Privacy in the digital age

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God, that’s a wanky title. It’s the sort of title someone who puts “social media expert” in their Twitter bio would give a blog. If you’re lucky I’ll come back and change it. But to be honest I probably won’t.

Anyway – I’ve been thinking a bit lately about how to hold on to some degree of privacy in the 21st century, when we all live online, pretty much all day every day. It’s pretty hard is the conclusion I’ve come to.

Now that’s not much of a blog, is it, so I suppose I better ‘flesh out my ideas’ or whatever it is ‘bloggers’ do.

I was trying to think why I update this place so infrequently. I enjoy blogging, I have plenty of ideas for posts, it’s just getting round to doing it – that’s what I thought.

But that’s not it at all. It’s because of privacy. Yeah man.

I used to do those wildly (a bit) popular 99 girl problems posts where I basically treated you all as a therapist and you laughed at me for being shit at life. But as a therapy session it didn’t work out too well (for me). I wasn’t getting a lot out of the deal. I tended to start them in a weird mood and end them in a weirder one. So I stopped.

Then I thought I could blog about work – but what’s the point in that? Work is work, nobody wants to come home and do more stuff about work when they’re not at work. And anyway, you can’t say anything too interesting as you’re risking giving away secrets and/or getting yourself into trouble with your bosses – unless you’re anonymous – which I reckon defeats the point of blogging. Or boring everyone shitless. Probably mostly boring everyone shitless. Yeah you’re bored shitless reading this blog anyway, I know, I know, you’re a comedian.

Then I was thinking about the more personal stuff I’ve put on here and I thought, maybe I just don’t want to open myself up like that any more? I don’t know what I was expecting when I wrote those posts, really I don’t, but I wasn’t after being laughed at so much. Sure, it’s reassuring, for about a second, that I’m at least providing some entertainment for people, but then after that you just feel shit.

I also stopped posting personal stuff as I’ve been getting into too much trouble for stuff I’ve said – so I’ve been trying not to say stuff that might get me into trouble. I’ve realised this is really dull though, so I’ll probably pack that in in a bit.

And I don’t really want to talk about feelings and stuff anyway. It’s not very manly – and I am very manly. VERY MANLY. And anyway, quite often they’re not very uplifting so I dunno why anyone would want to read them.

And THEN (I’m getting to the point, promise), I realised the reason I seem to have stopped blogging is about privacy. Everyone has gone a bit batshit mental on the internet. Over-sharing is rife. I’m pretty bad for it, as any one of my followers on Twitter would agree. But my argument for that is way before I used Twitter in a semi-professional way (I mean when I got a proper job), it was a very warts-and-all (I don’t really have warts – that’s a metaphor – if I did I certainly wouldn’t blog/tweet about them) thing. Watering it down would make it a bit pointless. Nobody wants to read someone who just tweets about their dinner or some boring fucking conference they’ve gone to.

I stopped blogging because I just didn’t want to share any more. I’ve been considering giving up Twitter as an experiment for the same reason, but frankly I’d rather cut my right ball off and I don’t think I could anyway – tweeting is completely automatic these days, I don’t even think about it. What would I do on the bus? Who would keep the #busnews tag going? These are big questions, questions I do not have an answer to.

But blogging is different. You have to sit down and analyse something, really give yourself (urgh) to the topic. It’s pretty exhausting, emotionally (yeah I went there), and I just don’t think I want to do it any more.

I’m not expecting people to beg me to keep blogging. I wouldn’t want them to – well…maybe a bit. But it’s rude to just leave something hanging empty, so this will be a final post. For a bit. Until I’m bored of keeping things to myself and then I’ll be FLINGING bits of information you really don’t want at you. In the face. So there.

A cover feature

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Hi fans!

Sorry for being quiet again. After unleashing all that rage in the last post I thought I’d give it a rest for a bit.

Anyway, I have news.

There is going to be a magazine, an actual magazine, a printed thing, with my words in it. Better than that, my feature’s on the cover. No laughing at the back – this is a big thing!

Anyway the big thing is Trisickle magazine and you can order it online from, well, now, and it’ll land in a few days. How exciting is that? It’s very exciting.

My feature is about the revival of rock music from the north-east of the country and has an interview with Kingsley from the Chapman Family. I do say so myself, but it’s worth reading. If I was the sort of person to use such words – and let’s face it, I am – I’d call it explosive. BOOM! Like that. Yeah.

