Tag Archives: media

Which news app?

If, like me, you are a news and current affairs junkie and you like to be in the know most of the time, then here’s a stroll through my favourite news apps of the moment. I’m an iPadder, so all apps reviewed are from the Apple store, though I’m sure there are Android alternatives for most of these. I’d love to hear back about any others I should try. There’s a distinct lack of major US news agencies simply because I’m trying to escape wall-to-wall coverage of their next election for as long as possible. So here in no particular order…


imageAs with all news outlets, whether or not you like or trust them depends on how you perceive their editorial bias. The Beeb, from what I observe, comes in for more than its share of stick being labelled too this or too that, too pro, too anti on almost any issue it reports on. That said, it still commands a huge amount of respect and credibility due to its sheer history, size and global network of correspondents.

Their recently relaunched app now includes a ‘My News’ section, enabling you to select your particular areas of interest and then displaying the top stories in those sections on one page after the Live Feed and Top Stories. After that you can drill down and more areas of interest, which are then added to a top menu bar for ease of access. If you allow notifications, you will get breaking news alerts but one point here is that the BBC tend not to be first with breaking news preferring to have stories verified before they issue and alert. In terms of look, I can’t help feeling that it’s too close to CNN and not in a good way but it is a must have among my staple of apps and my most often referred to.
The app is free to download and use or well I guess we pay to use it through the TV Licence Fee but at a fraction of a fraction of the cost of other apps. That said…considering all the other apps reviewed here are at absolutely zero cost that makes the BBC news app the most expensive in this array, bar the next one…
Rating: 4/5

SKY News

imageAgain, Rupert Murdoch-owned Sky might not be your thing but they are one of the speediest news agencies at releasing reliable breaking news alerts and for that reason mainly, their app is part of my collection. When massive major news stories break, Sky do tend to focus all their energies on them while other news agencies will flit around on to more stories so if you can’t get enough of a major event of concern, Sky is worth having. Visually I find it quite messy and haphazard to use and there is no facility to filter-off areas of specific personal interest. The app is free to download by everyone but only free to use if you are already a Sky TV subscriber. If you are not, then a monthly usage fee of around £5.00 applies and that’s a big negative to me.
Rating: 2/5

France 24

imageFrance 24’s English language service is growing in terms of the attention I give it. They are available in the UK now as a TV service, at least the English service is. Online, they are available in French and Arabic too. The English service is fronted by an array of presenters from the UK, Ireland, Australia, South Africa, and North America and they cover global news from a French perspective. You will find more coverage of European news than we get in the UK plus an emphasis on regions of the world that were formerly French colonies, mostly Africa and the Mid East. If you allow notifications, you will get news alerts from them and in my opinion they are often the first and fastest alongside Agence France Presse (AFP) with reliable breaking news. On opening the app, you will be taken straight to the English live video feed and very minimalistic menu of content options to the right and bottom of the live feed leading you to their top stories, sport, business, a compressed news bulletin and the weather highlights from across the globe. A hidden right side menu which, will open as you touch the button to the top left of the Live Feed gives you the option to drill further into news articles and a ‘favourites’ section to select specific areas of interest to you plus you can link into their Twitter feed to see what they are talking about or who conversing with there. The app is free to download and use.
Rating: 4/5


imageDepending how you use your Twitter account (if you have one), this can be one of the most interesting and immediate of all news apps (even though it is social media and not specifically news) but there is a deal of caution here. I don’t use my Twitter account to make friends or gather followers. I mainly use it to follow news and current affairs from as wide a perspective as possible in a language I understand and that means following news agencies on either side of political, cultural and conflict divides. So, for example I will follow Western English-language news agencies as well as Russia Today or the Chinese English service. I follow Israeli news agencies and the Iranian or Arab state broadcasters but I draw the line with ISIS scum. In doing so you can get some fascinating insights into differing geographical perspectives and emphases on news and very often hear about news stories not being covered in the UK. I also like to follow individual journalists and particular regional correspondents. While they are always careful in what they say so as not to give the impression that their views represent their employers, you can get fascinating insights into their personal perspectives and sometimes amusing banter between them. The most graphic content can be found in what they report on Twitter first hand from frontline situations, even describing violence and disaster around them with a blow-by-blow immediacy you don’t always see, hear or read when their reports are made public by their agencies. The big caution with Twitter is that it can also be the biggest rumour mill on the planet so caution is needed with breaking news unless from a reliable source. The Twitter app is free to download and use but you will need to set up a free Twitter account (and then spend a good year or so learning how to use it!).
Rating: 3/5

