Saturday, 11 October 2014

Goodbye Master's, hello job!


I've been oh so quiet because I now have a job and things and when I get home all I want to do is veg instead of write blog posts and I've had a lot of very busy weekends...but guess what, I'm ill again! Totally bored of watching TV and not in the mood to read, so that clearly means it's time to update this.

Robots & Raspberry Pi

Final Master's project is online
So a summer's worth of work is now done and handed in! My multimedia feature about the new Computing curriculum is complete, so please do take a look and let me know what you think.

I was really pleased to get an email interview with the amazing Maggie Philbin, formerly of Tomorrow's World and current leader of the UK Digital Skills Taskforce. It made writing the dreaded intro so much easier! Thanks to all my other contributors as well (in order of appearance): Nigel Smart, Collette Denley, Elena Hensinger, Matt Rawlings, Laura Sharp, Claire Davenport (CAS), Thomas Hancock (Robogals), Maria Felice (Bristol Girl Geek Dinners), Hazel Ho (She Codes Bath), Ben Marshall, Mark Wonnacott, James Kennaby (Knowle West Media Centre), George Rowe (Aardman Animations) and last but not least, Caroline Higgins at MVSE (thanks for all your support during my undergrad and the help with this project!). I couldn't have done it without your help!

Employment, job, real person

A deluge of applications and one job interview later, I found myself in the rather bizarre job of Website & Digital Coordinator at the University of Bristol Students' Union. Bizarre because it's half coding and tidying up the website and half commissioning/writing content for the website. I must be one of the few people in the world strange enough to have done a BSc in Computer Science followed by an MA in Journalism, so this post is basically perfect for me.

I'm working in a small marketing team and while wrangling with a website that has had such a fragmented past can be frustrating (anyone who has ever sat down at a programming project and bemoaned the lack of comments pointing out why Mr X from several years ago decided doing something in a strange roundabout way will understand), it's a nice place to work and everyone is friendly.

It is a little bit weird working at the union which formed a large part of my life as a student at UoB, but I think my insight into how things were done in the past is a great help - I know what not to do and what has worked well in the past, from a student's point of view!

It's also great to see the (ahem) outdated 60s carpark building transform into a modern space that less engaged students will actually want to make use of. The renovations are scheduled to be completed in early 2015, but there are brand new rooms already refurbished and open to students. COGS Bristol will be holding their first overnight LAN there today, and while I'm feeling wayyyy too grim to make it through the night, I am hoping to pop in to get some photos of the event.

Right, I think that's about it for now, so I'll go back to dying in bed for another couple of hours. That seems to be an ongoing theme with this blog. Hopefully I'll update again soon when I'm NOT ill!

Thursday, 31 July 2014

Guardian and 'flu

Hey friends!

I've been in London over the last couple of weeks doing work experience at the Guardian as part of their Positive Action Scheme. I was meant to start another week of work experience in Bristol on Monday, but I got struck down with the 'flu and spent the weekend in bed, instead of on trains to Bristol ): Mum kindly drove me back to Bristol on Monday, where I proceeded to collapse in bed for another couple of days. Ugh. I'm hoping to start my work experience at Who Do You Think You Are? magazine tomorrow (perhaps armed with a pile of paracetamol since my head is refusing to stop aching).

Anyway, let's talk a bit about the Guardian! So over the two weeks I spent a couple of days at five desks (G2, Multimedia, Society, Travel and Culture) doing a variety of things. My personal highlight was cutting up clips of Edward Snowden for use as syndicated content. It was a pretty simple task, but being able to watch all that footage (four hours!) was an incredible insight into Snowden's life.

I also got to do some writing and had a little piece about the cabinet reshuffle published in last Wednesday's Society section (eee, a byline!), as well as some little bits in Saturday's Travel pull-out. It was pretty fun getting to write content on such a wide range of topics - from surfing to salamanders to Sinead O'Connor. Not all of it got published but I got some really useful feedback.

Here's some of the words I got published (the bits about CitizenM and Z Glasgow), from a feature on Glasgow, home of this year's Commonwealth Games:

CitizenM and Z Glasgow reviews by me - I claim no credit for the Grasshoppers one!

Thursday, 10 July 2014

What is Computer Science?

Hello everybody!

I've been hard at work on my project, which I am very close to making public - just waiting on the last couple of interviews to be done before I release the site for testing.

I really wanted to share some of what I've done with you all, so I've put a video up on Youtube. To give you a little bit more context, my final project is about the new Computing curriculum in English schools and the outreach that is being done to get kids interested in Computer Science.

