Jam this Christmas?

Selling homemade jam at church fêtes has been a tradition for centuries. However, this could all come to a stop.

This month an EU law was discovered which bans the recycling of glass jars. The effect on small businesses and charities could be huge. Jem Collins investigates.

Selling homemade jam at church fêtes has been a tradition for centuries. However, this could all come to a stop. This month an EU law was discovered which bans the recycling of glass jars. The effect on small businesses and charities could be huge. Jem Collins investigates.


Quotas are not “quick fix equality”

Sometime last year a friend of mine posed a very interesting question. We had just finished dinner and were well on our way through our second bottle of wine when he mentioned some problems he’d been having at work. As the organiser of promotional events and conferences for a charitable organisation, the booking of speakers fell solely on his shoulders. Yet for some reason he had found there were simply not as many women speakers as men. His answer? Introduce a quota.


The idea is simple. Set a percentage of how much of a certain group you want within your organisation and rigorously enforce it. In the case of my friend this meant simply asking more and more women to speak until they finally made up half of the programme. The idea is also nothing new. Quotas been banded around several times in recent years coupled with happy and righteous tag words like “equality” and “positive discrimination”. Only yesterday an EU debate on the subject was postponed.

The latest proposals, brought by the European Justice Commissioner Viviane Reding, would see it made compulsory for companies to reserve 40% of their seats for women. However the plans were put on hold after as many as 11 of the 27 member states expressed objections and the legality of the move itself was brought into question. I couldn’t help but let out a sigh of relief.

It’s easy to see why the idea looks attractive on the surface; currently women make up a mere 15% of board positions throughout the EU. Some may even go as far to suggest that as feminists it’s our job to fight for our fair share of boardroom space. Yet I couldn’t think of many things more patronising and degrading than being picked for a role solely for the purpose of filling a quota.

Women should fight for their rights to be in boardrooms and other high flying areas, but they should do this through being damn good at what they do. Job applications should be based on the merit and capabilities of the candidate – not on what may or may not be in their pants. If I got hired I’d want to know it’s because I was the best option out there. It’s easy to slate a company for a poor ratio of females at the very top, but if the men were simply the better candidates at the time we should stop fishing for a pity vote and up our game. It’s business sense.

That’s not to say that sexism in the boardroom does not exist, but the way to tackle negative attitudes is through education – not with measures which only mask the true problem. Enforcing mandatory quotas will not change social attitudes overnight. If a company are biased against women, forcing them into hiring more won’t suddenly change that. If anything, quotas have the potential to let biased employers parade as one offering equal opportunities.

If we really want to address the gender bias perhaps we should start looking for the root cause of the problem. Quotas are not “quick fix equality”.

Leon McCarron: “You never feel more alive than when you are about to fall off a cliff in China”

Veteran adventurer and Kent graduate, Leon McCarron, opened this year’s series of open lectures at the University of Kent with a dynamic tale of guns, tornadoes and opportunity.

Leon McCarron was just weeks into his trip when he was held at gunpoint. His only route of escape was towards a tornado.

The Northern Irish adventurer had barely started what was to become a 14,000 mile journey from New York to Hong Kong when he was offered a bed for the night in the American Midwest.

He was later told how all non-Americans should be shot and shown into a shed lined with hundreds of guns.

Speaking at the University of Kent tonight, he recalled: “He then cocked [the gun] and pointed it at my head. It took about three days to sink in […] I was physically shaking on my bike.”

The Kent alumnus then attempted to escape by road but was chased towards an oncoming tornado, forcing him to run blindly through farmland.

He eventually found refuge in the basement of an elderly couple.

Surprisingly, Leon is still confident of the good of strangers, insisting he recounts the tale to highlight his positive experiences.

He said: “I am a firm believer that 99 per cent of the world’s population are good and are there to look after each other.”

“There are nutters out there, but with a bit of common sense [it’s fine]. This was the only negative experience I’ve had.”

McCarron has travelled over 17,000 miles by both foot and bike, recording his adventures in film and print.

He has cycled from New York to Hong Kong alone, walked from Mongolia to Hong Kong and is currently planning a trek through Oman.

However, speaking at this year’s first open lecture, he denied that adventure had been a lifelong ambition.

He explained: “This is what I do with my life now, it’s a real vocation and it happened really organically – I didn’t want to be an adventurer.”

“I didn’t know what to do with my life when I left school. I picked film as I thought that would be an easy three years of watching movies and cheap cinema tickets.”

It was more than a year after graduating that McCarron decided to combine his love of bikes and camera in adventure.

