I'm not dead

And I have done a couple of things writing-wise over the last few weeks. Yes, yes, I know. Keep it quiet, ok. First up: My take on the current situation at Notts County, which was already out of date about six hours after it was written. That's Notts County for you.

Secondly, a quick thing from me at Soccerlens: Ten football league youngsters to watch out for in 2010.

Plus, there's a hugely bumper and fun-filled Christmas edition of the twofootedtackle podcast, featuring the Sound Of Football team from Some People Are On The Pitch and The Onion Bag.

Funtimes.

Bedtime for the blog

Mark Twain once said it's far better to keep your mouth shut and let people assume you're an idiot than to open it and confirm their assumptions. God alone knows what Twain would have made of blogging, but it's a sentiment I can appreciate and, for the foreseeable future on here you're all going to have to assume I'm an idiot. Or, to put it less obliquely, I'm halting blogging. Indefinitely. I may resume a few months down the line. It may even be a few weeks. Or it may not. But, frankly, it's probably better to write this than do a series of half-arsed posts, all of which that start with "apologies for the lack of updates...", an opening that rapidly gets tedious by the fifth letter of the first word.

There's no one particular reason for this, but if I had to point to one reason it would be a lack of time. That and being very busy at work. Yes, being busy at work, a lack of time and an almost fanatical devotion to the Pope a lack of inspiration when the time is free.

Being busy, as Terry Duffelen said to me on Twitter earlier, comes and goes. But I've been hideously busy for around four months now, and I've been thinking about calling a temporary halt to blogging for about half that time.

It's not just the amount of time that I don't have - it's the desire to do other things with this time when I'm free. I spend all day working with social media, reading blogs and other internet-related things, and I'm finding in the evenings I would rather not have to open my computer, but cook, watch TV, read, go to the cinema, go to the pub, go out for a meal, go to the gym. And when I look at that list, there's not a great deal of that I've managed recently. Essentially, I need downtime to switch off. Blogging used to be that. It isn't anymore.

Usually it's only snatched time late at night anyway. As in common with most recent blog posts, this is being written after 11pm. Which means I don't get as much sleep as I'd hoped. Which makes me a bit irritable the next day, which makes me less likely to blog. And so on.

There's also a lack of time to cover topics, and cover them well. In the last two weeks I've had about half a dozen topics, both football and non-football I've wanted to write about. But I wouldn't have had the time to do anything other than a few snatched words.

What about something like Posterous, you may say? What indeed. I like Posterous a lot. I've had a play and think it's a very nifty little platform. If I were starting out or starting anew, I'd definitely consider it.

But I either write for other blogs or try and offer some form of analysis on here, that a shorter scrap-book post on Posterous wouldn't have been able to do justice to, even if I could post it on the train into work.

The bottom line is when I write, I research first. For every post, I'd say the amount of research done is equal to the time spent writing the piece, more so with the football articles.

I know what you're going to say now - how did you ever work in a busy newsroom? Well I did, and I could again, no problem. But this isn't a newsroom, this is blogging; this is something I do in my spare time, and something I rarely get paid for (certainly not on this blog).

There are so many bad bloggers - and journalists - who will knock something together in the blink of an eye without having done any research or checking any facts. Fine, this approach may mean I take longer over my posts but I'd rather be right than first, especially as this blog (and others) carry my name. I refuse to compromise on quality and accuracy for the sake of being able to knock out a couple of extra posts.

It's not that the joy isn't there - I still love words, and I still love writing and genuinely wish I could do more of it, or spend my days thinking of witty asides to drop into finely-honed articles - but as was said to me the other day, it's like I'm trying to do two jobs on top of other things.

And ultimately, my priority is to my job, because they pay me. And I work hard, so throw in an extra job on top of that... well, I can manage it if I really want, but in honesty, I'd rather recharge my batteries, unwind and be fresh for the next day of work. Shoot me for attempting a work-life balance.

As much as anything, I think I needed to put this down so that I didn't have the spectre of an unwritten blog hanging over me. The guilt feels far less when you actually announce you're not blogging any longer. And that way people cant go 'this is a bad example of a blog, he only posts once a fortnight.'

So that's it. Me and blogging are done for the time being. That's here, and with football blogging as well. You may see a few pieces pop up from me though - these will be ones I've nearly finished or have already committed to. After that, no more.

Well, maybe not that final. I simply don't know if I just need to abandon blogging for a couple of weeks to recharge my batteries, or six months, or if I just don't want to come back. I just don't know.

This blog will remain as it is - it'd be a shame to delete it and I may feel the urge to blog gets too strong.

Oh, and if anybody even thinks about trying to use this blog and announcement as an example of how blogging is drying, I'll personally take that lazy one-blog assumption and stick it... well, you get the idea. I'm just a blog. I'm certainly not, and never have been, indicative of any trend.

I'll probably need to change my bio now as well...

Lights. Off.

Cancer jab follow-on

Just a quick(ish) addition to the post I wrote at the start of the week about the Sunday Express' "Jab as deadly as the cancer" article about the cervical cancer jab. Ben Goldacre has covered the story in his Bad Science column, and it's quite damning, especially his conversation with the expert, Dr Diane Harper. I'll repost a paragraph from his article, which speaks for itself.

"...I contacted Professor Harper. For avoidance of doubt, so that there can be no question of me misrepresenting her views, unlike the Express, I will explain Professor Harper’s position on this issue in her own words. They are unambiguous.

“I did not say that Cervarix was as deadly as cervical cancer. I did not say that Cervarix could be riskier or more deadly than cervical cancer. I did not say that Cervarix was controversial, I stated that Cervarix is not a ‘controversial drug’. I did not ‘hit out’ – I was contacted by the press for facts. And this was not an exclusive interview.”

Journalists are fallible. We do make mistakes. Occasionally we get the wrong end of the stick. But there's getting something wrong that you haven't understood properly and bending the facts to a state where they can do longer be called facts any longer.

It depressed me, it really does. In an industry that's going through upheaval and can be subject to greater scrutiny than ever from anybody with a computer - and that has serious trust issues - articles like this just serve to undermine the public's trust in journalists even further.

As was highlighted in the Royal Institution debate, the Express can produce good, accurate journalism. And it's always worth asking questions on health issues.

But not like this. This isn't good journalism. It barely even passes as a form of journalism. It's irresponsible writing that has the potential to lead to women needlessly developing cervical cancer.

Did the Sunday Express really think this was an acceptable trade-off for a headline-selling front page?

Like I say, thoroughly depressing.

