Birmingham in pictures: beauty built on water and bridges

  • Is Birmingham ugly?

Birmingham is not a pretty city.

Many people will certainly disagree with the idea, and I’ll concede to them that beauty is entirely subjective. It just takes a few days of sightseeing in Britain’s second city streets to either be conquered – or repelled – by its – lack of – beauty.

The fact is, Birmingham does not seem quite sure where to stand. A walk in the City Centre might convince of this assertion. Victorian buildings stand alongside post-modern concrete three-storeys – making its charm hard to enjoy.

Whether or not Birmingham is an ugly city is an opinion that one can form only upon seeing the city for oneself. The Lord of the Rings’ Shire beautiful landscape and green pastures have been inspired by the namesake country park, at the south of the city, not far from where Tolkien grew up.

What remains a source of pride for Brummies’ is the city’s 36 miles of navigable canals, which is even more than Venice (26 miles), although Birmingham is more spread-out than La Serenissima. I set out to explore Brindley Place and the canals in what I would described as an attempt to capture this overlooked and shunned beauty, built on water and bridges – weak foundations.

  • Brindley Place in Pictures:

Brindley Place Birmingham
Along the canals of Birmingham in Brindley Place
Brindley Place Birmingham (2)
A bridge above the canal in Brindley Place
2015-02-08 17.06.44
A heavenly sight along Brindley Place’s canals
2015-02-08 17.10.36
Water and bridges: edifices upon which lies Birmingham’s beauty
2015-02-08 17.21.49
A reflection in the water
2015-02-08 17.26.01
Sunset on the Mailbox

More on “ugly Birmingham”

More on pretty Birmingham

‘A Rogue Reporter’ review – A film by Rich Peppiatt and Tom Jenkinson

Tuesday night, Rich Peppiatt, former reporter for the Daily Star honoured the Electric Cinema of his presence whilst his first ever movie ‘One Rogue Reporter‘ was screened the day of its national release. The film was co-directed with Tom Jenkinson and appears to be some sort of DIY compilation of archived images, pranking footages and interviews with contemporary figures of the British media landscape, including Hugh Grant, Steve Coogan, Owen Jones, Joan Smith and John Bishop.

On his website, Peppiatt describes himself as a “writer, filmmaker, journalist and comedian.” A writer and journalist he was, in the days he had to write what he calls ‘anti-muslim propaganda’ and ‘fit facts into stories’; a comedian, he certainly his, and the humorous approach he used in the movie has often been welcome by laughter from members of the audience; as to being a filmmaker, one just needs to seat in front of a screen and watch the 61 minutes of journalistic satyre he has just directed to be convinced that he definitely is. Just as a background fact, ‘One Rogue Reporter‘ was part of the official selection of this year’s Sheffield Documentary and East End Film Festivals. If that is not enough, the mighty John Cleese has even dubbed the film as “Hilarious” adding that he “highly recommends“.

One Rogue Reporter‘ explores the issues that journalism – tabloid journalism in particular – is facing nowadays. Amongst the problems brought up: an ideology based on ‘exposing and selling’ rather than telling the truth, newspapers acting as conservative propaganda and the lack of care or compassion towards potential victims of press casualties. The film is structured around seven chapters autobiographically inspired, introduced by a typewriter and all beginning with images of some of Hollywood’s biggest classics by Billy Wilder or Samuel Fuller.

The film’s first minutes see newly made freelance reporter Rich reflecting on his achievement at the Daily Star: hanging around prostitutes, dressing up as a transvestite, Santa Claus or wearing a burqa: nothing to be proud of really. He eventually justifies the reason why he chose to quit a job he had only taken because he needed to pay off his bills – and his student loan.

A cheaply disguised Rich with grey hair announcing to the camera he is going to interview ‘the most hated man in Britain‘. With this evocation, the figures of Piers Morgan or Jeremy Kyle could pop up in one’s head – and Rich actually walks past the Emirates Stadium, wrongly confirming these suspicions. However, it is not till the final chapter that will be revealed the identity of the chosen one: Kelvin Mackenzie former editor of tabloid The Sun. For those too young to be familiar with Mackenzie, he published an article called ‘The Truth‘ in his newspaper in April 1989 following the Hillsborough disaster where 96 Liverpool fans perished when bleachers crushed. In the piece, it was said some Nottingham Forrest fans took advantage of the situation to pick-pocket corpses also going as far as to “urinate on brave cops“. This cruel lack of subtlety partly explains the hatred Mackenzie is still victim of, even today.

