Friday, 11 December 2009

Online campaign to bankrupt BNP

There are messages doing the rounds on Twitter suggesting an interesting way to rack up a substantial bill for the British National Party.

The BNP appears to use another name for certain projects- British Heritage- to which people can send correspondence via a freepost address (British Heritage FREEPOST).

According to Royal Mail, for recipients "Freepost NAME replies cost 42p per item, with no handling fee." In other words, every time the BNP receives post addressed to its freepost address, they have to fork out 42p.

The Twitter campaign is calling on all manner of correspondence to be sent to this address.

The question of cross-over between the BNP and 'British Heritage' also raised its head locally this week, as the BNP denied holding a meeting at Larne Football Club. According to the Larne Times, "the event at Larne FC social club on the Station Road was organised by British Heritage, said by the BNP's regional organiser Paul Stevens to be "a group who support the aims of the BNP"."

However, the fact that the BNP's own website states that the above freepost address, complete with the term 'British Heritage', is the party's official route for postal correspondence would seem to contradict this. Is the BNP, on the back of the increased controversy surrounding their success at the European elections, now using the 'British Heritage' term to organise events?

Thursday, 10 December 2009

Tackling the Downturn Dragons' Den-style

Over at, I spotted an interesting story that someone picked up from 'The Nationalist' newspaper. Apparently a couple of businessmen, whose commercial property could have commanded up to €50,000 in rent per year during the economic boom, are now offering to let the premises for free.

According to the report, the property is available for free until whoever occupies it sees their business starting to make money. The property owners will also be available to mentor, advise and help any interested parties who come on board.

According to one of the owners: "We are reaching out to those people who might have lost their job recently or who have a business idea or a plan. We want the place filled and we are open to all suggestions."

The businessmen have drawn up a list of ideas for possible tenants, including a pizzeria, a toy recycling business, an eco-coffin wholesaler, a cut-price butchers', a wedding dress-hire shop or a casino.

Obviously a lot of businesses and property owners are feeling the pinch during the recession. Is it a case of innovate to survive for many?

Friday, 27 November 2009

NVTV Blogtalk NI Episode 6

Blogtalk (episode 6) from Northern Visions/NvTv on Vimeo.

Earlier this week I had the pleasure of being invited back to be a panellist of NVTV's 'Blogtalk NI' programme. Obviously the cameras didn't break the last time I was on. On this week's show Belfast Media Group boss Máirtín Ó Muilleoir and Mick Fealty of Slugger O'Toole fame were my fellow contributors.

I spoke about the SDLP leadership race, Máirtín commented on how the mainstream media cover Troubles-related stories, and Mick spoke about Northern Ireland being treated differently by Ofcom from other parts of the UK in terms of media funding.

Thursday, 26 November 2009

CIPR PRide Awards Northern Ireland 2009

Last night I was delighted to attend the CIPR PRide Awards at the Europa Hotel in Belfast. The night was made even better when we won the Award for Public Affairs for managing last year's Energy Saving Week for the Energy Saving Trust in Northern Ireland. Below are the results from the evening.

Corporate and Business Communications


  • MCE Public Relations, "Optimise your cash" roadshow with Northern Bank Communications Team
    The judges were impressed with the entry’s handling of a difficult topic and one, in this economy, which would help support businesses to track cash flow in real time. The clear planning, coupled with the carefully thought out implementation, ensured that the objectives of the campaign were met. The judges were particularly impressed with the creativity of the campaign and the breadth of the tactics.


  • JPR, Ulster: Earning trust by communicating support for customers


  • Irish News, Workplace & Employment Awards
  • Morrow Communications, Northern Ireland Science Park: 10 Years On



  • Ulster Cancer Foundation, Personal Everest Project
    The judges were impressed with the results that this campaign delivered, ensuring that the Personal Everest Project raised its demanding target of £75,000, given such few resources. The judges considered the strength of this programme to be its well structured media relations programme, which proved to be extremely cost effectiveness.


  • Barnardo's Northern Ireland, Barnardo's NI Fostering Week


  • LJK Communications, Time to Deliver

Internal Communications


  • Northern Ireland Water, One Team ET Visibility
    This comprehensive programme to enhance communication and visibility of the executive management team among a widely diverse workforce was well conceived, structured and executed. Senior management participated fully in seeking to create a new sense of identity and corporate involvement, ranging from regular face-to-face meetings, to Q&A sessions and team working days. The initial environment was sometimes challenging. Innovation included a Chairman’s blog dealing with issues and corporate priorities. An independent analysis testifies to the effectiveness of this ongoing programme.


  • Northern Ireland Water, InTouch

Crisis Communications


  • Police Service of Northern Ireland, Police Service of Northern Ireland Armed Forces Homecoming Parade
    This campaign achieved its overall objectives in a very fast-moving situation and under extremely difficult and volatile conditions. Lots of other voices were clamouring to be heard and the Police Service did well in reassuring the public and calming the situation.
    This was a well managed crisis communications plan, which covered all bases, some of which eventually were not needed.

Measurement and Evaluation


  • Aiken PR, BT Young Scientist & Technology Exhibition
    The measurement and evaluation category, new in this year’s PRide Awards, is very important and this entry has clearly demonstrated rigorous planning, robust research and detailed evaluation. The initial desk research benchmarked the situation and allowed Aiken PR to prepare the entire campaign. The results against the objectives of the campaign were all met within the budget parameters.

Community Relations


  • Smarts, 'At the Interface' Suffolk & Lenadoon Interface Group
    The judges were very impressed with the intense community focus of this campaign, particularly in the backdrop of the sensitive area of sectarian relationships. It drew together activities in which both groups within a small housing development could find common ground. Execution demanded a high degree of awareness around issues of intercommunity conflict. An effective media relations programme generated positive coverage. Concrete results were witnessed in the local activities, such as football matches, where the two communities met and interacted peacefully.


  • Northern Bank, Moneyville - Bringing money management to life for young children


  • Strategic Planning, Mayfield Garden Village Community Relations

Public Affairs


  • Stratagem (NI) Ltd, Stratagem fuels energy saving week success
    This was a well planned and executed programme that communicated the energy saving message to a wide number of stakeholders and audiences. Using members of the Northern Ireland Parliament proved a highly effective means of communicating to and engaging with consumers. An impressive amount of media coverage was secured across national and local media in Northern Ireland, and created a high degree of brand recognition for the Energy Saving Trust and its work.

Public Sector


  • Translink, Translink NI Railways Londonderry Line Upgrade
    This was a well thought through consumer programme to inform and prepare local communities about rail service disruption during upgrading work. The outcomes showed Translink to be a responsible organisation which communicated with all stakeholders, including distributing 85,000 new timetables to homes near the rail lines.
    As a result, at the end of the 13 week upgrade programme, no complaints had been received by the Customer Services Department and no compensation paid.


  • NICCY, Hear The Cry of Youth


  • Big Lottery Fund, Big thinking consultation - something big is happening in NI
  • JPR/ NI Financial Capability Partnership, Money Week 2008

Best campaign £10k and under


  • Morrow Communications, Dale Farm 'Dromona - the big cheese'
    The judges were particularly impressed by the creativity behind this campaign, using the product to make life-sized sculptures of high profile politicians. The objectives were clear, and the planning and execution were delivered in a timely fashion. A raft of opportunities were arranged to get the cheese in front of the wider audience, including flyers, online promotions, competitions, stands at exhibitions, and joint promotions with established and trusted retailers. The outcome was a record number of visitors to the stand, and excellent broadcast and media coverage, including on-line. This was a well thought out campaign, delivered on a limited budget.


