My new favourite social network

It’s called Ideapod and combines some of my favourite things: ideas, people from all over the world, and succinct writing.

The concept is pretty simple. You have 1000 characters to present your idea. (You can also use videos, graphics or images). People can share their thoughts in the comments section and link related ideas. The ultimate aim is to enable people to collaborate to implement some of them in real-life.

In a recent blog post, Richard Branson said Ideapod “can only increase the chances of society coming up with more game changing concepts.”

Ideapod results in a network of thought-provoking, easily digestible and thematically linked posts – some of which actually contain some pretty good ideas about how to make the world a better place.

For the moment, I’m going to be writing my “big idea” posts on Ideapod. (The 1000-character limit is so much more appealing right now than the idea of writing a whole blog post!) For those of you who don’t feel like joining up, I’ll be posting links to the pieces in the “Big Ideas” section.

Happy Friday! I’ll be back to conventional blogging soon! 🙂

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News Flash

I have 508 Facebook friends. One of them is a girl from Israel and another is a boy from Gaza. I met them both in the summer of 2009 when I went to study for a month at the University of Bayreuth in southern Germany.

This weekend the boy from Gaza posted pictures of destroyed homes, families covered in blood and clouds of smoke in the sky. The Israeli girl posted pictures of the sub-par bomb shelter she had been hiding in.
Some people left comments along the lines of “We stand with Israel” on the girl’s wall. She said it was the worst thing to say because Israel had “started it.”

At work, we’re following developments. The politicians are so tentative. Obama talks about Israel’s right to defend itself and neglects to mention the mounting civilian deaths. The German press secretary reminds us that Israel is firing in response to rockets from Gaza.

We showed footage of an overturned truck carrying tomatoes in Gaza. Three brothers inside were killed when it was hit by a rocket.

The screens showing agency video feeds flitted back and forth between footage of destruction and diplomacy. The UN condemns civilian deaths, western politicians don’t mention them, Egypt says it won’t tolerate them.

Image source: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/ retrieved 19/11/2012

Polite conversation skirts around the violence. People don’t like to pass remarks on Israel. They think Hamas is dodgy so maybe there’s no other way. Not many like to defend killing children, and brothers driving trucks full of tomatoes. And when images of wailing women searching for loved ones amid destroyed buildings pops up on the screen, they don’t know where to look.

Meanwhile in Mali, Islamic militants have taken control of the north. Their leaders hold up guns and say they’re fighting with weapons, not words. Women have begun covering their hair. They might make the news tomorrow.

Why our politicians’ private lives matter

At the G20 summit last November, Obama and then French president, Sarkozy, were having a chat. The Israeli Prime Minister came up in conversation.

“I cannot bear Netanyahu, he’s a liar”, said Sarkozy, to which Obama replied, “You may be sick of him, but me, I have to deal with him every day!”

The problem with the conversation was that their mikes were on. A couple of journalists heard the whole thing. Instead of rushing to their editor with their enormous scoop, they stayed quiet in the belief that this was a private conversation which would be damaging to report.

Nothing was said for a few days until the French website Arret sur Images published their remarks. As soon as international journalists got wind of the interchange, it went global and the mainstream French media reported it too.

image source: privateinvestigations.blogspot.at

The media treatment of the exchange triggered an important discussion: what matters to the public and what doesn’t and how entwined are the public and private lives of our politicians?

In all walks of life, the idea that our private and professional selves are separate entities is a myth. Our behaviour might differ from one situation to another but our values do not.

Research suggests that people vote for politicians based more on their personalities than on their policies. They do so in the reasonable belief that the two are unlikely to be widely removed from each other.

Political decisions, like any other are made on the spur of the moment, and under the influence of powerful personalities. If your leader is more eager to be liked than to do what’s right, it matters. If they are impulsive or inexpressive or icy, it will affect their governance. Personality counts.

Since it’s the first responsibility of a politician to act on their values, their behaviour outside of work cannot be logically divorced from the decisions they make on the job.

Take for example Dominique Strauss Kahn, former head of the International Monetary Fund. Notwithstanding the allegations of sexual harassment against him, which have been well-documented by the media, he’s admitted to several affairs and to attending lavish parties featuring naked girls, who may or may not have been prostitutes. Strauss Kahn chose the institution of marriage and failed to live up to its requirements. Assuming that values do not change fundamentally from one situation to the other, it doesn’t seem unreasonable to question his commitment to other institutions, such as the IMF and the state of France, to which he also pledged allegiance.

Whether or not such speculation is justified, the more we learn about the kinds of people our politicians are outside of work, the more sophisticated our interpretations of their motivations and performance become.

While some might suggest that such a hunger for private lives only encourages the cultivation of a “public” personality, to assume that this wasn’t already the case would be naive. Furthermore, the challenge for journalists is to convey the personality of a politician as it is, not necessarily as he or she would like it to be.

