Up to Liverpool


I’d made a mistake. It wasn’t a four and a half hour journey from London to Liverpool. It was in fact two and a half hours. Not only that, the thought of upgrading to first class was quickly dismissed when a very smart looking attendant standing outside the train advised me that no, on weekdays upgrades to first class were in fact £130 and not £18. I shuffled off feeling a little disappointed.

During the journey there was time to get some footage together for a short clip. Not having a cameraman makes the process more time consuming but still a challenging kind of fun. I’m nearly always surprised about how many more cutaways I need to break up the script. This usually means looking for different ways of shooting what might otherwise be regarded as a fairly dull interior. Bear in mind that rapid moving subjects don’t translate well on the web and very quickly the options are fewer and fewer.

Still, if there’s one thing I’m rather relieved about it’s the brevity of the thing. The Proms videos were over five minutes long nearly every time. Short form content is all about the piece being as short as it possibly can be. For someone who rather likes the sound of his own voice, such a demand can sometimes be a little difficult to meet.

Read up on the opening lecture given by Will Self at the 2008 Free Thinking Festival.

Free Thinking Festival 2008

“You’re a 90 year old man stuck in a 40 year old’s body,” said a new found friend with a wry smile on her face. I corrected her only on the “40 year old” bit. As it happens I am 36 and I also go to the gym three times a week. I may not have the body of twenty-something gym bunny, but I figure I’m doing OK for my age.

Having said that, she’s not entirely incorrect. I was explaining to her how I was looking forward to my weekend jaunt in Liverpool. I’ve got my train booked – a nice four and a half hour journey to the European City of Culture to attend Radio 3’s Free Thinking Festival. I’ll be taking my flask for the journey (yes, really), some sandwiches, and a small weekend suitcase. I love the travel. I love the ocassional weekend away in a hotel. I’m really looking forward to it.

I’ve been to the Free Thinking Festival before and loved it. Initially the prospect of listening to lectures, seminars and debates about a broad range of topics delivered by thinkers, scientists and authors didn’t seem appealing. And yet, only a few hours in Liverpool and I found myself lapping it up.

Attending is one of the many benefits of working at the BBC. You can be working in one division doing your day to day work and then find yourself doing something completely different for an entirely different part of the Corporation. I like that. I value that. It’s something I’m very grateful for.

This year’s event is a little different for me. There’s a personal challenge afoot. Armed with my camera, my laptop and a (hopefully) free internet connection, I’m producing a series of short video reports about various events. There’s a drama being produced over weekend for broadcast on Sunday night, a key note speech from Will Self, a debate about whether computers make us stupid and a discussion about whether our idea of privacy is now redundant in light of social networking tools.

The challenge for me is two-fold. First is the editorial and technical challenge presented by attending a series of events and providing responses to camera immediately afterwards. This is “free thinking” after all. It’s about engaging in the debate, identifying your personal response to a series of ideas proposed by various speakers. That response then needs editing, encoding, checking over and then uploading to the web (all the videos will be at www.youtube.com/thoroughlygood and on this blog).

The second challenge is primarily an editorial one. In comparison to the Proms – where I’ll happily admit I relish the opportunity to be a little tongue-in-cheek – the Free Thinking festival is an entirely different animal. Tongue-in-cheek just doesn’t work at this kind of event. It’s small – intimate in some respects – and it’s a genuine educational experience too. The opportunity to go is a bit like being told I could go back to University and do my degree all over again and not have to pay. The idea of that is a luxury. The opportunity to reflect that using a slightly different language is appealing and also quite a challenge.

Can I pull it off? I’ve absolutely no idea. But I will have a good stab at it. Keep up with what’s going on via Twitter if you fancy or perhaps even check the blog if you’re so inclined. Failing that you could always listen on the radio.

Good old Kingswood Warren

We’re a lucky bunch at the BBC. At least I always think so whenever I explain to friends and associates outside the corporation about how BBC Redux works. “It’s like iPlayer but without the seven day time limit. It’s got an amazing back catalogue of programmes radio and TV” I beam with a predictable air of smugness.

The people I tell always gasp in amazement. “The disk space must be massive. How big is it ? Oh and .. can I get a login to use it?”

The answer to the latter question is no. It’s a BBC only thing – or at least as far as I am aware it is. The former question however, is accurately responded to in Brandon Butterworth’s BBC Internet Blog posting.

Butterworth is King Technologist down in leafy Kingswood Warren and is something of a hero even if he’s not aware of it. When I started working at Red Bee Media as a webmaster I sat next to what was then considered to be the oldest webmaster in the world, a man called George. Approaching retirement, the lovely George would frequently go on flights of fancy talking about how the BBC homepage used to look when he started working on the web. These recollections would always end up with a reference to Brandon Butterworth and how the domain registration for bbc.co.uk was kicked off. How it was Brandon Butterworth’s name on the form – apparently. 

