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In the 14th century, Chaucer’s pilgrims made the long trip to Canterbury, and needed a good story to pay their way. In the 21st, pilgrims make their way to Cardiff and all you need is a fiver for the Severn Bridge.

This winter, Cardiff-vision has returned to our screens, as the third and final series of Gavin and Stacey airs and David Tennant’s much-anticipated but bittersweet Doctor Who Christmas specials are finally broadcast.

Four years ago, the tardis, with the Doctor safely inside, rematerialised on our television screens, and from that moment on, the world’s eyes have been trained on Cardiff, whether they could recognise it or not. Since then, fans have stormed the capital, trying to get glimpses of the Doctor at work. But what effect has this had on the city? Will people really wait around for hours to see the cast for a few minutes? It would seem so. Sarah Thomas, from the Doctor Who Up Close Exhibition in Cardiff Bay, explained, “Here fans just turn up and want to watch and the actors welcome it.”

With filming locations in Llandaff, Cardiff Bay, and  Bute Park, there are plenty of places for Doctor-philes  to shuffle their feet and wait for the action to unfold.  Even the most observant of fans would be hard-pushed to recognise some of the locations used  though, as the designers transform the area into an  ice planet, a biosphere on Mars, or even 17th century  London. Which is why BBC Wales are doing their  best to ensure people know that Cardiff is the  backdrop to the majority of Doctor Who episodes,  with tie-in programmes like Doctor Who  Confidential, which features location managers explaining how they created the mind-blowing scenery for each episode.

The Red Dragon Centre in Cardiff Bay is a showcase of all things Doctor Who, be it costumes, life-size replicas, or the All-New Dalek Encounter. Looking around the exhibition, it becomes obvious why people are drawn in by the fantastic stories and meticulously crafted props and costumes.

Cardiff and Co, the agency in charge of marketing the city of Cardiff, have been quick to capitalise on this craze, and a senior spokesperson from the company said, “We market strongly on the basis of Doctor Who being one of the elements of the city that is of interest to people.”

The savvy people at the Park Plaza Hotel were the first to offer a Doctor Who package, which promises a weekend of tardis-related fun, and other Cardiff hotels quickly followed suit.

And, while Doctor Who was busy setting up its exhibition, and Torchwood was gathering momentum, two unknown writers were putting together a story about a boy from Essex and a girl from Barry. When James Corden and Ruth Jones came to filming their Gavin and Stacey, they chose to shoot on location in Cardiff’s Barry. Fans of the show will be disappointed to hear though, that the lovers are not all that star-crossed, as the long-distance relationship between Billericay and Barry, is actually between Cardiff and Barry, as the producers found a suitably English-looking house for the Shipmans in a village just outside Cardiff.

Cardiff Council and residents alike have taken to the steady stream of visitors, and one resident in particular has to deal with it more than most. Glenda Kenyon doesn’t just live in a small house on a steep hill in Barry, she lives in Stacey’s house. From the very first time Gavin made the long trip down the M4, Kenyon has been inundated with Gavin and Stacey pilgrims. And with Media Guardian counting six million viewers for the episode screened on 10 December, there are plenty more to come. Sarah Thomas, Doctor Who Up Close’s resident expert on all things BBC Wales attributes the move towards Cardiff as the media capital of the future, to the attitude of the council and the fans: “the council have gone all out to say they’ll accommodate anything that producers want. And the people here leave them alone, there’s not really that distraction like in London where people get mobbed all day.”

And now, after 20 years of rescuing the extras of Bristol from destitution and falls from cliffs, the Casualty team is moving to Cardiff. As of 2011, the sirens will be ringing through the streets of the Welsh capital, as cameramen from various crews try desperately not to cross beams. It would seem that Bristol is fast being overtaken by Cardiff as the media location of the UK. Cardiff and Co said, “Having the BBC bring something as large and prestigious as Casualty to the area confirmed really that Cardiff’s moving forward as a media centre.”

Doctor Who is still the big draw though, as people come from all corners of the world to see where he has been doing battle. Jackie Jones, manager of Doctor Who Up Close says, “we get all sorts at the exhibition, from all over the world. We were only meant to be here for three months and we’ve been here four years.”

