Kindness and true friends

•April 2, 2012 • 4 Comments

I’ll admit it. I’ve had a really tough few months. Various bits of my life which seemed secure, all developed a sense of insanity and decided to kick me in the teeth. It was alarming and upsetting. I thought it must all be my fault. My friends were there to prop me up and help me realise that I’ve just had an incredibly unlucky phase. Since I left Audioboo a few weeks back, I’ve started to find myself again. I’m no longer being ignored or undermined and people have told me I’m good at what I do. It’s been so long since I heard someone say that at work and it really knocked my confidence. I worked hard, I made things happen, but it wasn’t the right place for me. There’s a bigger story there, but that’s for another day.

This is just a short, open letter of thanks to the people who have gone out of their way to be there for me. People who really didn’t need to. True friends are there through thick and thin, and my friends have outdone themselves in these last few months, but there are other people too. People I barely know, but have taken the time to get to know me, who’ve helped me believe in myself again. Who’ve seen something of value in me and let me know. Thank you.

I don’t know what I’ve done to deserve such kindness, such time and effort from people (and one of them is currently in space!), but I want them to know how grateful I am. I know that some people just see me doing all the fun amazing things that I like to do, and probably think I don’t have a care in the world. That’s not the case at all. I just know that when there are good times to be had, and adventures to go on, you might as well pull out all the stops so that you can bank those amazing memories for rainy days. I’d rather have great stories and great friends than money anyway.

Sometimes I just feel so humbled that people spare a moment of time for me, that astronauts remember who I am, that I have made friends out of business contacts, and have a network of lovely people around the world (and orbiting it). It’s important never to take these things for granted, and this is me, showing that I don’t.

I do my best to bring people along on the adventures I have. I know that not everyone is in the position to travel or take the risks that I do, but it’s nice when people – like my Granny – live vicariously through me. I’ve done my best to ensure that when I’m on space adventures I include new space tweeps in the fun, and I’ve lined up a special surprise for a Japanese lady called Kayoko who came all the way from Japan to attend a TweetUp at CNES  in France this week. It was her first trip to Europe, her first tweetup and she came all that way on her own. I wanted to find a way to reward that sort of bravery and adventurous spirit, so all being well, a special treat will arrive with her soon.

Lego shuttle!

A special treat arrived for me today. I’m overwhelmed with the kindness and thought that went into it. I’ve a Lego shuttle staring at me, tempting me away from serious work. I can’t quite explain what I’m feeling right now. A mixture of excitement, gratefulness, overwhelmed-ness and humbleness, maybe even a hint of pride. As I said when NASA administrator Charlie Bolden talked about me, “I guess I must have done something right”.

Thank you to all of you’ve who’ve stuck by me and believed in me. You know who you are and I hope you know what you mean to me.

NHS Bill Alarm Bells

•February 16, 2012 • 3 Comments

While I continue to get my head around the various complex issues raised by the Health Bill, I thought that it might be good to flag up some of the alarm bells that make me wonder about the bill even before we look at the nitty-gritty detail. If you’ve not seen my previous posts on Saving the NHS and Trying to Untangle it, do check them out and leave a comment.

Doctors don’t like it

The fact that doctors, and other health professionals with years of training and experience working in the health service are up in arms about this bill makes me think that it is something worth worrying about. I may not understand all the issues yet, but they have much better handle on things and they are speaking out. That makes me stop and take notice.

Is it just a few rogue doctors causing a fuss? No, actually, it’s the Royal College of GPs, the British Medical Association, the Royal College of Nursing and the Royal College of Midwives who all calling for the bill to be dropped. They are not alone, the international citizen blog has created a list of all those in opposition to the Health Bill. This is no rogues gallery. There is also a BBC piece here.

They are not mincing their words either. “This bill is a burden. It makes, no sense, it is incoherent to anybody other than the lawyers” said Dr Clare Gerada, Head of the Royal College of GPs on Radio 4’s Today programme. (Whilst I’m pleased to find that it’s not just me struggling to make sense of the bill, I’m concerned that lawyers rather than medical professionals are the only ones who might be able to unravel the future of the NHS.) Dr Gerada continues: “It will result in a very expensive health service and it will also result in a health service that certainly will never match the health service that we have at the moment – or at least had 12 months ago.”

