Jul 232014
 
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I started thinking about the subject of journalism this morning, via a tweet from the always excellent Rob Manuel.  As often happens with what he sends round the ether, you smile, learn and continue to think once his thought passes you by.  This was the tweet in question:

Jon Snow has started doing gonzo journalism. http://blogs.channel4.com/snowblog/people-gaza-gracious-hospitable-condemned/24236 …

And this was the Jon Snow post he linked to.

And this is what he meant (I assume) by “gonzo journalism”:

Gonzo journalism is a style of journalism that is written without claims of objectivity, often including the reporter as part of the story via a first-person narrative. The word “gonzo” is believed to be first used in 1970 to describe an article by Hunter S. Thompson, who later popularized the style. It is an energetic first-person participatory writing style in which the author is a protagonist, and it draws its power from a combination of both social critique and self-satire.[1] It has since been applied to other subjective artistic endeavors.

Gonzo journalism involves an approach to accuracy through the reporting of personal experiences and emotions, as compared to traditional journalism, which favors a detached style and relies on facts or quotations that can be verified by third parties. Gonzo journalism disregards the strictly edited product favored by newspaper media and strives for a more personal approach; the personality of a piece is equally as important as the event the piece is on. Use of sarcasm, humor, exaggeration, and profanity is common.

I was reminded at the time, and thought this post was going to be mainly about that experience, of something that happened to me when I applied to go on the El País journalism course over a decade ago.  I passed the first stage, but failed on writing about how I saw journalism developing, feeling as I did that opinion needed to come in from the cold.  Later, on these pages, instead of demanding more hollowed-out opinion, I called it a need for more voices.

And so, as a result of Rob’s gonzo comment, I thought I might write something discursive and uncontroversial.

However, this afternoon – in the hervidor that is the self-same Twitter – a battle over journalistic probity between Owen Jones and James Bloodworth produced along the way this tweet from Max Shanly:

@J_Bloodworth @OwenJones84 Because all too often James you focus on the negative and ignore the positive.

Now whilst I’m pretty sure that at the moment of its sending, James’ tweeted reply suggested that journalism’s job consisted in focussing on the negative, as anything which focussed on the positive was the activity of the propagandist (ie Owen Jones), I’m darned if I can now find the phrase I’m sure he tweeted (and which I’m equally sure I also favourited).  And, to be honest, I can’t see any reason for him to be ashamed of the idea – certainly not enough to delete it from the web (if, indeed, that is what he did – in a world of subtle censorship and filtering, one can now never be sure exactly what one did see).  In part, I didn’t get onto the El País journalism course precisely because I wasn’t as rigorous as James clearly prefers to be.  Rigour of such a kind, even if unpopular, is hardly something to make one feel professionally disgraced.

Yet the position and its counterpoint are both worth pursuing.  Where we find ourselves in conditions as extreme as Gaza, perhaps gonzo journalism – the journalism of emotion, I mean – is the only reasonable, that is to say, the only moderately democratic, reaction and way forward.  The carefully weighed-up, predigested and moderated journalism of traditional media contains within itself a lot of information which is not communicated.  As a result, a journalistic elite, a hierarchy of power and centralised command and control, is inevitably erected over the readerships and viewers various – precisely because only the negative is worthy of being told.  The shit is encouraged to hit the fan – and so the journalists themselves become the fans of the shit.

It may be, then, that to focus on the positive could be the job of some propagandists, but to wallow in the negative as James (I think) seemed to want to – apart from anything else, in order to avoid any accusations of propagandism – is equally extreme; equally self-interested; equally falsifying of the reality we all experience.

The alternative could be the multiple voices of direct emotion that traditional journalism forcefully resists like a schizophrenic’s medication similarly aims to.  Voices which may multiply uncontrollably – but which may also serve to understand a mad world better.

For as I said a couple of years ago in my piece linked to above:

By allowing those most knowledgeable about such corrupting influences to speak from the heart instead of the pocket, from their own most private voices instead of their borrowed and acquired public positions, the darkness that has fallen over one of the pillars of our democracy may ultimately be cast aside.


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Oct 162011
 
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It is always thus.  As soon as people actually pick up the gauntlet of democratic participation and activism (more here on the British background to this movement), the worldview presented by many in the media is one of democracy threatened rather than strengthened.  And yet, it should not be so.  People who participate and give of their time freely in such enlightened ways inevitably enrich economies, cultures and societies all.  An engaged populace should be valued not only by those who have very little – but also by those who find themselves at the very top:

In an interview with CBC’s Peter Mansbridge, Bank of Canada Governor Mark Carney called the demonstrations, which are slated to spread to cities across Canada on Saturday, “entirely constructive.”

