Capturing Cardiff

Rocking the stereotype

If the majority agree that music is the food of love, why are there so many prejudices surrounding music taste and countless people reluctant to play on?

Cardiff's Songbus

It is not surprising that most people asked have never been to see an opera. For most, just a mention of Mozart conjures up images of upper-middle class couples watching men in tights and fat women singing. Similarly for a lot of people, rap represents gangsters caught up with gun crime.

To banish these stereotypes and to document some of Cardiff’s rich history through music and poetry, all things musical are being taken to the heart of communities in Cardiff on a double-decker bus.

Cardiff based company Welsh National Opera has teamed up with Safer Wales to put an end to negative stereotypes concerning opera, make music more accessible to the community and unearth some hidden talents in the meantime.

The Songbus is a year-long project, which started in September and parks up every Thursday evening in Riverside, Grangetown or Butetown to welcome locals aboard for free. People can then enjoy a range of musical activities which they wouldn’t ordinarily take part in.

Our aim is to make opera more accessible for people and not as scary and elitist.
Asa Malmsten
Everybody is encouraged to participate.

Everybody is encouraged to participate.

Asa Malmsten, the project manager who came up with the idea, said: “There are many different communities living in the Bay – some of them established for many decades and they bring extraordinary stories and different cultural experiences with them. The Songbus is a two-way exchange between WNO and its pool of expertise and Cardiff communities. ”

The Songbus is about anything to do with writing or music creation including writing and composing your own song, listening to music or learning more about opera. Its staff from Welsh National Opera and youth workers from Safer Wales create a vibrant and friendly atmosphere and give people the opportunity to immortalise their personal stories through song and poetry.

-An interview with Songbus project manager, Asa Malmsten

Downstairs is mainly for performing music where there is a keyboard, guitar and various percussion instruments available to use.

Opera singer, Mark Evans helps put a song to music.

Opera singer, Mark Evans performs Unchained Melody.

Composer, Alexander Douglas helps Songbus visitors put their songs to a melody and opera singer Mark Evans is there to perform them. And for the timid or tone deaf out there, Mark is even willing to accept requests while they tuck into the tea, coffee and biscuits. Meanwhile upstairs, Alan Harris helps with songwriting, Clayton does a rap masterclass and there is an opportunity to discover more about opera on the two computers with internet access.

People of all ages and abilities are welcome on the bus.

People of all ages and abilities are welcome on the bus.

The youngest person to come on the Songbus has been five and the oldest, 84. One of the highlights so far was when an eight-year-old girl was aboard for three hours and wrote and composed her own song, Cold is the Ice. Asa said: “The song was beautifully sung – it was just absolutely gorgeous. Her mum was over the moon.”

Listen to Cold is the Ice performed by a WNO staff member followed by another song written by an older visitor about unrequited love.

The combination of classical and rap music on the same bus and the range of people who come – from elderly people putting pen to paper about past experiences in Sestina form, compared to twelve year old groups mastering their rap flow – is what makes the Songbus unique.

Rap doesn't have to be negative.

Rap doesn't have to be negative.

Asa said: “I hope to encourage a range of people to step on the bus, tell us their stories and turn them into song.”

Clayton takes the rap sessions on the top deck of the bus. Many people link rap and hip hop to negativity but he believes strongly this should not be the case. During a session with a 14-year-old youth, Clayton helped break the usual stereotype by turning the rap around into something positive.

Listen to the rap here (performed by Clayton) and hear him talk about the negative connotations surrounding rap.

A man comes out of jail and turns his life around, so you can turn this rap around. If you write something positive, that positivity generates from you.

Clayton said: “Rap aint got to be about negativity. That is rubbish. It should be about positivity not this aggression all the time. It makes me so furious that negativity sells better. Where there is good, there is bad. Where there is light, there is dark but now dark has been commercialised because that is what people want.”

So what will happen to the songs and poems produced on the Songbus? One of the principal wishes of the Songbus is to put Riverside, Grangetown and Butetown on the map by documenting CDs and lyrics produced there to leave a lasting legacy. A lyrics booklet will be made with a copy of all the songs and people will be invited to go to a recording studio to record their songs for a CD. There is also talk of a summer performance.

Asa said: “I believe that music makes people respond and what we do makes a huge difference to the people who come aboard. We are very excited at what might emerge over the coming months.”

Click below on each question to see the results of my online poll.

Is opera elitist?

Is opera elitist?

Is opera only for the upper classes?

Is opera only for the upper classes?

Can music help to get rid of negative feelings?

Can music help to get rid of negative feelings?

