Monday, 12 December 2011
It’s the object of widespread ridicule from those not endlessly flattered and sucked up to with invitations to swanky drinks parties. It spent £55,000 on a website everyone hates and which fails to meet even the basic standards of modern web design. It is coming under increasing fire for shameless appropriation of others’ achievements.
But Tech City, the wasteful pet project of trendies in Downing Street that has so successfully used internet businesses in east London as PR for the Government, has already burned through at least £1million.
I was surprised at how small that number was, initially. But of course it doesn’t include all the other bits of Government chipping in to help, the extensive schmoozing going on overseas and God knows whatever else they’ve charged to someone else’s budget. Nor does it include the investment fund. So the real total cost is probably something like three times that amount. Think what three million quid would have done if simply given to Seedcamp to invest in start-ups!
Thanks to a Freedom of Information request I submitted in November, the annual budget of Tech City has been revealed today as well. £150,000 is set aside for marketing and communications. £250,000 for events. £220,500 on employing civil servants elsewhere in Government. And a little under £1.2million in staff and consultant costs.
These are staggering sums. How much of that is chief executive Eric van der Kleij’s salary, I wonder? (Tech City wouldn’t say: they’ve come up with an ingenious way to dodge FoI requests, and public accountability, by muddying the employment arrangements of their staff with contracts from PA Consulting and Grant Thornton.)
I ask again: what, precisely, has been accomplished with this massive splurge of cash?
Friday, 9 December 2011
My new online magazine covering technology, business and innovation from a European perspective will go live to the public on Monday, 19 December 2011. We’ve assembled an excellent set of writers and commissioned some fascinating and thought-provoking content from entrepreneurs, investors and academics.
We’ll be in open beta until January, at which point more content will drop, we’ll announce the full line-up of columnists, the design will be finalised and we’ll have a party. That’s all for now. See here and here for background.
Thursday, 8 December 2011
In offices up and down the country, there is one newspaper that invariably goes missing long before the others. It’s the one you hear people asking after; the one you see secretaries stuffing into their handbags on their way out the door. It’s not the Express, the Mirror or even the Sun. It’s the Daily Mail.
Now, you might say that the Mail appeals to the worst side of human nature. That it plays on our jealousies, our insecurities, our most antagonistic impulses. But that, of course, is precisely what makes it so fabulously readable. That, and the fact that the comment pages are packed with some of the best writers in the country. Who in their right mind would sneer at a full-page op-ed by Max Hastings, one of Fleet Street’s most distinguished editors? Or the eminently readable Stephen Glover? Who can resist a glance at Ephraim Hardcastle? And who can read one of Quentin Letts’ fantastically bitchy Commons sketches and not quiver with delight?
It is, by a considerable margin, the best serious newspaper in the country. (Indeed, one of the reasons the Telegraph’s news coverage is so good these days is that the paper is run almost entirely by ex-Mail executives.) And yet, if you spend any time at all on the internet, you’ll know that this marvellous organ, this brilliant commercial product, this superbly well-crafted and expertly targeted editorial proposition is the subject of the most appalling daily abuse.
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Monday, 5 December 2011
Even though I made fun of it in my last post, I’ve heard there could be a serious purpose to Simon Kelner’s new journalism foundation. Unbelievably, it seems that Kelner’s new enterprise may be Johann Hari’s route back into British journalism. The Independent has not sacked Hari, despite steadily growing evidence of his malicious lies, fantasies and character assassinations.
Current Indie editor Chris Blackhurst would like nothing better than to sack Hari – but his hands have been tied by Kelner, who apparently promised Hari that he would be welcomed back after “retraining”. Matters weren’t helped by Andreas Whittam Smith’s geriatric “inquiry” into Hari’s behaviour, which appears to have overlooked any piece of evidence that might force the star columnist’s dismissal.
Kelner’s foundation could well be in a position to employ Hari, thus allowing Blackhurst to quietly let him go. It’s no secret that, if the editor does welcome Hari back, he’ll have a newsroom mutiny on his hands. The real mystery is why figures as self-regarding as Baroness (Helena) Kennedy would allow themselves to be associated with a venture run by someone as discredited as Kelner.
Let’s see how long this silly venture lasts – and what use Johann Hari makes of it.
Monday, 5 December 2011
Simon Kelner, the editor who so shamefully covered up Johann Hari’s lies, has launched a journalism foundation. Sorry, yes, let me repeat that. Simon Kelner, the editor who so shamefully covered up Johann Hari’s lies, has launched a journalism foundation – with money from the Lebedev family.