“I understand the frustration of many people, particularly in the United States,” he said. “You’ve had increase in inequality because of … globalization, because of technology. You’ve had a big increase in the ratio of CEO earnings to workers on the shop floor.”

We should be entirely entranced by democratic outpourings such as these which – in the midst of massive economic crises – show how intelligent and clued-up the masses are.

These are not the unthinking masses of ancient capitalist lore but the informed masses which half a century of free state education has brought home to our democracies everywhere.  These demonstrations are nothing more nor less than the logical consequence of a society where sharing and understanding data has become the prime mover and dynamic in the bringing-up of our youth.

This is no longer a pyramidal society where only those at the top understand the complexities of life.  Now, we are all privy to the information and understandings we need.  We still have the old structures in place, of course.  And we, as the less privileged classes, sometimes make mistakes when we draw hasty conclusions.  But these mistakes are generally out of ignorance not malice – and stride hand-in-hand with an honourable thirst for real knowledge.

Not something that can be said about all of those who still pull the levers of power these days.
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Further reading: this piece from El País today is inspirational.  You can find it here in Spanish and here translated via Google.  Beautiful stuff.  Meanwhile, here, from the OccupyLondon page, we have the following Key Facts you might also wish to consider, whilst you cogitate a little further on what’s happening across the world this weekend:

Bank bail-outs:
The Bank of England estimates that the total costs of bailing out the financial system is £1.3tr, or more than 10 times the entire NHS budget.The UK bank bailout accounts for about 1/3 of the global banking bailout.
3 years on the British government continues to subsidise ‘too big to fail banks’ banks:
  • £46 billion: the combined subsidy the ‘Big Five’ UK banks enjoyed in 2010;
  • £10 billion: of British taxpayer’s money was paid in indirect subsidy to Barclays
  • Lloyds, RBS, HSBC and Nationwide also enjoyed subsidies of £15bn, £13bn, £7bn and £1bn respectively.

The ‘too-big-to-fail’ subsidy for the UK’s largest four banks is 62% higher than the equivalent subsidy in Germany, despite the fact that the German economy is significantly larger.
[New Economics Foundation, Quid Pro Quo, September 2011]
Austerity cuts:
£83 billion: the amount of public sector cuts planned by the government by 2014-15. Effectively cutting the incomes of ordinary people by

  • 6.2% for typical families with two young people on modest earnings (£37,000 combined income)
  • 4.2% for more well off families with children at university (£78,000 combined income)
  • 10.4% the average working lone parent with two children
  • 16.2% pensioner couples

The cuts are hitting the poorest hardest according to the Institute for Fiscal Studies.
[TUC, Where the Money Goes, October 2010:]

Unemployment:

  • The economy has lost 2 million jobs since the beginning of the recession.
  • 2.57 million people out of work (or 8.1% of working-age population)
  • 21.3% of 16-25 year olds out of work. That is almost 1 million young people, the demographic group that has lost out most from the fall in demand for labour.
  • 250,000 jobs have been cut in the public sector in the last year.
  • Research published by TUC on Monday found that those previously working in the lowest paid jobs make up nearly half of all new unemployed claimants since 2008.

Inequality:

  • The top ten percent now have 100 times the wealth of the bottom ten percent.
  • The top ten percent earn 4.1 times the incomes of the bottom ten percent, with the top 1 percent more than 10 times. The same figure was 3.1 in 1961.
  • The average CEO earns 250 times the average cleaner.
  • Levels of social mobility are the lowest among all developed economies.

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Jul 132011
 
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I remember, way back in the mists of time, a Guardian newspaper readers’ competition to define exactly the smell of the paper.  The conclusion?  I seem to recall it was “cat piss”.  And it was true.  I can smell it even as I write these words.  The most moral British newspaper of all – in its marvellously ink-laden printed manifestation – smelt of something that is generally quite impossible to remove; something that is generally quite impossible to rid oneself of.

Apposite, don’t you think?  At least in the light of its doggedness (sic) with respect to the News of the World.

Before I went to Spain, I used to be a regular purchaser of both the Guardian and what later became its sister paper the Observer.  Then, in Spain, I transferred my allegiances to another world-class paper, El País – a paper which taught me how to communicate in Spanish; a paper which I applied to learn journalism with but unfortunately failed – only managing to get through to the second round of entrance tests.  (I’m not sure quite why I failed to get on – if not for my Spanish, then perhaps it was because I wrote a piece in the exam which suggested that Hugo Chávez might have a positive effect on Venezuelan society in much the same way as, in Britain, Thatcher had had.  Far too idiosyncratic and off-the-wall, perhaps, for such a respectable and respectful beast as our clearly liberal El País.)

