Category Archives: Media

Google have been doodling…

googleYes, yes I know it’s the design story de jour, but it’d be awful remiss of me to let the rebrand of one of the most influential companies in my generation’s lives go without commenting.

It’s not that I don’t like the new logo – I mean granted it’s not entirely dripping in inspiration, but I just don’t think it’s Google.

It’s a clunky typeface which I can’t help but feel isn’t kerned very well, and the heavier weight of the new typeface probably contributes more to that impression optically. It’s just too dense. Google of yesterday had an airy lightness to it, an openness which represented a key facet of Google’s corporate identity as a new moon-reach company of the future.

The new logo’s heaviness just lacks that transparent optimistic feather-light transparency. Instead replaced by something; I feel –has all the optimism of  a sullen teenager brooding in the corner frowning so deeply as to give the whole room the impression that the world could quite possibly end if you were to try and engage – and yet that isn’t the worst part!

That e – christ alive, it’s such an utterly clunking catastrophe – it totally misses the mark of being a nod to the previous incarnation; instead it just gives me the  impression that Google might have stalked Dell up a back alley only to rough it up and run away having stolen it’s corporate typeface for shits and giggles.

It’s not just that it’s a bad technically though, nor just that it no longer seems capable of symbolising the corporate culture, No. The hub of the matter, what has really upset the designer in me about this change, is Google’s total blindness to how influential it’s brand is.

Overnight in branding terms Google went from zero to ubiquitous, a brand on par with Coca-Cola, or Ford. A brand recognised by almost every human on the planet… With that level of ubiquity has to come the intelligence to understand the responsibility of being a good steward. You of course can argue that Coca-Cola and Ford have updated their logos – quite a lot in fact as younger companies – but the point was that they weren’t icons when they did that; and since then they’ve recognised the importance of key strands and features of their identities; of course they meddle, but fundamentally what you expect them to be is just what they are.

It’s easy to be glib, but as a man who grew up in the middle of the dot com boom from my perspective – in the context of my life – Google changed the fucking world – it’s brand is an icon of our age, and it just feels like this redesign has entirely failed to grasp the weight of it’s own identity and in doing so they’ve fundamentally failed to act as a steward of a global icon.

Told you so…

So there we have it – an answer to my previous post, what was wrong with the press office is that it’s head honcho was resigning… It’s been covered endlessly elsewhere, and to be honest the whole phone-tap marlarky isn’t a topic that I’m all that interested in, so I’m not going to give it any more air here other than to say that the ex-hack in me can’t help but chuckle when the likes of John Prescott, himself of a profession steeped in corruption, lies and thievery, can even begin to keep a straight face saying he thought that hacks might have had ‘higher standards’.

Higher standards? He’s lucky most hacks have any standards at all these days!

Conservative Press Machine in Crisis?

It’s not been a good week for the Conservatives in the press: they’re being slammed over interest rates, job cuts, still-rioting students, and now Baroness Warsi has put her foot in it with a speech which for the most part I think we can agree with, that there is a level of casual discrimination in the UK where all of those who follow Islam as a faith are either moderate and quiet, or extremists with suicide vests.

It could have been dealt with as a quiet matter, a general rebuttal that the PM/ Cabinet/Government agree broadly that all forms of discrimination should be tackled openly – but no. Furious ex-ministers led by the swivel-eyed-past piled into studios up and down the country, a messy operations note came out from No.10 that the speech hadn’t been ‘approved’ – possibly the worst thing that they could have said about it.

So we all looked at this, and we scratched our heads and wondered – just what the hell is going on in the Downing St. press office these days? How did they drop such a clanger in a week of on-going bad news…

This week should have been easy: Miliband is the most ineffective party leader since Iain Duncan Smith, the opposition are in disarray flip flopping, the Shadow Chancellor can’t add up, and today we find out that he’s allegedly (according to the Daily Mail) a cuckold. On top of all of that the golden goose of bad labour press is back: Blair is all over the news dragging the expensive and potentially illegal war back into the public consciousness all over again.

One can only assume that there is something bubbling under the surface about to break miserably all over the Government.