I wanted to keep the feature quite general, so it would be the kind of piece that could slot in to the features section of a national news website, rather than being specifically tailored to a technical audience. In order to achieve this, I had to explain what CS is. Throughout my undergrad degree, I often had people asking me what I even who better to explain than crytographer extraordinaire, Nigel Smart?

Nigel is a Professor at the University of Bristol, doing research into cryptography as a means of securing systems. Here's his take on CS:

One of the important things with a large multimedia feature is to have a variety of page elements - I didn't want it all to be text, but I also didn't want every section to have the same format. I thought I'd experiment and try making an audio slideshow - a great way of showcasing some photos and getting Nigel's point across without making people read swathes of text.

If you're interested in checking out some more audio slideshows, I would recommend the Guardian's poetic piece about Van Gogh. My tutor suggested looking at Ciara Leeming's work, which is simply beautiful, definitely worth viewing!

Saturday, 28 June 2014

Work, work and more work


So I'm finally totally moved in to my new flat, oh so exciting! Beyond that, nothing particularly noteworthy has happened.

I've decided to set myself mini-deadlines for the first drafts of each section of my project, so this week's piece is about outreach for females in technology. I'm finding it a lot easier to edit video/audio - just not particularly in the mood to write at the moment. That said, I have managed to make some words appear, so here is a sneak preview so you can see what I've done so far...

The whole deadline thing actually seems to be working, though - I've already got a draft of a complete article done and this one is fairly close to being finished. Except I've got to write words now since there's no audio/video for the missing section. Boo. I think it's really helping me to think of the 'pages' as self-contained articles - before I was floundering trying to randomly complete tasks from a gigantic list, but now I have some focus and work is happening. Yay!

I'm going to leave it at that for now - need to get some words written before I head off to catch up on the Game of Thrones TV series...

Thursday, 19 June 2014

General update

Hello everyone!

Right, there are various reasons I've been quiet since the massive design update to the blog - the main one being that I've started work on my final project.

As part of my MA, I have a project unit which consists of a couple of essays, three weeks of work experience and a production in whatever media we prefer. I've gone for multimedia aka online. Since I've got some (a fair bit of) front-end web dev knowledge, I decided to code my own website rather than using a CMS. I gained Wordpress experience from the multimedia module so I figured it would be cool to try something different! The website is just a static page, but it's going to have tons of content on.

I really liked the layout Riot Games used on their Lunar Revel minisite, so I thought I would go for a similar look. Having done the research and checked out some multimedia features (like the amazing New York Times coverage of the avalanche at Tunnel Creek), I've designed something that is a lot simpler than the Riot Games page in terms of design elements, but more suited to the purpose - I want readers to focus on the content, not the layout.

Here's a screencap of what I've got so far - it's a work in progress so I won't link to it just yet!

Well, I say readers, it's a multimedia project so there will be video, audio and (hopefully) some interactive graphics. I've not done anything fancy with SVG and JavaScript so I figured this would be a good opportunity to give it a go.

So I've been busy coding and interviewing and writing...I'm also in the process of moving to an exciting new flat, which is a bit painful in the current hot and humid weather. The IKEA delivery guys had fun tramping up three flights of stairs in the heat to bring me my bed yesterday. Yup, I'm in an unfurnished place so had the added fuss of getting furniture. Managed to score a ridiculous desk/shelf combo for free off Gumtree, so I'm sorted for storage!

I wanted to do another photo blog post as I've shot a couple of exciting things since my last update, but I need to get the pictures up on Flickr first, so stay tuned for that. I have a few more weeks of just working on project before I start two weeks of work experience at the Guardian. I'm really looking forward to it - they do some amazing stuff with multimedia and data. Plus I've never been behind the scenes at a national newspaper, so that in itself will be a great learning experience. After that I'm back in Bristol for a week at Who Do You Think You Are? magazine, then back to finishing up my production and writing reflective essays. So I'll hopefully find some time to sort out those photos soon!

I shall leave you with a cat, because this is the internet and everyone loves cats. This little lovely is a neighbour cat at my new flat and likes to relax outside in the evening sun, waiting for attention from besotted humans!

Cat wants attention. Attentions please!

Friday, 9 May 2014

New layout!


I'm currently in the process of redesigning my personal website, so I thought I'd update this blog to match.