Want to read more articles about the Songbus?
Media Wales


Going solo in journalism…

It was an interesting insight to see how Rick Waghorn had created a business model to suit his predictions of where journalism is heading.

Rick is a football reporter for Norwich City, who decided to use his own brand and go at it alone on when he was laid off from his newspaper, The Evening News. He believes this could be a whole new model for local news reporting.

barcodeThe journalist as a brand

Rick believes in the importance of journalists securing and developing their own individual brand, which is completely independent to news organisations they work for- Robert Peston‘s reporting of the credit crunch, Jeremy Clarkson for motoring news, Rick Waghorn as Norwich City FC expert.

On his blog, Shane Richmond comments:

“In many ways, Rick is an example of what can happen when you build personalities. As I said yesterday, journalists become powerful when they develop into brands and it’s that power that Rick is now exploiting.”

This seems slightly egotistical and very alien to the typical team environment in a newsroom. I cringe when I think of Tara as a brand. I don’t want to be a celebrity or a self marketing expert- journalism should be about the audience, not me- the journalist.

And surely without trusted and valued big media brands like the BBC and regional newspapers, these people wouldn’t have built up a name for themselves or got the address book full of contacts to be able to go solo.

If I got the right end of the stick, Rick seemed to believe in doing what you do best- focus on a niche you know inside out and if you’re a newspaper journalist, stick to print. And if you don’t know? Well, link of course.

link“Swallow your pride, do what you still do best and, thereafter, link like there is no tomorrow…”

Linking to other sites, other pictures and other videos exists because lack of money means we are down to a barter economy.

Rick says:

“As long as you’re swapping ‘live’ links and driving traffic to and fro, I don’t see an issue.

Other than pride.

And I’m not sure any of us can afford that any more.”

To an extent I believe in this link economy. The main thing that has come out of these online lectures is the importance of engaging the reader and if by, just for the sake of it, putting up a crap quality video with your report, which sends the reader to sleep, why not link to one that doesn’t?

On the other hand, the idea of barter economy did seem to go against a lot of what I had previously been told. I thought the ideal journalist in 2008 had to be willing to write about anything. In our recent Sunday supplement exercise, we picked article ideas out of a hat at random because we were told it would be beneficial for us to write an article on something we haven’t got the foggiest about. I also thought we had to have the ability to tell the story on a variety of media platforms. I’m a trainee print journalist but am learning to create podcasts, digital narratives and video.

But looking at his model on a deeper level, I think it could work.


Shepherding the herd

Rick believes we are stood on the threshold of an ‘Age of Participation’ and that the future lies in journalists participating in someone else’s conversation.

He says:

“That part of our new thinking may well be mingling with the masses; rubbing shoulders with what was once our audience and getting down and dirty with them – in their new worlds as our old one implodes beneath our feet.

The test may well be whether or not we can still hold our own in said company; whether whatever ‘brand’ recognition and trust we still enjoy as a passionate niche journalist will then allow us to if not command a conversation then to guide and influence one – particularly if when we enter the conversational fray we can come ‘badged’ up; like a steward at a mass rally; like a shepherd with his crook; like a cinema usher with her torch.”

This hosting, curating and moderating of online conversations can only be a good thing for journalism. It enables people to be the eyes and ears of the community and for them to have a voice.

Rather than just picking up the newspaper and chucking it away at the end of the day, people are able to take part in the discussion.

Rick says:

“Do we still pay £50 per restaurant review? Or do we encourage our community of readers to have a conversation about where they ate last night… do we ‘listen in’ to their opinion on the new Indian at the end of the High Street? Or do we shove our own opinion down their throats… and cough £50 in the process.”

phoneWhere you want, when you want it. blackberryblackberry1

Speed played a big part in Rick’s model and another reason for breaking away from newspapers. is about getting news out to people as quickly as possible and to where readers want it. A positive part of going solo means Rick doesn’t have to wait a day or more for a paper to go to print but instead he can deliver it to readers’ mobile phones and laptops within the hour.

Is this the future?

Rick’s model has some very positive elements about it such as the speedy delivery of news and the way he wants to bring communities together and for this reason maybe this will be where journalism is heading in the future. But I can’t help but think if newspapers no longer existed and journalists worked on their own covering their niche areas off separate websites, surely it would take half a day to click from the crime correspondent to the education reporter to the sports writer. The great thing about newspapers is everything is all in one place.

Getting up close and personal with the digital revolution…

“It is difficult, indeed dangerous, to underestimate the huge changes this revolution will bring or the power of developing technologies to build and destroy- not just companies but whole countries.” Rupert Murdoch


According to Antony Mayfield, head of content and media at iCrossing UK, we are at the beginning of a digital revolution. I hyperventilated like an old media dinosaur until Antony reassured us not to be caught up by the technological side of this revolution but instead to concentrate on the human aspect- finding and following real people. Breathing a sigh of relief, it became clear I didn’t have to turn into a technical geek overnight but instead just interact with people.

