Talking to plants

This photo was in the Guardian on Friday. It is supposed to show a lonely Theresa May in Brussels, in a room on her own waiting for an EU delegation to arrive. But as an informative blogpost by Jon Worth points out, May wasn’t alone in the room at all. She had arrived with British delegation colleagues including Tim Barrow and Gavin Barwell, but had then made the mistake of taking a seat before the EU delegates arrived. Here’s the sequence of pictures, all taken by freelance Geert Vanden Wijngaert, working for AP:

Wijngaert confirmed that May wasn’t alone in the room, telling Worth in an email: ‘She just was the first to go and sit at the meeting table when others were still standing. I framed the image so you only could see her. That’s what press photographers do all the time to illustrate news stories.’ Great work from the photographer, given that he probably only had a few seconds to see and get the shot.


Blown over by Ophelia

This is the scene in the Phoenix Park in Dublin less than 24 hours after ex-Hurricane Ophelia had the whole of the island of Ireland on red alert. Along Chesterfield Avenue, the main road through the park, there are many branches and a few whole trees down. Here, in the Oldtown wood area, a small beech tree has fallen to the ground. It doesn’t look to me as though it will pose any danger to anyone where it lies, so it will be interesting to see what the authorities do when they come round to assess it. Nearby, a large Scots pine has lain unmoved for nearly two years, since it fell victim to Storm Frank in December 2015.

People regularly climb on this massive trunk and I’ve even seen dogs running along it. But it’s obviously been left to go through the same process of natural decay as it would do in a normal forest. A good way of increasing the biodiversity in the park.

Meanwhile the park’s resident herd of fallow deer are getting on with what matters to them most at this time of year, which is the rut. A hundred yards from the fallen tree a small group of hinds were hanging out with a single stag. 

The stags started moving over to this side of the park a few weeks ago. Once the stags have sorted out a harem for themselves and mated with the hinds as they come into season, they will up sticks and move back to the other side of the park. By Christmas the all-male bachelor herd will be reformed. At the moment, it’s a bit like a teenage disco as the lads strut about bellowing and locking horns with each other in an attempt to impress the ladeez. The ones who don’t get a date sit around in the long grass looking forlorn.

Examiner goes for Las Vegas body pictures

Of all the front page pictures in today’s British and Irish newspapers, that used by the Irish Examiner (seen above) is surely the most graphic. No qualms on the picture desk in Cork about using a photograph of two obviously dead bodies. Their faces may not be visible but surely there must be families somewhere who would recognise these two young women by their clothes and shoes? The fact that they are facing each other suggests that they were hanging onto each other as they were killed.

For several years in the early 2000s I taught newspaper and magazine design to journalism students at Dublin Institute of Technology. One of the handouts I prepared for them (see below) was on choosing and using photographs, and I used two newspaper front pages from the same day in March 2003 to show the kind of decisions which picture editors have to take. Both the Irish Times and the Guardian had used shots of a dead child killed in the Gulf War taken by the same Reuters photographer. However in one – that used by the Guardian – the other people in the picture were adding to the composition by pointing to the body of a child.

I remember having some discussion with the students about whether or not unpixellated or uncropped photographs of bodies should be used. I’m not sure whether we came to any definite conclusion, but it is noticeable that since that time it is rare for the press to use such explicit images to be seen. Someone at the Examiner has obviously decided that today is the day for one. A brave choice indeed.

Just out of interest, here is today’s roundup of UK front pages, as shown in the BBC’s blog.

The ABC case: forty years on

L-R: Duncan Campbell, Crispin Aubrey and John Berry, pictured after their arrest in 1977. Pic: Crispin Aubrey Legacy Fund

It’s hard to believe that it’s more than 40 years since two journalists, Crispin Aubrey and Duncan Campbell, were arrested outside the North London flat of ex-soldier John Berry. All three were then charged with various offences under the Official Secrets Act.

I became a fairly active member of their defence committee, which was also supported by the National Union of Journalists and civil liberties groups. A first trial at the Old Bailey in September 1978 collapsed after one of the members of the jury was identified as a former officer in the Special Air Service. A second trial opened on 3 October 1978. The prosecution admitted that much of the information was in the public domain, and charges under section 1 of the Official Secrets Act were dropped on 24 October. All three were finally found guilty on 17 November 1978 of the Section 2 offences, but received non-custodial sentences.

Crispin Aubrey died suddenly of a heart attack in 2012. His family set up a fund in his memory to continue his work and carry on the campaigns with which he was involved. The fund is organising a public discussion in Bristol on Friday 3 November to commemorate the 40th anniversary of the case, and all are invited. Among the speakers will be John Berry and Duncan Campbell. The invitation explains:

Every post-war generation has had its own whistleblower who has tried to expose the extent to which governments monitor public communications. For the 1970s it was the ABC trial. This shone a light on the darker corners of state surveillance and sparked a ferocious attempt by the government to criminalise journalists. At this special event, hear from those involved and the contemporary relevance in our post-Snowden world. This unique panel discussion will look at the events from those involved and consider how much has really changed and the threats to journalists and whistleblowers today.

