Hare’s trigger fails to fire on bankers

January 26, 2010

A visit to the theatre last night to see David Hare’s The Power of Yes which examines the causes and exposes the villains of the financial crisis was well timed; banker bashing is in full swing.

Earlier in the day the city minister Lord Myners articulated public outrage at the banks’ failure to act with due penitence after receiving state aid and promised regulatory reform to prevent a similar collapse happening again. Meanwhile, President Obama is squaring up with the titans of Wall Street who have trousered millions in bonuses.

courtesy of Metro newspaper

What was really in those boxes?

The play opens with the narrator – an actor who takes on the role of Author – explaining: “This is not a play. It is a story.” And the story is compelling. The audience learns about the Nobel prize-winning economist who created a formula to remove risk from the market in ‘options’ and the growth of the financial services in the UK to the point where it accounted for 9 per cent of GDP. We learn more about sub-prime, what was really in those boxes being carried by Lehman Brothers’ staff from their offices on the day the firm went bust and how Fred ‘the Shred’ Goodwin was groomed to be nice for a media appearance.

Drawing on interviews from important players in the banking industry who saw the events unwind first hand, the play moves briskly and employing an Author figure to ask the questions the public would want asked is a clever device. The play attempts to provide some answers. The Author as Hare tell us that the current crisis represents the death of an idea and the invalidity of the much-spouted wisdom that capitalism is self-healing and works for the benefit of all members of society. The pay-off lines are left to the George Soros character who says that while the bankers reap the benefits of capitalism they rarely pay the price of failure.

But Hare, perhaps surprisingly for a left-leaning polemicist, seems reluctant to pull the trigger on capitalism. He hesitates to come out and declare greed is not good, instead saying that it is fallible and that it got it badly wrong this time. There is only one short section of the play which offers an insight into how ordinary people are struggling with debt caused by the crisis. As a result, I am afraid the play lacks real emotional punch. I left the theatre with answers but not the anger I expected to come away with.


How many people work here? About half.

January 22, 2010

I was recently asked what I thought the ideal length was for an article on the web. It reminded me of a quip a previous boss would routinely trot out when giving prospective clients the red carpet treatment around our offices. To the question “How many people do you have working for you?” he would casually respond: “Oh, about half of them.” The point of his joke, and one answer to the question, is that efficacy is not a simple numbers game; if an article is good enough it is long enough.

Of course, it is rarely as straightforward as that and a writer for the web needs should be conscious of the way people read online. According to MediaCo’s David Mill most readers ‘skim’ and ‘jump’ online articles, enter via different points in the text, don’t like deep scrolling and find reading on screen more difficult than reading print. The corporate writer needs to be aware of all these considerations and additionally weave a business narrative that draws in and engages with a reader who is “already 10 minutes late for my next appointment, so if you could kindly get on with it and tell me what your point is…” Well, you get the idea.
It is a truism that writing for the web and for print is different. Michael Kinsley, reflecting on the differences in The Atlantic, argues that one reason seekers of news are abandoning the printed word in favour of the internet is not the convenience of technology but is a consequence of style. Printed news is, he says, too long and is filled with unnecessary verbiage, opinion and scene setting that correspond with a series of outmoded conventions that are “traditional, even mandatory”. These conventions have implications for online writers (avoid them at all costs) and publishers who when they recycle long articles from print to the web may be improving their bottom line but are doing very little for user readability. And when web publishing begins to resemble a Ford production line – you can have any sort of news you want so long as it’s cut a paste job from our morning edition – readers can rightly feel short changed.

It is impossible to talk about writing for the web without also considering how technology is challenging and shaping readers’ expectations. (And than you to those Twitter-conditioned readers who would normally drift away after 140 characters but have generously stuck with me this far). The launch this year of next-generation mobile communication devices, including the new Google phone and Apple’s keenly-anticipated iTablet, could change the rules again for how we want to receive and view news.

Emily Bell, writing in the MediaGuardian, says the emergence of such technologies could move us so far away from the page-centric world we grew up reading and writing for that “it raises the question of how long it will be before even the concept of a website becomes old hat”. Writers will need to acknowledge and adapt to these innovations so they have the answer to the next big question, whatever it is.

Applying some positive thinking

January 15, 2010

It is better to light a candle than curse the dark. If living proof were needed of the truth of this paean to positivity then it is Justin Brown a radio DJ from New Zealand.

Initially angry after losing his job of 10 years hosting a breakfast show, Justin considered creating a website called My Boss Made Me Redundant. Instead he created one called http://www.wehaventlaidanyoneoff.com/ to highlight how featured companies had toughed out the recession and managed to keep a full workforce. He calls these companies The Good Guys and gives each a space on the site to explain how they did it.

The stated purpose of the site is to brainstorm options and solutions that could be applied by other firms and organisations faced with having to make staff cuts. The sites creator admits he has come in for criticism from a number of employers who feel he doesn’t understand the economic realities facing companies today, but he says most people understand his message is a hopeful one.

He says: “Although the site hasn’t set the world on fire, it has spread the word, started a healthy debate, challenged thinking, changed a few attitudes, and, I hope, cheered a few people up.”

Someone who seems to need very little cheering up these days is the perma-grinning former UK Prime Minister Tony Blair who is apparently in discussions to become an advisor to the high-end French handbag retailer Louis Vuitton.

Tony Blair on holiday

Mr Blair relaxing on holiday

On first reading this I questioned Mr Blair’s credentials to work in the world of fashion. Yes, he experimented with Nicole Farhi casual knitwear and turned an eye in his silk-lined Paul Smith suits, but there were some fashion howlers too, including those floral swimming trunks (see right).

But on reflection his oleaginous charms will serve him well in his ambassadorial role, working closely with the CEO of LVMH Group Bernard Arnault – the two men have been close acquaintances for several years – and “attracting new clients”, a role that presumably requires him to glad-hand major investors rather than flog luxury leather goods in person.

We should also be reassured that despite attracting a reported six figure sum, it will only be a part-time role, giving Mr Blair plenty of time to pursue his other consultancies with JP Morgan and Zurich Financial, fulfilling his lucrative speaking engagements and working with governments to promote trade through his company Tony Blair Associates.

In fact, so numerous are Mr Blair’s commercial activities that one is left thinking that if he only stepped back from just a few and allowed others to take his place, he could solve the global jobless crisis overnight. It gives me an idea to create a website to promote my idea. I might call it www.giveusajobtony.com. Let us all apply some positive thinking and it might just happen.