Category Archives: Career

One call away from Cambridge

I had a fully-funded Masters offer from Cambridge, but I had to achieve a certain score in my History finals in order to get in.

I didn’t hit the required mark (missed by 2%). So I rang around the other universities on my list, and managed to get into Nottingham – a fantastic place in its own right, and in many ways a more suitable place for me at that time.

A year later, I bumped into the guy who would have been my supervisor at Cambridge and told him this story.

He was shocked: “Why on earth didn’t you call and ask if you could come anyway?”.

Good question. Back then it seemed obvious – someone else set the rules, so I played by them…

Ten years later, I don’t really believe in accepting parameters set by other people. I was told directly by senior colleagues that I had no chance of success when considering my last two jobs. I’m ten years older and maybe twenty years more bloody-minded :)

I may not have gone to Cambridge, but I did learn an awful lot.

+++

More mishaps via the mailing list and @toddmgreen on Twitter.

Late night radio

Every night from age 6 to age 23 I listened to the radio as I went to sleep.

I swung silent punches through Vegas boxing matches on BBC R5. I knew all the words to Caesar’s catchy theme tune on TalkSport. I had nightmares after listening to murder stories on LBC.

The beautiful thing about radio is the connection between listener and presenter. The best make it feel personal. They’re talking only to you.

But this was a concern in the 1930s and 40s: 

Thinkers who pondered broadcasting were attentive to the potential for interchange within large scale communication… Many were fascinated and alarmed by radio’s apparent intimacy, its penetration of private spaces, and its ability to stage dialogues and personal relationships with listeners. The question was often less how radio amassed audiences than how it individualised them.

Radio was dangerous. Same criticisms came later for TV, computers and smartphones. It’s sad to sneer at these concerns. Radio was dangerous because of its power to reach into the mind of the listener and speak to their soul.

So I’ve started some experiments with podcasting (digital radio, it’s the same thing). Nothing consistently great so far but the feeling of connection, of rawness, of direct emotion – that is what you can feel in the best moments. That’s the power, that’s the danger. That’s real radio.

+++

Quote: Peters, J.D. (1996), ‘Institutional sources of intellectual poverty in communication research’, Communication Research 13(4): 527-559, found in Napoli, P.M. (2010), ‘Revisiting ‘mass communication’ and the ‘work’ of the audience in the new media environment’, Media, Culture & Society 32(3) 505-516.

More memories via the mailing list and @toddmgreen on Twitter.

A silent thank you!

Aw yeah, we’ve got to get home in time for Quizmania!

I was dog-tired, jet-lagged after a 24-hour flight, and now I was packed into a late-night train in Melbourne.

I laughed, and the student who had spoken looked at me curiously. I had to explain. I had just flown halfway around the world to spend three weeks with the Quizmania team. At least someone was watching…

+++

In the marble halls of Bush House, the ancestral home of the BBC World Service, there were hundreds of portraits. Each was a black-and-white photo of a single person – world leaders like Mandela, explorers like Randolph Fiennes, cultural heroes like Maya Angelou. And on each portrait was a quote from that person, explaining why the BBC World Service meant so much to them.

Instead of taking the lift, I used to walk up the eight flights of stairs to my team’s office so that I could read those portraits.

+++

Every day on the metro I see people playing Candy Crush Saga. That means I can start work knowing that whatever we do today will affect a real person. It’s not just code and pixels, people really see the stuff we do.

This is a genuine privilege!

I’ve had that privilege several times over – first at the BBC making radio, then at FremantleMedia making TV, and now at King making games.

Every time I see someone playing Candy, I say a silent ‘thank you’ in my head. If that was you this morning – thank you!

+++

More little tack så myckets via @toddmgreen on Twitter.

Darling, You Are One In 107 Billion

Congratulations! You are the 107,000,000,000th human born on Earth!

Click here to redeem your prize*

* Your prize is the BBC article from which I got this estimate.

Why is academia so slow?

In short: academics don’t care. 

Why should they?

Incentives are powerful and for academics, speed is not incentivised.

+++

I worked on an academic paper for 18 months with my co-author, then we submitted it to a journal and it took three months to get a reply, then we took one month to make some fixes, then it was published two months later. Two years in total!

How can academic publishing possibly be so slow? And how can it afford to be slow in fields like the one I’m interested in – media/tech – which changes three times a day and shifts substantially several times a year?

I wanted to know, so I asked.

Five media academics gave me the same answer (‘That’s just the way it is’), but the sixth told me something different:

Academics don’t care about publishing fast. We aren’t trying to get products to market, unlike you guys in industry. We’re working to a different timescale – identifying long-term changes is the aim, and getting published is the key to success. Yes, academic publishing is slow. But so what? Academics don’t need to be first, so we don’t need to be fast. So in a sense we just don’t care.

So long as the academic reward system is tied to publishing through traditional channels, there’s little incentive for academics to change. Mystery solved. But a deeper problem remains.

In media/tech, the field in which I work and in which I was researching, academia has almost no voice.

Academics typically have access to less information, less context and less expertise than the practitioners about whom they write. And the world turns fast, so much of what they do produce is either hard to apply or out of date.

This is a terrible shame. Some of the brilliant academics I have worked with wield powerful models and frameworks, can draw connections across multiple disciplines, and can identify and explore patterns hidden to the fast-paced industrial worker bees. 

