Monday, 26 October 2009


The amount of strikes on recently makes me think we’re either living in a the Thatcher era or, indeed, France. Please may I send a letter home? No you’ll have to wait because some people aren’t happy with their pay, conditions and modernisation. Please may I take the London Underground? No, you’ll have to walk because some workers aren’t happy with job losses, pay and disciplinary issues. Please may I fly with British Airways? No, there’s some cost-cutting measures that cabin crews have to sort out, so there might be a strike on there soon as well.

I’d like to point out that I am in a trade union - the National Union of Journalists (NUJ) - and regularly attend meetings so have a good idea of how unions operate and how strike action is considered. I don’t doubt that it’s a last resort for most workers, but my problem is that the consequences are often not properly thought through. If the post doesn’t operate, millions of people and businesses are affected despite having done nothing wrong. If the trains don’t run, millions of commuters and their companies are affected despite having done nothing wrong. Of course, this means unions are in a good position because they can impact more people than just themselves and their own company. But that doesn’t necessarily make it right.

I mentioned the NUJ, and there are often strikes at newspapers - I regularly read about them. If a local paper doesn’t run for one day - or operates at a lower capacity - it might mean people can’t read it. But whilst this might affect advertisers and be considered a disservice to the public good, it isn’t going to cause the same sort of problems that mail or transport workers will. From this viewpoint, newspapers are luxury goods whereas mail or transport are essentials. I’m not saying that therefore journalists have more of a right to strike, I’m simply pointing out that they cause less havoc to third parties.

I have no doubt that there are people in this country who do not get paid the right amount for what they do, but do hope this recent rise in strike action is temporary and we might get back to some sense of normality soon. The worst time to strike is during a recession, and the workers know that, but it’s a sure-fire way to seriously annoy your customers. Hopefully unions and companies can work together to get agreements laid down without the need to stop working.

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When the very existence of your club is in danger, you start to be grateful that it simply exists. Accrington Stanley, Oldham Athletic and Bournemouth have all been there - but to name a few. This week it seems to be the turn of my beloved Southend United. Rumours have been flying around recently that a transfer embargo has been placed on the club since they owe the taxman a big sum of money. It was finally confirmed yesterday and this Wednesday will see the Shrimpers face a winding-up order in the High Court. This could result in administration, and the resulting 10-point deduction would put us bottom of League One, meaning a huge effort would be required just to stay up.

But the £660,000 owed to HM Revenue and Customs is the least of the club’s concerns, with just 12 fit professionals available for this Friday’s game against Gillingham. I was in Carlisle on Saturday with 170 other die-hard Shrimpers to watch us go down 2-1. The lack of substitutes was embarrassing - at half-time there were three players warming-up and two of them were unknown youth-teamers. I’ve been worried about Southend before. In fact, I’ve spent many moments of my life worrying about Southend. But this is different - as I could be without a local football team to support soon. I hope it won’t get to that stage, but the club is clearly in a crisis. Surely there’s an Essex businessman with a bit of spare cash? Ah well, if not, there’s always Newcastle and Sheffield United to follow...

Monday, 19 October 2009


It’s quite a crazy thought that I graduate in eight months time and university will be over forever. Hopefully I will find a job though. Anyway, an interesting report was released today by lecturers’ union UCU which shows a “mass migration of graduates to London” who are moving in order to find work. This means that certain areas of the country are lacking in a working age population with a degree because many locals are moving south or towards the capital in search of a better life.

I find this hardly surprising. Almost all of the work experience I’ve ever done has been based in London - and in Leigh-on-Sea, I live a 45-minute train journey from east London, let alone west London. I very much expect that my first job will be in the capital city, and will probably end up living there at some point too. It’s the place to be as a young person - I spent six days out of seven most weeks this summer in London (mostly working in Westminster or going to church in the West End), and love it.

I feel I can only make it big in the media if I work in London, as that is where the headquarters of pretty much all the national newspapers, radio stations and TV channels are located. If I was to live in Sheffield after graduation - which around two-thirds of undergraduate students do - there would be jobs to aim for at a few places such as the Yorkshire Post or BBC Radio Sheffield, but nowhere near the amount of opportunities given to me by London. So this UCU report is spot on, but it does highlight a need for universities in poorer areas to try and hold onto their graduates, as that is one of the only ways in which some regions can improve their proportion of citizens with a degree - by effectively importing them from elsewhere.

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At 32 years of age, Mark Kleinman is a breath of fresh air. The new City editor of Sky News was interviewed in today’s The Guardian and made exceptionally clear what makes a good business reporter. Contacts, contacts and more contacts. Never was a truer word (or phrase) spoken. I’m sure Robert Peston would say the same - and although the BBC’s ‘face of the recession’ is not everyone’s cup of tea, there is no doubt he also has an awesome book of contacts that can give him fantastic exclusive stories - such as the scoop on emergency funding for Northern Rock. You just don’t get that kind of thing from looking through press releases.