In his interview, where he pretends to be working with a Canadian TV documentary, cheeky Rich is going to ask personal questions – hidden behind an innocent unawareness – relating directly to Mackenzie’s life. What is joyful and brings laughter in the audience is the awkwardness in which Mackenzie gets bogged down as he tries answering the questions with hidden shame before he eventually realises he his an utter fool – and as being taken as such.

One Rogue Reporter‘ also pranks famous tabloid figures, notably Daily Mail editor Paul Dacre whose qualities are highlighted when he is wonderfully described by The Guardian journalist Owen Jones as the “Worst human being in the world“. However, Rich would rather help than demonise Dacre, seeing “a man in need“; follows an hilarious conversation with Dacre’s gruff security guard around a dildo on a step door and a special midnight ejacul… projection over the front building of the Mail‘s bureaus. Amongst other targets of Peppiatt’s ruthless vendetta and investigation “weasel-faced” and former News Of The World chief reporter Neville Thurlbeck who bares it all for the (hidden) camera and Daily Express‘ editor Hugh Whittow whose car ends up plastered with newspapers display Madeleine McCann case related headlines.

One Rogue Reporter Peppiatt
Peppiatt just trying to help ‘a man in need’ in One Rogue Reporter

The film is quit populist and Peppiatt is probably the first one to recognise it, essentially because it can be seen on two different levels: firstly a comedy set in the journalistic world and secondly an in-depth criticism of problems surrounding Fleet Street. The issues raised are embedded in a context of cases that shook Britian such as the phone hacking scandal, the Leveson inquiry and the disappearance of Madeleine McCann.
To sum it up, ‘One Rogue Reporter‘ is a clever satyre, a witty comedy and a serious film that raises more question than it answers.

Brilliant in every ways. To enjoy without moderation.

Reflection on online journalism – December 2014

That’s mad how time flies.”

Although this might be one of the most popular, misused, and agreed upon sentences in the world – and also fills the gaps in an awkward conversation in which the weather has already been mentioned – it sort of rings true to me. I kind of feel like this has been what my worries and negative thoughts have revolved around lately.

I started university at the end of September and since then it’s all been a long succession of days in which work is taking the central spot. To tell you the truth, I don’t feel like I can commit to watching any new TV shows because it would distract me from my journalism path – and when the path is worth ten grands, a few months of abstinence don’t seem that much. To be fair, I am not complaining. I knew beforehand what I had signed for and here are the first things that I have learnt so far.

  • WordPress – Eastside

For our first assignment in Paul Bradshaw‘s module ‘Online Journalism‘, we were all given different online platforms to investigate, including Twitter, Instagram, and FaceBook. I ended up with WordPress. Overall I think I produced a decent piece of work – not terrible though not amazing. Using Birmingham Eastside, I managed to post 9 articles within a timescale of 8 weeks. I am not boasting, far from it – September Robin probably would though – as I come to realise that standards in this field are higher than this, way up there.

WordPress is not a very complicated platform to use. One can get to grips with it just by playing around a bit. In my case, I had already used it with the magazines (music ; cinema) I write for and was quite familiar with most of its functionalities. What I was more or less a rookie with were SMO and SEO. It is true that we had covered these in class and it just all seems like logical and simple steps that would get us more clicks and views. The reality is somewhat different.

  • Search Engine Optimisation:

My biggest failure with this experiment can be summed up with three single words: “search – engine – optimisation”. Amongst the +400 views my articles got, I dare you to guess how many came from the fact that they ranked well on search engines.

If you guessed one, well done. If you guessed more than that, you have truly flattered my ego. If you guessed otherwise, f**k off, you’re a prick. Sorry, this was inconsiderate and I apologise, maybe I am still too touchy about it…

I learnt that you may be an expert on SEO, if you have not got the tools (a website with an already constituted audience and them referring to your blog) then there is not much you can do.

Starting off with the domain name “Birminghameastside” it appeared complicated to optimise stories in which Birmingham was not the focus for search engines.