Oh my science (2)

There's reporting that you disagree with and then there's an occasional point of journalism that's just wrong. Not just wrong, but dangerously misleading to a degree that goes beyond scary. Case in point - the Sunday Express' front page from yesterday: "JAB AS DEADLY AS THE CANCER"

Now, with the death of Natalie Morton, hours after she'd received the cervical cancer vaccine jab [1] was always going to lead to some interesting reporting. Some has been good, some has been bad and some has been scaremongering. Especially after the point where it was established that she died from a tumour and not the jab.

The story itself is largely built around the fears of an expert, Dr Diane Harper. In many respects, this is nothing unusual. Most journalists have built stories around experts. I've done it myself, although they've usually be economic stories rather than science.

And there's nothing wrong with this, per se. Often an expert provides a new, different angle and also helps with one of the first rules of good journalism: tell the audience something they don't already know. I've learned a lot from chatting to them and the stories are usually interesting.

But a lot depends on the expert themselves, who they are and what they are saying. And that, rather than the story they're talking about, is the important part. Because there are a lot of interesting experts out there.

Let's take AIDS as an example. It's not stretching things too far to say Africa has a serious problem with the disease, and that antiretroviral drugs stop Aids becoming a death sentence for sufferers. Yet there are people, who have lots of expert-looking expert credentials, who will use arguments such as population growth in South Africa as a reason why the numbers of being dying from Aids is too high. Or that vitamins can cure the disease.

In short, they can sell themselves as experts but their claims aren't necessarily the kind you'd put on the front page of a newspaper, and strongly suggest this outsider view is worth listening to.

But back to the Express and the cancer jab story, which, by the time the Express ran the interview, was fast becoming old news.

Reporting on just about any kind of issue is always going to ensure somebody shakes their head and disagrees with it. The more high-profile and emotive the story, the more likely this is.

I don't often agree with the Sun or the Mail's take on current affairs, but there are plenty of others who'll be in tune with this line of thinking. There are tabloid scares - some justified, and some not - but usually there's some basis to start from.

Not here. Virtually every bit of the Express article is just plain wrong. I dislike hyperbole, but there's a very real chance that parents could read the story, refuse to allow their daughters the jab, only for their daughter to catch the virus, and contract cancer. This isn't politics, or food scares, or the like, this is the health, life and potentially death of the next generation of the female population. Is it really worth getting blood on the hands to sell a few extra papers in this manner?

I'm not hugely fond of jumping up and down and crying bad journalism at the tabloids (or the broadsheets) - stones and glass houses and all that. There's a lot of good journalism in all of them, and I'm continually amazed in the best possible way at how good some of the journalists I know one these papers are.

But just because we're in a profession, doesn't mean we can't hold it to account and call it out when publications get it badly, dangerously wrong. There's a line between reporting potential health problems and dangerous scaremongering that could cost lives. On this occasion, the Express have crossed it [2]. I posted a link to the piece on Twitter earlier. One response from a journalist said: "That makes me want to disown my profession."

In fact, this story has got me so upset at the reporting that I'm going to do something I've never even come remotely close to ever wanting to do before: complain to the Press Complaints Commission.

Frankly, I don't expect it to have much effect. The organisation is somewhat toothless at the best of time. And writing to it feels like grassing up somebody at school.

But if nobody says anything, it means there will be more bad science, more panic and, potentially, more lives lost. I'm not trying to set myself as an arbiter of what's good or bad journalism; I'm just beyond appalled at this one article.

If you feel the same, then I'd urge you to also complain.To help, my old colleague Chris White has already written a letter (about 3 minutes after reading the story). He sent me the text of his complaint and I've reprinted it below. Feel free to adapt it for your own use:

"The front page of the issue of the Sunday Express published on 4 October 2009 leads with the headline "Jab 'as deadly as the cancer'."

The "jab" in question is the Cervarix vaccination against the two strains of human papillomavirus shown to trigger up to 70% of cases of cervical cancer.

The story follows the death of 14-year-old schoolgirl Natalie Morton, who died shortly after receiving the vacciation - but whose postmortem found her cause of death to have been a previously undiagnosed tumour.

The claim that the vaccination is as deadly as the cancer is manifestly untrue. At the time of this solitary death, around 1.5 million girls had received the vaccination. Cervical cancer affects an estimated 16 women per 100,000 per year, and is fatal for around 9 women per 100,000 per year. Even if the vaccination had been responsible for the death of Natalie Morton, then the cancer is clearly almost 150 times more dangerous than the vaccination.

That this is based on the opinion of "expert" Diane Harper is irrelevant. It doesn't matter what her opinion is: it only matters what the data show. (This is why academics are subject to a process of peer review for publishing their work: despite their supposed expertise, papers must be approved of by their peers before publication. The mere opinions even of experts count for little within their own communities and should not carry any greater weight with the public, nor with journalists.) There are no data suggesting that the vaccination is dangerous.

Furthermore, the quote from one Richard Halvorsen questioning the postmortem finding that Natalie Morton died from cancer, "If you have cancer you have symptoms", is, essentially, a lie. Many cases of cancer can be asymptomatic -- including, in a tragic piece of irony, most cases of cervical cancer.

This is little more than ill-founded scaremongering and irresponsible journalism of the worst kind. Its only effect is bound to be -- as was the case with the coverage the MMR "controversy" -- to reduce take-up of the vaccine, in which case the Sunday Express will share responsibility for further deaths."

EDIT: Malcolm Coles has flagged up his campaign to get Google's results to show better advice and information for parents concerned about the jab, so I'm more than happy to include links to cervical cancer jab information, cervical cancer vaccination, and a Q&A about the cervical cancer vaccine.

[1] Ok, I'm taking liberties here as well. I know it's jab about the virus that can lead to cervical cancer rather than the cancer itself.

[2] Ironically, a story from the Express was held us as a good example of science reporting at the debate between Lord Drayson and Ben Goldacre, and I'd go along with the Science Minster to a point when he says that sensationalist reporting can be good for science. The Express' article goes long beyond that point.

Oh, my science

Science reporting is in rude health in Britain, and also in a poor state, often getting basic science wrong and misleading the public. So (roughly) said Lord Paul Drayson, Science Minister for the government, and Dr Ben Goldacre, writer of the Bad Science column in the Guardian in a highly entertaining debate at the Royal Institution last night. Ok, so I've somewhat condensed the argument, but, strangely, they're probably both right (a reflection, perhaps, of how well they both argued). Lord Drayson made good points as to why science journalism has improved and why we need to celebrate it, and Ben Goldacre was entertaining as ever with his points and examples of very bad science reporting, many of which were still worryingly recent.

