The Weight Loss Cul-De-Sac

I’m subscribed to a charity request service for journalists. They send a message to the list asking for case studies to be included in their articles and features. Sometimes its possible to get a plug for your charity if you help the writer.

The stories in question are mainly for ‘Women’s Glossies’. Here’s a request I just received from a freelancer that is typical:

I am pulling together a really positive feature for a monthly glossy magazine called ‘why thinner isn’t always better’ and I am looking for some very specific women to talk to.

  • a woman who lost weight but has been left with lots of excess skin which she dislikes as much as the weight. Maybe she is waiting for surgery or would like to have it removed but can’t afford to/is afraid of the procedure
  • a woman who says that after she lost weight friends were jealous of her and behaved differently towards her

The message goes on, but you get the gist. The journalist signs off with this:

In all cases I will need a picture of the lady before she lost weight, when she was at her smallest and now.

In many other cases, the request for case studies is accompanied by the promise of a tasteful makeover and photo-shoot, courtesy of the magazine.

On the face of it, this looks like a positive and feminist article. It’s part of a backlash against the propaganda of the beauty industry, a billion-dollar complex that trades on women’s insecurities about their body image. Continue reading


Tweets from Tahrir

I am surprised I missed this as the time: Tweets from Tahrir. Its a compilation of tweets from Tahrir Square during the Arab Spring uprisings, edited by Nadia Idle and Alex Nunns.  During the protests I suggested that the protestors in ‘the world’s biggest think-tank’ publish their hopes for the future of Egypt and that new technologies could help them do it very quickly.  Idle and Nunns appear to have got this precise project published within a month.

This book obviously owes something to James Bridle’s TweetBook.  It is also a companion to books like We Are Iran and Diaries of an Unfinished Revolution, two collections drawn from blogs and activists, and supported by English PEN’s Writers in Translation programme.

I Kept My New Year’s Resolution!

For the record:  I kept my New Year’s Resolution.  I have been happily practising the Inbox Zero technique for the past year and feel much more in control of my e-mail.  Coupled with the awesome Follow Up Then tool I’ve been far more ‘Bit Literate‘ in 2013.

Now to sort out my cluttered RSS reader.  And maybe even get a handle on the actual paperwork and filing sitting on desks at home and work.

The Retreat of the Blog

Over at the Nieman Lab, Jason Kottke declares that ‘The Blog Is Dead’.

He notes that much of the sharing work that was in the past done by blogs is now handled by proprietary systems like Facebooks, Instagram and Tumblr, and that while newspapers might appear ‘blog-like’ the breaking news functions they perform are really something different.

I think Jason is ever-so-slightly pessimistic.  To my mind, part of the rise of blogs happened because there were no alternative platforms, and systems like WordPress were just so damned easy to use.  Now we have much more specialised ways to integrate content.

However, I think the blog is still the best format for specialists to track niche issues that cannot be covered in the same depth by the mainstream media.  For example, in the free expression field, specialised law blogs like Jack of Kent, Head of Legal, Inforrm and the UK Human Rights Blog are doing essential work, and the blog format (with many linked posts tracking the evolution of a case or issue) feels just right.

As Jay Rosen keeps saying, “the sources go direct“. When the experts self-publish, they blog.  So I think we’re observing a retreat of the blog, not its death.  This site will be staying put in 2014, I hope.

Questions for the Impress Project, part I

Last Monday, my former colleagues Jonathan Heawood and Lisa Appignanesi launched the Impress project. This is an attempt to devise a new press regulator that is compliant with the principles of the Leveson Report, but also tempered to resist being nobbled by either the politicians or the press. Continue reading


How British politicians might chill the press

I promised a comment on what form political intimidation of the press might take, under the new system of regulation.

The provisions in the Royal Charter for press regulation, and the associated sections of the Crime & Courts Act 2013, are complex and layered. There are buffers between the politicians (and the wider ‘establishment’) and the press. There are plans for an arbitration service and a body that oversees the regulator, which in turn will try to keep the press both strong and honest.

Supporters of these provisions have emphasised that the politicians will not be able to censor the newspapers or stop stories from being published.

But free expression issues do not begin and end with formal state censorship that we see in hideous regimes like China, Iran or Zimbabwe. There are much subtler ways of exerting pressure on publishers, that nevertheless ‘chill’ (i.e. discourage) the exercise of free speech. Continue reading