Monthly Archives: November 2009

Paying for news content

It is no secret that Rupert Murdoch wishes to begin charging for News International content on the internet, in the new year. Today Johnston Press, the company that owns a number of local paper titles including the Northumberland Gazette, has announced it is to run an experimental period charging readers £5 for accessing their online news content for three months.

The dawn of the internet and search engines such as Google has seen local newspapers suffer huge losses. This is because more and more people have been following news online rather than reading the newspaper. It is unclear whether or not people will be responsive to the subscription model which is being piloted by Johston Press. If the model is successful it is likely to create a blueprint for the future. You may be required to pay for your ‘news fix’ sooner than you think.

Would you be happy to pay for online news content? please vote in my poll.


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Image is important…

There have recently been calls for a televised debate between the leaders of the three main political parties in the UK ahead of the next general election.

Gordon Brown (Labour), David Cameron (Conservative) and Nick Clegg (Liberal Democrat) have all agreed, in principle to the debate and Sky News have been running an online petition to gain support from the public and cement it in history.

The televised debate has been a feature of American politics for a number of years. I remember studying Politics at school and discussing Nixon v Kennedy in the first of four televised debates during their presidential campaigns of 1960.

Nixon had recently been discharged from hospital and campaigned right up until the first debate. He also refused television makeup. Kennedy on the other hand had rested. He was tanned, clean-shaven and well prepared. Nixon looked lost, pale, under-weight and was bearing stubble.

The vast majority of the 80 million television viewers thought Kennedy had won the debate. Even with television footage in black and white, his photogenic appeal is widely held as the explanation why. This explanation is reinforced when we consider listeners on radio throughout the U.S regarded Nixon as the winner.

‘Politics in a new light’

Whatever happens the debate in the UK can be seen as a modernisation of democracy and a necessary step towards more transparent politics in the UK. After the expenses scandal and the failure to present a coherent strategy on Afghanistan, it is up to all three leaders to rest and tan (as it were). The British public needs to be reintroduced to politics in a new light and the leader’s debate is a useful opportunity to do so.

This opportunity should be used not necessarily to attack others, nor persistently dig up manifesto promises which have been fulfilled in times gone by, or what I like to call, ‘recalling the glory years’. Nor should it be used to complain about manifesto promises which the government have failed to turn into legislation.

The leaders need to sew together reputations as clean, honest and committed personalities who have a clear outline for the methods they will use to regain public support and bring politics closer to its people.

In my eyes that is what the general election is all about. It is about bringing politics closer to the people it has alienated. It is about parties fighting for votes from a pool of people who might now abstain. It is about increasing the importance of transparency in UK Politics. It is about committing to reforming the pay structure and perks of MP’s and it is about tabling a coherent, visible strategy for Afghanistan, rather than just echoing Barack Obama every three weeks.

The question of image

Bearing all of this in mind, we can return to the question of whether or not image will determine the winner of the debate as it did so famously for Kennedy during the 1960 Presidential election. Fifty years on it seems that image is more important than ever before. With not only colour, but now high-definition television, the leaders will have to be weary of the problems encountered by Nixon in 1960.

The viewers will be able to measure the depth of individual creases and crows feet on the leader’s face.  If they fail notice it themselves, rest assured it will be printed on tabloid front pages with in-depth analysis detailing ‘the terrain of a modern politician’s face’. In many ways it is an unfortunate aspect of being an important player in politics today, something you must accept is that you will look 60 when you are actually 40 years old.

Having detailed what I think needs to be the focus of the leaders debate and the general election as being based around personable characteristics, it follows that image may well play a large part in determining the outcome. People’s images can create a subconscious confidence in what comes out of their mouth.

In my opinion, any leader looking tired and dishevelled on the night of the debate will find it hard to portray a rejuvenated character who is ready and willing to head up a government for the next four or five years. A leader looking rested, tanned, clean-shaven and youthful may benefit from the ‘Kennedy effect’, presenting the public with a confidence and a readiness which will translate into votes.

By Nick Higgins

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10 Reasons Why Liverpool Should Not Sack Rafa Benitez

rafa and torres

Rafael Benitez and Fernando Torres (Courtesy of Aditya Sriwasth)

Liverpool’s nightmare start to the 2009/10 Premier League season went from bad to worse at the weekend when they lost 3-1 to Fulham at Craven Cottage and had two players dismissed late on in the game.

Having now lost six of their last seven matches, only the brief delight of beating arch rivals Manchester United has given the team respite from heavy criticism.

This week does not look like getting any easier for the Reds as they travel to Lyon for a crucial Champions League clash in which they must hope for a draw at the very least. Lyon are always tough opponents but Liverpool’s task is made even more difficult with an injury list running into double figures. Unfortunately this list includes their two main attacking threats, Steven Gerrard and Fernando Torres being ‘doubtful’ for tonight’s match.

Benitez is Losing Support

Given recent results and the cut-throat nature of Premier League football, it comes as no surprise that manager Rafael Benitez was booed by fans at the weekend and is facing calls to be sacked by the nation’s blood-thirsty press.

As a Liverpool fan I think this issue has to be addressed from a more logical viewpoint and so have put together a list of ten reasons why Benitez should not be sacked.