The most telling comment, though, came from Michael Hanlon, the Daily Mail's science editor, who was in the audience. Taking the example of the Mail saying that coffee could both cause and cure cancer, Hanlon pointed out the [1] number of studies done on coffee actually reflected this, with half saying coffee was beneficial and half saying  it was harmful.

Now, short of going into the lab and watching each experiment, the only way you're going to be able to say if this is significant or not is by doing a systematic review of all these papers - one paper alone is not necessarily an indicator in itself one way or the other - and coming up with a conclusion.

But therein lies the problem. Individual papers make good news, and the Mail is not necessarily wrong when it reports that coffee both causes and cures cancer. There's a good chance both reports are accurate with regards to the source material.

These both make good headlines. A review that concludes that it's difficult to say whether coffee is indeed good or bad for you doesn't have quite the same level of attention-grabbing.

What, Hanlon asked, would you have me do?

It's easy to feel sympathy for both sides here. Goldacre is right to despair at some science reporting. When you read some of his clinical dissections of poor science journalism (for example, 'Exercise Makes You Fat') you shudder and feel ashamed for your profession.

But then, the journalist has space to fill, deadlines to meet, and papers to sell. And science isn't quite like your political scandals or natural disasters. There's no clear narrative. One paper may be produced, peer reviewed and shown to be not all that. How does a journalist get something exciting, sexy, reader-grabbing AND accurate out of all this.

A lot of Ben's suggestions - features, encouraging bloggers, getting the public to be more discerning readers, getting scientists to write columns - are great intentions. Not all of them are without problems, and my worry would be if you did this, you may start to lose science from the news pages, which would not be a good thing.

On a slight tangent, I'd like to bring in my brief experience as one of those arts and humanities graduates, mentioned occasionally in the debate, who've ended up in journalism and isn't overly scientific (which is to say I understand science methodology and the philosophies behind it a hell of a lot better than I do the science itself. Which I often definitely don't understand).

In my reporting days, I'd tend to shy away from science stories (other than the fact they often weren't things that our target audience were meant to be interested in) because I didn't feel confident enough in handling them, or handling them accurately. I struggled with basic GCSE biology. I really wasn't the best person to critique or summarise an academic's work.

When I did cover science, the interviewee tended to get a relatively easy ride, again, due to my own lack of knowledge. And, yes, all too often I'd end up relying on a press release, especially if they were well-written and clear. It's perhaps not something I can say I'm overly proud of, but hopefully you can understand why (especially given how understaffed we were). Give me a football or local government story on the other hand.... No need for press releases there.

[This isn't to do I'd do this for all science or health stories. Lifestyle stuff, like your miracle cancer cures or food x causes y usually tended to get my bullshit alarm ringing].

Again, the question: what would you have me do?

Also, a secondary anecdote from my time editing the student paper.

Coming into the editor's chair, I was painfully aware how under-represented the science and medicine students were in the paper, especially given their bulk around campus, so we launched science and health pages - the first time, to my knowledge, the paper had ever included such sections.

I put out appeals to all science and medicine students, via email, asking them to get in touch if they were interested in editing or writing. I've no idea exactly how many students that went to, but it would have been in its thousands.

I got four responses. One ended up becoming our science editor, the other wrote a brilliantly vivid piece about his time on placement in hospital in Pakistan, and I never heard from him again, despite several emails almost begging for more articles. The other two never followed through. Ok, we got a couple more throughout the year, but that was still less than ten students (roughly).

I'm not quite sure what conclusions you can draw from that.

But back to the debate. It would be hard to say either side won, although that wasn't really the point. Both are right - it's good to praise good journalism and encourage it, and Ben Goldacre's right to bang the drum against poor science reporting which, at best is embarrassing and, at worst, dangerous.

The main thing was the debate was taking place in the first place. Just discussing whether science journalism is done well probably indicates both sides are right in their own way.

There's a more coherent write-up here and here from people who probably, unlike me, took notes. You can watch the debate here. I'd highly recommend it if you have a spare 90 minutes.

[And if anybody's wondering about the title of this blog post, it's a reference to a particularly demented and brilliant episode of South Park where Cartman freezes himself to get a Nintendo Wii but ends up in the future where Richard Dawkins' teachings reign supreme and there's a war between mankind and otters. It makes sense, honest.]

[1] It's late at night and I'm going by memory here.

Arguing for product placement on TV

It's been a few months later than it should, but it looks like UK television will finally get the nod for product placement. There's still a while to go yet before it finally gets approval, but if it does finally happen, it'll be a long-needed change to the rules. When then culture secretary Andy Burnham said there were "serious concerns" about product placement, he was doing the British public a disservice. It's not as if product placement is a new concept that audiences may find it hard to understand.

And, to me, a good indication of how well something is understood is if the audience can understand a simple joke around it, and judging by the amount of films with product placement related jokes in, they understand it pretty well.

Back in 1992, Mike Myers inserted a wonderfully simple - and still very funny - product placement gag into Wayne's World.

Without wanting to analyze the joke to death, the product placement joke worked on several levels and required a degree of understanding from the audience. Myers has a good grasp of product placement jokes, especially around Starbucks in the Austin Powers movies.

Obviously the entertainment industry isn't likely to bite the hand that feeds it, but there have been other examples, heading way back. The Truman Show has Truman's wife desperately trying to shoehorn a product placement into a domestic argument, while Quentin Tarantino's Kill Bill Vol 1 makes its own point about product placement by prominently featuring a raft of hyper-real fictional products. Latterly, the Orange adverts have also got in on the fun.

But, you may say, these are films and not TV. True, but then audiences have been watching films full of product placement for years now and, to date, nobody's seen a significant breakdown in society.

Take the James Bond franchise. A new Bond film, an event in itself, will typically have around 20 brand partners with products in the film. Die Another Day raked in somewhere around $100m through placement. Yet, despite the odd clunky moment ("Is that a Rolex?" "Omega") the films are often none the worse for being littered with brands; fitting given the style and endless brand namechecking in Fleming's books.

Viewers are also familiar with US TV and, even though imports are censored for placement where possible (think blurred out tumblers on American Idol), viewers are savvy enough to know when they're being marketed to. The ham-fisted attempt at censorship just draws more attention to the placement.

Then there's the added level of realism that product placement brings. We use brands on a daily basis. Some have even entered our lexicon. Yet characters still head into a pub and ask for a pint of beer, or use non-branded or fictional products to a frustrating level (although, in a weird full circle, so fictional products become so successful they cross the line into real life).

I take the point about exchange quality for more adverts. I take the point we're bombarded with adverts on a daily basis elsewhere, and can do without it ruining our favourite TV programmes. I especially take the point that product placement shouldn't be inserted into children's programmes, and the government if right to keep this as an exception.