  • Aiken PR, Beef Week 2009


  • Aiken PR, The Show Will Go On
  • Converse Communications, Foyle Fashion Week
  • Northern Ireland Water, Bag It and Bin It

Consumer Relations


  • Morrow Communications, Flahavan's - Back to Porridge!
    The judges unanimously awarded the gold to Morrow Communications for a well planned, implemented and evaluated campaign, which raised brand awareness, encouraged product trial and grew market share. Strong research, well thought out strategic partnerships and a creative approach to promoting the product ensured the campaign had credibility and secured regular coverage in the time frame set. This was a leader of the pack in terms of strategy and tactical implementation.


  • Smarts, Captain Morgan TV


  • Asitis Consulting, AVOCA: Launch of the brand in Northern Ireland
  • Smarts, The Bushmills Trek

Best Use of Media Relations


  • Weber Shandwick, Electoral Commission Register to Vote Campaign
    This was a superb campaign which really thought about what journalists would need and how they would like information presented in the run up to the European parliamentary elections. What can be regarded as a rather dry subject was transformed into a compelling campaign which utilised stunts, strong imagery, digital and online activity to drive home key messages and achieve the all important call to action. A very well implemented campaign that impressed the judges through its thorough and creative nature.


  • MCE Public Relations, Northern Bank Moneyville


  • JPR, Ulster: Ensuring trust by communicating support for customers
  • Morrow Communications, "Have Translink Smartpass: Will Travel"

Integrated Communications


  • Belfast City Council, Waste Week
    JPR submitted a very strong entry for Ulster Bank, which communicated a very positive image for the business at a time when the banking sector is experiencing real reputational threat. JPR turned the current negativity to advantage, using it to underpin the fact that the Bank stands for positive values – generating significant amounts of coverage and creating lots of positive ambassadors, which is no mean feat.


  • Northern Bank, Moneyville - Supporting financial confidence and awareness for children


  • Cactus PR & Communications, The Wedding Journal Show
  • Morrow Communications, SPC - Fasttracking ICT Careers

Corporate Responsibility


  • Weber Shandwick Northern Ireland, Rushmere Uganda Schools Project 2009
    Rushmere’s Uganda Schools project is an excellent example of a cost-effective CSR initiative that engages an entire community. The judges were impressed by the way the campaign used online and social media to gain momentum, culminating in a week-long school building blitz. Weber Shandwick should be commended for achieving high profile support from sports stars and local celebrities at no additional cost, and indeed for delivering such fantastic results with minimal spend.


  • Aiken PR, Active Lifestyles: McDonald's Grassroots Football Programme


  • Morrow Communications, Deloitte: Sharing our skills with our communityNorthern Bank Ltd, Northern Builds More Than Bricks and Mortar
  • Smarts, LIDL Fit Factor Challenge

Best Use of Social Media


  • Morrow Communications, NISP: Building an Innovation Ecosystem
    Morrow Communications campaign used a variety of social media to connect with stakeholders, develop advocates and increase awareness of and attendance at events.
    Web streaming, social networking sites and podcasts were used effectively to increase reach, and it was good to see a focus on search engine optimisation that was lacking in other submissions.A well deserving winner.


  • Smarts, The Bushmills Trek


  • NICCY, Young People Talking To Young People
  • Smarts, Captain Morgan TV

Best Use of Photography or Design


  • Cathy Martin PR (CMPR), Strike a pose: Striking Photography from Fashion Week
    The judges were incredibly impressed with the striking images produced by Cathy Martin PR to support Belfast Fashion Week. The fact that they received widespread coverage was testament to Cathy Martin’s in-depth understanding of the needs of its target media. Cathy Martin’s portfolio also reflects the aspirations and interests of their key audience. A stunning set of images created with an eye on costs for maximum exposure.

    View the case study: Currently unavailable


  • Carlton Baxter Communications, Enchanted Aisle Photo Shoot, Willow Moon


  • MX Brandcom, Friendly Saxophones
  • Weber Shandwick Ltd, Electoral Commission Register to Vote Week

Best Newspaper or Magazine


  • Big Lottery Fund, Big Magazine - How lottery money is transforming lives
    The handbag sized publication, packed with human interest stories, was the judge’s unanimous choice for the gold award. It connects with readers very effectively, looked good and fulfilled all the objectives identified by the Big lottery Fund.
    Judges felt that Big magazine would not look out of place sitting on newspaper shelves alongside the like of Chat, Now or Woman.


  • Belfast City Council, City Matters


  • Banbridge District Council, The Cutting EdgeBelfast City Council, Intercom
  • Northern Ireland Water, Waterline

Best Publication


  • Belfast City Council, A to Z of Council Services
    The judges felt that Belfast City Council took an innovative approach to creating the A-Z guide and succeeded in making it deliver much more value to the residents as a result.
    Colour and photography were used to great effect, and the lay-out was clean and easy to follow. The council deployed superb skills in conveying corporate messages in a positive and engaging manner, and the fact that this guide is funded solely by advertising is to be applauded.


  • Strategic Planning, "Extending your horizons"


  • NICCY, News To You From UsPolice Service of Northern Ireland, The Chief Constable's Annual Report 2008/2009
  • Stakeholder Communications, Annual Report & Financial Statements Parades Commission for Northern Ireland

Best Leaflet


  • Belfast City Council, Essential Information If There is Flooding in Belfast
    This leaflet, with its useful fold-up format, is very resident focused. It is very clear and contains all the pertinent information that they need in the event of an emergency. Folding down to wallet size increases the chances of residents retaining the information. Including it in an existing magazine, alongside a flooding feature, ensured it reached target audiences at no additional cost.

Best Website or Microsite


  • Belfast Zoo, Belfast Zoological Gardens Website
    Belfast Zoo is to be congratulated on an appealing, informative and extremely successful website. Thorough research and careful planning ensured that it meets the demands of its target audience, driving traffic to the site and raising awareness of the brand. The judges particularly liked the interactive focus, which enables the zoo to engage effectively with its stakeholders. A superb submission and a very worthy winner. Well done.


  • Northern Ireland Water, 'What Are You Doing With Water'


  • Police Service of Northern Ireland, Police Service of Northern Ireland's Website

Best Event


  • Core Communications, The Giant HSBC Lions Shirt - Northern Ireland's Least Contentious Parade
    Northern Ireland’s least contentious parade shows how drive and determination can deliver a headline grabbing campaign within a tight budget. Jennifer Maguire of Core Communications is to be congratulated for planning and executing an innovative initiative, that combined PR coverage and community relations, to put her client’s brand in front of more than 1.6 million people. The judges were extremely impressed with the way in which problems were overcome and the unique approach Jennifer took towards meeting her brief. A worthy winner – well done.


  • Belfast City Council, Making a Difference (MAD) Awards


  • Big Lottery Fund, Stormont Youth Achievers Event
  • Morrow Communications, Challenges & Opportunities: The Credit Crunch
  • Northern Ireland Tourist Board, Showcasing Northern Ireland
  • Northern Ireland Water, Water is Life

Outstanding Young Communicator


  • Simon Little, Phoenix Natural Gas


  • Coca-Cola HBC Northern Ireland, Zoe Cunningham
  • LJK Communications, Angela Stevenson
  • Smarts, Selina McElwee

Outstanding Small Consultancy


  • Cactus PR & Communications, Small But Perfectly Formed
    Julie McCabe, head of Cactus PR & Communications, leads her team to work together as a professional and comprehensive unit that provides tailored solutions that really deliver commercial value to clients throughout Northern Ireland. The consultancy’s unambiguous business objectives have helped to ensure the business has maintained strong annual growth, as well as healthy profitability.

