Bloggers write

"Write something worth reading or do something worth writing" A blog by Amy Willis, a multimedia journalist based in London

The Loch Ness Monster – a money spinners dream

The Loch Ness monster

The Loch Ness monster may or may not have been spotted on Google Earth recently but there is definitely one thing this monster does well. And that is make money.

Yes, lurking in the deep is not an elephant swimming or an elongated newt (that was one Loch Ness monster theory) but instead a giant net to catch tourists from around the world.

Thousands of tourists visit Loch Ness every year in the hope they might catch a glimpse of the beast. Few do. Yet so-called “monster” tours and “Nessie” museums are still as popular today as they were 50 years ago.

Big money is at stake. The Loch Ness monster, despite uncertainty about her existence, makes about £6million a year in tourism. Real animal attractions like Knut the polar bear make only £4million.

And each time Nessie metaphorically raises her head above the water, whether it be an elaborate hoax or unexplained sighting, it heightens the world’s curiosity a little more and has the public grappling for their pennies. It doesn’t matter how preposterous the concept of a prehistoric monster living in a Scottish Loch may be.

While debate goes on as to if the Loch Ness monster exists (or is it just a boat?), what is definitely clear is that Nessie is single-handedly – or flipperedly – keeping the Loch Ness tourist trade afloat.


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The Heather Mills effect

You’ve got to feel bad for John Cleese, poor guy. He has just walked away from his last marriage with less than half of what he had before. Yes, his American psychotherapist ex-wife Faye Eichelberger, who was his third wife, now has more wealth than him after gaining a hefty £12m.

The reason? Well, she said that since Cleese was a “world-renowned celebrity” she was used to “being entertained by royalty and dignitaries in castles”. This sounds all to reminiscent of Heather Mills’s failed claim with Sir Paul McCartney. Clearly the Steel Magnolia – otherwise known as lawyer Fiona Shackleton – was taking notes. Ms Mills may have failed her attempt to cash in by saying ‘i’m used to glitz and glamour’ but the Steel Magnolia, who represented Ms Eichelberger in this case, has succeeded.

Heather Mills

Heather Mills

This is a a worrying precedent to set. Why should a partner get more than half just because they are used to dining in castles? If I walked into a job interview and demanded the highest wage in the office because ‘I am used to it’ they would quite rightly laugh at me all the way to the door.

Fair financial settlements are justified for those who have contributed to the relationship. Those who have stood by their partner through thick and thin, who have offered support when their partner’s career is dwindling, but not this money grabbing madness. Let’s not let the Heather Mill’s effect spread any further and nip it in the bud while we can.

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The Beatles 40-year Abbey Road album anniversary – the rise of the citizen photographers

The first thing that struck me when I arrived to find Beatle mania in full swing at Abbey Road today was not the wacky costumes or the people striking poses on the zebra crossing with no shoes on, but it was the paparazzi huddle.

The huddle has been infiltrated by “citizen photographers”. It was fascinating to watch the unwritten rule of ‘pros only’ being unashamedly broken. I’ll give you a few examples. When a fan held an original LP of the Abbey Road album up for a professional photographer to get an artistic shot of, there was the usual rush as several other professional photographers cottoned on. But then, completely unexpected, there was a second mass rush of citizen photographers who joined the huddle to have a go at getting the shot as well. The result was a hysterical manic mess. There were about fifty people all around this one guy like he had suddenly been promoted to A-list celebrity status. Then once they had got some form of shot – I am dubious of the quality of some shots – they calmed down and dispersed. But this was not the last time this happened.
When 11.30am crept round there was a scheduled re-enactment of the Abbey Road album cover by four Beatles impersonators. The professional photographers were flanked by a mass of mobile camera phones and semi-professional cameras all desperate to get the same shot as the professionals. Everyone had one. It was incredible. At one point, the man impersonating Ringo Starr had to say: “Calm down everyone, you do realise we are not the real thing, don’t you?.”

There were even some citizen photographers clamoring on the statues copying the professionals who were gaining height by using step ladders.

Everyone now seems to want their professional shot. And with semi-professional quality cameras becoming more and more affordable and sites like Flickr becoming more popular this phenomenon can only grow.