But there are balances that need to be struck. If we want commercial broadcasting to keep producing high quality dramas, original comedies, or watercooler-worthy entertainment shows, we have to accept they need to be funded somehow, which means advertising.

It's never been easier to skip through adverts and, like adverts in print newspapers, you can't be sure anybody's actually watching - a nation can quite easily use an ad break for a mass cuppa or loo break.

So that makes product placement a lot more attractive to a brand, and easier to sell for the broadcaster. Does a company want a 30 second spot that some people may see or a placement in the programme that everybody will see.

At a time when commercial broadcasting is in need of a cash boost, it has made no sense to continue to ban product placement. It won't be the panacea to all woes, but it will help.

And, for once, I agree with Steve Hewlett when he says that badly-done product placement will see viewers turning off.

Sure, there will be some shows that take the money and produce an unwatchable advert, just as cinema has produced some clunkers where brands take centre-stage - Daredevil and Castaway are two that spring to mind.

But there's no reason why the two can't co-exist and produce something that everybody is happy with. Proof can be found in Shane Meadows' Somers Town, originally intended to be a short film funded by Eurostar, but one that ended up turning into a rather delightful feature film.

The two can co-exist and we, as audiences, are mature enough to understand when we're being sold something, without the need to be told we're being sold a product (a plan to come out of government, which was, frankly, patronising).

By all means have a framework or code of conduct (and I'd support this idea), but in this day and age, there's no good reason why our favourite TV stars can't refresh themselves with a Bud after a long day's work, before doing the weekly shop at Sainsbury's before curling up on the sofa with a tub of Ben and Jerry's.

Ok, so that may sound like a lot of brands just in one sentence, but think how, well, ordinary that is. If I told you that's how I spent my evening, you wouldn't bat and eyelid, and nor should we when our fictional counterparts do the same.

[Disclosure: I work for ITV in a communities/PR capacity, but these views are entirely my own. Plus, my university dissertation, many moons ago, was on the subject of product placement, so it's a subject I've always retained an interest in, and would do regardless of where I worked.]

More posts about buildings and food

Or rather, just food. S managed to get a few picture of the amazing dishes at Pearl before I gobbled them down. We didn't get any pictures of the interior. We were too busy eating.

duck

This was the duck breast with watermelon feta, peanuts and satay sauce. The flavour combinations were perfect and the watermelon refreshed the palate while letting the duck do its work on the tastebuds.

Monkfish

The duck was a nice warm up for the best course - roast monkfish with caramelised chicken wings, artichoke gnocchi, girolles  and baby artichokes. I may have already got to work on this by the time the picture was taken.

It may not look much, but boy did it pack a flavour punch. The chicken wing was a playful addition and added even more depth to the monkfish, not that any was needed. If I could only ever eat one dish in my life again, this would be a serious contender.

The lamb course was largely demolished before we thought to take a photo. And the hazlenut chocolate parfait certainly didn't hang around long enough for the thought of a photo to even enter our minds. Both of these courses melted into the mouth and produced satisfied groans of pleasure.

I'm drooling just thinking of them now. Good job I'm not hungry, otherwise I'd be raiding the pantry instead of writing this.

Last night I think I died and woke up in some kind of food heaven

Another day, another year older. Despite my protestations, I'm actually less bothered about turning 28 than I am turning 29. At least 28 is the peak age for a top-class football. Once you reach 29, where can you go from there? 30? Whatever. And despite other protestations that I really don't like doing anything special, this is the third birthday in a row that's turned pretty memorable. This year was in no small part due to the fact my lovely girlfriend whisked me off to Jun Tanaka's Pearl for the tasting menu.

Oh. My. God. That's all you can say, really. This may well rank as one of the best birthday experiences ever.

It came as a complete surprise. I'd just been told to turn up in Central London looking reasonably smart and that was it. I'd no idea about the sensual treats on offer.

The tasting menu wasn't just about food. Every course came with a specially selected beer to complement the flavours.This is A Good Thing and can only be encouraged. I know a little about wines. I know a lot more about ales, and these were good ales.

Innis and Gunn I'd heard of, and had been keen to try for a while. The deep, malty toffee flavour was a perfect accompaniment to the lamb. The rest were equally delicious. The Spanish Alhambra Reserve that accompanied the monkfish stood out as a wonderfully rich-yet-balanced beer.

From start to finish the whole thing was magnificent. The pea, feta and mint foam palate cleanser to start through to the chocolate parfait, which lasted all of about 2 minutes, if that.

Inbetween came scallops, duck and watermelon, amazing monkfish, lamb so tender it melted in your mouth and a plum soup. Plus canapes.

I would attempt detailed description, but the different beers take their toll. Suffice to say, everything - from the perfectly cooked monkfish to the beer cocktails to finish - was unbelievable. I've eaten at decent restaurants. Nothing quite comes close to what I experienced at Pearl.

I would also provide pictures, but none of the courses hung around on our plates for detailed snaps. Especially not the chocolate parfait.

The only downside... I could easily get a taste for this kind of thing. One day, Fat Duck, I will have donated enough of my body to medical science to be able to afford your tasting menu. By that time, you may just have a table free.

[Although I seem to be making a habit of good food on my birthday. Two years ago, we wound up at The Cricket Inn at Beesands, which served up some of the most delicious, freshest seafood dishes I've ever tasted. Last year I was eating paella in Barcelona. To make up for the awfulness of turning 29 next year, perhaps I should insist on El Bulli and nothing less]

If podcasting stopped tomorrow, I'll have gone out on a high

Never meet your heroes, They say, you'll only end up disappointed. Well, I've never been one of pay that much attention to Them, and anyway, They are wrong. Last Thursday I found myself in a recording studio talking all things football with Tim Vickery for the twofootedtackle podcast.

Proving if you don't ask you don't get, Chris dropped him an email inviting him to come on the show as he was in London and a couple of week later he was in our studio.

Footballers, I can do. Celebrities, I can do. One of my favourite football writers? Just a tad nervous. It also doesn't help that Brazil is one of the few leagues I know next to nothing about (I'm a lot more au fait with Argentina).

But it was great fun, Tim Vickery is a great guy and the podcast, sounds, er, great. Great. It's certainly inspired me to push the pod onto greater things.

Although talking football on a podcast with Tim Vickery wasn't ever on my list of things to do before I die, I've decide to add it on there now. It's my life and I can change the rules, thank you very much.

In one of those weird quirks of fate, I had my hair cut yesterday by a Brazilian hairdresser. I think he was somewhat suprised by my (newly-cribbed) knowledge of Brazilian football.

