Sky News is installing Twitter software across its journalists’ computers, as part of plans to encourage more use of social media for newsgathering and reporting. The Tweetdeck application, which allows users to browse multiple Twitter accounts or searches, will be on all staff machines within a month, Julian March, executive producer, Sky News Online, told Journalism.co.uk. Twitter has also been influential in recent changes to Sky News Online’s breaking news strategy. The Sky News account detects when new stories are published online and broadcasts them via Twitter; while the recently launched @skynewsbreak account offers exclusivity for a social media audience, tweeting breaking news stories before they appear on the website. The system will eventually be reversed with @skynewsbreak feeding a breaking news strap across the broadcaster’s website, March said. Twitter isn’t the only social media tool used by Sky journalists, but its versatility from mobile reporting to powering liveblogging, such as this week’s information blog on the heavy snowfall in the UK, make it a must for the team, he explained. Facebook Connect integration for the website ahead of this year’s general election is on March’s wishlist however. The site will also ramp up its use of liveblogging to bring together conversations and news from social media sites with reports from Sky News’ other platforms
A little-known loophole in UK company law is being used by Tony Blair to keep his finances secret, the Guardian can disclose. Blair would normally have to publish company accounts detailing the millions flowing into his various commercial ventures since he stepped down from office in 2007. But he has set up a complicated artificial structure which avoids the normal rule. In effect, he is getting the benefits of running a British company without the drawbacks of unwelcome publicity.
His main vehicle is a so-called limited partnership, christened Windrush Ventures No 3 LP. Thanks to a gap in the Whitehall regulations, this entity is not required to publish any accounts. Such partnerships must normally disclose figures, or face criminal penalties. Blair sidestepped the rules by inserting a second partnership as one of the notional partners, in a way the regulations do not cover.
This second partnership, Windrush Ventures No 2 LLP, is a so-called limited liability partnership, a type of entity only invented in 2000, which the rules have not been updated to mention. The LLP in turn controls Blair’s operating company, called Windrush Ventures Ltd, which runs his Mayfair office in Grosvenor Square. The perfectly legal structures Blair has set up to achieve secrecy are so complicated that they have previously baffled analysts.
They involve 12 different entities, six in the Windrush structure and another half-dozen in a more recent parallel structure called Firerush. Blair’s spokesman told us: “This has been done on the basis of legal and accountancy advice throughout.” He called the structures “simply an administrative vehicle established in order to allow Mr Blair’s office sensibly to administer his different projects”.
One name involved is Blair’s lawyer Alexandra Harle, of solicitors Bircham Dyson Bell. She specialises in setting up various types of partnership. Observers estimate that fees for keeping up such complex structures exceed £15,000 a year. When Blair refused to give any information, the Guardian ran a worldwide online competition as an experiment in crowd-sourcing, to find the best explanation for his schemes.
The winner was crusading accountant Richard Murphy, of Tax Research UK. He identified the small print of the Partnership (Accounts) Regulations 2008 as the key to the mystery. “Memo to Peter Mandelson: this really is an abuse you should stop very soon,” he says.
Murphy adds: “What is it that Tony is so keen to hide that he’ll go to this length and this cost to do so?” While the law requires Blair to publish limited accounts for parts of the Windrush entities, the finances of the master-partnership remain a secret. More than £6m can be seen to have cascaded down from the partnership into other companies. But details of the full revenues remain hidden.
Murphy claims this gives Blair all the advantages of an offshore “secrecy jurisdiction” while allowing him to state, correctly, that he remains a regular, onshore, British taxpayer. There were a large number of other entries to the Guardian competition – rapidly dubbed the Blair Rich Project.
Some responses set out to be witty. Zap Papa, an otherwise anonymous artist, said the name Windrush must be reminiscent of the asinine Ian Carmichael character Stanley Windrush in the 1959 film comedy I’m All Right Jack. “The film had a general theme of intolerance towards trade union activity – quite apposite in regard to the pompous target of your investigation,” Zap Papa said.
Iain Miller said the answer to the question “Who is Blair’s partner?” must be: “He’s in partnership with God.” Others merely took advantage of anonymity to be rude about our former prime minister. But more dedicated, and sometimes far-flung online readers spotted unexpected facts in the small print of the posted documents.
From China, a computer programmer, Joe Gittings, unearthed Blair’s brief flirtation with the law firm Rosenblatts before he moved on to Bircham Dyson Bell. Rosenblatt’s address was listed on early Companies House filings. Jonathan Metliss, a Rosenblatt lawyer at the time, was a friend of Cherie Blair’s confidante Martha Greene.
