Jun 14

What is wrong with mainstream and alternative media? (Advanced)

imagesWhat is wrong with mainstream and alternative media today? I’ll try and give it to you in a word or lack thereof in today’s realm of fast, real-time and dynamic media. OBJECTIVITY.

When I did my Master’s degree, I learned the value of presenting a balanced argument. The idea was not to simply persuade your readers as to one viewpoint or the other. Your job as a professional, independent and academic writer, was to research the facts and to present both sides of the argument, from which you (the reader) could inform yourself and your draw your own conclusions.

This is exactly what is missing today. From both sides of the spectrum, be it mainstream media, social media, the press core or alternative media; we are presented with undeniable truth and fact that appear to be anything but. We are bombarded with information, which is presented and slanted to direct you to one conclusion. The problem with this approach of course is that…

When everybody thinks the same, we are no longer thinking.

What then is objectivity? Is it simply being independent and unbiased?

It actually goes a little further. It’s also about what media outlets choose to cover and not discuss. It’s about removing yourself from the equation and being able to take a step back from your own viewpoint. I regularly watch the BBC for example, and I also watch RT, whereby I compare and contrast issues that both media organisations cover. Both are state owned. Both portend to be professional, neutral and putting across a unbiased and impartial view according to ‘guidelines’.

However, one only has to count the number of anti-fracking articles on RT to see that Russia is clearly threatened by energy independence and is anything but impartial. As much as I personally might dislike the idea of fracking technology and the potential environment damage, if it could be proven to be safe, then naturally we should look at it, analyse it and base any new project development on these facts. There are examples in the US of successful co-existence in projects between farmers, oil extractors, and local communities but these will almost never get a mention by RT. Have a read through a variety of RT’s fracking articles and you will quickly pick up how the reporting lacks total objectivity and is pushing a clear narrative. http://rt.com/search/news/term/fracking/

The BBC also found itself it hot water over its seemingly biased coverage of the Scottish vote for independence. That said, at least the BBC acknowledged the issue on their own website but to just compare how different the coverage was just have a look at the two very different viewpoints.

Alternative media isn’t much better at times. Take http://truthinmedia.com/ for example. I don’t think I can find one positive article about the U.S. administration or any administration actually doing anything right. Now, think outside the box. How is that actually possible? Surely, some parts of a government administration must be doing something right or positive somewhere. As much as I respect Ben Swan for his investigate journalism and style, it is still typical of the alternative media styles that present mainstream media and government as completely incompetent. Whilst that actually may be true, the lack of objectivity (choosing to only cover negative topics) doesn’t allow us as readers to be independently informed or make up our mind without subscribing to that point of view.

Some popular misconceptions in mainstream and alternative media.

  • Russia is always wrong and the west is right. In reality, Russia is as it always been. Indifferent to the west, and protecting its interests as we do ours.
  • Terrorism from the Muslim world is a great danger to us. In reality, we are a far greater danger to them.
  • Mainstream media is biased and not bipartisan. In reality, all media is state owned, even RT and Iran’s PressTV, so none of them are truly independent. Associated Press is about as good as it gets.
  • Greece is responsible for its situation and bringing down Europe. How on earth can a six-month old government be held accountable and responsible for 40 years of criminal lending and spending, done by former officials and international institutions?
  • History is always written by the winners. We have archaeology for a reason. To establish fact.

I could write another several pages on this rather complex and huge issue today in the information age in which we find ourselves – whereby we want truly independent, neutral and unbiased reporting. Basically, we want to see it and tell like it really is, not how it’s perceived and sold. Somewhere between the left and right lies truth and objective knowledge. To allow us to get there though you have to present both sides of the argument.

May 04

Berlin to surpass London for Tech startup capital by 2020 (Medium)

startupWell it didn’t take long for somebody to start speculating when Berlin might surpass London for tech startups. Although I agree that the Berlin tech startup scene will continue to grow and do well, I am somewhat more conservative when it comes to overtaking London.