Reuters TV

imageThis is a new app on the market I’m still trying to get used to. Reuters claim to have created it for people who have switched out from watching live broadcast news for whatever reason. It’s a very simple app to use from one of the world’s most reliable and oldest news agencies. Essentially, you tell the app how much time you have to consume the essential news stories of the day – 5 minutes or 10, 15, 20 up to 30. The shorter time you allow and the app will deliver the top stories in video format on to your screen as a playlist of that time length. You can either just hit the play button and the app will play through all the stories in sequence of if you are more picky, you can choose from the playlist just those stories you are interested in. The longer you allow for your news the more diverse the news stories Reuters will provide. Over time based on monitoring your behaviour in the news stories you choose to view or avoid, the app will start to deliver more content it thinks you like. Noteworthy features are the ability to watch your content offline, connect to the global Reuters live feeds to consume news as it happens and upgrade to an ad-free version. The app is free to download and use, though there is a charge for the upgrade to the ad-free version. I’ve not been using this app long enough to give it anything other than a rating straight down the middle, though I suspect that might move upwards in time. Very pleasing on the eye.
Rating: 3/5

News 360

imageThis has been around a while and I’ve had it a while and can’t remember now why I took it off my iPad (probably an emergency memory storage issue). Very glad to have it back. It’s free to download and use and once you have it takes seconds to set up by offering you a very wide range of content from Top stories to lifestyle, entertainment, travel and LOADS of niche and specialist subject matter to add to your customised start screen and so the app will only ever serve up the news content you want to see. A sliding home screen will then display your news choices in a pictorial menu by subject matter and you select whatever content you want to read that moment. A really great feature with this one is the facility to link your social media accounts to the app. The app will never post to your social feeds unless you decide you want to share something. You can link with Facebook, Twitter and Google+ (if anyone still uses that) and once you give permission the app will browse through your profile page to see what subject matter you like to post on and then it will offer you content areas taken from what it sees to be your areas of interest for you to add to your News 360 Home Screen. So for me, surprise surprise for all who know me, News 360 offered me Airline news, British Airways, Christianity, gadgets and the Eurovision Song Contest to add to my content choices. Don’t worry, if you spend all your time on social media slagging off that silly cow who lives up the road you can rest assured that cows, tarts or slag heaps will not show as content options for you nor anything of that personal a nature.
Rating: 4/5


imageAnd finally Newsflash, though this has little to do with providing news flashes. This is another new one I’m trying and I can’t say I’m all that impressed at the moment though I need to give it a fair chance. Of all the news apps, this has the most boring look and interface though after Twitter it offers the most varied content and content providers of any apps in this review. It’s free to download and use and you can spend forever scrolling through the content options and media providers. A great feature is that you can mute some of the pre-selected news agencies (ie the Daily Mail for most of my social circuit) plus add others that are not on the pre-selected list. The thing with this app is that because the choice is so wide-ranging, when I go into it I get that same feeling as when I used to go out at lunch time where I worked to buy lunch only to come back to the office empty-handed as there was just too much to choose from and so settle for a bag of chips from Greasy Joe’s across the street instead (which I guess in media terms is the equivalent of settling for 5 minutes doing The Sun crossword instead of consuming something more wholesome).
Rating: 2/5

Meeting Kate Adie

imageI think it would surprise some if I were to say that among the odd more widely known celebs that have walked through the doors of the niche Christian radio station I work for have included: Sky News breakfast anchor Eamonn Holmes, supermodel Linda Evangelista, singer Lulu, former Premiership footballer Fabrice Muamba, TV presenters Gloria Hunniford and Bear Grylls, actresses Sophie Okonedu, Hermione Norris and Roma Downey, actors David Suchet, Martin Sheen and Stephen Baldwin, radio presenters Roger Bolton, Aled Jones and Anthony Davis… There have been many more from the mainstream that are taking worryingly longer than minutes to recall as my mind tries to wander back over the last 18 years.