The media have a choice to make between objectifying and subjectifying. Objectifying is talking about Hillary Clinton’s bum, while subjectifying is telling us how her mouth twitched when her daughter failed a maths test.

The future of journalism is uncertain: the overwhelming speed at which news now travels has eliminated much of what the job used to entail.

There is a new opportunity though and it requires us to slow down, to reflect and to write with insight rather than haste.

Demanding of our journalists to be emotionally astute as well as politically sharp will lead to a more complex picture of what is anything but a straightforward job: making decisions that affect millions of lives and the future of our planet.

Journalism may sustain its integrity into the future by maintaining a fine balance between the personal and the political. When it comes to reporting from the private realm, it must replace sensationalism with psychological realism.

It’s what’s missing in the constantly updated, hyper-evolving virtual media landscape.

Unless we begin to privilege the mundane everyday, politicians will stay “out of touch” with it, and the public will continue to see them as little more than worn out political machines; inanimate and inept.

So if Enda Kenny announces that he’s turned vegan, Eamonn Gilmore squabbles with his neighbour about the position of a garden fence or Joan Burton runs off with her secretary, I want to hear about it.

How the Iron Lady boils an egg: why private moments matter in politics

If I learnt just one thing from watching The Iron Lady, it’s that despite popular belief, politicians are people too. Margaret Thatcher might have sent missile ships to the Falklands and vowed never to negotiate with terrorists, but she still boils an egg, fills black sacks for Oxfam and asks her daughter to fasten the catch at the back of her dress which she can’t reach.

The snippets of Maggie’s domestic life are definitely the most moving parts of the film (which, in case you are wondering I would highly recommend). It’s impossible not to feel something as you watch the forgetful but resolute old lady plonked awkwardly on the floor in an uncomfortable cotton dress, trying to prise open a DVD case and twitching as she eavesdrops on conversations her daughter has with her carer.

It made me think that if Britain has its iron lady in ‘Maggie’, then Germany has found her equivalent in ‘Angie’.

Like Thatcher, Merkel is frequently portrayed as emotionless and inexpressive and ultimately, as Maggie was, “out of touch”.

A recent article published on Spiegel Online seeks to redress the balance. In it, journalist Dirk Kurbjuweit, who has spent many years accompanying Merkel on her trips, documents a series of moments, unrelated to the financial crisis, nuclear power, or the future of the Euro, in which Merkel shows herself as something more than a political machine.

As a Human Being in fact.

They are ordinary moments.

Once, she laughed uncontrollably and snorted while telling a story about the Lithuanian Prime Minister, who was detained by the Belarusian police while out cycling disguised as a tourist.

Another time, after her defence minister Guttenberg resigned following revelations that he had plagiarised passages of his doctoral thesis, she made an uncharacteristically emotional speech. During it, she kept tugging at a loose thread on her sleeve.

She makes her husband breakfast every morning.

Some, especially the French, might inquire as to why on earth it matters what a politician does behind closed doors. Can they not sew their buttons in peace? Have they not got the right to entertain several lovers without the world having to know about it?

The French media in particular thinks personal privacy is sacrosanct.

Back in November, at the G20 summit Obama and Sarkozy were having a chat. The Israeli Prime Minister came up in conversation.

“I can’t stand him anymore, he’s a liar”, said Sarkozy, to which Obama replied, “You may be sick of him, but me, I have to deal with him every day!”

The problem with the conversation was that their mikes were on. A couple of journalists heard the whole thing. Instead of rushing to their editor with their enormous scoop, they stayed quiet, in the belief that this was a private conversation, and would be damaging to report.

Nothing was said for a few days until the French website Arret sur Images published their remarks. As soon as international journalists got their hands on the clip, it went global and the mainstream French media reported it too.

Why is this important?

Because it reinforces the point that politics is a drama encompassing the full spectrum of human emotions.

We must never forget that it’s the behind-the-scenes conversations over strong cups of coffee and dog-eared files that end up directing events on the world stage.

Political decisions, like any other are made on the spur of the moment, and under the influence of powerful personalities. If your leader is more eager to be liked than to do what’s right, it matters. If they are impulsive or inexpressive or icy, it will affect their governance. Personality counts.

It’s one thing to believe in protecting private comments from the public glare but it’s another to detach entirely the personal from the political.

Research has shown that politicians get elected on the strength of their personality rather than on their policies.

It’s not surprising.

People are interested in people. They are less interested in policies. Policies may be more important, but ultimately it’s people, not machines that make them.

It’s futile to remove the personal from the political. We can rationalise emotions but we can’t remove them. Margaret Thatcher’s style of governance was probably affected a great deal more by the values of her stiff-upper lip upbringing than by the pages of briefs and pieces of advice she got from various channels during her premiership.