Unfortunately, according to Bruce Clay’s SEO hierarchy of needs, the thing that matters the most for a blog to rank well on search engines is something that cannot be controlled: referrals and links to this blog. Of course there is still the option to post comments on blogs to engage a conversation (that has never occurred for me).

Bruce Clay's SEO Hierarchy of Needs
Bruce Clay’s SEO Hierarchy of Needs
  • Social Media Optimisation

In terms of SMO, the outcomes of the experiment were not as catastrophic as they were for SEO. Although the links on my tweets only got clicked on when they were relayed by others – I had less than a hundred followers then – I used the techniques I learnt throughout my SMO research. Here is what I found for Twitter:

  • Time:

Tweet around lunchtime and before/after dinner:

Tweet time

Also tweet on weekends:

tweet weekend

  • Characteristics:

The perfect tweet contains between 70 and 100 characters, a picture, hashtags, and a link. Alternatively, to optimise the link’s ‘clickability‘, it does not harm to make your tweet brief, clear, and add a bit of humour.

Alternatively, tweets that are using psychological techniques seem to work well. They would typically be addressed to the readers curiosity. Something along the lines of “This guy is the cleverest person on earth and here is the reason why.” engages your curiosity on two aspects (1) the guy (2) what he did.

If you clicked the link, it proves that the theory is right, not that I am the cleverest person on earth (thanks for making me feel that way though).

  • Lack of contacts equals lack of control?

The biggest problem to one’s progression – and I can relate to this a lot – in this field is something as similarly to SEO there is no way of exerting control over: others. Let me explain. When he writes articles about events, news, or even interview, the journalist needs to get in contact with people who will give him insights on circumstances, details, and feelings that will make the story unique and relevant for others who weren’t there.

How is it possible to be an efficient journalist if people do not reply to one’s mails or do not return calls? Suddenly, Camus‘ expression of the “unreasonable silence of the world” in front of our “desperate call for help” is starting to make sense.I guess a key point here is what is known in the jargon as networking. The more sources one has the less likely he is to get turned down or even worst: ignored. Perhaps it is something that takes time to build, a bit like SEO does.

Fortunately, I came across people who even though they had other preoccupations, had time to spare me. Although sometimes the person you are trying to reach do not respond, it happens that they will come back to you a month later or so apologising for their late reply and proposing an interview time that does not fit your schedule. The article has already been written and long gone from your home page anyway.

  • What it brought me:

The general experiment has been an interesting one, not only because it taught me how to cope with failure but because it made me realise that nothing can be taken for granted in journalism: there is no place for complacency. It also gave me the opportunity to explore social media – in particular Twitter – something that I had only used to connect with friends. I do realise now the potential of using it for professional development and networking and believe me, I plan to use it to that aim from now on. In a way I have already started, but that is a story for later.

Enterprise: A change of direction

  • Realisation:

Last week, I had a session that has been really helpful to me in terms of professional objectives. Something has been triggered in my head that made me think:

Oh my god, why didn’t I think of this before?”

For my entrepreneurial project, I have decided to specialise in music and cinema. The idea that establishing oneself in a niche market that one is specialised in is what will make you stand out, provided you have got the knowledge, the wit, and the style.

What led me there was mostly my background: music reviewer, movie critic and feature writer on arty things. Essentially, these are the experiences that made me enter if not break through journalism. However, I have come to realise that I may lack some of the resources to appear credible and stand out.

If last week lecture taught me something, it is surely that you need to believe in yourself and never back down when your idea gets sniggered at or mocked. If you truly think you can make it then try till you achieve what you had planned.

Moreover, my plan for the future does not necessarily coincide with music reviewing or movie criticising. That would be good though. The market is just too fickle and it’s hard to make a living just writing music or film reviews, especially when the industry has never been so appealing and does not necessarily pay.

I have been reflecting on things that I am passionate about and know in depth. Do not get me wrong though, I am passionate and knowledgeable when it comes to music and films, I just have doubts about how much do I know. I just think there are loads of people out there who know more than I do and who can write about it in a better way.

  • What made me go into journalism?

The question here is clear: why do I write?

To that question I have provided answers in my past reflection: I want to write a book, I have always written stories ever since I learned how to.

