What’s in the bag? #mojoconedc

Glen Mulcahy’s MojoCon – that’s the mobile journalism conference – is running a very cool competition in the build-up to the event, asking journalists to show the contents of their mobile kit.

Now, some of the rigs being shown are seriously impressive, with thousands in gear – but here’s what I get by on as a digital scribbler on a personal budget.

Bag contents, numbered for reference
Bag contents, numbered for reference.

Basically, I’m not a professional TV broadcast journalist, so my bag needs to cover web production – basic photo, video, audio, copy-filing, internet and call recording.

Not pictured is my photo equipment – except for the tripod, which I only lug around when I know I’ll need it.

What’s all this, then?

1 – iPad: Self explanatory, really. I don’t carry a laptop, as an iPad weighs far less. I sold my MacBook Pro after I built a custom media / gaming PC a few years ago, and I haven’t missed it. Unless you need to use specific software mandated by work, tablets can do almost everything for you on the go.

2 – Incase Origami and wireless keyboard: The Incase is beautiful. It’s a cover for the official Apple bluetooth keyboard that folds into a stand, transforming the iPad into a great writing device. But it can be left behind when you know you won’t need to write.

3 – iPad charger: Handily also charges the iPhone with a lightning connector, meaning I only need to carry one.

4 – Microfibre cloth: For lenses, screens, and the glasses on my head.

5 – Shoulderpod S1: A brand new addition, but I already love it. The Shoulderpod is a smartphone mount for any phone that acts as a tripod attachment, desk stand, and a handy freehand filming rig with wrist strap. Very well designed.

6 – iPhone 6: The heart of the operation. A much-needed upgrade from the 4S, encased in an Otterbox Commuter case.

7 – Olympus WS-650S and TP-8 pickup: This ageing warrior has been with me since college. I’d love to upgrade to a better audio recorder, but with its stereo microphone, this guy does just fine in most situations for recording external audio for video, or just for notes.

The TP-8 in-ear pickup is great for phone conversations, too – recording both sides of any call when placed in the ear.

8 – Victorinox ‘climber’ model: Because having a pocket knife is really darn handy.

9 – Pen and paper: Again – handy. The Pilot G2 is a damn good pen, by the way.

10 – Slik Able 300 DX tripod: Extremely optional. This tripod comes from my DSLR photo gear, and it’s not very mobile. It only gets carried over the shoulder when I know I’ll need it – when I’m specifically going out to do video or photo work. I really need to get around to buying a lightweight gorillapod etc.

My other photo gear isn’t really brought out that often – a Nikon D80 (anicent, I know) SB-800 speedlight, 18-135mm, 50mm 1.8, and 70-300 VR.

The point is, I may not own a huge amount of expensive gear, but this small bag covers everything I might need to do well enough. Minimalism is important!

PS – taking a photo of your own smartphone is a bit of a logistical problem.

Primary database now not compulsory, but they’ll pull school funding

Quick update to my previous post on the Primary Online Database:

Simon McGarr tweeted this photo yesterday of a letter from the Department of Education secretary saying that – despite all the documentation to the contrary – it is not compulsory to register your child on the database.

However, if you refuse, the school will lose funding for that child because they won’t be registered for grant purposes.

If you do not consent to your child’s data being entered on POD, then you should inform our school in writing that you do not wish to have your child’s data entered on POD.

However … this may have funding and teacher allocation issues for your school going forward.

Essentially, the department will punish schools for any parent who doesn’t comply.

This also makes very little sense given the existing training material which makes clear to schools they must input every child, using the mother’s maiden name if PPS numbers are not provided, and that (some) schools have already input the information if they have it.

Another indication, I feel, that this project hasn’t been fully thought through.

Another good read on the topic – it seems that students will be able to request removal – but only when they turn 18 and are adults, and it may be refused.

Facebook’s 800lb gorilla – 2014 media developments

What are all the big players doing in the media business?

I was catching up with podcasts at the gym and finally got around to listening to journalism.co.uk’s round-up of 2014 developments in the media business.

It’s very good.

The interviewees are the head of innovation journalism, City University London, senior writer at GigaOm, and the social media editor at the The Wall Street Journal. Here’s a fantastic little gem from their section on Facebook’s growth:

The biggest issue is … Facebook is this giant, 800-pound gorilla. They get to determine which content you see and which you don’t see, and they don’t tell you why or how…

It’s the biggest catch-22 in media right now – you cannot avoid Facebook – it has a billion people – and it’s got huge levels of engagement … but the more you deal with it, the more value you’re transferring to [it].

Facebook owns all the printing plants, all the satellites, all the trucks and all the news stands, and all the boys who sell papers in the streets.

That’s Mathew Ingram of GigaOm, who concludes that because we’re promoting our best content on social, our audience will end up associating good content with Facebook, not the creator.

It’s well worth a listen in full, as they also cover what business models companies tried out in the past year in a quick summary – the sale of Auto Trader, the Times paywall, and so on.

Registering children: Ireland’s Primary Online Database

EsiNetLoginUpdate 20th January: A department official says it may be possible to refuse, but they’ll reduce school funding if parents do so.

