Monday, 8 August 2011

SitC 2011

As per usual, I have been in charge of putting together the Summer in the City Publication. As per usual again, we went right down to the wire but you will all (well... the first 350 of you to give us money) get your 16 page SitC souvenir this year packed full of advice, commentary and pretty drawings.

As a little taster of the publication and next weekend, here is a sneak peak of my forward.

It’s not a lie; some YouTube careers are born more equal than others. Some have the funds to buy the best equipment from the start, some get sponsored by big companies, some of us are cuter than others, some don’t have to deal with firewalls and there are those that are just more talented than others – don’t you just hate the talented people?

That said, we all have one thing in common; we all started from zero. There was a point in every YouTube channel’s life where the number under subscribers said, “0”.

This is worth remembering now that our gathering turns three and YouTube turns 6. It can be very easy for those of us that haven’t been as successful as others, and those of us that are just starting on the site, to look at those with huge success with envious eyes. “Why is that not me?” we may cry. Just remember that if you encounter someone with more subscribers, they were once on the same rung of the ladder as you.

It doesn’t just go for the negative. YouTubers sometimes have a tendency to put those on the site who are more successful on high pedestals. If you are scared to go up to a person at this gathering which you are attending, remember that they were once in the same position; a nobody in the crowd of what felt like the coolest most talented people in the world. Swallow that fear and go and talk to those who you admire, I can guarantee both sides will be happier for it.

That said; if you are a fan-girl, please keep the screaming to a minimum...

Tuesday, 12 April 2011


You very often hear about decisions by the Chinese government displacing people, their homes and businesses for the sake of modernisation. Destructions of huge areas of traditional housing called Hutongs during the revamp of Beijing in run up to the Olympics and the flooding of whole towns when the Three Gorges Dam was built. Quite often people are given very little warning and whether or not they receive compensation is a bit hit and miss.

You hear about these stories, you know they happen and you know that it is unfair, but it’s very different when it happens to someone you know.

Outside the foreign student dormitory here in Nanjing there are a couple of shops lined outside ready for our custom selling all manner of goods; alcohol, cigarettes, soft drinks, instant noodles etc. We have spent long summer nights sitting outside their shabby shops drinking, playing cards, teaching them rude words in English. A fond memory of mine was watching the World Cup last year huddled around tiny TV screens when all of a sudden every Chinese person knew the name of each player on every European team.

Today one of these shops was ripped down. They are renovating the whole area around the foreign student dorms, ripping out railings and painting bricks onto newly painted maroon walls. One teacher proudly told us that it was being redesigned to look like Europe. My French friend and I rolled our eyes.

The owners of the shop were told yesterday that they had ten days to move out. They were then told at noon today that their shop was going to be ripped out this evening. All their goods were dragged out onto the street by four o’clock for the demolition at around 6. Mounds of corrugated iron and brick now lay where the little shop once stood.

What is frustrating is that we can do nothing about it. No petition to sign, no MP to call, no channels what-so-ever to give these people some kind of a voice. “没办法,” Mei ban fa, "there is no way," as the owners have told us. There is no point in trying because we all know nothing can be done.

We are now trying to host a little party on the steps outside the student dorm to try and help them get rid of their stock before they are inevitably moved on. I’m going to break out my long neglected ukulele and hopefully make an evening of it. These people have made it that much easier for many of us to partake in binge drinking and satisfy our early morning urges for instant noodles for years. This is the least we can do.

If you’re reading this and are in Nanjing, I hope to see you there. If you are not, appreciate the fact you are protected from this happening to you.

Monday, 14 March 2011

Idiocy on the Internet

The last few months has seen the Internet praised beyond belief. Corrupt and repressive regimes throughout the Middle-East challenged and toppled through the wonders of Facebook and Twitter - two sites which seem to be compared to the left and right hand of justice as of late. It was pointed out by a Tunisian woman on BBC's The World Tonight on Radio 4 that these were simply the catalyst. It was the Al Jazeera television news network that gave these Facebook groups legitimacy, these tweets a wider audience. The woman quite rightly pointed out,

"Nearly everyone has a TV in Tunisia, much fewer people have Facebook."

I don't want to take away from the ongoing success these mediums are having, but without mainstream media validating the online happenings, it is possible the movement that is still sweeping the middle east would have not had the impact it has had; restricted to those who use and have access to these technologies.

New media, the voice of the individual is talked up a lot nowadays. It is even suggested that independent by the twitter generation will overtake mainstream media, the BBCs and the CNNs, in the future.

In my opinion, those claims are cods-wallop.

Yes, any television show even remotely concerned with keeping up with the times has to have a "tweet us" section, but it is still these traditional form of media that validate what is said online, otherwise Twitter just lives up to its name.

A case in point is the death of Michael Jackson. People were tweeting about the fact he had died way before anyone had announced it. It was famously broken by the celebrity and entertainment blog, TMZ, but even then the mainstream news knew that it was their job to wait until a official announcement. If a blog breaks news, you have to take it with a pinch of salt.

I believe this is the future of the traditional media providers; the calm voice, telling everyone to shut up until official people speak.

I've been thinking about this because at 10 o'clock this morning I received a text that told me a nuclear reactor had blown up in Japan and I was going to get showered with radioactive rain within the next 48 hours. I proceeded to forward the text onto anyone I knew warning them to stay indoors, wear a mackintosh and rub iodine on their thyroids.

Texts sent, I began to question what I had just done; sending the whole city of Nanjing into blind panic because of one text. I got online, checked BBC, and lo and behold we were fine. No acid rain, no nuclear explosion, just a bit of leakage and people being paranoid of nuclear energy in America. There was even a government statement from the Philippine government warning about the exact text I had just received that was circulating through the Asian expat community.