Anyhow, for much of my adult life, prior to that time, I had been a fan of author-to-reader hierarchies.  I then was lucky enough to get onto a Master in Publishing, organised by the University of Salamanca and the company Santillana, part of the same group as El País.  Here, by some of the best in Spanish edition, we were taught all anyone could ever want to know about the subject – both from a technical as well as a moral point of view.  In particular, and I remember it very clearly in a brilliant first lesson, we were taken on a mind-spinning journey through the history of the book, which not only terminated with a brand new search engine called Google but also signalled the imminent appearance of the book’s digital equivalent.

I was, in fact, planning to set up a digital publisher – and remember being quizzed by editors far better than myself on the ideas I was contemplating springing on their  profession.

There was real and palpable fear at the time that the electronic book was going to destroy a whole industry.

Well.  That was almost a decade ago.  And only now am I able to read my beloved Guardian without its characteristic smell of feline.  I started a month ago on my brand new Kindle, using its experimental browser and free Internet connection to read its mobile version in the clear black and white of the device’s digital ink. 

And this was an essentially hyperlinked version which I have already experienced via my smartphone.  So it was no real revelation.  Competent and efficient.  The Internet in all its common glory.

But the other day I noticed the Guardian had started with its downloadable subscription version for the Kindle.  I decided to try out its 14-day free trial.  I’m three days into it.  And I like it very much.  As I have already commented in my previous post on the Kindle’s virtues, I have recovered my love of author-to-reader hierarchies – not only in the novels and short stories I’ve already downloaded but also, now, in newspapers.  Precisely what Rupert Murdoch as editor excelled most at in his editing of reality – that immersive cover-to-cover experience of being led through a gradually untangling maze of perceptions – is precisely what has encouraged me to return to the Guardian as willing participant in the hierarchy of being written exclusively for; perhaps more importantly, for their digital future, also as paying subscriber.

As this tweet argues:

If Rupert Murdoch drops his 39% of BSkyB I will become a paying member immediately of that station. That should be sweetener enough.

And so it is that the Guardian‘s persistence in bringing journalistic criminality to book has regained my approval – whilst Amazon’s ubiquitous device has allowed them to find a means to obtain my hard-earned cash.

No papers piling up unread in the sitting-room. 

No heavy monthly subscription fees – both the Guardian and Observer for a tenner a month. 

A blessed re-encounter with a habit of a lifetime. 

And renewal in my belief that there still exists in the heart of Britain a cross-party liberal conscience which no foreign body can excise.


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Jul 012011
 
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One of the Facebook comments at the foot of this story (in Spanish) – as it came my way via the Facebook feed of the Spanish paper El País – asks the possibly rhetorical question: “Who are the pirates now?”  For the Spanish Association of Authors and Publishers (SGAE) has spent most of the day under the unforgiving eyes of Spain’s Civil Guard, as a result of investigations which began in 2007.  It’s apparently taken four years for anything to come of that original tip-off.  In the meantime, as Wikipedia points out, the main function of the Association has been:

[…] the collection of a blank media tax called “canon”. This fee is aimed to compensate authors for private copies of their work and was incorporated into Spanish law by Law 22/1987 of November 11, Intellectual Property. This law recognized the right of users to make private copies. The fee was intended to levy countervailing audio and video devices such as tapes, stereos or televisions. Its latest version, called “digital canon”, placed the SGAE in the middle of a controversy when trying to extrapolate this charge to digital devices such as CD, DVD, external hard drives and cell phones capable of playing music. The amount payable ranges from 0.17 euros on the price of a CD-R up to 227 euros to be paid to purchase a copier.

Whilst as El País points out today:

El escrito del ministerio público que investigaba a la SGAE fue presentado hace unas semanas ante la Audiencia Nacional y responde a unas diligencias previas abiertas por este departamento a raíz de una denuncia que presentaron en noviembre de 2007 la Asociación de Internautas, la Asociación de Usuarios de Internet, la Asociación Española de Pequeñas y Medianas Empresas de Informática y Nuevas Tecnologías (APEMIT) y la Asociación Española de Hosteleros Víctimas del Canon (VACHE). La denuncia se basaba en la aparición en varios medios de comunicación de “supuestas ilicitudes cometidas en la gestión económica de los recursos de la SGAE”. Los internautas denunciaban que los directivos de la entidad habían formado una trama societaria de empresas filiales en torno a la SDAE en las que las cantidades recaudadas en concepto de gestión de derechos de autor se invertían en actividades lucrativas para las mismas. Una denuncia que converge con la intervención policial de hoy.