Let’s talk about POD.

If you haven’t heard about it, it is a compulsory database of the personal information of children, including PPS numbers, ethnicity, race and language skills, to be held for decades and shared across State agencies.

Most of which requires zero permission from parents, who are finding out about it this month as schools send letters home.

You can read the finer details in my news report from the start of the week.

Now, this is a big deal.

The Department is convinced they’re not doing anything wrong here, and the Data Protection Commissioner agrees. The two groups sat down last year and hammered things out.

What they decided was:

… information held on POD was deemed by the Data Protection Commissioner as non-sensitive personal data and therefore does not require written permission from parents for transfer of the information to the Department.

Now, that’s with the exception of religion and ethnicity, which the DPC decided was ‘sensitive’ and requires parents’ permission.

But look how easy it is to check up on the religious and cultural background of almost any family you know the name of, from the department’s own training material:

It’s web-based accessible anywhere. In the esinet system, the access for each individual user is set by the local administrator — someone in the school. Does someone with a login to esinet want to check the background to a niece’s new friend? No problem.

(By the way, the Department of Education is paying €1.50 per student for the input process — so will the task be assigned to a volunteer for an extra payment? The union says it’s not a teacher’s job.)

I contacted the Data Protection Commissioner to ask for a copy of their decision — but it doesn’t exist. There was no formal decision, in the sense of the Commissioner issuing a judgement on a complaint — merely a consultation. A spokesperson told me:

There is no formal decision of the Commissioner in relation to this matter…

I can advise that this Office was consulted by the Department of Education and Skills in December 2013 … as a result of that engagement we were satisfied that the Department presented a legitimate and proportionate purpose for requesting to be provided with the data it is seeking, (including the PPSN for which the Department is a prescribed body under Social Welfare legislation).

We are also aware that the Department consulted with other relevant bodies in the education sector in relation to the matter and that it is providing clear information to schools and for parents which is available on its website.

And that’s correct- article 262 of the Social Welfare Consolidation Act 2005 provides for PPS numbers to be accessible by “specified bodies” in schedule five. Schools are one of them.

A sample from the department’s FAQ on parent’s choices.

The department has legitimate reasons for wanting a centralised database — it will eliminate duplicates, make the allocation of grants easier, catch students that never make it to secondary, and generally offer great convenience.

But we’re talking about a lot more than a roll book here. The Department will effectively be creating a database of personal information on every citizen of the state from an extremely early age.

And that’s dangerous.

Solicitor Simon McGarr is a real people’s champion on digital rights, and covered this topic on a couple of radio stations, most recently on Northern Sound.

He’s an expert, and outlines a scenario in which notes on students taken over the school careers — and even mental health assessment history — sits on a database for decades, until a future minister decides it could be useful elsewhere.

It will hold a full, personalised picture of the children in all the primary schools of Ireland, and it intends to hold that data until they’re 30.

Under the Data Protection Act … a party can hold data for no longer than is necessary. This data is being held until primary school students are 30 years old. I just don’t see how that can be anything except considered excessive.

McGarr also deals with the Minister’s recent announcement that she may reconsider the 30-year retention — saying that’s not the entire issue.

A database, once created — it takes almost a revolution in order to erase it. You saw what had to happen in order for Irish Water finally agree not to use PPS numbers it had created …

Institutions hate to let go of data that they’ve collected.

McGarr also points out that some of the information being collected on ethnicity, culture, and language skills don’t enjoy the same strict legal protections that surround similar data in the census (which previous governments obviously felt it was important to protect).

(The remainder of McGarr’s interview contains some interesting information about the pilot scheme, which was not completed in nearly half of schools, and concerns raised by teachers. Listen here).

The other danger is that the Department fully intends to share the data it’s collected with other agencies — and there’s little information about what will or could be done with it.

Ordinarily, your PPS number is assigned at birth, but it’s rarely used until it’s needed for employment, social welfare benefits or other largely grown-up activities. Under this new scheme, schools will collect a whole range of very personal information from children, who cannot give consent themselves (and whose parents are not given a choice to consent or not).

This database, of every citizen under 30, will be shared with other state bodies — including the Central Statistics Office, the National Council for Special Education, the Child and Family Agency, Department of Public Expenditure and Reform, and Department of Social Protection; and it could potentially include other schedule five bodies like Revenue, the Health Service Executive, local authorities, and many others (but is not currently planned to).

What happens to information shared with those bodies when today’s children turn 30?

We don’t know — or at least it’s not clear to me.

Minister Jan O’Sullivan, by William Murphy -CC / Wikimedia Commons.

This is essentially an issue of trust — not only in the ethics of those deciding what to do with this information, but in their ability to safeguard it. Consider that in 2012 there was a significant security breach that allowed regular internet users to access students’ personal records.

Most parents have found out about this in the last few weeks, as letters started arriving in the door. They’re being told there is no opt-out — and much of the data collection is already done, since existing data the schools have is included in this database — even though it was provided by parents for a totally different purpose.

This entire issue has had almost no debate or public consideration. The Department decided it was a good idea, checked if it was legally permissible, and ran with it.