I guess you’re wondering about the principles and philosophies behind this esteemed new organisation. Well, thanks to my trusty spies at the Independent, I can exclusively reveal the first ten lectures to be delivered to lucky grant winners:
1. Covering up for sociopaths: an editor’s perspective
2. How To Succeed In Left-Wing Journalism Without Ever Really Telling The Truth
3. A Rose by any other name: choosing your sock puppet
4. They’re coming to take me away!: How to work the crowd for sympathy about your fragile mental health
5. Rose-tinted spectacles: how playing to the gallery over Israel and gay rights gets you off the hook for serious breaches of professional standards
6. The Liar, the Witch and the Orwell Prize: calling on influential friends in times of need
7. Gone with the Wind: basic sanitation for recently suspended hacks
8. Black Beauty: spice up your day off by penning racist gay incest porn
9. Headless: how to create harrowing but falsified narratives from war zones
10. The Joy Of Sex: how to seduce imaginary Nazis and Jihadists
Seriously, though: do Baroness Kennedy, Lord Fowler and Sir John Tusa – all listed as trustees of this new foundation – realise what they’re getting themselves into here?
Thursday, 1 December 2011
This week we were afforded a terrifying glimpse into the real Britain – the one that lurks menacingly on council estates, in northern cities and across the poorer London boroughs, and which normally rears its head in the safer confines of The Jeremy Kyle Show. “Britain is nothing now. Britain is fuck all. My Britain is fuck all,” bellowed Emma West, 34, of Croydon at the start of a foul-mouthed racist rant directed at her fellow passengers on a London tram. Unhappily for her, a black woman sitting opposite recorded much of the outburst: West has since been charged with a racially-aggravated public order offence and will appear in court on Tuesday. Now, forgive me for being opportunistic, but I think I might take the opportunity here to explain why this incident speaks volumes about the country in which we live.
It goes without saying that West’s toxic outpouring was reprehensible, and that she deserved to be silenced. But that, I think, is all she deserved. Because, while there’s no doubt that West was obnoxious, it’s worth considering the environment that produced her – and the millions of people in Britain who feel resentment at being unable to find a job – and to ponder what might make a young mother feel so angry that she would direct abusive language like this to strangers in the presence of her own child. (And don’t say alcohol: there’s no evidence she was drunk when the video was filmed.)
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Sunday, 20 November 2011
Sometimes it helps to make a list of your friends and close contacts and rank them. I’ve been doing this for years. It really helps you prioritise. If you do it in a spreadsheet, you can colour-code them by friendship circle, which makes it easy to sort your friends for party invitations. I don’t know about you, but my personal friends and professional contacts are extremely similar lists. I guess that’s the case for most people these days. I actually use a database to manage this list now, so I can perform more complex sorting operations. You may like to consider that if you have lots of friends in overlapping circles. I can also categorise them by age, gender, sexuality, geography and income, which is also helpful for planning tables at dinner parties.
But recently I have been thinking about a more complex system that will enable me to define clusters of friends and their relative closeness to each other. A 3D rendering of my friend network would help enormously: I could pick particular geographies on the network for individual events. I imagine flicking between friend cluster view (in which I do not feature), which would appear like a spider web, and a flat spine-based layout with connections determined by, say, my ten closest friends. This isn’t another social network: more like a guest list tool on steroids. You’d have to enter a lot of data initially, but think how amazing the result would be. For example: when I fell out with someone, I could demote them or pull them from the network entirely and watch the whole map adjust in real time. Likewise, after a holiday that brought me closer to a particular person, I could up their ranking and the spine-based view would change.
This all sounds a bit high school, I know: but isn’t that how we all still operate really? And what a brilliant way of never forgetting important people, which those of us who plan lots of dinners and parties do all the time. Note that this web is created manually, by me, so I have control, unlike Facebook and the associated attempts which try to infer relationships and always get it hopelessly wrong. It’s more than worth my while to keep something like this up to date, and I’m willing to bet plenty of people would do it for the sheer hell of it. So why does this not exist? If it does, who’s building it? Do you want to help me put this together? If so, get in touch. The first network we build can be mine and I’ll happily publish it here as a social experiment.
Saturday, 19 November 2011
Who am I to talk, right? I mean, who’s been more of a thorn in UKTI’s side than me, with the embarrassing Freedom of Information requests, the patronising “how it could have looked” pieces and the cattiness on Twitter? While my colleagues and friends got invited to swanky dos at the palace, I stayed home, uninvited and unloved because – as I imagined – I was the only one with the platform and temerity to say: hang on a minute. Is this really what Silicon Roundabout needs? It’s a shame UKTI don’t deal well with criticism, but given the awful circle-jerkery of European technology journalism, I can’t say I blame them for being a bit shocked.
