When’s best for you?

October 29, 2009

Beginning or the end of the day? Over lunch or short and sharp with a coffee? The question is what is the optimum time for a work meeting? And the answer, a new study reveals, is 3pm on Tuesday.

This time is considered a diary “sweet spot” when employees are available, motivated and feeling engaged.

Most people don’t like early Mondays for meetings – this is a time for checking emails and girding oneself for the week ahead. And late in the day and the end of the week is a no, no as employees are beginning to clock watch or already planning their weekends.

Surprisingly perhaps the survey by the online scheduling service When Is Good showed that people were prepared to work over lunch, but availability peaks at 3pm.

Choosing the ‘ideal’ time for a meeting might seem like an unfamiliar luxury to time-starved managers who wish that the great creator had included more hours and days in Microsoft Outlook.

However, beware meetings for their own sake: “A meeting is an event where minutes are taken and hours wasted.”


A strange and troubling article

October 22, 2009

The writer and broadcaster Ludovic Kennedy died this week aged 89. An indefatigable opponent of capital punishment and a tireless campaigner for justice, he is credited with helping to end the death penalty in Britain in 1965 and for supporting the creation of a body which would review miscarriages of justice. More than 40 years after Kennedy wrote a play about the wrongful hanging of Derek Bentley for the murder of a policeman committed by his accomplice Christopher Craig and his book 10 Rillington Place campaigned for a posthumous pardon for Timothy Evans hanged for the murder of his child, the Criminal Cases Review Commission was created to bring justice to those that have been wrongly convicted.

Reading obituaries of Kennedy, you get a powerful sense of a man who was driven by a passionate belief in justice for all and determined to challenge authorities in the pursuit of truth.

I cannot help comparing those ideals and belief system with those of so much modern journalism. Jan Moir writing in the Daily Mail has been roundly condemned following her article “A strange, lonely and troubling death . . .” about the death of Boyzone singer Stephen Gately, both for the insensitive timing of the piece and its implied criticism of the singer’s lifestyle. Putting to one side the rights and wrongs of such an intrusion into private grief (our obsession with celebrity culture means that particular courtesy is now rarely if ever afforded), Moir will argue that it is a journalist’s right even duty to ask the difficult questions to establish the truth. She would be correct to do so. But where she got it so badly wrong this time was to apply innuendo and presumption to create her own version of the truth which she dressed with highly loaded and crude language (“once again, under the carapace of glittering, hedonistic celebrity, the ooze of a very different and more dangerous lifestyle has seeped out for all to see.”) It is the job of the journalist to establish truth not invent it.

I can’t help but wonder what Kennedy would have made of the Moir row.

Searching for the truth about WMD

October 21, 2009

Yesterday I attended a screening of a film tracing the build up to the war in Iraq and the gathering of flawed intelligence by US and British security services to justify the invasion. The director of wmd. David Holroyd pieced together “real” CCTV and surveillance camera footage to tell the story of an MI6 desk officer who stumbles across the forged documents and phoney dossiers used by the Bush-Blair administrations to build the case for war.

Holroyd described the independently made movie as “a fictional account inspired by real events” and while audiences may have concerns that the filmmakers take too many liberties with the line between fact and fiction as they plot a dramatic narrative, particularly at the denouement of the film, the subject matter is timely given the launch of the Iraq Inquiry chaired by Sir John Chilcot. “In times of universal deceit, telling the truth becomes a revolutionary act,” says Holroyd, quoting George Orwell.

The film is also intended as a salutary reminder of the intrusive nature of the spying state and the ubiquitousness of surveillance cameras in modern Britain. The film has a limited release but is available to buy or download.

Falling Standards?

October 14, 2009

The publication beginning this week of the London Evening Standard as a free newspaper took many media watchers by surprise. Roy Greenslade who writes for the paper said he was “shocked and disappointed” by the news when the story first broke.

