Thursday, November 19, 2009

Aber, where brollies threaten shoot 'em ups

The "website credits" page of the fresh-faced Cambrian News is blank.
That's a shame because the site is a brave take on what a local paper's online presence should be. The printed Cambrian retains a consistent, trustworthy feel albeit clearly suffering a worryingly visible resource-depression.
But the website tries something a little different and, although imperfect, is to be cheered.
Top left on the home page - - is the journal's splendidly traditional Telegraph-style masthead. Laid beneath it is an admittedly insipid evocation of the mountains that shield this delicious West Wales area from the rest of the UK like a referee's blind spot protects Thierry Henry.
Brightly coloured modules carry story and index texts. The colours are moderately complementary in the way that X Factor finalists loosely embellish Dermot O'Leary's stage.
Rather thrillingly there's only one story at the head of the home page at any one time. Yes, there's a rolling menu of three tales from the top of the Aberystwyth agenda, but to see just the single yarn at any one time is refreshing. In this age of info-overload, too many newspaper websites slam the reader with a panoply of stories and attention-grabbers that simply have our trigger fingers dancing straight back to Google.
Cambrian News Online becomes busier as the page scrolls down. But the ads are kept neatly to the sides, there's a prominent plug which makes it easy to buy an e-version of the latest print edition and there's a splendid submitted photo which captures a lightning strike over Machynlleth.
Throughout, the headline font's a tad '90s, the video content seems restricted to the Stereophonics' latest bit of rough-with-smooth-edges pop and there's a depressing proliferation of ads bigging up the paper's own services.
But the navigation's simple, the speed's quick and the words are given plenty of room to breathe. Moreover, the stories are great! Check out: Man who killed wife in sleep was dreaming of boy racers and Did umbrella spark armed police siege?.
So, don't be shy, Cambrian ... get the names of the web team's bright boys and girls on that credits page. And give 'em a nice bright purple.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Fish and chips - no puns necessary

Just when things were looking up, out popped another name-shame blow for a traditional treasure.
Thursday lunchtime was spent with a bag of chips on Penclawdd seafront, the vast grassed lowlands of the Loughor Estuary my cinematic backdrop. I say "bag" but, of course it was a little white polystyrene foam tray. That, however, didn't detract from the excellence served up by the lady proprietor of the Gower Sole chippy.
She's only been there a year but has created a neat, tidy, welcoming corner plot that should do well. There's even a comfy leather sofa for goodness sake - a la Arthur Llewellyn Jenkins.
Her speciality is a spectacular range of fresh fish, with pleasing departures from the normal cod, plaice and haddock.
However - and it's a big however, this one - the latest South Wales Guardian reveals that nearby Glanaman has a new chippy too ... The Codfather.
A new food gem in a great Valleys town is always to be celebrated – but, please, not with an allegedly humorous name which harks back to a movie (albeit a good one) that first hit our screen almost four decades ago. What next - a pasta haven in Capel Isaac called The Italian Hob?
Chippies have suffered from jokey names for too long now - A Fish called Rhondda, Oh My Cod, A Salt N Battered, Codrophenia, Battersea Cods Homes, Al’s Plaice. The madness must stop.
All we want is good, honest cod, chips and mushy peas served from a finger-scorching range in a no-pun environment. If Ronseal ran an upstairs tea shop would they call it Room with a Brew? No!
A Google search of Scarborough, that queen of fried potato destinations, reveals the following chippies:
  • Winking Willys,
  • Mother Hubbard,
  • Lifeboat Fish Bar,
  • Wackers,
  • Silks Fish & Chip Shop,
  • Smallfry,
  • Hanover Fisheries.
Hats off to the Lifeboat, Silks and Hanover. Having not crossed your thresholds for many years I can’t attest to the quality of your grub – but the names of your businesses are top quality.
Martin Jones, owner of Glanaman’s The Codfather, take note.
And, while we’re at it, perhaps the South Wales Guardian headline writers could spend more than 10 seconds thinking up headlines in future – Chippy off to a Fryer indeed!

