"Your mascots are worse than our mascots… And… and… YOU SMELL!"

There’s nothing like the sweet tang of revenge and Canada’s National Post is in gleeful form after the London 2012 Olympic mascots were revealed, with no less than four articles dedicated to poking fun:
Olympic mascots: Who’s laughing now, London? 

and, finally,
Although I’m not picking on the National Post here – I think a Copyright: All Media is probably appropriate given that most newspapers took time out to laugh at the new mascots. But it did strike strick me than two long articles and two galleries dedicated to some not-very-interesting-news was taking piqued national pride a little far. 

But then, the grievance had been treasured up for a couple of months: I was skiing near Whistler during the opening of the 2010 games and the world’s media (including Canada’s) were reporting fears that this year’s Games would be green for all the wrong reasons.
At Whistler, the base is often rainy and snowfree but higher up is snowsure, and snow was being helicoptered in for the low-lying cross-country trails.

TV broadcasters (US, Canadian, UK) set up camp on the snow-lite base and reporters employed patented black-edged voices to deliver doomy reports about the lack of snow. Which was followed – within days of the opening ceremony – by doomy black-edged voice reports about too  much snow affecting the downhill.

Personally I thought the 2010 games were immense, and the whole country seemed to throw itself behind the Olympics. Their mascots were ok – they really weren’t great though, and I speak as someone who bought all three for my (distinctly underwhelmed) young nieces. Apparently they were derieded by the UK press – a quick search failed to throw up any articles but I can well believe there was some sneering.

Now Canada’s press is having its revenge and loving every minute, and it’s all done in the grandest tradition of journalism; there is nothing that exists that we can’t mock or knock in some way. Apart from, maybe, Stephen Fry – everyone seems to love him. 

The same thing happened in Liverpool when the city won Capital of Culture. I think now we can all acknowledges it was an overwhelming success, but the tired old cliches -stolen hubcaps, trackies, ‘calm down, calm down’ and (of course) the ‘Festival of Litter’ were bandied around by UK press who seemed determined not to let Liverpool succeed (Sunday Times Culture section, I’m looking at you).

When we can’t inform, we editorialise – frequently in a way that diminishes us in some way. The Olympic motto is Citius, Altius, Fortius – Swifter, Higher, Stronger. Maybe newspapers should consider a universal motto of their own – Inrideo, Duco, Minutum.

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Tindle Newspapers: Hyperlocal successes may not pay the mortgage

Sir Ray Tindle was speaking at the Local Heroes conference last week and, from Twitter, I detected a lot of love in the air for  what he was saying, but it was only when going through my rss reader  today that I got the full gist of what he was saying.
His take on the future of newspapers is fairly optimistic; he doesn’t  believe the gloom, and he has some basis for making that bold claim:  Tindle Newspapers – which totals 230 titles – has weathered the  recession with its journalistic workforce intact.
But the line from his talk that really caught my eye was when he cited the Tenby Observer as an example of hyperlocal publishing. That was my first paper, and unless things are very different now, I would say the adulation should be a little tempered.

TenbyImage by Steve Oliver Imagery via Flickr

Throughout my life whenever the question “Where are you from?” comes up my reply of “Tenby” generally prompts a response along the lines of “Ooh! We used to go there on holiday when I was a kid”. It’s one of those postscard places – golden beaches, pretty town – that exists for tourism but which has a thriving year-round community.

When I was little it was a big old broadsheet printed out of a ricketty operation in The Parade, Tenby, and was my mum’s employer for at least two decades. It was edited by Arthur Ormand  MBE (always Mister Ormand to me, with the MBE was silently tacked on the end) and every single journalist in the UK owes the Observer a  debt of gratitude, because without it, you might not be sat in your  local council meeting.
The masthead carries the legend Pioneer of Press  Freedom, and that’s because it was responsible for the 1908 Admission of  the Press to Meetings Act being pushed through Parliament.

If I was off school sick, or during holidays, I used to end up sat  with Mum in the Observer offices, childcare being a fairly ad hoc  thing in the 1970s, and the Law of Sod meant I ran into Ray Tindle and  his sidekick, Tom McGowran, more frequently than either probably  would liked but they were both unfailingly tolerant.
A careers councillor asked what I wanted to do when I was aged 17, noticed  my A grade for A level English and – in desperation I think – suggested  journalism. I started work at the Tenby Observer about a month later,  and I suspect editor Neil Dickinson is still wondering how the  hell that happened.

I was the most junior or juniors, on glorified work experience really, and given the task of covering Whitland, about 17 miles away, Welsh-speaking, and aggressively covered  by the Western Telegraph and Carmarthen Journal. I had a camera (I  had to develop my own photos), car mileage, two magistrates  courts, two councils, numerous agricultural shows and summer carnivals to cover, for the princely sum of £30 a week – upgraded to £40 after two  months – and for about 13 months I had the most through induction to  local newspaper life (and hyperlocal news) I could have wished for.
I wrote up weddings and funerals, sat in show tents painstakingly  writing up the results for ‘best heifer  not yet showing broad teeth’, I got lost, made horrific mistakes (I  once married the bride to the vicar) and called in every single favour  that my family had accrued in generations of living in Tenby and  Narberth. I also lived off my parents – there was no way I could have afforded to do anything else.

I used to see Sir Ray, as he was by then, and Tom too, and both of   them would always ask how I was getting on. He won’t remember this, but  I once got Tom to help me jemmy a stuck film out of my camera; how  many  CEOs in the newspaper business would do that for a trainee, I  wonder?
And then, just when I was getting to be of some use to the Observer, the  Western Telegraph came in with a job offer that included putting me through the NCE (the Observer didn’t offer formal training), and off I skipped.

