New Year, fresh blog and good intentions

Like many of us, I hold good intentions for the year ahead.

One of these is to blog more which is why starting today/tonight and happening (hopefully) regularly I intend to bring you the best of the web or at least what I consider to be the best from the web.

Those who follow me on Twitter will know that I post a lot of links to various articles that I have read online. They range from quirky stories from Ireland to sometimes obscure political matters in the US, with a bit of UK, world and Liverpool FC related news in between.

The intention of the ‘News Picks’, as I have decided to call them, will be to bring all these links together under one blogging roof. It will consist of stories you may have missed or that you may not have heard about. It may be an alternative view on a story you’re familiar with or it may be totally useless.

In any case I hope it is a fun, quick read that enlightens your day.

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Anything is news at this time of year

In the ‘industry’ as journalists and those of us aspiring to be journalists the summer months and particularly August are generally considered a rotten time when it comes to news stories.

Parliament is in recess, everyone’s on their holidays and very little new is happening. So news organisations generally tend to fill newspapers, radio programmes, TV news bulletins and websites with just about anything they can eek out and dress up as ‘news’ when they’re running a few columns or a few minutes short.

In some cases they’ll send their presenter on a pointless exercise in a Spitfire. In others they’ll report the most trivial things as breaking news. Look, for example, at Sky News’ ever bright yellow ticking breaking news bar which yesterday reported: “AP news agency: The US recall of eggs amid a massive salmonella outbreak is expanded to half a billion eggs”.

Obviously, a salmonella outbreak isn’t good times, but egg-scuse me if I’m not really too bothered about how many eggs have been recalled, I certainly don’t need it interrupting my news bulletin.

And yet in their thirst for constant breaking news left, right and centre, Sky News know no boundaries when it comes to defining what exactly breaking news is. It used to be major events like 9/11 or the invasion of Iraq now it can be the England football squad getting on a bus. But that is for another blog…

In some cases, news outlets will just rehash old news like the proposed demolition of Ringo Starr’s old house on Madryn Street, Liverpool. This has been due for demolition for years now under the controversial Pathfinder initiative. But no harm in reminding us and finding someone whose outraged about it to fill some space.

I also find the coverage of the dreadful floods in Pakistan interesting. For example (and only because this is the news bulletin I catch most evenings) Channel 4 news have been reporting on an almost nightly basis on what’s been happening in the region and fair play to them for doing so. No doubt it is helping the appeal for aid, but the cynic in me wonders if we’d be hearing as much from the region were it another time of the year. We all forgot about Haiti pretty quickly didn’t we?

Of course this could all just be the major cynic in me but I have been part of putting together a programme at the BBC this week and that has been a struggle given the dearth of news and the dearth of people around to talk about any stories that are happening.

Unlike those who wish this relatively warm, if not sunny, weather would remain, journalists are wishing time away so as that parliament can return, politicians can say and do stupid things and elsewhere there’s news aplenty.

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Follow me on Twitter: @oconnellhugh

Meeting Ryan Babel…and his agent!

Earlier this week I met Ryan Babel, the much maligned Liverpool winger, who was launching a competition in conjunction with Juice FM to find the next big urban music star.

As a big Liverpool fan the chance to interview one of their players was definitely not being turned down and although the focus was on Babel’s music and his search for new local talent, I was determined to slip in a few questions about the football.

Babel is now in his third season at Liverpool and things haven’t been going well. In his debut campaign we witnessed his undoubted potential as he scored a number of crucial goals and proved very effective when coming off the bench.

But last season he failed to build on this and found himself in and out of the matchday squads, never managing to hit the heights of his first season and facing plenty of criticism from fans and pundits who expected so much more from the 22-year-old.

This season, just a few games old, has been much the same. He was left out the squad completely for last week’s 4-0 league win over Burnley at Anfield and was limited to a fifteen minute cameo against Debrecen in the Champions League midweek.