Another novel fact unearthed by an anonymous online researcher was that Windrush registered a domain name for the Low Carbon Capital Fund. This is a hitherto unknown project of Blair’s, yet to achieve lift-off. Other accountants and tax advisers speculated that Blair might have been contemplating going offshore were he to become EU president.
One particularly cynical entrant suggested that Blair might have been relieved of large fees by crafty financial advisers, in return for an unnecessarily complex structure. But Murphy’s entry proved to be the only concrete suggestion which stood up to detailed technical scrutiny.
If you need further evidence that social media is here to stay in the corporate world, look no further than Telstra, the Australian telecom giant.
The 40,000+ person company makes social media training mandatory for its employees and formalized a policy of “3Rs” – responsibility, respect and representation. Taking things a step further, today the company is trying something about as transparent as it gets – publishing their entire social media training guide online, so that anyone can check it out, learn and critique.
We got a chance to take a look at the guide, which takes the form of a comic book but also includes narration from a speaker (in a cool Australian accent too). It starts with the very basics – like “what is Facebook” – but eventually moves into much more complex issues like “what if my [personal] blog post is critical of Telstra?” To-date, the company says that 12,000 of its employees have completed the course.
Speaking of the decision to publish it on the Web, Telstra says that “while this communications environment has risks for corporate entities and individuals alike, we believe that with the right training and policy support the potential benefits far outweigh the risks … We have decided to open up this course to the scrutiny and feedback of the ‘outside world’ as it may assist other organisations and help raise the level of awareness about social media with staff.”
Clearly, it’s a bold move by Telstra that will leave them open to plenty of criticism, but ultimately we think it’s a smart one that should foster a lot of conversation in the space. The tool itself is also very well put together and highly interactive – give it a whirl and let us know what stands out to you in the comments
|An arcade game that allows people to vent their anger at bankers has proved so popular the owner keeps having to replace worn out mallets.Inventor Tim Hunkin introduced “Whack a Banker”, which is based on the older “Whack a Mole” game, at his arcade on Southwold pier in Suffolk. Instead of players hitting pop-up moles with a mallet, within a set time, the target is pop-up bald figures. Mr Hunkin said the game was “proving very popular”.
“I keep having to replace worn-out mallets,” he said. “The bankers are bald and all look the same because that’s how I think people see bankers, as faceless.” Players, who are promised a “truly rewarding banking experience”, pay 40p to hit as many bankers as they can in 30 seconds. When a customer wins a voice says: “You win. We retire. Thank you very much to the taxpayer for paying our pensions.”
The New York Times has rolled out a product that tries to recreate online the experience of reading a physical newspaper with the Times Skimmer. The Skimmer is quite similar to its Times Reader application, but on the web. It features the visual effects readers experience when they are reading a newspaper. It sorts its articles into sections including “Top Stories”, “World” and “Opinion” as well as “Week in Review” or “Most Emailed”, and presents them all on one screen, with no scrolling. Except the first one, all the articles play an equal role and come with headlines, pictures, and short summaries in a grid layout. In this way, Skimmer introduces an element of chancing upon a story – a piece might get your attention, wiithout you actively seeking it out. Also important is the lack of visible links. With the trick of seeing only one story, the Skimmer focuses your attention on one article. This means readers feel as if they are being informed rather than overwhelmed by information. The NYT is attempting to focusing on what is important under the logic of the web rather than print by making blogs and topics as important as the sections. In addition, it offers a very visible introduction into shortcuts that help navigating the Skimmer.
The Associated Press is partnering with other international news organizations on an online hub where readers can interact with journalists covering the climate talks opening next week in Copenhagen. The page on the social-networking site Facebook is aimed at drawing new readers and getting them more involved with news coverage online. Traditional media outlets have struggled to generate enough online traffic and advertising to replace revenue that’s been lost as readers and advertisers shift to the Web. The goal of the news agencies’ Facebook project — called the Climate Pool — is to produce a central place online to get stories and other content on the Copenhagen conference. Besides links, the agencies will post blog items, lead live discussions between readers and journalists, and take suggestions on what to cover. Also participating in the project are Agence France-Presse, ANP of the Netherlands, APA of Austria, APcom of Italy, Canadian Press, dpa of Germany, Kyodo of Japan, Lusa of Portugal, Press Association of the United Kingdom and RIA of Russia. The project at the United Nations-led conference will incorporate elements of previous AP experiments with social networking and live events