Wednesday, 29 October 2008

Uni Work - Oh Dear God, Let the Tediousness End

For Practical Journalism this week we were asked to write a short piece about what media/journalism job we wanted to end up with, what it entailed and blah blah blah. Unamused by the patronising nature of the topic, this is probably the shortest and most tongue-in-cheek essay I will ever write and hand in as an official piece of work. I think in order to pass this course I am going to have to climb down a few pegs and stop being such an unagreeable arse. You can't say that I didn't try to make it as entertaining as I could though.

An established columnist for any newspaper, whether it’s a national or a regional publication, needs to have a lot of writing experience under their belt. Becoming a successful columnist is hard work, and in these days of staff cuts and a downturn in advertising in the newsrooms, not only do you have to try really hard to attract the editor’s attention, you need to earn your keep once you get appointed your weekly word count.

To begin with, your writing skills need to be exemplary. Nobody is going to employ a columnist, no matter how thought-provoking or controversial their chosen subjects tend to be, if their grammar is clumsy and they can’t turn a phrase. A columnist’s job is to take a chosen subject, and weave (usually) between 500-2000 words on it, all the while remaining interesting and informative. The best columnists will find that their loyal readers respond to their style as much as they respond to their subjects – if you become a weekly feature of the publication, people reading your work will recognise the personality through the topic and be more likely to read your column in the future if you come across as an interesting character. So, not only does the writing need to be coherent, informative, have some form of subject that the reader will react to and have perfect grammar, but it needs to be strewn with personal experience, anecdotes and clever or witty remarks. It isn’t easy to continue to be bright and amusing week after week, just as it isn’t easy to pluck a thought provoking subject out of the air every time one is required. Column writers often complain that their job grinds after the initial novelty wears off, and finding subjects can be tedious and unrewarding (especially if you are receiving little or no feedback from your readers). The trick then, seems to be constant practice in order to become insanely prolific, and the ability to see an opening for discussion in the smallest of events or objects.

Becoming recognised and eventually hired and paid for your services is a long and often arduous journey. Sending work to national newspapers at this stage is ambitious to say the least, and although getting your name out is extremely important, busy editors will unfortunately just relegate your thoughtful pieces of contemporary observation to the shredder until you can prove you’ve had some relevant (and published) experience. The best places to send your work to get noticed are local publications and websites. The chances are that your local newsletter that flops through your letterbox every month would happily welcome a useful and informative voluntary contributor, and it’s only a matter of time once you’ve got your work out there in the public eye before you start winning critical acclaim left right and centre and working your way up to a paid position. Remain optimistic and persevere!

Monday, 27 October 2008

Ugg Boots

After a short and frantic trip into town (are there any other types of trip into town while it's half term?) I was confronted again by approximately 2000000 pairs of Ugg boots. They are still everywhere. In Headingley where I live, every second girl has them on. It would be too easy to sit here and write another rant about how horrendously hideous they look, so I decided to research them. Why are they so popular? Why are they so expensive? How many get sold worldwide? Who started this madness? When will it end? What about the poor sheep?

According to Ugg History the story off Ugg began much longer ago than most people are aware.
The Australian ugg boot traces its origins back to at least early last century when World War I pilots were pictured wearing their fleece-lined "Fug Boots"...Mortels Sheepskin Factory began producing a line of "apache ugh boots". Then in the late 1960's Australian surfers decided it was real cosy to jump out of the surf and into a pair of sheepskin boots to help get warm.
So they were a utility boot, much more like a warm cosy sock. And the name? Rather befitting for such a fashion virus, it is Aussie slang for "ugly". They weren't ever meant to be teamed with skinny jeans or baggy tracksuit pants (god forbid). They were comfortable slippers for the outdoors. Like crocs. And we all know what a bad idea they were.

So-called 'authentic' Ugg Boots are made with 100% Australian Merino sheep's skin. Merino is the top choice in snuggly footwear (apparently) because the wool wicks away any moisture, and the skin is breathable, to stop your boots from stinking. This sheep's skin is causing quiet controversy, as people start to wonder if wearing a pair of Ugg boots is the same as wearing a fur coat. After all, how often are merino sheep eaten? They are bred primarily for their soft wool, and yes, they do get eaten, but I can't find any specific facts on how many Ugg hides were made from leftovers from slaughterhouses. Aparently making the Ugg boots is a secondary revenue for the farmers. So it might not be cruel (although to some, eating a sheep is still pretty harsh) but now we can see that it's a bit of a rip-off. Secondary revenue? Leftover hides? Sounds like a meat by-product to me. So how can Ugg Boots Australia justify charging £170 for a pair? It doesn't seem right to me. The only justfications are the time and effort it takes to tan and prepare the pelt...which is more or less the same as making leather or other sheepskin products, which don't usually cost this much.

Why are they still popular? Three years ago when I went on holiday to Australia, the trend was dying down. I hadn't even heard of them. I came back to Britain, and by Christmas shops were selling out. Ugg boots were a hit! But why in the UK? It's rainy, damp and frosty in our wintertime - the worst conditions for ugg boot wearing. They are worn by everyone with everything all the time. I imagine that 80% of the student population owns at least one pair. I am not a fan, and will not be buying a pair, but it still fascinates me that the ugliest and most expensive pair of slippers have become such a fashion staple, during a time when the rest of the world has become so like, over them already.