Back in 2013 to 2014, tech startups in Berlin totalled some 145 versus 187 in London over the same period. A 28% difference in London’s favour. Source: http://edukwest.eu/london-berlin-lead-european-startup-scene/

Now, some are speculating that Berlin will surpass London to take the number spot in Europe for new tech startup enterprises. Source: http://startuphook.com/venturecap/startup-capitals-london-vs-berlin/1109/

As a Berliner for almost 10 years, I remain skeptical of this claim for a couple of reasons. Yes Berlin remains relatively cheap compared to its peers, but it’s not as cheap as it was with rent and living costs of some central Berlin areas rising by as much as 100-150% in the past five years. Take Freidrichshain or Kreuzberg for example.

Secondly, there is still a big difference in language and communication skills, which tends to go both ways as a positive and negative, albeit with it tipping slightly in London’s favour. Being able to write and speak well in English can be the difference between presenting a successful business plan to international investors and getting the time of day to do so.

Lastly, German financiers remain somewhat fiscally conservative when it comes to doling out funds to tech starups and supporting their business plans. London remains more financially supportive and less risk averse.

The German government also tends to be quite famous for paperwork, bureaucracy and regulation. One needn’t look further than the trouble Uber has had launching its private taxi service in Berlin.

Still with all those considerations, Berlin’s tech startup scene looks set to continue to grow, and with some interesting innovation, may overcome some of the challenges mentioned above. To overtake London though might take a lot longer than five years and some much greater effort to simplify startup processes and access to funds.


Apr 19

Does your second language sound good?

soundoffSometimes we reach levels of fluency in a language where we run into roadblocks or repeat the same mistakes over and over without addressing the issue or dealing with the root cause of the problem. We may not even be aware of what the problem is.

I often find myself explaining to my Business English clientele and other trainers that language learning should be more like a child learns how to speak. Often we focus on grammatical exercises, rudimentary frameworks and what is considered to be best or usual practice without thinking about what might still be missing. Sure, you can make and see progress with these traditional methodologies, but what if something more fundamental was blocking our participants’ and our own potential to learn.

To that end, I have been studying the sounds that my four month old twins have been making and conducting research into what I term ‘predictive learning’. I am not sure if what I am discovering here has an official term but having kids has definitely allowed me to prove more pointedly what I have always suspected about language learning. And that is quite simply, that language is innate (angeboren).

In principle, it is a skill that all of us have and that anyone can do. It is code that needs to be unlocked rather than learned and the deep mysteries about how to do this go far beyond what I can write about today. However, here are some interesting facts that I have discovered on my linguistic research journey into ‘The origins of language learning’ that support this direction.

1. All children, no matter what language their parents speak, learn language much the same way.

2. When babies are born, they can make and hear all the sounds in all of the languages in the world. That’s about 150 sounds in about 6500 languages! However, no one language makes use of all 150 sounds.

3. These sounds are called ‘Phonemes‘ and English has about 44 (more in different regions). German has about 58 ‘Phoneme‘ of note (give or take). Source: How Do Children Learn Language?

So, as a B1 German learner struggling myself to improve fluency and grammatical structure, I decided to test out ‘How my German sounds’. I sat down with another German native speaker and practiced reproducing all of the German Phonemes in the list above. I had a problem with 17/58 and more than several errors in 4/58 (from this original 17). In future, I plan to run the same phonetic tests on some English learners and to write about these results and how useful the exercises are.

The results I obtained above gave me an insight into where my linguistic roadblocks are and what I need to focus on. It also explained to me how local Germans could detect I was an English speaker despite speaking perfect German and why some students could not understand some German words I was pronouncing or translating. I simply had not mastered the art of this most basic and essential skill and was repeating the same mistakes without addressing the root cause.

This might all sound very elementary but an awareness of any problem is the first step to dealing with an issue. The quote below highlights the challenge for young learners and equally new adult beginners.

Young students often have difficulties letting go of the letters and just
concentrating on the sounds in the spoken word.

For a little bit of fun and to illustrate the point further how important sounds are – watch this YouTube video on Skwerl. It’s how English sounds to other people (that don’t speak English) when you mix up the sounds.

So in addition to your tense tables, grammatical exercises and business coursebooks – you might also want to double check how your English or German sounds. You could also write down words you have problems with and check them against the list of phonemes above to see if it shows you mistakes that you make repeatedly.