Beneath the comfy blanket of open-mindedness

Scene from 'La mala educacion'

Scene from the movie 'La mala educacion' by Pedro Almodóvar

Apart from the news of endless riots in Africa and/or Asia, another topic caught my attention during this week. It was the controversial incident of a gay couple thrown out of a pub in Soho for displaying their affection in public.

I first saw the news in the Guardian , but I was intrigued by the comments of several followers of the BBC programme World Have Your Say on Facebook.

I won’t pick any names or concrete examples, as anyone interested can read them by him/herself, but many of them were against homosexuality or at least against public displays of affection when it comes to love between two persons of the same sex.

Of course, the opinions are very different as they come from people all over the world with different mentalities, cultures and education, but it was strange to find so many comments blaming the two guys who were asked to leave John Snow because they were being “obscene”.

I don’t know what they were really doing and how intimate they were, but as far as I know Soho is far from being a conservative , immaculate place in London. And to kick someone out from a pub because they are gay — well, that’s really racist and discriminative, isn’t it?

So this brings me to what I really want to emphasize, the fact that so many ‘westerns’ pose in the perfect, sincere image of open-minded people that understand the concept of politically-correctness and overcome any barriers of race, religion or sexuality. Which is not entirely true as a gram of racial segregation lays in many of them under that fluffy, elegant blanket of ‘anti-discrimination’ attitude.

I’m sure there are people who really feel that way without any absconded thought, but the rest just likes to pretend that they are better when it’s not really the case.

I am sure there is research on people’s real feelings towards racism – with everything that this involves – but I wonder what the results would be of an anonymous survey on at least 3,000 people coming from ‘civilised countries’ on a similar topic, including matters of homosexuality, immigration, interracial marriages etc.

Unfortunately I don’t think we really want to know the truth, cause it’s much more comfortable to point finger in public and then spit from behind.

I’d rather debate on topics such as ‘priests sexually abusing children/boys.’ That is what it should really bother us and make us nausea rather than two men/women kissing eachother in a pub in a city which is famous for extravaganza and libertine.


Semi-retired teacher captures village life in HDR photography

Simon Bull, 58, switched from teaching to high dynamic range photography, in order to capture the daily life in Hathersage for future generations.

Mr. Bull admits he has always been interested in photography, but only after finishing the 31 years of full teaching in Derbyshire Primary Schools, did he have time to focus on his hobby.

Mr. Simon Bull at the Christmas Market in Buxton

Mr. Simon Bull at the Christmas Market in Buxton

He chose HDR photography, a technique made with computer graphics, which produces an almost alive texture to the photos. In the last five years, Simon became known as the photographer of the village.

“People tend to ignore me in a positive way if I have my camera in my hand, so the resulting images are far more natural and informal, which people like.

“I’ve always thought about my images of local events being used at a future date as they do portray some aspects of village life and characters as seen in about 2005-2010,” he added.

Kenya’s unique experience

Not only local organisations have been interested in his style of photography, but he was also invited by a Fair Trade company to a trip to Kenya to capture “the processes of the wood carvers, the basket weavers and the metalworkers”.

Mr. Bull described this opportunity as “a very unique experience” as he saw all the places that tourists wouldn’t get to see, even though he was protected by police all the time.

Mr. Bull usually exhibits his photos at the end of the Hathersage Gala Week in July. But this year, he was also present at Christmas markets in Buxton, where he sold over £600 of images and agreed on two commissions – one wedding and work for a hotel website.

About a year ago, he produced images for the Hathersage Business Centre to help the sale of the business units in the centre. But HDR photography remains a hobby for him as he doesn’t rely on the income from it.

‘Great aptitude for photography’

Although he does not consider himself an artist, Simon Bull’s images have appeared in a variety of photographic journals. His work was recently published in an issue of the ‘Digital Photographer’ magazine. Mr. Bull is also a member of the project Living Art.

Simon Homfray, from Living Art, said: “I got to know Simon a little over the last few years and can vouch for him as a person of great aptitude for photography. He is a kind, warm and friendly person.”


Steam_and_Smoke_Dragon by Simon Bull

Always looking for interesting textures, Mr. Bull likes to take photos that “can make you feel the steam of trains, the light of the church, the snow or the people.”

Although his portfolio contains pictures from all around the world, he would not travel “for the sake of capturing particularly places.”

He believes “there are still plenty of images to be had locally as each day brings different light, different weather conditions or different events.”