Outstanding In-House Public Relations Team


  • NICCY, One Team, One Mission, Children's Rights
    The Northern Ireland Commissioner for Children and Young People has one mission: children’s rights. The judges were very impressed with their entry document, of which the concluding paragraph of was: We’re a small team; we’re at the heart of the organisation; we’re confident professionals; but at all times our job is to make sure we can achieve real change for children and young people.


  • Police Service of Northern Ireland, Police Service of Northern Ireland in the International Spotlight


  • Northern Ireland Water, NI Water Outstanding PR Team

Outstanding Public Relations Consultancy


  • LJK Communications, None of us are as strong as all of us
    Supported by an impressive range of client testimonials, LJK Communications are worthy winners of Gold. Their enviable client list ranges from international corporate groups to high street names, and public sector bodies to charities. LJK has excelled in growing a full service consultancy, which moved to new purpose-built offices in 2008. Their new website, which reflects the company’s progress, is one of the most comprehensive in Northern Ireland.


  • Smarts


Aiken PR

Monday, 23 November 2009

The Slugger O'Toole Political Awards 2009

Last year saw the inaugural Slugger O’Toole Political Awards (or the ‘Sluggers’ as they seem to have become known in many quarters over the past few days) arrive on the political scene in Northern Ireland. Tomorrow they’ll be here again, with the event taking place in the Black Box in Belfast.

The Slugger Awards mark something different in politics here. It’s fair enough to take a pop at politicians on issues like double-jobbing and expenses claims when it’s justified, but there is a good many public representatives out there who expend a considerable amount of effort in providing a decent public service, and recognising this is what the Sluggers are about.

It’s also about encouraging debate on current affairs and politics here. For years political discourse went around in circles and was caught in a stasis on account of there being no ‘real’ politics here. However, the advent of peace and normalisation, coupled with the opportunities afforded by the internet to discuss issues in an open forum, has enabled people who never would have spoken before to share their views on sites such as Slugger O’Toole. And now the Sluggers take it to the next level with a tangible event which brings all this together.

Tickets for the Awards sold out extremely quickly, and when extra ones were released, they were snapped up too. I'll be down at the Awards ceremony tomorrow in an official capacity, but it'll be great to see so many people from a range of backgrounds coming together to celebrate good politics.

Things may not be perfect here yet, and indeed, there isn’t really any such thing as political perfection. However, the fact that the Slugger O’Toole Political Awards can take place at all is a testament to how far we’ve come.

Thursday, 19 November 2009

Ireland was Robbed!

In an act of gross unfairness last night, the Republic of Ireland team was cruelly robbed of a change of participating in the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, thanks to the hand of Thierry Henry.

Even the French know it was a travesty of justice- Henry has admitted to handling the ball, and 88.% of the nearly 60,000 people who have voted in a poll on the French newspaper website for Le Monde newspaper agree that Ireland deserved more.

There are only two options for the Irish team to receive natural justice. For there to be a reply, as Liam Brady has suggested, or for an exception to be made with the Republic of Ireland being given an additional place at the World Cup. I won't be holding out much hope for either though, given the record of the international footballing authorities.

Friday, 6 November 2009

Hurling on CSI: NY and Captain Planet in Belfast

A couple of videos to enjoy. I hadn't actually come across the former until I noticed it mentioned in Gerry Lynch's Facebook feed, but when I watched it, it reminded me of the latter...

Thursday, 5 November 2009

NVTV Blogtalk NI Episode 3

Blogtalk (Episode 3) from Northern Visions on Vimeo.

I was delighted this week to be able to participate in an episode of NVTV's Blogtalk NI programme in Belfast. They've a good set up down there at NVTV and Carl Boyle does a great job pulling the show together.

This episode focuses on big news stories that have been across blogs lately. My fellow panelists were Conall McDevitt and Owen Polley. The issues we discussed included the Ulster Unionist/ Conservative alliance, the 'No Pope Here' campaign on Facebook and 'Gatelygate'- the furore over the Jan Moir Daily Mail article on the demise of Stephen Gately.

Feedback welcome!

Monday, 26 October 2009

General Election 2010- Interesting Times Ahead

In recent years, pretty much since 2001 in fact, the results of general elections have been fairly predictable in Northern Ireland. The DUP and Sinn Féin dominate with the SDLP maintaining its seats in its strongholds (with the surprise addition of South Belfast in 2005) and the UUP playing second-fiddle in the unionist camp (quite spectacularly in 2005).

A year ago, it would have been fair to predict that the status quo would be maintained in the next election, but since then things have changed considerably, particularly in the unionist camp. With the DUP going into government with Sinn Féin, a considerable flank of their position has been left open to attack from traditionalists such as Jim Allister. At one point there was talk of the DUP running two candidates in the European elections, but thanks to the TUV they came in under quota to take their third seat with a sole candidate.

Meanwhile, the Ulster Unionists have resurrected their link with a resurgent Tory party. While the story of the European election was the problems faced by the DUP rather than the UUP/ Conservatives maintaining Jim Nicholson's position, the next general election will be a much bigger experiment by the 'New Force'.

In recent weeks the DUP has made several suggestions about unionist pacts in South Belfast and Fermanagh/ South Tyrone. However, with the Ulster Unionists arguing that the DUP has no right to be bargaining on these constituencies given that it has never held either seat, and with intra-unionist bad blood apparently still as toxic as ever, it appears that no deal is on the horizon.

Elsewhere, Jim Allister has indicated that he will run in North Antrim, seeking to take a seat held by the DUP since 1970. Will Ian Paisley run again, or will his son or perhaps Education Committee Chair Mervyn Storey fancy a shot at it?

Within nationalism, a soon-to-be-retired SDLP leader Mark Durkan will be seeking to cement his place as the Foyle MP, and South Down stalwart Eddie McGrady is running again. Alasdair McDonnell will hope that a continued unionist split and the benefits of incumbency will see him home again in South Belfast. Elsewhere, Sinn Féin will be aiming for business as usual.

Regardless of the results, the run up to the forthcoming general election alone will be intriguing. How things pan out as the ballot papers are counted will be another issue entirely.

Wednesday, 7 October 2009

Got £1.1 million dollars handy?

If you do, you could get your mitts on a Microsoft Xbox 360 signed by none other than former Alaskan governor and failed vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin. Apparently someone successfully bid this amount previously, but PayPal couldn't handle such a large transaction, so it fell through. It would be worrying though if someone did lay down such a large amount of cash this time around for a basic piece of electronic gadgetry, as I would hope that a family member would step in if someone had lost their faculties to the extent that they would fork out such an enormous sum for what is frankly a piece of rubbish.

Wednesday, 23 September 2009

Lisbon and Cóir: When Parody becomes Reality

Given that much of the publicity material being put out in the south by anti-Lisbon group Cóir is little more than a joke, it was only a metter of time before someone actually did make a joke of it.

Now an eagle-eyed David Cochrane of fame has spotted a mishap by the Evening Herald whereby they ran a parody of a Cóir poster as if it was an actual piece of literature produced by the group.

As David says: "Funny, yes, but also a lesson in that Cóir posters are so easy to parody, it’s difficult to tell which posters belong to them, and which are a piss-take."

