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

Picturegate

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.

WINNERS AND COMMENTS FROM THE JUDGING PANEL

1 COCA-COLA CIPR JOURNALIST OF THE YEAR
SPONSOR: COCA-COLA HBC

DAVID GORDON, BELFAST TELEGRAPH

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.

2 COCA-COLA CIPR NEWSPAPER OF THE YEAR
SPONSOR: COCA-COLA HBC

A) DAILY NEWSPAPER AND OVERALL WINNER: IRISH NEWS
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.

B) SUNDAY NEWSPAPER OF THE YEAR: SUNDAY WORLD

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.

3 COCA-COLA CIPR WEEKLY NEWSPAPER OF THE YEAR
SPONSOR: TNS MEDIA INTELLIGENCE MEDIA MARKET

NEWRY DEMOCRAT
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?

4 COCA-COLA CIPR SCOOP OF THE YEAR

KEN REID, UTV

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.

5 COCA-COLA CIPR MARTIN O’HAGAN MEMORIAL BURSARY/NEWCOMER OF THE YEAR
SPONSOR: DIVA & THE ULSTER SCHOOL OF COMMUNICATION

A: OVERALL WINNER AND PRINT NEWCOMER: LESLEY-ANNE HENRY, BELFAST TELEGRAPH
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.

B: BROADCAST NEWCOMER: SARAH DOBSON, UTV
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.

6 COCA-COLA CIPR BUSINESS JOURNALIST OF THE YEAR
SPONSOR: INVEST NORTHERN IRELAND

A: OVERALL WINNER AND PRINT BUSINESS JOURNALIST: GARY MCDONALD, IRISH NEWS
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.

B: BROADCAST BUSINESS JOURNALIST: JAMIE DELARGY, UTV

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.

7 COCA-COLA CIPR CAMERAMAN/CREW OF THE YEAR

MARTIN KELLETT, BBC NORTHERN IRELAND

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.

8 COCA-COLA CIPR CURRENT AFFAIRS PROGRAMME OF THE YEAR

A: OVERALL WINNER AND TV CURRENT AFFAIRS PROGRAMME: A LOST BOY, BBC SPOTLIGHT
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.

B: RADIO CURRENT AFFAIRS PROGRAMME: GOOD MORNING ULSTER (BBC)

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.

9 COCA-COLA CIPR FEATURE JOURNALIST OF THE YEAR
SPONSOR: BELLEEK LIVING

A: OVERALL WINNER AND PRINT FEATURE JOURNALIST: SUZANNE BREEN, THE SUNDAY TRIBUNE
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.

B: BROADCAST FEATURE JOURNALIST: KEVIN MAGEE, BBC NORTHERN IRELAND

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.

10 COCA-COLA CIPR MAGAZINE/SUPPLEMENT OF THE YEAR
SPONSOR: SARAH B DISPLAY

A: OVERALL WINNER AND SUPPLEMENT OF THE YEAR: WEEKEND (BELFAST TELEGRAPH)
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.

B: MAGAZINE OF THE YEAR: GO BELFAST

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.

11 COCA-COLA CIPR NEWS/CURRENT AFFAIRS BROADCASTER OF THE YEAR
SPONSOR: CIPR

A: OVERALL WINNER AND RADIO NEWS/CURRENT AFFAIRS BROADCASTER: ANDY MARTIN, BBC NI
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.

B: TV NEWS/CURRENT AFFAIRS BROADCASTER: DARRAGH MCINTYRE, BBC NI

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.

12 COCA-COLA CIPR NEWS JOURNALIST OF THE YEAR (PRINT)
SPONSOR: CIPR

A: OVERALL WINNER AND NEWS JOURNALIST (DAILIES): DAVID GORDON, BELFAST TELEGRAPH
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.

B: NEWS JOURNALIST OF THE YEAR (SUNDAYS): STEPHEN BREEN, SUNDAY LIFE

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.