I see web 2.0 as a gateway to a mass of people, networks and conversations, which provides an indispensable opportunity for the future of journalism. But without being able to interact with these people, it is pretty useless.

With more and more people becoming part of the big ‘conversation’ on the internet, the power has switched from being in the hands of big news companies to individuals. The digital revolution is increasingly giving ordinary people the power to chose what they need and want.

According to an article by the BBC:

“We are at a moment of opportunity and change. Technology, in gestation for 10 years through the first wave of digital, is about to bring to the heart of people’s lives a degree of choice and control which is still hard to grasp.

That in turn is changing the assumptions and behaviour of the public, from how they consume media to their expectations of public services and politicians. They will determine the future”

The internet, of course, opens many doors for journalists but it would be naive to think it provides these millions of people ‘on a plate’ eager and willing to consume what we decide. We need to remember that ordinary people make the internet what it is and as journalists for news organisations, we can only hope to be part of their conversations in order to produce more accurate and engaging copy.

Ultimately, this power shift means the public will read who and what they value and trust therefore we have to work hard to gain trust.

The question on every trainee journalist’s lips- how do we build trust, create a bond and most importantly interact with our online public?

Here it is- the how to guide to getting it on in the digital revolution:


Rule 1- Honesty and trust are crucial to any relationship.

Rule 2- “Ask not what your network can do for you, but what you can do for your network.” Antony Mayfield

Be useful- always put the user first, write for them, be to the point, make headings simple for search engine optimisation.

Rule 3- Understand your networks.

Rule 4- Be live in your networks. Get out what you want to say quickly because the joy of the internet means you can always add to it later.

Rule 5- Interact with people and listen closely to their needs and respond to them.

Rule 6- Be willing to share and collaborate. “Do what you do best and link to the rest.” Jeff Jarvis

Rule 7- Be flexible and open minded– we don’t know what the future of journalism is going to look like so the people who can embrace change and make the most of the opportunities it offers will benefit the most.

Beat it


Something Adam Tinworth, head of blogging at RBI, said during his lecture left me thinking about the direction I would like journalism to take in the future.

When I say “beat it”, I’m not talking about one of Michael Jackson’s hits- I refer to beat blogging.

For many journalists, the smell of coffee from the newsroom canteen, the sound of telephones ringing in the background and the sight of press releases and shorthand scribbled paperwork sprawled across the desk is a scene experienced too often. But is this good journalism?

I found this quote on Mindy McAdams’s blog:

“Ultimately, stories come from people. They come from the collective experiences, social contexts and relevance of communities. To find a story and know why it’s a story, you have to be part of or active in those communities. That’s something that ‘traditional’ journalism is supposed to be good at. Understanding the communities/audience they serve. Being relevant through the intimate knowledge of a patch. Having the ‘in’ at the ground floor of a story.”

So why are so many journalists obsessed with being tethered to their phone, constantly waiting for e-mails in the newsroom rather than getting out there and having an active presence amongst the community they are writing for?

With developments in technology and web 2.0, this needn’t be the case anymore. Adam said: “you should be out there, going back to basics with new tools available to you.” He referred to our laptops as our desks- a valuable tool to upload stories straight from our patches to the web.

Adam said: “Get out of the office. You have a laptop and a mobile phone. That’s all you need to do journalism. Get out there, amongst your readers and your market, and talk, network, record and report. We spend too much time talking to our colleagues and not enough to our contacts. The first technological shift journalism has been through – the arrival of computers – tied us to our desks. The second shift – the pervasive internet – should free us from them once more.”

I was very interested when Martin Booth, of the Bristol Evening Post told me that Watford Observer reporters are now all based out in their patches, filing straight to the net. This can only be a good thing for journalism. It enables reporters to have a constant presence in their patch, in order to truly understand the community, as well as being able to post their copy in record timing.

Traditionally, newspapers have restrictions on content and time constraints. Adam said that perhaps only 20/30 per cent of articles make it into the newspaper and there is usually only one deadline per day meaning a lot of material is wasted or left until the following day.

The internet has no restrictions at all meaning journalists can post their articles as soon as the news comes in beating competition and then allow the reporter to change and develop the stories in more detail later.

