Archive for the ‘the guardian’ Tag
I was in Rottingdean the other day with the Enfants Terribles when we passed a small shop called Serendipity. I asked them whether they knew what it meant and I ended up explaining it in terms of the Google ‘I’m Feeling Lucky’ button (which I have to admit I’ve never quite got and always struck me as a bit of a lack of imagination on the part of the presser – it really isn’t difficult in the era of the Web to go on your own random or serendipitous journey).
The Wikipedia entry for Serendipity (which Google freakily informs me Aleks Krotoski shared on tumblr.com on 29 Apr 2011, Aleks having appeared at The Story #1 in February 2010) is one of its more charming entries:
“Serendipity means a “happy accident” or “pleasant surprise”; specifically, the accident of finding something good or useful without looking for it. The word has been voted one of the ten English words hardest to translate in June 2004 by a British translation company. [prime wikispam] However, due to its sociological use, the word has been exported into many other languages. Julius H. Comroe once described serendipity as : to look for a needle in a haystack and get out of it with the farmer’s daughter.”
Meanwhile, over on the other side of Brighton… towards Hove/Portslade my former colleague at Channel 4, Matt Locke, was busy putting the finishing touches to his The Story conference, like the programme for the day which was etched into bars of dark chocolate. When Matt started this one day gathering in 2010 it was a labour of love alongside his day job at C4. I thoroughly enjoyed that first iteration and recorded 4 things I learned from it on Simple Pleasures part 4. It’s interesting looking back at that entry today: the first thing I learnt was:
1) The best conferences (like this one) have only two outputs – Inspiration and catalysing Connections between people.
The same held good for #2 last year featuring the likes of a controversial Adam Curtis, writer Graham Linehan and photographer Martin Parr. I think I was too indolent to write up last year’s.
Connections, inspiration and creativity are the meat and two veg of this blog and what the Web is wonderful at catalysing. Straight after exiting Conway Hall yesterday I met up with Karyn Reeves who was waiting just outside, a statistician from Perth, Australia who specialises in analysing mathematical patterns around AIDS infection. Karyn is only the second person I’ve met in real life through having made contact online. The first was Sandra, a street art aficionado from Jaffa. Karyn writes a lovely blog about vintage Penguin books, which she collects and reads weekly, and I came across her in the wake of reading an old Penguin I picked up at random in my local bookshop, Black Gull, about the trial of Roger Casement. By chance Casement’s defence lawyer, I read, had his chambers at 4 Raymond Buildings from where my best friend now operates. What a tangled Web we weave. So Karyn and I headed back from The Story 3 to Black Gull where she picked up a few more P-p-p-enguins.
Meanwhile back at the start of the day… Meg Pickard of The Guardian, with whom I got into a lively online discussion at one of the earlier two The Story s about where The Guardian should gather their user-generated photos of Antony Gormley’s One and Other (which we were discussing here and he was explaining here), kicked off the proceedings with a quick update from The Ministry of Stories, the excellent local children’s literacy project based in a Monsters Supplies shop in Hoxton and championed by the likes of Nick Hornby. Part of the ticket price for The Story goes to the now thriving, volunteer-driven project. It’s great to see such a thing burgeoning in Hoxton – when I was a teenager my step-dad would drive me past there on the way to Petticoat Lane where I worked on the market stall outside his shop, he’d point past some grim Victorian estate and say ” ‘Oxton, arse-hole of the universe, never go there, son.” How it has come on over the years…
Next up was Matt Sheret of LastFM in discussion with producer Simon Thornton of Fat Boy Slim fame about telling stories through the album form. Simon was the fella behind the brilliant remix of Brimful of Asha (way better than the original) as well as the marvelous Turn On Tune In Cop Out by Freakpower. The whole debate about the patterns of music consumption in the Web/On Demand age and the relationship between albums and single tracks is a fascinating one still, and particularly for me at the moment as I’m working on a development to do with a classic album with Bob Geldof’s gang at Ten Alps and Universal Music, very much shaped around a carefully constructed sequence of 9 great songs which may or may not now be a thing of the past (I take Simon’s side, but I would wouldn’t I).