13 COCA-COLA CIPR NEWS PROGRAMME OF THE YEAR
SPONSOR: DIAGEO

A: OVERALL WINNER AND RADIO NEWS PROGRAMME: CITYBEAT NEWS
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

B: TV NEWS PROGRAMME: BBC NEWSLINE

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.

14 COCA-COLA CIPR NEWSPAPER PRODUCTION JOURNALIST OF THE YEAR

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.

15 COCA-COLA CIPR PHOTOGRAPHER OF THE YEAR
SPONSOR: HARRISON PHOTOGRAPHY

WILLIAM CHERRY, PRESS EYE

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.

16 COCA-COLA CIPR SPECIALIST JOURNALIST OF THE YEAR
SPONSOR: CIPR

A: OVERALL WINNER AND BROADCAST SPECIALIST JOURNALIST: KEN REID, UTV
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

B: PRINT SPECIALIST JOURNALIST: JILLY BEATTIE, DAILY MIRROR

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.

17 COCA-COLA CIPR SPORTS JOURNALIST OF THE YEAR
SPONSOR: SPORT NORTHERN IRELAND

A: OVERALL WINNER AND BROADCAST SPORTS JOURNALIST: NIGEL RINGLAND, FREELANCE/ DOWNTOWN/ COOLFM
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.

B: PRINT SPORTS JOURNALIST: PADDY HEANEY, IRISH NEWS

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

18 COCA-COLA CIPR NEWS WEBSITE OF THE YEAR
SPONSOR: MCI BELFAST

BELFASTTELEGRAPH.CO.UK
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: sugahfix.com

Special mention should be made of the bright new fashion and shopping site www.sugahfix.com. 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.

19 COCA-COLA CIPR WEEKLY NEWSPAPER JOURNALIST OF THE YEAR
SPONSOR: PHOENIX NATURAL GAS

LISA RAMSDEN, MOURNE OBSERVER
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: "...got the headlines and just as importantly, harmed no-one."

Creepy...

Monday, 9 March 2009

Policeman 'Shot Dead' in Craigavon

Word is circulating that a police officer has been shot dead at Lismore Manor in Craigavon (11.12pm). More to follow.

Confirmation that a policeman is dead after being shot around 9.45pm. (11.28pm)

The Plane Stupid Peter Mandelson Custard Episode: Just Plain Stupid?

Business Secretary Peter Mandelson found himself at the receiving end of a Starbucks cup of green custard last Friday in a move by pressure group Plane Stupid aimed at highlighting the controversial issue of a third runway at Heathrow. But what did his assailant hope to achieve?

Mandelson was arriving for a low-carbon industry summit when he met with the dose of green liquid. Plane Stupid member Leila Deen accused Mandelson of hypocrisy over the government's stance on climate change given its support the expansion of Heathrow.

If she was looking to win over Mandelson to her point of view, she certainly went the wrong way about it. Advocacy and lobbying isn't about irritating decision makers- far from it. It's about getting your message across in a professional and targeted way. Throwing custard over someone isn't going to convince them that they need to change their stance, nor encourage them to revisit an issue. Clearly Ms Deen was badly advised, or perhaps not advised at all.

On the other hand, if it was a PR stunt, then certainly it got plenty of coverage. But did it help the cause? Not really.

Other public relations moves associated with this cause, such as Greenpeace's purchase of land earmarked for the expansion which drew in the backing of actress Emma Thompson and impressionist Alastair McGowan, have been altogether more innovative in attempting to highlight this issue in a focused and engaging way.

But in the wake of Friday's stunt, the issue of ministerial security and the visual drama of Mandelson getting drenched in front of the TV cameras drew more attention than the actual purpose of highlighting the expansion issue.

Yes, the stunt may have gained plenty of column inches and airtime, but if most of that coverage had nothing to do with Plane Stupid's raison d'être, then it wasn't really of much use to their cause. Fighting for coverage is one thing, but coverage for coverage's sake is quite another.

Some might argue that the custard incident was successful, employing Oscar Wilde's view that the only thing worse than being talked about is not being talked about. But if you're being talked about for what you did rather than what you want, then perhaps the wisdom of Wilde doesn't apply.