Any of these images are available for sale – email giving details of the particular image or images you require. See pricing here.

London Trip: Lords, Commons and Journalists. Part 2

This is my Part 2 of the London trip I took with my classmates from the University of Sheffield. After Part 1 which was a bit more focused on the newsroom and the journalists we’ve met in those places, the second leg of the journey consisted in the big, bad houses of the British Parliament.

“Hats Off, Strangers!”

Huge, impressive and traditional – are the key terms to describe what I’ve seen. For me, coming from a country with 21 years of freedom from the communist era, the traditions and history of the British Parliament are pretty unusual, yet interesting and dazzling. I’m sure many British people could contradict me on that, but I’m looking at it through the eye of an eastern-European 🙂


Westminster Hall

Westminster Hall was completed in 1099

Anyway, the House of Lords seems to have some incredible rules and traditions – which I respect, but I also find them a bit odd and too snobbish, while the House of Commons is a perfect scene for the staged “controversial” debates involving the Prime-Minister, his party and the opposition. Unfortunately I was not lucky enough to get a ticket for the PMQs questions, but we watched it live on TV in a room in the Parliament and it looked like a really bad comedy 😦 I was glad to hear the fire alarm and then have a walk to the Trafalgar Square. But, overall, it was a good chance for me and my colleagues to discover and understand better how the Parliament works (or sometimes doesn’t) in this country.

However, our guests were some popular and influential journalists/politicians in the British media (this applies also for the term “politician”).  Kevin Maguire , a political journalist, seems to me as the typical political journalist who’s best friends with some politicians and takes all his stories from these internal, personal sources. Actually he admitted that he has not done a proper interview in an office since the 1990s. All his stories are written after meetings in pubs, restaurants, official dinners and probably some other friendly circumstances. I liked the way he talked and his style, but you could easily notice that he was like a character playing the political journalist role in a movie at Hollywood…

“Blogging is a way to get yourself noticed”

Our second guest was Iain Dale . Quite famous in UK for his blog. I loved him, really…he seemed more honest than the others and he talked as if he really cared about…his job, journalism and politics. Maybe he was just a better actor than Maguire..then he fooled me 🙂 He gave us some good tips about blogs, abusive bloggers, blog stalkers and the use of social media. But what I really enjoyed was his talk about the LBC Radio show he’s doing and how easy it becomes to empathise with your listeners.  He was right when he said that anyone would comment on a topic which involved Iraq, homosexuality, abortion, war and some other key terms. There’s always a show where these topics are mentioned…See more on Iain Dale on (my classmate) Christina’s blog.

Veni, vidi, vici style

Unfortunately I can’t remember the name of our third guest and I really feel bad about it because I liked him. He didn’t spend enough time in the politics to lie without blinking, so he was frank, concerned and excited about talking to us. He was asked to meet us instead of Luciana Berger, who had to attend some other urgent event. Anyway, I hope someone will remind me his name..a young boy, former student at the Uni. of Sheffield who got a good job at the Parliament.

Last but not least was Paul Blomfield , MP for Sheffield Central. Not too much to say about him..he’s a politician. He came, he voted, he answered his questions as a politician and then he left.

All the four encounters were an interesting experience for us, as future journalists, even though some of us might never practice journalism in the UK, I still consider it has been a great trip with loads of things to learn. Plus, not too many people have the chance to meet in flesh and talk to these journalists, politicians and media people.

Sure, maybe not everything was perfect during our trip, but most of it was. So it was an honour in a way, for me, to be there, to represent the University of Sheffield together with all my classmates and to take part in such a great experience. Plus, we really had a good time between and after the official schedule 😀 whoop whoop!

London trip: constructive, impressive, innovative. Part 1

I’ve been to London for three days of tours of three different newsrooms and the two big Houses of Parliament. It was a trip designed and paid for by the University of Sheffield for the Web and Magazine journalism students. I will describe it using one word for each place I’ve been to during these days in one of the most busiest and tiresome cities in the world.

This is also a form of a feedback for our great tutor Bill Carmichael who had the patience to wait for all of us and the energy to answer our questions and even to have dinner with us in China Town! 🙂

Group picture in China Town

Group picture in China Town

First of all, I want to emphasize on the importance of this trip, especially, to the Newsrooms because they have offered us a good taste of the real world of journalism. It’s not fake, it’s not an exercise, it is what it is: journalism in some of the largest newsrooms in UK or in the world. We could have never learned about them from staying in Sheffield.