So the near-absence of academic work in much of the media/tech industry is a great loss. 

The challenge is not just one of speed. Relationships, distribution, access to information, and many other obstacles remain. But the result is a painful distance between academia and industry. 

John Sutherland wrote a great editorial on this in The Computer Games Journal. The title sums it up:

Yes, you did it, I read it, but does it *mean* anything?

+++

For more, follow @toddmgreen on Twitter.

 

BBC

My first job was as a Runner at the BBC World Service. Amazing and inspiring – Bush House corridors lined with UN Sec-Gens telling stories about how their lifeline, their connection to the world, was the WS.

I vox-popped members of other services to get an international view on stories for Outlook (which in the late 90s was a live, daily, 1hr magazine show) – and ruined the tapes by saying ‘Hmm’ and ‘Oh, right’ in the background instead of leaving the vox pop recordings clean.

I opened the post for Steve Wright’s show and read about a Ugandan factory worker who was 5 mins late every day because he couldn’t miss the end of the show – and when his boss finally challenged him about it and he confessed the reason, the whole company got free breakfast if they came in early to listen to the show on the canteen tannoy.

This all was an inspiration. But most of the people I worked with then are gone – cut. The craft has gone with them. But for me, still at school yet able to go back 4 summers in a row, it was the start. That was the experience that got me into FremantleMedia (worked on The X Factor, Got Talent, etc), and now I’m in Stockholm working in games, running Candy Crush Saga.

I really doubt this would have happened without that experience at the BBC – it gave me a feeling and a love for how something can be made from nothing and can mean so much to so many people around the world.

From our hands, to their minds.

+++

For more musings on why the BBC World Service is so great (well, maybe – I’ve never actually written about that before), follow @toddmgreen on Twitter and sign up for emails.

Laters ~ Todd

Mad Mentors

Richard Condon wrote the novel The Manchurian Candidate in 1959. It was his second book, and it’s still famous today because it was turned into a couple of big movies.

Condon wasn’t always a novelist.

He served in the US Merchant Marines during the war, then went to Hollywood as a publicist, copywriter and agent. He started writing books in 1957 while working at United Artists. He complained to his boss, Max E. Youngstein, that he would much rather do that keep working in Hollywood.

Youngstein was a mentor. He took it upon himself to help. Without Condon’s knowledge, Youngstein deducted money from his salary and then fired him after a year – giving him the amount of money he had deducted in a Mexican bank account and the key to a house overlooking the Mexican ocean.

Youngstein told him to take the money, take the keys, and go write his book.

The Manchurian Candidate featured a dedication to Youngstein. A truly mad mentor.

I’m meeting one of my mentors tonight. Mexican Ocean sounds good, so long suckers!

+++

This post originally appeared in a slightly different form on The Media Student Handbook. If you’re a student, and if you’re a Media student in particular, you should check out that site.

Don’t mention the Work

A surprising weekend recently – we went away to visit family in Paris, and met 20+ new people, but didn’t talk about work once.

Work is such an important part of identity, and of conversation, for me and in the lives of those around me that I was somewhat surprised – and rather delighted.

That weekend not a single person asked us what we do for a living, where the office was, were we busy at the moment, how did we get into to doing that, or anything of the sort. And we in turn did not ask those questions back.

No quick-matching of a new friend with an old one who happened to have a similar job. Less shorthand, more longhand.

In his Life of Alexander The Great (and, indeed, Julius Caesar), Plutarch said that:

When a portrait painter sets out to create a likeness, he relies above all upon the face and the expression of the eyes, and pays less attention to the other parts of the body. In the same way, it is my intention to dwell upon those actions which illuminate the workings of the soul, and by this means to create a portrait of each man’s life. I leave the story of his greatest struggles and achievements to be told by others.

Meeting someone new is like inching open a box of secrets. You don’t know what will emerge first or, when it does emerge, how representative it is of what remains hidden. Knowing that person’s job or chosen career might provide a glimpse into what’s inside. But only rarely does it allow you to remove the hinges and see the whole.

So it was lovely to build up a picture of our new acquaintances more gradually – to be removed from our own professional identities – by exchanging not a single word about work.

I can’t remember the last time that happened. Really.

Plutarch has the last word:

My preamble [to the Life] shall consist of nothing more than this one plea: if I do not record all their most celebrated achievements or describe any one of them exhaustively, but merely summarise for the most part what they accomplished, I ask my readers not to regard this as a fault. For I am writing biography, not history, and the truth is that the most brilliant exploits often tell us nothing of the virtues or vices of the men who performed them, while on the other hand a chance remark or a joke may reveal far more of a man’s character than the mere feat of winning battles in which thousands fall, or of marshalling great armies, or laying siege to cities.

+++

Photo credit: Laura Liberal.

For more posts like this, subscribe by email or [email protected] Twitter.

Slides: How Data Can Make You More Creative

Slides from a talk I gave to the 3rd-year media students at Regent’s University in London a few days ago. Lots of examples from TV and from my own experience.

Aim is to offer advice to anyone who is working in / wants to work in a creative industry.

In short, data is important.

Did you make anything today?

Isaac Asimov wrote and edited over 500 books, plus 90,000 letters and postcards.

Did you make anything today?