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Wordblog revived

incorporating New Life

‘Blogs’

Ipwswich politics: Calm down, dear(s)

Why are ipswich politics so much like a tussle outside a bar at chucking-out time? They seem to scream at each other rather than engage in reasoned debate, at least if you read their blogs.

To get an idea of what goes on you can look at the last three posts on Ipswich Spy which brings together bloggers of various allegiances and does its best to explain what is happening in a balanced way.

There was “Liar tag causes fury at council meeting” about a spat between Tory Judy Terry and Alasdair Ross (Labour).

Over an item about the local MP being reprimanded by the Deputy Speaker of the House of Commons, the headline was a quote, “Mr Gummer, I do not think we need you to lead the cheerleading“.

And in the most recent post about a stormy council meeting headed Golden Key refused again, the Spy comments: “Is it any wonder the public think councillors are just in it for themselves and that ‘you’re all the same’ when there is no effective opposition?”

Some of the blogs by individual politicians get very nasty, but I had hoped they not did take their venom with them to meetings.

Andrea Hill’s message to Suffolk CC employees and councillors rebounds

Why and in what state of mind Andrea Hill wrote her 1,850 word message for the Inside SCC newsletter last week is unknown. It was clearly intended to be a personal defence as well as an attack on the media but it has rebounded to haunt her.

Today the Evening Star in Ipswich prints has on the website her message in full. (It is also available at wikisuffolk.) Readers can make their own judgements.

Nigel Pickover, the Evening Star editor, also selects short extracts and asks 15 pertinent questions (in the paper and on the web). For example:

Andrea Hill: My family and I used to enjoy reading the newspapers – I’ve always thought that our papers are a great British institution. But once you’ve featured in them you realise how much of the copy is not true.

1) Evening Star – please will you tell us which Evening Star articles have contained any inaccuracies? It is our policy to correct any errors forthwith.

Both the Mail on Sunday and the Daily Express have written about her message to employees and councillors both taking the line that she had accused her detractors of “envy”. The Mirror contented itself with a story about Hill’s hotel bills.

And today, media commentator Roy Greenslade has examined the issue of Andrea Hill and press reporting in his Guardian blog (Wordblog is mentioned). Under the heading Council chief rails against the press for doing its job, he writes:

Even if we were to take Hill’s explanations for her spending decisions at face value (and that’s difficult enough), there is no getting away from the fact that lack of transparency by her council means that journalists have had to winkle out information by using FoI requests.

At a time when the people of Suffolk are watching the council dismantle their public services, it is surely necessary for the council to be as open as possible.

Over the weekend two Conservative-leaning blogs in Ipswich, Bridge Ward News and A Riverside View have appealed to Hill to “just go”.

‘Irretrievable breakdown’ in relations between council chief exec and opposition leader

The “irretrievable breakdown” of the relationship between Suffolk County Council’s chief executive, Andrea Hill, and opposition leader, Kathy Pollard, while not surprising, is a serious rift.

The Evening Star reports on its front page today:

Opposition leader Kathy Pollard wrote a blog in which she said the county council’s chief Andrea Hill had become an object of hate on the streets of Suffolk and added “if I were her I’d get out before I was pushed.”

At a meeting Mrs Hill and Mrs Pollard had a “forthright” discussion about the blog, which resulted in Mrs Pollard saying that their relationship had “irretrievably broken down.”

The county’s communications department did not want to comment on what was seen as a “political” attack on the chief executive.

However, the Conservative administration said it was wrong for a politician to attack a council officer who was not in a position to answer back.

Evening Star front pageThe full story is in the print edition but not online.

A council chief executive has a responsibility for ensuring that both cabinet and backbench councillors receive all the facilities and officer support necessary to fulfil their respective roles (source: Department of Communities and Local Government).

Kathy Pollard wrote on her blog on March 9, after an Evening Star revelation about training costs at SCC: “If I were her I’d get out before I was pushed.” She referred to two blogs which had called for Ms Hill to resign.

Since then the two women met for what should have been a regular quarterly meeting. Afterwards Cllr Pollard told the Evening Star:

We had a very forthright discussion. She said she was not happy with my blog and I said I was reflecting the views of the people of Suffolk and that people were talking to me about this all the time….
I said I thought our relationship had irretrievably broken down.

There are conventions that council officers are politically impartial and that politicians do not attack them. Those two conventions seem to be at the heart of this row.

As background, it is illuminating to read what Cllr Pollard wrote in her blog of February 23. She then said that the decision, in March 2008, to appoint Ms Hill was taken by a five-person selection committee at which three Conservatives voted for the appointment. Cllr Pollard and the Labour leader voted against. Opposition, to the appointment and salary, was carried into the council chamber when the appointment was ratified.