I spoke to him on Monday after the Burnley game and following speculation in recent weeks that he was on his way back to Ajax from whom he signed in 2007 when the transfer window reopens in January.

Despite English being his second language, the Dutchman is a master of the football speak and deflected questions about his Liverpool future with ease when I asked him about it, insisting he intends to stay at the club.

This had as much to do with his undoubted training in the ways of dealing with interviewers as it did with his agent, present throughout the interview and hovering behind me as I asked questions.

I am reliably informed he got even closer behind me and was practically breathing down my neck as I broached the issue of Ajax towards the end of the interview. Check it out below.

Nonetheless it was a decent interview and Babel himself was an incredibly nice guy with a firm handshake, a smile and a wink. He was not at all like the typical arrogant, moody footballer nor did he display the kind of ‘don’t care attitude’ that sadly he often seems to do on the pitch.

Having met him on Monday I witnessed him at close hand, just three rows from the pitch, make an impressive substitute cameo against Debrecen on Wednesday night.

Babel up close

In his interview Babel insisted he sees his long term future at Anfield. You would like to believe it but if he is not doing the business on the pitch he may not have a choice in the matter.

But having seen what a nice guy he is, for purely selfish reasons I hope he does have a long term future at the club, realising the potential he has shown all too infrequently over the last few years.

A musical juxtaposition: Bill Harry and Creamfields

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Interviewing Bill Harry at The Beatles Story, Albert Dock

A busy past few weeks. Along with working to pay the bills I’ve had some interesting freelance assignments.

Last week I spoke to Bill Harry. He is founder of the influential and groundbreaking Mersey Beat newspaper and former college friend of John Lennon. He was on the frontline of The Beatles world domination in the 1960s.

Harry also did public relations work for the likes of Pink Floyd, Led Zeppelin, and David Bowie when he lived in London during the 1970s. He’s done it all and probably seen it all.

He and his delightful wife Virginia were at The Beatles Story museum on the Albert Dock to launch his new book ‘Bigger Than The Beatles’ about Liverpool’s 1960s musical odyssey.

He was soft spoken and not at all as I expected him. My idea of a brash, loud, cynical veteran journalist didn’t come across at all. He was just a really nice, ordinary guy whose happened to work with some incredible people down the years

From the swinging 60s and the world famous Mersey sound to the other end of the musical spectrum, Creamfields 2009. Two days of dance, techno, house, electro pop and probably some other stuff too.

I was there covering the festival for Click Liverpool and Purple Revolver, filing updates throughout while having all sorts of hassle trying to get video interviews uploaded to the site.

A myriad of problems prevented us from uploading in real time so we had to wait until earlier this week to unleash our collection of interviews online. They are there now in all their goriness with me being decidedly awkward as I ask a variety of DJs, who I know little about, very general questions!

It was fun though, for me if not for them as they had to go through the same interview process for three different camera crews. It was good to experience the buzz of a festival back stage in the press/artist area. Every now and then you would see someone famous.

Spots included Lip from Shameless, Dizzee Rascal nipping to toilet under a white towel to stop him getting wet just minutes before he went on main stage and blew the audience away and Erol Alkan also nipping into the loo to check his hair was okay before he came and spoke to me about his dislike of David Guetta and former love for Westlife.

There was rain and muck and you are not shielded from that backstage but it was tons of fun. I’ve definitely learned a lot about covering a big event which will hopefully put me in good stead if I am to return next year.

Remembering Michael Jackson

Times MJ cover 26/06/09For our generation it is perhaps comparable to the death of Elvis Presley in 1977. In years to come our children might ask where we were when we heard that Michael Jackson had died as he did at age 50 in California yesterday afternoon.

Jackson was, quite simply, a musical genius. He had a voice, a musical style, and a stage performance like no other artist that came before him or has come since him.