Essentially, the Spanish Association of Internet Users and other organisations drew the corresponding government department’s attention to evidence which had apparently appeared in the media in 2007 – and which seemed to indicate that there existed parallel companies into which monies received as a result of copyright were being diverted.

Away, that is, from their rightful beneficiaries.

As the Facebook commenter says indeed: “Who are the pirates now?”

Not a good day for supporters of copyright in Spain.  Or, perhaps, anywhere.
____________________

Update to this post: this article on the subject of filesharing as symptom rather than cause has just come my way via Tim O’Reilly’s Twitter feed – and is an absolutely positive exposition of the issues that underline modern virtual behaviours and their relationship to digital rights.  As the article concludes:

Indeed, Ericsson is calling for an end to extensive lobbying for harsher and more restrictive copyright legislation. Instead, the entertainment industry should take it upon themselves to meet the demands of consumers. No more DRM, no more artificial delays, and global availability in all formats possible. In other words, offer products that can compete with piracy instead of attempting to make piracy go away through repressive legislation.

Rene Summer’s words may sound familiar to many TorrentFreak readers, but we don’t often hear them being voiced by a director of a billion dollar company. Let’s hope the right people are listening to pick them up.


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Jan 012011
 
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This came my way via Dave Winer tonight.  A damn good editorial and publisher’s defence of why the WikiLeaks diplomatic cables needed to be published:

Cynics will argue that none of what we have learned from WikiLeaks differs from the usual way in which high-level international politics is conducted, and that without diplomatic secrets, the world would be even less manageable and more dangerous for everyone. Political classes on both sides of the Atlantic convey a simple message that is tailored to their advantage: trust us, don’t try to reveal our secrets; in exchange, we offer you security.

But just how much security do they really offer in exchange for this moral blackmail? Little or none, since we face the sad paradox that this is the same political elite that was incapable of properly supervising the international financial system, whose implosion triggered the biggest crisis since 1929, ruining entire countries and condemning millions of workers to unemployment and poverty. These are the same people responsible for the deteriorating quality of life of their populations, the uncertain future of the euro, the lack of a viable European project and the global governance crisis that has gripped the world in recent years, and which elites in Washington and Brussels are not oblivious to. I doubt that keeping embassy secrets under wraps is any kind of guarantee of better diplomacy or that such an approach offers us better answers to the problems we face.

The incompetence of Western governments, and their inability to deal with the economic crisis, climate change, corruption, or the illegal war in Iraq and other countries has been eloquently exposed in recent years. Now, thanks to WikiLeaks, we also know that our leaders are all too aware of their shameful fallibility, and that it is only thanks to the inertia of the machinery of power that they have been able to fulfill their democratic responsibility and answer to the electorate.

The powerful machinery of state is designed to suppress the flow of truth and to keep secrets secret. We have seen in recent weeks how that machine has been put into action to try to limit the damage caused by the WikiLeaks revelations.

Given the damage they have suffered at the hands of WikiLeaks, it is not hard to see why the United States and other Western governments have been unable to resist the temptation of focusing attention on Julian Assange. He seems an easy enough target, and so they have sought to question his motivation and the way that WikiLeaks works. They have also sought to question why five major news organizations with prestigious international reputations agreed to collaborate with Assange and his organization. These are reasonable questions, and they have all been answered satisfactorily over the last four weeks, despite the pressure put on us by government, and worse still, by many of our colleagues in the media.

You can find the original article and full resource at El País itself here. It’s well worth reading in full.  Damn good read.  Damn good newspaper.  Damn good links.  Damn good reasons.

*

Re-reading this justification makes me realise exactly why world governments were so very unhappy about this release of documents.  What they reveal most clearly is that incompetence is the bread and butter of political discourse nationally and internationally.  And, whilst at first we citizens did not fully understand, from that very beginning these governments most clearly did appreciate both Assange’s true agenda and precisely why such substantial and reputable mainstream media organisations were prepared to bet their all on the making public of so much classified information.

It’s notable that the organisations involved – to a greater or lesser degree and each within the context of their own culture and peoples – have always been committed to engaging with the improvement of the societies they operate alongside.  As clear as Assange’s agenda now is, how much clearer must it be that the mainstream media involved in the release of these cables into the public domain have wanted, with these revelations, to stop the abuse of a public trust that they have surely been privy to for such a long time as privileged observers of the body politic.  And it is to their tremendous intellectual credit that they have taken the decision to no longer trade on the information gap as a way of making money out of their readers.