At this point Channel 4 wove back in in the form of artist Jeremy Deller, currently setting up his one-man show at the Hayward on the South Bank and the prime mover of Artangel’s The Battle of Orgreave, commissioned and funded by C4. He sees the ’84-’85 miners’ strike as a critical moment in British history (it gets its own room in his soon-to-open retrospective) and that programme/artistic re-enactment as a way of “exhuming a corpse to give it a proper post-mortem”. He spoke about how everyone of our generation remembers where they were when the miners took on ‘The Iron Lady’ (in spite of the fact I’d voted for her [Streep not Thatch] Meryl Streep’s apology [in the Miltonian sense of explanation/justification] for the strange politics of that movie at the BAFTAs the other night is still bugging me) – my other half was up in Ayrshire making her graduation film about the miners’ wives with a dodgy old University of Ulster camera, while I was visiting my oldest friend at Baliol where a furious debate about how to support the strike was erupting in their common room, featuring toffs in donkey jackets as well as more grown-up, committed people than me, who was still relying on the likes of Joe Strummer and Elvis Costello to give me some political insight). Deller’s still- image only presentation was one of the highlights of the day for me, centred on one iconic photograph of a miner father and his glam rock showbiz son.
Next up, blogger Liz Henry who told the fascinating story of A Gay Girl in Damascus, a murky tale of hoaxing and fictional blogging (an area I find fascinating as an emerging writing form and which formed a substantial part of the now traditional annual Story lunch with Tim Wright and Rob Bevan, the former in particular much interested in this territory [and the person who taught me the value of the image-only presentation when I helped host the launch of his outstanding In Search of Oldton project at Channel 4 HQ a few years ago]). I learnt a lovely new word too ‘Sockpuppeting’ – to comment on your own blog both positively and negatively as a way of stimulating interest/activity. One of the interesting facts that emerged was that The Guardian published the initial story without establishing proper (off-line) sources based on people who had actually met the Gay Girl in question in real life (shades of Karyn above and Tom/Emily below).
Late on Thursday afternoon, the eve of The Story, I met for the first time Anthony Owen, Head of Magic (arguably the best job-title in the business) at Objective TV, home of Derren Brown. We were kicking off a project to do with consumerism. Lo and behold within 18 hours he’s up on stage before me doing a magic trick and explaining the role of narrative within that art/entertainment form. Particularly interesting for me as the youngest Enfant Terrible has recently become obsessed with performing magic, daily learning tricks off of YouTube and practising them with his chums over Skype (before posting them back on YouTube and Facebook). Anthony singled out the quality of encapsulating “something we’d love to have happen” (e.g. being psychic, becoming immortal, etc.) as the defining characteristic of a great trick – so sawing a woman in half only to reunite the two still living ends is a story about immortality which also has the key quality of being sum-upable in a sentence.
Coincidence and serendipity came to the fore again in the afternoon when Emily Bell, formerly of The Guardian online and now teaching at Columbia (who I first had the pleasure of hanging out with on the panel of judges she lead at The Guardian Student Journalism Awards a few years ago, in The Ivy so clearly a former era) interviewed Tom Watson MP about the phone-hacking scandal whilst: Meanwhile across town… in Wapping Rupert Murdoch was entering the newsroom of the Currant Bun and sticking two Aussie fingers up at the British establishment and public, who momentarily humiliated him last summer, by announcing the impending launch of The Sun on Sunday. The audience was riveted by the recounting of events from both the MP and Guardian perspectives, and the interview typified the rich and perfectly balanced mix of contributions making up the day’s programme. Watson predicted that there was a massive PC/Data hacking dimension to the scandal still to break.
Vying with Deller for highlight of the day was Scott Burnham. The last time I met Scott was in the back of a Nissan Cube in which he was filming me spouting on about why I love London. At this year’s The Story he spoke vibrantly about design in the city and urban play through a classic tale of 7 Coins, the last vestiges of a beautiful public art project in Amsterdam. He told of the construction of a Stefan Sagmeister piece made up of 250,000 one cent pieces and its subsequent thoughtless destruction by dumb cops who were trying to protect the raw cash (still held as evidence in the police station). His conclusion was that we’ll always have Paris… I mean, we’ll always have Amsterdam… he means, we always have the story if not the creation itself. He took the 7 coins, painted blue on one side, out of his pocket to show me and the Royal College of Art’s Bronac Ferran as we chatted outside the hall during the tea break.