That is a massive alarm bell in itself. If you’re worried, why not sign this eGov petition, go on, do it now. Sign here!

Tories don’t like it

Okay, so if the fact that a bunch of health professionals are calling for the bill to be dropped doesn’t worry you enough, what about the fact that the Conservative Home website reports that three Tory Cabinet Ministers are also concerned about the bill, with one of them saying it must be dropped. Are they against the bill in principle or just concerned that it has the power to backfire politically and threaten their jobs? Either way, it appears that all is not well in even the close ranks of the Cabinet. That surely can’t be a good sign?

Hidden Risks

The Department of Health has a Strategic Risk Register that looks at the effects of restructuring the NHS. This would be a pretty useful thing to look at if you wanted to get a better idea of what might happen to the NHS if the Health Bill goes through. But you can’t. Despite the Information Commissioner ruling that it should be released, and despite David Cameron in 2010 saying “it is our ambition to be one of the most transparent governments in the world”, it is being kept secret.

Does that mean anything is being hidden? Maybe not. Maybe there’s a perfectly good reason. On the other hand, how much do you trust politicians? When the future of the NHS is on the table, I think we can claim any cynicism as “healthy”.

If you’d like (in the words of Simon Burns, Minister of State (Health)) to “zombie-like, send in emails”, then might I suggest that writing to your MP and encouraging them to sign the Early Day Motion (EDM) requesting that the Risk Register by published. Here’s a the link to EDM 2659.

Anyone for a kidney?

Now we start delving into areas that will need a bit more work to put properly into context, require more understanding of how competition and private contracts might work, but, since we’re just looking at alarm bells perhaps we should consider this. It is being alleged, in several places, that a company which may end up profiting from NHS contracts has admitted illegally selling kidneys. The Daily Mirror article from Nov 2011  and a more recent piece from Political Scrapbook. Now I’m not sure about you, but I’m not really okay with the idea that my tax money is going to be spent on private companies that have a track record like this. Maybe it’s just me.

Pay up

Again, we now start to reach into areas where our simple backgrounder may not be enough, but the fact that people such as Allyson Pollock, professor of public health at Barts and The London School of Medicine and Dentistry, are bringing up the idea that the health service may no longer necessarily be free at the point of use  still raises the alarm and is worth investigating. We’ll get to the bottom of it eventually… perhaps. One day.

Worried? Want to take action?

Here are three simple things you can do:

    1. Sign the petition – with 100,000 signatures it has to be debated in parliament
    2. Write to your MP and ask them to sign EDM 2659
    3. Help me understand more for my next thrilling NHS Bill blog instalment – and consider sharing this one?
    4. If you’re more into sharing YouTube clips than blogs about politics, why not listen to to and share this song instead?

Attempting to untangle the NHS bill

•February 13, 2012 • 2 Comments

Yesterday I blogged with a request for help understanding what is going on with the NHS Bill so I could try to work out if it is something I need to genuinely worry about, and if so, whether there is something that I should be doing about it. I like the fact that there is an NHS and I don’t want it to come under threat.

Thank you to all the people who’ve got back to me so far and offered me assistance. I now realise that this is a bigger task that I had first grasped, and feel a little less embarrassed that I don’t understand it all. That seems to be a very common problem. I’ve started to put together a Twitter list of interested people, so I can keep across the conversation a little better, and I’ll share some of the links I was sent at the bottom of this post.

Taking a step back

Before I try to get to the nitty-gritty of the bill, the debate surrounding it, and all the political waves it is causing, I think that it is a good idea to try to understand a bit more about how the NHS really works. Then with that grounding we can start to ask questions about what is going on with the NHS Bill. In the same way that you might turn the telly on to watch Eastenders, but not really understand the workings of the BBC, I visit the doctor, but have little idea of what goes on behind the scenes. So let’s start at the beginning shall we?

A (probably over-) simplified look at how the NHS works at the moment

Ha. I wrote this sub-title then drafted something that I thought made sense. I passed it by someone more expert than I, and now I’m even more confused! So, let’s just try to see what we’ve got, and if anyone else can provide me with a simpler, more accurate, public-friendly version of the current basic structure, PLEASE let me know!

