Ignite Cardiff #4

The fourth Ignite Cardiff, held last week in the Wales Millenium Centre, seems to have a small amount of controversy attached to it. Certainly if you’ve been following the comments on various blogs and tweets that have been flying around since. And it all started with a negative review of the event, written by a blogger for WalesOnline, which is operated by the country’s biggest newspaper.

A bit of background: I’m co-founder of Ignite Cardiff, the first Ignite event in the UK – there are now many more around the country. Along with my partner in crime, Claire Scantlebury, I was responsible for bringing this rapid-fire presentation format to our lovely city to be enjoyed by creatives, geeks, entrepreneurs and anyone else who wanted to be involved. However, due to important commitments with a hot-tub in a forest, I wasn’t able to be at this particular event, our fourth since we started in late 2008. I was following the #ignitecardiff hashtag avidly via Twitter, much to my girlfriend’s, and our waiter’s, annoyance.

It’s worth noting at this point that I know just how much hard work goes into putting these events together, and the passion and commitment with which Claire and I put into them. And as I couldn’t be at this last one, Mark Stevenson kindly stepped in to help with organisation and presentation, offering his time and effort free of charge, like Claire and I, for no personal gain, other than enjoying bringing cool, creative people together.

Anyway, during the event there were a few negative tweets from @joniayn, and then the negative blog post. Joni has been both supported and shouted down for her opinions in the intervening few days, so I’m not going to add to the dialogue on that front. People a lot smarter than me (Mark Stevenson, Dan Allsobrook, Chris Csefalvay amongst others) have already said all that needs to be said, I think. The thing that intrigues me is that of the impact of Joni’s blog. Joni is, as far as I’m aware, a relatively unknown blogger whose approach to her piece was arguably less than “journalistic”. So why should it have had such a relatively large impact? And I don’t say these things as an insult, as I don’t know her and I’m sure she’s lovely. It’s perhaps easy for me to say this as I wasn’t as integral to the event as I normally am, so I’m less likely to be hurt by her piece, but I believe she has a fundamental right to express her opinion. And I think that whenever you’re doing something attended by up to 200 people in a public venue, there’s always going to be people with opinions on what works and what doesn’t; what should be and what shouldn’t. There will always be detractors if you’re doing something successful. Besides, the world would be a dull place if we all liked the same thing, and Claire and I have received enough glowing compliments about our events over the last year or so to keep us going for a long time yet.

I personally believe that the impact of Joni’s blog came because she is a blogger for the portal of MediaWales, the home of the Western Mail etc. And so it had extra “weight”. But Joni clearly didn’t go about reporting the event with anything that could technically be classed as journalism as we tend to think of it. It was an opinion piece, which wasn’t particularly well researched. And that’s fine. That’s what 99.9% of blogs are. And long may they continue in such vein. But when distributed by such a large media outlet is the veracity, fidelity and impartiality of any such blogs given more credence than perhaps it deserves? Does WalesOnline need to be more explicit about the difference between its bloggers and its journalists?

The reason I say all this is because I believe we’re entering a hugely interesting age of “citizen journalism”, and one in which we need to carefully look at what constitutes journalism. I’m in no way qualified to do this (this is definitely a poorly researched opinion piece!) But if you are interested in this subject then I urge you to follow Glyn Mottershead, Katie Prescott and Hannah Waldram on Twitter.

If any of this sounds like I’m taking a negative stance towards Joni, I’m not. I hold her no ill will and am happy that she attended the event. And am happy for her to have expressed an opinion. I’m just highlighting what I believe to be some difficult days we face in determining the difference between “journalism” and “blogging”.

I’ll leave the last word to Carl Morris who, as usual, sums up how I feel about Ignite Cardiff more succinctly and wisely than I ever could!

p.s. To lighten the mood, and lift my battered ego, Beth at Cinch Marketing wrote some lovely stuff about me yesterday.


Oh, and the lovely Brian at Crimzn has started to upload some of the videos of the event here.

5 responses to “Ignite Cardiff #4”

  1. I actually think the upset was mostly generated because Joni’s post was, frankly, unwarranted. Ignite is very much a community event, so it makes sense that the participants would take personal criticisms personally.

    The cries for the right to express an opinion don’t carry with me either. Those jumping into the comment threads and writing blog posts like yours are simply expressing the opinion that they think the other opinion is flawed. The cries of censorship make no sense.

    I’ve been mostly to discover that there seem to be a camp of Ignite detractors. It seems a very odd thing to be against. Why would anyone want to knock an event put on for people, by the same people, for free?

    Is there really a ‘Cardiff clique keyboard warriors’ group?

    Can I join?

