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Jenny Willott, the Liberal Democrat MP for Cardiff Central, has confirmed she will vote against any rise in tuition fees.

Ms Willott, who is Parliamentary Private Secretary to Energy Secretary Chris Huhne, told the Guardian newspaper she will stick to her pre-election pledge to vote against any rise in fees. “I will not support an increase in tuition fees and I’m deeply concerned about increasing levels of student debt,” she said.

If she changes her mind, the ministerial code of conduct will require her to resign or be sacked as a PPS.

Earlier this week NUS Wales president, Katie Dalton, said Ms Willott should vote against the proposals or stand down from her role.  “She was elected by students and needs to reaffirm her position,” said Ms Dalton.

“We understand that Ms Willott is awaiting the Government’s official response to Browne, but NUS Wales and the students of Cardiff will be holding her to manifesto commitments.”

Jenny Willott Feb 10 no 74

Gradually scrapping fees in England and Wales was a key pledge in the Lib Dem’s election manifesto.

In the run-up to the general election, Nick Clegg visited Cardiff University and spoke passionately about his desire to scrap fees over six years. “We’ve got a plan,” he said. “Of course we’d love to deliver it overnight but that’s just not possible given how tight money is.

“What we would do is we would over six years in sort of incremental steps is remove tuition fees, so for instance in the first year, any undergraduate in their last year of study for their first degree of study would have their tuition fees removed, and then the next year, you’d move to the penultimate year.

“Then you’d cap tuition fees for part-time students. And that is, I think, a policy which I hope people would believe in.”

In an interview, Clegg told me: “Our higher education system is one of the great British success stories. We have one of the best systems in Europe, more and more people want to go. We have outstanding research. We need to stop talking about higher education like it’s a drain – it’s a great asset.”

David Willetts, the universities minister, will introduce a low fees threshold of £6,000 and a high threshold of £9,000. This is a far cry from the Lib Dems’ original plan – they had pledged not to support any rise beyond the current £3,290 a year.

Clear, active and searchable words: these are the key components of a piece of online journalism.

In his lecture, Glyn Mottershead explained how we must get to grips with the way people read online. Most tend to scan rather than read on the web, and we do so 25% slower. Our writing must be sharp and concise, or else we risk losing the reader a few paragraphs in.

Crossroads

While online journalism requires much the same skill-set as print – concise writing, good grammar, and accuracy – it also demands an understanding of search engine optimisation. We must “plan for the machine, write for the human.” Headlines must cater for the searcher, and key words that summarise the story are crucial. A delayed drop or a witty headline won’t work, because your piece won’t appear in search results.

Internet - Good Or Bad?

As journalists we must recognise nothing is in isolation. We need to consider how text, pictures and headlines fit together. How does the page look? Can the reader search for the article? Online journalism requires clarity and accessibility, and we must make reading as easy as possible for our audience. “The old way of online is gone,” said Mottershead. “Punning headlines, beloved of the tabloid and trainee journalists, are not searchable. They simply won’t work.”

It is clear that in order to hook an online audience readers must be able to find our work quickly, scan with ease, and the page must be visually attractive. Online journalism requires a level of accessibility above that of print. Good writing, while vital, is no longer enough.

Up to speed journalism: George Orwell’s tips for good writing

Spin is at the heart of what politicians, and to an extent journalists, do.

While MPs sugar coat and try to put a good slant on an issue, journalists seek to make their stories that little bit more entertaining. But has spin gone too far?

An Ipsos MORI poll carried out in 2009 would suggest as much. The survey revealed journalists are one of the most distrusted groups in society. Ranking just above government ministers, only 22% of people think we can be trusted to tell the truth. 

What can we do about this? Charles Reiss gave his thoughts in a lecture to journalism students today.

Political Editor of the Evening Standard for twenty years, and chairman of the Lobby from 1995-1996, Reiss has become one of the UK’s most experienced journalists. In his lecture on spin, Reiss urged students to be honest in their reporting, explaining how “truth breeds trust”.

While probing questions are a must for any journalist, we must try to give an accurate portrayal of politicians and the people we encounter.

