Category Archives: Media

Channel 4 – more useful than ever

Emily Parr, kicked out of The Big Brother House for calling another housemate 'nigger'
I’m very impatient this morning with the clueless and elitist response from mainstream media to Channel 4’s latest race row. Big Brother has provided C4 with two opportunities to tackle racism in Britain in the last six months and both turned out to be more effective interventions than any number of indignant newspaper editorials or dopey Government campaigns.

If white kids in Britain really are going around calling each other ‘nigger’ (and that’s what silly Emily seems to be telling us) then that’s valuable information – information that ought to be in the public domain. If reaching those white kids and helping them to understand what it means to call another human being ‘nigger’ is a legitimate goal then I’ll trust Channel 4 to do it before The Daily Mail or the Today Programme (Embattled Andy Duncan handled silly old Humphrys beautifully on Today this morning – he must have been on a course).

Better than reading the menu

Front cover from issue 4 of The Drawbridge, London
You mean your club doesn’t have a dirty great, broadsheet- sized, full-colour intellectual quarterly? Really? Mine does. Clever Giuseppe Mascoli, who’s been sprucing up Blacks in Dean Street a bit lately, has a hand in The Drawbridge, a really quite amazing pinkish newspaper full of the kind of tousled sociopaths you used to see only in The New Left Review.

A roster that includes cheeky Slavoj Zi┼żek, cuddly John Berger, prickly Noam Chomsky and bloody Gerry Adams (plus loads of other lefties, situationists and topers you’ve heard of). Fair takes the breath away.

All, I’m reliably assured, were chivvied into producing copy (this issue’s theme is ‘Failure’) because they are members and no money changed hands. This I don’t believe. If Gerry Adams is a member of Blacks it’s definitely news to me: I’ve seen various former Pythons, a few think-tankers and billions of media types at Blacks, but definitely not Noam Chomsky. I wonder if they’re doling out honorary memberships in return for contributions…

Unhelpful message

eleven diet-obsessed women's magazine covers, January 2007
There were 11 weekly women’s magazines on the shelves in our local supermarket this afternoon. Take a look at these pics and see if you can find the one that doesn’t have a feature about a celebrity eating disorder or a great new diet or a dieting disaster (clue: there isn’t one).

How much is music worth?

Universal’s spin is that they’re going to give away music downloads to defeat the file sharers. It’s not true.

To understand why the Spiral Frog announcement is important you need to understand what Apple’s iTunes Music Store has done to the music industry. iTunes is important for all sorts of reasons, obviously but – as far as the labels are concerned – for one really big reason: Apple robbed the record companies of their pricing power.

Steve Jobs stepped in, chucked his weight around a bit and cheekily took away the labels’ right to set prices and thus any meaningful control over their own profitability. The big fights between the labels and iTunes during these vital first three years have all centred on Apple’s stubborn insistence on a single, fixed price per track with no variation for fame, historic sales, up-to-dateness, trendiness… anything really.

You don’t need to be an economist to understand that pricing power is fundamental to a sector’s success. If the biggest players in an industry can’t set their own prices they are effectively reduced to dependent status. For an outsider to enter an unfamiliar industry and, in short order, to seize ownership of the most fundamental economic lever – the big red one marked ‘don’t touch . Not ever’ – from under the noses of the industry’s biggest players – is a feat of quite awesome self-confidence and one never attempted by a Tech firm before.

Universal (and, presumably, other labels as yet unannounced) have decided they’re not going to wait around while Apple reduces their hundred year-old industry to a blackened shell. They’re going to take the fight back to Apple, do something really unexpected and attack them where they are least able to respond. Giving away music (no matter how onerous the embedded DRM scheme is) is the most radical thing the industry has decided to do in that whole Century-long history.

It requires trashing the business’ only stable, continuously-profitable business model and jumping aboard the advertising train. Of course, they won’t be alone – they’ll join the respectable roster of media businesses whose only or principle source of income is advertising: radio, network television, newspapers. For the music industry, this shift will surely mark the beginning of the end of the battle with Apple and, overnight of course, the battle with the file sharers.

Elstein loses it

Everybody says David Elstein is clever. I’ve met him once or twice and he’s certainly an entertaining critic of TV and media in general – a real Maverick from outside the liberal public service media consensus. So it’s disappointing to learn that he’s turned into a silly old git. In this week’s New Media Age we learn that he’s convinced himself that the BBC’s mission to give away its whole archive online will devalue content created by commercial rivals and encourage people to steal it. Likewise, I suppose, ITV’s entirely free output encourages people to wander into Woolies and steal DVDs.

The Guardian Again


Speaking of The Guardian, I spent part of Wednesday afternoon in a private room at The Ivy, judging the web site category of the 26th annual Guardian Student Media Awards. As I did not fail to point out to everyone present, the last time I ate in that room was at a dinner thrown by Maurice Saatchi to celebrate his investment in my first Internet business, Webmedia, in 1995 (Ivan and I got more than a bit drunk, as far as I remember). Explaining this to the callow designer next me at Wednesday’s lunch (he was judging Best Designed Student Publication) was tricky. He didn’t quite believe that there could have been such a thing as a web design firm as long ago as 1995…

Media I have loved

Listen. I don’t want to get all sentimental here but The Guardian has always been pretty important to me. My Mum & Dad – working class lefties and trade unionists of the old school (unless they’re reading this, in which case they’re the bastards who ruined my life) – brought me up on the Grauniad (and The Eye) and the family’s dedication to the paper meant that, in the Seventies, when the paper hit a financial crunch and a merger with The Times was narrowly averted, my Mum bought two copies every day. How’s that for loyalty?

Anyway, the ‘Berliner’ redesign is a thing of beauty and the proof is that all the other broadsheet-turned-tabloids now look grey and dowdy and lost. The Guardian, once again, trumps the lot. Well done, you lot! I can still remember the thrill and tension of the 1988 redesign and this one’s better. I’m proud of you all. My friend Vic Keegan’s minute-by-minute launch day blog is really thrilling.

As I’ve said before, the other thing my parents (those bastards!) did for me as a kid was force-feed me the BBC’s most perfect offspring, Radio 4, so this moving celebration of 50 years of From Our Own Correspondent (you’ll have to download this MP3 since the original has been overwritten now), presented by legendary contributor Charles Wheeler, practically had me weeping on the Edgware Road the other day. I remembered all but two or three of the voices featured and many of the actual reports.

Citizens censored?

Helen Boaden, the BBC’s head of news, quoted in The Guardian, says that:

“Within minutes of the first blast we had received images from the public,” says Boaden. “We had 50 images within an hour. Now there are thousands. We had a gallery of still photographs from the public online, and they were incredibly powerful.”

Thousands? You wouldn’t know it from BBC News Online’s coverage. I can find maybe 25 in several different places at, most of which have been there for several days. What have they done with them all? Are they all sub-standard? Too graphic? Faked? Out of focus? I’d really like to know if there’s a flood of images from citizen reporters dammed up behind the BBC’s editorial code of practice.

Hitchens action

If Andrew Marr continues to produce Start The Weeks (MP3) of this quality on his departure from the big politics job at the Beeb it’ll all be worth it. William Shawcross, Christopher Hitchens and Germaine Greer on great form. Speaking of Hitchens, you’ve got to read this mind-blowing double-interview: Christopher and his estranged brother Peter with The Guardian’s Ian Katz at the Hay Festival (they also made it onto Today this morning). What a pair.