“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.

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Okay, so I finally made it to the cinema. I had been looking forward to An Education for months. I had been waiting for Carey Mulligan to be given a film of her own, since her brilliant episode of Doctor Who (Sally Sparrow is my idol) and since she made her much more experienced Pride and Prejudice co-star, Jena Malone look like a sour-faced old scragbag, just by standing next to her.

It is the story of Jenny, a 1960s schoolgirl, stifled by her father’s dreams of Oxford, and saddled with a cumbersome cello and a pretentious personality. That is, until she meets a dashing older man. It should have been the ideal first starring film role for Mulligan. And yet, it just wasn’t.

She wasn’t the only disappointment. Nick Hornby wrote the screenplay, the rest of the cast was made up of British wonders: Emma Thompson, Olivia Williams, Alfred Molina, Rosamund Pike among others, and an American with a peculiar English accent and a handsome face – Peter Sarsgaard – played the male lead. It should have been so good. And yet, it really wasn’t.

How much the script was hindered by the original novel, Lynn Barber’s memoir of the same name, I am not sure, but it fell so flat that the cast couldn’t begin to scrape it off the floor. Not that they tried particularly. Alfred Molina blustered. Olivia Williams needs to remember that drab is not an emotion. And Emma Thompson just wasn’t bothered. She was dry and generally unpleasant, but beyond that, there wasn’t much to be said of her character. Using her name in trailers and then giving her a cameo is a cheap trick. Having said that Rosamund Pike was lovely as the ditsy, glamorous Helen, and the times when she was onscreen were easily the high points.

On the plus side, quite early on in the design process, someone gave the Costume Department a Dorling Kindersley book about 1960s fashion, so they all looked suitably quaint.

The evening gowns were beautiful, and over all what little characterization there was in the film was fleshed out by the costumes. Again Rosamund Pike’s character stood out here, as her carousel of outfits compounded her vapidity, seemingly saying that she is an object of beauty and charm, and blithely asking what’s the harm in that.

While they don’t appear onscreen together, Olivia Williams and Rosamund Pike’s costumes, dressed as the dreary teacher and the gorgeous socialite respectively, added weight to their portrayal as the two opposing female role models in Jenny’s life.

As for Jenny, those who can’t help but hope for a montage, or at the very least some sort of revelatory moment, if a character is made over, will be disappointed. Glamourpuss Jenny’s unveiling was pretty inconsequential, Sarsgaard gasped and off they went. Mulligan did manage to fill her new clothes with teenage arrogance and then shrink within them as her bravado faded at various points throughout the film, but a lot of emphasis was placed on the fact that if you did her eyeliner just so, she looked a bit like Audrey Hepburn.

“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.

“How do I look?”

“Very good… I must say I’m amazed.”

“Magic moment” is an overused expression. I have my doubts about how “magic” a lot of these moments are. Having said that, I would argue that the second when Audrey Hepburn lifts her head to look at George Peppard from under the brim of her hat is magical. See future posts for more Audrey-related fawning.

Needless to say, without the hat it would be nothing. Such is the power of costume. Take James Bond. Anyone who says they believed Daniel Craig would be a good Bond before seeing him in the suit or the Speedos is being smug (and lying).

It might be overstating to say costumes maketh the film, but they definitely do something, and this is my attempt to find out what. Film reviewing by way of clothes, hair, makeup and the suchlike, and reverential gushing about iconic costumes will make up the majority of posts, with a few comments on the state of journalism thrown in to add mystery.

Occasionally there will be pictures if some obliging passerby seems to be channelling a particular character’s look – for that, read ‘obliging friend who lets me dress them up and take their picture’.

Please add if you think of particularly over/under/side to side -whelming costumes, or if you disagree wildly with any aspersions cast…