This redesigning takes time

And I wish I had more of it. What I really need is a wet Sunday where I'm doing absolutely nothing and have time to truly faff about.

In theory, changing themes shouldn't take long. In practice, it's a lot more difficult. It's amazing how many of the free themes don't work properly in Firefox or Safari. And even when you find one you like, there a lot of tweaking, which takes a lot longer than anticipated.

Plus it's taken me ages to find a theme I actually like.

This is the end result, and I'm much happier than with the old one. As and when I get time to play around further there'll be further changes, just in case you think things look different.

One day (hah!) I'd like to have a go at doing one myself, but that will involve learning CSS and that's a whole new set o'problems. It's been fun to learn as I go along though (and apologies if you've arrived here in the middle of something going horribly wrong for a few minutes). I'd even go as far as to say I've enjoyed this.

How skinny do you want your side order of water, ma'am?

Water is, I think we're all in general agreement, a good thing for our bodies. You don't drink it and you become dehydrated, which leads to a variety of problems. It helps rehydrate and, without getting too technical, helps keep our bodies ticking over. Given that we're largely made of water, drinking a decent amount of water every day is largely considered A Good Thing. There are many things I use water for. Losing weight isn't one of them.

But then I don't drink Skinny Water.

Given that there's not a lot to choose between different bottles of water, other than packaging and price, it's not surprising that the brand marketing people are looking for new angles to sell their water, and we shouldn't begrudge them that. It's their job. But this one really is really something special.

Right now there's somebody, somewhere, laughing all the way to the bank because they've essentially sold ice cubes to a bunch of Eskimos: the idea that you can lose weight by drinking a specific brand of water.

Skinny Water describes itself as "a low-calorie water". Which is impressive as water doesn't actually have any calories. Water's good for many things, but calories aren't one of them.

However, flavoured water does contain calories, and most likely sugar. Skinny Water's website says it has a hint of pomegranate in it, so it's a good bet that there's a bit of sugar and flavourings in here. These may compare well to other flavoured waters on the market but not as well as standard water. Because standard, non-flavoured water has no calories.

It's highly dubious that drinking water, or Skinny Water, will actually make you slimmer. It's not going to hurt to keep yourself well hydrated and to swap your Coca-Cola for a jug of tap water. But just drinking water alone won't change a great deal.

Drinking water, regular exercise and eating a healthy diet are probably your best bets if you want to lose weight. Running's a good start. You can refresh yourself with tap water. And that'll be just as good for you AND will cost less than a bottle of Skinny Water.

But then normal water doesn't have special science behind it, namely a special blend of chromium and L-Carnitine, which Skinny Water has. According to the blurb on the website these "assists natural fat burning and helps reduce sugar cravings".

If Skinny Water contains sugar (and I can't find a list of ingredients on their website) then it's hardly surprising if it reduces sugar cravings.

The fat burning issue is slightly more complex, and sounds impressive but that's about all it is, really. If you click on the Now Magazine coverage in their press section, you'll see that the 'expert view' says Chromium Deficiency can cause poor glucose tolerance, which in turn can lead to obesity.

Except chromium deficiency is incredibly rare. There have been three clear cases (PDF) in hospital patients who were fed a very specific diet over a period of time. Other than that, it's highly unlikely the average person would develop deficiency, although it's possible it may help with type two diabetes and that's still under debate. It does appear as a trace element in the human body and we do need it, although nobody's exactly sure why.

L-Carnitine is used to transport fatty acids when your body breaks down the fats, so yes, it well help. But if you're eating a varied diet you're going to get plenty of it anyway.  Beef, pork, chicken, dairy, and bread all contain L-Carnitine.

But after a certain level of L-Carnitine, it stops being effective and slows down the breakup of fats. So, in basic terms, you'll probably put on weight if you have it in excess as the fats won't get broken down as quickly.

It's also sold as a weight-loss supplement although there's no conclusive evidence that it has any effect in this regard. There's been plenty of studies into L-Carnitine's and athletic performance. Again, there's nothing conclusive to say it has any effect during exercise.

But then it also stops you feeling hungry. In all honesty, if I drank the ten bottles in recommends, I'd probably feel a bit bloated.

The website says there are plenty of scientific studies around L-Carnitine and chromium, which is true. It doesn't say what results these studies came up with. It also says they're FDA approved. Given that neither are going to do you much damage (unless you accidentally take the toxic kind of chromium) that's hardly surprising either. It doesn't make it that special.

Like I say, I've nothing against the marketing people who sell bottled water. It's when you start to move into making some rather ridiculous claims about weight loss that I start getting a bit more irritated.

Somewhere out there there's going to be impressionable teenagers who'll think that because Jennifer Aniston drinks Skinny Water to keep slim, that drinking water will be the way to stay slim. Or there'll be some idiot who'll view it as a way to lose weight.

Yes, if you drink nothing but water, Skinny or otherwise, you'll lose weight. There's also a chance you'll kill yourself.

Water's good for you, yes. But you can rehydrate a lot easier and cheaper than Skinny Water with tap water and the effects will, I'd wager, be roughly the same.

My favourite bit about Skinny Water is the endorsement from pop singer Fergie, from the Black Eyed Peas:

"At the moment I’m drinking Skinny Water. With a name like that it has to be good, right?"

You really wonder why nobody else has cottoned onto this. Just add Skinny to the name and hey-presto, it's good for you, especially the McSkinny Big Mac Burger. Still, if Fergie wants to waste her money on this, that's fine by me.

I'm going to try and make my fortune through a bit of reverse psychology though. I'm calling something Skinny works so well, I'm going to market the Fat Bastard Banana. It's like a normal banana, except we only sell the biggest bananas we can find. It'll be sold to far people who hate diets, so they can scoff bananas in the knowledge that it's sticking one to the system.

(If you're wondering, there's no real reason why I've decided to post this, other than I saw Sian had blogged about it and it got me a bit irritated)

Blog networks not so shiny

Earlier this week online blog network Shiny Media went into administration, which led to Techcrunch to declare the UK's experiment with blog networks were over. That's probably going a bit far, but for all the growth and proliferation of blogging, it's probably never been harder to set up and keep a blog network afloat in this day and age.

A few years back, when The World had generally decided that citizen journalism was definitely going to kill the mainstream media and blogs were the future, somewhere, somehow the misconception arose that blogging was the place to make money.

It was so easy; all you needed were a few clicks of a mouse a nice lick of virtual paint and, hey presto, your blog was up and ready to go, challenge the established order and make money.

Quite.

