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Archive for September, 2007

A comparison of the Eastern Cape’s The Herald website and the BBC and CNN websites highlights some interesting differences in the design and layout of news websites.  

In comparison to two of the world’s most well known news sites, The Herald’s website comes across as old fashioned and simplistic. The main banner identifying the website has pictures of Nelson Mandela, an elephant, dolphins and a surfer which tends to make the website look more like a tourism site than a news site. Both CNN and BBC have gone for a cleaner, simpler look with their names being used as the identifying brands.  

There is one wide central column of news running down the The Herald website with a listing of articles. Both the BBC and CNN have very different layouts based on a three-column block layout, which have a much fresher, livelier look. The Herald’s news articles are not differentiated from each other. However within each article description there is use of hierarchy with the headings being displayed in a larger text size and a different colour in comparison to the introductory lines of the article.  

The use of blue for the article titles on The Herald website, as well as the “…more” links, assists readers in identifying that these are links that can be clicked through. However, the use of blue as the dominant layout colour of the website undermines this use of hypertexuality. The choice of blue seems to have been done with the intention of linking the colour and therefore the brand of the print edition to the online edition. In contrast the CNN website has gone for the traditional publishing colours of red, black, white and grey and has a very professional style.   

The Herald website does not make use of chunking which the BBC and CNN use to greater effect. It also does not make use of photos on its home page, which is a great pity as photos are an important element of news and a great way of grabbing readers’ attention.

The CNN and BBC websites make use of new media formats such as podcasts, audio and videoclips, while The Herald has yet to pick up on these innovative ways of communicating with their audience. In addition, there is little effort to encourage interactivity between The Herald and its readers, while CNN encourages readers to share their stories on its main page.

Class exercise 

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The Wonder Cave certainly lives up to its name. Only open to the public since 1991, the cave consists of a huge chamber the size of a rugby field with wondrous stalagmite and stalactite formations. Situated in the Lion and Rhino Park on the northwestern outskirts of Johannesburg, it is certainly worth a visit. 

You enter the Wonder Cave by walking down a steep, long flight of stairs to the elevator shaft (see slide show). Then you can either take the cage elevator down into the chamber or you can take the adventurous route, as we did, and abseil down into the cave.  

We hit upon this novel way of entering the Wonder Caves in the quest for a “cool” birthday party for my son Sam. Needless to say Sam went off first without a trace of fear, thrilling at this adrenaline-packed method of entering the cave. Sitting waiting my turn amongst a dozen twelve-year-old boys didn’t do my nerves any good. I am not a cool customer who thrills at opportunities to risk my neck. 

Eventually my turn came. I was harnessed up and made my way nervously to the edge of the lift shaft. I turned my back to the looming darkness beyond the small platform and listened as Mark Gray our instructor attached me to various ropes with metal links and gave instructions. I have abseiled only once before and my brain was not relishing the up coming debate between it and my super-strong self-protective tendencies. 

Very slowly I inched backwards to the very edge of the ledge and gradually let the rope catch my weight. I leant out into the darkness as the adrenaline in my body surged and my brain entered into its anticipated debate. And then without the hesitation of my previous abseiling experience, I let go and descended into the cave. I barely had time to register the risk when my eyes grew accustomed to the darkness and the wonders of the cave lay exposed for me to see. I tried to descend as slowly as possible as the beauty and extent of the stark, natural formations revealed themselves  

Reaching the safety of ground was a non-event. My body went through the motions of unharnessing itself from the abseiling equipment, while my brain froze up overwhelmed by the scenery around me. The excited chatter of the boys soon broke the spell though and it was back to the business at hand. Who was coming down next? 

Once we had all completed our abseil, a tour guide took us around the cave and explained the various limestone formations. It is amazing to think that many of the delicate-looking, million-year-old creations actually weigh several tons. We heard the tale of the Italians who originally discovered the cave in the 1890s and mined it illegally for limestone. And how they hadn’t known the actual extent of the cave because they had had to mine it in darkness – lanterns couldn’t be used in the cave due to the lack of oxygen.  

Our guide told us how the entrance to the cave was “lost” for many years after this, until the new owner of the farm went walking in the veld with his son who kicked a rock into a hole. They both listened for the echo of the falling rock and were astounded at how long it took for them to hear the rock finally fall. Their curiosity led to further exploration and the rediscovery of the cave. Much later they discovered the hole that the falling rock had made in the base of one of the huge stalagmites. 

Many questions and “Oohs!” and “Aahs!” later, our tour came to a close. Reluctantly we made our way towards the exit and crammed ourselves into the lift cage. A minute or so later we were back at our abseiling ledge looking up at the never-ending stairs leading towards daylight.

Photo credits
Clare van Zwieten (Sadly my camera didn’t have the flash strength to take photos of the cave formations.They all came out black.)

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Fires in the Kruger National Perk In August, I travelled up to the Kruger National Park to run the Skukuza half-marathon. While I was there a visitor decided it was his duty to set fire to the Kruger National Park. It was quite an experience driving through a burning game reserve…
click here to read…Running Wild  

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Bullard’s Blog Dies

Shock and horror! I went off to check out David Bullard’s blog at the Times and discovered he had called it a day and “flatlined” as he put it.