But here’s the thing. While few have been more vocally critical of the Government’s Tech City Investment Organisation, its Tech City-branded website and events, the people, economics and philosophies behind it and the amount of money it spends, I have at least done so in articles published under my own name – even though it has not served my interests to do so. I don’t point this out to be self-congratulatory (as if!), but to make a point.
Yeah, I’ve been tough. I’ve been bitchy and sarcastic, too, because I think some of the claims made by UKTI are risible. That 600 figure is a joke, and it deserved to be mocked. But the bile streaming out of this new, pseudonymous @TechShitty account, set up last night, of which I am but one of many victims, is neither constructive nor even entertaining. It’s just trolling, from someone with neither the wit and wisdom to make devastating critiques, nor the courage to identify themselves. The tweets from this account are sufficiently wide of the mark that you can tell this person doesn’t really know any of the people or businesses he’s sniping at. Thus, while some valid points might be made about the Tech City initiative, gratuitously vicious remarks like the one above render the whole account impotent.
So, if you give a damn about making things better, about reducing unnecessary Government expenditure and dialing down the media spin, overblown rhetoric and outright lies through constructive – even if sometimes harsh – criticism and dialogue, do what I just did, and unfollow @TechShitty. Then log in to your own blog, or Tumblr, or whatever, and write something that expresses what you really feel. Because only when we’re more honest about what the Government is really achieving with our money in east London, and have the courage to put our own names underneath what we write, is there any hope of change.
Thursday, 17 November 2011
This column originally appeared in The Catholic Herald
Horrific though the revelations are about Christians being persecuted abroad, and frustrating though it is that David Cameron seems focused on denying aid to countries intolerant of homosexuality, as opposed to those in which believers are being murdered, there are just as many reasons to be depressed about what Christians – and Catholics in particular – are suffering at home.
We recently reported on the case of Veronica Connelly, the Catholic grandmother who refused to pay her licence fee because she was so appalled at the output from our state broadcaster, the BBC. Her principled stand should be applauded. Though she is likely to lose her final appeal in the European Court of Human Rights, Mrs Connelly’s brave actions reflect a growing consensus among the silent majority of Britons concerned about the secularisation of our culture and the increasingly debauched values of this taxpayer-funded media organisation.
On these pages, I have often praised popular culture, while drawing attention to its occasionally pernicious influence. But for the BBC to broadcast Jerry Springer: The Opera, a worthless and blasphemous epic of smut and disrespectfulness, showed – as long ago as 2002 – that its values are now entirely at odds with those of the British people, and that it no longer takes its commitment to public service broadcasting seriously, preferring to sneer at religion and trample over the boundaries of decency. And there was me, thinking that’s why we have Channel 4.
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Thursday, 17 November 2011
My favourite technology PR firm, Ballou PR, which focuses on high-growth technology and health IT clients, has sold its US operations to MWW Group. Founder Colette Ballou told me that the firm’s focus will now be on Europe, and that expansion into other countries, either organic or by acquisition, is on the cards for 2012. I guess she’ll be using the cash from this sale. Ballou will continue to offer services in the US through its new partner MWW Group.
Colette’s firm has added several prestigious clients to its roster lately, including Twilio, Eventbrite, Evernote, Seatwave, Ostrovok, Marin Software, Care.com and goBalto, rapidly establishing itself as one of the leading emerging tech PR firms in Europe. Recently the company’s focus has shifted from start-ups to higher-growth businesses.
Silicon Alley Insider, which broke the news, quoted Colette as saying the acquisition was “a nice liquidity event”. (But no, she wouldn’t tell me what the deal was worth either.) What she neglected, out of modesty, to say to SAI is that this was the second exit in two weeks for the European technology power couple she is one half of – Colette’s boyfriend Max Niederhofer sold his company, Qwerly, to Fliptop three weeks ago.
So lovely news all round in the Ballou-Niederhofer household. I can’t wait to see what they get us all for Christmas!
Disclosure: Colette and Max are friends of mine. Her firm has represented me in the past and I once briefly consulted for them.
Wednesday, 16 November 2011
The Liberal Democrats asked that this profile be removed from where it was originally published, citing “homophobia”. The publisher in question complied. So I am preserving it here.