ConHome’s comments go behind a Moderation Wall

Conservative Home has never been my favourite political site: I’ve always considered it to be a mixture of useful news and solid, well researched opinion; mixed schizophrenically with overtly biased tosh that the Daily Mail would be ashamed of. This often results in ConHome feeling like a throwback to the “nasty party” of 20 years ago, a party that didn’t give a toss about liberalism, the future, international cooperation (beyond America) or society – preferring instead to champion the cause of ‘I’m alright Jack’. In part because of that ConHome does seem to have become somewhat of a rallying point for the exact people that made the ‘Tories’ unelectable for a generation.

This slant in direction, is of course, defended by a vocal group who take over the comments with disparaging comments about ‘Cameroons’ and ‘Europhiles’ – all seemingly intent on dragging the party back to ‘values’ that won it so many elections in the last 15 years. Online they portray themselves as the political majority, the screaming cry of the great ignored – offline this group are virtually silent in all the political debates I’ve ever attended; quite often I’ve mused that this might be because the views expressed by some commentators are of the sort that you’d have to be quite brave (or quite stupid) to try and defend face to face.

Whatever you thought about it though, the ferocity of the debate did often prove that the party is in flux; that there are more sides to the argument than the actual editorial often portrayed and that there are plenty of Conservatives out there that aren’t swivel-eyed crackpots stereotyped so often in the wider media, all harking back to a bygone age of Empire, Imperialism and Britain as a global economic force to be feared. This is great. Conservatives should be a split bunch, that’s the point of freedom of thought, and love it or loath it ConHome has given some of these debates a place to flourish.

Those days however might now be over.

Today ConHome published a statement that from now on, all comments will be moderated. And whilst the statement is filled with semi-reasonable excuses as to why they’re beginning to moderate. Not once does it adequately answer my question about why moderation couldn’t be done post rather than pre publication, at least that way the users views are always transparent. They promise to maintain ‘fair’ comment – whether that remains the case we’ll wait and see. I’m not sure that ConHome will be able to resist shaping the conversation to their agenda; it’s certainly been my experience that debate in the comments is often stifled by inconsistent moderation.

My biggest problem though is that a pre-comment moderation will inevitably slow the pace of discussion – politics can move fast, sometimes blisteringly so… one of the joys of ConHome is that this pace has always been reflected in the user comments: now it looks like those days might be over. I personally think that’s a sad day for the Right’s online community – I know I’m a hypocrite in having pre-comment moderation on my own site, but I’ve never claimed that this is a voice of a group, nor have I made a media career out of it. I think Tim and friends will find that this is a step backwards for ConHome, and I hope they will reconsider the distinctly retrograde step of moderating all comment pre-publication, and I hope they do this before it becomes a ghost site with all the good stuff hidden behind a wall of moderation or payment.

Press reactions to Ireland & The Eurozone

Well, it appears that there is now a series of options on the table for Ireland after talks continued late into the night – more on that later today – but you’d be hard pressed to find much detail of these discussions in the UK press as the majority of newspapers seem to be rejoicing in the possibility of a cataclysm, including a particularly moronic piece from Ambrose Evans-Pritchard in The Telegraph, full of half-true hindsight and distinctly dodgy future predictions.

What’s interesting is how almost all commentators seem to be foaming at the mouth with glee about the imminent ‘collapse’ of the euro and the european project, ignoring the impact that any potential failure would have on Britain, both politically and economically.

Let’s be blunt, the failure of the Euro would cause a financial firestorm, it would rock markets worldwide, and the blast-wave that would roll over the City of London, and then onto the wider economy of the UK would huge. Just consider there are more Euros traded in London on a weekly basis than exist in the rest of the Eurozone put together: The City contributes 14% of the total tax coffers; a significant proportion of which is earned on Euro investments and trades and the last time I looked this inward trade to the The City alone made the amount that every anti-europe commentator drags up about how much we pay into the EU every year look like pocket change.

Tea Party-esq ramblings from Little Englanders’ are horrifically ignorant. The idea that we are not inextricably linked to Europe in finance and trade and that we’d ‘do just fine’ alone on our little island against the might of China, the USA and Russia (all of whom it should be noted employ protectionist policies whenever it suits) is naive in the extreme.