Kleinman studied at York University and has worked his way up the ranks at an incredible speed - from Leisure Week to Marketing magazine, the Express to the Times, and now the Telegraph to Sky. He is only 12 years older than me and has already got an editorial position on one of Europe’s biggest news channels. Now that’s impressive. As one former colleague put it: “He’s done so well that you have to be careful of sour grapes.” I think Kleinman is an inspiration to all young and student journalists that by working hard and building up contacts along the way - you can still make it up the ladder. Good on him.

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A beach ball became the first static object since Michael Ricketts to score a goal in a professional football match on Saturday (no offence Michael, but Southend sacked you after a few months for not putting in enough effort). I’ve seen some super goals over the years; for example, the Darlington v Bury own-goal (where a defender tried to clear by an overhead kick but it rebounded off him and into the net) and the various attempts by Liverpool midfielders to chip the goalkeeper from their own half, but the beach ball has to get the nod. It wasn’t even a legal goal, according to quotes for former referees today, but I don’t think that will bother Sunderland or Darren Bent as it gave them a 1-0 win over the Scousers. Make sure you check it out on BBC Sport Online.

Football is indeed a funny old game - and there have been countless moments over the years when I’ve laughed out loud whilst at a game or watching it on TV. Who could ever forget Tes Bramble (brother of Wigan’s Titus) trying out in goal for Southend or Steven Taylor’s fake ‘death’ to stop Aston Villa scoring. It’s moments like that which make football more than 22 men kicking a ball around a pitch. It can often be pure comedy genius.

Monday, 12 October 2009


Before I start properly I must say that I’ve never lived in “digs decked out with flat screen televisions” or enjoyed “lunches of smoked salmon sandwiches” whilst at university. But it seems that Kevin Sharpe, Professor of Renaissance Studies at the University of London (Queen Mary), thinks this is the norm for students and believes an upper-class lifestyle is the reason behind students graduating with £20,000 of debt on average. He says that most students have “the latest iPods” and spend much time on “mobile calls at peak times”. Well this is hardly unique to a student population, is it? The majority of people I know (although not me) have got an iPod and contract phone - students and professionals - and this is not an indication of “upper-class living” at all in the UK. But maybe this factor isn’t the thing that was most thought-provoking about Professor Sharpe’s research.

I have come to university to get a degree and enjoy myself - hopefully in equal measure! There will only be three few years of my life when I am a student (this will be the last one as far as I know), and I’m determined to have a good time. Whilst this does not mean reckless spending on gadgets and items that I don’t need, it does mean that I will go out for a drink or meal with friends and not worry too much about the cost. This concept of a “luxurious lifestyle” lived by students - according to Professor Sharpe - simply doesn’t exist, and the majority of people I know at university are very careful with their money.

The bottom line is that getting a degree will cost you money and the living & entertainment costs on top of that are not going to be cheap. However, university is such a wonderful experience - and you can get so much financial support anyway from the government and your institution nowadays - that money should not be a concern, as much as you should watch your spending. Very few students do go out and buy M&S sandwiches and live a “luxurious lifestyle” from my experience, so it seems Professor Sharpe needs to go and research a wider sample on my evidence. However it’s certainly interesting research that’s worthy of further study.

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Sky are launching a rival subscription download service to iTunes, where they will get users to pay £7.99 for the download of one album (or 10 songs) per month then unlimited streaming. However there seems to be a better alternative for the consumer. On Spotify, you have a free streaming service with a few adverts inserted here and there - although there are fewer than on the radio. On iTunes you can download an album or 10 songs for a similar price. So far, an equal service when comparing Sky Songs to iTunes and Spotify. But - and here’s the important bit - iTunes is not subscription based so you can buy as little or as much as you like. This makes it a better alternative as you get more choice and purchasing power than with Sky.

I don’t quite know what it is about downloaded music, but I’ve rarely paid money for songs online. I’ve also never downloaded any tunes on sites like Limewire or Kazaa, but do stream them on Spotify and YouTube occasionally. In fact, I have only ever bought one album to download - Insides by Jon Hopkins - and a couple of singles here and there. I hope that I’m not being too old skool by mostly purchasing CDs from HMV, Play, CD Wow and Amazon.

Last week I wanted to buy The Cut-Up Boys’ latest mix album, and although it was cheaper to download I popped down to HMV to pick up a hard copy and then put it into my mp3 player. The experts among you will point out that it would have been easier - and cheaper - to download it straight onto my mp3 player from online, rather than gone out to buy the CD, rip it onto the computer and then download. But there’s something about CDs that makes me still enjoy buying one in a shop, looking at the artwork and putting it on the shelf. I suppose it’s somewhat like buying a hard copy of a newspaper rather than reading it online - I’ve grown up with news and music in tangible forms, and that’s how I most enjoy to consume them both.

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Every true football fan pays good money to see a good game and it’s such a shame when the referee spoils it. There are often matches when some decisions made are so blatantly wrong that everyone in the ground knows it - such as the phantom goal at Watford last season, or the goal that wasn’t at Bristol City recently. It couldn’t have happened to a funnier person than Crystal Palace’s Neil Warnock - what a legend. Anyway, Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson has landed himself in hot water over the last seven days for suggesting referee Alan Wiley was unfit and “needed a rest” in their 2-2 draw with Sunderland. This personally upset Wiley to the extent where he considered quitting the game, according to The Independent today.