How blind was I not to see that these were not direct answers that tackled the problem to its root? A bit like the tree that hides the forest, these were just things I kept telling myself because they seemed decent, socially acceptable and expected answers.

Writing, for me is a process that will help me become a better, more thoughtful, and disciplined person (thanks James for making me realise). I do not write for others in the first place, though it helps to have readers – especially when your job revolves around writing. First and foremost, I do it for myself. Writing is an outlet where I can express my feelings and thoughts. Roughly, it is some kind of confessional to me.

I went into journalism not because I wanted to communicate things to others – although I am more and more chuffed by the idea– but because I wanted to express myself. In a world where communicating has never been that easy, I wanted to make myself heard although I am not very good at talking. I think I am much better at penning things down like I am doing right now.

  • Everyone has got something to say:

The other day, I went to the conservatoire and met an old woman whom I started talking to. We discussed for a bit and she started going on about herself. Never have I had a discussion that deep with someone I did not seem to share much with apart from the fact we where both foreigners in this country – nothing of that typical bullshit weather small talk I’ve grown accustomed to really.

From Birmingham we went on to Peaky Blinders. From Peaky Blinders we went on to Northern Ireland. From Northern Ireland we went on to the Second World War. From the Second World War on to her education, family and so on. Never did she make her motivation and thoughts clear.

Suddenly the thought occurred to me: what was she doing in Birmingham? Why did she move from Ireland to live here even though she doesn’t “particularly like it”? Following a free association thought process, not far from what a paranoid personality could achieve and that Freud would claim copyright on I arrived to the conclusion that in another setting, I could have completely ignored her and went on my way missing out on a fruitful conversation.

A bit like those people who talk about their childhood remembrances during the war, that woman would probably have something to say about IRA. For all I know maybe she tried to escape from it and found that Birmingham was the best place to settle in?

My point here is that whoever you are, behind you there is always a story. As dull as it appears to you, it might interest more people than you could think of. Your story just needs to go out there and take off.

  • What can you say?

I think I’ve had a lot of things happening to me that I could write about and could make people relate to: maybe behind diagnosed with cancer at a young age is one of them. Maybe obsessing over something that completely changed me is one of them.

All of that ranting may be gibberish to you but it is important for me to write it down because I do feel like writing is going to help me personally to express the way I feel – since I found it quite difficult and awkward to do it naturally.

How does this relate to my entrepreneurial project? I should probably change my area of specialisation. Essentially that would mean leaving the freelance music thing aside (though I would keep writing for the webzines I write for) and get into feature writing the way Vice does it. If it doesn’t work out in the end – and I genuinely feel the only thing that could stop me would not be a lack of interest from editors but the fact that I don’t master English quite as well as I wished I did – I can still try to contact other media outlets that will be interested to publish what is it I have to say. Rue89 for example is specialised in this sort of writing.

I’ve been working on a piece that I want to pitch to one of these publications before the New Year. That idea has been on the back of my mind for a long time now and I feel like making use of it for my enterprise project is much more consistent.

Passion I believe will have a positive outcome, however difficult the road is.

 

Enterprise idea: Start-up as a freelance writer/journalist

  • Robin Cannone – Online freelance writer and journalist:

RobinLogo
My logo

I have already been thinking for some time now about my entrepreneurial project. In a previous blog post I came to the conclusion that starting-up as a freelance was the wisest choice:

Partly because of the realism of the idea, partly because of the skills I have acquired throughout my journalistic experience.

This involves writing about music, cinema and news for magazines. You can find samples of my work by clicking on the magazine name:

In parallel, I have also developed various skills in journalism (use of softwares and tools such as Avid or WordPress). However, my research has led me to realise that I have much more chances to succeed if aiming at a niche market in which I have experience and knowledge (music in particular). Then, once I have made a name for myself in this field, I could potentially expand and write about pretty much everything.

Moreover, using all that distinguish me from others competitors, I can write in English as well as French which is a huge asset for magazines that publish in those two languages.

  • Potential competitors:
Mapping out freelancers around Birmingham (source www.journalism.co.uk)
Mapping out freelancers around Birmingham (source http://www.journalism.co.uk)

During my research, I came across a map on www.journalism.co.uk listing all the potential competitors around Birmingham with the same expertise as mine. I identified two freelancers within a distance of ten miles who were also specialised in music, films and arts in general. Their communication strategy, in particular with clients, is based on social media, notably Twitter, LinkedIn and WordPress.