The event is free, but a £5 donation to the Fund is requested in order to continue its work. Get tickets in advance here.

Duncan Campbell’s own site has many items of interest to do with the case and trial.

Why I’m not on Facebook

I bookmarked this 2016 article in the Washington Post98 personal data points that Facebook uses to target ads to you – sometime ago, after coming across it on John Naughton’s blog. As it still sums up exactly why I refuse to succumb to Facebook, I thought I would link to it now.

While you’re logged onto Facebook, for instance, the network can see virtually every other website you visit. Even when you’re logged off, Facebook knows much of your browsing: It’s alerted every time you load a page with a “Like” or “share” button, or an advertisement sourced from its Atlas network. Facebook also provides publishers with a piece of code, called Facebook Pixel, that they (and by extension, Facebook) can use to log their Facebook-using visitors.

Here are three more links to more recent material. I’m going to keep on adding to this post with links to other articles as and when I come across them. It should prove a useful aide memoire.

Article by Josh Marshall on Talking Points Memo (another link from John Naughton).

the political momentum of the Russia probe seems to be on a collision course with Facebook’s longstanding presumption, myopia and generalized illusion that it is the custodian of a national (and international) community as opposed to – let’s get real – just a website. It feels like this might be a moment or maybe the moment when the truthiness of Facebook’s rights and privacy and community talk simply collapses under the weight of its own ridiculousness.


You are the product, says John Lanchester in this piece from the London Review of Books.

What this means is that even more than it is in the advertising business, Facebook is in the surveillance business. Facebook, in fact, is the biggest surveillance-based enterprise in the history of mankind. It knows far, far more about you than the most intrusive government has ever known about its citizens. It’s amazing that people haven’t really understood this about the company. I’ve spent time thinking about Facebook, and the thing I keep coming back to is that its users don’t realise what it is the company does. What Facebook does is watch you, and then use what it knows about you and your behaviour to sell ads. I’m not sure there has ever been a more complete disconnect between what a company says it does – ‘connect’, ‘build communities’ – and the commercial reality.

In this September 2017 article in the Guardian’s Long Read series, Franklin Foer tells us how Facebook wants to advance our individual ‘transparency’. No longer will we be able to have different images for the different groups with which we are involved.

Though Facebook will occasionally talk about the transparency of governments and corporations, what it really wants to advance is the transparency of individuals – or what it has called, at various moments, “radical transparency” or “ultimate transparency”. The theory holds that the sunshine of sharing our intimate details will disinfect the moral mess of our lives. With the looming threat that our embarrassing information will be broadcast, we’ll behave better. And perhaps the ubiquity of incriminating photos and damning revelations will prod us to become more tolerant of one another’s sins. “The days of you having a different image for your work friends or co-workers and for the other people you know are probably coming to an end pretty quickly,” Zuckerberg has said. “Having two identities for yourself is an example of a lack of integrity.”
The point is that Facebook has a strong, paternalistic view on what’s best for you, and it’s trying to transport you there. “To get people to this point where there’s more openness – that’s a big challenge. But I think we’ll do it,” Zuckerberg has said. He has reason to believe that he will achieve that goal. With its size, Facebook has amassed outsized powers. “In a lot of ways Facebook is more like a government than a traditional company,” Zuckerberg has said. “We have this large community of people, and more than other technology companies we’re really setting policies.”

An end to end view

Reader Larry Marotta has kindly sent me a link to a job currently being advertised working for Police Scotland, thinking I might be impressed with its contents. Indeed I am. The job is for the Head of the force’s new ‘Design Authority’. In case we don’t know what that might be (or why a police force might need one) it is defined as ‘the custodian of the Target Operating Model ensuring alignment to the strategic vision for the organisation taking an end to end view using a business value focused perspective.’ Not surprisingly, the ad has attracted much derision, ably reported here in the Courier and the Sun.
Meanwhile, another Police Scotland recruitment campaign, this time for new police officers, has also been rightly criticised.

It shows a trio of what would once have been called ‘sonsie lasses’, encouraging more women to join the force with the caption ‘These Ladies are more than just Pretty Faces’. This campaign prompted the Daily Record to dub it with a nice piece of alliteration a ‘Female Force Farce’.
When the new Design Authority head is appointed, one of the first things she or he should do is to insist on clear, concise language being used throughout the organisation. Design is all about communicating effectively, and the words used are just as important as the way in which they are displayed. In order to earn that £80K a year, the new person is going to need a heavy-duty broom to sweep away the mountains of HR crap jargon that has obviously built up in the force’s corridors. Good luck to them!