He has since battled temperatures as low as -50, been arrested more than 15 times and lasted 16 days without a wash.

Reflecting on his experiences, he said: “The world really is an exciting place. There’s something really liberating about being on a bike and experiencing the world for myself.

He added: “Opportunities come in lots of forms; it’s so easy to say no because of real change or security but embrace opportunity and embrace change”.

“You never feel more alive than when you are about to fall off a cliff in China.”

Pictures from leonmccarron.com

Sky News Day 8: There really are days when EVERYTHING goes right…

There are only two words I can use to describe my day today and that’s bloody fantastic. The perfect combination of a late evening nap yesterday and an early bedtime left me more than ready to tackle the delights of the Jubilee line at 8am in preparation for my last day at Millbank. No sooner am I in the door, I’m whisked out the door to Downing Street with the politics correspondent Sophy Ridge. Aside from the weird sensation of looking at that black door, Sophy was one of the loveliest people I’ve met so far at Sky and she was really keen to chat about how best to get your foot in door and let me help her with the twitter live she had up and coming. Though we didn’t get the chance to observe any of the actual big-wigs, no sooner had I got back and Ed Balls wandered through the door. You know, as you do.

I hardly had the chance to sit down before it was time to pick up my official accreditation to cover the Olympics as a Sky Reporter. Which, it turns out, comes with a free £90 oyster card. I am certainly not complaining and seeing as it looks so nice and pretty, I can sense it’s going to be on my wall for the foreseeable future.

These are going to be on my wall FOREVER

After a casual chat with Adam Boulton about Harry Potter and Batman, I then got to sit in on a pre-recorded interview that will go out tomorrow and even press all of the right buttons and speak the lingo to send it down to Sky’s main base. And just in case in sounds like I’m slacking, I’m still working on some projects from last week, y’know, when you get a free moment. To finish off what I must classify as a pretty damn good day, I got a call from my mum to tell me I’ve been awarded the Rotary prize for my examination results at university. Pretty swish, if I say so myself. I would write more but I’m off for gin with the Daily Mail’s one and only Sara Malm

Sky News Day 5: Reflections on a Week in Murdoch’s Empire

I find it hard to believe as I board my train to Paddington from sunny Devon that I’m already into my second week of my placement. I probably should have written this blog somewhat earlier than I did but after learning that Mr Murdoch can set up an impressive bar tab, suffering a night plagued by fire alarms and Don Mclean (honestly, don’t ask, it felt like I was in a horrific movie of mind games) and drinking far too many stress relieving cocktails than I probably should have, my weekend at home has just evaporated into a hazy blur and I seem to have woken up more tired on Monday morning than I did on Friday.

For the record, I spent my Friday immersed in the planning department once more, researching lots of Olympics related pub-quiz style trivia for a graphic they’re planning on running. Now I now exactly how many button’s will feature in the opening ceremony, how many portaloos there will be and exactly how many LEDs will be used, which strangely I feel could be a good party trick when I return home this weekend. I would tell you the answer, but I guess you’ll just have to watch Sky on Friday to find out. Nothing like a good plug for the work you’ve been doing, hey?

Wild guess? Answers on a post card please.

However, the wonderful six hour commute from Devon did finally give me the chance to reflect on my first week in the land of Rupert Murdoch and I’ve come to several conclusions about my first week in the big city, some more trivial than others;

Sky is a actually a really nice place to work, albeit a bloody hard slog

I’ve spoken to a lot of Sky employees this week and a lot of them seem to have been at Sky for a very long time and we’re not just talking a year or two here – eight, ten or even fifteen years seems to be perfectly normal here.  Whilst I understand that the jobs market is very much stagnated at the moment, surely the fact still stands that if it was a horrible place to work people  would leave. There also seems to be a lot of movement and progression if you’ve got talent and the drive. I’ve met so many people who were runners or something lowly who are now editors or cameramen. This said, it is a hell of a lot of work. Even as the work experience girl I’ve come to appreciate the fact that long hours are just part and package of the job. Strangely though, even as a person who finds any time pre-8am abhorrent, this hasn’t put me off. I’d get up at 6.30am any day of the week for a job like this.

London really isn’t that bad..

I’ve got to be honest, I’ve always avoid London like an onset of the plague, and it’s been one of the things that’s caused me the most anguish about my choice in career. But it has to be said there is something in the city that gets you, even though I’m not quite sure what it is yet. I don’t think they’ll ever be anything quite like a Devonshire summers day, but a life in the fast lane isn’t half as bad as I’d first thought. My favourite game, smiling at Londoner’s and looking at their confusing faces, is even coming to fruition. I’ve yet to find someone in a good mood on the tube yet, but the people on the street seem to have cheered up no ends from the grumpy, heartless stereotype. 

