Tell Laura I Hate Her

I’ve made this point before; journalism is perhaps unique as a career where you can expect to be openly, personally abused simply for reporting what others have said. And as public figures, perhaps we should accept that strong differences of opinion are part and parcel of the job.

It’s even harder when you’re part of an organisation which is publicly funded. So perhaps it’s no surprise that a petition to sack the BBC’s Political Editor, Laura Kuenssberg, has attracted so much attention – possibly for all the wrong reasons.

It was started amid allegations that she was regularly showing bias against the Labour Party and in particular Jeremy Corbyn. But the petition site 38 Degrees removed it following reports of sexist abuse. This made some even more angry, suggesting that there were just a couple of abusive comments posted on the site, and that 38 Degrees itself was caving in under pressure from the establishment. 

In fact, most of the abuse was on other social media platforms, notably Twitter. Many of the comments had nothing to do with bias, but were deeply personal. Several bloggers have since moaned that nobody took screen grabs of tweets which have subsequently been deleted – the charge now being that if you can’t see it, it never existed.

Frankly, I’m getting a little exasperated by the conspiracy theories. But I’m more concerned about the growing trend of my profession being easy pickings for the anonymous keyboard warriors, who think it’s perfectly acceptable to openly demand sackings, accompanied by filthy and nasty abuse.

Imagine if we were to apply the same principle to all publicly funded jobs. Should a council street cleaner, for example, be openly mocked if he misses a pile of rubbish outside a school, but meticulously polishes the flagstones at the Town Hall. Equally, ashould a police officer be disciplined for cautioning a “peaceful demonstrater” using language akin to incitement? Surely he’s suppressing free speech?

It goes wider than just journalism. I’m often baffled by the same online conspiracists who hate the “mainstream media” because we “don’t report the facts” – yet in the same breath praise, for example, Russia Today. Only this weekend someone on Twitter said he preferred the “independent” Planet Rock to anything that the “state sponsored” BBC Radio could offer him. Planet Rock is operated by the German multi media giant Bauer.

As for Laura, it’s at least pleasing to see that some in Labour are backing her; the Press Gazette reporting support from MPs Chuka Umunna and Jess Phillips.

But the hates will probably only moan that she’s not reported it.

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Posted by on May 14, 2016 in Journalism


Sold : Dancing Hamster – £40m

The sale of a group of radio stations to a much bigger company often brings with it anxiety among staff, doubts over job security and a collective sigh among the anoraks that things will never quite be the same again – and wouldn’t it be nice to bring back some old heritage brand names.

Yet the news that Orion Media has sold its stations to Bauer has been largely well received, if not welcomed, by many industry observers. And it could well be a sign that the rose tinted glasses have finally been confined to the scrap heap. Which can only be a good thing for the new owners of Free Radio in the West Midlands and Gem 106 in the East Midlands.

Gem alone has steadily grown to become a key player in the market, and continues to evolve. Its early cheesey marketing – featuring a dancing hamster – has become a station that still plays big on personality and does well in the ratings. Breakfast presenters Sam and Amy recently marked ten years on air together – quite an achievement in a cut throat industry.

And Gem, like Free, has recently refreshed its playlist – there are far more “hot” (current) tracks mixed in with 80s and 90s classics. Tune in some hours are you could be forgiven for thinking you were listening to Capital.

All of this matters because the two Orion brands will now have to fit into Bauer’s existing portfolio. The most likely option is that all will become part of the main network, along with strong heritage names like Radio City in Liverpool, Glasgow’s Clyde and Newscastle’s Metro. All of these stations continue to perform well in large markets – and, just like Orion’s stations, have slowly evolved into a mix of contemporary and classic playlists.

Bauer also has a ready made second brand – the Greatest Hits Network – majoring on oldies and long established heritage presenters. This would easily fit into what’s currently the Free 80s slot on the AM and DAB dials in the West Midlands – although without confining the output to just one decade.

So everyone’s happy, right? Well of course there may be some savings to be had – and nobody wants to see job losses. But I’m told that the announcement yesterday was handled impeccably by both sides. Bauer sent senior managers to both Nottingham and Birmingnam to brief staff, there was apparently no air of hostility that can often be associated with sales.

Ultimately this consolidates the UK industry into two major players. Smaller groups will continue to thrive for the time being – and competition rules should ensure that commercial radio doesn’t become a monopoly.