They have, instead, chosen to continue generating the income all publishing ventures need to sustain their entity by doing quite the opposite: by closing the gap that for so long so many – operating in collusion with the powers-that-be – have managed to make a living out of.

Something so many self-interested political journalists have deliberately avoided in the misguided interests of their profession for such a long and disgraceful time.
____________________

Further reading: an accurate dismantling of the American empire’s claim to legitimacy can now be found here at www.truth-out.org.  As the piece concludes:

In their desperation to retain the empire, the US political class is undermining the remaining vestiges of the empire’s legitimacy over the WikiLeaks affair. They may also be preparing to expand the definition of treason to include those who are dedicated, as is Assange and WikiLeaks, to freedom of information, especially when it reveals the duplicities of empire. Beyond WikiLeaks, the crisis of empire, according to Filipino scholar-activist Walden Bello, “bodes well not only for the rest of the world. It may also benefit the people of the United States. It opens up the possibility of Americans relating to other people as equals and not as masters.”

Well worth reading in full.


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May 112010
 
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Whilst yet another Paul (there are a lot of them around at the moment) has some more than valid premonitions over at Though Cowards Flinch, the Spanish newspaper El País publishes a sad and pertinent cartoon this morning by El Roto.  The text it contains loosely translates as follows: “SHAREOUT OF SACRIFICES”.  It shows a massive queue of workers walking through an arch above which these very words are suspended.  Shades of certain concentration camps, in fact. 

Most definitely not a question of Labour not working.

Rather more clearly an example of capital breaking – most forcefully – that social contract and understanding which, in good faith, all good-thinking people have had occasion to subscribe to.

Whither the oxymoron of people’s capitalism now?

More here.


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Feb 032010
 
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I get the impression that blogging is becoming one of those activities where we see so many others doing the same things that we might do that we begin not to see the point of also collaborating.

If such a convoluted way of putting things doesn’t confuse you even more.

There have, you see, been a number of occasions over the past month where I haven’t blogged anything on subjects that truly outrage me because I assume quite correctly that someone else will.

I mean what’s the point of all that repetition now?

Yet there are also other moments when I truly wish I had the time to do nothing else but cross linguistic frontiers and bounce stories between cultures as others might bounce balls back and forth in the playground.  The Spanish newspaper El País is one example of such a playground.  It consistently provides a refreshing view of technology, politics and culture and deserves a far wider audience in Anglo-Saxon circles.  So today here’s my tuppence of a contribution to spreading the word about the newspaper.  And it’s about a quite astonishing story.

The original article in Spanish can be found here from the 17th January.  It involves the FBI, no less, taking an image from the Internet of a left-wing Spanish leader, Gaspar Llamazares, with the aim of updating Osama Bin Laden and one other’s photofit pictures (images here with Gaspar Llamazares’ original photo on the right).  Today, the same paper reports that America’s finest have duly apologised for having copied and pasted the hairline in question on to a computer-generated representation of these rather aged terrorists.

So what is really going on here?  Personally, I’d be pretty upset if it had happened to me – but then I’m not important enough for this to ever be the case.  I do wonder how the story would’ve run, though, if it had happened to a British left-wing or – indeed – right-wing leader.

Was it deliberate?  Does it really matter?  Should Llamazares be able to sue the FBI for invasion of privacy when the offending hairline was publicly available on the Internet?  Does this open the floodgates to and set a precedent for all kinds of digital manipulation online?  Are there any other reasonable grounds to pursue the case or is Llamazares’ indignation part and parcel of a rather more traditional and widely shared anti-Americanism amongst the Spanish people in general and their body politic in particular?

I really don’t have the technical – or even moral – skills to determine any reasonable answer.  Perhaps you do.  But, either way, this brings us brightly back to the original purpose of this post.  There are so many things of interest that simply do not appear on our parochial radars (I mean our national news and current affairs media) that I am seriously beginning to wonder how mainstream mainstream media truly is.

In reality, mainstream media more and more appears to be a highly focussed channeller of a rather rank kind of churnalism.

The really interesting stuff gets missed whilst the really safe stuff (the purchase-IBM/Microsoft-at-all-costs impulse writ large here) gets repeated quite nauseatingly, over and over again.

So there we are.  I’ve found a reason to blog again.  Not to create an alternative agenda, but broaden the agenda we should all wish to share.

(And no, I’m not anti-American.  Not at all.  In fact, my nervous breakdown, around the time of the Iraq war, happened precisely because I was torn in two.  So there!)


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