Unfortunately, Blogger doesn't make this easy if you want to use custom CSS (which I do, since I want pretty webfonts). It would be a lot easier if they just gave you a list of the classes and ids and you could edit that way, but if you add CSS you get a blank box and you have to work out whatever it is you want to do. At least it updates a preview automatically though, so you can see exactly what you have changed.

Alternatively, you can edit the HTML (which includes scripting and CSS) for whatever template you're using, which allows you to see the actual CSS that Blogger's template uses. However, you then have to hit "Preview" every time you make a change, which isn't ideal. I guess you could copy the CSS to the custom CSS editor and make changes in there to take advantage of the automatically-updated preview, but that's still fiddly and inconvenient!

I'd like to have control over the layout and everything myself, but a) I don't have my own server, which I would need to efficiently implement a blog (no, I am NOT doing it in JavaScript) and b) I'd have to spend a lot more time doing server maintenance and filling in the gaps in my knowledge (especially when it comes to security issues). So, I suppose I will have to continue wrestling with Blogger to customise the layout. I'm fairly happy with Blogger overall; the interface for creating/updating posts themselves is clean and easy to use. Wordpress just feels a lot more cluttered to me.

Anyway, let me know if you encounter any hideous technical issues with the blog (not that I expect there to be any)!

Tuesday, 6 May 2014

Belgium: Leuven, Brussels, Oostende

Grand Place
A (very) belated post about my trip to Belgium last year...

One of the few good things about my (awful) first year accommodation was that it's very popular with students doing a year abroad in Bristol, which meant I made a lot of friends from other countries. Last year, I visited musicologist Ruben in Leuven, a university town rich in history.

Getting there

I opted for the Eurostar from Kings Cross St Pancras, which was a lot cheaper than flying. You can currently get a return to Brussels for just £69. Conveniently, this ticket is also valid for up to 24 hours after you arrive at Brussels for onward travel to other Belgian stations, so I took a short train ride to Leuven station. Planning rail journeys in Belgium is really easy; Belgian Rail has an informative website that caters for multiple languages, including English.

Accommodation and travel

I was lucky to be able to stay in the spare room at Ruben's in Heverlee, which is a deelgemeente of Leuven (equivalent to a borough). There are plenty of hostels in Leuven but a quick search seems to indicate that a night in a hostel is around €20 - €25, which is the same price range as a hostel in Brussels itself. So, you may as well stay in Brussels if you've not been there before.

If you can find cheaper accommodation in Leuven, it's only 15 minutes on the train from Brussels. You can get cheaper train tickets for €6 if you're under 26. If you're staying a bit longer and want to explore other parts of Belgium, the discount train tickets are pretty useful!

There are plenty of buses in Leuven so getting around is easy. If you buy 10 tickets in advance it's cheaper and you can split them up between you if you're travelling with other people so you don't end up buying more than you actually need.

Palais du Coudenberg


Right, on to the fun bit! I was in Belgium for six days, which gave me plenty of time to explore a small part of it. First, Ruben and I took the train to Brussels to spend the day being massive tourists there.

We mostly wandered around looking at landmarks, like the Palais du Coudenberg, which is a former palace of Brussels. It houses a museum and there are archaeological ruins to explore, but we didn't actually go inside since we were trying to pack as much as possible into a single day.

Ruben works part-time at the Musée des Instruments De Musique, so I got my own personal tour of the museum! It's packed with different instruments from all over the world. Admission includes an audio-guide, which I would definitely recommend using, because it plays music from a selection of the instruments on display. It's really interesting to hear what some of the odder-looking things sound like. Once you've finished looking at the exhibits, you can go up to the roof terrace to see amazing views of Brussels.

The rest of the day was taken up by walking around Brussels and looking at the beautiful architecture. If you're like me and you enjoy taking photos, there is plenty to see. There are lots of little shops and market stalls as well.


Back in Leuven, there is lots to see and do. Heverlee itself is home to a War Cemetery that contains nearly 977 Commonwealth burials from the Second World War. The cemetery is right in the middle of the countryside, which makes for a nice walk on a summer evening.

Leuven has all sorts of events on throughout the year. When I was there in June, there was a music festival in Oude Markt, which is known as the longest bar in the world. Oude Markt is a big square with tons of bars and cafés surrounding it - appropriate for a country well known for its quality beer!

Not being much of a beer drinker (being in Bristol has converted me to the cause of cider), Ruben suggested I try Kriek, which apart from being "a drink for 14-year-olds and women" as he (er) eloquently put it, is a sour beer made from cherries. Definitely worth trying, but be aware that different brands may balance out the sour flavour with additional juice after brewing, so there are some varieties that may be a bit more of an acquired taste!