Elsewhere in the magazine, you get an interview with a chap called Neil Blender, another with another chap called Ali Menzies, another with Benjamin Sniddlegrass from Cockfosters, some words about Tess Burnet, some words about graffiti, some stuff about games from Scott Goodacre, some horoscopes almost as funny as the ones we used to run in Degrees North (ask your parents, oh actually they won’t know), reviews and all that usual magazine stuff AND a picture of the editor’s cat.

All for less than £3. Please buy it.

9k degrees and Kelvin Mackenzie

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I’ve avoiding blogging/talking about the Kelvin Mackenzie thing on journalism education and the tuition fees increases mainly because it fills me with rage and I’m all Zen these days.

But the news that the University of Sunderland – the seat of learning at which I suckled the teat (love mixed metaphors) for three years – is to charge up to £8,500 for a year’s education means I can’t stay quiet any more.

Now, my time at Sunderland wasn’t a complete disaster. That would be unfair. I met some great people, although I could have done that by making myself homeless, for free, rather than getting into £20k of debt. The frankly farcical lack of contact hours in the final year allowed me to rack up a few grand working for the Students’ Union on their magazine Degrees North. But that’s about it.

I have strong opinions on journalism education and they pretty much match up with Kelvin Mackenzie’s rant in the Independent recently. My degree was structured to have a basis in academic theory. Unfortunately, nobody in charge of the course (and it was those in charge to blame, not the lecturers, they were as good as could be expected with what they had to work with) had bothered to find any worth teaching for three years. Galtung and Ruge’s news values study is literally the only thing we did, endlessly repeated, for three whole years. We did some stuff on F-shape web reading but it was so half-arsed it was spectacularly obvious and pointless. People skim-read. Fuck, really? Hold the front page.

My point is there’s not enough theory out there – teaching journalism is too new – to base a whole three-year degree around it. Now, I can only speak for Sunderland as that’s where I studied, but from lots of the other institutions I looked at and even visited, it seems to be the same story at a lot of places. The degrees are not set up to give people the skills and knowledge needed to succeed in the industry. And if they’re not doing that – what is the fucking point of them?

Okay, so you can argue going to uni is about more than being trained up for a job at the end of it. But look around you. Unemployment is high. Wages are low. Can you really afford to spend three years drinking too much and shagging around, occasionally pulling an all-nighter to do an assignment, when the course isn’t even going to give you a half-decent job at the end of it? Especially in journalism, when you’ll be starting out on frankly insulting wages for such an important line of work. £30k debt. £15k starting wage, if you’re lucky.

You only have to look around my peers from that year of the journalism course to see what an outstanding failure it was (or we were? up to you to decide). One lad is working for the local paper, fair play to him, following work experience and an internship through the uni. Others, from ones I’m still in touch with, off the top of my head, are re-training as teachers, working in call centres, working in phone shops, working in supermarkets and so on. I’m fairly sure you don’t need £20k of debt and a degree for those, do you? Would they spend their time again in the same way? I doubt it.

The students on my course were so disenfranchised with the whole set-up 18 months in some quit in frustration at the lack of progress. There were extenuating circumstances. Important – and popular – lecturers left and were not replaced quickly enough. The ship was rudderless. Those in charge seemed to think the students would be happy drifting through a course with nobody taking charge of it, directing it, moving into new areas, innovating.

Anyway. My course was basically a waste of three years of my life and got me into thousands of pounds of debt. But don’t let that put you off. I’m sure in the two years since I’ve left, Sunderland has overhauled the journalism degrees completely, making them well worth the at least £7k a year young people will now have to fork out. That’s £21k, right off the bat. More debt than I got in getting a degree, even including my maintenance loans – and I worked part-time throughout my degree. Let’s save the whole argument about how much fees are in general for another time.

From a quick look through the courses on offer, Sunderland has clearly decided to go down the specialism route. This is at least an improvement. The only options for my year were magazine and newspaper – and even then there was minimal difference between the two once the switch came in the last year. Let’s take the fashion route as an example. The brief on the site claims to offer magazine design as an important part of the course. That’s an improvement. We had one hour of teaching on InDesign, I reckon. Most of the lecturers appeared as clueless using it as us – most of us self-taught ourselves at home. One was frankly a genius and when I asked how he did it he said it was endless hours at home pressing buttons to see what they do. £20k for a degree and you end up teaching yourself? It doesn’t seem right.