  2. As the reviews editor for a music magazine (Kruger), we do live and single/album reviews, and I’ve always had the opinion that if you’re going to go to the bother of saying something, it should be positive or constructively critical. It’s too easy to slag off and simply write negatively about things – it’s something I tell my reviewers off for (a lot). I’m not a fan of easy/lazy journalism. It’s often much harder to identify what parts of a thing are ‘wrong’ (in one’s opinion) and then provide ways of improving the thing (event/single/album/gig) based on that.

    Also I think it’s also necessary to exercise discretion depending on the thing you’re reviewing. Coldplay, for example, will give a lot less of a fuck if you slag off one of their singles than a tiny little DIY indie band from Merthyr who hand-burned you a CD and sent you a hand written letter and some stickers. For small, fledgling events like Ignite (and there are many more like starting up in Cardiff at the moment), it seems counter-productive to turn up and then be negative, even if you don’t like what’s going on there. That’s like publishing a review of the indie band’s single where you tell them they should all give up their dreams and should go back to stacking shelves in Tesco. If you don’t like an event, then that’s fine, but rather than concentrating on being negative about it, concentrate on the positives. Say what you didn’t like and tell people what they could do better (in your opinion). I think this is a much better way – then everyone can learn from any negative experiences, and everyone can work on improving.

    This is also a difficult thing to discuss because the blog in question is on a newspaper website – being a blog, one would expect it to be completely opinion-based and therefore to be a bit controversial, which is fair enough and to be expected. However, being on a newspaper website, you expect more stringent rules to be in place about what can be written (for the same reasons I give my reviewers, as detailed above), and I’d expect anyone managing blogs on a newspaper website to scrutinise what the bloggers are writing and ensure it’s a balanced piece not written in a snarky tone – and free of spelling mistakes – in the same way that Comment Is Free is managed on the Guardian’s websites.

    I should underscore that this is not to criticise what was written in Joni’s blog post or her tweets. I didn’t even go to the event, so that’s not what my beef is at all – rather I want to call into question the role of an editor in a situation like this. I’m not sure if yourwales even has an overall editor…? Comment Is Free go to great lengths, subbing and restructuring entries from people to ensure the pieces that are published – no matter how controversial (and some of them really are very controversial) – have been carefully considered by a sub-editor (who is enough removed from the piece to make sure it maintains a good structure and has a tone consistent with the rest of the section). Spotting spelling mistakes is just an example of this (and traditionally something that a sub would be employed to do).

    This is a bit of a meandering point, just to bring up that even though blog entries are meant to be all individual opinion, I think it’s always necessary to have someone at the helm overseeing the blog process when the blogs form part of an ‘official’ type website, especially on a newspaper website. Even though yourcardiff is a blog, it’s an ‘official’ type blog, that represents the organisation. This is so important in making sure there is consistency in quality of articles published, and spotting spelling mistakes, etc. Kruger’s reviews section would be like a post-apocalypic wasteland if all the reviewers were just allowed to have their reviews published without me checking through them all first.

  3. We shouldn’t forget that, although the piece was published on a newspaper’s website, the paper in question is the Western Mail: with a few notable exceptions it is not renowned for quality journalism. Perhaps I shouldn’t have been so disappointed with the blog/article/whatever.

  4. I also feel like I need to add that I do feel quite sorry for Joni in this instance – I get the feeling she wasn’t helped or guided by anyone more experienced than her before she put that review up. It should definitely have been subbed by someone – journos are always filing copy in a mad rush (especially now with staff cuts etc there are even fewer people, so you end up writing the copy and filing it yourself, often without anyone employed as a sub to take a second look at it). It’s impossible to sub your own work as you go along – you need fresh eyes! In fact I just spotted a spelling mistake in my last comment which is PAINING ME. I obviously also need a sub.

    I also think it’s fine to have negative reviews – and a diversity of opinion on things should be encouraged. Negative reviews are useful as long as you also provide positive feedback – WHY you didn’t like it, and HOW it can be made better, and perhaps this is what Joni’s review was missing. Without these constructive aspects, a negative review is worthless, in a similar way to how a totally glowing and positive review is useless if you don’t pinpoint the things that made it good for you (and therefore things to be emulated in future).

    I don’t say all this stuff glibly either – I’ve had 10 years of review writing experience and 5 years of experience as an editor (and fuck me, now I feel really fucking old). When I first started writing reviews many years ago I would write reviews of things I didn’t like in a very one dimensional way – purely slagging them off. A wise editor took me aside and told me that he thought I was being lazy with my writing – that it was much harder to be constructive as well as being critical. He was definitely right. Writers write – it’s the job of editors to pick through what has been written and give guidance on how it can be made better before anything sees the light of day (or the light of the internet).

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