Of course, I do know there are more than two potential competitors in the Midlands but any self-proclaimed ‘freelance writer‘ could be my potential competitor. And god knows how many there are out there.

To appear professional, it helps to have a blog and portfolio with samples of work that have been published. It is even better if you have been paid for your work. Here are my samples.

Using various tools, such as Followerwonk, LinkedIn and WordPress (which happen to be the tools freelancers use to promote themselves) I have searched for competitors around Birmingham: most of them are volunteers. My conclusion is that twitter is not the right platform to research for professional freelancers.

Freelance writers on Followerwonk
Freelance writers on Followerwonk
  • Objectives

I had drawn steps to follow at the end of a previous blog post. Instead of focusing on competitors, I forced myself to contacte the professionals I had identified as “role models” who do what I want to do. I tried contacting and researching as many as I could, with more or less success (two of them are now following me on Twitter):

  • James Nolan:

I interviewed James Nolan, who writes for Vice (one of my target magazines). Asking him various question, he replied giving me advice on how to get into freelance writing.

  •  Clive Martin:

He suggests to write passionately and excitingly:

clive martin

  • Etienne Menu:

In this interview, Etienne points out a tendency in French media to only talk about music in terms of meaningfulness. Suggesting to aspiring music journalists the need to write about music in a new way, less socially inclined and more artistically orientated.

It appears that what the industry is looking for is fresh air and original piece that approach things in another angle. And all the experts agree on the importance of modesty and the importance of voluntary work and pitching to a regional level before aiming for the national.

  • How to pitch:

Amongst all the successful freelancers I contacted, none was willing to discuss money and revenue because it did not look professional. I figured I would research the market and learn how to pitch so that I could send stories to editors and discuss money matters with them without sounding like an annoyance.

JournogradsPress GazetteCompany LinkedIn

All these websites come up with their own idea. Although things differ slightly on certain points, a general idea can be drawn on how to pitch stories to magazines.

  • Guidelines from research:
  1. Read magazine
  2. Look for writing guidelines
  3. Get the attention of Editor (email or phone call)
  4. Pitch a story
  5. Ask for commitment (joins Rob Fitzpatrick’s mom test)
  6. Send your work

Nevertheless, Instead of pitching the story, James advised me to send entire articles to magazines. He said:

I think when you don’t have a lot of credits it’s important to take a chance and do the work without waiting for permission to convince an editor you have what it takes.”

  • Evaluation of the enterprise model:

Business Model Canvas - Freelancing Robin

Following the Business Canvas Model, Simon Bolton‘s “How to innovate” programme, and my research of the industry, I have identified the core weaknesses (Broken Windows) of my idea and organised myself to remedy to these:

Issues and steps

  • Concerning the strength, my knowledge of the industry, my cultural experience of France and the UK and my contact networks (in both countries) are definitely going to be something pushing me forward.
  • For my next step, one of my contacts is going to introduce me to Fused Magazine (local) to remedy to the issues highlighted above. In parallel, I am going to start investing more into essential ressources.

If you are interested by my services, you can contact me using the form below:

Follow me on Twitter @robincannone

Portfolio

LinkedIn

 

Identify Objectives For Entrepreneurial Project:

 

Over the past two weeks have been thinking about an entrepreneurial project that could relate to my course .

‘Freelancing and Journalism Enterprise’ does not really give you the broadest of choices in what kind of business you could set up. Quickly, I came to the conclusion that the most realistic and down to earth idea was to start-up as a freelancer. Therefore, I have asked myself what does freelance mean. Apart from the obvious adjectives and expressions that automatically come to mind – precarious, tough, unsustainable, stressful, on the rope – there is also the underlying idea of independence, success and broad audience residing in the term.

  • Independence as a way of working
  • Success as the condition of a prosperous flourishing “business”
  • Audience as the people who will listen to what you have to say and possibly pay for it

 In order to give life to my project I have asked myself the following questions:

  • Who am I? What do I do?

I am a psychology graduate, a blogger with an interest in journalism, music, cinema and culture. I write online, read a lot of publications. Two of the things I show a great interest towards are :

  • The “underground”/subcultures
  • Write stories

From here, I realised the two could be mixed to cover “underground stories”. In other words, stories nobody would have thought could interest people. That is the kind of thing Vice magazine does.