As with Brussels, Leuven is packed with ornate Gothic-style architecture. There's also some interesting art installations which are worth looking at.

Stadhuis van Leuven
Universiteitsbibliotheek KU Leuven
This is not art. This a friendly octopus telling you
children may be crossing the road.


Instead of doing more sightseeing, we decided to make the most of the sunny weather and took a train to Oostende, a city on the coast. One hour and forty minutes later, we found that half of Belgium seemed to have had the same idea (unsurprisingly) and the beach was full of people. On the bright side, it was a lovely sandy beach and I had a good book to read, so it was a nice rest from all the walking I'd done during the rest of the trip!

You could easily spend an enjoyable week in Leuven without going on any excursions, as there's plenty more to check out - from the Scouts and Guides Museum to the Stella Artois Brewery, or even the nearby Rock Werchter festival.

For more information, check out the official Leuven Tourism website.

Wednesday, 30 April 2014

Recent gigs ramble

Hello lovely people!

I've just come to the end of the assessment period of my second term of the MA, which is a huuuuge relief. We only had one exam, but there was also an investigative and a multimedia portfolio to hand in this week, so I'm glad it's all over and done with.

That said, I still have my final project to do, but the pressure is off (at least until the panic of getting everything handed in in September happens).


Anyway, I went to a couple of gigs recently to break the monotony of revision and coursework. First was Hit the Deck fest - I totally managed to fail here, I bought the ticket, realised it was the same day as a hen do, panicked, went "Ah **** it, it's Brand New" and decided I'd skip most of the festival and just see Saves the Day and Brand New in the evening to maximise my time at the hen party. I've seen both before's Brand New! In my defence, I tried to get tickets to the London show but that sold out so fast (do I need to say it again? probably not, but, BRAND NEW).

Unlike many critics, I did enjoy the two newer Saves the Day albums, even though they're just not as good (in my mind) as Sound the Alarm, which is the record that got me into the band. They do lack that vibrancy that the older stuff has, so it's great to see the band play newer tracks live - I feel like if they'd recorded them with that much passion, people probably wouldn't have whined so much about the albums. Speaking of whining, I don't know what it is, but Chris Conley's voice gets higher and higher every year, I swear. So, Saves the Day were ok, but unfortunately not as fun as when I saw them a couple of years ago. 3/5, if you want me to give them a score.

Then Brand New came on and played a song I honestly didn't recognise, but tells me it's a NIN cover. Fair enough. I would have preferred something like Sowing Season to kick off the set, but that's not really much of a complaint. They played a pretty good mix of songs from all four albums and it was basically just as good as the last time I saw them (which was bloody fantastic) but better in that I stood halfway up the stairs in the O2 Academy so I could actually see things.  It does boggle my mind a bit that their last record came out in 2009, but nobody seems to care too much about the band bringing out new material because their back catalogue is just that good. My rating: Brand New out of Brand New. (Make of that what you will.)

Ahem. Enough of the fangirling and on to the next gig!

This was pretty special - Funeral for a Friend doing a tour in which they play the Hours album in full. They were supported by some shouty fun men, More than Life (3/5), who I probably would have enjoyed way more if my ears hadn't gone all old lady on me and begged to be let outside into the quiet. Then Boysetsfire (4.5/5) played - I actually only know one of their songs but my goodness, this is a band that knows how to rock a stage. I don't think I've ever enjoyed a band I didn't really know live this much, so stacks of hats off to Boysetsfire!

Now, Hours is a pretty special album for me. It came out in 2005, back when my music collection was tiny, so I listened to it a lot while I was working on my Art & Design GCSE and dealing with a lot of bad (like, actually bad, not just teen angst bad). As singer Matt Davies-Kreye said, tracks from Hours are fairly neglected in FFAF setlists, so them playing it in full was just lovely. They finished up the set with a few classics and a new song that wouldn't have sounded out of place of Hours, in my opinion. I'm going to go with a solid 5/5 here. I'm biased. This is just a ramble, I am allowed to be biased.

Right, I've probably got my gig quota sorted for the year now, so I think next on the agenda is some comedy...(telepathic note to Russell Howard, please play in Bristol soon, thanks).