However, it does raise a potential issue that there may be many voters don't realise how ridulous Cóir's actual claims are.

Wednesday, 16 September 2009

Monday, 7 September 2009

Does Twitter make you a twit?

According to research carried out by Dr Tracy Alloway from the University of Sterling, Sudoku stretches the working memory, as does keeping up with friends on Facebook.

However, the instantaneous nature of texting, Twitter and YouTube is not healthy for working memory, according to findings.

As the Daily Telegraph reports: ''On Twitter you receive an endless stream of information, but it's also very succinct. You don't have to process that information.

''Your attention span is being reduced and you're not engaging your brain and improving nerve connections."

If people constantly just skim Twitter, I can see her point. However, I’d imagine it’s the way in which it's used that matters. For example, often tweets carry urls which link through to more in-depth news articles and the like which obviously require more concentration to read.

Likewise, if you just glance through your Facebook homepage to have a nose at what your friends are up to in a very superficial and non-engaging way, you’re not going to indulge your brain in any great amount of deep thought.

As a result, it’s the nature of the user rather than the platform which I’d guess dictates the effect the latter has on the former.

Tuesday, 28 July 2009

Is Allergy to Wi-Fi Pie in the Sky?

Apologies for the lack of blogging lately, due in part to holidays and my laptop deciding to go on strike.

There’s an interesting article in today’s Sun newspaper about a chap who claims he’s allergic to Wi-Fi. Now I tend to get the sniffles over the summer due to hayfever, but I must admit that I’m not aware of any adverse effects from wireless internet. And thankfully so, as I’d guess there isn’t a build-up area anywhere in Northern Ireland that isn’t within some sort of electromagneticwaveshot of a wi-fi hub.

The Sun claims that two percent of the population is allergic to Wi-Fi, although I’m not quite sure how they came to this figure when it doesn’t seem that the existence of such an ailment has even been established.

Supposing of course such a problem with Wi-Fi was actually proven, I can only guess at the drama it would cause. We’d have people protesting outside about half the homes in the UK calling for the Wi-Fi ‘masts’ inside to be taken down. Forget about mobile phone masts! Given the ubiquity of Wi-Fi, it would also cause a massive headache (pun intended) for just about every business and government office with Wi-Fi facilities, as they could find themselves under threat from lawsuits for breaching health and safety.

Let’s hope that Wi-Fi gets a clean bill of health or it’ll be back to those pesky cables plugging your computer into a socket.

Saturday, 20 June 2009

Iran Election Live Twitter Blog (#iranelection hashtag)

Given that things seem to be escalating in Iran, with violent crack-downs on protestors, in the absence of any detailed mainstream media coverage this far, I'm setting up a live blog here which will pull in and display as tweets with the Twitter hashtag #iranelection. It updates automatically, or you can click the refresh button on the panel to expedite the process.

Friday, 12 June 2009

Blur: Midlife Medley

Less than a month to go until I experience the joys of Blur at Hyde Park. In the meantime, their record company Parlophone has released this medley with some of their best tracks.

Wednesday, 10 June 2009

Christian Solidarity Party

I can't believe this chap only got 0.7% of the vote in the Dublin Central bye-election last week. People of Dublin, what were you thinking?!

Sunday, 7 June 2009

Northern Ireland European Election 2009 Live Blog

I've created a live blog for the European Election here in Northern Ireland. It'll pull in tweets with the hashtag #euni. Obviously I'm not responsible for comments that appear as a result of being posted on other people's Twitter accounts!

Wednesday, 3 June 2009

European Election Predictor

Sorry for the lack of posting lately- I didn't realise it had been so long! Things have been pretty busy lately, but tomorrow's the big day.

I came across this interesting site on my travels. According to their spiel: is a prediction of the outcome of the June 2009 European Parliament elections and the resulting make-up of the next European Parliament.

The prediction is based on a statistical model of the performance of national parties in European Parliament elections, developed by three leading political scientists: Simon Hix (London School of Economics), Michael Marsh (Trinity College Dublin), and Nick Vivyan (London School of Economics).

These updated predictions (after the launch on 7 April 2009) use new polling data and up-to-date information about which parties and coalitions will be standing in the elections. A new section has also been added to the website, on the overall analysis page, on the possible effect of low voter turnout on the predictions. The predictions will be updated every two weeks until the elections on 4-7 June.

They're predicting that the DUP, UCUNF and Sinn Féin will win seats in the north this year. Meanwhile in the south, they're saying that Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael will drop a seat apiece, Labour will gain two, Mary-Lou McDonald will hold onto her seat, and Kathy Sinnott will lose out in Munster.

Friday, 15 May 2009

Jesus at the Assembly?

The Northern Ireland Assembly posted this interesting photo on Flickr of some of the marble up at Stormont.

Recognise anyone?

Tuesday, 12 May 2009

Compare the Market/ Compare the Meerkat: Good Cross-Media Marketing

Car insurance isn't exactly the most exciting thing in the world, especially when you have to fork out several hundred quid a year for something that may never happen, but price comparison site has lightened the mood with its cross-platform meerkat theme.

The basic premise is that a parallel site is being run by small mammals allowing visitors to compare meerkats rather than insurance quotes. On the rival site, visitors can download videos, desktop themes and ringtones. Indeed, you can also follow the furry chap who 'runs' the site on Twitter- over 14,000 already do this.

Although on the face of it, is completely pointless, it's actually a very clever device to build brand awareness around a product that would normally be quite boring in a market where there is a lot of competition. The TV ads for create curiosity about what is, leading people to check out the site, where they can download items and spread the word about the 'alternative' brand.

Of course, at all times the real price comparison site at is cross-referenced, reminding people of the true point of the whole enterprise. This engages internet users who effectively do the company's marketing for them through online advocacy with a few fun tools provided on the meerkat microsite. Not only does this put them ahead of rivals in terms of brand awareness, but the engagement of mostly unwitting brand champions also raises the credibility of the product.

Also, encouraging people to go on the internet is precisely what a company which operates online wants to do.

Intelligent marketers are increasingly looking at ways to supplement high-cost, low-engagement platforms such as television advertising with low-cost, high-engagement platforms such as social networks and viral videos. This is changing the face of brand promotion, as it becomes more two-way than previously. The key is to combine the use of media in a way which is complementary and enhances the brand with target audiences.

Friday, 1 May 2009

North South Makes Sense for Dundalk Chamber of Commerce

I had to laugh when I read about a fine example of some cross-border trade in the latest edition of the Dundalk Argus.

Dundalk Chamber of Commerce distributed a 'Dundalk Fighting Back' leaflet to homes and businesses in the town over Easter, featuring offers from local shops and businesses.

However, despite obtaining quotes from two companies south of the border for printing the fliers, they decided to plump for a northern firm to do the work after their quote came in cheaper! It seems the hordes of shoppers who cram the streets of Newry every weekend are not the only ones who are coming north to get a bargain.

The Argus reports that Dundalk Chamber CEO Bill Tosh said: “The Easter flier attempted to selectively platform best-value items available in Dundalk, to address the myth that everything north of the border was cheaper,” and says that he argued that the leaflet did not invite Dundalk shoppers to only shop locally, but simply pointed out instances where they could get good value in the town.

I’m guessing no Dundalk-based printing companies were not featured on the leaflet…

Tuesday, 28 April 2009

Twitter Prayer

The Catholic Church has decided to get a piece of the new media action according to the BBC, with Cardinal Seán Brady telling a congregation in Mayo on Sunday: "Make someone the gift of a prayer through text, twitter or e-mail every day."

