Gemma's Blog

For my Web Communication Unit, I conducted a critical analysis of the Times Online website. By exploring the different features and tools of the website, I was able to form an essay which explores and evaluates the usefulness off this site in terms of what they are trying to achieve. Below is just a couple of the opening paragraphs, for the full document please see my pages or click here.

When looking at the usefulness of the content, The Times online can be compared to Gurdin’s (1992 cited Nielsen 1994 p25) categories of utility and usability. The site is technically stable and loads instantly, therefore utility is present as the system can provide what is needed. Gurdin (1992 cited Nielsen 1994 p25) refers to usability in terms of how well users find the function, The Times has a reputation of giving news which is reliable and thorough, meaning that the readers will go to the website with standards of high quality journalism. It is the responsibility of the site to provide their readers with what they want and make it easily accessible, an example of how the site does this is shown by the fact related links are often provided to give the readers alternatives.

Navigation seems to be a strength of the website because of the simplicity of its features. Across the top of the homepage are the main topics of interest. When any of the topics are clicked, different subsections of that topic appear which is useful is the reader is looking for something specific. Below the topics and subsections is the tool ‘Where am I?’ which acts as a kind of tracker and allows you to go back several steps. When exploring the site using the search tool, readers are enabled to search for news stories and articles as well as the Times archive and Google which is convenient for the reader. All of these searches can be refined by date and additional words. The top bar remains on the page regardless of the subsections that a reader may explore. This enables one to jump from one topic to another without hafting to return to the homepage and wait for items to load. The site manages to provide the user with a variety of choices for news stories and features. An example is this is shown in the tab bar with options to view ‘most read, most commented and most curious’ as well as ‘popular searches’ which shows that The Times online are offering suggestions.

This is the second part of my short story, if you haven’t read the first part, please click here and then proceed to part two.  If you have any constructive criticism, it would be greatly appreciated so feel free to leave a comment.

The Box- Part Two

We transferred the awkward silences to the kitchen and our conversation over lunch consisted of Dad and Gayle discussing his return to work last week. I feel bad for Dad, he’s not the kind of organised guy who can deal with this. It was always Mum, she was the one to plan the dinner parties, she was the one who knew when I had netball practice. I found myself lost in thought about her, as always.

“Is it ok?” her tone matched the concerned look on Auntie Gayle’s face as she came into focus in front of me. I actually really like chicken and leak pie but I found myself merely prodding puff pastry on my fork. “Oh erm yeh it’s fine.” I replied bluntly.

“Jess. Don’t be rude” Dad protested.

“Oh don’t be silly, I wasn’t being rude.” This time I was the one to respond with a fake smile. Why didn’t I want to eat? I wasn’t really hungry but I always take advantage of a home-cooked meal as Dad doesn’t always seem up to the challenge. I think it’s because Gayle made it, something about her makes me want to adopt the typical teenage rebellion. She piled  a helping the same size as Dad’s on my plate, of course I wasn’t going to eat all that but seeing as she decided to make a statement with the ‘skinny’ comment, I think I should make one too. “Where is the loo again?”

“Oh the downstairs toilet doesn’t seem to flush easily, use the bathroom at the top of the stairs to the right.”

“Thank you.” I climb the stairs, happy to escape to progressively boring conversation. Walking to the bathroom, I can’t believe it is possible for one person to have so much stuff, clearly she keeps everything she has ever used in life. A glance at the toilet and I realise the silly woman can’t even supply toilet roll. I creep into her bedroom next door and start peeking in her draws when something familiar catches my eye, a gold bracelet with red ribbon intertwined – it was my mums. There must be a lot of her possessions which I have forgotten about. I take it in my hands and sit on the edge of the bed. As I remember the mornings when I would climb in bed with her I lay back, stretching out and running the bracelet through my fingers. I would give anything for her to be here now, stroking my hair with my head on her stomach. I run my hands along the white sheets and up underneath Gayle’s pillow when suddenly, I feel something strange. I pull the piece of paper out in front of me and open the letter. My heart races, I recognise this writing.