I should swear less in this blog, my lecturers read this.

Finally, after revisiting everything I’ve written this week, I’ve realised I must sound like a raging alcoholic with an acute swearing problem. I also had the realisation that I think some of my lecturers are reading this. That said, I’m pretty sure that the head of planning found my comments on how everyone wears too much blue at Sky pretty amusing and he did come in wearing a white top the following day. But uhm, sorry guys. I’ll make it stop. Maybe. 

(PS. I’m on a personal mission to make Sky a more colourful place to work. I’ve even gone on a weekend shopping spree to buy as many  coloured pairs of trousers as you can on a student budget; I’ll give you a photo by photo update as soon as humanly possible.)

Sky News Day 4: A double gin on you Murdoch? Well if you insist I’ll take three…

Before I start this, it’s worth warning you that writing this blog without coming off like an excitable Justin Bieber fan is about as likely as telling a child that Father Christmas is outside and expect them to stay indoors. After a less than productive start at the planning desk yesterday, I was determined to make a good impression today and it seems like simply being nice to people and engaged in the discussion can get you a long way, even if it’s just the security guard slipping you a few hot chocolate vouchers. As well as the regular humdrum of meetings and news consumption that takes place in the planning office, I was tasked to help the team find someone who’d been affected by the draconian Olympics branding rules. First up they thought of looking for someone from a chippy, an area which just happens to be my area of expertise and something I would never have come in handy at Sky News. A quick call to the trade magazine Fry and the editor was more than happy to give me a list of names and numbers, whilst we didn’t run with the idea in the end, I felt like a useful part of the team.

I wonder if the brand police will have me for this…

Later, as they were trying to work out to contact a torch runner in Kent, I helpfully pointed out that I knew Alan McGuiness, the first Sky scholar, so was able to find them the details they needed. I also suggested the use of a knitting granny; the only reason this one  didn’t make the grade was that one was after tracking her down we found out she’d already been used in someone else’s package.  None of the team found anyone in the end; although I’d rather someone had been found, it’s make you realise that even professional journalists can’t make the impossible arise and that you can’t be totally useless after all. They even used the holy grail of words “you’re doing really well” and pressed me to come to their drinks later.

I’m still very much split over the most exciting part of today after being approached to work both on the iPad app for the American elections doing actual real work AND being told that Sky are happy to get me accredited to help on their opening ceremony coverage next week. Both are absolutely amazing opportunities to work on and I’m really excited to be a part of such massive world news. I don’t think it’s really properly sunk in yet. I would write more but a bar tab with Murdoch’s name on it is calling me and who am I to resist free gin?

Sky News Day 3: Guilty as charged

It’s half past ten in the evening; I’m shattered, my eyes are almost closing and I must admit, I feel the slightest bit guilty. Today I spent the day with the planning team at Sky News, which after a fun packed day of thrills and spills yesterday, seems like the biggest culture shock in the world. There’s no glamour here; you spend the day trawling through local and national news trying to pick up something that might be worth covering, only for a reporter to steal all your glory after you’ve got them the gig. The other major catch is you’re not especially looking for breaking news, more something that might hold until the weekend or things which have an embargo on them anyway. I know my predecessors haven’t been overly enamoured with planning, but I guess it takes the actual experience for you to finally, and somewhat guiltily, admit you’re a little bit bored.

I’ve been here three days and I could sleep for a week…

The problem with planning work experience is that as even I don’t know how long I’ll be sat at my desk so I can’t really set myself a challenge of a day to fill and you just pick up everyone else’s odds and sods; unfortunately no one really had any today.  The one titbit I was thrown about a cancer patient survey turned out to be a diary glitch and any ideas I had from trawling through endless nationals were met with a “yes I suppose that maybe could work”, in a way which really means “well no, not really”. In fairness it’s pretty low odds that something missed by a team of six Sky reporters will be spotted by the work experience girl.  I did, however, get the chance to sit in some editorial morning meetings and it was fascinating to feel a part of deciding how the news agenda which pretty much dictates public conversation. You also feel almost privileged; we know what’s coming up in the next few days and what’s being kept hush hush.