Not all our guests profess to practising Christianity, but then that’s what I like about our expression of it – that we welcome contributions from different opinions within the faith and from those without and even those opposed and so our guests can be very diverse and surprising.

Just this week I had only my 2nd encounter of meeting someone famous who has deeply impacted my life. It was the briefest of encounters but the pleasure I received from it was all mine to give. I met veteran BBC news correspondent Kate Adie. Kate, for those who don’t know her was one of THE frontline BBC reporters from the real trouble spots in the world in the 1980s and 90s. She is most often remembered in khaki fatigues and bullet proof vest from numerous war zones. I remember her most from her reporting from the scene at Tianenmen Square, Beijing, when the Chinese People’s Army literally bulldozed over kids in the streets in their tanks who were protesting in the biggest popular move the city had seen since the Revolution just for the right to vote for who rules them: the chance for democracy.

I remember the video reports Kate sent back to us in the UK, her voice clearly trembling with a steely determination to suppress her emotion and deliver as a hardened, trained journalist from the evidently distressing scenes around her, much of which was too shocking for her to articulate.

I was living in Sheffield at the time I saw those news reports and remember being so shocked and moved not so much by Kate but by the horror of what she reported on and that in itself is testimony to her professionalism. At the time I made a vow, which I have kept up until this day: that I would never not vote in any election. There have been many times I have been tempted to not do so, such has been my dissatisfaction with our current batch of political animals. Yet each time I have been inclined not to put my X in the box, Kate has popped up in my mind reminding me of the butchered young people who died in their bid to have just that privilege.

imageAnd so this week Ms Adie, an ardent atheist with a Christian heritage, came in to be interviewed about her new book and I asked our Programming guys if I could meet her just for a moment and just to shake her hand and tell her what I have just written here and how her reporting from Tianenmen Square left a legacy on my life up to today. So I met her, shook her hand and told her. I know nothing more about her from our brief encounter other than she looked straight into my eyes with her smiling steely blues and I saw that she was moved.

For a weird and odd moment in that encounter I saw my life in duality: seeing at the same time I was speaking to her, images from China decades ago running through my mind while seeing the silver-haired lady she is today. Seeing me decades ago watching and being moved by those reports not knowing back then that my path and hers would be destined to intersect for a brief moment one day. This time it wasn’t her touching me. It was the other way around.


Cyber violated twice in one day.

It could have been in Mumbai, Bangalore, Jaipur, Chenai or any other of India’s burgeoning ‘silicone cities’. For at least 2 hours today I handed over screen and keyboard control of my Laptop to someone I have never met or spoken to called ‘Siva’ who lives in India…

That’s right:- my personal Laptop complete with my 4 private email accounts, Facebook, Twitter, Amazon, iTunes, Tesco Direct, this Blog, PornULike……

(Kidding. I don’t shop at Tesco)

Why am I blogging about this?  Well I guess it was because of the weird feeling I had today of being voluntarily violated in my most personal space not once but twice in one day.  I’m still reeling from it actually, even though I now have a very healthy and fast and secure Laptop.

It all started when I felt my internet speed at home had slowed.  I’m a Virgin Media customer and they are known and proven to (so far) have the fastest broadband speeds in the UK. They have just been running a saturation level national ad campaign announcing they are boosting broadband speeds even faster.  Imagine my ire then as I can feel mine slowing.