He may also have been a paedophile. This cannot be ignored because he has died but nor cannot it be allowed to dominate his obituaries because not only has it never been proven beyond doubt but it would overshadow a man who became a musical legend.

So how do we remember him? Should we remember the boy who was the adorable face of The Jackson 5? The man who was behind the best selling album of all time, Thriller? The performer who gave us the moonwalk and who was still able to sell out the 02 arena in minutes for 50 concert dates due to begin in a matter of weeks?

Or should we remember him as “Wacko Jacko” whose Neverland ranch was a sordid children’s funfair where allegations regarding his behaviour with children emanated from, who adopoted a chimpanzee and called him Bubbles, who dangled his baby out of a hotel balcony and whose face became literally and totally unrecognisable from what it once was?

We should probably remember all of this but history may ultimately highlight only the good things about Jackson. After all, ask your parents about Elvis Presley and they probably won’t mention the health problems and the drug abuse but the man who changed the face of rock ‘n’ roll forever.

Michael Jackson changed the face of pop music forever, a genius but a very flawed man. But then again aren’t all geniuses supposed to be flawed?

The future of football fanzines

Last year myself and a course mate at LJMU, Nick Kelly, looked at what future there was for football fanzines in light of the growing popularity of football supporters websites, forums, Facebook groups and so on.

Being based in a football mad city we spoke to fans of both Liverpool and Everton. Some were part of the fanzine heyday of the 1990s, some we’re trying to make the breakthrough in these more competitive times and some were from the forums, websites and Facebook groups that are not only providing a constant distraction from the day time job to football fans up and down the country but are threatening the future of the traditional football fanzine.

The resulting article has now been published at Click Liverpool, a relatively new Liverpool based news site that is giving the other major online news outlets in the city, Liverpool Echo and Liverpool Daily Post, a run for their money.

I’ll also be blogging for Click Liverpool on my South African adventures so keep visiting!

A stolen election, but where’s the proof?

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I’ve watched with great curiosity the coverage of the Iranian elections and their aftermath in recent days waiting for a report that actually outlines just how, where and why the election result might have been stolen.

And yet the lack of this has left me with major doubts about the legitimacy of the protests in Tehran and cities across the Islamic Republic.

Clearly the crackdown on protesting is not legitimate when people are dying as a result. From the Tweet-ing, Facebook-ing and YouTube-ing the extent of the government’s lockdown on communications and intimidation of their people is clear and it is not right.

The US and Britain are right to condemn the conduct of the Iranian government in this regard but they are also right to refrain from passing judgement on the actual election result because the truth is, there appears to be no hard evidence to contradict the official results which gave victory to incumbent Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

Now I am not naive enough to believe that Ahmadinejad won two-thirds of the vote as the official results state. A journalist friend of mine who visited Iran earlier in the year was struck by the amount of young people who had a real desire for change and Ahmadinejad was not as popular in his own country as he had us believe.

However his anti-American, anti-Israel rhetoric did have unquestionable support in many circles so his approval ratings cannot have been at George W Bush levels.

The truth is the election result was probably much tighter but whether it gave victory to Ahmadinejad or his main rival, the ‘defeated’ Mir Hossein Mousavi is just not clear.

There has been a great acclaim for the power of Twitter, Facebook and YouTube in getting across the material major news outlets are finding it increasingly harder to gather themselves thanks to the meddling of the Iranian Interior Ministry.

But if angry voters are so keen to show the world what’s going in their country right now why aren’t they showing us the proof of voter intimidation, vote rigging, stolen ballot boxes or all three? In an election where 85% of the 70 million population turned out to vote surely there are some if not many who can testify to dodgy practices?

The hugely influential Guardian Council say they are investigating 646 complaints from the three defeated candidates, Mousavi among them, and they will hear their arguments at the weekend.

I’m intrigued to hear what these arguments are and what proof will be presented to back them up because at he moment the lack of hard evidence regarding these elections is as stunning as pictures like this one:

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