Enjoyed looking back down the years with Sunday Times journalist Catherine Wheatley this week (although we almost got vertigo). Catherine and I used to work regularly on stories on the SME sector, when she was small business correspondent at Andrew Neil's Sunday Business (later The Business). Our paths diverged for a number of years when she went freelance, but we hooked up again recently to talk about her new regular SME column for the Sunday Times. There are few journalists who understand the SME sector as well as she does (Jonathan Moules, Richard Tyler, James Hurley, Kate Bassett, you are all at the top of my list too!) And it was a joy exploring hot topics, burning issues and fresh angles on old chestnuts together.
I was particularly intrigued to hear of an extra-curricular project she is involved in, transferring the knowledge she has acquired from a long career in business journalism into the international development arena.
"Earlier this year I worked on developing a media strategy for a Girls' Education Programme run by the Department of International Development in Ghana. The project looked at how the government could use local media - including community radio and Ghana's fast-growing mobile phone network - to get more kids into better-quality education for longer. Poor teacher attendance is a big problem in rural schools. So one idea we recommended was to equip PTA heads with mobile phones so they could take an attendance register of teachers and text the result back to the Dept of Education!"
She has also been advising Oxfam on private sector advocacy projects. "As you know, Oxfam has had great success with its collaboration with M&S (donate your unwanted M&S clothes to Oxfam for a £5 voucher). But the charity is now also looking at how big businesses can improve working conditions in parts of their supply chain in the developing world, (ie garment manufacture, food supply etc). Today more consumers are interested in the provenance of what they buy and will shop with an ethical agenda. Oxfam thinks this represents an opportunity to align the interests of business and the world's poor. For some in the international community big business represents the enemy. So it is forward-looking of Oxfam to recognise they can be strong allies too."
If you're interested in these projects, watch out for information on Oxfam's website. Check out Catherine's page in the business section of the Sunday Times too.
Prize for the flimsiest legal defence this week has to go to Dominique Strauss-Kahn's lawyers. I don't know whether the problem was too much imagination or too little, whether they are just severely out of touch with how ordinary people conduct themselves, or whether they were simply scraping the bottom of a very empty barrel, but trying to argue Strauss-Kahn couldn't have known the girls at that sex party were prostitutes because they were naked...? Puh-lease!
I'll never read a war report the same way again thanks to some of the reports surrounding the death of Sunday Times war correspondent Marie Colvin. Just over a year ago she had given an address at a service at St Bride's Church in Fleet Street to commemorate war reporters who had died in the line of duty in recent years. If you didn't get a chance to read the address in this week's papers I'd urge you to take a look here. It's stirring stuff and gives an insight into what drives these individuals to take on such a dangerous line of work - "a hard calling" as Ms Colvin put it.
Here's a snippet: "Covering a war means going to places torn by chaos, destruction and death, and trying to bear witness. It means trying to find the truth in a sandstorm of propaganda when armies, tribes or terrorists clash. And yes, it means taking risks, not just for yourself but often for the people who work closely with you....But the need for frontline, objective reporting has never been more compelling."
Marie Colvin, and all the war reporters who have gone before you, RIP.