Dear Gayle,
When Dad died, we made a promise to always do right by each other. I am weak and I know I will only get worse. Please grant me one last wish and without telling Mark or Jessie, let me go when I no longer want to fight.
Love always, Suzy

That is how I discovered the true cause of my mother’s death. My Aunt Gayle still doesn’t know I found that note. Eight years later and she has no idea. I stand in a room alone watching over her as she lies in this hospital bed. Her only other company is an array of tubes dispersing from her body. The ‘crazy cat lady’ has indeed ended up alone and now her life lies critically in the hands of a machine. I take a deep breath and convince myself “she did it, you can do it too” I flick the switch and the persistent bleeping turns into a continuous one. Without looking back at her I stride out of the room and shut the door. What was needed to be done is done, I don’t need to think about it, I will simply put it in my box.

One of my assignments this year for the Professional Writing Unit has been to write a short story with the challenge of a 1,000 word limit.  There was no brief but we were expected to conjure a gripping and original plot. The idea for my story came from my  flatmate who is also a student at Bournemouth University studying BA (Hons) Television Production.  She recently wrote and directed a short drama tackling the controversial subject of assisted suicide and mercy killings. After watching the clip, which can be found on the BATV archive, I was intrigued by what families in these situations must feel and started to develop my plot on this basis. Hope you enjoy…

The Box- Part One

As I walk up the cracked steps to the green front door, I think of the last time I came to this Victorian structure known as Auntie Gayle’s house, it wasn’t very long ago but how things have changed. Well, the house hasn’t changed at all, I’ve always been boggled by the way that homes in London are so tall and narrow, I’m glad ours isn’t, I wouldn’t like to deal with all those stairs.

“You’re looking very thin.”

I was barely through the door when the comments started. I managed to conjure an agreeable nod as Auntie Gayle expresses her concerns. I hadn’t actually lost weight, it was probably her way of making herself feel better because clearly she had been over indulging these past few months. I suppose everybody deals with grief differently.

“It really is kind of you to have us for lunch”

“That’s a lie” I thought to myself as I glanced over at dad and registered what I could tell to be a fake smile on his face. We all know why we are here, we’re going to ‘talk about how we are doing’, this is the most frequent topic of conversation recently and I’m getting quite fed up with it. We walked through to the front room and Dad placed a comforting hand on my lower back before perching on one of Auntie Gayle’s 70’s-style patched armchairs. I hadn’t actually taken the time before to appreciate how bad her decorative taste is. Her lounge looks like something you would see on one of those home make-over programs, pre make-over of course. I looked down behind me to check for cats on the area of sofa I was about to land on. Gayle loves her cats, in my 14 years she must have had at least 20 of them, and the names she would give them; Pooky, Percy, Lala – a few of the worst. I realise that I have stereotyped Auntie Gayle as a lonely, crazy cat lady, but that is generally what she is like. Her kooky sense of style accompanied by her now bulging belly make for an interesting ‘lonely hearts’ column…

“So Jessie tell me about what you are doing in school.” Auntie Gayle enquired. I looked up almost embarrassed as if she could hear my thoughts. “Well we are reading this book in English called ‘Of Mice and Men’ which is pretty good but I don’t like what we are doing in maths.”

“Your mum was never a mathematician either. I think Grandma used to try and tutor her, I’m not sure how successful she was though.” She let out a little giggle and stared into my eyes a fraction longer than necessary.  Why does everyone do that to me recently? It’s as if by looking into my eyes they are trying to catch wind of how absolutely distraught I am. And I am distraught, I am mortified and hysterically beside myself but why must I remind myself I wasn’t there and torture myself every minute of every day. I prefer to keep my feelings in a box. A box which I can control and which only opens when I want it to open.

Part two

For my Professional Writing Unit, we were assigned to write the opening scenes of an original radio or television rehearsal script. The genre I chose to write for is television crime drama. A copy of the full script can be found in my pages or by clicking here. In addition, we were asked to write about any other programme in the same medium and genre as our script, so here is my short critical evaluation of the US TV show.