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Media ownership - a Skye high

Marvellous news from our friends in the far north. The West Highland Free Press is to become that rarest of rare entities - an employee-owned local newspaper.
Press Gazette blog The Wire is reporting that the title's owners have agreed to sell to their staff who are supported by ownership investment vehicle the Baxi Partnership.
This is a refreshing outlook from all three key parties and my best wishes go to the Isle of Skye's terrific ten. Here's to you, here's to success - and here's to the ripple effects of your inspirational move.
The paper may have a weekly sales figure of under 9,000 but it's a respected provider of a crucial local service and, importantly, is an enterprise with a long and very relevant future.
Encouragingly, there are strong indications that the new owners will not simply produce a decent paper. The Wire reports that the WHFP - meshed by an employee benefits trust to hold staff shares and maintain independence - wishes to create a news agency and further develop digital platforms.
Looking at the broader picture, a press release on the Baxi website states: "This year the UK Employee Ownership Index (EOI) revealed that employee owned companies outperformed the FTSE All-Share in the second quarter of 2009 by 19.9%."
Co-operative Development Scotland (CDS) has played a big part in this development which was unable to tap into traditional routes of finance. CDS chief exec Sarah Deas is quoted as saying: "Research shows that employee-owned businesses are more productive and sustainable, so there is enormous potential for this type of ownership model to contribute to the development of Scotland's economy. Encouraging more business owners to consider an employee buyout is a priority and we are working to build awareness across the business community.”
There's so much food for thought here that I couldn't possibly manage another mouthful of this evening's neeps and tatties.


Thanks for the tip-off
Ms Victoria Trott, one of Wales' finest travel writers -

Monday, October 26, 2009

Beatbloggers prepare to operate the parish pump

"Local meetings and events ... identifying grassroots issues of importance to residents ..."
The work of your trusty local newspaper reporter? Maybe, but the words actually appear in a sits-vac ad for the rather more broad-church Guardian. They've coined the word "beatblogger" to cover a new role to be employed in three UK cities - Leeds, Cardiff and Edinburgh.
Guardian Local is, according to those recruiting, a small-scale experiment in local news gathering and the beatbloggers will be at the coalface. They'll report from events and meetings using a range of tools – text, photos, video and audio, they'll identify and link to material produced by bloggers, journalists and other sources and they'll build a network of community contacts.
There's a lot more too - the beatblogger will identify opportunities for partnerships and collaborations to build content, he or she will nourish links to other online resources and will be responsible for ensuring all elements of the local page are fresh and relevant.
There's a whole lot more too - check out the job description at - so could this be an intriguing peek into the future or will the experment fizzle out like a Cheryl Cole solo project?
Launch editor Sarah Hartley is quoted as saying she's impressed by the "range and depth of coverage from local websites and blogs." Indeed, this material has been evolving beautifully - and there'll be many more great advances to come.
A piece from the Guardian (below) also touches upon the themes of local being important, of one US broadcaster winning huge public funding for a local news project and of the possibility that the Press Association could be subsidised to cover local courts and councils.
So let's hope the Guardian invests in (and appropriately rewards) genuine journalistic talent to fill its beatblogger roles - and let's hope even better things come of the wider movement back towards local accountibility


Friday, October 23, 2009

Oi, Rusbridger - take ' em camping!