But when we’re effectively talking about monitoring children who lack the capacity or legal grounding to object, we have a responsibility to be much more careful.

The creation of a database of every citizen, year by year, is a scary thing — particularly when it’s tacked on to an existing web-based, accessible-everywhere site.

For a country who was up in arms about PPS numbers used by Irish Water, there’s been virtually no debate about this.

Perhaps we should change that.

This article was cross-posted to Medium earlier today.

Work: Trinity Today


If you’re a Trinity graduate, you might have received a copy of the alumni magazine in the post. I’ve two pieces worth reading – a profile piece with Stuart Coulson, Dublin-born entrepreneur and angel investor who made his fortune in the online travel business, and another with Paul Johnston, on the future of engineering.

Trinity Today is a great little project – they hire alumni to write the pieces, which is a wonderful money-where-your-mouth is gesture.

You can find an online edition of the magazine here.

Story geography

Think of a story as a piece of terrain with varying topography.

Over there, in the thickets to the west, workers are striking a key industry; the good reporter travels there briefly to tell part of their tale from their turf.

To the east, on the city on the plain, managers are planning countermeasures. The reporter visits, again briefly, to tell us what they see from their office windows.

The rest of the time, he spends on the snowy summit of Mount Objectivity, apart from the action but able to view it in a general way.

… but if a latecomer finds the high ground occupied, it only makes sense that he move to another, different vantage point.

—William E Blundel, The Art and Craft of Feature Writing, p.13
Photo Credit: twiga269 ॐ FEMEN via Compfight cc

Time for a refresh

It’s been over three years since I last did a refresh of my online identity – and things have changed a lot.

I’ve moved to WordPress from my ExpressionEngine install. EE is very powerful, and great for what I originally bought it for – learning to build HTML and CSS from scratch.

But I don’t blog with any frequency any more, and I don’t have time to build custom pages and sites whenever something needs a refresh or update.

WordPress – ubiquitous, free, easy WordPress – is the obvious solution.

I’ve a whole host of semi-embarrassing blog posts stretching all the way back to 2008 which I’ll import from the old database soon.

In the meantime — the blank slate is refreshing.

How to enjoy reading magazines

How to read this magazine instructionsInside the Story, a great magazine from digital journalist-turned-producer Adam Westbrook, has just released its fourth issue – the last this year. It contains, like the other issues, this wonderful reminder at the front that attentive reading is a very different thing from enjoying a novel or flicking through Buzzfeed.

With the decline in popularity of RSS readers and blogging, and the current trend to easy clicks and short-form content, this kind of bold announcement that you’ll need to pay attention is nice. It’s essentially a big call-to-action, and sets the tone nicely for a publication that covers some interesting ideas in depth.

The series as a whole is very much worth your time. The initial concept is usually online for free here, which features wisdom from some of the English language’s best digital storytellers (but seems to be down right now).

The real meat, though, is in the four-part magazine series. I encourage you to pick them all up, but trying out issue one on the use of narrative structure in non-fiction storytelling is a cheap way to test the waters.

Check it out.

Video: Kodaline Album launch in Dublin

I’ve been keeping up with my attempts to improve my video editing. Unfortunately, I left the tripod at the office. This video was shot on a single handicam with no tripod – using my wallet and notebook as supports – and the audio was recorded on an iPhone.

Everything was synced up in Adobe Premiere Pro, and I added a few shots of the scene to cover up the clumsier movements.

Quick and dirty but did the job – that false start actually took about five minutes to sort out.

Help me Write narrows ideas down to the ones your audience wants to read

Here’s the scenario: you’ve two great ideas ready to go, and limited time. Both deal with your area of expertise, but one is a straight feature to educate and inform your audience with useful content, and the other is a personal essay about your experiences battling a problem your audience can relate to.

Which one do you go for – straight and reliable, or personal and risky?

If you’re anything like me, you’ve got lots of writing ideas, but you’re not always sure which ones will fly with your audience.

Enter Help Me Write from Makeshift, a cool product design studio in London. They’ve tried to solve that problem by connecting authors and audiences and ask: do you want to read this?

The process is simple: you dump your ideas to your Help Me Write profile page with a well-written first paragraph, like on you’d send to an editor with a query letter, and then share that page to your social profiles, your blog – wherever your audience lives.

Then, they just click ‘I’d like to read this’. No messing around collating repsonses from your Twitter feeds, just pure, democratic expressions of interest.

Help Me Write Interface


Assuming you’ve got some feedback, once you write the piece, you’ve got a pre-existing audience ready to read it. It’s an extension of the technique you often see with feature writers on Twitter who drop tidbits about their current projects to whet a reader’s appetitie.

Obviously, this type of app works best for those who have a large pre-existing audience online. But considering that that’s the goal of every young writer out there these days (or it should be), this kind of app has a pretty bright future.

Big media potential

Imagine the potential to have this feature rolled into big media companies with some of the finest writing styles on earth. What if subscribers had the ability to tell their favourite newspaper that one minor idea from a columnists’ pile grabbed them and they just can’t wait to read it?

That’s what really fascinated me – the idea that media could institutionalise the kind of feedback that social media is so celebrated for.