“Too often the politician comes off looking like a liar,” said Reiss. “Journalists represent the world and politicians in a certain way – laser journalism, in a sense. Of course journalism should not become tame, but we need an intelligent response, not just a knee jerk response.”

Indeed, a Standards Committee survey taken in 2008 revealed only 26% trust MPs in general,  but 46% trust their local MP. This, says Reiss, suggests people’s perceptions of MPs in general are corrupted by the media.

This struck a chord with me, and I wonder: are we as journalists so eager to get a story that our judgement becomes clouded? Does the quest for an ‘angle’ diminish the extent to which we can tell the truth? Indeed, can we ever be wholly objective, given what we write will always be biased by what our readers and employers want? Reiss acknowledged bringing about this change in attitude could be considered “naive at best and impossible at worst,” but assured students it is obtainable if we are as balanced as possible.

The lack of trusts in journalists raises uncomfortable questions about our profession. Newspapers fare particularly badly – while 70% of people trust TV news, making it the most trusted media platform, only 6% trust what they read in newspapers. One possible explanation for this is that television news stations are obliged by law to be ‘impartial’, while newspapers are not bound by any such regulation. Each newspaper has its own political orientation, which shapes the stories which appear in them.

As one student argued during the lecture, can there ever be one ‘truth’? Just as five reporters writing about a car crash will come up five quite different reports, surely there are a number of different ‘truths’?

Overall, this was a stimulating and revealing lecture.

Reiss made it clear governments will always want to rig the news agenda, but it is our job as journalists to use our judgement to assess whether a story is going too far. We should never be so eager to break a story that we overlook transparency, and we must regularly assess whether we have become too ‘cosy’ with a source. We must only push stories as far as they will legitimately go. Reiss hopes events will force a change in the media, but in the mean time, writing truthfully is the best way to breed trust in what we do.

Ipsos MORI: “Doctors Remain Most Trusted Profession”

The Independent: “You can trust me – I’m a journalist”

The pedestrianisation of High Street has become something of a saga. Traffic jams, inconvenient detours and a whole lotta rubble have left retailers and the public alike feeling frustrated.  And the latest twist? Cardiff Council hoped to pacify tensions surrounding the roadworks this week by announcing they will be suspended in the run up to Christmas. But just days after the announcement, they discovered retailers are claiming up to half a million pounds in compensation because the roadworks have damaged their trade.

Duke Street

The Castle Quarter Tenants’ Association, which represents the 53 shops in the Castle, High Street and Duke Street arcades, hopes to win £10,000 compensation per trader. If successful, the total damages could reach a whopping £53,000.

Retailers claim customers have been driven away by the noise and inconvenience of the roadworks on Castle Street, and the pedestrianisation of High Street.

Hairdresser Anna Constantinou, who runs the 30-year-old family salon in Castle Arcade, is organising the collective claim on behalf of the tenants’ association. Ms Constantinou told the Echo: “I really do think we have got a strong case. There’s no doubt we have lost money. We have lost our walk-in custom. The council has killed every single season for us.”

The newspaper reported 21 retailers have confirmed they back the claim or are seriously considering it, but some are unsure and others said they would not claim.

Harriet Davies, owner of the New York Deli in High Street Arcade, told the Echo the business rate rebate, which worked out at around £300 per business, was welcomed but was nothing compared to the money lost. She said each business had already proved they had been directly affected by the roadworks, winning a 5% discount in business rates.

A Cardiff council spokesman said traders had experienced “inevitable inconvenience”, but disruption had been minimised and businesses will benefit when the work had been completed.

The £2.5 million roadworks will be suspended from November 14 and will not return until January. David Hughes-Lewis, chairman of Cardiff Retail Partnership, said he was delighted with the decision. “If they had carried on with the pedestrianisation work until a week before Christmas it would have such an adverse effect on business,” he told the Echo.

Castle Street will be closed every Sunday to allow contractors to finish the new junction with Westgate Street and the new pedestrian crossing outside the castle.

Guardian Cardiff: “Another day of gridlock, but can we look beyond the roadworks?”

As anyone who commutes into and around Cardiff will tell you, traffic congestion in the capital is a growing problem. Busy roads, slow traffic lights and long queues can leave motorists fuming, and I am sad to admit I have on more than one occasion been the victim of serious “road rage”.