  • What are my skills?

My level of expertise would probably be somewhere in between online blogging, music and cinema reviewing. Fair enough, a lot of people could boast about having the same skills and call themselves “online bloggers”, “music reviewers” or “movie critics”. As far as I am concerned, writing for webzines, watching movies, listening to music and reading about it is a good way to broaden your knowledge and hone your skills.

With university, we as students are encouraged to go out there and find stories, which is what journalists essentially do. Moreover, as I mentioned in an earlier post, I am also working on developing chameleon skills; that is to say in broadcasting, writing (through NEN and ATD) and radio (with the application audioBooM).

  • Who is my audience?

I have actually identified three different audiences that I can split in according to their interest: (1) cinema (2) music and (3) journalism. As a matter of fact, is the freelancer not meant to be able to write about pretty much everything, adapting his style to a given audience? Concerning what I currently do, my audience is interested in music, cinema and news equally and is looking to broaden its knowledge in those industries. That is why I need to be a step ahead of them and give them the information they are looking for.

  • Identify Role Models?

Vice MAGAZINE writer: Clive Martin and James Nolan.

Etienne Menu who recently launched his magazine Audimat, host Musique Info Service on dailymotion.com, is part of the editorial team of GQ France and did some freelance reportages for Vice.

Roger Ebert, a famous movie critic who sadly past away last year.

  • Identify objectives

Steps:

  1. Research into how to set up as a freelancer.
  2. Build a presence online with platforms such as Twitter, WordPress, Pressfolio.
  3. Interview professionals that have succeeded in what I am trying to achieve.
  4. Come up with a plan of action on starting up (using the Business Model Canvas).

Entrepreneurship And Journalism – What To Ask Yourself?

  • The independents

 The independents (Charles Leadbeater & Kate Oakley) 1999, highlight the results of an investigative study about young independent entrepreneurs.

What is shown is the emergence of a new breed of independents setting-up their own businesses, producing a rise in self-employment, a boost of the creative industry and generating an economic growth. These entrepreneurs work closely with networks, participating in a re-dynamisation of cities that had fallen into economic or cultural decline thereof becoming less and less attractive.

Up till recently, people in the UK have been moving to London, the heart of England’s creativity. However, at the end of the past century, these once shunned cities have suddenly become attractive: Cardiff is reshaping itself around the media industry whereas Glasgow is basing its creative potential in architecture and design.

This new breed of independents is a generation that has gotten older. What at the time of this article was written appeared as a new creative phenomenon, is now mainstream and has happened in Birmingham: just have a look at the Custard Factory or Digbeth’s quirky shops and exhibitions.

  •  Entrepreneur, what does it mean?

 As a response to Leadbeater and Oakley, fifteen years later, I want to offer a reflection on what it means to be an entrepreneur today.

As adjectives come to mind one after the other – successful, innovative, clever, avant-gardist – pictures of Mark Zuckerberg, Richard Branson, Arianna Huffington and other successful business starters come to mind.

Are we born entrepreneur or do we become one? Is entrepreneurship a mindset or about developing a collection of skills? I guess the most obvious answer is found in between.

In order to creating a business you need to know what you want to achieve and which way you will use to encounter success in your endeavour. In this light, one needs to be determined, undoubting and conscious of the risks taken however hard the path taken appears.

Nevertheless, all this self-belief is not sufficient. A basic knowledge of communication, finance or sales is necessary.  Listening to the advise of all business runners, there will eventually be a point in their career when they will have to deal with policy, PR and law.

More tips about starting your own business here

  •  My project

As a postgraduate journalism student, one needs to be aware of the process of building an enterprise. Especially in response to Leadbeater and Oakley’s paper that has highlighted the phenomenon of self-employment.

Moreover, the future is looking more and more towards freelancing (and not only in journalism). As a freelancer, you need to ask yourself:

  • What skills have you got?
  • Who is your audience (if you have one yet)?
  • What is your audience looking for in your work?
  • Who would pay for your work?

These are the questions that have been going through my mind lately and that I will answer in a few weeks when putting up the first stones of my ‘enterprise’ module project.