He also seems to get a sense of what Facebook is all about, adding that people should consider setting up prayer groups using modern communications.

However, in a somewhat more bizarre turn, Cardinal Brady, who was speaking at a centenary celebration of the life of Fr Patrick Peyton, said that 'the Rosary priest' as Fr Peyton was known had "a great gift" for communication and would have been "big into texting and Twitter" if that had been available in his time. Hmm, a bit Father Ted-esque. Nonetheless, it's good to see the Church look at alternatives to reach out to people.

Sunday, 26 April 2009

Fine Gael European Street Party in Cork

Last Saturday I was strolling through Cork when I happened upon some street entertainment- there was children's face painting, live music, a big net full of balloons and entertainers. I then spotted a number of young people sporting blue jackets handing out pens and other paraphernalia on behalf of Fine Gael.

At first I thought that Fine Gael was simply making the most of an event that had been organised by the council or some other organisation, but then I realised that it was actually Fine Gael who had put it together. After a while and with a small crowd of people milling around and listening to the music while chatting to party activists, Fine Gael's Ireland South MEP Colm Burke stood on a box and made a brief speech. Then the balloons were released and the music continued. Throughout the rest of the day I spotted a number of people walking around with 'Vote Burke 1' stickers on their jackets and children with their faces painted.

Regardless of what party people in the south support, it would be hard to deny that this was an interesting and fun way of engaging with voters. Ok, maybe it had nothing to do with policies or principles, but when there's plenty of talk about these things elsewhere, is it any harm to add a bit of colour here and there? Fine Gael used this event to convey the idea that they have a lighter side during dark economic times and their candidate dancing in the street to live music was a change from the stereotypical staid pre-election stunt.

In the north, sometimes I think we can get caught up in the political process to the extent that many voters get turned off, particularly by dull rhetoric and canvassers going through the motions. Particularly in European elections there is a need to engage effectively with voters as many have more interesting things to attract their attention.

Whether Fine Gael, and particularly Colm Burke, do well remains to be seen. I don't know specifically what Burke stands for but I know his name, I know he has young people canvassing support for him and I know he's game for a bit of craic. I also know that I've now blogged about him and posted a video on YouTube. If people who are entitled to vote in Cork have had a similar experience, then surely that a good thing for him and his party heading into an election.

Wednesday, 22 April 2009

Mick Fealty to run for Libertas?

Firstly, no- he's not.

However, texts were bouncing around this evening suggesting that Northern Ireland's premier blogger Mick Fealty was going to stand for election as a candidate on behalf of Declan Ganley's anti-EU party Libertas in the forthcoming European elections.

This all seemed a bit strange. Then I remembered seeing a tweet from Mick earlier on in the day which mentioned Libertas, so I logged on to Twitter and sure enough there was said tweet from Mick which read: "RT @declanganley Following launch of our Dublin candidate full Libertas Ireland Team, Simons - Dublin, O'Malley East and myself North West"

Whoever it was that spotted this tweet and thought it meant Mick had agreed for his name to go on the Libertas ticket obviously didn't realise the 'RT' meant that Mick was actually just retweeting a previous tweet from Ganley. It's a simple enough mistake to make, but it does show how new media are playing an increasingly prolific role in politics and communication- all of a sudden we could have had a situation on our hands where half of the country thought that Mr Slugger O'Toole was about to throw his hat into the ring in a constituency which covers much of the north and west of Ireland! Suffice to say, I texted back to explain the situation.

Gone are the traditional gatekeepers and cross-checkers. Rumours and news now spread like wildfire, whether accurate or not. And while this example illustrates the power of the internet and social networks in a very simple way, it also acts as a reminder that the net cannot simply be ignored by organisations. Those involved in reputation management need to take full account of the internet, both in terms of the opportunities and threats that it presents. Gone are the days when the dissemination of inaccurate information could be stemmed by placing a sharp telephone call with an editor.

Wednesday, 15 April 2009

Tax Day Tea Party: Republicans get in on the New Media Act

Much of the talk around the American presidential election centred on the Obama campaign's ability to harness the power of the internet to activate local supporters on the ground across the country.

Probably still reeling from their defeats on Pennsyvania Avenue and in Congress, the Republicans have been steadily growing their online engagement- already GOP politicians on Twitter outnumber their Democratic counterparts significantly. And now supporters of the Republicans have used the net to organise and publicise a series of protests across the USA today under the 'Tax Day Tea Party' banner.

The protests are pitched against Barack Obama's big-spending cash stimulus programme and coincide with the deadline for filing federal income tax returns.

Opponents say that it is merely an astroturfing exercise. Nonetheless, the campaign is trending well on Twitter, which suggests that it's at the very least garnering interest if not support. Whether this interest can be converted into action on the streets, as the Obama campaign so dramatically succeeded in achieving last year, will become clearer as the day progresses.

Cynical or not, the Tax Day Tea Party shows how major players are increasingly seeing digital communication as a key component of political activity.

Thursday, 9 April 2009

Bruno Movie Trailer Now Available

The trailer for the forthcoming Bruno film has gone online within the past few days. The film, by Ali G and Borat creator Sacha Baron Cohen, is due for release this summer.

You can check the trailer out on the Empire site here.

Cue lots more disgruntled Americans (and perhaps Austrians) complaining!

Monday, 6 April 2009

Councillor Co-Option Consultation

Environment Minister Sammy Wilson has launched a consultation to gauge people's views on the options available for replacing existing councillors who wish to leave office.

The Minister said: "Under the Review of Public Administration, the Executive has proposed severance arrangements as a way of recognising the contribution long serving councillors who choose to stand down, have made to their local area and to Northern Ireland as a whole.

"The consultation document puts forward a number of options for possible severance arrangements, including the calculation of the amount of money that could be paid to an individual councillor, the timing of any scheme and how the associated costs should be met.

"Consultation on severance arrangements for district councillors is one of the preliminary steps for the reorganisation of local government in 2011. Local government plays an important part in the lives of everyone in Northern Ireland and I would encourage people to take part in this consultation."

One of the schemes proposed could see councillors getting up to £36,000 to leave office if they've accrued 36 years' service at £1,000 a year. Other options put a limit at £25,000 and £20,000 respectively.

The consultation also poses the question of whether any such scheme should be introduced in January next year to enable co-opted councillors to get a year's experience before the new supercouncils are introduced in 2011, whether retiring councillors should be allowed to stand down in January 2011 (which would not facilitate co-options or by-elections) or whether the option of a pay-off should be offered in the mouth of the 2011 elections.

Other aspects look at whether councillors who are MLAs, MPs, Members of the House of Lords and MEPs should be deemed ineligible for severance; whether next of kin should receive a severance award if a councillor who applied dies before it is made; whether councillors who receive severance but then return to local government should be required to repay it in full; and whether central or local government should meet the costs of any scheme.

Talk of this has been doing the rounds for some time. Until recently, it was thought there would have been a window of opportunity perhaps between next month and September. However, as time dragged on, it was clear that this wasn't going to be the case. I heard some people suggesting that there would be no package, well at least until 2011, but the potential to see a raft of new councillors arrive on the scene within the next year now seems possible.

The closing date for the consultation is 31 May.

Thursday, 2 April 2009

Fixing up Donegall Place and Castle Place

I was delighted to see that plans have been unveiled to overhaul the main thoroughfare through Belfast, as I called for in November. The plans won't quite see Donegall Place blocked-off to traffic, but the road will be reduced to only permitting buses to travel one-way.