Congestion has forced Cardiff Bus to extend the scheduled journey times of some of its services, to give buses that regularly ran late as a result of traffic jams more time to reach their destination.

Traffic was also a prevalent issue throughout the Ryder Cup – pupils in Newport and Cardiff even got the day off to ease congestion! And as Cardiff city centre becomes pedestrianised, numerous roads have been closed off to motorists, and drivers are often sat in lengthy traffic jams.

Plans to create a futuristic transport system of light rail networks in the capital are currently on hold. The plans envisaged an automated taxi service, taking people around Cardiff in driverless cars on a dedicated track with journeys paid by smart card. The ULTra (Urban Light Transport) project aimed to link Cardiff Bay with the city centre and Cathays Park, in a £45 million project to help solve growing traffic congestion.

On this map I have highlighted some of the spots most affected by traffic congestion and busy roads. It will be interesting to see the results of the road works on Castle street, which are due to be completed by the end of October. Cardiff council’s executive member for transport, Delme Bowen, has assured locals that traffic flow will improve once the road works are finished.

Check out my map:

“Traffic congestion in city forces bus time changes”

The stories of people’s lives are often the most fascinating tales of all, and by listening to the audience we unveil a collection of stories quite different to those emanating from our newsrooms.

Storytelling was once controlled by those with power – large corporations such as the BBC dominated, and regular people were but passive consumers of media. Thankfully, the landscape in 2010 is quite different. Media is becoming democratised, and in his lecture, Dr Daniel Meadows explained how Digital Storytelling is one of the fastest-growing ways of empowering the individual.

Storytelling here

Digital Storytelling allows the audience to tell their stories, and embraces a patchwork of their memories, anecdotes and emotions. It opens a window into people’s lives, often in an incredibly moving way. Digital Storytelling allows an age-old practice to be conducted through new and exciting methods.

We ought to consider the words of storyteller and therapist, Nancy Mellon, who said: “Because there is a natural storytelling urge and ability in all human beings, even just a little nurturing of this impulse can bring about astonishing and delightful results.” Dr Meadows echoed this when he explained how a photo or a childhood toy can trigger a wealth of memories and anecdotes, thus creating a story to be told. Digital Storytelling is about listening; it empowers the individual, and gives him or her ownership of their tale.

In this world of flourishing media it is easy to forget that over 10 million people haven’t even been online yet. Furthermore, one in ten adults have literacy difficulties, so not everyone is able to explore the wonders media has to offer. However, by telling stories through the use of photographs, video and audio, narrative becomes accessible to all. In this sense, social inclusion and digital inclusion are linked. As journalists we must try to make our content available to as many people as possible, and understand how stories are best told through a variety of mediums.

Find out more: “Telling Lives: your digital stories” – http://bbc.in/aNhmdv

The way we consume news is changing, and it is the duty of journalists to be transparent, to collaborate with their readers, and respect that people are the experts. These are the key points Dr Claire Wardle made in her lecture this week.

Media used to be consumed in a fairly passive, “top-down” manner, but it is now becoming an interactive, two-way dialogue between those who read the news and those who write it.

In her gripping lecture, Dr Wardle explained how Social Media facilitates this dialogue, by allowing “the people formerly known as the audience” to comment on, share and even create content. As Peter Barron, Google’s Director of Communications, said at the Tomorrow’s Journalists Conference, social networking and collaborative news sites such as Newsvine mean “everyone can be a news-gatherer, everyone can be a publisher.” However, Dr Wardle warned that while many journalists are using Social Media, they are not fully engaging with their readers – greater collaboration is vital.

We must also recognise that the audience often has greater knowledge of a subject than we, the journalists, do. By asking people what they know, and encouraging a continuous dialogue with them, journalists can bring more depth to their stories.

Transparency is also vital –  by making content out of processes, and showing the audience how you have built your story, your work will be more credible.

Perhaps the most important message to take away from Dr Wardle’s lecture is that people are the news, so journalists must take every step to listen to them.

Further reading:

“Don’t be afraid to share”

“10 ways social media will change in 2010”