So I go to the online help centre. It’s pretty easy to use. I look up and try some diagnostics.  Then I also note that I can ‘chat’ to a Technical Advisor – a sort of online PC Doctor and get some more advice. So I log in…and meet ‘Siva’.  Before I could ‘chat’ to Siva, I had to download the Virgin Digital Home Help app which not only enabled me to talk to Siva, but also run a ‘health’ diagnostic on my Laptop. I run it. Prognosis: not good. Virgin says I have no anti-virus protection.  But i DO. I have a fully activated McAfee account. I run a McAfee check. Green lights all round.    So how come Siva?

“Hello, I’m Siva your technical Advisor today. How can I help you?” He greets me. “I can run a complete diagnostic on your PC, clean it up and get it running faster for you and also find out why we are picking up that you have no anti-virus protection”. 

“You can?  Ummm…..ok. Wait a minute…I have no anti-virus protection???”

“There is a charge for this and we can add that to your next monthly bill. Are you authorizing me to go ahead?”

“Errm…..OK. Yes.”

“Great! in order to run the diagnostic and clean up your PC I will need to take control of it. Do I have your permission?”

Thoughts flash by.  Take over my PC? As in have a stranger peer into the very secret part of me?  My thoughts, my most recent Facebook posts…even worse my Twitter posts!  Emails in and out Things I have just bought….my payment card details for crying out loud?

“Ok. Yes”

From that moment, Siva was in control. I watched my screen lying on my bed in London while Siva took control of my most personal space from somewhere in India. I took my hands off the steering wheel and watched the cursor fly around the screen as he and not I dictated.  I watched  as he opened up programmes I never knew were there. I had already given him permission to delete anything he saw that might be a security threat to my PC or my personal details.   For nigh on 2 hours I watched his progress. Saw him open files, unclick stuff, delete stuff, refine stuff – all with my permission and all the time he was doing it I could activate the chat box to ask him stuff. OK, yes I could have been doing other things in those 2 hours as Siva suggested. But come on, a stranger in Mumbangalore is roaming around my PC at will? One thing I never saw him do was open Facebook, or Twitter, or email…

There were some impressive security measures in place covering me.  Before the diagnostic session started, Virgin Media told me that by default all such sessions were recorded to protect my privacy…so in other words, Siva’s bosses were watching him and what he was looking at on my computer. The other was that, well, I was watching Siva. I saw every move he made. I didn’t need to. I could have left him to get on with it as he suggested. I could have come back to a finished diagnostic with a summary report in the chat window an hour or 4 later and he did tell me it could take as long as that.

Of course I did not leave the screen for a minute.  My PC and all in it in the hands of a stranger?  I was impressed with what I saw and as I watched him navigate around my PC I found myself learning stuff that I afterwards went back and looked at again.

So the outcome.  A trimmer, faster, de-bugged PC but one that also revealed a problem with my McAfee security that I know I might never have otherwise discovered.  McAfee was not covering me in real-time scanning even though on my PC it was showing I was secure. There was a fault in the McAfee app on my PC

Siva completed his diagnostic and, having alerted me to the McAfee issue, even left the chat session by putting on my screen the page I needed to take the issue up with McAfee.   I clicked on the link and followed things through to……another remote online technician.

“Hello, this is Arjun. I am your technical support assistant for McAfree today. How can I help you?”

I explain the situation.

“Great! in order to run the diagnostic and clean up your PC I will need to take control of it. Do I have your permission?”

Oh yes, I kept a watch on Arjun too (at no cost), though thankfully for a much shorter time but after my session with Siva I was empowered to quiz Arjun when he told me my PC was protected when Siva had told me it was not. I ended up leading Arjun on screen  to the areas Siva told me I needed to alert him to. Once Arjun saw what I was showing him, he immediately initiated a fix, told me I needed to restart my PC and then what to do once I restarted it.