Critical Evaluation

CSI: Crime Scene Investigation (also known as CSI Las Vegas) is an American crime drama television series which premiered on CBS in October 2000. Currently on its tenth season, CBS, one of the big three American broadcast television networks, have capitalised the show with two spin-offs: CSI Miami and CSI New York. The target audience for this programme is typically 18-50 year olds and demographically groups A-C2. This is established by the sometimes gruesome murders and a dynamic range of characters which are represented in CSI.

Something which CSI does so well is to combine the old-school values of dedicated crime-fighting with new televisual language, appealing to a broader audience. A strong sense of professionalism is shown by the use of set reconstructions and CGI. The three different areas for the location of the show enable an impressive and real-life city atmosphere which can create different moods for the action; New York is portrayed as a Gotham-like, rough area, Miami is a high-end beach paradise and Las Vegas is depicted as glamorous with constant squalor below the surface.

The main characters have intriguing back stories and occasional departmental romances blossom between the investigators, but it’s the ‘who did it?’ plotlines that grip the attention of the audience. Some examples of these plots include a Hollywood star murdered while partying with fans, a mystery involving the mass suicide of a UFO cult, a half- naked woman found buried in the desert with her hair and right hand missing. It is evident from watching a few of these episodes that the storylines could be seen as far-fetched but when considering the fact that the show is set in Las Vegas and New York etc., the majority of storylines are carried off in a believable way. This is mainly because of the knowledge they possess of investigating crimes.

The episodes are mostly self-contained, requiring little previous knowledge of character or situation so a new audience member could watch with no need to know the minor characters. Because of the separate stories of the personal lives of main characters there is a strong sense of characterisation and we are able to relate to them. For example, one of the main character Catherine Willows, a night shift supervisor, worked as an exotic dancer to support her boyfriends job before she was talked convinced to go back to school where she gained her interest in crime. The shows follows typical conventions of the crime drama genre as there tends to be a general structure to the action which opens with a crime and ends with some sort of resolution.

When comparing CSI to British TV crime dramas it is portrayed that in America the audience perceive the police as the good guys and the criminals are the bad guys. In Comparison with shows such as Wire in the Blood in the UK, it is sometimes suggested that policemen & criminals are a lot alike. Therefore when writing a script for TV crime drama, a main consideration is how the audience will interpret what they are being showed.

Unfortunately I lost a part of my family recently. I know that some people feel that pets are just animals but if you have a pet yourself, you will appreciate that they are more than that. My dog Banjo died and it was very hard for my family, simply because we do not know life without him. We got him when I was only four and I am incredibly happy and lucky that he stuck around until the age of 16, as not many dogs do. After he died I was reminded of a poem which I wrote in the first year of my course for my Writing: Foundation skills unit about Banjo and the fact that he was getting old and ill. I thought I would share it with you.

Doggy Stay

You came into our home
When i was only four
I was scared of you
As you bounced around the floor

A fun energetic dog
Is what we were gaining
You could sometimes be naughty
So we took you to training

Part of the family
You quickly became
Chasing after squirrels
Was your favourite game

Fifteen years later
You’re much older and wise
Nowadays there’s a mist
That covers your eyes

You now spend your days
Asleep in the hall
And it saddens me
You don’t hear when we call

And when you are gone
No replacement will do
Cos there will never be another pet
Quite like you

Banjo and I in the snow


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For my Professional Writing Unit, one of our assignments was to write a feature article suitable for a local publication, such as the Daily Echo,  and on any topic surrounding the beautiful place that is Bournemouth. I chose to write about Boscombe as Europe’s first artificial reef  was recently constructed to the left of Boscombe pier. This is just the first couple of hundred words, to access the full feature, look on my pages or click here.

Was it a load of greef?