Citizen journalists move over. Now it is time for the era of citizen photographers.

Filed under: blog posts, Online Journalism, , ,

Visit to the Guardian printing press

I spent a day at the Guardian offices after winning a writing competition. This is how it went. Photos to come.


I arrived at the offices in Kings Cross and immediately realised not sending a what-is-the-dress-code email was a mistake. My prim and proper suit stood out a mile  from the smart-casual jeans and jacket ethos of the uber-trendy Guardian. Whoops. What a fool.

I met Matt and Jennifer, the Guardian PR managers who had arranged the visit, plus John the other winner and we headed to the canteen for breakfast. I had already eaten but was reluctant to reject a free meal.

10am – the editorial conference

A circular mass of bright-yellow slouchy couches filled the room with various other couches dotted around it and a gigantic television spanned one of the conference room walls. I’ve seen a number of editorial conferences before but this was completely different.

The editors slunk in (the politics editor had brought her son). Some opting to recline on the yellow couches, others leaned casually against the wall and some found space sitting on the floor. It had a very open feel to it.

The conference started with editor Alan Rusbridger –  described to me as “the Harry Potter lookalike” because he has brown hair and circular glasses – saying what he liked and didn’t like about the day’s paper. This was followed by a discussion of new stories and a debate on the loophole culture of business. Even John, the other competition winner who was sitting next to me, chipped in with a comment in the debate. It was all very open.


The conference concluded and we were given a tour of the editorial office followed by lunch. Oddly, I sampled pigeon for the first time which staff assured me wasn’t fresh from Trafalgar Square.

3pm – the printing press

We were then taken to Stratford for a surprise visit to the printing press. After fastening our fluorescent safety vests and meeting Mike, the press supervisor and our press tour guide, we entered a large warehouse stacked high with rolls upon rolls of blank paper to the left and a mass of machinery intertwined with stairwells to the right. This was the printing press warehouse.

It was like being shrunk. The rolls of paper were as high as my shoulders and apparently held enough paper to span several miles if unravelled. Everything in the warehouse was operated by computer and the few workers there had more of a monitoring job rather than anything hands on.

Automatic machines put the rolls into long lines ready to be put into the press for printing. But before printing could start the fully-subbed pages from the editorial office needed to be electronically transferred so they can be transmitted by laser onto metal printing plates which are needed to put the image on paper.

But how is the electronic image transferred to the plate? Well, it comes down to a substance I call “green stuff”. The metal plate, made from aluminium, starts life with a layer of this water-soluble green stuff on it. This green stuff hardens when the lasers zap it making the green stuff’s molecules stick to the aluminium surface. The stuff that is hardened is no longer water soluble so when the plate is washed only the non-lasered green stuff comes off leaving the lettering and dots that make up the image. Genius. But each plate only makes up the lettering and dots for one colour. This means that for the each page a total of four plates (each slightly different) must be made for the ink-colours black, magenta, yellow and cyan. Once all the plates are ready they are loaded as templates into the machines ready for printing. For any new editions the plates have to be remade.

When browsing your daily paper you can tell what edition it is by looking for the little asterisks on the left hand side of the page. Asterisks at the top of the page indicate if there have been any changes for that edition. For example if there are three asterisks on the left side but one on the top it means it is the third edition but that page is the same as for the first edition – i.e. no changes have been made.

During the printing process the paper makes its way up from bottom to top back down to the bottom again, gradually becoming more and more newspaper like. Printing takes place at the bottom of the press upward (the four colours are printed separately) and slicing the paper into pages happens at the top. Folding takes place back down at the bottom again. The finished newspaper is then picked up on the pincher thingies (I always used to think these were for drying the ink on paper- I was wrong) and taken to the other side of the warehouse to be put into bundles ready for dispatch.

Et voila. The process is complete. If you ever get the chance to see a printing press in action, it is well worth it. It is a  complicated process but the fact that his is all done by machines is mesmerising and really makes you appreciate how much technology has advanced in the last decade. Truly spectacular.