The proof was staring at me on Martin Stabe’s twitter profile:

Grrr. Beaten on a story by 20 minutes- exactly as long as it took to drag our copy through the bloody system. Oh to be running a blog… (4.35am Nov 11)

This tweet by Martin Stabe proves all journalists should have blogs as well as posting to the main news website. Blogs allow stories to be developed and elaborated on rather than being printed and then forgotten about. Also, due to space restrictions in newspapers, not all the in depth research of an article will be included. But blogs allow the journalist to describe their findings in finer detail, give behind the scenes information and most importantly strike up a conversation to connect with the readers. Comments left on an online article or a blog are firstly extremely valuable in order to give you a personal insight into that particular story- perhaps somebody has said something, which the journalist hadn’t thought about. Secondly, comments make the news interactive- something a newspaper can’t do.

As Adam started his lecture, blogs aren’t just endless rants from lonely weirdos couped up in their bedrooms and if, even my favourite chocolate bar has twigged on to the power of blogging, I don’t see any reason for me or any other journalist not to.

All doom and gloom?


After such an upbeat lecture last week by Daniel Meadows, I couldn’t help feeling deflated when Matthew Yeomans started talking about the dire state that newspapers are in today. He started the lecture by telling us that this week alone, three large american newspapers decided to either stop printing or significantly reduce their workforce; the Christian Science Monitor has stopped publishing its printed edition, Time Inc. announced they were cutting 600 jobs and Gannet revealed they were laying off 10% of their workforce.

I got home and immediately checked out the NY Times article he had referred to in order to see for myself. I read:

“Clearly, the sky is falling. The question now is how many people will be left to cover it.”

The title of David Carr’s article was Mourning Old Media’s Decline… not too reasurring for a trainee newspaper journalist about to embark on a career in exactly what he is mourning the death of.

Then the week got worse.

I went to the Cardiff Business Club lecture and dinner on Monday evening where Carolyn McCall revealed that regional and local titles, which have been the cornerstone of their communities for more than a century, could go out of business. She said this was due to permenant changes to the media resulting from “fundamental changes in consumer behaviour, communications and technology.”

Then tonight at a talk at Cardiff University, Kate Adie warned of newspapers which are contracting and losing readers.

Yes the media is changing but should we be mourning it or should we instead celebrate the evolution of the media, which is flowering and becoming more diverse? Like Carolyn McCall said, the media has changed because of technology and consumer behaviour. As I have talked about in my previous posts, the journalist no longer talks at the public. We now hear the consumer’s voice in our news. Matthew Yeomans believes the media has evolved in three ways.

The consumer now has-

  • The power to publish (blogs, websites, wikis)
  • The power to participate (offering opinions freely online)
  • The power to choose (choose which news they want by setting up online bookmarks, RSS feeds)

This shift of power in the role of journalists and consumers has brought many opportunities for journalists to become interactive with their public. Journalists therefore need to appreciate the benefits the evolving media could have on their profession.

I stumbled across an article titled ’10 reasons there’s a bright future for journalism’, which summarised the ideas Matthew Yeomans spoke about in the lecture and my personal views towards the evolution of media.

In a shortened version here are the 10 points:

1. More access to more journalism worldwide.

2. Aggregation and personalisation satisfies readers.

3. Digital delivery offers more ways to reach people.

4. There are more fact-checkers than ever in the history of journalism.

5. Collaborative investigations between pro and amateur journalists.

6. More voices are part of the news conversation.

7. Greater transparency and a more personal tone.

8. Growing advertising revenues online.

9. An online shift from print could improve our environmental impact.

10. Stories never end.

We can’t predict what will happen to the media in the future but when have we ever had a crystal ball at our fingertips?

Maybe the future will be the e-paper?

Vodpod videos no longer available.

Whatever the future, as a trainee journalist becoming familiar with ways to use technology to improve the quality of journalism, I’m not worried about this change at all. Change is inevitable and is interesting. Of course I am passionate about newspapers and love nothing better than sitting reading the news over a coffee (the traditional way). People are always skeptical about change but we need to be able to embrace it rather than throw our pens away just yet.

I don’t understand welsh…

BUT I understand you

and you

and you.

As a trainee journalist I should be all for words on a sheet of paper. Well actually, I was- the pen is mightier than the sword and all that.

But after a lecture with Daniel Meadows, the words, the sentences and the paragraphs looked blank on the broadsheet newspaper I was reading during my lunch break and I realised that good journalism needs something to make the words come alive, something more than just words- real people and a real voice.

The lecture was about digital storytelling- short, personal, multimedia tales which use about a dozen photos, a 250 word script and which are about 2 minutes long.

Daniel Meadows says on his website: “Digital Stories — when properly done — can be tight as sonnets: multimedia sonnets from the people.”