Monday, 14 April 2014

Mental Health Campaign voice concern over policy change

A student under the pressure of exams (Photo by Svein Halvor Halvorsen)
Students with problems that could cause them to fail assessments are being urged by a campaign group to voice their concerns following a proposed change to assessment policy. 
Will Anderson and Siân Hampson from UWE Mental Health Campaign, wrote a letter to the university that said: “If a student with a mental health issue is unaware of this policy and sits the exam when unwell they will not be able to have extenuating circumstances and we fail to see how this is fair.”

The University of the West of England published a draft document on 14 March detailing the proposed changes, which mean if a student submits an assignment or attends an exam, they are “declaring themselves fit to do so”. If they fall ill during the exam, they can submit an extenuating circumstances application to retake the assessment or have it marked again, but this wouldn’t cover students with ongoing mental health issues.

The Mental Health Campaign is urging students to share their thoughts with student representatives to combat the alleged lack of consultation with students. Rachel Cowie, Director of Academic Services at UWE, responded to these claims stating: “we are still in the process of working through the implementation with the students’ union and other student representatives.

 “We do everything we can to avoid disadvantaging any student and want to make sure we get this right.”

“Following discussion at the recent academic board we have invited the current VP welfare (and hopefully the chair of the mental health group) to meet with us to work through some case studies so we can see what implications it might have on students with mental health difficulties. We do everything we can to avoid disadvantaging any student and want to make sure we get this right.”
Ms Cowie also clarified that students had been consulted at a council meeting in November 2012, where no issues were raised.

At the moment, students can submit an extenuating circumstances form which could let them re-take an assessment where this wouldn’t normally be allowed. Some of the reasons that extenuating circumstances may apply include “unexpected deterioration in an ongoing illness or medical condition” or a “major household problem” like a fire.

Under the “Fit to Sit” extenuating circumstances proposal, if a student had trouble completing work due to either of these reasons, or various others covered under the current policy, they would not be able to apply for extenuating circumstances if they decided to submit an assignment anyway.

Vice-President for Community and Welfare, Tom Renhard noted: “The proposals are of huge concern to the Students’ Union as well as to the Mental Health Campaign and other students that have provided feedback so far given the potential negative impact the introduction of ‘fit to sit’ could have on students. These are being considered as part of a package of proposals of changes to academic regulations and would call on the university to not to continue to pursue trying to introduce ‘fit to sit’ as part of this package. 

“Some students when going through difficult periods will attempt to ‘soldier on’ and sit assessments, believing it shows dedication to their degree; why would we then try and stop this student from submitting extenuating circumstances post-assessment should there be a realisation that perhaps that student wasn’t in the best place to submit the assessment in the first place?

“As a Students’ Union we do not believe ‘fit to sit’ should be implemented and instead thrown out. The majority of student feedback gathered so far on the proposed fit to sit regulation shows that the view of the Students’ Union is reflective of its membership.”

Similar proposals for changes to extenuating circumstances and the introduction of ‘fit to sit’ were rejected by the Students’ Union at Keele University in November 2012.

A version of this story appeared on Western Eye.

Sunday, 30 March 2014


Just a quick update - it's Mother's Day today so I painted mum a card, as I've been doing since the watercolour painting class I took! Instead of botanicals, I thought I'd try something different and went for a robin.

I've not painted a bird in watercolours before - in fact, the only time I can remember painting a bird was in acrylics and it wasn't realistic - so this is pretty different. I had no idea what techniques I should be using so I just treated it like a drawing, but less scribbly than my actual drawings!

The biggest challenge were the pale colours. The robin in the reference photo I used had white feathers and was standing in snow. I don't even own white watercolour paint because it is bad and wrong - I was taught to use the white of the paper to represent the purest white shades. I mixed up a light grey and used that to suggest the shape a bit better on the robin itself, and diluted it to use for the snow as a wash. The textured paper works well with this technique.

I think this turned out quite nicely, but I'd definitely like to practice drawing birds more before I try painting them again. That way I can experiment more with different ways of shading to get a better idea of what works for feathers.

Wednesday, 26 March 2014

Oculus team up with Facebook - but why?

Oculus Rift - Developer Version - Front
Facebook have announced plans to acquire virtual reality firm Oculus VR for $2bn.

Oculus set up a Kickstarter campaign to fund the Oculus Rift virtual reality headset back in 2012, describing it as “Designed for gamers, by gamers”. So why has social media giant Facebook snapped up Oculus?

The Facebook announcement said: “Virtual reality technology is a strong candidate to emerge as the next social and communications platform”. With the rate of user growth continually falling, Facebook is clearly out to find new ways of enticing people to sign up for the service. But is virtual reality really the way to do that? And why did Oculus think it was a good idea to team up with Facebook?