Bullard’s a popular columnist in the Sunday Times – just about everyone’s favourite newspaper these days following their gutsy exposes on our minister of health and her drinking habits, her liver, her hospital manners and the assorted skeletons in her closet. 

Bullard only got into blogging in May this year following a sarcastic column in the Sunday Times about bloggers, which made him the “enemy-of-all-bloggers” in certain quarters. One of his more controversial comments involved calling most blog sites “the air guitars of journalism” while another stated that most blogs were “cobbled together by people who wouldn’t stand a hope in hell of getting a job in journalism.” Needless to say he did not endear himself to a lot of South African bloggers.

 I loved his comment about blogging being the “air guitar of journalism” and think it very apt on several levels.  

Bullard than rubbed dirt in his blogging enemies’ faces by going on to set up a blog of his own, which was certainly more than “air guitar” quality judging from the numerous comments his blog posts received.  To hear that he has now had enough of the blogging business after a mere five months, is rather sad. Apparently he’s sick of the pettiness and hostility, and tired of being trapped on the blogging “hamster wheel”.

I’m going to miss his witty comments and snide remarks…they certainly made me laugh.

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The latest allegations about Madeleine McCann’s disappearance are utterly shocking. It is inconceivable to me that her parents, Kate and Gerry McCann, could have been responsible for her death; and then carried out the greatest media hoax of recent history. 

A part of me can somehow accept that they may have accidentally killed Madeleine by overdosing her. Bringing up children is certainly not easy and some parents can end up doing terrible things to their children out of sheer exhaustion and desperation.

Last photo of Madeleine McCannWhat I cannot conceive however is that those parents would then attempt to conceal their role in their child’s death. What reason could there possibly be? Surely you are too devastated? Surely you would want to try and get your child medical help in the vain hope that maybe what you had done, could be undone?  

To have the foresight to cover up your actions, to dump your child’s body somewhere, to not provide the little thing with a burial ceremony, and to not acknowledge your role in her death? That smacks of extreme callousness.  

Why would parents do such a thing? Surely not to protect their careers?

In Madeleine’s case both her parents are doctors. Is a doctor’s reputation tarnished forever, if it gets out that you are allegedly sedating your child so that you can go out to dinner with friends? Does your reputation really matter to you when your child is dead? 

Then to top all this inconceivable behaviour off with the generation of an international media campaign to find your daughter. To grant interviews, to stay in Portugal saying you will not leave until you get her back, and to encourage the raising of millions of rands to help find her. I cannot believe that any parent responsible for their child’s death could behave in such a way. 

It is an awful thing to say, but I hope that Kate and Gerry McCann are the victims of an out of control media and over zealous Portuguese officials. 

Bob WoolmerRemember the Bob Woolmer case where the media ran stories for months claiming that the Pakistani Team Cricket Coach had been poisoned (or strangled) at the 2007 Cricket World Cup by a disgruntled player (or was it the betting syndicates)?  Eventually after months of endless apparently factually-based stories, it turned out that he had died naturally as a result of a heart attack. For the media and the officials investigating the case to have put his wife and children through such needless speculation was unforgivable. Yet I never noticed any apologies for the wild stories that were broadcast and published at the time. 

If the international media and the Portuguese officials are doing the same thing to Kate and Gerry McCann, it is unforgivable. They are already in agony over the loss of their daughter and to be gossiped and speculated about so cold-bloodedly is awful. To be threatened with the removal of their remaining children is a travesty, if they are innocent. Yes, the media reports are sounding increasingly damning, but then so did the Bob Woolmer reports and look how that turned out… 

The Portuguese police need to keep a tighter lid on their investigation and the international media need to hold off on their wild speculations. Selling newspapers and increasing ratings is not worth the torture this couple are being put through. This case is all about Madeleine – a missing child. At the moment the focus is on turning Kate McCann into the villain.

Let’s get the spotlight back on Madeleine, where it belongs. www.findmadeleine.com

Photo credits
Madeleine McCann: www.findmadeleine.com

Bob Woolmer: Wikimedia Commons; http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bob_Woolmer

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I headed off to the World Cup T20 cricket match between South Africa and the West Indies for my first experience of live cricket yesterday evening.

Despite leaving early, we sat in traffic for ages. Eventually we reached the Corlett Drive turnoff only to be told that that section of the road had just that minute been closed off. I wouldn’t have bothered mentioning this but Ali Bacher was in the car next to us and he was not being let through by the Metro cops either!  We thought he’d definitely be someone who could drive right up to the stadium and slip into an allocated parking bay. (Click here to view Google hybrid map to Wanderers Stadium)

We finally found parking several kilometres away and joined the masses walking to the Wanderers. There were no hold-ups entering the stadium, not even at the tables where they searched our cooler bags for illicit substances like cold drinks. Organisation and crowd control definitely scored 10 out of 10.