Filed under: blog posts, Online Journalism

The perils of saying you are a freelancer

It really frustrated me this morning when I opened the newspaper to see my story idea in all its glory with someone else’s byline. I know it is a well- documented problem among freelancers whose story ideas have been pinched by other journalists but this was nothing to do with this kind of bad luck. It was to do with the people I contacted during my research.

In preparation for an interview in Yorkshire I have been preparing a news list and trying to think up some interesting story ideas that might impress them. Not wanting to be presumptious I have been introducing myself as a freelancer rather than assuming the title of journalist for the newspaper I am interviewing for.


Anyway, one of my ideas was to see if the Archbishop of York had any advice on using communal holy water and the shared chalice after recent hygiene concerns following the swine flu outbreak (a bishop in Chelmsford had already raised these concerns a few days before). So being the eager journalist, I phoned up the Archbishop’s office and spoke to the PR manager – who will remain nameless – to see if the Archbishop would be interested in making some comments. The PR manager told me the Archbishop was not making any comments at this stage but would of course get in touch with me if he changed his mind. So I left my number and my email address for him to let me know.

This was yesterday morning. This morning, I opened up The Times and low and behold there was a fantastic article on page eight about the Archbishop’s advice on sharing the chalice. Thank you very much PR manager for not getting back to me.

The problem is’, why phone back some eager freelancer when someone with as much clout as the Archbishop can go straight to The Times? It does seem a little catch 22 – but how can you research article ideas properly if this kind of thing is going to happen all the time?

If someone has the answer then please let me know. Until then I will be keeping my story ideas close to my chest up until the last moment. But you would have thought the Archbishop’s office would have a little bit of integrity.

Filed under: blog posts, Online Journalism, , ,

Battle of the game consoles

When the Nintendo Wii came out it revolutionalised the gaming world. It showed us computer interaction like we had never seen before. Nintendo sales went through the roof as other consoles simply were not the same. That is until now.

Presenting a new entry into the battle of the game consoles… the Xbox Project Natal – a body, face, voice recognition add-on for the Xbox 360. And it looks INCREDIBLE – no joysticks, game pads or controllers, just your body, your voice and the TV. And not only that but it is not just for computer games. It is also a DVD player and video telephone system. This is not just the future of gaming but the future of human interaction with technology.

Think telling your DVD to pause rather than getting up to press a button and think using your TV to make a quick call to your friends without having to hold a telephone to your ear. Project Natal is so revolutionary, it has even got Steven Spielberg on the edge of his seat in anticipation. And well, let’s face it, if the technology is good enough for Spielberg it must be good enough for us mere mortals.

Project Natal was announced at this year’s Microsoft E3 conference and is being developed at the moment. There is no release date yet but watch this space.

Filed under: blog posts, Technology, , ,

Now is not the time to turn on ourselves

I was disappointed to read how the owner of Express Newspapers Richard Desmond is suing journalist and author Tom Bower.

For journalists libel is a touchy subject. It restricts freedom of speech potentially threatening the threads of democracy, and the vast sums of money awarded to successful claimants cripples a journalist’s budget needed for good journalistic practice.

Richard Desmond, owner of Express Newspapers

Richard Desmond, owner of Express Newspapers

It is such a contentious subject that there was even a select committee set up recently to discuss the threat of defamation and privacy laws on freedom of the press and the ability to do good journalistic work with the threat of being sued. Everyone has the right to clear their name if something unfairly malicious is said against them but why not do as  Salman Rushdie did and clear his name but refuse to accept damages? The media industry needs to stick together. Please can someone tell Richard Desmond this and stop this hypocracy.

Filed under: blog posts, Online Journalism

Virtual reality – becoming too real?

After reading this week about the theft of billions of virtual cash from the space game EVE Online, it seems even virtual reality cannot escape fraud, theft and the recession. How ironic.  Games pitched as the perfect mental escape from reality now being infiltrated by the things people try to escape from.

A player known as Ricdic who was chief of Ebank- now known to be a 27-year-old Australian man- stole £200billion virtual kredits and traded them for real money to pay for medical bills and a deposit on a house. When gamers heard of the theft they all rushed to remove their kredits – sound familiar?

ebankdollardanat425 Ricdic has now been booted out of the game for breaching terms and conditions stipulating that virtual cash cannot be traded for real money.

