Tuesday, May 24 2011
To the Houses of Parliament yesterday for the delivery of Medway's bid to claim city status as part of the Queen's diamond jubilee celebrations. First, the impressive and highly professional document was handed in to 10 Downing Street and then a reception held in the Commons, which was on a heightened state of alert due to the arrival this week of President Obama. But while there was great anticipation of the visit, another significant event was taken place in Dining Room A where a sizeable gathering of Medway's supporters gathered to lend their backing to the city bid. I was interviewed by a member of the bid team, asking me why Medway deserved to be 'crowned' a city (a very appropriate way of putting it in the circumstances). It's not hard to think why. Its cathedral, two castles, its rich heritage, an impressive waterway, the diverse and lively cultural scene, its architecture (old and new) and no less than four universities (it's unlikely than any of its rivals will be able to beat that). But a city is nothing without its people. The dominant theme that comes across week in and week out on the Medway Messenger is just how passionate people are about the area and the amount they care about the Towns. Ok, it has its detractors and cynics and it is by no means perfect (where is?). But as a place to live and work, it cannot be bettered. Medway would embrace being a city like nowhere else. It isn't simply a badge of honour to mark bygone times, but a massive vote of confidence in a place which is forward-looking and ready for challenges ahead. We hope that architect and friend of Medway Sir Terry Farrell will be proved right next week when Five Towns really do make a City.
I returned from London on the first day of the new hi-speed services from St Pancras now calling in at Maidstone West after much lobbying from the people of the County Town. However, what suits some people inevitably is an inconvenience to others, especially when it comes to transport. Some of the Medway commuters were a bit disconcerted to find their 1814 services no longer goes through to Rochester but diverts down the Medway Valley Line via Strood.
Friday, May 13 2011
Today we have the last word on last week's local council elections after the fun and games of May 5 (and way beyond in Medway's case). What's really interesting is the unpredictability of the result in this part of Kent, which is encouraging because it seems people do vote on local issues - to a degree. There was one consistency which reflected the national trend - and that was the Lib Dems had a pasting everywhere. Fascinating, though, that while Labour took control with a degree of comfort in Gravesham, this was sandwiched between fairly ringing endorsements of the Tory administrations in Medway and Dartford. Our voting system came under scrutiny with the AV referendum and the nation threw its weight resoundingly behind the status quo. An interesting fact in Medway that might show just why the Conservatives are so enthusiastic about first-past-the-post - they gained less than 49 per cent of the total vote and grabbed 70 per cent of the seat. Yet it didn't quite work for them in Gravesham where they were kicked out of office despite gaining comfortably more votes overall than Labour.
Did you know it's the FA Cup final tomorrow? You wouldn't think so, would you. Some of us old enough to remember, will recall the halycon days of the 70s when the nation stopped for a week in the run-up to the Wembley showdown. Still, millions of us will sit down to watch Stoke take on Man City tomorrow. For the neutrals, of whom there will be many, if you want to pin your support on someone - how about the Pottery side? We have an interesting connection as revealed in today's Medway Messenger. Most football fans will know that Stoke manager Tony Pulis used to be Gills boss. You might not know that one of his main coaches Adrian Pennock was the Gills skipper who led the team when Gills won the play-off final at Wembley in 2000. The year before both men tasted a wretched penalty shoot-out defeat to....Man City when Pennock missed a spot-kick. Not much motivation for tomorrow then? C'mon you Stoke!!
Tuesday, May 3 2011
Such sad news about the death of Sir Henry Cooper, who was born in Kent and spent much of his latter years in the county. I met him less than 18 months ago and was struck by what good shape he appeared to be in. Like many people comfortably into his seventies, he had suffered the odd health problem but was in fine fettle, in marked contrast to his legendary foe, Muhammad Ali. His posture was superb for someone who had a slightly crouching style from which he unleashed 'Enry's 'ammer'. Even more remarkable since he had put his body through 80-odd amateur bouts before embarking on a professional career of 55. I was sat next to the great fighter at a dinner at the Ramada Hotel in Maidstone and was transfixed, not necessarily by the man himself, but by the fact that the left hand which now held a fork had felled the one and only Ali. In the reception beforehand I bumped into a former colleague of mine and knowing I would be introduced to the great man in a few minutes asked if he was 'Sir' Henry (wanting to avoid dropping a faux pas - not that the most modest of men would have been the slightest bit bothered). "Nah", came the reply "..think he's just an OBE". Then just as I marched up to the plain 'Henry' I saw that former colleague looking slightly panic-stricken, gesturing to me behind the former boxer's back (I think by tapping himself on both shoulders) that he was indeed a 'Sir'. And rightly so.