The easy bit:

There’s an election, we vote, a government is formed, they choose the Health Secretary, the Health Secretary (currently Andrew Lansley) sits at the top of the Department of Health. I think we can all get our heads around that.

The next layer:

Beneath the Dept. of Health there are Strategic Health Authorities (SHAs). The English health system is enormous so the SHAs are there to break the enormity down into more manageable regions. They sit in the middle of the organisational tree, passing legislation downwards, but also collecting information from the frontline and passing it back up to the Dept of Health. Still with me?

Primary Care Trusts:

Below the SHAs are Primary Care Trusts – these were brought in by Labour, to help bring health and social care a bit closer together, which seems to make sense. But according to Professor Greener “most social care is divided into that provided by the NHS (community health services) and that provided by local authorities who have budgets, but where care is mostly privately provided (think of homes for the elderly, care agencies doing home visits)”. Primary Care Trusts (PCTs) are the ones that actually commission the services in your area. Confusingly enough, they also provide some of those services too, so are effectively commissioning themselves. PCTs are responsible for ensuring delivery of quality care at the right price.


It gets a little more complicated again at this point, because there are two types of hospital: NHS Hospital Trusts which are overseen by the PCTs and SHAs, and Foundation Trust Hospitals which have a degree of independence from the DoH and SHAs. The Foundation Trusts were meant to be the best performing, and got ‘earned autonomy’ as a result, reporting to Monitor, an independent financial regulator. Professor Greener adds “They were allegedly allowed greater freedoms for being more highly performing, but haven’t often found it – ‘freedom to do as you are told’ is how one colleague of mine describes it. Monitor will take over responsibilities for all types of trust, as well as regulating non-public provision, after the reforms so big increase in their powers”.

So what’s all this Health Bill fuss about?

Well that’s really what I’m trying to understand. I use the word “fuss” as that’s probably what outsiders are wondering, but the more I learn about this, the more this seems like a really big deal. That’s why I want to try to understand it, and that’s why I want to try to help you understand it too.

There are a few problems with this:

a) no-one seems to quite fully understand it because the bill keeps changing

b) no-one can tell exactly what will happen

c) information to help us consider the risks of the bill is being witheld (ask your MP to sign EDM2659 to get it publshed)

As far as I can tell, reading various blogs, new articles and talking directly to some NHS staff, there are a range of issues. Again, this doesn’t make it very easy for me to give a single clear cut outline of the issues, so instead I’m going to look at a few things, as simply as I can and hopefully I will get some people with more expertise to help expand on these issues one by one.

So what is the bill hoping to achieve?

Here are a few of the main things that I have seen talked about, I’m sure there are more, but this is a learning process. I’m taking it a step at a time.

1) Empower GPs to form consortia that control their own budgets and can commission services their patients need

2) Cut down on bureaucracy

3) Boost the private sector’s role in providing services, to encourage more competition and innovation

Reasons people are worried

(Disclaimer: I’m doing my very best to understand this, but if I’ve got things wrong please let me know and I will correct them. If I’ve got them wrong, it’s because there are so many different things being said, and it’s hard to sift through them and work out what’s going on.)

Empowering GPs to form consortia that control their own budgets and can commission services their patients need

The Health Bill introduces Clinical Commissioning Groups – these will be groups of GPs who are able to commission the healthcare that they need in their area.

PROS: On the face of it, this sounds like a reasonable idea – doctors know which services are most in demand because they see patients on a daily basis.

CONS: Stop for a moment and think about that, do you want your GP to spend time treating patients, or trying to work out how to secure business deals on health provision? For my money I’d much rather my GP did what he/she was trained to do, and not have to worry about anything else other than looking after their patients.

Cutting down on bureaucracy

No-one would argue against an efficient, streamlined system that gets the job done and cuts costs. We’re all weary of hearing about public services with too many managers being paid too much to shuffle paper, but what’s the reality? It’s easier to show you, with the aid of a couple of organograms courtesy of the Labour Party, since as you can tell, explaining this stuff is not easy:

NHS structure pre-2010

NHS Structure after:

Copyright Labour PartyOnce I’ve got my head around this a little more, we can go into detail, but *just look at it!*. That doesn’t look like it’s making anything simpler. Am I missing something?