Saturday, 7 March 2009

Breaking News: Reports that shots have been fired at soldiers in Antrim

BBC Northern Ireland is reporting that British soldiers have come under fire during a gun attack at the Massereene Army base in Antrim less than an hour ago.

According to the report, a spokesperson for the Police Service of Northern Ireland said it was not known if there were any casualties. (10:38pm)

Coca-Cola CIPR Northern Ireland Press & Broadcast Awards

I was delighted to have been elected back onto the Northern Ireland Committee of the Chartered Institute of Public Relations during the week at its AGM, which was held at the Waterfront Hall.

This year's Committee members are Andy Purcell, Anne Dawson, Chris Johnson, Claire Guiney, Colleen Murray, Gerry Power, Jenny Beattie, Joanne Crockard, Julie McCabe, Nikki Larkin, Rachael Harriott, Richard Nelson, Ross Williamson, Celine Rogers, Gillian McBride and Gary McKeown. Maire Campbell is the new Chair and Susie Brown the Chair-Elect for next year.

The biggest thing on the horizon for the Committee at the minute is the Coca-Cola CIPR Press & Broadcast Awards Dinner will take place on Friday 20th March at the Europa Hotel in Belfast.

Tickets for the event are now on sale, so if you're thinking of going or if you know anyone who might be interested, contact the organising team on (028) 9045 6451 or e-mail cipr@mci-group.com for more details or to book.

Celebrating its 16th year in 2009, the awards are the only local event to recognise Northern Ireland’s journalistic talent and 20 honours will be presented on the night.

Tuesday, 3 March 2009

Did John McCain not get the memo about Tony Blair?

While US President Barack Obama was busy meeting the actual British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, ex-presidential candidate Senator John McCain hooked up with former Prime Minister Tony Blair.

However, if his tweets are anything to go by, McCain doesn't seem to have realised that Tony Blair left office quite some time ago- an update on his Twitter profile today read:

meeting with PM Tony Blair
Now I know that in America it's not uncommon to continue to append the title 'President' to the name of former occupants of the White House, but that's not the case in the UK.

Was it another bit of McCain absentmindedness? Was it a snub to Brown? Or was it just McCain thinking that Tony Blair ought to still have the title 'PM' before his name despite having vacated 10 Downing Street? Who knows...

Northern Ireland's Twittering Political Classes

The Northern Ireland Foundation's 'Our Future Together' Ning page has started compiling an interesting list of the north's politicians and parties who tweet. Of course it takes seconds to set up a Twitter account- it's the actual active use of the medium which matters and I suppose it remains to be seen if the profiles are properly maintained.

Nonetheless, it's good to see that some politicians are starting to look at innovative ways of communicating with people. Used properly, the instant nature of Twitter offers a fresh and personalised glimpse at the daily activity of our elected representatives.

Anything which enhances communication between the elected and the electors is good for democracy. I think where Twitter could succeed above other social networking platforms in this instance lies in the fact that it is so easy to update and maintain- a completely stripped-back service which relies essentially on 140-character messaging is about as simple as it gets. It doesn't even require a web connection to update.

Of course, there is a question over how 'two-way' the use of Twitter by politicians is. It's all very well regurgitating press releases, but Twitter offers the opportunity for a more conversational approach. I'm not sure how many tweeting politicians will choose to actively engage with their followers. Indeed, as The Economist article mentioned in the Ning post reports:

Claire McCaskill, a Democratic senator from Missouri, offers a good mix of thoughts on policy, political titbits, and personal asides. “Compromise had to happen or we would NOT have 60 votes. Period,” she tweeted during negotiations over the stimulus bill. Earlier she described some hungry politicians: “Hysterical. Swarming Senators around candy drawer in back of Chamber.”

Mrs McCaskill comes across like a friendly and candid citizen legislator. But whereas more than 4,000 people “follow” her, she follows only one person herself.
However, even a one-way insight into the activity of a politician is better than no communication at all.

It'll be interesting to check back in six months' time to see how many of the profiles listed are still operational.