It’s funny really because the view in the press is not the view I hear in my daily life. I should say I’m not surrounded by europhiles, quite often it’s quite the opposite – but none of the people I meet in my personal and business dealings have the rabid anti-europe sentiment that the press portray the British public as having. That said – one thing is clear: whether we agree with it or not, we will pay to bail out Ireland one way or another – and what’s patently clear is that if we stand by and watch the eurozone fall apart we’ll pay even more dearly than any of the Little Englander’s could ever imagine.

*Thought Crime Klaxon*

Just when you thought things couldn’t get any sillier on twitter with the conviction of Paul Chambers for “menace” after he tweeted about blowing up an airport with the clearly jocular:

Crap! Robin Hood airport is closed. You’ve got a week and a bit to get your shit together otherwise I’m blowing the airport sky high!

Yet more ludicrous charges for thought crime have been dragged up by the Police against a Conservative councillor. It seems that Gareth Compton a councillor for Birmingham has been arrested by the police after posting a series of reactions to a broadcast on BBC Radio 5 Live by controversial columnist and all-round-irritant Yasmin Alibhai Brown. Mr Compton would appear to have said:

Can someone please stone Yasmin Alibhai-Brown to death? I shan’t tell Amnesty if you don’t. It would be a blessing, really. #R5L

Now, let me just make quite clear before I go any further that what follows is commentary: Yasmin Alibhai Brown is, in my eyes, a first class irritant. A commentator so pointless and facile that I’d rather hurl myself out of a second story window than sit through her rants on Any Questions or whatever else she might pop up on; but I don’t wish that Ms. Alibhai-Brown be stoned to death – nor would I encourage others to act on the tweet. Ok? There, that should cover off the thought-crime police, now we can continue…

So. It was a stupid thing to say: imbecilic indeed – especially if you’re a posting in a public broadcast space, doubly so if you’re a politician, and absolutely if you’re on the right talking about a high profile minority woman on the left with a set of lungs on her.

But, really – it clearly wasn’t calling for her to be actually stoned to death, she’s a public figure – she should have a thicker skin: believe me, as someone that’s dealt with cases of prolonged stalking and threatening behavior, there is a time and a place to call the police, but this clearly wasn’t it… It wasn’t even close.

It shouldn’t be forgotten that we’re talking about Yasmin Alibhai Brown, a woman who holds some pretty polarized views herself, she’s certainly not been afraid to dole out tongue-lashings for individuals and institutions over the years, so surely she must know that she’ll occasionally be a target of vicious language herself?

It’s simply a common expression of speech that sees people wishing “death” on each other, most often said in an entirely flippant throw-away fashion. Whether it be the surly teenage ‘drop dead’ or the theatrical sighs of exasperation willing the lord to smite whoever is gracing the One Show’s sofa with lightning, pestilence and locusts that almost everyone I know has performed to one degree or another from time to time. It’s flippant, it’s forgotten almost as soon as it’s said and all it’s doing is acting as a micro-valve to express dissatisfaction, disagreement or disillusionment.

I’m very concerned that the long arm of the law is insidiously extending into people’s opinions online. It’s a dangerous precedent: just think how long it might be before any joke or satire is considered threatening, just where would you draw the line? If he’d said he wished an asteroid to land on her head, would that have still had the police rushing to his door? Let’s face it Mr Compton’s stones, baying mob, and yasmin in a hole awaiting her fate are deadly but, just like my asteroid, clearly imaginary and highly unlikely.

This is a matter of thick vs thin skin – it feels awfully like short term political point scoring – how many times has Mrs Thatcher been ‘killed’ in commentaries ranging from TV satire to bloggers young enough to have not even been sparkles in their fathers’ eyes online? It must be hundreds, and if we add in posts on message boards, IRC, twitter, facebook, social websites and political forums it’ll add up to hundreds of thousands. Did the police swoop in on all of them? Is Maggie furiously calling the police demanding they round up the culprits with all the lightness of touch of a falling anvil? No. Of course she isn’t.

