Young people are angry and leaving TV in droves
Vice chief executive Shane Smith on video journalism, North Korea – and why he won’t be taken over by a big rival.
Found Things is a compendium of curiosity.
This radio journalist learnt how to structure his stories by sketching the models used by other shows
Bradley Campbell says drawing story structure is like using Google Maps for directions. Structure offers a path, a way to figure out where to go… what to do with all the tape.
To help him plan out his stories, Bradley thinks pictorially. He makes story structure drawings in his head. And he first learned about structure in a bar. On a napkin.
Step back in time with this lovely short documentary of Teddy Gray’s sweet factory
Established in 1826, Teddy Gray’s has always been a family owned and run business. Five generations have worked and contributed towards the business of keeping the traditional, hand-made methods of sweet making alive.
The film is part of the Black Country Stories body of work commissioned by Multistory to document life in the Black Country by capturing and celebrating the unique mix of communities living in the area.
On Benefits Street and poverty porn
There’s been a lot of chatter around Channel 4's Benefits Street recently. The phrase that critics have been hurling around is ‘poverty porn’ - lasciviously peeping at the lurid details of other people’s unfortunate situations for our own filthy entertainment. It’s the kind of incendiary tabloid-infused reality docu-drama that deliberately aims to rub Twitter grumblers up the wrong way by its inclusion of the word ‘benefits’ in the title. That’s a Daily Mail ear-pricker right there.
On the face of it, as many have pointed out, it’s a fairly horrible premise. A whole street of people who are out of work and scratching a living, placed into a fishbowl for the titillation of middle-class gawpers.
The way the producers set the scene as being some kind of latter-day hippie commune initially smacks of the inauthentic, with the de facto mother figure sorting out everyone’s benefits issues while all around leave their front doors unlocked and live in jovial harmony.
There’s a reel of rogues on the street - the alcoholic who can’t see his kids, the shoplifter who keeps getting arrested, the guy growing weed in his spare room - who give viewers plenty to be angry about, while their repeated references to receiving benefits as ‘getting paid’ demonstrates a certain lack of respect for the system; it’s not a helping hand for people who are actively trying to get back into work, it’s a supplementary income to pay for fags and lager for a group of people who consider themselves above the law.
This, of course, is unfair and sensationalist.
The very fact that the desperate situation of these people has been broadcast along with their exact location opens a path to a sort of macabre poverty tourism, while all manner of hideous threats are being levelled at the ‘stars’ of the show. Imagine what targets they’ve suddenly become. Ask yourself why they’re on TV in the first place - it’s notoriously difficult to get people on the poverty line to discuss their benefit situation, so why do we have a whole street of people willing to open up their lives for the judgement of the public, in the certain knowledge that they’ll be mocked and derided?
Is it because they have nothing else to fill their time and will grab at the opportunity for reality TV fame at any cost, or is it that they feel an open forum on their situation might improve their lot?
The latter seems far more likely, and press reports that certain ‘characters’ have since received multiple job offers bolsters this. (Further reports that they were all duped into a protracted ridicule showcase on the production company’s word that the show would be a sensitive portrayal of community spirit in harsh economic times is another matter.)
Benefits Street is not representative of everybody on benefits in Britain - it is merely representative of that particular street. And even then, it’s the edited, mangled version that’s fed to us, complete with theme music and hashtags.
The 50p man was the star of the first episode - a reformed criminal who makes his living by dividing a variety of household goods (washing liquid, toilet roll, tea bags, you name it) into small quantities and selling them door-to-door for fifty pence a piece.
His soothing voice and demeanour of genuinely trying to help others as well as himself was endearing, as was his awareness that even 50p might be a stretch for a community as impoverished as James Turner Street, where families struggle to even afford basic groceries, and where nobody has 50p just lying around.
This counterpoint to the street’s unashamed and unapologetic shoplifter offers essential diversity, breaking the cycle of showing a collection of people to be sneered at. It’s these green shoots of humanity that should be focused on, not the relentless naughtiness of other figures. The street is diverse, because the world is. No amount of cynical editing can paper over that.
The second episode had a rather different focus, swinging between one group of migrants and another - the Romanians who moved in, the travellers who set up their caravans at the end of the street, then back to another group of Romanians who replaced the first lot.
These Romanians came across as ineffably charming and pleasant, refusing to let a desperate and appalling situation crush their spirit. ‘Hope is the last thing I can lose,’ smiled one (having been chased out of his home on James Turner Street by a dangerous employer and finding himself sleeping rough in a park). And all the while, the cameras focus on local residents yelling racist abuse at the newcomers, casting aspersions over their intentions, moral values and general cleanliness.
Is this xenophobia representative of the whole caricaturised sub-class of People On Benefits that the show aims variously to create, sensationalise and propagate? No, it can’t be. Again, it’s probably not even representative of that street. But it makes good telly.
Yes, some of the families have incongruously big tellies, but they’re probably not the pondlife that the #BenefitsStreet hashtag would have you believe. As a manufactured gallery of outcasts, Benefits Street will have you watching open mouthed. But as a snapshot of genuine modern-day hardship with tales of day-to-day human bonding, it’s rather heartwarming.
Watch with an open mind, I say. It’s important to remember that while #1.2bn in benefits was lost to fraud last year, #16bn went unclaimed - the showboating of some claimants is not representative of the whole.
