Just signed up for, and created my first, Audioboo. Not a piece of fine intellectual work, obviously, but just giving it a go. Not quite sure how it will work, though maybe sometimes having the possibility to leave a voice message for the world (as opposed to the text message to the world that is twitter) will be useful. We’ll see… Can you integrate it with WordPress? I suppose if I were visiting something interesting and was out and about, it might be good to record my thoughts, rather than waiting till I was back at my desk to write about it (and not getting round to doing so). An example of that would be last Sunday’s Manel gig which was immense fun (and brought Barcelona to Shoreditch, if only for the night) but had been washed away by the joys of commuting before I got to my desk on Monday!
It’s always slightly exasperating when people ask you what you do, you tell them and they say “yes, but what do you actually DO”. Well, for future reference…
I got up at 6.30 this morning, as I wanted to register at 8.15 for the conference that a Commissioner was speaking at today, to get it out of the way. I was on the train by 7.30 (if there’s one thing I miss about Brussels, it’s the short commute!) and then got a call from the Commissioner’s staff that they needed a car. So I headed to the hotel instead and sorted that out. We got to the conference venue, and once everything was sorted there, I headed back to the office. Time for a quick flick through the day’s press review (usually done on the train, but no time today), took part in the daily briefing from Brussels, then finalised the organisation of the team now that we’ve lost one of our staff.
I headed back over to the conference venue at 10.40 or so to find the camera team that would be interviewing the Commissioner at 11. It’s easy for people to find me when I’m wearing the leopardskin coat…! We realised that it was going to be far too noisy in the street so we headed back to the office to do it there. I had reckoned without the building works next door which can be heard everywhere in our office, so we scoured the building for the quietest room that we could bear to be filmed. While one of the team tried to stop the jackhammers for the 10 minutes we needed, I waited outside the conference for the Commissioner – of course it ran over time. One of the most difficult things is always getting the person to do the interview out of the full conference hall where everyone wants to say hello, congratulate him on his contribution, give him their card, ask him to speak at their event… then past the journalists that are waiting for a “quick comment” and off to the interview. The AV interview went pretty well and then it was into an hour with a national newspaper. My role in the interview is different to how it was when I was a spokesperson as I’m not as familiar with the content, so it’s just a question of making sure it finishes on time. Once out of the interview, got the Commissioner and staff back to where they needed to be and made sure the journalist had everything needed. Then I had to work out how to get the luggage into the car that will be taking them to the airport, which is going to entail me carrying it over to the venue in about 30 minutes. Time for a quick bite to eat, then back to my desk to deal with the e-mails that have come in during the morning, prepare for several meetings and try to pin down arrangements for next week, when another Commissioner is in town…and we get to start all over again!
It’s time for round 3 of the think about it blogging competition, which this time is on development issues, something close to my heart, giving my years living in developing countries and working in that area at one point in my Commission career. Anyway, I think the competition is quite interesting, as it seems to be at the core of the burgeoning Euroblogosphere, which, while pretty small, is (arguably) mch more identifiable than any sort of European press. So, give it a go!
Well I never! Glamour magazine, from the Condé Nast stable and aimed at the fashion-concious young woman has a piece this month on “The EU in 60 seconds”. Quotes the European Movement, UKIP and Maurice Fraser of the LSE, which seems to cover all the bases. Great stuff!
The EP approved the Barroso II Commission today, so we get started tomorrow. Glad the inter-regnum is over and we can get on with getting on with things!
I was in Brussels yesterday and the day before, with a group of visitors. They were all people who teach journalism in UK universities, most of them former journalists, and who were interested in finding out more about how the EU really works. The idea of the visit came out of approaches I had had from several of them, either asking for people from our office to come to talk to their students, or else looking for information about the EU and the accuracy of some media reporting.
On the first day they had some presentations on the institutional set-up of the EU – who does what, how decisions are made and so on because, by their own admission, they didn’t feel very well-informed. There was a look at political priorities for the future, and how the Commission organises its information and communication. We visited the audio-visual facilities made available to journalists accredited to the Commission’s press room, had a virtual tour round other services for journalists and spoke to various people about working in Brussels: a journalist, a Commission spokesman and a UK government spokesman.
Like most visits of this type, almost the best result was the networking among the group. There were 7 universities represented. Some brought several people, one just one. Some had met before, some were meeting for the first time. But it was clear that new ideas emerged for their teaching and research. Certainly several indicated to me that the visit had really given them food for thought about the coverage of EU issues in the UK. Perhaps the main message that emerged was that the EU shouldn’t be treated as a foreign news story, but as the nuts and bolts of what happens at home (a view shared, I am told, by Nigel Farage!).
For my part, watching the presentation of what we do to the outside, with all my insider knowledge, it occurred to me that what we do is, for the most part, very dull. Very important, very useful, very relevant, and very necessary. But nonetheless very dull (conciliation process anyone? Comitology decision?). Maybe we should start making more a virtue of that…?
I also met some fellow-bloggers today, which was not only a pleasure, but quite useful. Watch this space…
If you’re an existing or aspiring journalist, there are two pretty cool competitions going on at the moment which you might be interested in.
The first is the Enlargement Young Journalist award, open to journalists and journalism students aged 17 to 35 from the EU or current and future candidate countries. They’re looking for a creative, thought-provoking piece – online print or AV – focussed on the expansion of the EU. There are national winners and then three Special Prizes.