The work is due to start in May 2009, with completion by September 2010.

Unveiling the designs, Social Development Minister Margaret Ritchie said:

“Change is coming to Belfast. Positive change, change for the better for Donegall Place and Castle Place.

“My Department is investing £7million to make this change happen. This money will be spent on new paving and new lighting to make these streets more accessible for pedestrians and to secure much needed jobs in the construction sector.”

“When the first stage of this work is completed next year we will have wider pavements and partial pedestrianisation with buses running only in one direction. This will make Donegall Place and Castle Place a safer more attractive environment for shoppers, visitors and those who work in the city centre.

“The new streetscape should also attract further investment in retail once the market picks up and enhance those businesses currently trading in the area. The design of the new streetscape will respect the historic fabric of these streets.”

“The scheme will finally be completed when the city centre transport plan is fully implemented. At that point Donegall Place will be fully pedestrianised. We are moving forward in the right direction making sure that we get the balance right between meeting the needs of pedestrians and ensuring the smooth running of public transport.

“The construction works will be carried out in full consultation with local businesses in the streets to be improved. I would ask city centre stakeholders and the public to bear with us as the end result will be worthwhile.

“Previous completed paving works, which have been dug up by utility companies, has hampered the construction programme of late. I want to ensure a better effort to coordinate their activities within the existing roads legislation and construction programme going forward.

"I have written to my ministerial colleague Conor Murphy, who has responsibility for roads, and asked him to consider bringing in stiffer penalties. This will help guarantee compliance in future developments by all utility companies.”

“Phase one of the 'Belfast: Streets Ahead' programme will end when the streetscape is in place in 2010. It will have transformed 13 streets in Belfast`s main shopping area, representing a total investment of £28million.

"The legacy of this investment will be a vibrant shopping area we can all be proud of. It will be safer, cleaner, more attractive, more accessible and among the best of our competitor regional European cities."
A website has been set up for the project here.

Welcome to the 21st century!

Tuesday, 31 March 2009

The Demise of Encarta: Wikipedia 1 Microsoft 0

It's not often that Bill Gates' behemoth admits defeat, but that one-time staple of digital encyclopedias, Encarta, is destined for the Recycle Bin. In an announcement on its website, Microsoft states:

On October 31, 2009, MSN® Encarta® Web sites worldwide will be discontinued, with the exception of Encarta Japan, which will be discontinued on December 31, 2009. Additionally, Microsoft will cease to sell Microsoft Student and Encarta Premium software products worldwide by June 2009.
Frankly I didn't even know there was an online version of Encarta. So ubiquitous has Wikipedia become, particular given its Google ranking when you search for pretty much any term, that all rivals fall by the wayside.

It does seem a pity though that Microsoft appears to be picking up the ball and leaving the field. In sport that means the opposition wins by default, and the same effectively applies in the world of online encyclopedias. By leaving the market to Wikipedia, Microsoft has handed it victory on a plate. Which is strange for them.

Given recent controversy over Wikipedia (and its constant efforts to raise funds from users) this surely presented an opportunity for Microsoft to provide a similar, but better resourced online rival in the form of an Encarta for 2009 which harnessed the interactivity of Web 2.0. With Microsoft already offering a range of standard free web services such as Hotmail and MSN Messenger which are constantly being updated, it would have made sense to push Encarta along the same lines.

Perhaps they just see the strength of Wikipedia as being just too much to bother expending any more time and money on challenging.

Friday, 27 March 2009

Jade Goody- The Nation's Brightest Star?

Now I feel as sorry as the next person for poor old Jade Goody. The death of anyone so young, especially with two young children, is by any measure a personal tragedy. But it seems the British media have lost the run of themselves over her expiry.

On the back of forking out £700,000 to chart the crater's wedding and publishing an obituary edition before she actually died, the strapline of the latest edition of 'OK!' magazine (a breach of the Sale of Goods Act if ever there was one) reads 'A NATION MOURNS THE LOSS OF ITS BRIGHTEST STAR'.

I'm sorry to quote the title of a rival magazine, but 'Hello'?! What the blazes are they on about?!

Jade Goody was Public Enemy Number One after her performance on Celebrity Big Brother, yet she contracts a terrible illness and all of a sudden she's Britain's "brightest star".

God help Britain.

In what way do they quantify stardom? If you're looking for a star who died of cancer, then I'd prefer to throw my weight behind Jane Tomlinson. She contracted the disease when she was 26, and although she lived for quite a few years afterwards, in the meantime she dedicated her life to running marathons to raise money for charity. Like Jade Goody, she had a young child. Now for me, that's a real star. Did she get on the front page of 'OK!'? I'm guessing not.

People are more than entitled to mourn the sad loss of Jade Goody. But let's get things in perspective.

Wednesday, 25 March 2009


I tuned into RTÉ News on Monday night and saw a rather amusing story about a practical joke in Dublin. I didn't think much more about it until a storm brewed over the incident, which has become known as 'Picturegate'. Basically the stunt involved the hanging of not-too-badly-executed paintings of a semi-clad Brian Cowen in two Dublin galleries.

According to Slugger O'Toole, Dublin North Fianna Fáil TD Michael Kennedy responded to the incidents by saying: "Regardless of who the incumbent is, the position of An Taoiseach deserves respect, especially from our national public service broadcaster. For an item like this to be given so much air time beggars belief and raises serious questions about the agenda at play in the RTÉ newsroom."

There then came an apology from RTÉ, which is still carried on its website, which reads: "Editor's Note: On the 23 March 2009 Nine News, we carried a report on the illicit hanging of caricatures of the Taoiseach in two Dublin galleries. RTE news would like to apologise for any personal offence caused to Mr Cowen or his family or for any disrespect shown to the office of Taoiseach by our broadcast."

This is ridiculous. What exactly are they apologising for? They reported the news. This was an interesting, light-hearted story. What's the problem? Surely the Republic has bigger problems to worry about than comedic paintings.

And in another twist, Gardaí interviewed a 34-year-old teacher for two hours yesterday in relation to the incident. According to RTÉ, he was released and a file sent to the Director of Public Prosecutions.

Charlie Flanagan TD of Fine Gael said: "At a time when the majority of gangland murders remain unsolved, to have Gardaí spending their time investigating what amounted to a practical joke that offended the Taoiseach's ego is a scandalous waste of resources.

"Today FM has clearly come under pressure to hand over emails about this matter while RTÉ News was obviously been browbeaten into a grovelling apology. The way this matter has been handled is more reminiscent of Russia in the 1930s than Ireland in 2009.

"Freedom of expression is fundamental in a democracy. As politicians, we are frequently subject to unflattering comment and depiction but that is part and parcel of being a politician living in a free society.

"The Taoiseach's over-reaction to what amounted to satire is completely over the top.

"I am shocked at the approach taken by the Government and the Gardaí in relation to this issue. I would ask the Taoiseach to focus his attention on the economy and I would ask the Gardaí to focus their attention on crime prevention and detection."

This incident raises serious questions about freedom of expression and the use of police time. By making such a drama of the incident, Michael Kennedy has actually raised the profile of the incident much higher than it would have been had it been allowed to sit. I'm talking about it on here, for instance, whereas I wouldn't have bothered had there not been a drama. It's also extremely worrying that the state broadcaster has felt the need to apologise in such a way for reporting the news. Plus, haven't the Gardaí got better things to do with their time?