Tuesday, April 26 2011
A three-day week might be great for some but it presents challenges for us journalists. News doesn't stop and we are still producing the same number papers and pages, web updates and radio bulletins as any 'normal' week. It's an incredible busy time with politics to the fore, a certain marriage, and the climax of the football season with Gillingham giving us fans the usual palpitations.
Gravesend has become an election battleground with Ed Miliband, Baroness Warsi and Ken Livingstone on the stump, as Labour bid to wrest control of Gravesham from the Tories. We're expecting a heavyweight visit today.
In Medway tonight we're gathering the three party group leaders on the council as well as a Green Party candidate to ask the simple question: Who should run Medway? Also joining them on the panel is Professor Tim Luckhurst of the Centre for Journalism at Kent University, which is hosting the hustings meeting. Chaired by our political editor Paul Francis, it takes place at the Pilkington Building at the University's Medway campus in Chatham.
While we'll be concentrating on local issues, the little matter of AV might come up. There's a view that there is widespread ignorance of the system and how it works. Our reporters are putting this to the test today in a major exercise to establish how Medway is likely to vote and do they understand what AV is about.
It's Olympic deadline day for ticket orders tonight and we're asking people have they applied and if so, what have you bid for. Have you taken a punt on being one of the lucky few to watch Usain Bolt defend his 100m title or have you chosen a less mainstream competition like synchronised swimming? It will be interesting to see if the folk of North Kent really take advantage of being on the doorstep of the 2012 games.
Like I said, there's a lot going on ...
Thursday, April 7 2011
An intriguing, yet worrying, episode has been played out at one of Medway's flagship academies in the last week or two. Since the Bishop of Rochester Academy 'opened its doors' in September there have been concerns about discipline and the continuing concern about the wisdom of merging Medway Community College with Chatham South School. In these days of social media it is increasingly difficult for a school not to wash its dirty laundry in public. Therefore we get to hear quite a bit - like when the police are called to a playground bust-up. It just needs one straightforward story on a website and the issue mushrooms into a debate about the running of the school. We took some of the comments being made about BORA with a slight pinch of salt because after all, which school hasn't been accused of being 'rubbish' with inadequate teachers and a head out of control? It's never the children's fault - or for that matter the parents who are far too quick to criticise rather than praise. But the disquiet about BORA wouldn't go away and our attempts to get to the bottom of the matters were met with a stony silence. Principal (head) Christopher Sweetman was always in meetings and no 'sponsor' (ie governor) was available for a comment. We get wind that Mr Sweetman 'has gone' from a reliable source on Wednesday and then suddenly the council, one of the sponsors, is spurred into action, spiking our exclusive story by releasing a statement. The debate rages on. But the chaotic online discussion aside, this is a school which clearly has big problems. Our job to report fairly and accurately about what is going on is a challenge.
Monday, March 21 2011
You wait 14 years for a professional boxing show in Medway and then two come along in the space of a couple of months. Well, that's the plan anyway after a successful Battle of Medway promotion featuring our very own heavyweight hope Tom Dallas at Medway Park. There are plans for another event at the same venue in May. I reckon the 1,200 estimated crowd was perhaps exaggerated - it certainly didn't seem that - although it was hard to tell given that the audience was often split between those in the auditorium and those in the makeshift bar beyond a partition in the caverous sports hall. It's a pity that the lighting wasn't concentrated on the ring itself, leading to a certain lack of atmosphere and feeling that there could have been a badminton game going on in the corner while two guys slugged it out yards away. But let's not be churlish, this was by and large a successful event, which culminating in the fairly routine destruction of Hungarian punchbag Gabor Farkas, a game opponent, who took some serious punishment and certainly earned whatever the promoters had offered to lure him over. A familiar face at ringside was Frank Maloney, former manager of Lennox Lewis, who has an interest in Dallas. He told me the May bout could attract Sky coverage, although there maybe some logistical issues to surmount with the venue. Frank wasn't the only familiar face. Referee Ian John Lewis, whose day job is as a custody officer at Medway police station, oversaw a few fights - quite a contrast to taking charge of a world heavyweight title fight recently. Also there was Ronnie Davies, Chris Eubank's long-suffering trainer, bringing a bit of boxing gravitas to the proceedings.