A blog post from the Oculus team reveals vague notions of creating a “platform for interaction” in partnership with the Zuckerberg crew. One could guess that the technical experience Facebook’s engineers have with large-scale delivery of services is something Oculus were interested in. If they want the Rift to reach as many people as possible, they need the help of someone like Facebook to achieve this, especially with the looming threat of PlayStation creator Sony’s venture into virtual reality.

However, with increasing concerns over privacy, something Zuckerberg believes is no longer a “social norm”, the acquisition of Oculus by Facebook is being met with worry and even anger by members of the gaming community. Responses to Oculus founder Palmer Luckey’s post on Reddit about the acquisition were overwhelmingly negative.

Minecraft developer Markus “Notch” Persson has stated that he will no longer be exploring the possibility of bringing Minecraft to the Oculus Rift. The key point he makes is “I don’t want to work with social, I want to work with games.” This may well be true for multitudes of other developers who originally backed the Rift on Kickstarter with the intention of developing games for it, not social experiences.

This also raises the issue of the unwritten contract of Kickstarter. As game developer Bennett Foddy put it: “The grassroots enthusiasm that funds Kickstarter is at odds with intentions to either sell out or use the Kickstarter money to bootstrap traditional investors”. While Oculus have by no means violated the terms of their Kickstarter funding, going from a platform for indie projects to being bought out by the biggest social networking company leaves a bad taste for followers of the Rift project.

Sunday, 23 March 2014

Mental health: Bristol charity aims to change minds

Young people from Bristol-based mental health charity Off The Record held a conference last night to celebrate three years of campaigning.

Carina Andrews leads a discussion about mental health

Young People – Changing Minds showcased the work that young volunteers in Bristol have done to provide support to 11 to 25-year-olds suffering from poor mental health. The conference included stalls, talks and a workshop to get people talking about issues such as stress and anxiety.

Volunteers spoke to Bristol Life about their experiences as part of the youth-led Mentality Project:

Funding cuts

In light of cuts to mental health services for young patients, Off The Record are looking into alternative funding sources.

Tony Whitlock, Chair of Trustees for Off The Record said: “Increasingly, we are trying to move away from statutory funding and we’re looking at social enterprise schemes, to make us a bit more self-sufficient.

“In terms of cuts, we’re worried about the impact on our clients, but also if grants are cut, there’s the impact on us being able to provide services for those clients. It’s having quite a significant effect in that other smaller counselling organisations go, increasing the pressure on us.”

Dr Simon Newitt, Chief Executive of Off The Record, said that problems are not just caused by NHS cuts:

Related links:

Off The Record: Mentality project

Mental Health Foundation: Mental Health Statistics: Children & Young People

Story by:

Rajitha Ratnam (Story, editing, pictures)

Elizabeth Horstmann-Snell (Research, filming)

Sunday, 9 March 2014

Ethics of Journalism

Hello people,

This is going to be a long one, so bear with me.

It's week 7 of our 12 week term, so that means we're halfway through and newsdays have begun. If you don't remember me wailing about these last year, a newsday is basically an assessed day where we act like a real newsroom, producing bulletins and broadcasting online material. This term we're doing TV and online. Unlike with radio, we're only making one 5 - 15 minute TV bulletin on each newsday, which is a lot less stressful in some respects.

I was already apprehensive of this week's newsday since I'd been assigned the role of pre-recorded crew member - as the title suggests, I would have to record material before the newsday - which was annoying since I was in London for half the week, leaving my partner Safia and me just one and a half days to film something. Unfortunately none of the interview prospects I had actually culminated in anything, so the only thing we could do was get some vox pops...but no, even this was a fail on my part since my stomach decided to not work properly on the last day we had available to film. Luckily a coursemate was able to fill in for me.

The newsday

So after all the stress of trying and failing to get some good footage, I wasn't really in the mood for the newsday on Friday, not least because my body was still waging war against me. After having the idea we pitched (admittedly very badly since I managed to totally forget what I was talking about) totally shot down, we were then assigned to go out as a breaking news crew. Ok, I'd worn entirely the wrong shoes for leaving the newsroom, but I could deal with that.

And then they told us we'd be doorstepping an old woman who was viciously attacked by someone who knocked on her door.


I was really uncomfortable about this, and Safia was freaking out a bit too. We were being urged to hurry up and leave the newsroom, armed only with the woman's (hereafter referred to as Janna) street address. No phone number, no way of contacting her to check if she would be ok with us interviewing her. Great.