With more and more filming going on in Cardiff, and Hollywood blockbusters like Sherlock Holmes and the new Robin Hood being filmed here, Cardiff will be full of fans waving autograph books and location maps for the foreseeable future.


Hmm, paywalls. It doesn’t sound good, does it?

It is very easy to be cynical and say that Rupe has had an epiphany and decided he likes money and would quite enjoy a bit more, but there’s more to it than that. Honest. Something has to be done, or the news business will fall apart. More newspapers will close, quality will freefall, and streets will be lined with shivering old hacks, reminiscing about the good old days of long lunches and bylines (see IMDB for details of The Day After Tomorrow 2: The Decline of the Newspapers.)

Anyway, for a long time, people could be as click-happy as they wanted, and everyone enjoyed it, flitting around, aggregating, searching, taking the news for granted. It was all going so well, and then a billion or so users had to go and ruin it for everyone else. They stopped buying papers. They didn’t get their copy of The Times in the morning and then go online in the afternoon to check up on the stories they had read. No. They left their house, they got on the tube (without a paper), picked up an abandoned copy of Metro, read it and pretended to be outraged by the standard of free newspapers today, got off the train, bought coffee (without a paper), got to their desk and read the news online (without a paper). You see the problem.

And so, Rupert the Conqueror stamped his feet and blamed Google, and has flexed his muscles with a few regionals, but where to now? The constant pushing of Times+ over the last year or so was already starting to make people feel uneasy. It somehow didn’t fit with Sunday supplements and boiled eggs at the breakfast table. Much too “If you like to read the Sunday supplements at the breakfast table while eating boiled eggs, you’ll love Times+… Now, give us some dosh.” Much too Murdoch. So how will people feel when he barricades his content in with paywalls and glitch-ridden payment systems?

He had better be extremely sure that the content he is squirreling away behind these walls is more than worth what he’s charging, otherwise the whole venture’s doomed. Former FT and New Statesman editor, Ian Hargreaves recently told us that he believes people will only pay for something they want but they can’t get free.

The problem here though, is Sponge and Spiker all over again. When James dropped the magic bag and the peach grew, Aunts Sponge and Spiker put up a fence and charged people admission to see it. Some people paid. Some people stood on the wrong side of the fence, were savvy enough to realise they could see a pretty sizable piece of fruit perfectly well from there, and went on their way. It has to be all or nothing with paywalls (and peachwalls). If there are still news providers out there refusing to put up paywalls, which there will be if The Guardian sticks to its guns, then a lot of people will go to them instead.

“Ask someone who knows more than you”

Joanna Geary came to see us last week. As Web Development Editor for the Business section of Times Online she slotted quite nicely into the series of lectures we have had on the hows, whys and wherefores of online journalism: How do we become the kings and queens of Twitter? Why would anyone bother paying us when there are people willing to tell the news for free online? Wherefore…? No-one says wherefore anymore.

She started off by telling us how she got where she is today, which was encouraging inasmuch as she seems to have made some fairly crucial career decisions sitting on her bedroom floor, and she’s done pretty well. Strike that, she’s done amazingly well. She single-handedly brought the Birmingham Post into the blogging world, and set them up a blogging network in about two weeks to boot. And now, she is sitting in the middle of the paywall dispute, avoiding questions about it from trainee journalists with great cunning.

Rather than bask in the glory of all this though, she was keen to put forward one key bit of advice, which sort of sums up the online world: Ask someone who knows more than you.

This seems to have been her career/life mantra, and she maintained it has served her well. If you look at your Twitter homepage, there are bound to be at least a few tweets starting, “Does anyone know…” or “Can anyone help…”. The responses may not be one hundred per cent reliable, but they will be there – people can’t help but offer what they know. Forums, blogs, social networking allow you to pick the brain of the man in Finland who has spent his life studying 17th Century basketweaving, the Brazilian woman who can explain climate change in 140 characters, and the 12 year-old boy in France who terrifyingly knows more about technology than you ever will.

Sorry? You don’t know them? Bad luck, they’re ace.

“I was going to tell you something today but I can’t”… “Why not?”… “Can’t say.”… “What was it?”… “Can’t tell you.”… “Who says?”… “Umm, no one.”