George would speak in such glowing terms about this relatively recent BBC online history that my simple heart would translate the recollections as something of a quaint memory and turn Mr Butterworth into something of a legend. Ridiculous, I know. I am a sentimental old queen at heart.

I’ve never been to Kingswood Warren but always hear people speak highly of it. In my imagination it’s the kind of place where all the important and ultimately vital research necessary for broadcasting developments is carried out. There are no bells and whistles, no designers sticking their oar in about guidelines and pixels and fitting to the grid. It’s just good, honest research which delivers what it says on the tin.

Of course, all of this may need to be hastily rewritten if I ever actually venture down there on a visit. (There was a departmental away day based there a few months ago dedicated to staff bonding – I declined it, convinced I was sociable enough in the workplace without having to go somewhere else to bond with colleagues).

I use Redux nearly every day in my work. It’s reliable. It’s thorough. It’s simple. And, most important of all, it’s interface belies what I perceive to be the complex processes and systems required to deliver such an invaluable resource. Those of us who scan the BBC’s output looking for ideas and checking to see which of those ideas have already been executed rely on a resource such as this.  It’s the kind of thing – especially the interface – which is so utterly perfect (for me, at least) that I don’t want anyone to tinker with it.

In short, BBC Redux is VERY BBC.

We like.

Me, Rory Cellan-Jones & Blogging

Some people outside the BBC may be surprised to learn that even though I work at the BBC I don’t have access to the BBC newsroom.

There is a good reason for this. If I did have access I suspect there would be an outcry. I’d be creating havoc wherever I went. I’d inadvertently antagonise busy journalists. “Get him out of here!” they’d cry. Who knows, they might even stage a walkout.
As of 7.15am this morning however (when I read Rory Cellan-Jones’ blog posing the question ‘Is blogging dead?‘) I suspect there could be another reason I can’t get into the newsroom. If I did and I saw Rory Cellan-Jones I think we’d have to have a bit of a fight.

Obviously, Mr Cellan-Jones can’t be thinking blogging is dead otherwise he wouldn’t be writing about it. But still posing the question leaves me seething.

It’s true the blogosphere is now overrun with voices. Someone in the media was saying that to me two years ago. I took it badly then. It can only be a whole lot worse now.

Blogging works for news and it works for opinion. It also works for those of us who like to write (even if we’re pretty certain only a handful of people actually read it).

But as someone who feels as though he’s come to the party relatively late, I can’t help feeling a little irritated by how the amateur, small-time bloggers have been eclipsed by “the big boys” hijacking attention.

But even though my irritation with “the big boys” masks nothing but deep-seated jealousy when I look at my own blog statistics, I have to admit that I do rather rely on blogs. They feed inspiration as well as provide an outlet.

It’s a delicate ecosystem. If blogging is about conversation then bloggers need other bloggers. Bloggers also need other bloggers in relatively high places whose words can provide inspiration for their own relentless waffle. We all need sources of information and targets. Writing is about tension. Without tension there’d be precious little to write about.

We all need each other, you see. Which is why reading the seeing the question being posed “Is Blogging Dead?” would make any first meeting I might stumble on with Mr Cellan-Jones quite a fraught affair.

If we were to fight, I suspect Mr Cellan-Jones would have the upper-hand. After all, he has considerable more journalistic experience, does considerably more research than I do and, quite justifiably, has considerably more fans than I do. This combined with the fact that I bite my nails would mean that us scratching each other’s eyes out could result in me being the miserable loser.

On the other hand, I would use strength of personality and what ever quick-witted retorts I could find from a Google search before I delivered my final, much-hyped death blow:

“Rory – dahling, sweety – I know you have to ask difficult questions, that’s what journalists do. That’s what they should be encouraged to do. This is the BBC after all.

But Rory – dahling, sweety – please don’t ask questions like “is blogging dead?”
You know what will happen. People will just read the title, skim read your perfectly crafted words, pour over the responses and then jump to the inevitable conclusions and us struggling creatives will be completely and utterly doomed.

The one thing I don’t want to see happening is for people to be put off from consuming blogs, especially mine.”

At some point during this self-indulgent diatribe I anticipate that Mr Cellan-Jones will either have walked off and called security, or he’ll have started editing me or pointing where I might use basic grammar to help reduce verbosity. In short, I don’t think I’d win the fight.

But the point still stands. You might think the blog is dead, but it isn’t. And if you are someone who does think it’s dead, would you be good enough to keep that thought to yourself until such time as I’ve found a different creative outlet?