  1. There is no other high calibre manager who is currently either out of work or, willing to leave his position at another club to replace Benitez and inherit the mess at Liverpool .
  2. Benitez was the mastermind behind the greatest comeback of all time in the 2005 Champions League final against AC Milan. Trailing 3-0 at half time, Liverpool were looking dead in the water. Benitez must have pulled out an inspirational team talk similar to that of Al Pacino in the film Any Given Sunday as the Reds eventually won the match on penalties after a thrilling second half comeback.
  3. Added to the triumph in 2005, Rafa’s track record is littered with successes both with Liverpool and with his previous club Valencia. The Reds won the FA Cup in 2006 and finished 2nd in the Premier League last season, just four points off the Champions Manchester United.
  4. One good thing about Rafa is that he does not seem to get on with the owners of the club Tom Hicks and George Gillett. This may seem like a reason to sack him rather than a reason to spare him but it is certainly my view that the American owners should be replaced and that it is their lack of funding to improve the squad which is to blame for this seasons performances, not Rafa’s tactics.
  5. Benitez has bought a lot of Spanish players during his time at Anfield. Many of whom claimed that Benitez was a huge factor in their decision to sign for the club, sometimes when other big clubs were also chasing them. A certain Fernando Torres illustrates this point very well. If Rafa is sacked then I fear many players may look elsewhere and there is a real risk that the squad would be seriously disrupted.
  6. It has been mooted in the press in recent weeks that Real Madrid are looking to lure Benitez to the Bernabeau to replace under fire coach Manuel Pellegrini. Now, as a matter of principal, do not go giving things to Real Madrid. They do not have the best track record for appointing the right manager but they have been linked to Rafa since his days as a coach there.
  7. This one is nice and short. It became clear last season that Rafa annoys Sir Alex Ferguson, surely he is worth keeping on just for this reason alone.
  8. On the strength of last season’s performances Benitez signed a new, long term deal with the Red’s. This would make it extremely expensive to sack him. Indeed there have been reports in recent weeks that it could cost the club up to £20 million to terminate his contract. Not ideal for a club in our financial situation.
  9. In my view, the reason why Liverpool are having such a difficult start to this season is due to the economic downturn coupled with huge amounts of foreign investment in top flight football around the world. In the Summer Liverpool were forced to accept a bid for Xabi Alonso from the cash rich Real Madrid. When Liverpool received the money it was used to pay off loans taken out by the owners of the club rather than being used to replace playing staff which had been lost, leaving the team short in many areas.
  10. And finally…He has got great facial hair.

All in all, I think I have put forward ten…well, nine good arguments why Liverpool should not sack Rafael Benitez. Having detailed all the arguments above, I remain concerned about tonight’s trip to Lyon and even next Monday’s match at home to Birmingham City. If Liverpool lose both of these matches, I fear we might also be losing a great manager.

By Nick Higgins


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Anyone For Cheese?

The other evening I settled down to watch one of the many films I have bought and subsequently forgotten about. It was ‘Dodgeball’ in which Vince Vaughn and Ben Stiller assemble teams to compete in the National Dodgeball Championships to win a $50,000 cash prize.
In the film, the sport of Dodgeball is discovered through a magazine called ‘Obscure Sports Quarterely’. This got me thinking, what other obscure sports are out there?

During my research I came across a number of weird and wonderful sports including: Conkers, Stone Skimming, Wife Carrying, Underwater Hockey and Extreme Ironing. Bizarrely, the sport I found most intriguing was one I had heard of before, Cheese Rolling.

cheese rolling 2

People chasing cheese (courtesy of

Once-a-year cheese enthusiasts gather at the top of Cooper’s Hill in Gloucestershire and a large wheel of Double Gloucester cheese is set rolling down the hill. Up to 20 competitors then hurl themselves over the peak in an attempt to beat the cheese to the finishing line at the bottom.


The hill is incredibly steep and the rough ground means staying on your feet is nigh on impossible. As a result injuries are very common. Indeed whilst browsing the official Cheese Rolling website, I found some photographs of this years event, next to which was the following caption.

“The 2009 races saw 58 casualties, 11 people were taken to hospital in ambulances, at one time there was a short delay to the competition as all three St John Ambulances were off site. Thirty five of the injured were competitors, four were catchers at the bottom of the hill and nineteen were spectators”

Now, this is all well and good because the cheese-rolling is an annual event in which people from all over the world take part and they do so knowing the risks. But a more sensible voice inside me is crying out why?

Winning the race gets you the cheese. Second place gets you ten pounds and coming in third means you win a fiver. Not exactly what I would call an incentive to haphazardly throw myself down a hill in pursuit of a lump of dairy.

cheese rolling

Injuries are common (courtesy of

Cheese Rolling seems like one of those games when a mate turns to you and says, “How much would I have to pay you to leg it down a steep hill and try to beat the cheese to the bottom, knowing full well you cannot stay on your feet and there is a good chance you will break your neck?” Well, I am certainly not interested in the cheese and I can assure you that I would want more than a tenner.

Even more obscure than chasing cheese?

Cheese rolling comes close to winning the title of the World’s strangest sport but I think one other just pips it to the post, Bog Snorkelling.

I found the Bog Snorkelling website after telling an Australian friend about this blog entry. In relation to bog snorkelling, he said proudly “It’s massive in Australia!”

The website details all you wish to know about bog snorkelling, training regimes and rules. Essentially it started when a small group of people went swimming in a boggy trench in Wales with a snorkel and flippers.

One thing I have learned from researching obscure sports, is that there is a whole world of them out there. When I first found out about these sports, a lot of them seemed like banter gone a bit too far but after researching further I found that all of them have world championships. This shows that some people must really care. To these people I say, fairplay to you.

Doing something that has been done by so few before you is a success whichever way you look at it. It may be a far cry from Premier League football or a Wimbledon final but the existence of obscure sports gives everyone the potential to become world champion. And have a bit of fun in the process. Even if it means risking life and limb in pursuit of cheese.

By Nick Higgins

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