Also up in contention as a highlight was artist Ellie Harrison, author of Confessions of a Recovering Data Collector. She started her work focused on gathering everyday data on her life or ‘life tracking’ at Nottingham Trent university art school and then later at Glasgow School of Art (where our host Matt once studied). An early such work was ‘Eat 22′ in which she recorded everything she ate for a year in 1,560 photos. At the start of her talk she positioned herself firmly as a Thatcher’s Child (a resonant link back to Deller’s earlier session) and was sporting a Bring Back British Rail T-shirt (a campaign she champions, also resonant as my aforementioned best-friend above worked on that Kafkaesque privitisation). So food and beyond, Ellie’s obsession and the thread through her work seems to be with Consumption – she spoke about her development with great humour and insight (including into her own compulsions). From ‘Eat 22′ she went on to record all her everyday actions in a spreadsheet, in turn converted to colour-coded graphs, which is when the addiction kicked in. I was sitting in a brainstorm at an indie production company a couple of weeks ago discussing mental health and happiness when a colleague I have know a long time revealed he’s been keeping a numerical record of his mood on a precise scale of 1 to 100 every day for well over a decade, with the last five years available likewise in Excel form. So art/fiction are no stranger than life.
Preloaded I have known since they were born, as I worked with founder Paul Canty, as well as Rob Bevan and Tim Wright, on a game called MindGym way back when. Paul’s colleague, Phil Stuart, and writer Tom Chatfield talked us through the game of self-discovery, death and philosophy they made for Channel 4 Education – The End. This rounded off a fine day, alongside Karen Lubbock and Jeremy Leslie on mags and Karen magazine in paricular, ‘a magazine made out of the ordinary’, and a lively turn from Danny O’Brien on josticks, hacking, anarchy and the universe. And where can you go from there…
Really enjoying working on this new project (Phase 1 launched yesterday, main site launches 13th September at http://www.4thought.tv) First C4 programme to have URL as a title. It was great to read this initial reaction in The Guardian as they clearly get the idea…
Channel 4 rescues the God slot
The new Channel 4 series of religious and ethical meditations breathes life into a stale format
If last night’s 4thought.tv is indicative of things to come, then there might yet be some hope for the God slots.
The new series of short films to be screened after Channel 4 News feature a single speaker who reflects on religious and ethical issues or aspects of their spiritual lives from their personal experience. Nothing particularly new there is would seem. But despite being considerably shorter, and generally more spacious with its script, it looks like being a lot grittier and down to earth than the platitudes which emerge during other pauses for thought such as Radio 4′s Thought for the Day.
The first offering to kick off the series was by Dr Gill Hicks, who lost her legs in the 7 July London bombings. In just a few powerful sentences, she reflected on her experience of God through those who helped her, but also the choice she felt she faced between life and death.
Usually God contributions are the preserve of the identifiably religious. Clergy, theologians, even thinktankers have been chosen as religious
“representatives”. This has predictably led to the debate about who should be “in” and who should be excluded from delivering their reflection, on the basis of whether their belief system is important, or relevant enough to qualify. With a few notable exceptions, the slots subsequently reflect back – in often bland monologue with a moral pay-off at the end – the values and perspectives of big religion.
It’s not the fault of the contributors so much as the way the slots are structured and the culture that surrounds them. Often devoid of attitude and original experience, the presentations can sound contrived, and meander aimlessly amidst the harder news output. Which is a shame, because space for reflection amongst the 24 hour news churn should be an important contrast to help the listener or viewer refocus and get a sense of perspective in a way that is accessible to all.
And there are many ways to do it if you are prepared to move beyond the old formula – as Channel 4 is now showing. In particular they seem to be reviving the idea of “testimony”. For their slot focuses on people’s lives and experiences as much as philosophical or doctrinal concepts. Gritty, difficult, uncomfortable issues and ideas that haven’t been packaged into a neat formula can emerge more easily when the focus is what has happened to a person, rather than a more abstract tradition of thought.
There is of course huge value in philosophy, theology and the wisdom that has developed over centuries. But there is merit too in stepping away from it, and listening to the experiences to those who would not immediately be identified as religious. In many ways it makes perfect sense. If you want a reflection on exclusion, then listen to the excluded. If you want to hear about poverty, then listen to those who live with it on a day to day basis. And if you want a new angle on the old, tired debate about whether God exists, and if so why there is so much suffering, then listen to someone who has survived the carnage of a bomb blast. They may just have some powerful and thought provoking reflections on whether God was there or not.
And online it’s been an incredible 24 hours…
- We had over 198,000 visits in the first day
- 38,000 viewers came online in just one minute! (in response to the autism item)
- There were over 637,000 pageviews within two hours of broadcast – over 1.21M for the day
- We trended #2 on Twitter (UK)
The stampede online was to try out Professor Simon Baron-Cohen‘s Autism-Spectrum Quotient or AQ Test. We’d had over 50,000 results reported back by the time I left the orifice this evening. Simon told me EB was “very original” – sounds like that could be euphemistic. He was a Big Boy when I was at school and I hung out with his younger brother Ash, now a guerilla/out-there film-maker in LA.