But the Tenby Observer remains a part of my life, because I’ve always received it every week in the post. It’s  a link with home; every birth, death and marriage, every swimming gala photo and rugby trophy, cricket league, long service award   and more was recorded in there.
However, nostalgia aside, Tindle has traditionally had a terrible reputation among news reporters, because of the lack of training and the low pay; when I moved to work for dailies I learned that it was utterly notorious for its poor remuneration and shunned by a good number of bright young things.
Obviously this may have all changed in 20 years but I couldn’t help wondering what the situation was now when I saw all the positivity and praise for the group after Sir Ray’s talk last week.

In the past, colleagues have occasionally moved to work for one of the London-based Tindle papers, and there has always been a common theme – “The pay’s shit but I can live at home and it’s only til I get on a national”.
Believe me, the pay was rank. And there was also the odd editorial meddling – like Sir Ray’s papers, regardless of location, covering (purely in the spirit of support, of course!) the annual London to Brighton classic car run which he happened to be competing in, and in 2003 Tindle papers were also stopped from reporting news that might damage the War Effort, so to speak.

I do admire Tindle group, but unless it has changed the terms it  offered its workforce I’m not going to consider it a complete model for other groups to emulate. Cherish the hyperlocal approach it  does so well, by all means, but don’t think Tindle is Utopia.

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Llightening talks and more from Liver and Mash – Mashed Libraries 2010

I spent an informative morning at the Mashed Libraries event in Liverpool on Friday. I don’t normally go around crashing unconferences but I’d been asked to speak, and as a result I got to sit in on some really informative and fun presentations.
The sessions I heard included Mike Nolan, Head of Web Services at Edge Hill University, who’s blogged about his presentation on what role higher education institutions play in mashups, and his belief in the need for more of the country’s academic houses to open up their data.
I loved his Data.ac.uk talk because it was delivered with real humour and insight, and it also made me realise again how many parallels there are between the newspaper industry culture shifts and that of the library sciences industry (a more lucid post on the subject is here, and it’s recommended reading).

I also saw Aidan McGuire and Julian Todd, of Scraperwiki in action and was very excited to discover they were based in Liverpool (I’m off to see them again this week to pick their brains some more). The possiblilities Scraperwiki could create (not just for journalists but of course that’s what I’m interested in) are far-reaching and within minutes of talking to Julian he’d shown me a simple way to delve into historic planning decisions for the city, and posed some interesting ideas about how to use the data.

I also saw mapping king John McKerrell taking about, well, mapping – mapme.at and APIs, which was so oversubscribed by delegates that he had to shift his talk to the main room of Parr Street Studios – and Phil Bradley, talking about Web 2.0 tools, several of which were new ones on me.

My talk was about data curation, and the importance of transparency in using, sharing and communicating information, whatever format it came in.My slides are here:

It was a 15 minute gallop through a massive subject, but I had lovely listeners for my session, and I really enjoyed myself.

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Making maps to challenge readers with UMapper

I’m not normally a big fan of verbing words but today I’ve been Umapping. Or, to be more specific, I discovered a mapping tool that has a neat little online game you can make,to send users clicking  against the clock, trying to answer questions on a global or local scale.
My UMapper map – imaginatively titled How Well Do You Know Liverpool? poses questions such as ‘Where was John Lennon born’, ‘Can you find Paddy’s Wigwam‘ and – of course – where Liverpool FC and Everton FC play their home games.

The GeoDart game produced by UMapper can be as big and as clever as you want it to be. I signed up for the free basic account, and selected theGeoDart game option, using Bing Maps (which I opted for – I could also have used Google, Yahoo, or OpenStreet Maps among others) like so…

Then I gave it a name, added a description that included a summary of the rules and started adding placemarks like this:

The name of the placemark (in this case Menlove Avenue) actually displays as the answer, the question (Where was John Lennon born?) is added in the description bubble and flashes across the top of the screen as the countdown starts, like this:

As a player you then click on the map where you think John Lennon’s childhood home was, and you get points for how near you are, and how fast you are. I put this map together fairly quickly, adding placemarks to roads but not – in some cases – to the exact spot on the road where, say, a Beatle was born, but it still works well. You can also use latitude and longitude if you need absolute pinpoint accuracy.

Anyway, once completed, the map quiz looks like this and I’ve also added an embed (which you can resize as needed but I found it worked best when I played it fullscreen, rather than trying to move the map around).

It has a competitive element too; final scores are given and those who log in can save their score, challenge others via email, and compete for the top of the leaderboard.

So much for the GeoDart game; there are other reasons to love UMapper though.
I set the permissions on this to allow only myself to edit, but I could have added named editors or thrown it open to the wisdom of the crowd.
Although I only signed up for the free backage, you can upgrde to premium (own ads, custom templates, ad revenue-share) and to white label which offers an improved map editor among other options. It supports map manipultaion via the API and has a WordPress plugin (so I’m really happy I’m on Blogger, obviously) and there’s also a Drupal module.

Browsing the public maps, I found ones that collect tweets about Walla Walla , that chart something called Minimelts in Canada and where Manchester Airport-bound travellers were stranded by the volcanic ashcloud. Loads of interesting data (well, maybe not Minithingies but you know what I mean) is being collated by users, some of whom use it for sharing information, others as part of a livestreaming collection. I even found an open-edit ‘supermarkets in the Bronx’ roundup, which is excellent hyperlocal stuff.

So, UMapper is a new favourite for me; I can think of lots more GeoDart games newspapers could make, and with video, audio and still image options also available (which I didn’t use in this one)  could make it a really good, sticky, valuable tool.

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