Friday, 19 December 2008

Lampeter University to link up with Carmarthen

It's now been over a week since it was announced that a place very close to my heart, the University of Wales, Lampeter, is set to merge with another West Walian education institution, Trinity College Carmarthen.

Having had time to digest the news and consider my feelings towards the move, as a proud Lampeter Theology graduate I thought I would blog my thoughts.

Although I have been away from Lampeter now for quite some while - indeed I had been out of Wales for two years until I moved to Cardiff this autumn - I must say this move didn't come totally out of left field to me.

Talk of a merger between Lampeter and Carmarthen has been doing the rounds for some time now.

With Lampeter’s financial problems and potential job cuts being spoken about since the summer, discussions about the two institutions joining forces have been taking place for months - and there was even talk of the possibility what the Western Mail described as a ‘Super-University’ between Lampeter, Carmarthen and the two Swansea universities.

After a meeting of minds between the governing bodies of both UWL and TCC last Thursday, it was agreed that the two institutions would look to form a new university.

The veritable paradise that is the courtyard of the Old Building, within the University of Wales, Lampeter. But what does the proposed merger mean for the UK's third oldest university?

As of the 2009/10 academic year, it looks likely that both Lampeter and Carmarthen will be under the same umbrella.

But what does this mean for the two colleges, and how will the link-up benefit each of them?

For a start, with Trinity College recently being awarded university status - having applied for it in June 2007 - a connection with the UK's third oldest university should give them an extra bit of prestige.

As far as Lampeter is concerned, having averted industrial action and job cuts in the summer, their governors hope a link-up with a bigger college in a larger town will help them not only make extra savings but offer their existing and prospective students added value.

However, not everyone is happy.

Their have been complaints to Ceredigion's local newspaper, citing about how a merger might detract from Lampeter's unique charm (although others feel this might be a blessing in disguise), whilst the Lampeter Society - the group representing the college's alumni - has announced it is against an amalgamation of any sort and wants to see UWL continue as an independent institution. They have the support of Lampeter Town Council as well.

So what does it mean to me? Other than it having pretty much knackered the review of the Uni I was writing for Starting University, on the face of it a closer relationship between the two colleges - if not a total merger - does seem to make sense.

When it's all said and done, if it’s done correctly it should ensure that departments and jobs are safe - and in the run up to Christmas, that has to be a good thing.

Thursday, 11 December 2008

Following up on brands and bans by contrasting Howell and Hallam.

Having not identified a stand-out issue raised in last week’s fascinating guest lecture from BBC technology correspondent Rory Cellan-Jones, I thought it would be a good idea to reflect on a theme I have already discussed here.

Firstly, I have to mention last week’s blog about “Journalists being brands”, which referred to how the Birmingham Mail rallied behind their football writer Bill Howell after he was banned from Aston Villa by then-manager David O’Leary.

The blog post has been commented on by both Bill and his Birmingham Mail colleague Colin Tattum, and it is interesting to read their recollection of the O’Leary affair and their thoughts on how Bill was treated.

Writing an article about football reporters getting banned from the clubs they cover has turned out to be quite a topical subject.

In the time since I last blogged, it transpires that the Derby Evening Telegraph’s Neil Hallam, who is amongst their team of Derby County reporters, has found himself on the wrong side of a similar banning order from the club (on clicking the link you’ll need to scroll down a bit).

Derby Evening Telegraph football reporter Neil Hallam has been banned from covering Derby County games after writing numerous critical columns about the club's owners.

Apparently the reason for Hallam’s ban from reporting at Pride Park is a result of him writing a number of critical opinion pieces highlighting the mystery surrounding investment made in the club by County’s new owners, General Sports and Entertainment (GSE).

However, in stark contrast to how the Birmingham Mail gave Bill Howell their full backing during his short-lived ban from Villa Park in 2006, the Derby Evening Telegraph has not been so supportive of Hallam.