Friday, 24 October 2008

Undying Love and Adoration for Teenage Heroes

Everyone has people they look up to when they're growing up, whether it's their parents or Dave Benson-Phillips, but how many people actually meet their heroes? Something my mum always used to repeat every time I set off on a mission to meet a band I liked or speak to a particular person I looked up to was; "Never meet your heroes, they'll just end up being human." It sounds like a pretty ridiculous thing to say, but if I hadn't been warned, I might have quite legitimately believed that when I met Matthew Bellamy he'd be levitating a few inches off of the ground before me, completely iridescent and otherworldly. As it turns out he was stood on the same pavement as me, the exact same height as me, and a bit sweaty. This didn't really sit well with me. He wasn't an angel after all.

It's completely understandable why teenagers have idols and set themselves people to look up to. How else can you grow up? You need a role model to take image or ideology ideas from. When you get to roughly the age of 16, you start to believe you are fully independent, and all your ideas are your own. The truth is, most of them will be stolen or customised views of your favourite stars/people, and this is not a bad thing. The only time this could be a problem is if your role model suddenly changes his or her ideologies (or disappears from your life). It's very upsetting!

Personally, I set my goals towards becoming a person as intelligent, quick and talented as the lead singer of my favourite band, Million Dead. Their songs shouted clear crisp messages of political intelligence and the importance of knowing what's going on around you, as well as the importance of still retaining a sense of humour about yourself and not forcing your opinions on your poor long-suffering friends who couldn't really care less about Bolsheviks or capitalism's pitfalls or generally being angry about things you don't understand. I didn't necessarily agree with all of their ideals, but the fact that they were so eloquently putting their opinions across really struck a chord with me. When the band finally broke up in 2005 I was upset to say the least. Mostly what I was feeling was shock if I look back now. The voice and the noise I had been faithfully absorbing for over three years had suddenly decided it didn't believe what it was saying anymore, and wanted to quit. The person who I looked up to for knowing exactly what they believed didn't know what they thought about the world anymore. What was I meant to do now?

To make matters more difficult, the singer I looked up to embarked on a solo mission. I desperately wanted to give him all the support I could, but his songs were filled with dissolution and scorn for his old beliefs. I couldn't help it - I felt insulted. Had I been a fool to look up to a person who looked back on their passionate beliefs with embarrassment and distaste? After a year of constant support I left the warmth of the familiar voice and searched for other sources of inspiration.

It isn't that easy. Searching for words that speak to you as an adult doesn't seem to happen as easily as when you're growing up. I'm in no way suggesting that I'm an adult now, all grown up and self-sufficient, but finding that voice that seemed to speak to me was so much harder than before. I settled for music that entertained me, after all, isn't that music's primary job? And as much as I love Daft Punk, there isn't really a song I can name by them that has reached out and told me something I didn't know before. Sure, their songs can reach out and make me feel love, passion, excitement, happiness, but they don't make me think. Recently I returned to my old friend Frank, I bought his newest album when it came out and gave him another shot. He has made me happy. His songs aren't apologies for being so embarrassingly earnest anymore, they are every bit as enthusiastic as the old days. Yes, they are a totally different genre now, and yes, he's getting more and more famous by the day (much to my increasing jealousy - he's MY discovery! ha ha) but once again I'm being spoken to by someone who knows what I know about the world, and a bit more, so I can learn.

Frank Turner was my teenage hero, and he'll always have a place in my heart. (olol gay)

Review #1

I've decided that to improve my writing style and to strengthen my review writing skills I am going to write at least 2 reviews or short pieces of writing a week, and post them here.
This week I went to see Frank Turner in Leeds. Here's the review:

On Tuesday the 21st October, the worst example of a gig hosted by an NME darling graced the Cockpit. Of all the loyal Frank Turner fans who braved the rain and potential banjo playing, none had made the effort to look cool. None hung back at the bar seemingly unaffected by the music they’d paid to hear, and there was not one person there who didn’t know the words. This crowd was filled with avid fans and excited newcomers, and aside from the fact that there was a bar, you could almost believe you were back in Nambucca or at somebody’s flat, Frank belting out serrated alt. folk insta-hits from his perch on the kitchen work surface.

This feeling of comradeship has been a staple of Frank’s live shows right from the start. It might have something to do with his crossover from the post-hardcore scene when his band Million Dead broke up. The ‘Dead’ fans simply carried on feeding him their much-needed support and in return his shows have a warmth and a sense of friendship that doesn’t seem to exist elsewhere. Joyful opener “Reasons Not to Be an Idiot” opened the main room’s collective lungs, each song after this receiving louder cheers from different sections of the crowd until “Worse Things Happen At Sea” which invited the evening’s shrillest roar. During the last chorus of “Photosynthesis” the crowd was handed the job of backing vocals, a job description everyone lived up to extremely noisily.

This was Frank’s first gig in the big room at Cockpit, and despite his budget marketing, it sold out, with the rest of the tour selling out fast. His latest single “Long Live the Queen” – a charity song for breast cancer in memory of his friend Lex – is played faithfully on Radio 1 and hopefully this means the whole country can discover Frank’s biting lyrics and join in themselves on backing vocals.

Oh and there was one banjo, but it was at the end, and it was alright.
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