It's a good job Banksy doesn't live in Dublin.

Tuesday, 24 March 2009

Ciarán Cannon moves from Progressive Democrats to Fine Gael

Last month I reported on rumours that PD leader Ciarán Cannon could jump ship to Labour before his own party finally sank into oblivion. However, news came through this afternoon that the Bertie Ahern-appointed Senator has actually moved to Fine Gael.

According to Fine Gael, party leader Enda Kenny said: "This is yet another good news story for a Fine Gael team that is growing from strength to strength. Ciarán Cannon is a politician of real ability and commitment and I am delighted that he has chosen to join the Fine Gael Party. I know that he had other options when considering his future and I welcome the fact that he chose a re-energised and dynamic Fine Gael Party when deciding on how best to maintain his commitment to national politics.

"Ever since Fine Gael won six of the eight Progressive Democrat seats in the 2007 Election the future of that Party has been in doubt. Since then I have been very encouraged that so many of the PD public representatives at Local Authority level have decided to join Fine Gael and today I am delighted that their Leader has decided to join our Senate team. I wish Ciarán well as he embarks on this new phase of his political career and look forward to him making a very positive contribution to the Party."

Commenting on his move across, Ciarán Cannon said: "I am very excited about this new start after joining the Fine Gael Party. With the PDs winding up as a Party I had a tough decision to make about my own political future and how best to continue representing the people of East Galway. I was flattered by the approaches made by a number of sources but am very happy that the Fine Gael Party led by Enda Kenny is the right option for me. The way Enda has managed to rebuild the Party after the 2002 Election and bring forward a strong new team was central to my decision to join Fine Gael.

"I have been particularly impressed with the Party's very positive and constructive approach to the current economic crisis the country is facing and note the very progressive policies announced recently on Oireachtas Reform, Education Reform and job creation. My primary task now is to get to work with my new colleagues and continue to represent the people of East Galway as effectively as I possibly can. Finally I would like to thank all my former colleagues in the PDs and wish them well individually as they start making plans for their future."

Commenting on Fine Gael's new Senator, FG Seanad Leader Frances Fitzgerald said: "Having seen Ciarán at work in the Seanad I am very pleased to welcome him to the Fine Gael ranks in Seanad Éireann. He will be a big addition to our team. I would also like to pay tribute to Enda Kenny who was central to this good news and is a further testament to his ability to build both a Party and a team capable of winning elections and offering the country a new direction."

Local Galway based Fine Gael TDs Ulick Burke and Paul Connaughton said: "Ciarán is a hard working and well regarded public representative who is a welcome addition to the Party and we wish him well."

Saturday, 21 March 2009

CIPR Press and Broadcast Awards Northern Ireland 2009

Unfortunately I was unable to attend the CIPR Press and Broadcast Awards last night at the Europa Hotel in Belfast as I was en route to Cork. However, courtesy of Conall, listed below are this year's winners. There was some correlation with the outcome of the Slugger O'Toole Awards last October with David Gordon, the Newry Democrat and the Impartial Reporter figuring.




His body of work shows what a nuisance he made of himself in 2008. Representing trouble-making journalism at its best, his relentless digging in search of the truth is to be loudly applauded. His efforts during the year included a rare sample of every journalist’s ambition - an investigation that produced seismic political shocks in Northern Ireland. As an exponent of good old-fashioned journalism, he got himself banned from an interview with Ian Paisley and that, surely, says it all! He is a determined professional whose undoubted skills deliver the goods day in, day out, helping to make his paper a ‘must read’ throughout the year.


A focused newspaper that is full of self-belief and knows exactly what its readers want. It is distinguished by excellent writing and a fully committed and thoughtful choice of lead stories. Original in thought and lively in presentation, its first class coverage and design means this paper is still setting the bar for daily papers in Northern Ireland.


Brash, punchy and giving its readers exactly what they want, this Sunday paper is a tabloid dream. Unflinching and uncompromising, it is bight and busy with excellent content. It really knows its market and targets it well.


Bright and lively without forgetting what sells local papers, this is a weekly paper with a great editorial mix. It has good leads, well-written and well-chosen stories, great picture specials and comprehensive local sections. Trying new ways to engage readers - such as the Polish page - shows good thinking and creative ambition.

Special commendation: Impartial Reporter - What would the community do without this amazing, vibrant record of every bit of local life?



Ian Paisley picked this journalist to announce his retirement on television, refusing to speak to all other journalists until after transmission. The result was a story that travelled round the globe, providing just reward for an interviewer who has spent his career cultivating contacts. This was a genuine scoop - a world exclusive - no one else got near. As one of the biggest political stories of the decade, every news organisation would have been desperate to get it.


This was an impossible task! The quality of newcomers is outstanding and shows just why despite current economic difficulties, journalism has such a great future. Three stood out from an overall impressive entry of the highest standard with amazing range. Talented Gail Edgar has a bright future and Sunday journalism seems to fit her like a glove. Rebecca Black of the Irish News is a modern day story-getter with an instinctive grasp of old fashioned inquisitive determination that is so valuable and important.

But from this classy field Lesley-Anne Henry nosed ahead with a top class portfolio of human interest reporting from Afghanistan about Ireland’s own soldiers and clear evidence in other submissions that she will deliver the goods from wherever the news front line might be. She is determined and hard working. Her reporting from Afghanistan turned a facility trip that can so often produce very ordinary local boy stories into a fascinating human interest snapshot of a regiment at work in a war zone. Her interviewing was comprehensive and her filing prolific proving that everyone has a story to tell so long as the reporter is clever enough to find them. She is a potential star in yet another generation of classy young journalists groomed in Northern Ireland.

The newcomers to broadcasting entries were impressive especially as some were from small commercial radio stations with limited resources. Trudi Smyth of Citybeat and Michael Fitzpatrick of Downtown Radio showed that where there is talent and commitment, quality will overcome any limitations. But best of a strong field was Sarah Dobson. Her pace and articulate reporting demonstrate thoughtful research and scripting and good use of graphics.


Gary McDonald’s journalism fully merits his award this year. His stories, often scoops, are written with insight and verve and are accessible to non-specialist readers. As important, he leads the team at the Irish News in Belfast that provided all the entries for this category of the awards, and which is unmatched among the competition. Sharp business reporting at its best, with facts, figures and context and no wasted words. His focus on Northern Ireland’s undersized private sector is particularly commendable.


Jamie has again shown his mastery of the short business television report, that conveys perceptive stories with arresting pictures. His entries demonstrate his ability to break stories such as rising energy prices and the looming recession in the Northern Ireland economy.



The quality of this year’s entries is the highest I’ve ever seen. Any one could have been the winner such was the high standard. Martin’s work displayed skill, talent and an energy to make even the mundane interesting.


Compelling piece of TV - an investigation of a shocking story - which nailed the key interview and exploited it to the full. A classic real-life whodunit, with chilling overtones.


Impressive, comprehensive coverage of the Paisley resignation - every angle was explored and the key interviewees lined up. The Obama piece provided a regional angle to a global story and the singing priests was an enjoyable item.


Because it combines so many disciplines: columnists, interviewers and more orthodox feature-writing, this is a very difficult category to judge. There is also, and this is to be welcomed, a higher proportion of entries devoted less to The Troubles and more to rather more everyday concerns. Having said that, the winner shows great empathy and compassion in her interviews, and the prize that that garners is to tease out some very telling human detail. In a battle of two excellent interviewers in which each was a worthy winner, the overall feature journalist of the year - shading it just - is The Sunday Tribune.