But CCP, the Icelandic owners of EBank, seem to be emerging as the real winners. They have done well recently as more people choose to stay in instead of spending precious pennies going out. And this extra bit of publicity from virtual cash thefts certainly won’t damage things.

It does however raise a few questions about the future of online gaming if the line between reality and virtual reality continues to blur. And if stealing virtual cash has a real life impact does this mean there is cause to introduce virtual police and virtual laws? A scary thought.

Filed under: blog posts, Technology, , , ,

The real blood diamonds – vox pops

Do you ever think about where your diamonds come from? Vox pops of people in Cardiff and their views

Filed under: blog posts, Videos

Back to basics

The multimedia revolution is an interesting one. But while all newspapers should be embracing the multimedia revolution, I still believe online media should supplement not replace print journalism.

And there is not a better example of this than in The Birmingham Mail this week with their exclusive on Aston Villa footballer Gareth Barry’s farewell letter.

Gareth Barry letter, Birmingham Mail

Gareth Barry letter, Birmingham Mail

HoldtheFrontPage reported that Birmingham Mail editor Steve Dyson refused to publish the letter online until after it had been published exclusively in their print edition. This was a gamble which paid off. It meant media companies such as BBC Five Live, Setanta and Sky Sports News could only use a copy of the letter from the Birmingham Mail’s print edition giving the newspaper a huge amount of publicity and increasing print sales by more than 4,000 copies that day. Smart if you ask me. So why have newspapers been ignoring these basic principles for so long?

Timing is everything with the web. And I think this is not understood well enough by editors at the moment. By timing I do not mean madly rushing to get something up online as soon as possible. It is about carefully considering the pros and cons of publishing immediately or holding off. Sometimes, particularly in the case of exclusives, there is more benefit in holding off, as demonstrated by The Birmingham Mail.

The public does not care who published the information first. They do not care whose amazing journalism skills brought in the scoop, they simply care about the news and what it means to them and the rest of the world. When we hear that a teenager girl from Cardiff has first degree burns from a sun bed we don’t read it and think, wow… the South Wales Echo sourced that story first. We think about the safety implications coin operated sun beds have on our children.

How many members of the public sit there refreshing news sites to see if their regional paper has got an exclusive? Realistically it is only our fellow multimedia journalists who are obsessively checking their RSS feeds, twitter updates and so forth to see if there is anything they have missed. And if they find something, there is nothing to stop them from simply passing it off as their own without crediting the original source.

What is the point in being a first class journalist with the ability to bring in dozens of off-diary stories and having brilliant networking skills, if a budding churnalist of a rival newspaper comes along and respouts your exclusive as his or her own? Churnalism is a big problem at the moment. It is inexpensive and non-time-consuming meaning it is a great alternative to on-the-ground journalism.

My point is this. Multimedia journalism is the way forward but editors must consider timing as much as the content of their sites. Otherwise without clever timing, churnalism will be allowed to get out of control like a parasitic weed.

Filed under: blog posts, Online Journalism, , , , ,

Cardiff journos v City journos 2009

The annual grudge match of Cardiff journalists versus City journalists was a success again this year – Cardiff journos won 2-0!

Apologies if video quality is poor, I had to reduce the file size as it was initially too big for You Tube. Also could have done with a blooming tripod!

Filed under: blog posts, Videos

The Labour Party – the new Big Brother show?

Local and European election results clearly show public feeling following the expenses fiasco.

The Labour Party is finally being punished. Punished for MP’s ridiculous expense claims that have made a mockery of the tax payer and left a bitter taste of distrust in the political sphere among voters and politicians.

The floodgates of expense claims opened with an adult movie bought by Jackie Smith’s husband and sneakily put on the taxpayers’ bill. But it didn’t stop there. We later discovered that MP’s have made claims for moats, helipads and duck hotels, their hands snapping at the purse strings of the nation – all under Gordon Brown’s bleary-eyed watch.