There is no average profile of a benefits claimant any more than there is one of a 9-5 worker or a millionaire. The show uses existing prejudices against people on benefits to reinforce the stereotypes that they’re workshy, criminals, or both. But if you push past the hate-woven curtain, you’ll find humans behind it.
Don’t lose faith in people. Incendiary hashtags are not the boss of you.
Here’s an interesting thought piece for for a Saturday afternoon: why is the term “content” so objectionable?
For Cory Doctorow at boing boing, "Content" has the stink of failure. His observation is centred on the definition of the term.
One of the origins of the term in technical speech is the idea that you can separate the “content” of a web-page from the “presentation”. Now that the Web’s in its second decade of common use, it’s pretty clear that “content” and “presentation” are never fully separable, a lesson that was already learned in other media.
In “Content-free”, Tim Bray makes the point nobody calls Hollywood’s output “content” - they’re movies and flicks. Publishers produce novels and epics; musicians make songs and symphonies.
The point here is that if you’re building something that’s used for communication, and you find that people are using an idiomatic name for what they’re sending and receiving, you’re probably on to something.
But if you’re about “generating content” you’re dead.
Reading the comments on Tim’s article backs up this position: “Content” is an enigma to the collective but to the individual, it is clearly defined.
So it is still a case that “Content is King”. But content clearly includes the “Presentation” of that “Content”.
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Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas
Soul Music: Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas
Soul Music tells the story of the song, Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas, and talks to people for whom it has special meaning.
DRM has always been a horrible idea
For years, the reaction of the big entertainment companies to digital disruption has been to try to restrict and control, a wrong-headed approach that has done a lot to undermine the old order.
But the entertainment companies were never known for being forward thinking. Whether it was radio in the 20s, cassette tapes in the 70s, VCRs in the 80s or Napster in the 90s, the reaction has the always been the same: take a defensive position and try to battle the disruptive force.
And it has never worked.
DRM was perhaps the worst reaction of all, placing restrictions on content that punish the very people who are willing to pay for it, while others are free to use it without restriction. It an approach that never made much sense, and it’s good to know that mounting evidence proves that this is the case.
The Art & Science of Bike Design: a five part introduction from the Open University
In 2012, Bradley Wiggins became the first English cyclist to win the granddaddy of all cycling races, the Tour de France. In 2013, Chris Froome became the second. After back-to-back victories, we have every reason to celebrate, and perhaps that’s why the Open University created The Science Behind the Bike - a series of four short videos exploring how science has changed the physics, technology and physiology of cycling.
Now they’ve followed up with a five-part video series called The Design Behind the Bike. Even if you’re down on cycling as a professional sport, you can still appreciate the artistry that goes into making an elegant bike.
You can watch the entire series in one sitting above, or catch the individual instalments here -
How Ira Glass gets people to talk
I adore This American Life. So much so that I now find it hard to get to sleep without Ira’s dulcit tones to push me over the edge.
If you don’t know it, This American Life is weekly hourlong program divided into acts. And the show’s stock-in-trade are character-driven stories that are long on surprising plot twists.
A weekly radio documentary program might seem like a holdover from a bygone media era bound inevitably for extinction, but as This American Life founder and host Ira Glass likes to point out, the show’s personal conversational style is perfectly suited to the Internet age. Which may explain why the show, now in its 18th year, has added nearly 1 million weekly listeners online through podcasts and streaming to go along with a base radio audience of about 1.8 million.
As This American Life prepares to put out its 500th episode, Glass sat down with Slate’s Jacob Weisberg to talk about evolution of the program and how he approaches its most critical ingredient, the interview.
Check Slate in the coming days for more of the interview.
For midsummer, six historic BBC productions of Shakespeare’s ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’, from 1936 - 1971.
1936. Diana Churchill as Hermia and Alex Clunes as Lysander in a radio production.
1937. Frank Cellier as ‘Quince’, Carleton Hobbs as ‘Snug’, H.O. Nicholson as ‘Starveling’, John Ruddock as ‘Flute’, Jay Laurier as ‘Snout’ and Arthur Sinclair as ‘Bottom’ in another radio production from the following year.
1937. Ena Moon as a fairy, Thea Holme as Titania, Quentin Tod as Bottom, Patricia Hayes as Puck and Alexander Knox as Oberon in an early TV production from the same year.
1950. Jeremy Spenser as Puck on the TV.
1958. Gillian Lynne as Puck and John Justin as Oberon in another TV production.
1971. Sixth: a wonderful picture of Shakespearian actress Eileen Atkins as Titania and British TV comedy genius Ronnie Barker as Bottom in rehearsal for a ‘Play of the Month’ adaptation.
As TV falls apart, Tumblr and Twitter aim to pick up the pieces
For years, it’s been said that Internet use would cut into the time U.S. consumers spend watching television. Today, those premonitions are beginning to reach the tipping point.
TV ratings have dropped by 50 percent over the last decade. Goldman Sachs recently called the decline “the sharpest pace on record.”
The firm found that ratings in the 18-to-49-year-old demographic – the key group targeted by advertisers – fell by 17 percent last winter compared with the winter before. ABC, NBC and Fox were most affected, with decreased ad revenues cutting into profits. But even highest-rated CBS lost 3 percent of its 18-to-49 audience this season, The New York Times reported in April.
The writing has been on the wall for some time.
2013: the year Internet TV went mainstream
Something huge is happening in online TV this year. No, it’s not a new streaming set top box or Web-exclusive video series. It’s not even an app. It’s a milestone: 2013 is the year that Internet-first TV became truly normal.