Boosting the private sector’s role in providing services, to encourage more competition and innovation

I’m not sure where to start here, but one of the things that I have seen mentioned is that if companies are competing on price, rather than on quality (as I understand they currently do with fixed national unit costs) then surely corners will be cut and patients could suffer?

Also, if we’re looking at using competition to bring the price down, then can someone explain why we don’t just use the enormity of the Health Service and its purchasing power to bring prices down? I know this whole situation is complex, and so I could be missing something, but isn’t it because Tesco (for example) is such a big purchaser that it gets the best deals on products and can pass them on to its customers? Isn’t that why all the small local shops are going out of business, because they can’t negotiate on such a big scale? Why then does it make sense to have lots of itty-bitty consortia, as nice and local as they may be, instead of the might of the combined health service?


I’ve so many questions still to find answers to:

– Does anyone actually support this bill, would they like to get in touch and try to explain what I’m missing?

– If we open up the health service to competition, is that it? Can we never go back, as someone suggested to me, because it would be anti-competitive and against the law?

– If hospitals are allowed to make money by taking private patients, won’t that just lessen the number of spaces for those of us who rely on free healthcare? Will that in turn push more people to take up private healthcare? Is that the end of the health service as we know it?

– What’s with these private finance initiative (PFI) hospitals – are we really locked into contracts to pay rent and services at whatever rate the company demands?

I know that there is a lot that I haven’t even scratched the surface of, so much that I am yet to learn. That there are people who could profit from this bill, I’m working my way up to understanding how that all fits together. I feel both comforted and horrified to hear that even those in the medical profession are struggling to understand all of this.

I want to hear from you

Pick a point about the bill that worries you, or that you feel you can teach me something about. Write to me, explain it to me, help me understand. Or better, record a quick Audioboo by visiting and clicking record. You’ll get three minutes, so why not state you name, what you do/what connection you have to the NHS, the point your raising and your thoughts on it. Tag it with #nhsbill and #healthbill. I would still like to try to create some useful resource to help others understand. It’s only now that I realise that this is a can of worms.. what have I done trying to understand?!

Useful links

You can find others as favourited tweets on my @RadioKate twitter account.

Save the NHS?

•February 12, 2012 • 10 Comments

A wise man is one who knows he knows nothing

Okay, so I’m a woman, but I strive to be wise and here I am, risking ridicule, admitting how little I really know about the NHS and current conversation about the Health Reform Bill. But before you turn your nose up at my ignorance, please stop for a moment and give me some credit for a) daring to admit the holes in my knowledge and b) being proactive enough to try to change that, for that is what this blog aims to do.

I need your help

I am a fan of the NHS. I can’t imagine life without it. I’ve spent time in the US and am utterly gobsmacked by the reality of their (lack of) health system. Paying to see a doctor? It just doesn’t compute in my mind. I realise how lucky we are to have the NHS.

I know that there have been big changes over the last few years, but I don’t know enough about them. I know that there has been a lot of conversation about the management of the NHS, but I don’t know enough about the structure of the health service to know if these were positive changes. I’ve heard about postcode lotteries and a push to allow patients more ability to choose where they are treated, but I don’t know if that makes things better or worse.

I know that there is a lot of talk about the Health Reform Bill at the moment, but to my shame, I’ve not had the time to try to unpick what it is and what it means for the health service, or what it includes at all, if I’m really honest. I know there has been debate about shifting more decisions onto doctors: “they are on the frontline, they know better where the money should be spent” vs “they are doctors, they should be concentrating on using their medical training to treat people”, but I don’t know where we’re up to with that.

Twitter has opened my eyes to the unease of people in the medical profession, I follow a lot of people specifically because they have better insight and knowledge about subjects I care about. In fact it was this tweet this morning from David Colquhoun to @libdemlife that made me stop and think about just how little I know.

In my defence, I can’t be the only one, and that’s why I want to do this. I want to create a bridge between those in the know, and those of us who support the NHS, but don’t have all the answers. Who don’t have all the facts we need to put forth strong arguments against all the points raised, and if, as it seems, this Health Bill is worrying those who works for the NHS, I want to make sure that I am armed with enough understanding of the issues that I can explain it to others.