I ended up checking the electoral roll at Central Library to get Janna's full address and we drove there, nervous. I felt so awful that we were going to be bothering this poor woman who had been beaten up in her own home - turning up without warning just seemed like an awful awful thing to do, but our lecturers appeared to think this was all part of the job.

We rang her doorbell, and seeing our notebooks, Janna told us to go away if we were reporters. If I'd had the conviction to stick to my own personal ethics I would have apologised and left, but it's weird how the pressure of being ordered to do something changes your ability to follow through with it. We managed to convince her to be interviewed. I just felt number and number, as she described how she could see her attacker when she closed her eyes. When I got home after blanking out the newsday with an evening at the pub, I broke down in tears, realising what an awful thing I'd done to poor Janna.

Is there room for ethics?

As a journalist, you're meant to distance yourself from the story to stop your emotions from clouding your sense of objectivity. However, as a human being, I just felt entirely wrong covering this story. When defending dubious journalistic practices, a public interest defence is typically used. This is a decent justification e.g. for covert filming for an investigative piece where there is no other way of confirming the facts, it but has absolutely no place in this situation.

There is no public interest in goading a vulnerable woman into reliving a brutal attack. The interview was to accompany the release of of CCTV footage of someone wanted in connection with the incident. Archive pictures could have been used if we were a real news outlet.

The attack on Janna happened two months ago. In defence of doorstepping, journalists say it provides interviewees with a chance to talk through their feelings and give them some sort of release. I really don't believe that having to revisit a traumatic event months after it happened is going to provide any benefits for the interviewee. In light of the Leveson inquiry, I feel that doorstepping no longer has a place in these sorts of stories. To get a statement from someone in the public eye, like a recalcitrant MP, sure, doorstep away.

When I voiced my concerns to coursemates and friends, I was met with some sympathy, but an overwhelming sense of "this is part of being a journalist - if you can't do it, it's the wrong job for you".

Well, maybe it isn't the wrong job for me. Maybe this outdated interpretation of journalism is wrong.

If I were to tell the story of a victim again, I would do it with care and respect. I wouldn't charge in without warning. That would violate not only my personal code of ethics, but the interviewee's right to privacy and dignity, and no responsible editor should require me to do this.

Sunday, 23 February 2014

Uni stuff & doodley cards


Been pretty busy with uni lately, hence the lack of updates. This term we're doing TV instead of radio, and I've discovered that this is a lot harder. I've been working with Nicole and Verity, and I think it's been really good to have three of us on a team as there are so many things to think about when recording footage for a television package. The last time I did video work was at school with a little consumer Sony Handycam, which was easy to use. The kit we have here is a professional Sony Handycam, with a gun mic. Heavier and more awkward to use! Each week we've completed a shooting assignment, which has progressed from a simple five-shot sequence to getting material for a 1-2 min package. This week, we covered the M Shed museum winning an award. It was half term, so there was plenty of fodder for vox pops.

Here's the package I edited together on Friday:

Yes, it is Verity reporting at the start with my voice on the voice-over at the end, but we were all practising using the editing software so I didn't want to drag her away from her work to record the VO!

I think the effort expended in creating a TV package is incredibly challenging, and I'm definitely more at home with the editing process (yay, computers).


Right, on a totally different note, I've been to a few birthday parties over the last month or so and I enjoy making cards for people, so here are a few doodles I did:

Bunny for Sara

Link for Jamie

Totoro for Rachel

I never really enjoyed colouring when I was younger, because I found colouring pencils didn't suit my scribbly style of drawing, which you can see in the picture of the bunny. I tried a different way of shading with the other two, which I think has worked a lot better, as the shading looks smoother.

Ok, now I have a small mountain of reading to do so I'm going to tackle that today!

Sunday, 9 February 2014

CSS3 Patterns

Disclaimer: These work best in Firefox 26.0 or Internet Explorer 11.0 - they should work in Chrome 32.0 but I've noticed the rendering unfortunately isn't quite as good as Firefox's, so the flowers look jagged. So, yeah, you might be seeing a bunch of words and no pretty pictures, but fear not, I've screencapped a couple if you don't happen to use one of these browsers.

Right, I got a bit distracted from coursework and started playing around with some CSS to make a new website design...I quickly got bored of that and decided to have a go at making some patterns using CSS3 gradients. I came across Lea Verou's page on gradient patterns when I was looking into CSS3 while working at Nokia a couple of years ago. I didn't really have a good reason to use them back then, so I filed the page away for later.