As I left for the day in the pouring rain, feeling somewhat dejected and thoroughly shattered I happened to stop and chat to the security guard. It turns out he also studied Journalism at university in Nigeria and has taken a job as security at Sky in the hope he’ll get some work experience and eventually get his big break. This guy even gives up his holidays to shadow reporters. When I was telling him about what I’m doing and why I’m here I can tell whilst he’s genuinely happy for me, he’d probably saw his arm off for the same opportunity. As he compliments me on my constant happy demeanour and smile, he assures me I’ll go far and I can’t help but feel incredibly guilty. You really have to take it all as it comes and give it all your best shot; henceforth I don’t care if I’m stuck at the planning desk for entire four weeks, I’ll give it my all and I’ll bloody enjoy it.

Sky News Day 2: “We’ll blag it, we are fucking important”

Getting up at 6.30am was always going to be painful, particularly if your name is Jem Collins. The bandwagon of late risers is one that everyone claims to be part of, but I’d just like to give you a little context on the issue. I will shower in the evenings, pack my bags in the evenings and generally prepare in every conceivable manner to maximise morning sleep time. I’m even willing to sacrifice my TravelLodge all you can eat full English for some fruit on the go for more duvet seconds (but to be honest, after trying it yesterday I’m not to fussed about that last one). So with that in mind, consider the unfathomable pain I felt after getting a call at 7.20am to tell me I could have had an extra FORTY FIVE MINUTES in bed. That’s a least another good couple of dream cycles right there. Nonetheless it’s not every day you find yourself working for a multi-national news organisation and it is most certainly not every day they tell you you’re going out with a reporter to White Hart Lane on your second day.

Well, I can’t say I was expecting this when I woke up…

When I got selected for this whole thing, the big boss man in charge (Rob Kirk, if you’re interested), made me promise that I’d gen up on my current affairs more and even though I’ve become even more of a newspaper freak than I was before, I’d still say that sport is one of my weak points, along with reality TV shows, which really are the most pointless things to grace the earth. Yet even I understood how big of a deal this was as I walked through the players’ tunnel with Ledley King and sat in the manager’s chair and I guess it’s fair to say I got a little bit star struck by the whole situation. Luckily the “OH FUCK I’M IN WHITE HART LANE WITH LEDLEY AND HIS WIFE” moment only set in in after the job was done and everybody had left so I could gawp around the place in peace without anyone wondering who’d brought the village idiot along.

I AM the reason Harry was let go.

The whole gig itself was extremely uplifting, with the hook being that a year on from the London riots, local school kids were “reclaiming their streets” with a massive carnival type parade, unveiling of a plaque and a special song sung in White Hart Lane. I’m sure I’d think a little differently if I was a die-hard Spurs fan, but for me the most fulfilling thing was getting out and meeting real people who are doing really positive things and showing the world about it. The children of Tottenham were amazing; so many bright and articulate young people who were genuinely passionate about the area and making a better place for themselves. I’ve always thought that I wanted to go into print journalism before university but today was just another example of why I feel I might be changing my mind. So often in newspapers you can find yourself chained to a desk rewriting wire copy and it’s such a refreshing change to actually go out and do journalism as it should be done.

*insert another football related caption here*

And whilst I’m sure you’d love to be enlightened further about the ins and outs of my day and my philosophical views on news gathering, not only do you have better things to do but I supposedly have to be up at 6.30am tomorrow, though knowing Sky News, that’s liable to change again by 7!




Libel laws need reform – Simon Singh

Libel laws are stifling the media’s ability to address public concerns. This was the message put to students yesterday in an open lecture by Simon Singh.

In an hour long lecture at the Canterbury campus, the acclaimed scientific author and journalist talked about all aspects of the media, from the good, to the bad and ugly.

He said: “How can you have a journalist raising a legitimate concern and then finding themselves being sued for libel?”

“We think we live in a free country, but our libel laws are some of the strictest in the world”.

Mr Singh had previously been sued for libel following a column in the Guardian where he dismissed certain benefits of chiropractors.

Although the case was won at appeal stage, the paper still lost £175,000 in unrecoverable legal fees.

He has also been leading a campaign to help change libel laws in the country and is hoping such reform will be mentioned in the next Queen’s speech.

He added: “It may seem strange with all the tabloids and Leveson [ going on], but that is more about privacy. Science journalism can have a real impact on people’s lives”.

Since his campaign libel reform was mentioned in all three of the major parties manifestos, and was also placed in the coalition agenda.

The lecture was part of the universities series of open lectures, open to students, staff and members of the public.

Places do not need to be booked and a full schedule can be found on the University of Kent website.

The next lecture is due to take place at the Medway Campus on March 22, where Jeremy Cooper will be talking about “The New World of Tribunals – A Quiet Revolution”.