A week into our Guardian subscription and I have a message for the good newspaper folk at the Scott Trust: "You've missed a trick!"
Me and Claire plumped for the pre-October subscription "sale" because we knew it'd save us cash ... and because we love the paper. It's quality, it's fun and it airs opinions that are always carefully thought through and argued. It's so good, in fact, that we plunged all the way in and now have vouchers for every day of the week.
The recent sales pitch that hooked us in was prolonged, intense, colourful and thoroughly credible. But it wasn't without its faults.
And here's why the newspaper sales manager needs a good talking to. Not once in the pitch did he or she flag up the bounteous beauty of picking up a morning paper once again.
With just five editions under my Pepe Jeans belt I've managed to enjoy more early morning birdsong than even that time in the mid-80s when Beast and Browny suggested: "Let's spend a couple of nights kipping under canvas in the foothills of Pen-y-ghent - either side of torturing ourselves with the Three Peaks Walk."
This season's black 7am autumn skies are necklaced by seafront streetlights around Swansea Bay. Even better, at that time the world hasn't yet been sullied afresh by humankind in the gas-guzzlers that plummet down Wimmerfield Drive towards another day of office oblivion.
So thanks, Guardian, for enlivening each day with nature, a refreshing complement to your prose and pictures. But do yourselves a favour before the next big sales push ... send the subscription marketeers on a camping weekend somewhere remote.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Business assistance - frustration's setting in

We're 12 days away from our next meeting to discuss the union-triggered journalism co-op. I sincerely hope our working party members are able to report some progress that night - because embracing public sector-sponsored help is starting to frustrate.
All the individuals we've met as we seek guidance and assistance have been decent, good-humoured individuals with good credentials but, blimey, they ain't half hamstrung by the system.
Costa Coffee in Swansea - opposite Ann Summers, nudge, nudge, wink, wink - was the venue for today's lunchtime chat with a business advisor appointed by the Swansea Business Centre. She was attentive, understanding, ready with ideas and thoughtful in her approach.
However, we were left with a feeling of: "We've come this far - we've ploughed through meeting after meeting - but we're not much further forward."
It was the nth time we'd outlined our plans and aspirations, it was another blast of espresso for the body to fight and it was another valuable two hours out of a day.
The time has come to be decisive and forceful. Our November 2 gathering must deliver some significant advances, including an agreement to formally register the company.
It's also clear that we need cash from somewhere to pay for a development go-getter to kick-start this Vespa that we want to be a Harley. Without a couple of months hard graft from him or her the progress of our willing volunteers will be severely hampered.
There's a thrilling uphill adventure in prospect - but we've not yet starting packing the tent poles for base camp.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Why memories are Ev's goal tonight

Holmfirth High School 1976-81 offered much to the aspiring traveller.
Cross-Channel trips took us to Paris coinciding with the delicious final sprint of the Tour de France, Lille before it became moderately trendy and gale-blasted Le Touquet on the exposed Normandy coast. There was even a detour into Belgium one day along with a few days at the small market-square town of Hazebrouck about as far north as the teachers could take us in France.
Powerful memories? The throbbing aroma of breakfast-time non-filter Gitanes which intrigued us pre-health-warning teenagers, the soup bowl-sized mugs of hot chocolate - Choky - and the salty mounds of French fries well before McDonald's copycat pallid gunk had given the treasure a bad name across Europe.
Best of all, as geology O'level approached, a week in Buttermere Youth Hostel, a converted Lakeland slate house, a smooth grassy rise away from Crummock Water. As we paired off with fellow voyagers there were clambers up the stream rushing down from Blueberry Tarn, scrambles up the scree slopes and plunges down towards the flanks of Ennerdale Water.
Great opportunities ... but put into stark contrast tonight as we await the first big school trip of Ev. Aged 13, the lad has his bag packed, his foreign currency crisply tucked into a Post Office card wallet, his squad windcheater Cellophaned and his football boots tucked away. Dimples for Astroturf, studs for the real stuff.
In an hour's time he and 40 others from the local comp head off for 10 days ... in Florida (or What? Nine-hundred quid!? as it's now known).
For this is Olchfa School, Swansea, 2009. In store for them are two soccer matches, several theme parks, the Kennedy Space Center and the ubiquitous, worrying, "shopping day" at somewhere known rather morbidly as Florida Mall. An annual stroll up and down Newton Road, Mumbles, is sufficient for most of us.
Still, good luck to 'em ... and if Ev flies back with as many lifelong memories as those trips to the remaining Vimy Ridge trenches and Lake District glacial deposits then every penny of that £900 will have been worth it.
I think.