He is always impossible to ignore, and so is no stranger to the winner’s podium. His winning entries include a stunning conversation with Claire Gallagher, victim of the Omagh bombing.


Launching a big supplement in the current market was a huge gamble, but it has paid off for the Telegraph with Weekend. Well constructed, well designed and full of confidence, Weekend can hold its own against the competition in the nationals. Weekend delivers for its readers, its advertisers and its parent newspaper in abundance. It is full of great ideas in its delivery and has proved its worth by lifting circulation and gaining in ad revenue, both of which are great achievements in the current market.


Lively, optimistic and full of ideas, Go Belfast reflects young urban life in Belfast extremely well. It is well designed for its market and fills the reader with enthusiasm for all the city has to offer.


Andy Martin’s research and imagination lift the usual flat fodder of courtroom quotes to a dramatic plateau, enabling us to feel the fear of the victims. He brings the same qualities to an investigation of some of the world’s officially invisible and tops it all off with a genuine national exclusive. His work displays tenacity, patience and understanding. He spurns cliché for substance, telling his stories in a neat, incisive fashion across a range of styles.


Darragh does what it says on the current affairs brief, telling us what we did not already know about issues which should concern us. That he does this across a range of topics, from a cold case murder to a family fire tragedy to the controversial Heathrow expansion project, is impressive. McIntyre is an accomplished researcher and storyteller.


David Gordon is an investigative reporter who probes complex stories and confronts authority on behalf of the readers of the Belfast Telegraph. A spending controversy involving the police watchdog, an investigation into politicians’ expenses and a series of reports on the Paisleys which shed revealing light on the story and earned him the ultimate accolade - he made himself such a nuisance on behalf of the public that he was banned by Ian Paisley Senior from his farewell interviews. David Gordon is a worthy winner of the award.


Stephen Breen is a great reporter who knows how to capture the attention of readers of Sunday Life. Whether it is a mother who has lost her son in a horrific accident, a woman victim of a gang rape, or a government minister who is unmasked as driving a motorcyle without tax or MOT, Breen tells his stories with maximum impact.


Sometimes referred to as the “senior service”, radio has traditionally been the primary source of news for Northern Ireland, not least during the darker days. Citybeat News reflects that heritage, providing a comprehensive picture of life in Belfast. In particular its evening news programme Belfast Tonight exploits an extended format without compromising radio’s essential immediacy. Citybeat News is both comprehensive and punchy. In particular the report on the resignation of Ian Paisley Junior reflects the background, the long-term significance, and the human aspects of a critical political development


The breadth of its coverage and high production values make BBC Newsline a worthy winner. Mike McKimm’s profile of one environmentally aware firm highlights how local companies can innovate to gain competitive advantage.


FRANCESCA CRAWFORD, IRISH NEWS Francesca Crawford’s clean and sharp designs bring real impact to the pages of the Irish News supplements. Her distinctive style shows real appreciation of colour and contrast and her clever restraint allows proper projection of the images she uses. Francesca’s pages come to life because she is brave enough to embrace simplicity.



A great portfolio that shows the photographer’s ability both to create a compelling image, but also to grab one when it appears in front of him. He is in control of every situation. I particularly admired the weather picture and the footballer.


His delicate interviews with the departing Ian Paisley and the incoming Peter Robinson were an object lesson in the dying art of how to ask important questions in such a way that the subject has to answer


A great idea, especially the decision to have the Young Achievers’ Award in Stormont. The presentation of the articles was first class and the interviews with the participants so well-written as to be often genuinely moving.


A versatile broadcaster and journalist whose excellent audio entries for Downtown Radio/Cool FM included comprehensive and entertaining Olympic coverage. Informative, concise and professional. A natural broadcaster with an appealing blend of humour and news sense. Good local angles.


An excellent cross-section showed an outstanding ability to produce well-written features, thought-provoking columns and sharp, exclusive stories. A great read.


BELFASTTELEGRAPH.CO.UK fulfils all the requirements in this category and then some. As one of their readers says, it’s “Stickin’ Out”. While the accent is on local news, with an interesting and varied selection of stories, it also covers the main UK and world news well. It is well presented with a clear and clean design and is easy to navigate. The news team reacts quickly on local stories and provides well produced video reports, although there are irritating breaks in transmission. The website is well supported by local advertising with links to their sites. There’s a great sense of community with an excellent jobs section that makes it easy for applicants to apply and the facility to notify interested people of similar opportunities. The numbers of comments from readers about stories shows strong local interest. The word NEW in red on the latest news items is helpful.

Special mention:

Special mention should be made of the bright new fashion and shopping site It was a breath of fresh air for anyone who enjoys good fashion and shopping and I predict it will soon be on the Bookmark list for Northern Ireland fashionistas. However it didn’t quite fit the criteria in this category.


Lisa submitted a most impressive portfolio of work. Through the two themes of the floods and the tragic death of the police officers, she reported not only on the obvious drama of the actual incidents, but then followed up with a highly commendable, thorough and graphic series of reports exploring the different aspects which arose from these events. She did this in a non-partisan way while still managing to convey the obvious emotion which surrounded both subjects - and to tight deadlines. Lisa is a worthy winner of this category in 2009.

Friday, 20 March 2009

Google Street View Hits Belfast

The fascinating Google Street View was unveiled for the streets of Belfast yesterday. It is startling in its detail- the technology which Google has deployed to enable a snapshot in time across many of the world's cities is quite amazing.

The Telegraph has an article with some amusing pics captured across the UK including one of the side of Sinn Féin's offices on the Falls Road which appears to show Bobby Sands' face blurred-out (surely not a digital throw-back to the days of TV censorship!) The actual shot on Google Street View (listed as 84 Falls Road) now comes up as 'no longer available' even though all other shots in the vicinity are fine, so perhaps Google is addressing a gliche in its system. Indeed, it auto-erasure of number plates also led to the deletion of details on an anti-war placard in London. However, given the quality of the service, I'm sure we'll forgive them for a few mishaps.

Friday, 13 March 2009

Enda Kenny, Crumlin Road courthouse fire and Peace Protests on Twitter

Enda Kenny, or at least someone behind the scenes at Fine Gael, made a brief appearance on Twitter in February, but there's been no more activity since. Enda's sloganising would seem to suggest that he doesn't really get how it works...

Meanwhile, I was chatting to Mick Fealty of Slugger O'Toole fame earlier when I spotted out the window that Crumlin Road courthouse was ablaze. Mick blogged and I tweeted. I managed to get a few pics taken on my Blackberry and got them online via TwitPic. For better or worse, the Victorian courthouse is a Belfast landmark and it's a great shame that someone has seen fit to set it alight. At the height of the inferno, ten fire engines were deployed to tackle the blaze. Let's hope the main fabric of the building was survived.

Twitter also figured prominently yesterday with tweets from the peace protests across the north being aggregated on a live blog featured on Slugger O'Toole.

Last month I outlined my scepticism of the value of Twitter. Suffice to say I've been converted.

Wednesday, 11 March 2009

John Prescott weighs-in on the Plane Stupid debate

On the Go Fourth website, former Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott has criticised those behind last week's custard attack on Business Secretary Peter Mandelson by saying: "These shock law-breaking tactics might grab headlines but they cause distress and alarm to those who find themselves the victims."

Mr Prescott suggests an alternative approach which he says: " the headlines and just as importantly, harmed no-one."