Archives for September 2007

FCO Blogs: Our man on the interweb

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Chris Vallance | 09:29 UK time, Saturday, 29 September 2007

The Foreign and Commonwealth Office is blogging and YouTubing.

There are some mild semantic wobbles - Meg Munn MP says in a video, "This is my first blog in this post" (is a YouTube video a blog?) but there is evidence of a real effort to engage with the medium: A Flickr photo-set, a blog-roll with real bloggers, including ones from the other side of the political fence from the government (and Euan Semple too - hooray) But a surprising lack of the kind of blogs (such as Global Voices) dealing with the kind of issues one would have thought relevant.

Will it work? Well the challenge for any senior politician blogging was neatly expressed by the Shadow Chancellor George Osbourne MP. When I asked him if he was planning to blog, he said words to the effect that, if he wrote anything interesting on the blog it would be all over the papers the next day, on the other hand if he avoided controversy the blog would be so dull nobody would want to read it; for that reason he was not going to blog.

So can the FCO blogs actually avoid "George's dilemma"? Well the great advantage of blogs is the ability for people to communicate directly. If Foreign Ministers and FCO staff are going to engage directly with the people their policies affect that may be of great benefit. As we discovered last night the US State Department seems to think direct engagement is the best way to explain their policies to a skeptical audience

But if blogrolls are anything to go by, the Foreign Office Bloglines account could with a bit of sprucing up. What would your suggestions be for blogs the FO should be reading?

Burma and the bloggers

Chris Vallance | 11:07 UK time, Wednesday, 26 September 2007

Excellent coverage over at News Online and Global Voices of the role that blogs are playing in the reporting of the "Saffron Revolution" in Burma. News Online also lists some of the emails and audio sent in to the BBC

Blogs, mobile phones and and social networking sites are proving invaluable in getting information out of the country. If you've watched TV today you've probably seen video's like this, shot by ordinary Burmese:

News Agency AFP also recognises the power of the blogs, and citizen journalists in a features piece on how news is getting out:
When Myanmar's detained democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi stepped outside her home in Yangon to greet marching monks and supporters on Saturday, the only pictures of the landmark moment were posted on blogs. Mizzima News, an India-based news group run by exiled dissidents, picked up one of the photos of Aung San Suu Kyi and said more than 50,000 people accessed their website that day.
We spoke to the Soe Myint of Mizzima News on Drive. He told us that he fully expected the authorities to turn of net access in an effort to clamp down on communications. But even this may not completely silence the steady flow of information out of the country.

Citizen Journalists in Burma have demonstrated that the exclusion of professional reporters no longer cuts of the flow of news, (though it does guarantee that much of it is produced by people unsympathetic to the administration.)

The wealth of content is quite a change from a few years ago, when, in the wake of the Tsunami we wondered what was happening in Burma, but information was very, very hard to come by. The current situation could not be more different. Here for example is an edited version of an email I was forwarded today outlining how the BBC's User Generated Content hub is making use of web based content from Burma:

  • By recording a short eye witness report on their mobile phone and then emailing us the MP3 file. This is an alternative to trying to get people on the phones - as all phone lines appear to be down.
  • A number of Facebook groups have also been set up, where people are trying to share information. They are helping us by encouraging people to send the BBC any content they have
  • We have also been speaking to people who have been uploading Youtube videos

Again this is quite a cultural change. When news breaks Blogs, Social Networks and Video Sharing sites are going to become must-check sites for journalists.If you want to take a look yourself here are some links from Saffron Revolution's blog-roll:

Sone sea yar, Pyithu-t'oo hmat-dan, Seinkhalote, Mogok Media, Ko Htike , Myanmar Media Ed & Devt Watch , Niknayman,

Also worth looking at the many Facebook groups covering Burma

UPDATE. The Associated Press reports that much of the net access has been shut down, "Service providers BaganNet and Myanmar Post and Telecom were shut down Friday, although big companies and embassies hooked up to the Web by satellite remained online." They quote Reporters Without Borders as saying the flow of information from Burma had "flowed to a trickle"

UPDATE II I believe the video above was filmed by a student traveling through Burma according to CNN Also worth reading this interesting piece on the Wall Street Journal

UPDATE III Our good friend Clark Boyd of WGBH/The World has produced an excellent radio feature on the protests and blogging

Podcast Notes: Libel law controversy and a Prison blogging special

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Chris Vallance | 05:10 UK time, Tuesday, 25 September 2007

Right click this link to download to your computer or the blue arrow to listen.

If you'd like to subscribe to the podcast, by far the easiest way to get it, click here: This week we featured:

Thanks to Gabor (and son) of the Electic Language Podcast for the intro. We're always in the market for intros so please do send us more.

Please do subscribe to the podcast, many of your are listening, but mostly via the blog - having it appear on your mp3 player in time for the morning commute is surely the better option.
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Podcast Notes: Northern Rock, Users News and a Facebook Manifesto

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Chris Vallance | 04:07 UK time, Tuesday, 18 September 2007

Right click this link to download to your computer or the blue arrow to listen.