1.BBC Online – impressive
2.The Independent – constructive
3.Daily Mail Online – innovative (yet realistic)

Tour of BBC

Tour of BBC

BBC Television Centre is the name of this huge newsroom with thousands of people working for it. It is impressive to step in a centre where you can actually feel the journalism in every bit of it. TV studios, live broadcasting, phones ringing, tweetDecks refreshing chaotically, TVs on each desk, people typing frantically and a real town underground with shops, pharmacies and cafes. How cannot this be impressive?

BBC Television Centre

BBC Television Centre

The tour just gave me chills. I think it’s every journalist’s dream to have at least some months of work for the BBC. Though what sort of discouraged me was Matthew Eltringham‘s frank response about the hard chances a journalist has nowadays to get a job with the BBC considering the cuts they have suffered in the past six months. However, a man can dream, right? 🙂

The Independent newsroom is, obviously, much more different and smaller. Still, journalists act almost the same: Stamina and nerve all the way. Jack Riley was our host at Northcliffe House, a building that gives home to several newspapers such as Daily Mail, London Evening Standard, Metro and some others which I can’t really remember now. We mostly talked about social media and the roles it plays in the life of a newspaper, in terms of marketing and newsgathering. Hmm, actually I reckon we talked more about the marketing side of social-media and how it helped the newspapers (the 20p “I” too) gain more readers.

Anyway, it was a constructive talk with good questions coming from my classmates. I believe it is also important to mention here that the Independent looks to find an efficient way of payable content like the Times. It is an interesting challenge, but I consider there are too many ways to read the news for a paper to earn money through this system. It should probably upload online some great, exclusive materials worth to be paid for.

Finally, the Daily Mail Online, the newsroom which seems the perfect place for web journalists. It was the ONLY newsroom that gave me the feeling that the WEB Department really matters for a newspaper. I say this because for BBC and the Independent the online seems to be the “necessary evil” (apud Hanne). The web is just an auxiliary tool fed with information coming from TV, Radio and news agencies. It just seems boring to me…but I pray to God to be wrong.

Northcliffe House

Northcliffe House

Unlike many other newsrooms, Daily Mail cares about its website, it might be because it’s the second read/largest in the world after the New York Times? Although they opened their website later than all the others competitors in the UK, Daily Mail tried to change the traditional, sometimes boring, journalism. I know Daily Mail does not have the most qualitative news in the media, but its way of writing them (online) triggers millions of readers per day. I loved it the most maybe because our speakers, Sarah Graham and Claire Bates (former student at Web Journalism, Uni of Sheffield) expressed a really realistic view on what readers want from a news website.

Long headlines that explain the whole story, a catchy teaser, many photos with short captions, some more photos, bullet points, photos again and in the end, a big section of commentaries moderated by people hired especially for this job.

A 24-hour newsroom, with night-shifts and people updating the homepage sometimes within seconds. They have reinvented the traditional journalistic titles. Because this is online and that’s the beauty of it: no space limit. Sure, most of the people skim through an online text and that is why Daily Mail based its strategy on the big, long headlines that would attract a reader and not deceive him with some short, lacking (almost) sentences.

There are definitely different views on this – they don’t teach you this in school; I know some journalism teachers who would die from heart attack if I wrote such titles for my patch stories 😀 – however, it works for them, and it works pretty damn good too. Daily Mail has recently opened two offices in New York and Los Angeles, going after the first place in the world by overrunning the NYTimes. Fingers crossed!

They spoke the truth: rewriting stories is vital for web journalism otherwise you could never get 400 stories a day for your online version. There’s no shame in that as far as journalists use their own words and dig for some more info. In-depth research comes when it’s time for that. Phones are best friends with these journalists and so are the Picture and Video agencies, those which provide them with great content. And on top of everything is the unique style they are using for writing these stories.

Inside BBC

Inside BBC newsroom on Wood Lane

Overall, I think the trips to the newsrooms showed us that web journalism is not as evolved as I thought. I mean, as a web journalist you have to do broadcast and print at the same time, but by using twitter and your multi-tasking phone. Matthew, from BBC, said there is no such thing as a “specialised web journalist”, therefore I ask myself if the online reporters are really doing a journalistic work or if the web will ever become more important than the print? Because, obviously it hasn’t yet or at least most of the traditional journalists don’t see it like that.