The Plan

If I can come up with a list of important questions (please feel free to suggest some) perhaps I can persuade some of those voices on Twitter to share their knowledge with me. It would be great if we could get some of these voices recorded so that I can put together a quick ‘Idiots’ Guide to NHS Reform’ podcast. Using Audioboo this would be very simple, and I’ll happily help with that side of things.

What I need to know

  • Some general background to the NHS, why it’s such a good thing to have (sounds obvious, but for the sake of making a nice podcast, good to have)
  • The current problems the NHS faces
  • A bit about what the Health Reform Bill is
  • What the split of opinions are, and who holds which
  • Why people are against the bill
  • What could happen if it goes through in its current form
  • Why people should take note of what’s going on and what they can do about it

Can you help with any of these? Please get in touch if you can – either here in the comments on by sending me a tweet as @RadioKate.
I’d like to get a range of voices, and create a useful resource for those, like me, who support the NHS, but haven’t had a chance to learn all they should about what’s going on at the moment. I know I should know more about all this, but I feel a bit like it’s a hit TV series that everyone is talking about and I’ve missed the first few episodes, I need some people to help get me up to speed. Many thanks in advance.

Beauty all around us

•January 27, 2012 • 1 Comment

It’s January. January sucks. It’s still cold, it’s still dark early, Christmas is over and summer still seems far away. It’s easy to feel glum in January, that’s why today, with the sun shining, I decided to re-open my eyes to the world and make sure that I was appreciating the little things. Even mundane things can be beautiful and so I took a few photos, just with my phone, as I was out and about. Sometimes thinking about composing a photo makes you see things in a different way, sometimes you just need to remind yourself to look.

So that’s my challenge to you this weekend, find something mundane, but look at it in a new way and find the beauty in it. If you feel like sharing a photo with me, that would be lovely. Either pop it in the comments below, or send me a tweet to @RadioKate and use the hashtag #nowpic. Have fun.

The Eternal Cycle of Life

The Eternal Cycle of Life

Rivet Rivet

Rivet Rivet

Animal print on a manhole cover

Animal print on a manhole cover





Making change

•January 4, 2012 • 16 Comments

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed it’s the only thing that ever has.”

Margaret Mead

I thought that I would start with that quote, it’s a nice positive thought, something to remember at times like these. It’s the start of the new year and we’re meant to be all shiny and new and positive right?

I felt pretty happy this morning, striding out of the house unexpectedly early and noting a man carrying a toolbox in one hand and a sombrero in the other. It’s going to be a jolly quirky day I thought. Then reality hit and I once again found myself on an overcrowded National Express East Anglia train attempting to minimise the bruising to my leg as I jauntily crashed against a table whilst wildly grabbing at anything that might enable me to remain upright on the 0839 service to Liverpool Street.

I wasn’t the only one struggling. There were no handrails within reach, the luggage rack was set far back above the tables and the seat tops blocked by several other sardines passengers attempting to breathe/to get to work. Yesterday ticket prices went up by an average of almost 6%, and what do I get for this increase? A decrease in the number of rush hour trains, and a sorry looking hand-me-down train from the Stansted Express route. That’s why there are no hand-holds, this train is not designed to be as overcrowded as it finds itself of this new route, the runt of the litter, left with a random assortment of trains that other routes have seemingly grown out of.

The old timetable had two trains, the 0837 and the 0842 express service from Walthamstow to Liverpool St. Now we all have to settle for the 0839, and pay more to boot. I felt somewhat indignant about it this morning, especially since National Express East Anglia are happy to shell out money employing “revenue protection” officers, but not handrails! I asked the revenue protection guy (politely) what could be done. He replied “pick up a pile of complaint forms from over there and get people to fill them in. They’ll have to listen to you then”. Would they ignore my lone complaint if I wrote in?, I enquired. “Well, no” he said, “they do read them all, but there’s a new operator coming in in February and they’ll be looking at what works and what doesn’t and hopefully they will make some changes”.

After some haggling*, I came away from the Information point at Liverpool Street with a pile of forms and an ambition to do something.

