Sunday, December 24, 2006

The Real Christmas

Many people and, indeed, many far more worthy and experienced people than me, will write something ‘significant’ over the coming few days. That will, however, not stop me saying a few things.

This year, the Queen’s talking about old age, the Archbishop of Canterbury about the Middle-East and Christian values whilst Channel 4’s ‘Alternative Message’ will be examining social integration.

From this it becomes clear that social values are being discussed under the authority of ‘state’, ‘church’ and that third arm of nationhood: ‘media.’ Christmas provides the impetus for a general discussion and examination of the period of change that our society finds itself in. What makes this discussion interesting is that it is conducted by people working ‘outside’ politics: the monarch, the head of the church and the powerful media. They seem to have better answers than our ruling elite or at least think that they do.

For some, Christmas provides the occasion to discuss generally, without theology, rather than a moment to include the spiritual life in the discussions. This rather confirms the separation of the Christian festival from its religious roots. That said, for many others, at Christmas, our eyes turn to faith to solve the big questions. This is not turning to ‘church’ but to a broader set of values, set around perceived goods and evils.

We look to an event 2000 years ago at this time of year and, at first, see it as being irrelevant to today’s problems. Then, on reflection, that event holds so much resonance with today: a single mother, a war-torn country and religious conflict.

Christianity, then as now, was not a widely-followed faith but, instead, one with a dedicated band of adherents. Yet, its values permeate our society: our laws, morals and political systems are all based on biblical thinking. Therefore, trying to separate the ‘church’ from the other aspects of our life is impossible and so we should not try to make Christmas a faithless festival. This false separation of church from state or a wider life causes tension in France (where they’ve even given it a name as laicite). Indeed, the attempts at separation serve to highlight and stress any differences rather than illuminating and relishing the very differences which make us unique.

Due to our institutions of statehood taking Christmas for political needs and our shops taking it for commercial ones, Christmas can often seem devoid of faith. In other words, Christmas no longer seems Christian. It’s not even the most important festival of the Christian year. Easter is the key moment where death was overcome by resurrection. That said, this point of view risks belittling the moment where God came to join us on earth. Therefore, Christian retains its magic.

Instead of seeing Christmas as having lost something, as becoming a time for politicking, for consumerism, perhaps we should see ‘God’ in the small things:

In the Quiet flood of eager people going to church

In the joy of families re-united.

In the pleasure of sharing and giving.

In the comfort of caring and loving.

Christmas is as alive, well and spiritual for its 2006th celebration as it was for its first if you look in the right places.

May your Christmas be blessed, joyous and peaceful,

Saturday, December 23, 2006

Sex, Lies and Videotape … A.K.A. Journalism Graduation Ceremony

Three things that seem, to many, to be linked to the world of journalism and seem to be

It was a wonderful event; so much a celebration of what had happened in the past as well as so much of what I believe in.

But, just to be difficult, I’ll be looking at Sex, Videotape and then Lies but that’s me just being difficult.

Sex …
Journalists are meant to be obsessed with this .. personally I would not want to comment. Professionally, there does seem to be a focus in so much of our reporting about the issue. In the past year Sheffield’s Prostitution and Sex Education has all come under the glare of JUS News but the ‘sex’ I refer to is a little different.

The focus of my dissertation project was the role of women in the church; in other words, how a minority sex copes in a male dominated career. Therefore, it seemed somewhat appropriate that my ceremony was the first at Sheffield to be presided at by a woman. There was something complete about it and, to boot, she was also a very nice woman.

Videotape …
So much of my studies was spent chasing video tape or its digital equivalent. Therefore, again, it was nice that much of the day was recorded photographically: professional photos beforehand in the union, family photos afterwards outside Firth Court and shots in the drinks ‘do’ afterwards (including some for internal promotion). My Mother even jokes that she had to clap particularly loudly when I was presented my degree as Bro and Daddy were so busy snapping away.

What was charming was that at the same time as my name was called out a large cheer went up to which the female Pro-Vice Chancellor said that ‘You obviously have some fans out there!’

In the drinks ‘do’ afterwards, it was good to catch up with both my coursemates and the staff who had taught me. My tutors said some very kind things both to my parents and myself as well as giving me encouragement/kick up the backside to get the job that I am capable of. It felt very much like a conclusion not just to this stage of academia but to education in general; it felt like the moment to move forward.

That said, there were some moments of the couple of days away that I would not want to be recorded for posterity. Bro and I consumed a couple of bottles of wine at the hotel, two Pizzas and various snacks which resulted in general ‘fun’ behaviour, smuggling pizza boxes into the hotel as well as to the bin and a mislaid door pass. All fun, if a little studenty. It was our last moment to be students and it felt good to mark its passing. We have now reached the real world. Such times will still happen but (probably) less frequently as well as in a different way (I would say more grown-up but that would be a lie).

So the tape was well and truly wound on that day, both metaphorically and literally.