That really isn't the case, you know. Some blogs do make money, but they're often those who happened to be in the online space first, and were better than their competitors at the time. These blogs have had time to build traction, work on the USP and establish a loyal readership. These blogs didn't just become success stories overnight.

The majority of bloggers I've met largely do what they do for fun, and in their spare time (and a few very professionally done blogs have really surprised me, given the resources they have behind them). A few make a bit of money from blogging, but generally not enough to give up the day job.

One comment on the Paid Content article from Robyn Wilder, one of the brains behind the Domestic Sluttery blog, sums this up neatly:

"Domestic Sluttery was largely set up by the editors as a work of love, and the writers joined in the same spirit. No one is relying on it to provide an income; we may get paid one day but that’s not why we’re doing it."

Domestic Sluttery (while definitely not aiming at me as a target audience) is one of those blogs that could one day make money. It looks good, is well-written, and has a growing readership. But it's definitely not going to provide a living for the editors and writers. Yet. One day, it might be worth a bit, though.

As for making money from blogging, the rates generally tend by be lower than the mainstream press when you compare wordcount, etc.  Certainly a lot less than the NUJ's suggested freelance rate, although that's sometimes not the point. I've taken on some blogging jobs for sheer enjoyment. That said, if I was completely freelance and didn't have a day job, I would be a lot more money-orientated.

But that doesn't mean that a blog network can't be profitable, and I'd tend to agree with Katie Lee - one of Shiny's co-founders (who left the company in February) - that Shiny could (or indeed should) have still been going strong and had the potential to be profitable.

There are significant gaps in the online market still in certain areas. Fill these and you've at least got an audience, although monetising them is another problem.

Firstly, the advertising market was tough enough before the recession. Now, it's trying to climb the cliff it fell off a few months ago, and it's as tough for the mainstream media as it is for online offerings. Bottom line, any blog network today should have an alternative stream of revenue to advertising. Build your business model on advertising and you may as well stick up a For Sale sign over your network.

Running a blog network also takes time, effort and, if you're intending it to be a commercial venture, money. And the more blogs you have, the more time, effort and money it will take up (although I don't know the ins and outs, my suspicion is this is one of the areas where Shiny fell down somewhat). Again, if you're determined to pay your freelancers, the cash has to be coming in from somewhere. Otherwise, it's low rates, or no payment at all.

There will be successes. There will always be successes. But these successes are exceptions to the rule, rather than the rule itself. And for all the supposed last rites of the media industry, mainstream and commercial publications are in a much stronger position than independent networks. And, as the Devil's Kitchen points out, many blogs are dependent on such places for their content.

Come the end of the recession, it will be interesting to see what shape both the traditional and online media companies will be in. I suspect a few more from both will go to the wall, some of them high profile. At the end of it, some blog networks may survive, but these will probably be the ones with very clever sources of income.

It's a shame Shiny Media has ended up where it has today. For a time being, it looked as if it might have been able to hold its own and even surpass traditional media in some areas. But for a variety of reasons, and a few bad decisions, it hasn't.

Hopefully some of it can be salvaged. Some of the individual blogs still lead their field, and will as likely be worth a decent sum. It would be a shame to see the likes of Catwalk Queen and Shiny Shiny disappear completely.

And for all the problems that beset Shiny, it had some damn fine writers working for it, many of whom are now out of work, and that's one of the saddest aspects. So if you happen to be reading this and have any space, please take pity on the ex-Shinies and give them some work.

[Disclosure: I've got to know many of the Shiny editors and writers, past and present, on a professional and personal level, and some are now good friends. Even many of the ex-employees have been caught in the crossfire on this. Hopefully it'll all work out for those affected who I know well.]

Socrates

During the course of the day job, the football blogging, and the twofootedtackle podcast, I've got to know and meet assorted other football bloggers, mostly down the pub. A few of us (namely The Onion Bag, Some People Are On The Pitch, twofootedtackle, and Fantasy Football Agent - I've not done nearly as much as them on this) thought it'd be a good thing to actually get a proper chat and networking event for football bloggers set up, and Socrates is the result of that.

Socrates is a football bloggers event, kindly sponsored by Football3s, on 9th September in Vauxhall. There'll be food, drink and, of course, football.

If you're a football blogger and interested in coming along, email socrates [at] the-onion-bag [dot] com.

The FA: Whatever your level

Deep down, part of me still believes I could have made it as a footballer. Well, if it hadn't been for discovering beer and generally being lazy. And possibly learning how to tackle and head a ball. Minor inconveniences aside, I could have been a contender. Anyway, as part of my non-footballing development I stopped playing around the age of 17 when I went to college. Between then and finishing university, I really didn't play that often, other than the occasional kickabout or turning out as an unfit favour for a mate's team.

Since moving into the world of work, though, I started playing regularly for the 5-a-side team, and haven't stopped since then. I may be in a different city and different job now, but I still make a point of playing every week. Mondays are football nights, and God do I miss them if I'm not playing.

Anyway, the point of this slightly rambling reminiscing brings me to the latest campaign from the FA. Called Whatever Your Level, it's designed to encourage people to carry on playing and enjoy the game whatever your level is.

It's a very smart, slick and engaging video. I was actually asked to pop along and watch it being filmed on Hackney Marshes but sadly wasn't around at the time. My co-host of the twofootedtackle podcast, Chris, did make it down and even landed himself a quick cameo. Lucky git.

There's always a misconception, I find, that the FA is just about top level football, the FA Cup and a few other things. It really isn't - and I've seen for myself in the past their commitment to the sport at its most basic level.

The Whatever Your Level campaign is just as important to the wellbeing of football as the national team. And the FA should be applauded for their efforts here. Playing football once a week has left me fitter, healthier, stronger and even happier then when I wasn't playing. Long may it continue.

Please bear with me, your blog is important to us

Want to know the meaning of sheer blog terror? The knowledge that clicking just one button could make a huge difference to your blog. Or it could destroy it. You wouldn't know until you clicked that button. It was this form of terror I experienced at approximately 8.34pm this evening, while attempting to set up a domain redirect from my old wordpress blog to this place. I'd followed the instructions, but still wasn't entirely sure I'd done everything correctly.

My blog was going to be, essentially, a version of Schrodinger's cat.

*click*

The tension was too much. I sent a couple of emails instead. Then I looked back.

It worked. Thank whichever deity you pray to for that.

So, now I can get back on track. The redirect, to me, was always the most important thing of moving to my new domain. Otherwise, I had two blogs floating on the net, with the old one getting all the links and the traffic.

Now that's done, I can worry about the design (ha! As if I'm going to get that right without breaking something).