Of course you have to put work in when you sign up to a degree – you can’t expect everything served to you on a plate. It’s supposed to give you an idea of what the real world is like, with nobody pushing you. But learning the basics should certainly be an important facet of a degree – otherwise, what’s the fucking point?

Still on the fashion brief, the ethics module is still in the last year. This is spectacularly dumb. It’s shoehorned in as they have nothing else to say by that point. You do two years of a journalism degree and learn nowt about ethics? Shambles. So it’s still broken. Our ethics class consisted of a PR bloke (teaching journalists! you couldn’t make this up) spouting shite like “how do you know the world is round?” at us every week. It’s no wonder half the class stopped going and half of the other half queued up to complain about it one day. Nothing changed, nothing improved.

I’m getting off the point, I figured I would when I started this blog. To come back to Mackenzie’s argument – he’s spot on. Universities are simply not equipped to give you the skills you need to work in the industry. If you sign up to one of these £7k/£9k a year jobbies I promise you halfway in you’ll be questioning what the fuck you are doing. When I was at Sunderland there was no newspaper to write for, there was one page in the local paper once a week we were encouraged to pitch articles for. One page for dozens of students. Awesome. We had a newspaper we produced twice a year but even then the uni spiked good stories as they were critical of it. That’s another story but you can read more about the whole farce, should you wish, here.

If you want to be a journalist, in my opinion the worst thing you can do is commit yourself to three years of sitting in a room having news fucking values and other such bollocks rammed down your neck. If you want to be a journalist you already KNOW what news values are. It’s inside you. You should be able to spot a good story already. You don’t need teaching how to use fucking apostrophes, as we gob-smackingly were in one class. If you don’t know the difference between your and you’re – how did you get into university in the first place?

You can only learn by doing. Go out and about. Talk to people. Find out what their stories are. Write them up. If you can’t already write you’ll never make a reporter anyway so why spend three years honing your writing? You can learn style by reading papers. Send your stuff to the local paper and news agencies. Go to the courts and see how they work – talk to the reporters on the press bench, if your local rag still sends anyone. Do the same for council meetings. Start a fucking blog. Update it regularly. Write with authority and develop a voice. You could do all of this while at university but I promise you, I absolutely promise you, no journalism degree can teach you what you can’t learn for FREE if you’re committed enough.

Journalists should have a knowledge of how the world works. If you go straight from school to college to university and expect to get a job in the industry you’re kidding yourself. You’ve done nothing, have you? Go out and work. In real jobs. Find out about real people, real issues, what people care about, what keeps them awake at night.

As for a way in – all you can do is be lucky. But spending £20k on tuition fees and another £10k on living for three years is not good value. It’s terrible value. Not just at Sunderland, although I wouldn’t recommend a course there to my worst enemies, journalism courses everywhere are not a good financial decision. You’ll probably never pay that debt off. You don’t need it.

Go it alone. Show initiative. Be an entrepreneur. Make a name for yourself. People will sit up and take notice.

Good luck.

In other news

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Now that tedious rambling hoping for sympathy at earning a shitload of cash over the next few days is over, here’s some NEWS about ME since this is MY blog and obviously that’s what you all come here every day for, even though I’m terrible at updating it, truly terrible, and frankly am extremely boring and hardly qualify as a capable human being and judging off the site stats there’s nobody out there anyway. HELLO. CAN YOU HEAR ME?

  • My washing machine is still broken. It has been for about two months. This may explain why I have been visiting home more often recently. It’s now getting to the stage where I’m hoping fairies will turn up in the night and fix it.
  • My shower is now broken. There’s a hole in the hose that water sprays out of, viciously, in random directions. This is making having a shower a bit of a lottery. Again, hopefully the fairies will turn up and fix it.
  • I joined Lovefilm. I have about 150 films on my rental list. Am I doing it right?
  • I have dried porridge stuck to my t-shirt. Fit, right?
  • The bar girl from previous posts is now dating the bloke I told she doesn’t like. Does that make sense? So, all in all, that one went extremely well, I’m sure you’ll agree. I get to work five shifts with the pair of them in the next week and a bit. Can’t wait.
  • I didn’t like the new Lady Gaga song. I now like it. Apart from the weird spoken bit. I don’t like that bit. I’m a fickle bastard, aren’t I?
  • I celebrated my birthday (23rd, contrary to popular belief, yes I’m an old bastard) belatedly. Drunk times were had. I’d tell you about it if I could remember any of it.
  • I got a credit card. This is perhaps not a good idea. Who wants to go on holiday?