There is a time and a place for involving the authorities – when your safety is genuinely threatened yes, when you’re a little hurt by a comment online… No. I hope the complaint against Gareth Compton will be dropped – I hope he learns from this that Twitter is a public forum, but I have a horrible feeling this will end in resignations and more wasting of taxpayers money while the CPS drag someone in front of a judge for what amounts to thought crime.

I’ll be keeping an eye on this story as it develops, in the meantime I’ll be awaiting my asteroid with glee.

The big green con?

Tonight Channel 4 are showing a programming and having a studio debate about what the Greens have got wrong – it’ll make uncomfortable viewing for many I’m sure but perhaps not for the reasons that are most immediately obvious to many.

In my view we’ve moved from Global warming to Climate Change as Scientists could no longer account for the some of the most miserable summers and some of the coldest european winters in living memory. We’ve now got theories claiming that heating in some parts will plunge europe into a mini-ice-age, the consequences of which are unthinkable.

Then we have the farce of Nuclear power, proved clean – proved safe – proved as a viable option to fill generating capacity as renewables are developed and come online, yet time and time again Nuclear projects have been delayed and now it’s too late – we’re facing the choice of building more coal units to fill gaps in the renewable net, and all of this because of groups of people that made it political suicide to be pro-nuclear.

We’ve plunged trillions of euros worldwide into climate change research, global warming projects and renewable energy research, some of it very worthwhile – some so scientifically questionable that leading lights in the field like Harold Lewis, the Emeritus Professor of Physics at the University of California, Santa Barbara slammed the whole climate change community in his utterly damning and very public resignation last month, he wasn’t the first and he won’t be the last.

I’m not a climate denier, I firmly believe that we should reduce the impact of humanity on the planet, that many things the green lobby have done are very worthwhile in reducing pollutants in our water, food and atmosphere – but we have to admit that if green science is to remain credible, not just scientifically but publicly – then we’re going to have to be honest. We need to accept that we don’t understand the weather or the climate of this planet in as comprehensive a detail, until everyone does that – well, we’re just all screwed: more money will be wasted, more conspiracies will be found and the public, the most important element of winning the scientific debate – will be lost.

The science cannot be driven by grant access, it now needs to be led at a supranational level; taking into account not just the environmental, but the social, economic, realistic, pragmatic issues that need to be faced so that we can all live in a more sustainable world.

BBC to axe the brass?

It’s breaking today that amongst the top-brass of the BBC facing the Axe in the ‘radical’ shake up of management is the BBC’s Creative Director Alan Yentob.

I can’t honestly say I’m upset to hear Alan Yentob will be leaving his lucrative management position: with a professional career based almost entirely at the BBC at taxpayers expense, the ‘creative director’ position always sounded like another job for the boys. Right from the first announcement I’ve always been unable to square where he has added value to the output of the BBC, and why the BBC needed a creative director in the first place when the purpose of the role was duplicated at so many points closer to each individual broadcast outlet.

If the role was supposed to cement the position of creative arts (from programme production to commentary) then he’s failed miserably as arts in general at the BBC, and more specifically commentary of arts, is a shambolic mess. Yentob has failed miserably to deliver authoritative arts commentary across all of the BBC, with the likes of BBC4 being almost entirely ignored. That’s without discussing the recent appointment of the insufferable Will Gompertz who’s mere appearance on the television is enough to send me running shrieking from the room, a topic I’m no doubt going to revisit at some point in the not too distant future.

It would appear that there’s going to be a substantial payout to cushion the blow, not to mention a pension pot of over £1m, further aggravating the impression that Yentob is a man paid well beyond the range of his talent.

Even more upsetting than that however is the news that his arts program imagine is likely to stay. This is upsetting for many reasons, not least because it has always been a poor shadow of The South Bank Show, but because it was given a prime BBC 1 slot, which week after week missed it’s core audience by both over-indulging (a turnoff for the casual viewer), under-informing (a turnoff for those really interested in the field) and self-aggrandising (which frankly irritates everyone).