Meanwhile, apologies again for waffling on about the maintenance of this place. It's sort of fascinating to me, as, for all the time I've spent on the internet, I've never bothered to learn the technical stuff. Now, I'm realising that I really should have done while I had the opportunity.

Ah well. More terror up ahead.

[Incidentally, for anybody who's looking to redirect their old wordpress.com blog to a new domain built on wordpress.org, this PDF is a Godsend. It's writing for people hosting on GoDaddy, but I use Bluehosts and the method's pretty similar and easy to work out]

Removal van unloaded, now to rearrange the furniture

Congratulations if you found this place. It's kind of a bit new, but in need of some DIY. Yes, after years of blogging on wherever, I finally caved in and got my own domain name. And, er, this is it. It looks exactly like the last one doesn't it.

Essentially, the plan is for this all to change. I've got plans to redesign the theme and split my feeds into at least two different topics, namely football and other stuff. And to make it look pretty.

The downside to this is I've never attempted to design a blog before.

"Get outta town," I hear you say. "You're all over teh internetz like a bad rash. How can YOU not know how to design a website?"

Um, well, I don't. And I can't. Seriously, I've no idea what I'm doing here. Blog designing lessons? CSS editing? Sorry miss, I must have been behind the bike sheds. Or doodling. Yes miss, sorry miss, won't happen again.

But, like any good man with a wanton disregard for instructions I'm going to attempt to do much of the redesign myself. So if you see funny things go on over here you'll know why. And I'll be blogging here from now on. So update your RSS feeds and your bookmarks.

No doubt this will all end in tears and I'll get somebody to do this professionally, but I at least feel I should have a go.

Like I say, tears before bedtime. Have you seen my attempts to put up shelves?

The old ones are the best

Anybody not from Britain looking at the Twitter trending topics today would have probably been baffled to see Mrs Slocombe's Pussy near the top. Thanks to the British sense of humour, the catchphrase from 70s sitcom Are You Being Served was all over the microblogging site in tribute to the death of comic actress Mollie Sugden [1]. Jonathan Ross was one of those responsible for getting the topic to the top of Twitter charts. Sure enough, other countries were a bit puzzled by the trend, so much so that both Techcrunch and Mashable wrote stories complaining that Twitter was getting infected with spam again [2]. They were soon put right in the comments.

I'm not an overly big fan of the show, but this little Twitter trend and the reaction does appeal to my sense of humour. You'd like to think that Mollie Sugden would have found it funny as well. It's a fitting tribute.

But among all this there is a serious point to be made, with regard to the old blogs v journalism arguments. Especially in light of TMZ's Michael Jackson scoop, there seems to be a general reluctance to trust blogs ahead of traditional media, even if the blogs have a long and trusted record. Sadly, this little snippet gives the journalist a nice easy own goal.

As many comments in both articles have said, a very quick bit of research would have shown that this was a genuine trending topic and not a story, bar one of those 'aren't Twitter users funny' filler pieces. As it was, both writers immediately jumped to the conclusion that they had a Twitter spam story on their hands and published, seemingly without any checks or approach for comment. Plenty of ammunition for the blogging naysayers.

[But then again some newspaper journalism can't claim to be a great deal better].

On the other hand, there is a lot to be said here for the fact that both writers visibly corrected their copy very quickly after being called to account, and were prepared to brave the comments. And that's something you cannot imagine the many newspapers doing, period. Plus, it did bring up the small but interesting question of how Twitter blocks certain phrases from trending.

It doesn't excuse the rather sloppy research (and desire to pull out a quick post) in the first place [3]. But it does show how news can be more democratic and accountable, and quickly corrected, and that's got to be a good thing.

[1] For anybody not familiar with the sitcom, it was a running joke where Mrs Slocombe, a very prim and proper lady, would constantly refer to her pet cat in a variety of ways laced with innuendo.

[2] Although it's easy to forget that pussy has much stronger connotations in the US than it does here.

[3] And I'm writing this as both a fan and a regular reader of both blogs. I think they're better than a lot of traditional news sources. But when they do mess up, it's a lot more public.

Michael Jackson, bent spoons and football

Yes, it really has been a fortnight since the last blog post. Apologies - I'm not neglecting this place, it's just the starting a new job thing is obviously taking up a fair bit of my time. Plus it's sunny outside, there were family visits and a day of cricket to be watched as well. None of which make for convenient blogging time. Anyway, in the meantime Michael Jackson passed away. He was actually, for a brief period of time, a director of Exeter City FC. Along with Darth Vader. I really wish I was making this up, but I'm not. I've told the whole bizarre and somewhat depressing tale over at Soccerlens.

Plus, over at twofootedtackle.com, we also did a slimmed down summer podcast. Listen and laugh at our woeful Confederations Cup predictions and marvel that nothing has happened on the transfer front in a week. That's so not news it's almost news.

Franchising and football

I find the whole thing fascinating: how the MLS currently operates, why the MK Dons (aka Franchise FC) are so hated. And the rest. So I did me a Soccerlens post on the subject. The comments are also really interesting and informative, and I inadvertently upset Dagenham fans, which, reading back, is fairly obvious why.

NightJacking anonymity

Earlier today, Mr Justice Eady [1] ruled that the author of the NightJack blog could not stay anonymous. This will probably mean nothing to most people, but could be a significant case law ruling when it coming to blogging and, potentially, whistleblowing. If you've never heard of NightJack, he's a policeman who blogged anonymously and candidly about his job. It was an eye-opener and a great read that made you emphasise with hiss job. The blog won an Orwell Award for the quality of it's writing.

That blog is no more and the author has been disciplined after The Times 'outed' NightJack. One of their reporters worked out the bloggers identity, the blogger took out an injunction, the Times challenged that injunction and today's ruling is the end result. Bloggers cannot expect anonymity.

The Times says of the ruling: "Today newspaper lawyers were celebrating one of the rarer Eady rulings in their favour." I'd beg to differ. It leaves me with a slightly sick feeling in my stomach and a slightly bitter taste in the mouth.

Let's go, if I may, on a slight tangent before getting back to the case in hand. Generally speaking, for both blogging an the internet, I think moving away from anonymity is a good thing. We're moving to an era, especially with social media, where identity is more open and the internet is all the better for it. It cuts down on trolling for a start.

I'm also a big fan of openness and accountability. If somebody asked me about starting a blog, I'd suggest they do it under their own name, or at least made it clear who they were. It clears up any misunderstandings from the off - setting out your stall so people know who you are.