Lies …
Perhaps, though, the best moments of the few days was the time spent chatting with family and friends. On the night before graduation, I met up with a friend over from Greece for the event and we spent a couple of hours reminiscing, drinking beer and sorting each other’s lives out. It was very encouraging about how I plan my career. Some truths became clear: I am not yet a journalist, I am still training and have a long way to go. I also need to be more decisive and bold about my career. Local Radio Journalism is not for me; I don’t really have the voice or the desire to spend my life doing that. For me, production, researching and organising broadcasts is what I really want to do. Therefore, I have to be honest in my applications as well as to myself. In the New Year, I will go and give the buggers hell until I get that job.

But the best moment was when we discussed accusations by people we come into contact with thinking that all journalists are liars and cannot be trusted. To this my friend came with two retorts. Both of which make a fitting conclusion to a review of a Journalism Graduation Day. I repeat the as thanks to all the friends, colleagues and staff at Sheffield and particularly to ‘Malaka’ for making me smile and learn both during graduation and over the last year:

‘Yes, journalists lie … but the audience are the fools who believe it.’

But more importantly

‘Everyone lies, journalists just do it with style.’


Friday, December 22, 2006

Just A Quick One ....

A full report on Graduation will follow shortly but I just wanted to quickly follow-up on the news that I have just heard regarding the Suffolk Murders. A man has now been charged (with six or so hours to spare before he had to be released). More interestingly, you may remember that Iexpressed concern about the amount of media speculation going on (see entry for Friday December 15th 2006). Well, this Afternoon the Attorney General Lord Goldsmith also admitted he was concerned about the potential for prejudice and that broadcasting full interviews was a little dangerous.

Well, as any Journalism Law Graduate would agree, influencing a trial is risky.

And I can talk, I'm now a jourmalism graduate,


Tuesday, December 19, 2006

The Graduand Writes ...

I leave in a few moments for graduation and a night away. I await the moment where I change from a Masters Graduand to a Postgraduate in the literal sense of the term. Plans have rather changed so that Bro and I can spend some time in Sheffield together.

I plan to get to Sheffield in time for evensong at the Cathedral to have a short while to give thanks for everything that has happened in the city for me. Then I will meet up with a good friend from the course who has flown over from Greece for graduation before retiring to the Devonshire Cat pub to sample some beer for one last time. Bro and I plan to re-live a little of the student life!

Then tomorrow the whole event starts. I'm sure I'll bore you with the details of the ceremony and subsequent drinks 'do' with photos published both on the Live Space and on

Let it just be said this: I am looking forward to this more than my first graduation; of course, there is a fear that some juicy gossip will be revealed about my life to my parents from my friends (God alone knows what - my life is not that interesting) but that always exists when two parts of your life meet! I feel this is a conclusion and celebration rather than a tearing a part, as it was at Warwick. It feels like it will be a wonderful day. Despite the weather!

So, with much joy and excitement, I hope you are all doing well,

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Who would want to be a vicar?

Well, after attending the diocesan vocations day, I really do start to wonder. Having been told that I would be lonely, that the work was tough and that I would hardly have time off, I realised that they were not really selling this to me. I came away with little idea of what a vicar does day-to-day, little conviction of what skills were requiered and little guidance given to my suitability.

What personal feedback I got was a little offensive. Over dinner a female vicar asked me what I did for a career. I said 'Journalist' at which point she told me that she has a journalist in her congregation who said that anything she said is in the public domain so can be published. She made it quite clear that this was obviously true for me and therefore I should not be trusted. I commented about my experiences of bias at Premier Radio and she said that all journalists were biased. I said that under the OfCom code it was illegal for broadcasters not to be fair and on the whole they succeed. She tutted and looked away. Next, I asked her what job she did when she was an unpaid minister in the church and she said that the church was her full life though, it transpired, she worked at a bank but the air of 'mightier and better than thou' remained. So when, we discussed how services should be run and she told me that they all had to be the same as routine led to profoundness, I remained silent. This was interesting but I disagree as this leaves no room for the individual to express themselves. Her moral judgements about my career were depressing and shortsighted. Her air of disapproval were marked (though I am not sure always intentional).

So this was not a good start as to how I view selection. The whole process seems archaic to put it politely; there are seven different stages before you are selected for training followed by three years training (full-time) which is then followed by at least two years as a Deacon then a curate before being given your own parish. This is a very long process and a lot of it seemed to be a bout what 'THEY' (the church hierachy) perceived as my skills and my calling rather than what I did. Whilst anyone can convince themselves that they are suited to a role this did seem an extreme way of testing it.

A good friend of mine (thanks T) said to me recently that to contemplate a career change like that was a tad radical and that you have to be very sure before contemplating it. As he pointed out, I am also somewhat obsessive about news. Most people do not stay up all night for general election coverage. And particularly election coverage on the other side of the world. I'm also quite a good journalist, to be honest (did I mention I got a distinction? Pride, another sin) and it would be a shame not to use those skills.

Another friends (indeed, another T) thinks that I should just go for it. L thinks that nothing (gender, sexuality, background) should stop people 'doing God's work.' They are both right but in the end, I need to get to the stage where I am ready and comfortable to be challenged. I think that time may come but that time is not necessarily now; a little more wordly experience, a little more life.