Walking along the path and my hair whips around my face. An autumn gale is assaulting the coast and messy grey waves slump on to the shore. Typical attire may be a bikini but there’s not much chance of that this time of year. Instead I stroll along in my three layers and scarf as I breathe in the cold but salty air. On an early December afternoon you would imagine it to be pretty much dead looking across the miles of golden sand that is Boscombe beach. But this year there is something different, the new addition to the community which has everyone in Bournemouth talking. With all the outrage of cost and time consumption, I decided to see for myself what the big deal is with the new surf reef.

Boscombe surfer

Not knowing a lot about surfing, in my head I questioned if I had walked past this great sceptical instalment because I didn’t really know what to expect. When I first moved down to Bournemouth in September of last year, I remember hearing about the artificial surf reef and pictured one of those wave machines in the swimming pools which come on every hour. With a second thought, I realised it was a silly idea- how could you give the sea waves? Well… apparently you can.

Seven weeks ago the Bournemouth Surf Reef opened as Europe’s first and one of only four artificial reefs worldwide. However, contrary to my first thought, the reef does not actually create waves; instead it acts as a kind of ramp and magnifies the waves that are already there. A natural reef is mimicked by 55 giant sandbags, covering an area the size of a football pitch and weighing up to 2,500 tonnes. These geo-textile bags lay 225 metres from the shoreline and enable the surf to double in size.

A look at the artificial reef

Every year thousands of students are enrolled in University to pursue degree courses. But does a University degree guarantee a better life or job?

Higher education seems to be the latest craze with more than a third of school leavers attempting to gain a place at university. An ideology has been created about student life which involves partying every night and going to the occasional lecture. To some people, University is seen as an ‘easy ride’ and a degree as barely a distinguished qualification, where as some employers will not hire without one. As a student, I thought it was important to look at the pros and cons of doing a degree to decide whether it was worth the time or money.

Drunk and disorderly, but not everyone fits the stereotype

We are all aware about out the current recession, however, with the increase of students going to university and taking out student loans, is there any wonder why everyone appears to be in debt? When you are a student, it feels like you have never been put under more pressure or stress than when attending university. There seems to be a constant worry with exams and your next deadline but an added pressure is the build up of money troubles which will continue to grow until we are working adults. Before I started University there was a flood of letters and leaflets from several banks about student accounts and the much sought after ‘planned overdraft’, but is this helping young adults to manage money or setting them up to have a life time of taking out loans and maxing out credit cards? According to an annual poll on debt, students who started university in the UK last year can expect to owe more than £17,500 by the time they leave. Even though the government is helping out more with bursaries and grants, it still doesn’t change the fact that a student loan must be paid back with interest. There is also the issue that loans are income assessed so those who are eligible for a larger amount will then have to pay back a larger amount in the long run apposed to someone with a higher household income who could be helped out by parents.

There also seems to be a confusion with students who are unsure of how much money they a really spending. Evidence of this is from a poll that was carried out by the National Union of Students on 3,385 students at university. The results of a survey showed that the average cost of groceries bought by a student a year was £710 when they only expected to spend £510. This highlights that students are not fully aware of their expenses. Wes Streeting, the president of NUS, has said “It is clear that many students are sleepwalking into financial crisis.”

Aside from the costs of doing a University degree, the press recently picked on the fact that students were finding it hard to get good jobs once they had graduated. However after researching into the matter, specifically looking at research from the Association of Graduate Recruiters (AGR), it appears that there are 3.4% fewer graduate vacancies this year than last. Therefore there was more of an issue about graduates entering a tougher market because of the increase in people who have degrees rather than an issue with people without degrees taking jobs over those who do because they have more work experience. It is evident that Universities are accommodating the need for work experience and hands on practice now more than ever because there are a lot of courses that offer placement years.

I feel that to say a degree is an ‘easy ride’ is far from the truth and it seems that the people who generally say those sorts of things are those who have not done a degree themselves. University is not just about a degree because through going, you develop a lot of social skills and becoming independent as it is the first time living away from home for many students. All this can be achieved whilst developing yourself academically and learning more about what you are interested in, to better yourself for a future career.