The media have a choice to make between objectifying and subjectifying. Objectifying is talking about Hillary Clinton’s bum, while subjectifying is telling us how her mouth twitched when her daughter failed a maths test.

The future of journalism is uncertain: the overwhelming speed at which news now travels has eliminated much of what the job used to entail.

There is a new opportunity though and it requires us to slow down, to reflect and to write with insight rather than haste.

Demanding of our journalists to be emotionally astute as well as politically sharp will lead to a more complex picture of what is anything but a straightforward job: making decisions that affect millions of lives and the future of our planet.

Journalism may sustain its integrity into the future by maintaining a fine balance between the personal and the political. When it comes to reporting from the private realm, it must replace sensationalism with psychological realism.

It’s what’s missing in the constantly updated, hyper-evolving virtual media landscape.

Unless we begin to privilege the mundane everyday, politicians will stay “out of touch” with it, and the public will continue to see them as little more than worn out political machines; inanimate and inept.

How Maggie boils an egg matters, but you’d really better go and see the film to find out.

Page One – Inside the New York Times: The Future of Print Journalism

Nobody – not even the New York Times is safe from the digital revolution. That’s the message of Page One: Inside the New York Times , a docu-film -showing at the IFI this week, which follows editors and writers at the publication as they respond to falling revenue, new media outlets and the speed of social networking. Most of the scenes come from inside the NYT Headquarters and feature an array of high-strung, high-functioning individuals in front of multiple computer screens, yelling down the phone, exchanging smart comments and looking like they’re about to boil over as individually they compete for space in the publication and collectively fight for their survival.

Footage is taken from between 2008 and 2010 and while there’s no obvious narrative structure, we’re gradually introduced to key figures, like David Carr, staff writer, former crack addict and in-house character. We get a glimpse of the dilemma facing the publication as wikileaks arrives onto the scene and bewilders the world by posting videos of disturbing war scenes on youtube. We get the first reactions (what’s wikileaks?) to the final question over whether collaborating with the Guardian and Der Spiegel to release wikileaks’ wires renders Assange a source or an associate.


Comparisons are made between The Watergate scandal, which broke over the course of a year and a half’s reporting – primarily by Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein of The Washington Post- and Assagne’s overnight release of a vast quantity of sensitive material for pubic perusal. We get the sense that the source of power is changing: where Woodward and Bernstein relied on the Washington Post to distribute their findings, now The New York Times depends in part on Assange’s willingness to use it as his outlet.

Page One documents the complexity of the relationship between The New York Times and Assange. Granted it’s symbiotic but in comparison to the media landscape of the 1970s a disproportionate amount of power lies with the source. Assagne benefits from the relationship because his material becomes associated with a credible source but The New York Times faces the uneasy task of ‘keeping up’ with a story that’s developing faster than it can be be digested.

Furthermore, we can see how The New York Times is taking a risk with Assange: how can they substantiate a source that describes himself as espousing the “values of activism” over those associated with journalism. What does that even mean?

Page One asks the questions it cannot answer. How can print media sustain itself? How is the role of journalists changing?

Newspapers didn’t predict that advertising revenue would disappear with the rise of the internet. They weren’t ready for the arrival of websites that featured classifieds and for the advent of faster, flashier, funkier outlets like gawker.com.

Things changed fundamentally in about 18 months, an insider tells the camera.

In the course of filming, 100 odd people are let go. The deputy obit editor has been there for over 20 years and takes voluntary leave. The Books and Arts editor seems on the way out too. We watch a teary few words from somebody leaving. Gathered about her are her colleagues applauding numbly. We get a shot of the enormous multi-storeyed newsroom and the tiny cluster of people gathered about the retiring journalist. It’s an image of resilience but the journalists appear tiny amongst their overwhelming surroundings.

The newsroom atmosphere has always been one of high-tension but in Page One we really get a sense of individuals constantly on the verge of boiling over. They’re always nibbling, always minimising windows on their computer screens while firing questions down the phone and gesturing to their colleagues to get things done. Where they excel though is in their attention to getting it right: there’s constant debate over what should go in and at two daily meetings, editors must justify their content. They’re still all about reporting from the ground, and there’s a sober clip of a goodbye party for a young correspondent being sent to Iraq. As the credits roll we find out that he has become chief Bagdhad correspondent.

Page One does a good job of documenting the uncertainty that surrounds The New York Times, along with all other print media. Unconsciously it documents what might be its saving grace – attention to detail, passion, unbrdidled dedication to getting it right and the conviction that a journalist’s place is first on the ground, and then on twitter.

Page One – Inside the New York Times is showing twice daily in the IFI until Friday 29 September.
The NYT HQ: image source: http://www.editorsweblog.org/web_20/2011/07/new_york_timess_second-quarter_results_s.php