So I now have a smarter, faster and above all totally protected Laptop now.  Was it worth the extra £60 on my next Virgin Media bill?    For me yes. I’m among the IT illiterate mass millions of the world who are increasingly becoming dependent on digital media to live our lives but who have no idea how to maintain of fix it. There’s no car manual for us…only guys like Siva and Arjun who I don’t know and don’t trust but working under the Virgin and McAfee brands that I do trust. None of it is fool-proof as this post reveals but it’s all we, the IT ignorant, have to help us live our lives in this Digital Age…

(Until some rancid, spotty 13-year-old in his bedroom decides to take us all down in a hissy fit over some girl who rejected him because he’s a greasy, spotty jonny-no-mates and so hacks down the world wide web).








iPod didn’t kill the radio star (but the BBC might)

Remember that infuriating 1979 single by ‘The Buggles’ – Video Killed the Radio Star? As it turned out video (or TV for that matter) still hasn’t killed radio as a media of choice but there was a time a few years back that the entire radio industry in the UK thought its days were numbered.  Well, almost the entire industry.

I stumbled unintentionally into working in the radio industry some 17 years ago into what was then a fledgling station founded in 1985 with a pioneering format for commercial radio in one of the most competitive media markets on the planet – London. Unlike many I’ve seen come and go for job interviews at our place, I’ve never wanted to get behind the mic and so apply for any job going in radio in the hope of wheedling my way into the on-air Studio. I have been on-air several times but not by intent.  I have always loved radio from childhood. I may have been one of the youngest followers of the classic BBC radio drama ‘The Archers’  when I remember lying on the top bunk in my shared bedroom with my kid brother Geoff and scrolling through the radio channels on an old beat up battery operated transistor radio at night with just one ear (never had twin earphones in those days). I remember stumbling across this drama and hearing the people in it spilling out their lives for all to hear.   It was a bit like waking up in the night to hear your neighbours in a fight.  I couldn’t see their faces or what they were wearing or what their expressions looked like.   In real life I knew my neighbours and so could have pictured the scene, but the wonder of the radio drama was that I could imagine how they looked.  In fact, I could imagine everything.  What colour hair they had,  the look in their eyes, which way their tears fell, what their bedroom decor was like, what their house looked like even what their entire village looked like or what weather they were experiencing for goodness sake.  That’s the key to my continuing love of radio – it fired my imagination as child and it still fires that side of me today.  That its future as part of our media landscape was under any threat should have caused me to be concerned not only for my living but for my pleasure. But I was never truly that worried.

I attended many industry conferences a few years back that brought public and commercial radio together in a shared concern for our futures versus a common enemy – the iPod. Of course iPod was not the only villain of its kind at the time among the general mix of ‘MP3 players’, but everyone at those conferences knew the awesome potential of Apple’s wonderchild.  Most of us owned one and so we knew how dangerous the enemy was. OK, so I exaggerate a little.  The corporate angst of the radio industry wasn’t all aimed at just one product.  It was at the rise of the digital media age in general and it wasn’t just radio that felt threatened but all media or what we now call ‘old’ media.  The primary cause of our angst was that we, the media, were no longer in control of what the public read, listened to or watched and the iPod summed up in a pocket-sized atom bomb that our days as controllers of what people consumed via the media were over.  With the advent of the Digital Age where ordinary people can choose what media they want when they want and how they want, media schedules became redundant to a large extent.    For commercial media relying on the revenue generated from the ad breaks (ie my livelihood) the forecast was dire. Ordinary citizens could blitz the ads away just as they could pick and choose what they wanted to watch and listen to.  In radio, there was the corporate fear “OMG!  The plebs don’t need us anymore!  They can even create their own radio stations and share their play-lists with each other! We’re doomed! DOOMED! Oh woe WOE!”.   Believe me, it is really not a pleasant experience to be in a conference of radio professionals when there is a corporate wailing and gnashing of teeth going on, especially as many of those teeth are false and tend to drop out and I really don’t want to go into the horrors of public group gum gnashing.