A statement from the Conservative cabinet to the Evening Star today says:

We are all aware that Cllr Pollard is engaging in political point-scoring in the run up to the local elections.
To do so by criticising council officers — who, as she knows, are prevented by protocol from answering back — shows up their complete lack of actual policies to move Suffolk forward.

I have not asked Cllr Pollard to comment but, for the record,  at the last full council meeting she proposed an amendment to the Conservative budget which would have kept all libraries open, maintained school crossing patrols, and retained funding for youth clubs and the eXplore card, among other things. The money would have come from alternative savings and reserves.

Suffolk CC must come clean on library categories

A report in today’s East Anglian Daily Times demonstrates the confusion that is resulting from Suffolk County Council’s failure to make a public statement about changes in the basis of its consultation on the future of libraries.

The morning paper reports on events at Debenham, where a 28 hour read-in was held and a protest in defence of Stowmarket library.

In the consultation documents libraries are in two groups. The first is county libraries, which everyone belived were safe. Stowmarket is one of those.

The second group is community libraries, smaller ones including Debenham, which would only remain open if the community came forward with plans to take them over.

Nearly a month ago the council told campainers for libraries that the categorisation had not worked and was being abandoned. Instead they talked about three core libraries, Ipswich County, Bury St Edmunds and Lowestoft.

Since then there has been silence from Endeavour House. They have made no formal announcement of the change but have not denied what they said at the meeting with campaigners, nor clarified it. They refused to make any changes in the consultation.

This leaves people in places like Stowmarket in a surreal limbo.

Town councillor Duncan MacPherson, who helped organise the demonstration, told theEADT:

It went very well and there was a lot of people of all ages, including a good number of children.

The crucial thing is that we don’t want the library classification to change. At the moment we hope it will stay open – but we don’t know what will happen to staff and services.

It is totally unfair to leave communities in doubt. It makes it look as if the county council itself does not know what it is doing. The situation needs to be clarified urgently.

Frustration with local daily

I am growing more and more frustrated with the East Anglian Daily Times. Today it has a story about bus service cuts in Woodbridge. It is less complete than a post by Caroline Page, the local Lib Dem County Councillor on her blog five days ago.

There are many local stories I am seeing on blogs and Facebook which just don’t get into the paper. If they do they are often late.

Can it be that they don’t use a news reader to discover what is being said on the internet? Hard to believe, but it most be true. The only other explanation is that they have forgotten the importance of timely news.

Crime in sleepy Suffolk

Reading the Liberal Bureaucracy blog I started feeling a little sorry for its author, Mark Valladares and his wife Baroness Scott of Needham Market. He had put his postcode into the new crime map which tells you what is happening where you live.

Result: five cases of anti-social behaviour in December. In Creeting St Peter? No, it turns out they were on the Cedars estate at Stowmarket. That’s all right then!

Here in Debenham we tend to think of Stowmarket as a bit of a rough place. Hardly any crime here, they say. But I put my own postcode anyway and found there were 12 incidents in December.

Eight were anti-social behaviour, one violent crime and three unspecified. All spread around the village. The nearest thing to a cluster was two ASB incidents in one place but from the map I can’t work out if they were at the fish and chip shop or the parish church.

Third Webby in a row for Guardian Unlimited

Winning the Webby award for the best newspaper website for the third consecutive year is a great achievement for Guardian Unlimited. The others on the shortlist were the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, Hollywood Reporter and Variety.

The New York Times won the Webby for the best business blog with its Deal Book, a large-scale group blog. Both the Guardian (Comment is Free) and the NYTimes (The Caucus) were nominated for best political blog but the award went to Truthdig.

Later: I missed out the fact that the Guardian was also nominated in the podcast category which went to National Public Radio.

Where do you get your news?

Coverage of events like the Virginia Tech shootings, the London transport bombings and hurricane Katrina would not be complete without a rush to predict the end of news as we know.

Robin Hamman at his Cybersoc blog put it like this yesterday:

The past few days have pointed to a future where audiences are likely to look first to blogs and other forms of participatory media for first hand accounts of emerging stories before turning to the mainstream media. Of course mainstream media will still have a role to play – confirming those stories, providing thoroughly researched facts, and gathering comment from credible sources.


Dan Gillmor
, author of We the Media, did not switch on his TV until the evening on the day of the shootings in Blacksburg. Instead he “used the online media — including the major news sites — to get the latest information, sifting it, making judgments about credibility and reliability as I read and watched and listened. That, too, is the future in many cases.”