One and a half years later, here I am, fiddling about with gradient styles. At first I just didn't get what what going on, but trial and error led me to this:

Nice enough, but kind of plain. Further messing around, and I made something a bit more exciting:

And eventually, I made some flowers and leaves:

I'm quite pleased with how they turned out - not sure if I'll end up using these for anything, but I'll stick the code up on GitHub once I've tidied it up and added the backwards compatible tags.

Wednesday, 8 January 2014

Chalk one up for the small guy/girl/person (UPDATE)


After my threat of legal action, the Telegraph have agreed to pay me the full £180 for the unauthorised use of my photograph.

I'm very confused about their attitude though. This is what Louisa Peacock, an editor at the Telegraph, emailed me:

I have spoken further to my editor and we will pay you the £180 you demand. This is out of goodwill but you must understand we obtained permission for this: the feminist society is where you should direct your issue to make sure it doesn't happen again.

We simply would not have used your image if we'd have known we did not have permission.

I hope you understand this was a genuine mistake.

Ok, this is fairly reasonable, but as I have always said, the Telegraph is partly at fault here. So I replied:

I understand you attempted to obtain permission, but I do not think it is right that you assume a third party is legally permitted to give permission for someone else's work to be used. In future you should be ascertaining if a licensing agreement has been made between the copyright holder and the third party.

And then she seemed to get a bit upset:

Ok - but the 'third party' in question is the university of which you are a member.

No, Louisa. I am a graduate of the University of Bristol, which is not affiliated with the Feminist Society. FemSoc is affiliated with the University of Bristol Students' Union, which I am not a member of. I emailed her back to let her know.

Anyway, this is all sorted now. Now I can carry on updating this blog with the odd photo and scribbles (:

Tuesday, 7 January 2014

Copyright laws protect content creators (UPDATE)

Hi everyone,

I just thought I'd make a final update so I have a record of what's happened with regards to the Telegraph's unauthorised use of my photograph.

As of right now, the image is still on the article. I have not formally requested it to be taken down, but I have heard of cases where rightsholders have attempted to deal with unauthorised use of an image and the image was simply removed, as if this solves the issue of it having been used in the first place. So, the image is still up and I still haven't been paid.

I've sent a final email to Louisa:

Hi Louisa,

To clarify, I expect the invoice of £180 to be paid in full by 04/02/2014, 30 days after I originally sent the invoice to you.

Should the amount still be unpaid after this date, I will make a court claim in Bristol to recover the money.

If there are any issues, I would like to correspond with your picture editor.



So now I'll just sit tight and wait until February. If they haven't paid up by then, I will make a claim for the outstanding money. The Telegraph may say they do not owe me anything as they got permission from the Feminist Society, but I maintain that this permission was not authorised. I won't be updating in the meantime if I do begin negotiations with the picture editor, or anyone else at the Telegraph, unless something really ridiculous happens...but I'll let you all know how it goes if I am successful in asserting that I have the right to be paid a reasonable amount for the use of my work.

The real issue that I would like to see solved is the apparent complacency of editors when sourcing images for articles. There are other tales of publications not acquiring permission to use someone's work prior to publishing it. This is wrong.

It is also wrong that the Telegraph assumed a third party was licensed to distribute my content, without any proof whatsoever. They were given my name and a link to my Flickr page, but did not think it appropriate to get proof that I licensed the Feminist Society to distribute my work, or contact me before using it.

While the Telegraph eventually offered me £25 on discovering that this third party had no rights to the content, as the photographer, I was never given the opportunity to negotiate with the Telegraph on equal footing at the beginning of the process. I had my right to decide whether I wanted to license the use of my photograph taken away from me. I used these guidelines to come up with a price for the photo. As the notes on negotiating rates say:

The suggested rates are minima from which freelances negotiate upward according to the value of the work

I also used the figure for a 300x400px photo being used online for one month. In reality, this picture would probably have stayed online for longer than that.

I'll conclude this post by saying rightsholders need to be respected. A photograph is a piece of work governed by copyright laws - these imply that the work has intrinsic value and also prevent content creators from being exploited. Always contact the photographer before using an image that is all rights reserved. If you find your content has been used without your permission, get in touch with the infringer and let them know they should have contacted you first.

As an example, I personally wouldn't dream of charging a non-profit student society for using my work on their website, provided it was attributed to me and linked back to my Flickr page. However, when a national newspaper publishes my work without paying for it, I will complain, and I will get this sorted out.