Our contraband of Coke and Sprite (we didn’t know you weren’t allowed to bring them in) unintentionally made it past the security checks and we managed to sip on them surreptiously during the game. (I really hate that you cannot bring your own cold drinks into the stadium and are forced to buy a limited range from the appointed vendors. I like what I like and I don’t think anyone should have the right to force me to drink something else. Corporate greed taken too far is what I think.) 

Emma and Sam crammed on the grandstandBack to the cricket…we walked all the way around the stadium and headed for our seats. I was determined to enjoy my first international cricket match – until I saw our seats.

I was slightly dismayed at first to see I would be sitting on a grandstand and not an actual chair, and was even more dismayed when I realised that I was going to be leaning against the legs of the person behind me and the person in front of me was going to be doing the same to me.

By the time the grandstand filled up, we were crammed in like passengers in a rush-hour minibus taxi. Five hours of sitting like this was no joke.  Everyone in the grandstands jumped up and cheered at every opportunity just to get their blood circulation going again. 

Apparently the game was great but I didn’t realise this because I was entering the third phase of this shocking experience… 

Matchstick men. Which one's Herschelle?

The teams came onto the field and started to play. They looked like little green and maroon matchstick men and I had no idea who was who. There was no zooming in to see the tension on the various faces. No nice replays to see what had happened when I was looking elsewhere. No commentary to let me know what was going on. No convenient information bar on the screen, just below the players, to let me know the score and the required run rate.

Sure they have all the game info on the big screens at the stadium but that involves looking away from the game to see the screen, which means of course that something happens on the field and all the grandstandees leap up to unnumb their compressed bums and legs. 

Next were the endless breaks in play while umpires made decisions and players fiddled with their equipment. Seeing as there was no speculative commentary or interesting close up headshots of the teams, my gaze would wonder over the crowd.

Enviously I eyed the spectators sitting comfortably in their boxes, while I waited for the action to start. Minutes later I would glance down at the matchstick men and realise that they had resumed play ages ago and we were an over or two further along in the game. 

The bloody ball was also impossible to keep track of. I’d hear the wack of wood against ball and see the fielders tearing off to some far flung corner and just as the ball was caught, I’d finally manage to locate it. Give me a nice camera shot following the ball on TV any day. Needless to say, my family wrote me off as a complete philistine while they roared their approval of their team.

Cricket lover in his elementThey love watching the game live saying it gives them a sense of the whole game (I need the commentary for this). They say it’s great to see all the field placings at once (big deal) and to know where all your favourite players are (the TV does this for you perfectly). They also love the atmosphere and the crowd support for the SA boys (I can’t deny this). Being at the stadium we also got to see some poor streaker make it 20 metres out onto the pitch before a burly gang of officials leapt on him and dragged him off (TV viewers didn’t get to see this). 

Tonight watching the Zimbabweans playing the Australians was much more my can of Sprite. I lay on my back on the couch, my legs stretched as far as I possibly could. The commentators’ voices were music to my ears, and the close up shots of the players and that elusive ball were a dream come true. If only I had had this yesterday, when Chris Gayle and Herschelle Gibbs were smacking balls all over the place.  

I harped on for ages about how this was the way to watch cricket, while my husband and kids stared disdainfully at me. When it started raining I gloated some more about being warm and dry and stretched further out on my couch. When play resumed the mood lightened as we watch breathlessly, hoping that the Zimbabweans would come through and beat the Aussies.

My gloating came back to haunt me though as the link between the Cape Town studio and the main TV studio went down and crucial moments of play involving the Zimbabwean’s up-set victory were lost. I kept very quiet as dark resentful eyes glared at me… 

Photo credits
Clare van Zwieten

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Photo courtesy of WikipediaPersonally I do not have any problem with the way the press have handled the issue of Health Minister, Manto Tshabalala-Msimang and her alleged “drinking problem”.

The minister holds an important office in South Africa and it is in our interest to know whether she is capable of doing her job. There is no question that the Sunday Times journalists accessed her medical records illegally, but they didn’t print any specific details about her medical condition or operation.

 Instead we were given the details on her drinking habits and general behaviour in hospital. I think this is fair play. 

When a top public servant acts out in an appalling manner, it should be exposed. When a public servant bullies and throws her weight about, it should be exposed. If there are questions as to whether a public servant has jumped the waiting list for a donor liver and that same public servant drinks excessively, the spotlight should shine upon the individual concerned.  

Right from the start of her tenure, the health minister has made no effort to court and win the media over. She has bristled and taken umbrage, and in the process has turned herself into a target for exposure. The issue of whether she is doing a good job as minister has been overwhelmed by her AIDS remedies of beetroot and garlic, and her clashes with AIDS activists, media personality John Robbie and her deputy Nozizwe Madlala-Routledge. 

The issue of her alleged theft conviction in Botswana is just more grist for the anti-Manto mill. If she had been handling her portfolio with more circumspection, it really wouldn’t matter about a theft conviction going back 30 years. Even the tax man only goes back 20 years! 

In the mean time, I remain amazed at learning that you can order wine and whiskey in hospital and send the nurses out for Woolies meals! If only I had known…

Photo credits
Department of Health: www.doh.gov.za/ministry/minister.html

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