The reason I never felt the corporate fear roots back to my childhood love of the medium of radio, the thing that filled my mind with colour and moving images through hearing the spoken word.    I guess in that sense radio and print are close cousins. Both fire imagination through words whereas TV imposes its images on you.  Where radio and print part company is that print is more selfish and demanding than radio.  As with TV, print demands you drop what you are doing and pay attention to it.  You can’t drive and read or cook and read or iron and read or mow the lawn and read.  You can do all those things and more with radio.  That is the essence to the longevity of radio.  The relationship the listener has with radio is unlike that with any other media.  Radio is almost like a friend.  It can be there burbling in the background when you are busy and wherever you are busy but when you get those rare moments alone when you can ease your shoulders just a bit, radio softly turns up its volume inside you and your mind can be transported elsewhere for a few moments while carrying on with your life.   The radio station I work for has an extraordinarily close relationship with our audience according independent market research. RAJAR (Radio Authority Joint Audience Research) is the current industry standard by which all radio stations have their audiences measured.  It tells us that our listeners tune in for an average 12 hours per week – one of the highest loyalty factors of any British radio station.   Think of what you could do with those 12 hours.  Thing is….we’ve neither demanded or robbed our listeners of those 12 hours. While they have been listening to us, they have also been cooking their meals, finishing their assignments, collecting their kids from school…..

Radio ain’t going nowhere but is here to stay as long as it remains live, creative, intelligent, reactive, warm, friendly, feisty and retains the ability to get inside people’s heads and light the stage on the ‘theatre of the mind we all have within.    Far from killing the radio star, iPod is actually revitalising him more than ever.   An article covered in many sections of the media this week took a look at the top 25 apps of all time downloaded in the UK to date onto iPods, iPhones and the like. At number 7 on the list is an app called TuneIn Radio Pro.  I have this app. It gives me access to hundreds of radio stations around the world. Its potency was never more vivid to me than when I was able to tune in to live radio from New Zealand in the aftermath of the Christchurch earthquake last year and hear the real live grief  from the mouths of the people only being mentioned on the TV as they phoned into their radio stations in droves to  vent their trauma.

All my thoughts so far have been from the viewpoint of a lover of speech radio, not music radio. I’m afraid I don’t really like music radio though I like many of its presenters and if there is any threat to the radio industry I see it more on that side.  Radio is no longer the place you hear new music first and with so many music radio stations around, listener loyalty is virtually non-existent unless you have the best ‘talent’ (the presenters) that can keep itchy fingers off the dial between tracks and adverts.  I love speech radio and of the many presets I have on my DAB radio the only stations on my shortcuts (apart from the one I work for) are BBC Radio 4, BBC Radio 4 Extra, BBC World Service, BBC 5 Live, LBC and talkSport.  Of these, the prince of all radio for me is the World Service.   As someone who is an information addict, there is no other media I know that gives me such an insight on the world out of the headlines. The BBC has more news correspondents spread across the globe than any other news media and it’s the ‘behind the headlines’ reporting that I find so intriguing and enlightening compared to the (many) other news outlets I read, follow, listen to or watch.  It’s my ‘star’ in Radioland yet soon it will undergo a major change in its operation that I’m not looking forward to.  Some may not know this but while the World Service carries the BBC brand, it is not funded by the corporation but by the Government’s Foreign Office.  It is essentially the Government’s PR media across the world broadcasting the voice of Great Britain to the four corners.   That may make some uncomfortable that a media seen by so many across the world as beacon of free speech and all that is good about the UK is a Government tool.  I might share that view if all I heard it broadcast was unquestioning of the UK, but I don’t hear that.  I hear good decent journalism.  The World Service will soon become part of the BBC family proper and therefore under the same management that could potentially ‘dumb’ it down as I have seen creeping into my 2nd love of all radio – Radio 4.  It will also fall prone to the budget constraints that the BBC faces in general as so I await to see how that will play out in the corporation’s continuing claim to have the best network of foreign correspondents all over the world. I guess only time will tell.