If you'd like to subscribe to the podcast, by far the easiest way to get it, click here: This week we featured:

Thanks to Gabor of the Electic Language Podcast for the intro. We're always in the market for intros so please do send us more. Please do send us your ideas for our prison special too.

Please do subscribe to the podcast, many of your are listening, but mostly via the blog - having it appear on your mp3 player in time for the morning commute is surely the better option.
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Podcast Notes: Petraeus, Afghan Videoblogging, Podcamp and Britney

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Chris Vallance | 17:21 UK time, Tuesday, 11 September 2007

Click here to download the podcast

You can subscribe to the podcast here. Shorter than usual show notes this week. Iøm in Denmark and as you can see struggling with a different keyboard layout and limited bandwidth. On the programme we featured:

Please do send in your suggestions for stories for next week, podsandblogs-at-bbc.co.uk is the email. And keep sending in intros they really add to the feel of the segment. This weeks was by Brian Greene, with music Eleanor McEvoy. Brian is also organising PodCamp Ireland

Prison Blogging Special: Your Help Needed

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Chris Vallance | 12:28 UK time, Friday, 7 September 2007

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For Monday 24th September I'd like to dedicate Pods and Blogs to prison blogging and blogging from jails. I'm inspired by this post by Ethan Zuckerman of Global Voices who writes:

There are more than 9 million people in prison worldwide - that’s a much larger population than many nations we cover. (By the way, the US is the world’s leading jailer, both in absolute terms - 2.09 million people in the prison system - and proportional terms - 0.71% of Americans are in prison. We beat out China and Russia in absolute terms, Belarus and Russia in proportional terms.)

Britain also has a growing prison population. I want your help in putting this segment together. If you know of a blog maintained by someone in prison, or by their friends and family please drop me a note. Or perhaps you are a victim of crime with strong views about prison, and the prison system, we'd be interested in hearing from you too.

We're not coming at this with any particular agenda about whether prison is a good or bad thing. But the blogs are a very powerful tool for shedding light on dark corners, peering behind bars and over barbed wire fences. Help us to visit what, following Ethan, we might call this other nation: get in touch, suggest links, drop us an email.

In Memory of Brian Richmond

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Chris Vallance | 12:54 UK time, Wednesday, 5 September 2007

It's with great regret that I learned that blogger Brian Richmond has died. Brian, who had pancreatic cancer, passed away on Friday according to comments on his blog. There are tributes from fellow bloggers Charles Firth and Tim Footman. Brian leaves a wife and a young son.

I interviewed Brian back in June. He spoke via mobile phone from his hospital bed, and even in such depressing surroundings he managed to find some humour in his situation. But Brian was never flippant, his blog was more than just an account of illness, it was, in a gentle and unhectoring way, a meditation on life and mortality.

On Friday, I highlighted Brian's blog as part of my picks for Blogday (I'd missed the latest update in the comments). I think Brian would have relished the irony. I hope he's out there somewhere having a good laugh at my expense.

UPDATE: I've added the interview here.

Podcast: Milbloggers on The Surge, No Man is an Island and Golf Patents

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Chris Vallance | 12:22 UK time, Tuesday, 4 September 2007

Right click this link to download to your computer or the blue arrow to listen.

soccer_chopper.jpg
UPDATED POST: Full show notes are here, as I finally make it into work. As ever you can subscribe to the podcast here: This week we featured:

Thanks to Grant of the Three From Leith podcast for the intro, and to the musician Larry Guild. We're in the market for an intro for next week so please do send us more. Please do send us your ideas and stories too.

Please do subscribe to the podcast, many of your are listening, but mostly via the blog - having it appear on your mp3 player in time for the morning commute is surely the better option.
Suscribe via iTunes: MyYahoo: Googlereader









Noah Schactman's Reports from Iraq

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Chris Vallance | 13:51 UK time, Saturday, 1 September 2007

Noah Schactman is in Iraq writing for Wired's Danger Room blog. His latest report is on the biometric security checks employed in Fallujah:

The idea: deny insurgents “freedom of movement,” says Lieutenant Colonel Jeff Smitherman, who heads the biometric badging program for Multi-National Forces-West, here in Al-Anbar province. “Like Mao said, insurgents are like fish swimming in the sea of the people.” These are the high-tech nets, “to keep ‘em from swimming freely.”

His embed is a compelling read, check it out..

UPDATE: Graham at Noodlepie also mentions Vaughan Smith of the Frontline Club's embed in Afghanistan. I've just spoken with Vaughan about the embed and his decision to blog, vlog and twitter. His YouTube videos highlight the intensity of fighting in the region. Visit the blog for some excellent coverage of the conflict. I post one of his YouTube videos below, which illustrates one of the logistical snafu's that make a soldier's life that bit harder. And if you think chocolate is the least of soldier's worries - remember it represents valuable calories that are, as Vaughan observes, part of a soldiers calculated intake.

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