Westminster - the new Big Brother house?

Westminster - the new Big Brother house?

Moral is at an all time low and faith in the once almighty Labour Party has all but disappeared.

Now politicians, many at the forefront of the expense embarrassment, are jumping ship to save themselves. Jackie Smith, Hazel Blears and James Purnell have all publically resigned. Who is next in this mutiny?

Gordon Brown can reshuffle the old crew all he likes but rotten wood will always be rotten wood. What the public needs is strong new wood to rebuild the ship’s skeleton and the bones of a democratic society.

An early Autumn election is the only way to do this. The Labour Party has lost all credibility and the only way to gain this back is with a General Election.
Having established that politicians are completely incapable of self-regulation, it seems obvious to let the public make the decisions in terms of who should stay and who should go.

In denying the public this, it is ignoring the principles at the heart of a democratic society. It is denying a fresh start and forcing the ship to sink faster.
Gordon Brown’s botched attempt at rebuilding the ship with a so-called reshuffle is a joke.  Anyone can see this is not going to save him. It is simply prolonging the suffering of him and his crew.

And this joke is being played out before the eyes of the nation. It seems a similar show to Big Brother is being played out before us in the Houses of Parliament. It is embarrassing to watch. What little respect there was left for contestants is gradually wearing away further.

And as with the show, if the public has no say in evictions, people simply start switching off.

We need to stop Westminster being seen as a joke and rebuild respect. Gordon Brown needs to step up and give the chance for the public to participate. This is the only way forward and out of this mess.

Filed under: blog posts, Politics, , ,

Harmless fun or a waste of time?

I’ve seen Twitter used for a number of things… news updates, stalking celebrities… but psycic Twittering now?  That is exactly what blogger and avid Twitterer Richard Wiseman has teamed up with New Scientist to do. Wiseman will travel to different locations around the UK and send a Twitter post for fellow Twitterers to use their ‘psychic ability’ to determine what kind of place he is at.

Screen grab of Wiseman's Twitter page

Screen grab of Wiseman's Twitter page

Today was the test run. He posted the message below on his twitter page at 3pm today and gave fellow twitterers 20 mins to post their guesses or psychic answers on his twitter experiment page.

OK, at target location NOW. Post the thoughts, feelings, impressions, and images in your mind. You have 20 mins. Everyone GO!”

The answer was near a river. Realistically though, call me a skeptic but is this not a complete waste of time? He could just copy and paste the same message each day without even bothering to go to the location. Upload a photo and say he was there and no-one would know the difference. Maybe that is the real test – to see how many Twitterers will be foolishly drawn to his Twitter page to use their so-called ‘psychic abilities’.

But on the other hand even though my head tells me it is ridiculous, there is a real urge to give it a go. I mean after all it is only a bit of fun I suppose, and maybe deep down I want to guess because secretly I’m thinking, maybe by some weird coincidence I will get it right.

Click here for Wiseman’s blog.

Filed under: blog posts, Online Journalism

Hiking in the Wye Valley

Filed under: Activities, blog posts, Videos

In a dark dark hole… a visit to the Welsh showcaves

I am standing in a dark, echoing cave, carved by millions of years of rain water trickling through. The air grows cooler as you pass through the entrance. The underground labyrinth has begun.

I weave my way through the stalagmites and stalactites in the Dan-yr-Ogof cave brushing my fingers against the stone, wondering how many droplets of water it took to make it this smooth.

Water is dripping from the ceiling and I can hear what sounds like a waterfall in the background.

The rasher of bacon, by Rachel Slater- Flikr

The rasher of bacon, by Rachel Slater- Flikr

Round the dimly lit corner is a pillar of stone in a pool of water- a stalagmite and stalactite which have met each other on their quest upward and downward.

Cascading from the ceiling is a frozen waterfall of fingers hanging down.

And then… a rasher of bacon? A bizarre looking stone which unbelievably does look like a rasher of bacon.

This is followed by a group of stalagmites called the nuns and the angel.

At the far end is a real treat. The waterfall  I heard in the background from before. You have never seen a waterfall until you have seen an underground waterfall, truly spectacular. There is something about the sound of water falling onto rock that seems so peaceful.