The second is AV only, and is looking for a 3 minute piece on what Europe means to you, with at least 90 seconds using footage available from the audiovisual portal. Most of the material available through the portal is raw and unedited, as it’s intended for broadcasters, so there’s a lot of room for creativity there too. Details and rules available here. The winning entries will be screened at MIPTV in Cannes and the winner will walk away with €10000
The member of the team here that deals with regional issues has just come back from a couple of days in Northern England, talking to regional press and other media actors about what they need from us and what is of interest to them. One interesting point that came up was that journalists wanted to know what was being written about elsewhere in Europe. Since I moved back from Brussels, I haven’t had the overview of Europe’s press that I had there, but there are a couple of useful websites for those that would like a more Europe-wide perspective on the media.
The first is Presseurop. Their approach seems to be briefs on a particular issue, pulling together the approach from across Europe, and highlighting the main trends of comment. They link to the principal articles quoted. Certainly worth checking out. And if you’re on Twitter, they are worth a follow (@presseurop) – it’s a real person tweeting, complete with cheeky comments, rather than a feed.
The second, recommended to me by the excellent Jon Worth, is Eurotopics. They do a daily press review drawing on sources from across Europe. Rather than a precis by topic, they do English- (and other-) language summaries of articles, which opens up sources of comment and analysis that would otherwise be closed off for linguistic reasons.
Are there others? It would be good to hear about them if there are.
I was at the Foreign Press Association media awards last night. The FPA is the organisation for all non-UK journalists working in the UK, and has been around since 1888 (same as Celtic Football Club…) which makes it the oldest such organisation in the world, they say. The awards recognised excellence in UK foreign reporting as well as the best reporting done by FPA members. As media outlets cut staff, this office’s role in liaising with press from around the world, not just the UK, becomes ever more important, as staff will often get cut from Brussels before London. Talking to people last night I realised that it has become a small but significant part of what we do.
There were some really interesting issues among the prize-winners, including corruption in WFP deliveries in Somalia and abuse of women in Chechnya. The overall winner was Martin Hickman of the Independent writing about palm oil. I’ve sat on juries giving two journalism prizes this year and in both instances they were given to journalists writing for the Independent. Martin won last night. This does beg the question: where is the Independent going wrong? It clearly has journalists of quality, writing on issues of interest and merit. So why does it have the biggest losses in readership of any newspaper? Answers on a postcard.
The keynote speech was given by Prince Felipe of Asturias, the Crown Prince of Spain. He highlighted the intricacies of the UK/Spanish relationship. I have to say that I did not know that Spanish companies invest more in the UK than in the whole of Latin America. He said that Spanish is the third language of the internet (not a huge surprise) but what was surprising was that in terms of number of pages (not users) the second language is…German!
Was at a great event last night – a debate between Science Minister Lord Drayson and Ben Goldacre, of Bad Science fame, at the Royal Institution. The Times Higher carried it as a webcast and it should be online for a while. It was great for several reasons:
Firstly, it was about the quality of science reporting, an issues I’ve had an interest in since 2004 and which was an important part of my Eisenhower Fellowship. I think both made some good valid points and both didn’t. The problem was that they were talking about apples and oranges. The debate came about as a result of comments that Lord Drayson made about British science reporting being the best in the world, which Ben Goldacre challenged him on. But when the minister starts by saying “I’m of course talking about specialist science reporting” that does kind of change the remit of the debate, because Ben’s point about the problems of reporting science issues is that it isn’t always the science people doing it. There was a very (ahem) spirited defence from Fiona Fox of the Science Media Centre at the Royal Institution, and the audience certainly had some distinguished science writers there (I spotted Clive Cookson of the FT and Simon Singh was pointed out at one point). But that isn’t really where the problem (such as it is) lies.
The second fascinating issue was that this was the first truly social media event I have ever been at. The challenge to hold the debate was issued over Twitter. I, like others, heard about it through Ben’s twitter feed, and tickets sold out in 90 minutes (“the science equivalent of a Take That concert” according to Simon Mayo who was really good in the chair). So many people were tweeting about it that it (#scidebate) trended as a twitter topic (leading to a deluge of spammy tweets!).
The third issue for me was for most of the debate, you could have taken the word science, replaced it with Europe and the arguments would have been the same. But would we ever sell the tickets in 90 minutes?!
Anyway, if you are in anyway interested in science reporting, or social media as a communication tool, I recommend looking more closely at the event.
I’m a big fan of Twitter. As you’ll have seen from the feed alongside, while I wasn’t writing the blog very often, I was still Tweeting. There’s been a lot of introspection about it recently, with blogposts like this one.
My gut feeling is that asking if the Commission should Twitter is as daft as asking whether it should use the phone or write. Twitter is a means of communication, not an end in itself. What the Commission, like any organisation, has to consider is HOW it uses it. One of the basic rules about communication is identifying who you want to talk to and how do you best talk to them. Twitter is just part of that. Here’s some advice I gave to one of my colleagues in the Commission who is considering using Twitter.
With Twitter you a) talk to a self-selecting audience and b) have to be pithy. For those reasons it’s got an edge over a website. Plus you can, maybe even have to, be a bit more personal – if you look at even the very official ones (Parliament, Conservatives, Lib Dems) there’s a personal tone. So I would say it’s best to have just one or two people who are really up for doing it. It’s the most interactive of all the social media and it needs upkeep and someone who finds it useful and sees the value in it.
I find it good more for what I learn (breaking news, good EU gossip) than what people get from me. It has helped me find quite a lot of people interested in EU issues. Reading Jon Bernstein, that’s true for people at the other end of the news telescope. I’d be interested to know what you think.