He points out that the “citizen media” component is not new and writes of the home movie footage of the shooting of President Kennedy which became an essential part of the historical record. He continues:

In 1963, one man with a camera captured the event on film. In a very few years, a similar situation would be captured by thousands of people — all holding high-resolution video cameras — and all of those cameras would be connected to high-speed digital networks.

That is different.

Gillmor says, “We will still need journalists to help sort things out” and concludes:

We used to say that journalists write the first draft of history. Not so, not any longer. The people on the ground at these events write the first draft. This is not a worrisome change, not if we are appropriately skeptical and to find sources we trust. We will need to retool media literacy for the new age, too.

Giving everyone with an internet connection access to much of the raw material of news is new and changes things. It opens up traditional journalism to more, valuable scrutiny and challenge.

But I find it difficult to believe that the mass of people will turn first to blogs, YouTube and Flickr as first sources of news. This takes me back to Pew Research’s latest report on what What Americans Know (figures below are taken from the questionnaire) released this week.

One of the options in the question about sources of news, was “Read online blogs where people discuss events in the news”. The figure asnwering “yes” was 11%. Only listening to Rush Limbaugh’s radio show scored lower(8%). By contrast 55% read a daily newspaper, 46% watched nightly network news and 39% CNN.

I doubt very much whether people en masse will ever choose to go to unmediated material as their first source of news. It is simply too time consuming and too difficult to make sense of it.

The work of journalists covering any big story is essentially to find, aggregate and select. It is work that requires a team of people, reporters, photographers, news editors, copy tasters… It is not just the reporters on the ground but those in the office who hit the phones trying to find eye witnesses, experts, officials, friends, relatives and anyone else who might contribute to the story.

Added to that mix we now have blogs, YouTube and flickr which produce dramatic stories and pictures. They help to build up the overall picture. Unlike the traditional reporter’s interviews everyone has direct access to the material.

Mainstream media’s websites are also soliciting videos, stills and personal experiences of major events. This “participatory media” is certainly changing the way journalists go about assembling the story.

But that does not mean it is going to take over. Journalists have always had to try to make sense out of the noise of conflicting information, multitudes of sources and confusion. Now there are more sources and that makes the job tougher yet.

It was hard enough when the volume of material was restricted by the capacity of the teleprinter feeds. Then electronic transmission to desktop computers increased the volume and now the internet produces even more material to be read.

Dan Gillmor as a journalist, has the experience to sift information and make judgments on credibility and reliability: most people do not. Neither do they have the time.

‘Quality’ papers in blog skirmish

It’s not a blogwar, but more a blog skirmish as the Telegraph’s Shane Richmond sallies forth from Victoria to harry the Guardian in its Clerkenwell redoubt. Not surprisingly the Telegraph has taken exception to Peter Wilby’s robust criticism in Media Guardian on Monday which detected a “whiff of Kulturkamf” .

Richmond’s return of fire is concentrated on one of Wilby’s minor points, where he claimed the Telegraph defied the first rule of blogging: “Do it often and build up a following.” The lack of activity from the crime and religion correspondents was cited.

In return, Ricmond writes:

Every so often someone from the Guardian explains how Comment is Free knocks other newspaper blogs into a cocked hat, which conveniently ignores the fact that Comment is Free is not a blog….

Why isn’t it a blog? First of all because a substantial number of the posts that appear there are simply articles from the newspaper with comment boxes stuck on the bottom….

Trying to define blogs is not a simple matter but I do have some sympathy with Richmond. When I questioned the purpose of newspaper blogs back in October I found the Guardian’s offerings were very different and wrote:

The Guardian’s score of 12 is rather misleading as only two of them have an author’s name as the title. They include readers’ reviews in the travelog blog, and the paper’s podcast feed. Jack Schofield has expanded his weekly computer agony column into a blog leaving Roy Greenslade on the media as the paper’s individual blogging voice.

I have not checked recently on how things may have changed but at the time Neil McIntosh, Guardian Unlimited’s head of editorial development, responded that they prefered group blogs.

The argument about what is a blog will roll on. But one that is not updated regularly does not deserve the name.

On this point, I reported on January 28 that the Independent had removed the link to its blogs. It is back but the latest post on any of its blogs remains the one that starts: “Just a quick note to let you know that a round up of Christmas gigs… is now available on the main site.”

That is definitely a dead blog.

Later: McIntosh has responded to Richmond saying in effect, who cares what you call it so long as it works for the readers.