Also, to be frank, there are several things that need to be resolved in my personal life before I think they will take me seriously as a candidate. Furthermore, deciding on something so fundemental at a time of change and unemployment may not be the wisest thing so some stability and work in my life would be good before making my mind up.

My final thoughts as I drove home were that this was not the time now but I so know that this will become an issue. I do wonder if the Church in Wales is for me as I have spent most of my time in the Church of England. I think it would be wise to get a job, become involved in a church and perhaps its PCC, work and preaching before committing as my gut reation is that St Asaph is not the place for me.

So, a disappointing day simply as those leading our churches are not always the best at inspiring others to be involved or indeed the best communicators.


Friday, December 15, 2006

The News This Week ... Art or Science?

Well, what a strange week it has been this week. The news has been focussed on really one thing: the murders in Suffolk. Indeed, tonight we had a thirty minute 'BBC News Special' as we had not heard enough already. That said, there has been a slight feeling of panic about all of this.

Let's start by getting things in perspective: the 'Suffolk Ripper' as the killer is being called is horrific. Five deaths in two weeks and the possibility of more killings over the last 14 years. It is worrying. The speed is remarkable the infamous 'Jack the Ripper' killed the same number over 10 weeks and was never found. The 'Yorkshire Ripper' killed 13 over 5 years amd there were two gaps beyween murders of over a year. So, this is fast, deadly and worrying. I cannot remember in recent times such a killing spree.

What interests me more is the lack of information we have. No precise times. Few details. The media call the murderer 'he' but it remains unconfirmed the sex of the killer. The media demand and there just seems to be no details available. So, what we have is a debate on prostitution and the size of Police forces.

So, there is a sense of reporting an unknown and, as a journalist, that is more frightening as the emphasis shifts from hard fact to speculation. This is where journalism is split between an art and a science. An art in its language in its avoidance of a definite point of view, a science in its precision and basis on facts.

And this is very much the role of the police. Combining hypothesis as to what happened in Suffolk with hard, scientific fact proving the death. Therefore, in this case, the media and the police have a lot in common. Perhaps, by working together they can solve this crime and the media can stop filling our ears with, frankly, dull debates.


Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Is it me but ...

Now, correct me if I am wrong but:
(a) Devolution to the Welsh Assembly was meant to improve matters for Welsh people.
(b) Nine and half years into a Labour Administration, we're told that the NHS is getting better and that waiting lists are down.
(c) Most non-emergency, out-patient working (according to the BBC) is now carried out in 13 weeks in England.

If (a) and (b) are true then:
(1) Why has it taken my Mother two weeks to get an appointment to see the Doctors in Wales?
(2) Why is that 'two weeks is normal in Wales' (according to the Nurse) when a week seems more normal a mile over the border?
(3) Why is there no walk-in centre in North Wales but there has been for years in Coventry and Sheffield?
(4) Why did it take over a year to get my hearing tested?

Is it me but things are not quite right. Ok, so prescription prices are half in Wales what they are in England but you need to see a doctor to prescribe them. Do you think I have a case in court of Human Rights about dicriminating against parts of the population?

Answers on a post card ...


Saturday, December 02, 2006

The News This Week

Sometimes looking at the headlines is like looking into the past. The case of the Russian poisoning case is a hark back to the cold war at its chilliest. It is a very odd set of events for the twenty-first century.

Then there's the story of the BBC chairmanship ... I've been trying to explain to non-media people why this is interesting. So far ... no luck without returning to Cliches. It will change the vision for the BBC? Probably not as this is the governing arm rather than the executive. It will change the values? No. It will change the balance of broadcasting? Not really - Murdoch has it all wrapped up. The major changes for the BBC Governors have already been sorted (the 'BBC Trust' has been established and the Charter Review nearly completed), so it is hard to see the impact. It does give us a chance to examine the Beeb and her issues. It also gives the bookies a good opportunity to guess who will be 'next.' Current bets include David Dimbleby
I suppose, in the end, the major impact of a new chairman will only become clear next time they have to cope with a crisis of a major scale.

However, the story that has irritated me most this week is the story of Gordon Brown's child. Before I go any further, I would like to say that I am deeply sorry for Fraser and his family as the cope with Cystic Fibrosis. I remember studying the condition in genetics classes at school and being amazed at how far the drugs have progressed recently but it does not mean that it is any easier to live with.

What makes me a little irritated is the managing of the press through this. Firstly, remember that the Press Complaints Commission Code of Conduct, Clause 6, states that just because a parent is famous does not give the press the right to publish a story about a child. As we have seen with various stories of the Blair family and the hardships of the Browns in recent years, politicians do ask for privacy for their children and the press are getting better at respecting that. However, this story was released or it could not have been covered (PCC Code, Clause 6) and, indeed, it was released to 'The Sun.' I also wonder why it was released now when the Browns found out in July; I'm sure that arguments of being in control of the story, coming to term with the news personally and only releasing the story when necessary would be banded. The cynic in me wonders if this was building up 'Gordon: The Family Man' image and creating human sympathy for a potential Prime Minister.

So, whilst I do feel sorry for the Browns for their problems, I also feel a little sorry that they have to press manage their family news as well,