This evening, after another delayed service out of Liverpool Street and some (corrected when prompted) misinformation from the National Express East Anglia Twitter account (@NXEastAnglia) I decided to strike. I caught the eye of another weary passenger without a seat and explained what happened this morning, and how we could perhaps do something about it. Other ears pricked up, I handed out some more forms, I even offered to post one (to the Freepost address) for a chap who somewhat reluctantly filled the form in too. When we finally arrived at Walthamstow, I asked for a bunch more to replenish my stock. I feel energised. I am actually going to do something. I’m not just going to moan about things, I’m going to do my little bit to try to make them better. I’m going to encourage as many people to fill in these forms and send them in as possible. I am going to do my best to get someone, somewhere, to sit up and take notice of the people who use the services, pay for the services and frequently get let down by the services. Are you with me? Come on.. it’ll only take a moment or two and think how good you’ll feel being one of a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens who are changing the world. Let’s go!

How to make a difference

Okay – if you’d like your voice heard, it’s as simple as asking for a National Express East Anglia complaint form from the ticket office or information point at your station, filling it in, and posting it off.

You could also share this blog via Twitter or Facebook or write one of your own, or perhaps you’d be brave enough to carry a stash of complaint forms to give people on trains too!

Not sure what you’d write?

How about commenting on how the new timetable has affected your journeys – do you miss the additional express service like I do?

Have you been delayed? Were you given enough information about what was happening – or just left sitting there while the Stansted Express route took line priority again?

Perhaps you’ve struggled on a busy train? Or want to comment on the state of the trains themselves?

Or maybe you’re just fed up that despite your journey taking over twice as long as it should, you still can’t claim even half a refund since you’d have to have been delayed a whole 30 minutes (on a just a 17 minute journey remember) to even be in with the chance of any sort of refund.

Come up people – speak up. Let’s do something, let’s make something happen.

* “Can I have a pile of NXEA complaint forms please?

He hands me one.

“Sorry, no, the chap over there said I should ask for a pile”

Blank look. “How many do you want?”

“A pile?” I gesture with my fingers the thickness of the sort of pile I was thinking…

Blank look.

“More than one.”

He slides over another.

“Oh, er, more than two? You know, a bunch, a pile, a lot”

Finally gives me some more…

Update one:

I raised this issue with our local MP Stella Creasy and she kindly got in touch with Abellio who are taking the franchise. They replied to some of my questions and agreed that I could share that with you on the blog (apologies for the delay in updating, I’ve been very busy). Here’s what their Director of Public Affairs had to say:

1)    Express trains in the rush hour: As you may be aware, the new franchise is a short term (2.5 year) contract under which the Department for Transport specified that bidders could not propose changes in the timetable. We will, however, be running maximum length services during the peak and taking steps to encourage passengers to make use of the full length of every train. We will also be introducing a colour coded timetable to help passengers identify easily which services will be the most crowded. Often trains just outside, or on the shoulder of the peak are lightly loaded and these can be a good option for some passengers. The only opportunity, however, to make major changes to the timetable and the capacity of the trains will be under the next franchise, which will be a 15 year contract running from summer 2014.

2)   Improve the trains: We are aware of the condition of the rolling stock not only on the West Anglia line but across the network. We’ll be implementing a deep clean programme from Day One of the franchise (5th February) and will roll this out across the whole network. As with the timetable, however, the only opportunity to make a step change in the condition of the Anglia fleet will come under the next (15 year) franchise.

3)   Making the service itself more reliable: We will be working very closely with Network Rail over the next 2.5 years to improve overall reliability and where possible alleviate the impact of the major engineering works which will continue through the lifetime of this short franchise. We have already held excellent and constructive talks with the new Network Rail Route Director, Dave Ward, and the development of a strong working relationship with Network Rail will be crucial if we are to convince the DfT and passengers that Abellio is the best company to manage the long term franchise. I hope the benefits of this strong working relationship will be reflected in improved reliability for passengers.

I hope this is helpful. The short term nature of the franchise makes it impossible to invest in the major programmes which would deliver the upgrades the network needs, but I hope that over the coming years we will demonstrate to passengers and stakeholders that Abellio is the company to deliver that programme when the long term franchise gets underway.

I had a couple of follow-up questions for him asking whether they would be following NXEA’s summer timetable too (which includes the express service) since they can’t change the timetable and one other about checking carriages for suitability for carrying lots of passengers/adding handrails to those that aren’t.

I was told that the December 11th timetable will be the operating timetable until the next change in December this year, so there will be changes in the summer and invited to contact him again when they take over the franchise in mid February regarding the carriages. It was nice that they took the time to respond to these concerns and is much appreciated.