As I reemerge from the cave, the humidity of the warm air outside (yes it is still Wales) comes as a bit of a pleasant surprise.

The sun is shining as I make my way up a very steep hill to the Cathedral cave.

Cathedral cave is huge. Water is flowing from the rock face above and there is a small river floating through to collect it. At the far end is a pulpit of flowers and a sign saying couples are able to get married in the cave- hence the name. Sounds like a pretty cool idea for an alternative wedding. But I leave pretty quickly as the area is already getting crowded.

Below is a video of the daytrip to the caves. Shot at the end is the water leaving the caves and forming the River Lynfell. You can take a virtual tour of the caves, which are in the Brecon Beacons in Wales with this link. More photos to come, so watch this space.

Filed under: Activities, blog posts, Cardiff sport, Videos, , , ,

An expenses choice

Revelations over MPs misusing the expenses system have severely undermined the political system.

Lavish claims for moats, helipads, and even as revealed today, a duck-hotel, has cast doubt as to the sincerity of even the most senior political figures.

Even the speaker of the house of commons is not immune. Only a few months after he had cause controversy by allowing Police to search Damien McBride’s office without a search warrant, an expense claim for his wife’s £4,000 worth of taxi rides was revealed.

To top it all off, in the expense debate he missed the point entirely. To him, finding the source of the leak was of greater importance than the revelation that MPs were ripping the public off.

His refusal to take a neutral stance on repaying expense claims was the final straw. He was forced to resign.

The resignation was a welcome move because his presence in the chamber was like an anchor holding the ship down as it was sinking.

Change is on the horizon. But there is still a problem and the ship in its present form won’t make it.

Despite the anchor being cut free, the old ship is so battered in its current state it will never reach the horizon.

The Government - a sinking ship?

The Government - a sinking ship?

The old problems still remain. And because of this the public will never have faith in this Government if it remains as it is without any kind of shake-up. It is time for change. Public faith in politicians is at an all-time low.

This Government have shown themselves to be happily dipping deep into taxpayers’ pockets without any guilt whatsoever. And it is difficult to forgive, let alone respect, theft.

The only way faith in the system can be restored is if Gordon Brown swallows his pride and orders a General Election. It is time to get rid of the rotten wood.

It is time to let the public have their say in the debate. And by refusing to do this and ignoring his nation he is not only tearing apart his own reputation but he is shattering the heart of democracy.

By voting out those who have abused the system, the nation can start rebuilding the battered ship with new wood rather than trying to patch it up with rotten bits that keep falling off.

This is the only way the Government can change. It is time to start rebuilding a Government everyone can trust.

Filed under: blog posts, Politics, , ,

Mobile-media vox pop

WalesOnline’s Amy Willis went to Cardiff’s cafe quarter in Mill Lane to find out how building works are affecting the area. Click here to see the video

Filed under: blog posts, Portfolio, , , ,

Young Musician of Wales final

By Amy Willis, Cardiff Evening News – Hwyl Arts Supplement

The winner of this year’s Young Musician of Wales final, 17-year-old cellist Steffan Morris, from Neath, displayed the most passionate performance of the evening.

As he played his first piece, Alone by Giovanni Sollima, his almost had his eyes closed throughout the entirety of the performance, clearly trying to feel the music as he played. His fingers whizzed along the strings with faultless speed as his foot tapped the pace. At the end of the piece he opened his eyes and squinted up at the cheering crowd. The bemused rabbit-caught-in-the-headlights look on his face showed just how much he had become caught up in the moment.
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Filed under: blog posts, Portfolio, Reviews,

Turkish delight but lacks atmosphere

With a menu bursting with delicacies from Mediterranean sea bream to mixed-meat grill, the three Turkish brothers who run Bosphorus in Cardiff Bay definitely prove there is more to Turkish cuisine than kebabs.

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In the fast lane – Hyundai i800 review

There is no denying the eight-seat Hyundai i800 people-carrier adds a touch of class to the traditional idea of an affordable family car.

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Filed under: blog posts, Portfolio, Reviews,

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