I feel managers should have the right to criticise the referee for their performance - although not personally - as long as they get a right of reply. Exactly this situation happened after Swindon Town v Southend United two months ago: Blues manager Steve Tilson said the referee had made a mistake, and he then apologised to the football club for a bad performance after realising that he had indeed made a mistake. This is good professionalism and should be encouraged. It might not change the score but at least the referee was honest - he certainly earned my respect for this. Referees always try their best in football matches, I’ve no doubt about this, but they will make mistakes - and hopefully these even out over a season. Debate between managers and referees should be encouraged after a game, so maybe we could have a few more interviews with officials. I bet it would make post-match reports a lot more fun...

Monday, 5 October 2009


‘It’s The Sun Wot Won It’. So said Britain’s biggest-selling daily newspaper on 11 April 1992 when the Tories unexpectedly won the General Election. For 1997, they changed their traditional right-wing allegiance to support Tony Blair, at a time when the Conservative Party was in disarray. But in a game-changing moment last week following Gordon Brown’s speech at the Labour Party Conference, The Sun backed the Conservatives once again. The headline ‘Labour’s Lost It’ may well sum up the next election when it’s referred to in history books of the future.

The importance of a newspaper, with a reading circulation that compromises of one in every six people in the UK, backing a political party cannot be underestimated, and David Cameron must be absolutely delighted. Foreign secretary David Milliband reminded his party last week: “The earth does revolve around the sun - just not the one that’s printed in Wapping”, but it’s a hammer-blow to Gordon Brown’s chances of remaining as Prime Minister.

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It’s been an exceptionally interesting time for London’s newspaper market recently. The London Evening Standard last week announced it was reducing its 50p price - in fact, that it was dropping its price altogether - and will be circulated for free around the capital. The paper has seen off 14 rivals in its long history - the latest being thelondonpaper which closed 17 days ago - and the London Lite is also likely to close in the near future. It’s another incredible marker of how badly newspapers have been hit by the recession, but the circulation has fallen from almost 450,000 in 2000 to under 130,000 three months ago, so it’s hardly surprising that drastic action was needed.

The proprietor, Alexander Lebedev - who bought a majority stake in the paper in February from Associated Newspapers - has probably had a switch to free in his mind for some time. Emily Bell of The Guardian suggests this is a “last throw of the dice” for the paper, and it’s true that this will only work really well or end in catastrophe. The fact is that when I’ve bought the Standard to read on the way home from work in London, it’s always represented value for money. It used to take me ten minutes on the Tube to read the London Lite and thelondonpaper cover-to-cover, which I was hardly surprised at seeing as I paid nothing for either. My hope is that the quality of journalism produced by the Standard will not be reduced - and that staffing levels will be maintained - but I’m worried for both. I just hope that Russian knows what he’s doing with a piece of London heritage...

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I almost stopped in shock this morning at the newsagent when I saw the banner headline on The Independent, saying: “Was Monty Python actually funny?” I then read John Walsh’s article and was even more infuriated! He suggests: “Goodness, how tired it looks - the pacing is all wrong” and also points out that he was confused when the ‘Funniest Joke in the World’ sketch was never translated from German. Well, Mr Walsh, if you remember, the joke is supposed to kill anyone who hears it which is why it is never translated into English for the viewer! What he criticises as being “comedy of the schoolroom” and “playing foolish japes of figures of authority” is what much comedy programming is all about.

Monty Python celebrates its 40th anniversary today, and although I might not have been around when it first launched, I absolutely love the films and television series. My brother and I are often quoting the best bits word-for-word to each other! You may have seen the BBC documentary ‘Monty Python - Almost the Truth’ on Saturday (if not, check it out on the iPlayer). It was a fantastic hour-long programme that looked at how the Python idea came out and how it was received by the public. However, they neglected to mention the most famous programme proposal that was never aired - a 30-minute show on which the volume would slowly decrease throughout, forcing viewers to turn up the TV sets, and then a big loud noise at the end causing shock around the country. The BBC didn’t like it and it never happened, but this was just another great comedy idea by a bunch of great comedy geniuses. Long live Monty Python.

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I will be very interested to see how many people pay £4.99 in advance to watch Ukraine v England this Saturday (rising to £11.99 on the day). It’s going to be the first-ever England international game to be screened online-only, and provides a very interesting experiment for online viewing. We know that Channel 4 can attract large online audiences of young people for series such as Skins and The Inbetweeners, and we are known as the ‘YouTube’ generation, but this is a live football match we’re talking about here.

Who wants to sit in their room in-front of a PC for 90 minutes watching a webcast which could crash at any time - when you could be down the pub with your mates and a pint of Carling, watching it on a big screen? I certainly won’t be paying to watch it myself. I know that there was no other option after every terrestrial TV channel backed out at the asking price, but I hope this is a one-off. Fortunately it’s a ‘nothing’ game as England are already qualified for World Cup 2010, so I won’t be missing much. All the same, Come On England!