My second part on the Houses of Parliament and our political speakers will be published soon 🙂


Tour of Houses of Parliament

Twitter lesson with @fieldproducer

As a journo at University of Sheffield, I had the great pleasure to meet Neal Mann aka fieldproducer today, on a Twitter workshop. He describes himself as a “Freelance Journalist & social media junkie working for the likes of Sky News.” Basically, he has been breaking news on Twitter since 2009 for Sky News. Neal was a former broadcast MA student at the Uni. And he came to teach us some in-depth about this weird, yet fabulous micro-blogging platform. I admit I’m not such a big fan of tweeting, but I guess that’s because I’m more of a Facebook person.

However, there’s another story with Mark Zuckerberg’s billion wonder – it’s more friend like than newswise. There are many tips about Twitter on hundreds or thousands of blogs, yet not many people use Twitter as a tool for news gathering. Most of the print and web journalists, especially in my country, Romania, tweet only for promoting their articles, editorials etc. And that’s just fine, but there is more than selling your news on Twitter. There are stories hiding behind those 140 character messages, stories which can reach you faster and stronger even than media agencies such as AP or Reuters.

I remember, when I worked for, that some of the very first pictures I’ve seen with the bomb attacks on Moscow metro last year came from Twitter. And so did the pictures of the airplane landing safely on Hudson river or the pictures of the train crash in Belgium in Feb. 2010. There are numerous examples of the “hand” that Twitter gives to journalists and I think that those who grab this hand can score some white-pinkish points in their news rooms.

Obviously, you have to know who to follow and who are the three (or several) reliable sources you need as a journalist to put together a story. Breaking news is not simple in an era of global, digital journalism in which there are so many people who have access to a diversity of sources, from bloggers to common citizens. That’s when a good twitter account makes the difference!

Neal advised us to use Twitter for making lists of people according to our and their interests (i.e. police, military, council lists). It’s not easy to gain important, influential people as your followers, but building a brand of yourself for the virtual world triggers confidence and privacy. And then people will feel safe and confident enough to talk to you first before going to other journalists. So, Twitter helps us gain the trust of thousands of people that we have not even met before in the flesh. For a conservative, traditional journalist this sounds as an absolute madness, however famous media trusts base some of their most valuable news stories on such investigation.

It takes time, a smart phone and a good wi-fi connection to be on Twitter all day long, seven days a week, and sometimes it might be boring, but I strongly believe it can easily become an addiction. Oh, and one more thing I was told today: don’t broadcast your hangover, the colour of your piss or the smell of your morning coffee…nobody cares about it, unless you’re famous, of course! 🙂

Why ‘GoodFood’ came to Romania

I found out today that Romanian food is disgusting. Or at least I was told so. I’m not that much into Romanian dishes either, but I definitely disagree with such a statement. It came from a wise, impressive man, who tried to make a joke, I suppose, about how “GoodFood” magazine came to Romania. He said he tasted some jelly thing – I didn’t exactly understand – possibly pork jelly meaning “Piftie” or else I have no idea what he was talking about. There are several issues to be discussed here from mentalities and culture to personal taste, but that’s another story. I’m just talking on the surface of a day.

Of course, de gustibus non est disputandum, but you can’t judge a book by its cover either, right? So, I think it would be better to keep the joke on a local level next time and not generalise it on the whole national cuisine. I bet he’d never thought there could be a Romanian student in that big class room listening once again to ironic jokes about Romania.
With all due respect, Mr. Brett, unless you’ve tried all the national Romanian dishes and found most of them disgusting, don’t say that might have been the reason why “GoodFood” magazine came to Romania. I’m sure it’s more than that, isn’t it?

On the other hand, the lecture was great. I found it very useful to learn about the 4 P: Preparation, Passion, Professionalism and Persistence. Too bad I don’t fancy cooking, not even triple tested recipes.

“1,2,3 Libya must be free!” [Video]

This was one of the slogans Libyan protesters shouted against Col Muammar Gaddafi’s regime, this afternoon in Sheffield City Centre.

About 50 people – including children and women – gathered outside the town hall to join the spiral of protests throughout nations in North Africa. The price to pay for a democratic reform in Libya seems to be a river of blood, after security forces fired on protesters in Tripoli on Sunday night.

Boosted by Egypt revolts, Libyans believe now it’s the right time for a change. On the other hand, Colonel Muammar Gaddafi – who has led since 1969 – and his son Saif al-Islam would rather start a civil war than surrender to the opposition.

During the demonstrations in Sheffield, the Libyan protesters stopped to pray at 2pm.

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