The Plastic Hippo

January 23, 2012

In cyberspace, everyone can hear you scream

Filed under: Media,Walsall — theplastichippo @ 4:04 pm

If you want to know the size of the one that got away, do not ask a fisherman. If you want to know what happened to a copper fish in Walsall Wood, do not ask the Express and Star and if you want to develop creative arts and digital media in Walsall, the last thing you should do is ask a Walsall blogger.

Once again our local rag, the Express and Star, has shamelessly plundered the work of the sage of the northern wastes, the redoubtable Brownhills Bob. Bob broke the story of a wonderful addition to a publicly funded artwork on Thursday. The E&S ran the story on Saturday and not content with leaving the source of the scoop uncredited, again either distorted or ignored the facts of a rather inconsequential column filler.

The rather amusing jolly jape was described as theft and vandalism and a quick phone call to to “rent-a-gob” Mike Bird produced a pitiful attempt at humour that once again brought the borough into disrepute. Tory councillors up for re-election in May must wince with toe-curling embarrassment every time the glorious leader opens his mouth.

Interestingly, Friday brought a thought-provoking blog post from councillor Ian Shires, leader of Walsall Liberal Democrats and chair of the council’s Regeneration Scrutiny and Performance Panel. He asked how growth in creative arts and the digital sector can be stimulated. The good and the great were summoned to give evidence to the scrutiny panel including Wolverhampton University, Walsall College, Forest Arts Centre, the New Art Gallery, the council’s creative development team, the Vine Trust, the Church at Junction 10, the heads of libraries and arts and the Custard Factory. All agreed that there is huge potential within Walsall for the development of creative arts and digital media.

But where were the local and somewhat expert practitioners in social media? Perhaps they are to be served up as a golden beef wellington boot covered in custard at a later meeting. The council’s own web presence is, to be honest, really rather poor. The home page is barely navigable and the Twitter output is both banal and patronising and is regularly outdone by people producing blog posts and tweets in real time and with a greater degree of accuracy than the releases from the press office spoon feeding good news stories to the Express and Star.

Nothing moves in Walsall without it turning up on Twitter. Road closures, fallen trees, fires, closed schools, unemptied bins, speeding gritter lorries, bread for sale on Mellish Road, curry kits and golden wellies rotating gracefully over a canal hit cyberspace faster than a frown from Sigourney Weaver. With the one exception of what you are reading now, which is merely a collection of bizarre ramblings of a deranged alcoholic derelict, Walsall bloggers tend to post heartfelt, well informed and usually accurate articles, unlike the Express and Star.

As this humble blog knows only too well, anything that rings untrue or is hypocritical is carefully analysed, seized upon and then torn apart by erudite, well reasoned comments and tweets. Social media is a two-way street that has produced a vibrant internet community in Walsall that is the envy of larger towns and even cities. Friends from beyond our borders who know nothing of Walsall report following local bloggers not just for the entertainment value of the ranting, but also for the diversity of local history, wildlife, sport and even the perspective of the local boys in blue. They do this by accessing The YamYam, itself no stranger to being plundered by the dying printed media for stories without any acknowledgement. See this weeks Sunday Mercury.

This and many other blogs have long sung the praises of The YamYam. Its publisher, the tireless Mark Blackstock, has created a network that brings together all the diversity of opinion in Walsall and, more importantly, throws in sections on local business and arts and crafts. If the Regeneration Scrutiny and Performance Panel wish to explore ways of developing the creative arts and digital sector, they would do well to summon Mr Blackstock and listen to someone who has already done it.

We were recently told that the council has increased spending on communications to £800K plus a year. There have been some improvements, particularly live tweets coming out of the last meeting of full council and more councillors are using Twitter. But remember that some time ago we were promised live streams from council meetings so that we could judge for ourselves the antics of our elected representatives. The equipment was bought and installed and is now gathering dust. Wanting to know what is going on in Walsall, people tend to make the impartial YamYam the first port of call rather than the impenetrable council site. Perhaps the councillors on the scrutiny panel should ask if £800K plus is getting the message across and if it represents value for money. The digital economy, like public art should not simply be a tick box exercise on a council`s to do list.

In 1998, to celebrate their team reaching the cup final, fans of Newcastle United dressed the Angel of the North in a huge Alan Shearer replica shirt. The artist, Anthony Gormley was said to be delighted at the stunt as it showed that local people had taken the piece to their hearts even if they still insist on calling the statue the Gateshead flasher. Those that hung the boot on the Walsall Wood angler are to be congratulated. Ask the residents around Dulwich Park who had their Barbara Hepworth stolen and cut up for scrap for a fraction of its true cost how they feel about replica shirts, golden boots and vandalism.

As Sigourney famously growled in Alien: “Get away from her you b**ch.”


  1. I fear you flatter me again, you silver-tongued old warthog. This won’t do.

    Of course, we’d all be fuck all without Mark and the YamYam. Just one look shows how diverse and vibrant this community is. We may be crap, parochial amateurs with no perceptible talent, but we care about our communities and that’s what makes it work.

    I would have stopped years ago if Mark hadn’t encouraged me.

    And the local press? Not even trying anymore.

    Best wishes


    Comment by BrownhillsBob — January 23, 2012 @ 9:24 pm | Reply

  2. Thank you Hippo for the hat-tip to the YamYam and its part in Walsall’s online community – and to you too Bob.

    It is good that the Regeneration Panel is reviewing the local creative and digital arts economy but I hope the panel will look beyond the usual cosy club of institutional suspects mentioned and canvas views from the independent hyperlocal and blog sites which, with voluntary effort and very limited resources, make better use of their digital tools and social media networks to develop their audience and profile – and so the profile of the borough too. I hope the panel will also canvas Walsall’s commercial sector, including the telecoms and IT companies, and the writers, illustrators, designers, photographers, film-makers, musicians and developers working in our independent digital sector – how many realize that Walsall is home to an internationally respected and successful online games developer at the top of Tameway Tower?

    Whilst Walsall Council’s own website and digital activities could certainly be improved, our council provides a relatively good service, better than many other local authorities.

    That said, Walsall Council is all too often keen to exploit the free goodwill of the local online community when it suits, ignore it when it doesn’t and never put up any cash to help things along. Instead the Council (and our local public authorities in general) prefer to spend on in-house good news publications, commission out-of-borough companies to launch fancy websites which don’t deliver and get forgotten, and place expensive advertisements in traditional media which then plunder the blogs and don’t credit them.

    As for the Alien, I preferred the creature in the Abyss, which, if the elected jokers in the Council play true to form, is probably where this discussion will eventually end up.


    Comment by Mark Blackstock — January 24, 2012 @ 1:45 am | Reply

  3. Poor old Ian’s Regeneration Scrutiny and Performance Panel is just typical of how we do things here.
    The atendees will all have been furiously justifying their existence while wondering why everyone in the borough’s creative sector could all share a cab home.
    I imagine it’s got something to do with the right hand not knowing what he left is doing or, in Walsall parlance, the Head of Libraries, Heritage and Arts not knowing what the Head of Arts and Events is doing.
    I ask you, two Heads of Arts, wtf????

    Comment by martin — January 24, 2012 @ 4:29 pm | Reply

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