Category Archives: Media

Import workers or export jobs?

The topic for the 2004 Shell Economist Writing Prize has been announced, and it’s all about migration:

This year’s competition poses the question: Import workers or export jobs? Should developing nations be allowed to ‘poach’ skilled professional labour from countries who have helped pay for this expertise? Or is the influx of immigrants, whether skilled or unskilled, a positive force, bringing either expertise or ambition and hard work to the host nation?

The history of the movement of people and populations shows how dynamically immigrants can change or benefit host countries. But when and how does it go wrong? Is it a question of balance? Or (and) of matching skills and needs?

The debate on movement of people ranges from the rational to the emotional. What clarity can you contribute to mankind’s choices over the freedom to move? What may it mean for the way we work? What may it mean for our sense of place, of residence, of identity and of local and global belonging?

Write 2,000 words by 20 August, 2004, and you might win $20,000.

Google AdSense

I registered for and implemented Google AdSense on this website today. So certain pages will now display advertisements related to the page content, or at least that’s the theory. In practice I’m not too sure how successful it will be. Within seconds of adding the relevant code to my carbon paper essay, Google chose to display two ads for quill pens (the essay does mention the quill pen, but I’d no idea you could still buy them).

Google Logo

I decided to sign up for AdSense because every few weeks someone writes to me via email and enquires about purchasing some carbon paper. Just today I received a request for a box of 500 sheets from someone in Alexandria, Egypt. Egypt was also the source of another request a few months ago, but that one was for 15,000 tons of the stuff!

As much as I’d like to help these people, I’m not in the carbon paper business. So I thought that the relevant ads from Google might prove useful to anyone searching for carbon paper who stumbles across my site. And who knows? It might even generate sufficient revenue eventually to cover the cost of this site.

So if you’re ever in the market for a new quill pen, you know where to come.

Alistair Cooke 1908-2004

Alistair Cooke died last month only three weeks after retiring at the age of 95, and it’s difficult to distinguish cause and effect. Did he retire because the end was so near, or did he lose the will to live because he now had nothing to do? In a prescient statement a few years ago he said “I’ve noticed that if you retire you keel over” (Alistair Cooke’s first letter). “Speak for yourself” is what most of us are probably thinking, and that’s precisely what he did throughout his long career.

Apparently, he started out with ambitions to become an actor, but decided that telling America’s story was far more interesting than anything on the stage. He fell in love with America’s dynamic spirit of free enterprise, and became a US citizen in 1941. Given his subject, it’s highly ironic that he should succeed largely through non-profit, public broadcasting. Would his career have lasted as long had he been exposed to the harsh realities of the commercial world? I doubt it. Despite a publicly-subsidised audience of millions, Cooke still appealed to relatively few. Nevertheless, he clearly knew how to make the best of both his worlds: dynamic, aggressive America and inquisitive, but world-weary Britain.


Newsmap provides an interesting view of the news media’s priorities, as captured and classified by Google News.


The news in Canada, the UK and the US as displayed on Newsmap

Each news item is allocated screen space according to the number of stories published about it. More popular stories appear larger; less popular stories are smaller. The stories are also colour-coded according to the “section” in which they would appear in a newspaper: World – dark brown, Nation (domestic news) – light brown, Sports – olive green, Business – blue, Entertainment – teal, for example. It’s also possible to compare several of Google’s national versions, all of which means that you can use Newsmap to analyse cultural differences in the world’s news media.

And what do you find if you do?

Here are the top three priorities (as of earlier today) for three countries with which I’m familiar:

  • Canada: World, Sports, Business
  • UK: World, Sports, Business
  • US: Sports, World, Nation (domestic news)

A closer examination reveals some even more interesting differences. World news receives two and half times as much coverage in the UK than in the US, and even Canada publishes approximately 30% more World news (proportionally) than the US. Instead of World news the US devotes its attention to Sports (2.5 times more than the UK) and domestic news (Nation).

Domestic news (Nation) is lowest in Canada, which also gives the most space/time to Entertainment. Business and technology are very similar in all three countries. Health is the smallest category everywhere.

So what does this tell us? Well, it would seem that the stereotypical cliches are all true. America is obsessed with itself; nothing much happens in Canada; and Britain still believes it can punch above its weight on the world stage.

Business news bias

The BBC does not have a good reputation for reporting business news, and despite my affection for In Business on Radio 4, I’m inclined to agree.

Today’s financial results from the online bank Egg provide a good example. In French woes double Egg’s losses the BBC focused on the bank’s negative performance in France:

Internet bank Egg has doubled its losses as its French business helped push the UK firm deeper into the red. The troubled group, which is 79% owned by insurer Prudential, said its annual pre-tax losses for 2003 had risen to

Do we need mankind?

Having mentioned the Shell Economist Writing Prize in July (Do we need nature?), it seems appropriate to acknowledge this year’s winner. Diane Brooks Pleninger won first prize for her essay titled Interview with a fungus (requires Adobe Acrobat Reader).

Ms Brooks Pleninger turned the original question on its head, and it doesn’t take a mycologist to guess how the fungus answered it.

Non sequitur of the week

People say the strangest things sometimes. I’ve just heard Harriet Harman, the current Solicitor General, say the following on BBC Radio 4’s programme Woman’s Hour:

“I’m not in favour of women killing their husbands.”

It was such a non sequitur that I laughed out loud! Secretly, of course, I’m quite relieved.

To put it in context, this is what she was discussing:

Currently a defendant will be found guilty of manslaughter not murder if he or she can successfully argue they were provoked. It has resulted in several recent high profile cases where men have received a sentence of less than five years for killing their partners.

But the Solicitor General Harriet Harman is determined to change that law and joins Martha [the presenter] to tell her what she’d like to see in its place.

Holding his own

I’ve been busy, which explains that lack of posts recently, but there are a number of items worth mentioning

The first is being broadcast as I write on BBC Radio 4. It's a documentary originally broadcast last May about a farmer who refused to move out of his home when the M62 motorway was built in West Yorkshire in the 1960s. Three lanes of traffic now go speeding past both sides of Ken Wild's house 24 hours a day.

At one point someone says “the purpose of life is death”, and the rest of the half-hour programme makes for equally compelling radio. You should be able to listen to it on the BBC’s Listen Again page, or read about it as Life in the fast lane.