But I don’t think we’ll see any more dancing hamsters.


Posted by on May 7, 2016 in Journalism, Radio Stuff


Original Oregon

There are few places where I’ve managed to encounter a city’s mayor, live band karaoke, really bad stand up comedy and a post midnight doughnut all in one evening.

It started off quietly enough in the Davis Street bar, one of the huge, converted old buildings which is now embracing one of Oregon’s biggest industries – micro brewing.


John, who’s sitting next to me, points out that the guy sitting by the window is Portland’s mayor. John’s a lawyer for the construction industry so knows a lot of people. He also has strong political views, having lost a nephew in the first Gulf War. His sister has fought for years for justice for the families of soldiers killed or wounded in action.

It’s a sobering tale to start off the evening but that doesn’t last long. The Fourth Street Saloon is like a cross between the wild west, a trashy roadhouse and a grungy club. “It could be worse,” one customer tells me, “you could be doing live karaoke at Dante’s.”


This place has been everything in its time, from a brothel to a gambling den. But on Mondays the relatively small song book is distributed and you bribe the host to move you up the list. For $4 I manage a rather successful rendition of Handle With Care by the Traveling Wilburys.

I’m less confident about standing up at the Boiler Room, where it’s amateur comedy night. Almost every one of the dozen or so young performers dies; their peers offering little by way of support.

After a late night, a brief chance to explore Portland’s city centre. The place is functional, not as threatening as bigger cities and with a few notable historic building like the Court House in Pioneer Square.


Another booming business here is street food. Carts have sprung up on the corner of many car parks offering a huge variety of cheap eats.


Though I’m not entirely convinced by all of the branding.


It’s almost the end of my trip, and it’s one that’s certainly opened my eyes to the West Coast. It’s not all about San Fran or LA. There’s history, good food and great beer to be sampled. And despite the region’s reputation for bad weather, it hasn’t rained once.

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Posted by on April 6, 2016 in Canada and USA 2016, Travel Stuff


The right side of the tracks

Monday, and it seems that more people want to use the train today than my previous encounters with North America’s rail system.


Seattle’s King Street terminal is bustling this morning with two popular services. The first is heading all the way to Los Angeles. It’s one of those grandiose double decker units, complete with an Observation Car. I travelled on one of these between Memphis and New Orlando last year, so when the rather less grandiose Cascades service to Portland arrives, I’m not too disappointed. In fact, Business Class reminds me of British Rail circa 1983.



It’s spacious enough, but fifteen minutes into the four hour journey, disaster strikes. It seems I’ve mistakenly been issued with a  Business Class seat, but my actual reservation is in Coach. I know that the train guard is in the right and reluctantly move – but at least he lets me keep the $3 voucher to spend in the buffet. It buys me half a cheese plate.

Regular readers of the blog may know I travel with my trusty mascot, the dog known as News Mutt. He normally keeps himself to himself but at the Rose Hotel he’s greeted by some in room competition.


I have no idea what the second dog is called, and I’m not sure they should be left alone, but in the lobby I notice a couple of guests with real pets. It’s just one of a few nice quirks about this place, including high quality sound systems, nice coffee and free cupcakes.

I have a good feeling about this city, and I’ve not even stepped outside yet.

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Posted by on April 5, 2016 in Uncategorized


Lift off

It’s certainly the most touristy thing I’ve done so far in this trip, but you can’t visit Seattle and not go up the Space Needle. Built in the early Sixties, the landmark dominates the skyline, and greets you as you arrive by that other notable sixties development, the Monorail.



The guidebook tells me I can avoid the $20 admission fee so long as I spend $25 in the restaurant – but it’s a fixed menu brunch, with a fixed price of $50. It’s not just the 520 foot observation deck that’s sky high. It’s Saturday afternoon and packed with visitors. But most don’t hog any one section for too long, allowing some pretty spectacular views.


The Needle is just one of several attractions at the Seattle Centre complex. Of more interest to me is the Experience Music Project, or EMP. Among its many exhibitions are those dedicated to Seattle’s famous exports, Jimi Hendrix and Kurt Cobain. The Hendrix room contains scraps of papers and diaries from the man himself. Here, questions for a chat show.


Rock or grunge, this place is all about the guitars. 700 of them.


The evening takes me to Capitol Hill, a neighbourhood of diverse bars and my first encounter of American bureaucracy – the ID check. At the age of 45 it’s often flattering to be asked to show my driver’s licence. But the guy on the door tells me that this isn’t enough. Only US and Canadian ID is acceptable under Washington State Law, and I’ll need a passport to get in. Really?