The great thing about digital stories is you don’t require any specialist knowledge- only a voice and some photographs so anybody and everybody can make them. Daniel believes they are a form of democratised media, which have the potential to change the way we engage in our communities.

We keep hearing that journalism is evolving and therefore, as journalists, we need to live and breath our public because they are now part of the news process. What better than to make use of digital stories in journalism to give our stories a voice. For the journalist and the consumer, digital stories add a personal element and can make for a deeper understanding of an issue.

The digital stories I linked to at the beginning of this post are from a BBC project which Daniel initiated called Capture Wales. It was a project where participants of all ages and backgrounds went to workshops to produce their own 2 minute digital stories. The stories at the top of this post are in welsh. I don’t speak a word of welsh but I included them in this post to demonstrate the fact that I understand them, despite the language barrier. This proves that actions (or more specifically somebody’s voice and photographs) are louder than words and if this is the case, journalists should be including digital stories with their online articles to make their journalism the highest standard possible. After all, which would be more appealing to you? A printed article full of facts and statistics? Or a digital story from a person who has been directly affected by that issue?

Digital stories put the public, who are at the heart of our news, in the driving seat. The stories can be about anything…

  • Dumisani’s story of gender equality in South Africa and how the gang rape of a girl in his youth made him realise that steps need to be made to stop violence against women and HIV in his country.
  • or Breaking Free, Griffin’s story (from America) about how his father abused him, the pain of being in foster care and how he chose to overcome his misery and get his life back on track.
  • or the story about how a British primary school girl adores her dancing golden monkey.

Whatever the subject matter, they give ordinary people from all over the world a voice, which allows us to become better informed. Sure, as journalists, words are always going to have a certain power. But as the profession is evolving, we need to be thinking of more effective ways of communicating our message to the public and more importantly ways in which our public can become part of the conversation. The interactivity of digital storytelling breeds conversation, which in turn opens the media out and will make it more democratic. In short, it is a way of giving people a voice that would usually rarely be heard.

Journalists want YOU…

It is often said that journalists know a little about a lot,

…but networked journalism, or more specifically crowdsourcing, means journalists could have the chance to know a lot about a lot.

Crowdsourcing is the collaboration between ‘professional’ journalists and amateur journalists, says Jeff Jarvis. Journalists have always needed to use sourcing and networking techniques in the past but web 2.0 makes this process easier, quicker and more reliable because it creates more opportunities for the journalist to hear the voice of a bigger public. With a click of a button, journalists can now engage in communication with online communities all over the world sharing the news process with their public. With such a vast number of potential contributors who have specialist knowledge, our news articles can be more reliable than they have ever been.

Crowdsourcing is…

  • about including the readers in every aspect of the news- gathering, production and publication.
  • using social networks like Twitter or Facebook and blogs to find experts worldwide who are able to share their knowledge on a specialist subject
  • posting questions for a group on a specialist message board
  • setting up online suveys and polls to seek views or using a Creative Commons pool on Flickr to find photos for articles
  • requesting readers personal stories and opinions to become closer to the people you are publishing for

Many journalists feel threatened by this emergence of user generated content but crowdsourcing shouldn’t mean that there won’t be a place for professional journalists in the future, or that using the crowd is an attempt by news companies to cut costs as the credit crunch bites. On the contrary, it should be seen as an advantage of web 2.0 and with the right approach can lead to better journalism.

Many news companies are using the techniques to their advantage.

The News Press in Fort Myers, Florida proved that contrary to some peoples’ beliefs, crowdsourcing can save time. After hurricane Katrina, they asked the public to help gather information concerning relief payments to the local community. They had an overwhelming response, which wouldn’t have been possible if the journalists had worked on the investigative report on their own.

To take a more local example, on the Liverpool Daily Post website, they appeal to their readers to “help us make the news” by asking them for their stories, pictures and videos meaning that the community can chose what news they want and become a voice in the news process.

The website says: “Have you got a story to tell us? We’d love to hear about it, so send it to us here. Use the form below to tell us your story, along with a brief headline. You can also add a photo as well if you want.We may then use your story here or in the Liverpool Daily Post.”

Neil Benson, Trinity Regionals editorial director said: “The bigger issue for us is to get some of our journalists comfortable with the idea that this kind of contribution can be as important, or more important, than their own work.”

Another example is NewAssignment.Net, which is a website whose mission is to “spark innovation in open platform journalism, distributed reporting and what’s now called crowdsourcing.” They are trying to show that collaboration over the internet between reporters and the public can produce high quality work.

These examples prove that using the crowd as an additional set of eyes and ears can only be a good thing for journalists. Professional journalists will always be needed in the news process but crowdsourcing means citizens can play a part in the news process building greater trust in journalism.