Of course it would be unfair to neglect to say that there have been truly superb individual episodes: his portraits of Gilbert & George and Richard Rogers were particular highlights, but so often imagine fails to deliver, rambling aimlessly through a topic before ultimately disappearing up it’s own arse. Of particular irksomeness are the overly long-shots of Yentob himself rather than the subject of the film, or the apparent chumminess of Yentob with many of the subjects; rather than being a passive channel through which the narrative can be delivered he’s all too often in the middle of the action; which at times leads to an uncomfortable feeling that you’re eavesdropping on a private conversation rather than being invited in to listen and learn.

Alan Yentob for me a figurehead of all that’s wrong with the BBC: which when it’s good, is truly world-class, (and let’s be frank it bloody should be for what we pay for it), but when it all-too-frequently gets it wrong it’s awful, biased, insufferable, self-indulgent, self-serving, self-congratulatory claptrap. 


Terror Threat

The terror threat is palpable in central london at the moment: I think every day for the last week has seen at least one major road closure to examine suspicious bags or cars – the security services are certainly on edge, it’s not just London, Paris too is on high alert with regular evacuations of tourist sites, something almost unheard of in our laissez-faire republican cousin.

It’s an odd state of affairs – Be Aware! we’re told, but the question most people ask is of what? Odd looking cars, people with turbans, odd beards, shamrocks, the germans, smurfs – what? Most people on the street wouldn’t know where to start without some guidance, and so far there’s been no guidance. The result? Fear – precisely what the terrorists want, we change our lifestyles because of them, and they win.

It’s interesting to watch the various media outlets explain the terror threat, the BBC have made a huge thing out of it – it’s been the lead or top three story all week, ABC news and FOX are the same, some French outlets – most notably Canal+  are following our lead – whilst the German’s are remaining remarkably stoic, the conservative Erste network and the rather lowbrow commercially guided ZDF and ProSieben channels are treating this as an ‘and in other news’ feature. Not once has the terror threat come above story 3 – why? Because there’s very little one can actually say about it without resorting to hyperbole and conjecture, and that’s not news.

When I grew up it was exposed on an obvious Military installation at the height of the terrorist activities of the Irish Republicans. Cars were bombed, people were shot – but through all of this, guidance was always given, you knew that you have to check your car before you got in it, you knew you had to report certain people, numberplates or activities, and you knew most of all that the chances of you actually being involved were ludicrously low; but for the sake of everyone in your community you should be vigilent anyway. Some commentators have been screaming for exact facts, but that’s clearly not intelligent or practical, but if the state, both ours and abroad, want us to be more aware; they must start giving the public more useful information about what they need to be vigilant for, rather than simply scaring people about an unknown, unsized, unpredictable threat.

DAB

I must admit that I’ve just watched Matthew Paris destroying a DAB radio with a sledgehammer with a wry smile – he complains that as a platform it’s restrictive, poor quality and desperately under-supported: and I must say I agree. DAB has for many years been ‘the next big thing‘ and it’s just not… our ‘standard’ is UK specific, it’s already out of date and the DAB set they want you to buy will cease to function the second you take it out of the UK – and even when you’re in the UK you’re lucky even in the largest conurbations if you can find a strong signal.

Of course that’s not even the half of it: the biggest problem with DAB in the UK is the people that run it, DAB is to quote a good friend of mine, the same shit in a different bucket. Other than the ludicrously over-priced-per-listener BBC6 what’s new on DAB? A couple of awful automated stations, and ummm.

Yeah. Nothing else – no strong return to localism and specialism, just the continuation of creeping blandness. What we need is a new approach to radio; radio is in a world now where it’s competing with people who can stream personalised playlists direct to their work computers, where they can carry 50 or 60 thousand  songs with little no worries in their iPod will thousands of playlists and genius suggestions ready to fulfil their every entertainment need. OFCOM seem to think that a bland bowl of crap will fight this change in listening habits – they couldn’t be more wrong. There needs to be a complete, radical overhaul of digital radio, it needs to be upgraded and then given hundreds of strands of new content delivered not by mega-conglomerates interested only in ad-revenue, but my real radio people able to balance the financial realities of running a radio station with the passion of local and specialist programming if radio in the UK is going to survive the full transition to digital.