Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Six Green Hours

Six hours on the train. That does not sound very tempting when put like that.

But having done 4 out of the 6 hours I need when taking a train today from Helsinki to Oulu, I could not be more excited. First of all, when you start your working day at 06.30, you get easily three hours of work before the email tsunami reaches you. It also somehow feels more appropriate to put your phone on silent when on the train than at the office. You can always use poor network as an excuse for not answering. The logic works for calls and emails. And when needed, the 3G network through the iPhone works OK to send emails or open GoogleDocs. The train is the perfect office away from the office.

The best thing of all is just the joy of travelling. On a winter day like this, Finland just looks absolutely stunning. The experience of changing location is concrete and happens without a single hassle. At least I give myself the luxury of buying just the yoghurts and snacks that I want for the trip. I feel confident enough to ask the woman across the aisle to watch my laptop when I go get a cup of coffee from the cafeteria. And I can catch on music. I look around me and seems like others are using the same opportunity. People on trains seem more relaxed than on planes.

Some ideas for VR for improvement:
- Yes, the cinnamon rolls could be fresh.
- Yes, the trolley cafe service could be on all trains.

And for the government:
- Yes, this could be an hour or two faster.
- Yes, it would be great to also travel South from Helsinki by train.
- Yes, this should actually be cheaper than flying.

It´s now 10.50. I just passed Kokkola. I have written 10 pages of text good enough for publishing. Yes, there´s the occasional yawn.

All and all, I am so glad I did not fly.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Food Politics

I just got a delayed Christmas present in the form of books. I have been fascinated by the politicization of food for some time now and therefore this present really hit the ball straight out of the park.

It´s clear that more and more people are starting to advocate for healthier and more sustainable ways of eating. Brilliant. What seems to work is what we do at Demos as well: giving people tools and tips how to act rather than beating them on the head with information and guilt.

I was actually quite surprised last week to see that TV host Ellen DeGeneres - a stay-at-home mom favourite - had author Jonathan Safran Foer in her show talking about his new book, Eating Animals. In his book Safran Foer explains his journey from a father of a new-born baby wanting to know what to feed his child to an advocate of a vegetarian diet.

If you have followed the debate - in the form of documentaries, celebrity chefs and books - there is nothing new in Safran Foer´s book. But what makes it briliant is that a celebrated bestseller novelist - you might even say a household name - decided to make a big move towards more conscious eating. In the TV interview Safran Foer was simultaneously funny, witty and still critical and factual. I think we get further with that strategy than with the Michael Moore approach.

The other book in the gift bag was journalist-writer Michael Pollan´s pamphlet-like publication Food Rules, An Eater´s Manual. It builds on his bestseller In Defense of Food but makes an excellent move toward simplifying his message. Pollan´s book is concise and something you could have in your bag when you head to do the groceries. The book has 64 tips. Here are some of my favourites:

Rule 3: Avoid food products containing ingredients that no ordinary human would keep in the pantry.
Rule 6: Avoid food products that contain more than 5 ingredients.
Rule 12: Shop the peripheries of the supermarket and stay out of the middle.
Rule 21: It´s not food if it´s called by the same name in every language.
Rule 22: Eat mostly plants, especially leaves.
Rule 47: Eat when you are hungry, not when you are bored.
Rule 59: Try not to eat alone.

I recommend you buy the book. It´s funny, useful and to the point. The most important contribution by Pollan to the public debate on food is: it´s not that complicated to eat healthy. Common sense gets you far.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Journalism is a service job

Originally uploaded by Akbar Simonse
In today´s Helsingin Sanomat a veteran public radio journalist Olli Ihamäki from YLE gives a wonderful but all too rare description of what a good journalist actually should do. He criticizes the current trend in radio where the audience is left to listen to a discussion between the host and a guest and where the role of the journalist is to fill the gaps between music.

Ihamäki reminds that the journalist should always be on the side of the listener. Quote from the article:
"Ihamäki´s ideal would be that the reporter would not come to the studio at all but would spend the day at swimming halls, in trams and in office buildings interviewing people."

How different would our newspapers and radio stations be if more journalists would follow this logic? It would bring a different kind of randomness to the broadcast but also challenge the journalists to use their medium to the full. As Ihamäki points out, the trend seems to be that journalists are more often leaving the description of things to experts rather than relying on their own professional skills.

Having mobile journalists or journalists assigned to different parts of town would be a great move towards citizen journalism whilst still maintaining journalistic standards. It would challenge journalists to open up the logic and processes of their work to the audience much more. Journalists would become trusted members of their respective communities, which most likely would bring across very different stories than we hear now. This is what the best regional papers still rely on - building stories out of the activities of people. Spending time with people usually has that influence that you become interested in people.