Critics of freesheets, including Greenslade himself, maintain that they undermine good journalism. They are, so the argument goes, little more than vehicles for advertising bulked out with editorial puff. Writing in his blog, he said he could only reconcile himself with the Standard’s decision by understanding that the paper had no other option.   Editor Geordie Greig may choose to describe the step as a “pioneering and exciting development”, but the reality of dwindling sales (443,000 in July 2000 to 127,000 this July) and consequently falling advertising revenue imperilled its existence. The aim now is to ramp up daily circulation to 600,000, delivering quality content targeted at prosperous Londoners aged 24 to 44.

Desperate times, extreme remedies. In the US, the Ann Arbor News which has printed a daily paper for the Michigan town since 1835 has closed its offices and is now producing a twice-weekly online version. And over the past 18 months, 12 US cities have lost their dailies as advertisers move online to engage with audiences that have little or no affinity with traditional newspapers.

What does all this mean for readers? Does the freesheet and the switch to providing content online signal the end of serious journalism?

The newspaperman in me is concerned. I have seen close up what advertising-led local newspapers look like and how they are operated. You only need to visit the offices of a local newspaper and see whose car park spaces are nearest the front entrance to understand which part of the dog is wagging. The veteran editor Sir Harold Evans is more optimistic believing that provincial dailies are still capable of having an important campaigning role and “some of them may be some of the best answers for the crises in the press.”

Sir Harold, I hope you are right. But as I look at today’s newspapers, the fact is that it was not a campaigning newspaper or any news organisation that was responsible for the collapse of an injunction preventing reporting of the alleged dumping of toxic waste in the Ivory Coast, it was Twitter users and social networking sites. Journalism’s centre of gravity of is shifting; where it will stop, no one knows.

James and his giant speech – the future of UK media

October 7, 2009

“People consume content in a very fluid way, and that is reflected in the way we provide it. What were once separate forms of communication, or separate media, are now increasingly interconnected and exchangeable. So we no longer have a TV market, a newspaper market, a publishing market. We have, indisputably, an all-media market.”

So said James Murdoch in his recent MacTaggart Lecture at the Edinburgh International Television Festival.

This tumultuous synthesis of content, he argued, should in theory produce “a dynamic, exciting and thriving” media sector. But modern media, particularly the UK broadcasting sector, was fettered by regulation and constrained by reactionary thinking – a kind of “media creationism”. He decried the rule makers, such as Ofcom, that control content, impose heavy regulations on advertising and impose their own version of freedom of speech on broadcasters.

Murdoch then backed his ideological trebuchet against the walls of the BBC to toss over a series of verbal rotten cabbages: the broadcaster was indulging in a media land grab, killing off competition and undermining journalistic independence. All of this was effectively bankrolled by the state and presided over by an impotent governing body, the BBC Trust.

And sounding like a Gordon Gekko throwback he concluded: “The only reliable, durable, and perpetual guarantor of independence is profit.”

This final dictum is a ballsy call given that the profit motive is in seriously bad odour at the moment and its very unclear whether markets, financial, media or otherwise are capable of self healing. But my real issue with the argument of Murdoch, son of the media mogul and News Corporation’s chairman and chief executive in Europe and Asia, concerns his comments about the position of the customer in all of this.

He says that in the regulated world of public service broadcasting the customer is a passive creature, whose needs are served by a kind of benign dictator. In the ‘real’ world, including pay television and newspapers, the customer chooses what they want and gets what they pay for. “And because they have power they are treated with great seriousness and respect,” he says.

At this late stage let me declare a personal interest. For more than a month since moving house I have been attempting to have Sky broadband installed at my new address. The whole experience is too painful and dull to relay in detail, but suffice to say that after literally hours spent on the phone re-explaining my request to a series of customer service advisers, Sky were unable to provide the service and I have moved to another provider. Google ‘Sky complaints’ and you will see my case is very far from unique.

I will watch the media debate unfold with great interest and while I cannot pretend to know the outcome, I am certain I shall not being doing so via a Sky provided service. Seriousness and respect is a nice soundbite, but where’s the customer service? This is one punter that’s voting with his monthly direct debit.