“I have access to some of the most important people in Government,” says Brian Paddick. “In order to get London a good deal, I want to call in some favours. And I’m telling you: they owe me big time.”
Last week, LONDON24.com published the results of a poll that placed Paddick, the gay ex-cop turned politico, ahead of both of his rivals. It turns out that only 775 people voted in the poll, and that the second choice of LONDON24’s visitors was the Green Party’s also-ran Jenny Jones, so I doubt Boris and Ken will have lost much sleep over this particular show of hands. But Paddick is optimistic about his chances to make an impact on the election, and when I sat down with him at the Liberal Democrats’ London headquarters last week, he was at pains to stress how seriously he is taken by political commentators of all stripes and that, even if beating Boris will be very difficult, he might well come second in the 2012 race, given the number of second-preference votes he is likely to get.
That would be deliciously embarrassing for Ken Livingstone, but many will find the prospect of Brian Paddick a hair’s breadth from the mayoralty troubling. This, after all, is the man who bared his buttocks, in a queasily exhibitionist display of gay triumphalism, on I’m A Celebrity, Get Me Out Of Here. He was the only contestant to shower naked, and his explanation, “I had a shower like I always have a shower,” does not – to coin a phrase – hold much water. He is surely not that naïve about life in the public eye – particularly if his exquisitely thorough media training is anything to go by. Rather, it was surely a deliberate, publicity-seeking stunt, and one that, rightly or wrongly, has harmed his electoral prospects – as did the slightly grotesque snog-fest with his boyfriend that we were treated to after his eviction. Paddick’s appearance on the show did not do the sort of reputational damage that loveable old slap-head George Galloway’s did after Celebrity Big Brother (who can forget that cat impression?), but it is hardly edifying, in retrospect, for a man who would be mayor.
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Monday, 14 November 2011
I’m delighted to share with you today a bit more information about the editorial vision behind my new project. I’ll be revealing who’s behind it in the coming weeks: we are adding new team members all the time! And I’d like also to invite those people who want to contribute to the magazine to submit their pitches this week.
So here’s our boilerplate.
******* is a quality online magazine that publishes the best writing about complex contemporary issues: principally, the way technology is rapidly changing our lives. We commission long-form reviews, comment pieces and essays from the best writers and thinkers we can find. Our focus is on the people, places, events and ideas that are refashioning the world around us.
We embrace controversy and unpopular opinions provided they are thought-provoking and well-argued. We are enthusiastic about software and the internet but we realise there’s a lot more to technology than just web and mobile.
Our writing is authoritative, sharply argued, thoroughly edited and often funny. We love discovering and nurturing new writers and sharing intelligent views and inside information gleaned from our deep and excellent connections in the industry.
Our favourite phrase is: think bigger.
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Monday, 14 November 2011
I don’t normally bother with funding stories, but since the chief exec of Skimlinks is my best friend I don’t think she’d forgive me if I didn’t point out some happy news. VentureBeat reports that Alicia Navarro’s affilate marketing company, which has offices in London, San Francisco and New York, has closed a $4.5m funding round, let by Bertelsmann Digital Media Investments.
This comes hot off the heels of Skimlinks’s acquisition of Atma Links in October. I couldn’t be prouder of my Leithy and her awesome co-founder Joe.
Saturday, 12 November 2011
As with so many significant relationships in my life, my love affair with the white iPhone 4 has come to a juddering halt just as it was getting started.
I don’t understand how anyone can use an iPhone as their primary mobile phone. You can’t type on it, the apps are a hideous time sink, the call quality is dreadful (I like to phone people), the battery life is non-existent and iOS 5′s messaging service is a very poor imitation of BlackBerry Messenger. This bitch is going data-only.
Despite RIM’s recent and embarrassingly mismanaged service outages, at least I get a usable signal with a Bold. And BlackBerry remains the only credible choice for those of us who have to type thousands of words a day away from a computer: the keyboard is unparalleled. So there you go. Friends can re-add me to BlackBerry Messenger with the usual email address.
Wednesday, 9 November 2011
Not everyone – including some who arguably deserve it even more (I’m more grateful than I can say to a handful of people who have supported me through the ups and downs of the last twelve months) – gets this sort of treatment. But since I found out, before the event, which is atypical, that it’s my adored buddy’s birthday today, and given how kind, generous and, dare I say it, indispensable, Constantin Bjerke has been to me over the last year – man, it seems absurd that I’ve known Constantin for such a short time – I felt moved to once again break my rule about public congratulations to say bravo, and thank you, to a dear and cherished friend. Happy birthday, dude.