That’s it :(

My non-holiday bank holiday weekend

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I haven’t used this blog to complain yet. Time to fix that, innit.

This weekend, despite it being apparently a HOLIDAY, I’m doing four jobs. This is bloody ridiculous. I officially only have one job, how does this kind of thing even happen? Especially to someone as lazy as me. I do not know the answer to these questions.

In fairness I have just taken two weeks off work in which I did basically nothing except annoy the cats I was supposed to be looking after at my dad’s. But this is besides the point. FOUR JOBS.

I’ve left Smacks more often than the Mitchell brothers have left Eastenders. Guess where I’m working on Saturday and Sunday night? You got it. Obviously I just can’t get enough of those five quid an hour wages and pissed, annoying customers. I love that shit, I truly do. I’m even back on the sodding rota at the place. I’ve left. I live miles away. They can’t cope without me. That must be it. The customers have demanded my return. Who am I to deny the public, eh?

The other three jobs are all proper work related – regular overtime and two clients who have weekend content from us. I volunteered for all of them – it’s actually (sometimes) fun and decent money – so I can’t really complain…but still. Four jobs. Four bloody jobs. I do have an author page on one of the websites though. And I’ll get bylines on another. Get in. Back of the net. Etc.

It effectively means that *counts in head*, by the time I next have an actual day off, I’ll have done four days this week, four days this weekend, three days next week…four days next weekend…four days the week after…my next proper day off is Saturday the 7th of May. That counts smacks shifts that finish in the early hours of the following day…but still. FOUR JOBS. That’s not even counting nonaynever.net, which is effectively a part-time job, and various other writing and subbing stuff that turns up from time to time. Sigh.

Still, I don’t have to do any proper work for nearly 24 hours. Party on down.

*goes to bed*

Chapman Family live review

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Distinct lack of proper updates on here recently so sorry for that, but here’s a live review of The Chapman Family live in Manchester last week.

It’s for Trisickle magazine and there will also be a feature in the new issue.

Clicky clicky linky linky.

How to be the future of music

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If you’re in a band, a not very successful one, chances are you’re wondering what you can do to get ahead.

Fortunately, Kingsley from the Chapman Family shared some tips with me after I asked a fairly innocuous question about hype and the NME…

“I’m fed up of “ones to watch lists” and people telling me which bands I should be listening to for the next six months – music is not a competition or something that should be decided by committee. Furthermore it’s not about some corporate industry executives buying their little starlets a fast track to fame so they can continue in their greedy wanker lifestyle.

“The pattern is established and it goes something like this:

“Start a band by combining the sounds of two or more previously critically acclaimed hype bands from recent years and crudely mash them together to give you a new unique sound;

“Create make believe buzz hype in the autumn in London to get the suits’ tongues wagging;

“Get a famous influential celebrity radio tastemaking DJ “onboard”; get a slot on Jools Holland as “the ones to watch” in October despite only ever playing in the capital to your influential mates;

“Do a small sold out tour in tiny venues to get the provincial towns onside powered by hype and your one good song;

“Do interviews but be careful not to be too opinionated (at least until your marketing team has done studies and has decided which demographic you’re going to be aimed at);

“Release a pretend DIY single even though you’re funded by a major; get a slot on the BBC Sounds of… list and hopefully a cheeky slot on Jools’ Hootenanny if you’re lucky;

“With a bit of luck get the prestigious opening band slot on the NME Awards Tour; release your slightly hastily put together album in March;

“Play an understated slot at Glasto but with maximum TV coverage, ideally play an exclusive acoustic set to Jo Whiley whilst wearing wellies and a fucking straw hat;

“Play a triumphant slot at Leeds/Reading just as “the big single” drops.

“Job done. You are the future of music.”

So there you have it. Remember where you heard it first.

You can hear more from Kingsley in the next issue of Trisickle magazine, the presence of which I shall alert you to in due course…

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