Fortunately, Comet isn’t the only place in town and I end up watching the Seattle Seahawks soccer team beating Montreal in the final few minutes of the game. Behind me in the bar is Gary, a Scottish man working as an engineer. He moved to Seattle nine years ago, but next to him is David, who’s only just got here from his family home in rural Ohio.

He’s a salesman for Tesla, the electric car company. It’s made big news this week launching its latest model. At $35k it’s half the price of the previous one. David insists that America is ready to embrace the electric car revolution. Maybe the eco-conscious Pacific Northwest might just be the place to do it.

Sunday morning and another leisurely stroll around Pike Place. And there are plenty of food options here, including a dairy churning its own cheese.



It’s extremely tempting but I’m not sure a slab will keep that well in my case for another four days. The best and worst thing about the market are the swarms of visitors with no sense of direction or personal space. Still, they’re fun to watch – even when they’re touching a pig.


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Posted by on April 3, 2016 in Canada and USA 2016, Travel Stuff


Bed and border

If hardly anyone in the United States travels by train, even fewer take the Thruway buses which connect the network when the trains aren’t running. This 1130 from Vancouver to Seattle has fewer than a dozen passengers, though annoyingly one is a small child, frequently screaming loudly. The journey begins at Vancouver’s Pacific Central station, another grand yet seemingly underused transport terminal

I’d actually wanted to take the train on the short hop over the border, but the only option by rail was a 5.30am departure, or a second in the evening which would have got me in way after 10pm. So it’s the bus, though it’s a nicer option than having to do the driving yourself. 

Within 90 minutes we’re at the US Border, a far less intensive and lengthy process than arriving into the States by air. There are still fingerprints and questions about the purpose of the visit – but on a much more casual scale. The bus driver tells me that it’s often worse traveling the other way. “The border guards tend to be younger, a bit more cocky” – which surprises me, since I’ve found Canadians to be nothing but helpful and friendly.

Arrival in Seattle is somewhat confusing. Sweeping views of the skykine and famous Space Needle merge into Friday afternoon traffic. The King Street Amtrak station is close to some big landmarks, but there’s not a single waiting cab. When I do get one, the city reminds me a bit of San Francisco – minus the streetcars. My first view of the waterfront doesn’t immediately lift the spirits.

Separating the port from the Main Street is the huge overpass known as the Alaskan highway. Apparently it’s due to be demolished, which can’t come soon enough. But also hugging the waterside is one of Seattle’s big attractions – Pike Place Market.

By mid evening most of the outlets are closed, though a collection of bars and restaurants are dotted along the small alleys within the market complex. Among them, the Kells Irish Pub. Ok, I’m getting a reputation here, I admit it. But I promise to try something more authentic tomorrow.


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Posted by on April 2, 2016 in Canada and USA 2016, Travel Stuff


At the hop

The Steamworks is Gastown’s showpiece brew pub, and at 7.30pm the atmosphere is a happy mix of after work drinkers and visitors. Steamworks itself does an impressive list of in house beers and it’s a good starting point for a bar hop around Vancover’s oldest neighbourhood.



There are dozens of places to choose from here, but perhaps none as unique as Guilt and Company, a basement bar with nightly live music.

“Are you one of the dancers?” asks the guy on the door. I’m not entirely sure if he’s winding me up or hitting on me. When I say no he refuses to tell me what he’s talking about.

It transpires that tonight is jazz night, and the band are joined by members of a local traditional dancing group. The theme is very much 1930s with a stunning floor show of lindy hop and  Charleston.



The party continues late into the night, and the only thing that tempts me out of bed before noon is another warm and sunny day. After lunch at Granville Island Market, a brisk walk takes me into the Kitsalano district, offering yet another view of the city skyline.


Vanier Park is home to three museums, and the Maritime Museum has a patriotic exhibition looking at the race to successfully chart the North West passage of the Arctic. Conditions were notoriously harsh, and often fatal for those who tried.

In the early twentieth century the Royal Canadian Mounted Police established bases in the region, combining law and order with a kind of social services department for the Inuits.

The journey to and from the area was taken by the ship RCMP Roch, which now sits within the museum.



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Posted by on April 1, 2016 in Canada and USA 2016, Travel Stuff


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