Let's also be clear, when we're talking about anonymity, we're not talking about identities created around blogging here. NightJack was very different to the likes of Devil's Kitchen, Chicken Yoghurt, Doctor Vee, Bloggerheads or many of the other well-known bloggers. They have their online identity which sites alongside their real name. Anybody can find out who they are in a matter of seconds - their pen names are their blogging personas.

Moving onto the judgement, I can see why Mr Justice Eady came to his eventual judgement. It's still a bit of a mess but can be fitted into the letter of the law, by and large (although, and this is one of the wonders of the vagueries of the English legal system, you could easily have seen him ruling the other way).

But the judgement: the reasoning, the logic and the whole lead-up to this just doesn't feel right. As Paul Bradshaw says:

"... this is a ruling that has enormous implications for whistleblowers and people blogging ‘on the ground’. That’s someone else’s ‘public interest’.

And that last element is the saddest for me."

Let's leave aside the judgement itself for a minute (the judge can only really rule what's in front of him) and look to The Times and their role in unmasking NightJack. This is the part that leaves me uneasiest of all.

Their journalist pieced together who NightJack was and then went to publish. And the question I have is why? [2]

NightJack is a public servant, true, but in the grand scheme of things he really isn't that important. Certainly, going to all this effort to unmask him seems a little, well, excessive.

He's a blogger. A well-read blogger, yes, and an award-winning one. But is it really in the public's interest, as opposed to being merely interesting to the public, to know who he is? If he were a Chief Constable, a high-ranking BBC employee, an MP or a civil servant, I could understand this. But a Detective Constable in Lancashire? It's hardly a high-level scoop is it? Or, indeed, a high-profile and significant victory for openness, as they portray the judgement.

[The other thing that sits uneasy with me here is The Times have previous in this area when they unmasked Girl With A One Track Mind for no other reason, seemingly, than they could. That, more than NightJack, seemed like a particularly pointless act for the sake of a story].

Justin McKeating makes a very good point with regard to The Times' victory today: that of anonymous sources for journalists. They may not be bloggers, but you can see where Justin's coming from - the principle is very similar (and apologies for copying a large chunk of his text here, but it helps place his argument in context:

Would I be wrong in thinking that anonymous sources, insiders and friends are conducting the business of democracy in the media with the willing collusion of journalists? If nothing else, it’s in direct contravention of the ‘different type of politics’ promised to us by Gordon Brown – a politics promising a ‘more open and honest dialogue‘.
It would seem to me that some kind of public interest challenge in the courts is in order. Imagine the story in The Times…
Thousands of ’sources’, ‘insiders’ and ‘friends’ churn out opinions daily — secure in the protection afforded to them by the cloak of anonymity lent to them by obsequious journalists.
From today, however, they can no longer be sure that their identity can be kept secret, after a landmark ruling by Mr Justice Eady.
The judge, who is known for establishing case law with his judgments on privacy, has struck a blow in favour of openness, ruling that democracy is “essentially a public rather than a private activity”.
What could be more in the public interest than that?

 

Would I be wrong in thinking that anonymous sources, insiders and friends are conducting the business of democracy in the media with the willing collusion of journalists? If nothing else, it’s in direct contravention of the ‘different type of politics’ promised to us by Gordon Brown – a politics promising a ‘more open and honest dialogue‘.

It would seem to me that some kind of public interest challenge in the courts is in order. Imagine the story in The Times…

Thousands of ’sources’, ‘insiders’ and ‘friends’ churn out opinions daily — secure in the protection afforded to them by the cloak of anonymity lent to them by obsequious journalists.

From today, however, they can no longer be sure that their identity can be kept secret, after a landmark ruling by Mr Justice Eady.

The judge, who is known for establishing case law with his judgments on privacy, has struck a blow in favour of openness, ruling that democracy is “essentially a public rather than a private activity”.

What could be more in the public interest than that?

This comes back to Paul Bradshaw's earlier point about whistleblowers and 'on the ground' bloggers.

When it comes to the majority of bloggers, it probably doesn't matter too much whether they're anonymous or not. It'd be nice if we knew who they were, as I said earlier, but, at the end of the day, most of the time it's not really a huge issue.

But those bloggers who write detailed and informative posts about their profession are much rarer and are worth treasuring. Blogs like NightJack, PC Bloggs, Dr Crippen and The Magistrate's Blogs are essential reads.

They are candid and often eye-opening and enables you to get a better idea of the problems facing our police force, judiciary and NHS. They lift the lid, often a very small lid, on the inner workings of these professions. If anything, they give the public a remarkable insight into the inner workings. And to my mind, this is largely a good thing, as Tom Reynolds points out:

 

"What bloggers do is humanise and explain their section of the world - public sector bodies do well to have bloggers writing within them, after all these are the people who careabout what they do, about what improvements should be made and about where the faults come from. They highlight these things in the hopes that, in bringing this information into the public consciousness, they can effect a change that they would otherwise be powerless to bring about.

Anonymity provides a protection against vindictiveness from management who would rather do nothing than repeat the party-line, or lie, that everything is perfect, there is no cause for concern. Having seen management do, essentially illegal things, in order to persecute and victimise staff - anonymity is a way of protecting your mortgage payments."

 

You can understand why they are anonymous [3]. The blogs probably contravene the terms of their employment. Yet, in their own small ways, they are important for the public to read, more so than the person writing them (in all honesty, the writer of NightJack could have been any Detective Constable). [4]

There are very few bloggers for whom anonymity is a near-necessity, and if it stops others coming forward to give their insights then the internet will be poorer for it. And for what purpose. One article that doesn't really amount to much.

Not everybody will agree with this. David MacLean makes some very good points as to why NightJack shouldn't remain anonymous, although even he calls The Times' decision to publish "a tough one".

In the grand scheme of things, The Times' unmasking story by itself really isn't overly big. The legacy of if could well be.

 

[1] A name familiar to anybody who's studied media law.

[2] Anton Vowl asks the same question.

[3] Not all are. Tom Reynolds from Random Acts of Reality, who has some fairly strong words about this case, and Suzi Brent from Nee Naw are more public examples. But I'd wager they've had some awkward conversations with their line managers at some point.

[4] One of The Times' arguments was NightJack was committing Contempt of Court with his posts, and there is an argument here. Certainly if the blog had collapsed a trial there would be little argument against naming the author. That said, the internet is a hideously grey area when it comes to contempt. A reasonable amount of time on Google would probably produce enough to piece together extra information on any significant trial covered in either the national or local press. You'd probably have to do a fair bit of work to piece together events from a trial and link them back to the blog, and the level of threat the blog posed to a fair trial... possibly minimal. It doesn't make it right, but I'd be surprised if anything NightJack wrote would have led to a trial being abandoned.