If we weren’t all already quaking with fear and admiration at the power of social media, UGC, and online journalism (not to mention that of a journalist scorned), surely the Trafigura situation is enough to convince even the most obstinate fence-sitters.

When The Guardian got toxic wind of Trafigura’s dealings in the Cote d’Ivoire, they dutifully checked their facts and wrote it up, only to find that Carter Ruck had used their legal mumbo jumbo to secure a superinjunction for Trafigura. So this pants-over-the-trousers injunction tied the hands and sellotaped the mouth of the Guardian journalists. To flog an already flagging metaphor, it didn’t quite manage to mitten their fingers, and full of indignation and pent-up free speech, they put as much as they could on Twitter and let the masses do what they could not. Some clever Sherlock found the questions and the whole thing unravelled. Bad luck, Carter Ruck.

While the Trafigura debacle had some wildly serious implications in terms of freedom of expression and legal intervention in the media, there was something a little bit playground about the whole thing. Ask anyone who survived school and they will surely tell you that it doesn’t take much to start a round of Chinese Whispers, and stamping your feet and demanding that everyone stop playing does not work.

Trafigura and Carter Ruck cordoned off a nice big area, put up some flashing lights, then gagged some journalists and left them trussed up outside, holding signs saying “There’s definitely in no way not at all not even a little bit something shady happening here.” Hardly surprising one or two (trillion) passers-by stopped to see what was going on.

The writers who banded together to create the 17-point guide to the successful future of the internet, The Internet Manifesto, obviously care a great deal about their cause, but their enthusiasm rather outweighs their innovation. While they should definitely be praised for trying to help people navigate the internet, I’m not sure that they are actually saying anything that useful.

I agree with much of what they say, but as Alison Gow says on her blog Headlines and Deadlines, you’d be hard pushed to find anyone reading an article about online journalism published online who isn’t in favour of online journalism. Gow’s response seems the more useful comment on online journalism, as it actually applies it to the newsroom, but again more useful is not the same as new and groundbreaking. As a trainee journalist, it is encouraging that Gow is reiterating the things we know about willingness to learn and awareness of technology, but a lot of discussion about online journalism seems to be just that; reiteration and repetition. I think one of the most compelling points in Gow’s post is her promise not to “try to reinvent the wheel here”.  Truly, I don’t mean that to sound flippant, as she has identified there the problem that the contributors to this discussion have. It is starting to feel like writing about the online revolution/reinvention/evolution is tantamount to putting an ‘x’ next to the ‘Yes’ box, and not commenting is the opposite.  It is not laziness that has stopped me quoting heavily from the two articles in question (honestly), it is more that chances are that anyone reading a post about online journalism will already know much of what was said – or know how to use a link to find it. Yes, journalists are no longer “gate-keepers”, yes, technophobia is no longer an option, yes, the audience is now only “formerly known” as such.

One thing that I do think warrants mention is the Manifesto-creating contributors’ tenth point “Today’s freedom of the press means freedom of opinion.” Accepting, with or without grimace, that an online journalist is “anyone who can contribute to the fulfillment of journalistic duties” is one thing, but it seems willfully naïve to suggest that this could not be exploited.  While the argument that “no differentiation should be made between paid and unpaid journalism, but rather, between good and poor journalism” works to an extent in terms of quality, it does little to address issues of bias, bigotry and partiality.  The writers of the Manifesto seem to suggest that if something is the only concern about online writing is whether or not it is well-written.

The faith they have in online users is integral to their vision for the exchange and absorption of information on the internet, but often it isn’t ignorance or unwillingness that leads people into traps of bias or inaccuracy on the internet. Even the most savvy online recipient has lobbed something into a search engine, clicked on the first sensible-looking site and taken the answer offered.

A good writer can easily use their inherent skill to mask any number of dubious views and malevolent messages. I am not suggesting that freedom of expression is a bad thing, but neither is having trusted, accepted journalists and news organizations, such as the BBC, who can be looked to for unbiased (as far as is possible in the media) and accurate information. If that harks back to the obviously long-gone days of “Gate-keeping” then I apologise for being old-fashioned, but before I get drummed out of the business, remember you are reading this online, so I can’t be that behind the times.