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.