Thursday, March 17 2011
With seismic global events taking place (quite literally in the Far East) the local news agenda can sometimes appear, well, a little trivial to some. We, of course, would disagree. It can be an antidote to some of the grim headlines coming out of Far East and North Africa. And despite what some may believe, local newspapers are packed with good news stories, from heroic tales by ordinary people to fun community events. But, also, none of us are disconnected with huge events going on around the world. Such is the nature of our global village that the maxim of 'six degrees of separation' has never been more true. In some cases it's one degree. As in the case of Gravesham councillor Mike Wenban, whose son Michael lives in Tokyo with his Japanese wife and their children. Mike, who is deputy mayor, was quite sanguine about the situation when he popped into our Gravesend office this week. In fact he gave our news team a fascinating insight into Japanese culture and the way of life. It was clear from his impromptu 'workshop' why the word 'looting' has not appeared in any of the dispatches from Japan. Every massive story like this will have a local connection. We saw it in New Zealand recently with a local teacher caught up in the quake. I recall saying to our journalists after the tsumani that every sizeable community in the UK would have a link with that event. The same applied, to a degree, with 9-11 and 7-7.
Monday, March 7 2011
Today's Medway Messenger has an update to the story about Melissa Tullett, the Rochester mother whose Facebook page was banned by the social media giant for containing an 'offensive' picture of her reconstructed breasts following a double mastectomy. The page has been reinstated following our requests for a comment plus a Facebook campaign which attracted over 1,000 members complaining about the decision. As I wrote in Friday's editorial comment, we can understand why Facebook needs to police its website for inappropriate material but surely it should have used a little common sense in this case. The picture wasn't pornographic or even nudity. It was one woman's celebration of defeating a terrible disease that affects and kills tens of thousands of women. The page is back up but the picture, which we used on this site, isn't. That's a shame.
There had been some debate in the office about whether or not we should publish the picture. Some argued if we didn't then we could have been accused of hypocrisy - on one hand criticising Facebook for censorship and on the other doing exactly the same as them. In the end I decided that publishing the picture in the paper was a step too far because newspaper readers don't have a choice about whether they view the image or not. On the website you can give people the choice - so that's what we did.
Monday, February 28 2011
A ludicrously long time since my last posting for which I apologise to my legions of followers, who have no doubt been logging onto this blog and left deflated to see that it was dormant. I've been, well, a bit busy but now back up and running on the blog front. I should take a leaf out of Channel 4 news legend/icon John Snow who told us on a visit to Medway on Friday that he had to blog first thing in the morning at a quiet time because there was no way he'd be able to fit it in later once the news agenda for the day was in full flow. You got the feeling during his talk at the Bob Friend Memorial Lecture, hosted by the Centre for Journalism at the University of Kent at Medway, that it was, basically, a chore. His bosses insisted he did it daily because it brings in 'traffic' - a word he used with thinly-disguised disdain. But here was no luddite, no technophobe, no journalistic has-been hankering for the days of typewriters and telex machines. He loves Twitter. A relatively recent recruit to the phenomenon, he confessed he tweeted a lot and found it a valuable tool in sourcing and checking information as well as imparting it (telling his followers what was coming up on the nightly news, for example). An informative and entertaining evening included a question from Medway council chief executive Neil Davies enquiring about his trademark ties to which he replied that it was the only way an older newsreader might fit with a smart new studio set brought in some time ago.
I said I'd been busy and one reason was preparing for an exciting new brief in overseeing our Gravesend and Dartford operations. It is a long way from my first day as a journalist, stepping into the dusty corridors of the Isle of Thanet Gazette some 26 years ago. Well said it is a long way - about as far as you can get without leaving the county (which I haven't in that time). But there's still an excitement and anticipation for any journalist tackling a new area. First impressions, are, well, dangerous so I'll reserve them.But for starters I like the fact that the car park at the St George's Shopping Centre multi-storey charged me a quid for about three hours. The High Street is beautiful, even on a dreary Monday morning in February. I've been recommended an Italian cafe called Leonardos for exquisite spag bol, apparently so I look forward to trying that out. Next stop Dartford.
Wednesday, February 9 2011
One of the perks of the job is the annual invite to 10 Downing Street for the regional media reception. So it was off to Mr C's pad last night along with other editors and publishers the length and breadth of the country. A few even pop over from Northern Ireland. Due to the change of government it meant it was my third in about 11 months. And all have been very different. Just over a year ago Gordon Brown entertained us in what turned out to be a rather fevered atmosphere with virtually the entire cabinet out in force with what seemed to be a genuine attempt at getting a handle from local editors about what was happening on the ground. There was a distinct feeling that they could just scrape home at the forthcoming election - whether that was just denial or optimism based on reality, I don't know. Second time around in the summer and we trooped up for cocktails at chez Cam and while the PM was working the room assiduously and with his normal charm and ease, there were a distinct lack of 'Team Cameron', who were presumably preoccupied with the business of a new government. Last night it was just the man himself, from what I could gather, and we got a 'speech' which hasn't happened before. There was a message to get across to the assembled ranks and the prime minister wasn't going to miss this opportunity. He wanted 'an intelligent debate' in the regions about cuts and the Big Society. His government had given the media to tools to open up local government to their audiences and he wanted 'something in return'.