Thursday, 4 October 2012

The Beatles: A band reviewed

Fifty years ago the Beatles released their first single, Love Me Do. It eventually reached No 17 in the UK charts, but this modest debut was the trigger for a musical revolution.

I've just edited a new ebook, The Beatles: A Band Reviewed, that tells the story of the 'revolution' through news items, reviews and interviews that appeared in the Guardian and The Observer. From the heyday of Beatlemania and the groundbreaking albums to the mixed successes of the solo years, it covers all the key events. It also includes not so well-known stories, such as that of a Guardian reporter who received hundreds of phone calls, night and day, from people asking if they could speak to 'Sgt J Pepper'.

Read about the very first Beatles related feature to appear in the Guardian on the paper's music blog, along some fascinating Pathé news footage.

Tuesday, 2 October 2012

SLA Europe: Engaging with social media

Finding the right social media voice can be one of the biggest challenges for those new to the world of Twitter, Facebook, and the community conversation. Just how much personal information should you reveal without damaging your professional persona?

This was one of the key themes to emerge from Engaging with social media for fun and career success, a recent SLA Europe seminar, held at Morgan Stanley’s Canary Wharf offices.

Three speakers, Neil Infield, Meghan Jones and Laura Woods, all early adopters of social media tools and with a wealth of experience between them, passed on tips, advice and a few words of warning.

Laura began the session by saying that when on Twitter it important to present yourself as a real person, not just an automated RSS feed. She suggested taking a ‘profersonal’ approach - that is blending professional comments with something a bit more personal. Instead of just retweeting and making dry comments, throw in tweets about your own interests and engage in conversation. The key thing to remember is that just because you’re talking about work issues you don’t have to erase your personality.  

This point was echoed by Neil who stated that you 'need to present yourself as a whole human being' when using social media. Of course to what extent you can do this varies from sector to sector.  Meghan suggested having multiple personas through different accounts and possibly using pseudonyms. All speakers emphasised the fact that anyone - not just your dedicated followers - can read your posts and comments, so think twice before writing or uploading pictures.

Perhaps it came as a surprise to some, but there are clear career benefits to using social media. Through blogging and tweeting Laura explained how she had raised her profile and as a result had been offered speaking and writing commissions. Meghan talked about the ‘serendiptious opportunities’, be it making new contacts or promoting work projects, while Neil said that his blog was an important tool for driving traffic to the British Library’s Business & IP Centre.

As a warning to those who still feel uncomfortable about the whole ‘engaging with social media’ business, Neil made the simple point that whether you like it or not, your clients are already out there using it. If you don’t get involved, they’ll pass you by.

That said, don’t feel obliged to sign up to everything. Sample different tools (take note: Twitter may not be around forever), but stick to what you feel comfortable with. As Meghan confessed, ‘I’m a Facebook refusnik’.

Other points made included the fact that LinkedIn is perfect for those with a bad memory as after an event you can remind yourself as to who you were talking to. Also, tweeting may be a much more effective note taking method than scribbling away in a notebook - condensing a point into 140 characters focuses the mind.

Possibly the best piece of advice though came from Neil who suggested that it is better to ‘ask for forgiveness rather than permission’ when in doubt about something you want to publish. Perhaps this should have come with a disclaimer but is very much in keeping with the ‘never wrong for long’ approach taken by news website editors.

 Photographs: Seema Rampersad
Thanks to the three speakers for giving such excellent talks, SLA Europe for organising the event, and  Seema Rampersad for the use of the photos.

Thursday, 16 August 2012

The Spoiler

My holiday reading included Annalena McAfee's novel, The Spoiler. Set in 1997, the book follows young reporter Tamara Sim as she profiles the much-feted aging war correspondent Honor Tait in the hope of landing a staff job on a national newspaper. A satire on what used to be called Fleet Street, the book includes very funny descriptions of life on both broadsheets and tabloids, as well as exposing all the backstabbing, lying and cheating that goes on. 

Having said that, students of journalism may well want to read it in the hope of picking up some tips - particularly on how/how not to carry out an interview. Also, a recurring theme throughout the book is how the media is on the cusp of technological revolutions - and the resistance of many of the characters to the internet shows just how far we have come over the past 15 years. 

That includes the library. McAfee's description of the old cuttings collection is almost spot on:
'the busiest department in the building, a maze of tightly packed, floor-to-ceiling metal shelves crammed with hanging files containing envelopes of photographs and wads of cuttings on everyone who had ever appeared in a newspaper'.
And as a senior editor explains its purpose to Tamara, 
'Here is the compost...which nourishes our freshest bloom; the poop behind the scoop. '
Very good. One minor quibble though is the use of 'the Morgue' as a name for the newspaper library. Perfectly fine for a North American archive but in Britain it's nearly always 'cuts' or just 'the library'. Of course this is something that any self-respecting fact-checker would have spotted...

Friday, 20 July 2012

The scandalous history of the Tour de France

All the scandalous stories - the drugs, drink and punchups - from The Tour de the bitter end - can be found in a  recent G2 piece.

Tuesday, 3 July 2012

The Tour de the bitter end

Over the past few months I have been putting together The Tour de the bitter end, a collection of Guardian/Observer journalism about the world's greatest sporting spectacle. More information here and here.

Monday, 30 January 2012

LIKE 32: digital preservation

While over 90% of data is born digital, there is no official strategy in the UK for preserving the material. From private companies to public bodies, it is often unclear who is responsible for capturing all the emails, blogs, online videos etc. that are generated every day. As such, items of historical importance are simply disappearing.

This, then, was a perfect discussion topic for LIKE. Lena Roland started the session by stating that digital preservation is the process of ensuring the continued access to digital material of enduring value for present and future generations. She clearly set out the issues noting that while gaps in current preservation programmes could be filled with print versions, this will not be possible in the future.

Of course not everything can be archived - would anyone seriously think of archiving an individual's entire Twitter account? The key point is to have a clear selection and deletion policy. Lena also mentioned that she uses WebCite, an online service that enables readers permanent access to the cited material, for her own work.

Adrian Brown, Assistant Clerk of the Records at The Parliamentary Archives, then talked about his own digital preservation experience at the House of Commons. One of the most interesting points was an explanation of the 'performance' model as a framework for describing digital preservation strategies. Developed by the National Archives of Australia in 2002, the idea in its most basic form is for the archivist to concentrate on the actual information content, or 'performance', rather than the processes used to deliver it. Read more about the concept here as well as in a A digital preservation policy for Parliament paper.

There is no one answer to prevent digital obsolescence but current practices include migration, whereby file formats are changed so that information remains accessible, or, emulation which involves ensuring old software functions can still be read. There is always hardware preservation but, as Adrian pointed out while waving floppy discs of various sizes in the air, it is proving harder and harder to find machines that still work.
LIKE 32 was an informative evening that generated a lot of debate - as demonstrated by the fact that  people were still talking long after the food had finished. 

Thursday, 26 January 2012

Jazz: From New Orleans to the new generation

Jazz: From New Orleans to the new generation is a new Guardian ebook that offers a distinctively British perspective on the history of jazz. Consisting of Guardian and Observer reviews and profiles  from 1919 to the present day, the book includes everyone from Duke Ellington, Miles Davis to Robert Glasper. I've written a bit more about this unique collection in a blog for the Guardian's music pages.