His weekly Derby County column (which was published every Thursday) has been axed by the Evening Telegraph, and reports say that this comes after Rams officials had complained to the paper that Hallam had been trying to “destabilise the club” due to his regular questioning and criticism of GSE (again, you need to scroll down to the first bold bit when clicking the above link).

I’m sure that losing his column isn’t the end of the world for Hallam – who also works for the nationals, covering football in the Daily Mail and cricket in the Daily Telegraph – but it will be interesting to see how this story develops.

As with what happened to Bill Howell, the Neil Hallam affair raises some pointed questions about the freedom of the press, especially when it comes to reporting on sport.

I find it troubling that a journalist can be silenced so easily after posing what would seem to be a number of, if perhaps uncomfortable, perfectly legitimate and legal questions.

Challenging the views of a football manager, who in all likelihood won’t be around at that club forever, is one thing.

It would appear that taking a group of multimillionaire investors to task is quite another.

Wednesday, 3 December 2008

Do the Birmingham Mail view Bill and others as brands?

Rick Waghorn, founder of the exciting project, on visiting Cardiff last week made a point of telling us “journalists are brands”.

It is perhaps a forthright view but one I agree with.

During his 13-year tenure as Norwich City correspondent for the Norwich Evening News, he told us that for many Canaries-daft readers, he was their football writer. In fact, for many of these, he was the only writer whose work they read full stop.

He went onto ask those of us who are fans of sports teams who “our football writers” are. In responding to a Birmingham-based student, he referred to the Birmingham Mail’s Birmingham City reporter Colin Tattum.

It was interesting to hear “Tatts” get a namecheck, as it is actually a chain of events surrounding a Birmingham Mail colleague of his that led me sharing this view of journalists being brands.

For the Claret and Blue half of the UK’s second city, Bill Howell is “their football writer”.

Having worked for Trinity Mirror’s West Midlands newspapers for ten years, Bill has been covering Aston Villa for the Mail since the 2000/01 football season.

Fast forward five and a half years, and to the culmination of the 2005/06 campaign.

Villa lie 16th in the Premier League table, and perilously close to the relegation zone.

Their boss David O’Leary is under great pressure to keep Villa up and retain his job in the process.

After a number of understandably negative critiques, in late March 2006 the Irishman banned Howell from reporting on the club.

O’Leary claimed that Howell had a “vendetta against me” and that he was “trying to undermine me and the football club”.

Birmingham Mail football correspondent Bill Howell and former Aston Villa manager David O'Leary side-by-side. But when the two clashed, you might be surprised to discover which of them came out on top.

So, going into the final two months of a crucial campaign, the Birmingham Mail are lacking a Villa correspondent able to attend club press conferences or games at Villa Park. What do they do?

You might say it would be easy to dump Howell and bring in someone else to cover the Villa in these final few months.

But what actually occurred was the very opposite.

The Mail stuck by their man, with editor Steve Dyson stoutly defending Howell in editorials.

Howell himself soon became a Midlands media magnet, being invited onto a number of broadcast platforms including ITV Central’s ‘Soccer Night’ to state his case and defend his position.

Many fellow journalists from different organisations (such as BBC Radio WM football commentator Mike Taylor) leapt to his defence too.

Even the fans, already dissatisfied with O’Leary’s management, sided with “their football writer” over “their football manager”.

To this day some still refer to Bill as being the man who “saw through O’Leary for the charlatan that he is.”

After the initial media storm, Bill’s ban was revoked and you could even say that in some small part the affair was one of many contributing factors in bringing down the curtain on O’Leary’s Villa reign in July of that year.

Whether the Birmingham Mail would have been as supportive of one of their writers had he or she clashed with a manager popular with the fans and generally deemed to be successful, as opposed to one as unpopular as O’Leary, remains to be seem.

But I think what this cautionary tale shows is that, even in these times where journalists are sometimes seen as being expendable, a reporter like Bill Howell was seen as being much more than just a faceless nobody who could be replaced without anyone batting an eyelid.

Plenty of people were willing to speak up for “their football writer” when they felt he had been wronged.