Yesterday I met another Big Boy from school days – Pete Bradshaw, now the film critic of The Guardian. We were judging the Single Drama award at the RTS (Royal Telly Society). My abiding memory of him is playing (very well) Thomas Becket in TS Eliot’s Murder in the Cathedral. After watching 30 hours of TV drama over the last couple of days I reckon my AQ should be soaring right now…
Another Big Boy back in the day was Mark Kermode (back then Mark Fairey), co-star of the always amusing Radio 5 weekly film review show and a regular on Film4. He’s doing a gig next week (Friday 12th at 7.45) at the Phoenix Cinema, East Finchley (where we’re still trying to raise the last bit of cash to pay for our centenary restoration this year) talking about his life in cinema which should be a good way to kick off your weekend. He was the one who got kicked out of Cannes for heckling in bad schoolboy French.
A colleague sent me over a link to the last Media Guardian podcast in which I made an unwitting appearance. Maggie Brown saw a speaking gig I did last week and said it made her realise that “there are some people there [at Channel 4] with real knowledge driving the 4iP fund which I hadn’t expected” – I was talking about my Landshare project which goes live tonight as soon as the DNS switches over from the old Registration site .
So that much was spot on
What The Guardian unfortunately failed to do with their careful fact checking and old school journalistic attention to detail was:
- get my name right – I was Tony Gee (an amalgamation with the next speaker who was Tony Ageh of the BBC)
- ascribe the project to the right source – not 4iP which is not behind Landshare but Channel 4 Cross-platform (since it is related to a primetime TV show, River Cottage)
- grasp the purpose of the site – not getting allotments but sharing land (the clue’s in the name)
- link it to the right partners – Royal Horticultural Society was singled out from a wide coalition including the National Trust, Garden Organic, Capital Growth et al, with no sense that Channel 4/Keo Films was the prime-mover
The thing that stands out for me about event where Maggie saw me speak (at the Voice of the Listener and Viewer, chaired by Roger Bolton) was a rather odd question I got at the end from a lady in the audience:
- Why did you use all that jargon?
- Sorry, hadn’t meant to, was really trying to avoid it, what did I say?
- Well what did you mean by “pipes”?
- Those things water flows through
- Well what about “ether”?
- Sort of airy
Still, it was lovely to appear in the Media Talk podcast, not least in that it squeezed out a begrudging recognition that we do some good stuff at Channel 4 in the networked media world. Now I love The Guardian as much as the next white, male, Oxbridge-educated, middle class person – my own flesh&blood works there on the Sports desk, the luverly Jemima Kiss writes great stuff in it, a nice gardening man in G2 wrote a double-page spread about Landshare and Veg Doctors in it today – but it does bug me that the highly respected organ spends a lot of time having a go at C4 without declaring its vested interest (including vested interests in terms of the Guardian/Scott Trust’s media ownership such as radio stations etc.) in the Channel’s future not being secured by the Powers That Be as we travel over the crossroads of digital switch-over – how it would love to be the counter-balance to the BBC in the public service media landscape. But when we ask ourselves whether Skins viewers read The Guardian over breakfast every morning? whether the Sex Education Show viewers turn to The Guardian for a chance to talk openly about sex education issues? whether The Guardian can do a Jamie’s Scool Dinners? we understand why Channel 4 has its place in the landscape and why people of all sorts dig it.
The old biorhythms seem to be zinging a bit this week. Nice Kiss & Tell piece in the Guardian yesterday about a new commercially-oriented dimension to my work, to complement the public service projects I mainly commission at C4. Hot Cherry are a cool outfit when it comes to getting the dirty job done in digital PR and marketing.
And the day got off to a fine start with a TV BAFTA Nomination for Embarrassing Bodies Online for the one&only interactive category – imaginatively entitled Interactivity. The other nominations are all BBC, but our odds have improved. Last year little old Big Art Mob was up against iPlayer which cost more in millions than BAM cost in thousands. This year we’re only up against Olympics 08. And Merlin. Let’s see if they can spot real magic…
The current favourite with the enfants terribles:
At the inaugural Media Guardian Innovation Awards the other evening a fellow shortlistee was sitting at the adjacent table – he was black, hairy and even more simian than me. Sadly he didn’t have any reward for sweating the night away and drinking through a straw. Fallon, creators of the Cadbury Gorilla, lost out to my esteemed colleagues from Skins (E4/Holler). And Big Art Mob brought home a pile of metallic twiglets by virtue of winning the Community Engagement category. I was so excited it was as if my humble white wine had been spiked with a good dose of lithium…