Update two:

National Express East Anglia responded to my comment form with the following:

Thank you for your Comments Form received 11th January.

I’m sorry to hear that our service has failed to meet your expectation. A review of the new timetable will take place in May, but it is unlikely that any changes will be made before the end of our franchise.

As we near the end of  this rail franchise on 4th Feb 2012, I would like to assure you that your feedback will be logged and shared with our management team enabling them to, where possible, avoid a similar situation in the future.

Thank you for taking the time to contact us.

Once again, thank you for contacting us.

This does leave me wondering about the review of the timetable in May. Who is doing that and why? I mean, if, as Abellio state, they are not allowed to change the timetable for the next 2.5 years, what is the point? Also, surely but not adopting the summer timetable they are making changes? Or am I missing something here? I shall endeavour to find out, and of course let you know.

How early is too early? 9/11 anniversary fatigue

•September 5, 2011 • 1 Comment

So I’m probably going to get slammed for this, by some people, but I can’t be the only one who listened to the Today Programme this morning and got angry.

It started with a piece asking why “The Media” isn’t covering the famine in Somalia any more (maybe there are only so many images of emaciated children you can show, suggested Humphries). It’s an interesting question, but the way they asked it seemed to take Today themselves out of the spotlight. “The media” they said. Well I’m sure the last time I checked, the Today Programme was a part of “The Media” too. In fact I thought they prided themselves in setting the agenda for the day. They certainly seemed pleased with themselves when their RAJAR figures went up, airing an entirely pointless segment about their success, in which they asked the question “is it because there is more news?”. This led me to conclude that the answer was “no” else they wouldn’t have run the piece in question.

So back to the original point, why isn’t “The Media” covering Somalia more? Well how about we get your Editors to explain their decisions on coverage rather than smugly berating everyone else? I might have let that slip, but the rest of the programme was filled with endless talk of, and trailers for coverage of the tenth anniversary of 9/11. Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not belittling the significance of the event, it was shocking, yes, people died, yes, it had a global impact, yes, but it was ten years (minus six days) ago and there are people in the world dying now.

When it got to a piece about choosing a soundtrack to the atrocity I was bewildered. Since when did we set terrorism to music? I was only half listening (while I shouted at the radio) so it was only later that I found out this was a story about something that New York Public Radio had done, but that’s beside the point. (As is the fact that it was a nicely crafted radio package.) The point is that they spent precious minutes of peak airtime discussing the anniversary of something six days before the anniversary itself. I’d already heard a piece last week about a play being staged about 9/11 which made me wonder if it had it been a play about anything else would it have got past the editors?

Jem Stone (head of social media & syndication at the BBC) responded to my criticism on Twitter by saying “It’s a long standing media convention to stretch & go early on significant anniversaries. Not confined to BBC”. That doesn’t make it right though – and just because everyone else is doing it, doesn’t mean that Today should. The Today programme plays a major role in setting the news agenda (and the political agenda at times) so instead of asking why no-ones covering the famine, and then spending so much time on the not-yet anniversary of 9/11, perhaps they should be setting the standard for other media organisations to follow.

Marc Blank-Settle from the BBC College of Journalism also commented on Twitter, raising the point that “it’s like an arms-race not to be last, which means programmes do it earlier and earlier”. He may have hit the nail on the head. No-one wants to feel like the last to be reporting something, especially in news, but then again, are anniversaries “news” in the traditional sense? They can be a remembrance, celebration, or sometimes a simplistic news hook for a PR story. There can be some interesting retrospectives, but essentially they are about something that has already happened. There may be current activity around an anniversary, but is there really a need to start so early? Nevermind pictures of emaciated children, maybe it’s the phrase “in the run-up to the tenth anniversary of 9/11” that I can only take so much of.

Yes 9/11 was a big deal, but if we’ve got this much coverage six days before the anniversary what’s going to happen on the day? Will all other news be suspended while we look back at what happened? I’d love to know what other stories were dropped in favour of the 9/11 piece this morning. Perhaps the Editors might like to respond on the Editors Blog on the BBC site (though I of course invite them to comment below too) and let us know just how much more coverage they intend to give the anniversary before it actually arrives, and when they’ll next be covering the famine again.


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