman yesterday said more or less the same thing, highlighting the role of Twitter and Facebook in creating cohesion among supporters and activists. Not to mention the mydavidcameron poster site (other poster sites exist…!). Maybe it won’t be Twitter wot won it this time, or maybe ever, but I believe that the advent of tools making it easier for people who focus on a particular issue to find each other and talk about it is a complete game-changer. As a psephology junkie, it’ll be really interesting to see whether there is any evidence that first-time voter turn-out is up on past elections. If it is that will be a vindication of social media’s role, I believe. Either way, if we *are* on the brink of a new era in British politics, our new leaders will have to take all of this into account.

[Update 12.12] And as if to prove my point, The Sun front page parodies have started…

Congratulations Charlemagne!

I was at the UACES/ThomsonReuters award for Reporting Europe last night. A nice event for several reasons. Firstly because I got to see several people I like who were over from Brussels, including Oana Lungescu and Stephen Castle, both of whom were nominated. Secondly, it’s good to recognise quality reporting on Europe when it occurs, backing up my constant assertion that good reporting doesn’t mean positive, it means accurate, which is the least the public have the right to expect. And thirdly because the winner was very worthy – the Charlemagne blog written by David Rennie at the Economist. There’s pretty universal agreement among EU geeks that his coverage of the issue is just about the best around. A shame he is moving on.

If you go to the UACES award site, you’ll see a video of the shortlisted prizes put together by students at Kent University. It gave a nice impetus to the ceremony and gave a good flavour of the various candidates.

As a bit of a social media geek (as well as an EU one) I really enjoyed this piece by Mark Pack on the whole #nickcleggsfault thing on Twitter. Though this isn’t perhaps THE internet election, the role of social media has I believe made differences to how issues are discussed. It’s made it easier to find, connect to and discuss with people who are interested in the same things (even if coming at it from different perspectives and viewpoints). That is surely a good thing.

Going to the birds

There’s a saying, isn’t there, about not pleasing all of the people all of the time. But when you work for the European Commission, there are certain people you can never please. I wrote a while ago about the Daily Mail bashing us for having rules on fruit and veg and taking away rules on bread sizes. There’s another one on this today. We have come in for years of criticism on the issue of discards of fish caught by fisherman that are over the quota and so have to be thrown back, even though they are dead, or will not survive. This is an issue we are very concerned about, and trying to tackle.  It was covered on BBC Countryfile last week, and the Daily Telegraph has of course covered this criticism several times. Yet in today’s Daily Telegraph Scotland edition (can’t find it on-line), there’s an article that says:

One of Britain’s most popular and instantly recognisable seabirds could be threatened by a proposed conservation measure to ban fishermen from throwing unwanted catches overboard…[Experts] are now concerned that EU proposals to halt the disposal of unwanted fish…could lead to a decline in gannet numbers.

So we’re bad if we force fishermen to throw away dead fish and bad if we seek to limit the practice. Another example of just not being able to get it right for some people…

Doing the Boo

I was at the London Wetlands Centre this morning for the launch of a new animated series called My Friend Boo, which is designed to be both informative and entertaining, in the best tradition of children’s TV. As it was part-financed by the European Commission’s LIFE+ financing programme (though we had no influence over content and creative direction), we were invited to say a few words, alongside the project partners, which include WWF and the World Association of Girl Guides and Girl Scouts. The best bit was when a class of 7 and 8 years old came in to watch the three programmes that deal with Water (it being World Water Day and all…) The programmes clearly struck a chord with the children, who were all humming along with the theme tune by episode 2, and there was almost a riot when the project leader said they’d all get their own copy to take home!

I also got a few minutes for a bit of bird-watching over the Wetlands and in just the few moments I was there I saw cormorants, a lapwing and what I think was a Red-crested pochard, never mind many ducks, geese and moorhens. On a day like today, it was difficult not to totally fall for the place! And even better, I have discovered this fabulous widget on the RSPB site to help you identify birds you see – perfect for a novice twitcher like me. They even have a mobile version.

Wonderful World

We had a briefing today in the office with members of the Foreign Press Association which brings together the non-UK media based in London. It goes quite well with today’s Charlemagne blog-post about journalists in Brussels (see also today’s links). The reason we organised the briefing was a feeling, borne out by discussions with the FPA, that more and more foreign (read mainly extra-EU) correspondents are covering EU issues from London and withdrawing full-time correspondents from Brussels, and they need someone to explain a bit how thigns work and who to talk to. We had several Japanese outlets, Canadian, Nigerian, Chinese, Indian, but also Greek and French It’s interesting for us here, because it means that we need to consider the international and non-UK angle of stories much more than colleagues in other EU capitals. It also means that Commissioners’ media teams should see a visit to London as an opportunity to reach out beyond the UK media scene. It’s not going to be easy, but I hope that we will be able to provide a service to that group as well as the traditional UK media that we work with.

Added 16.19 on 16 March: Just to be 100% clear. I worked as a Spokesperson in Brussels for years and know how important the press corps there is to getting quality coverage of the EU into the media here. I am certainly not advocating people moving their correspondents from Brussels. Having said that, such decisions once taken, for whatever reason, will have a consequence for my work here and I am happy to do what I can to make the connections with those in Brussels and elsewhere in the EU set-up that can help people working out of London understand the issues in their entirety.