Quickly send another text apologising for the panic I had caused.

The fact is community based media is all well and good when it comes to commentary and gossip but when it comes to hard facts and investigative journalism, Twitter, Blogger and even shows like mine on YouTube are way behind the professionals.

Friday, 25 February 2011

The Problem with YouTube Interviews

An interview has recently become available on YouTube in collaboration with Aljazeera with the UK Prime Minister, David Cameron where people around the world are encouraged to send in questions through video or text that are then put to the PM.

Some of you die-harders will remember that I once took part in a similar project when good, old Gordon was the top man. Back then I probably partook in the feature without really thinking about it, it was a chance to partake in the ultimate democracy, for the head of the country to be held accountable directly to the people. Part of my own personal vanity was also knocking around at the back of my brain, "the PM is going to know who you are!" Admittedly, I did kind of like it when he said my name in his sultry, Scottish tones. I can't be the only one with a slight man-crush on big G, right?

However, in retrospect and after being reminded of the whole thing by this recent Aljazeera-YT collaboration, I now feel the whole concept of a YouTube based interview falls flat on it's face.

I remember my frustration when Gordon Brown answered my question but did what politicians often do; sidestep the issue and talked about something that suited him better.

With no-one to follow up the question, to hold the interviewee accountable for his answer, the politician is just going to be able to be, well, a politician. And all the while saying they have held up the beacon of democracy while taking part in a what is nothing compared to a good grilling on BBC Question Time.

The Aljazeera-YT interview took one step further and provided a ghost interviewer who would occasionally rephrase questions if David got confused. Unfortunately, the reporter would rarely follow up the answers of the PM apart from reminding him of parts of the question he forgets to answer or when talking about Isreal. The PM was often allowed to freely dismiss and 'reject' questions.

Another problem is that of the people asking the questions. They clearly have concerns about the government's policy that they are trying to get heard, questions about public service cuts and the selling of arms in the Middle-East, but they are so easily dismissed by the PM as rubbish because of the way the question was phrased, because they weren't allowed to clarify or because they didn't back their point up with statistics.

This format of using YouTube as a platform of interviews and connecting those in power to those who put them there is symbolically important and has great potential. However, that potential is not being harnessed at the moment. The interviewees need to be grilled and held accountable, better journalism is needed here. I also think live video links would be a better way for those asking the questions to get a satisfactory answer out of their representatives.

My criticisms should not take away from the fantastic potential of these kinds of projects. Symbolically it is a wonderful advocate for democracy. I still feel, however, that the art of the YouTube interview still has some room for improvement.

Saturday, 5 February 2011

Big Society Multiculturalism

A BBC headline tells us that Cameron denounces state multiculturalism as a failure, following, no doubt, the recent comments that Britain has become a safe haven for terrorists.

No doubt liberals everywhere will be waving their hands around calling foul play, that will be calling for a celebration of our British, multicultural liberalism and a stop to the Conservatives’ attack on immigration. I don’t blame them, I would be one of them, IF Cameron had said that, but when you look at the content of his words rather than the attention grabbing headline that the Beeb went with then you will discover that wasn’t the focus of his statement.

In what I consider to be a questionable choice of words, the Prime Minister is in fact saying that integration of communities has failed, which in turn has not succeeded in providing,

“ … a vision of society to which they feel they want to belong.”

He also says that in British society,

“We have even tolerated these segregated communities behaving in ways that run counter to our values.”

On both these points, and it pains me to say this about Cameron, I largely agree with him.

In the fear of offending or excluding our multicultural, multi-ethnic and multi-religious communities, Britain has failed to define itself as a culture and a society in the past half a century or so. It is this inability of giving young people who can no longer identify with the concept of fighting for Queen and empire in the Second World War a firm national identity that has created a society of segregated, angry youths that see blowing themselves up on public transport as an option.

Reading that back that is probably one of the most right-wing things I have ever said. Let me explain.

There is evidence that those that turn to violence, whether they be BNP supporters, Islamic extremists or IRA activists rarely or never come into significant contact with their relative opposite groups. I am a believer that anger towards another community, religion or social group can always be neutralized if you get those groups to interact. They don’t need to become bezzie-mates, but if you humanise the other side the animosity can be greatly diffused.

This is where David Camerons favourite made-up cultural phenomenon, The Big Society, can come in.

Locally or nationally based independent bodies can be used to bring different communities together; not only those of different religion or colour, but of other different backgrounds like class and region. This is where things like community groups like YMCAs, Mosques, schools and even sports teams and leagues can help to build bridges.

There is one problem with this and that is the fact that these organizations need funding. Right now, the communities that can really make a difference in what the media so often call ‘Broken Britain’ are having the cash at their disposal savagely slashed.

I used to work at the Waiyin Society in Manchester that mainly work with women from the Chinese immigrant community in teaching them English, getting them qualifications and providing an area for them to socialise and ultimately helping them to integrate into British culture better. They also worked with immigrants from other backgrounds, as well as having a very active youth department which gave youths a place to hang out other than out on the street. I saw all the fantastic good that this and other organisations have the potential to do, but have also seen them have to cut back massively since the recession hit in 2008.

Cameron should be commended in having the courage to bring up a sensitive issue that has been tip-toed around for too long. He is, however, key in the destruction of the resource that would be one of the most effective ways of breaking down the social barriers and the segregation that he condemns so harshly. The Big Society is all very well and good, but it don’t come for free, not because people can’t be bothered, but because they can’t afford to.