March 4, 2022

Hello again world!

So – after not posting on Freelance Unbound for nearly 10 years, I had a hack attack and thought I had lost the site completely. But no! Here’s an old backup on my laptop from 2011. Can I import it into a new WordPress installation? Yes!

So here it is – the site has none of its cool plugins, or functionality that I had painstakingly created over a few years and the design is looking a bit ropey (or is that just old-fashioned?). But the posts are here as a personal archive. Apart from the ones in 2012-2013. I’m working on that. (Copying and pasting from the Wayback Machine. Lots of clunk. Also, I realise, I’ve lost comments too – and people used to comment! Saying interesting things! Oh, social media, what hast thou wrought?)

And also using the WordPress block editor for the first time. Luckily I learned how to use Squarespace recently, so it’s not so horrendous.

No more media-based posting though. That’s all behind me now. Maybe I’ll do a Last Post about that. Or, you know, maybe not…

April 18, 2013

Thatcher funeral – why Twitter sentiment analysis is nonsense

UPDATE: See the detailed methodological comment from Francesco at Pulsar TRAC for evidence that the Thatcher Funeral Twitter sentiment analysis referred to here really is super accurate.


We still haven’t quite managed collectively to leave Margaret Thatcher’s death behind (don’t worry – I’m sure it will pass eventually). At the moment we’re in the weird meta analysis-of-the-analysis stage that will hopefully soon disappear up itself.

But of course I’m going to add to it while it’s still here – I wouldn’t want to disappoint you.

So – Twitter sentiment. Today’s post on Campaign’s Wall Blog tells us that “social media remained negative during Thatcher’s funeral” and comes complete with some Twitter sentiment analysis infographics from digital meejah agency Face.

Twitter sentiment analysis is the kind of data analysis that journalism loves. It looks terribly serious and authoritative, but is actually just a record of random wittering by anyone at all. And because it’s all on Twitter you don’t even have to go out and vox pop strangers in the high street.

But here’s the problem. How do you actually tell what the sentiment of the tweets is?

The Thatcher funeral analysis is all a PR effort by Face to push its shiny new Pulsar TRAC social meejah analytics tool (oh, all right – I wasn’t going to put in the link, as I know it’s what they’re angling for, but here it is to save you the search).

It seemed to find a lot of negative sentiment – even, if the graphic above is to be believed, among Sun readers. I find this dubious.

As an experiment, to see how well such things worked, I used a low-rent alternative – the free Tweetfeel sentiment analysis site to analyse the sentiment of Tweets matching the search term “Thatcher funeral”. How did that go?

Screen Shot 2013-04-18 at 15.50.48

Like this: “30” positive; “34” negative, making up (I’m guessing – the site is a bit vague) 53% of all Tweets meeting the search criteria.

But hang on – what are those Tweets actually saying?

Here’s one that gets a “negative” from Tweetfeel:

Screen Shot 2013-04-18 at 15.54.29

“Disappointing: Obama will not send a representative to thatcher funeral”

Uh – that sounds like a negative to lefty Obama, not the Great Leaderene. Sounds like that should have been a big thumbs up for the funeral.

Or this one that gets a “positive”:

Screen Shot 2013-04-18 at 15.56.49

“@frankieboyle commentary on #thatcher funeral is funny as fuck!”

You know, I’m imagining that’s not going to be as respectful as Tweetfeel seems to indicate.


In all, of the 63 Twitter sample, 9 Tweets of the 34 marked as negative by Tweetfeel were actually positive for the funeral, while 8 Tweets of the 30 marked as positive were really negative. (Here’s a link to a grab of the actual results so you can check yourself. If you have no life.)

I know what some of you may be thinking: “that kind of evens it out – the analysis is really accurate!”. But data shouldn’t work that way. If more than a quarter of the Tweets were analysed incorrectly, that should put the kibosh on Twitter analysis being anything other than a waste of time.

Now, as you will have spotted, I wasn’t using the shiny Pulsar TRAC tool – maybe it has fantastic algorithms to interpret what those 140 characters really mean, so it’s as accurate as all get out. But maybe it isn’t. Bear that in mind when you see journalists going squee over the next Twitter sentiment infographic…

April 12, 2013

Paywall round-up

With the recent announcement that the Telegraph was to extend its paywall to UK readers, paywalls have been back in the news, with several articles from different perspectives on how successful or otherwise they are. If you haven’t caught up with it all yet, here’s a handy round-up of recent paywall-related content…

First – the New York Times has had a paywall for two years now. How has that gone? Not bad, according to a interview with Paul Smurl of

“There’s a lot of willingness to pay. We were surprised, delighted, by what we’ve seen in terms of digital subscriber numbers.” Though be aware that means that numbers fell by less than they feared.

Second – here’s an interesting interview with Rob Grimshaw, managing director of, on The Media Briefing about how the media needs to learn a whole new skillset when it comes to making money from digital subscriptions – basically shopkeeping.

“Just because you open a shop doesn’t mean you are a great retailer. You are effectively entering a new kind of business, one that publishers aren’t familiar with, and you have to learn the craft”

Third – following on from this, research by pricing consultants Simon-Kucher & Parters suggests that publishers need to put more skill and resources into actually pricing their products better.

“Firms need to invest more in dedicated research and staffing for price, and should get senior executives involved in pricing. Otherwise, your paywall is just a barrier”

There’s more on pricing here. Media Briefing again.

Fourth – who needs a paywall? Not the MailOnline, certainly, which is set to make £45 million in 2013 from its 6.2 million daily visitors. Very interesting profile of this groundbreaking site on, again, The Media Briefing (I urge you to subscribe, actually – lots of interesting material, both original and curated). MailOnline editorial director Martin Clarke on paywalls:

“We don’t have to. We don’t feel at the moment that’s the way to go… We have scale, engagement and growth”

Lastly – if you spend all your time thinking about paywalls, you’re missing the point. Rupert Murdoch biographer Michael Wolff on the Guardian site argues that paywalls do not solve the existential crisis of newspapers – lack of young readers, lack of mainstream advertisers and paltry digital ad revenues.

“The paywall, other than providing a bit more time to wrestle with the underlining problems of newspapers, does not solve any of them”

Which is a bit of a downer – but what else do you expect from Freelance Unbound?

March 31, 2013

Best Media Fool’s Day joke: Mumsnet runs Vajazzling course to empower women


So good I almost fell for it, the Mumsnet Academy course on vajazzling is my April Fool’s Day tip for best media prank.

Sadly, as April 1 is a bank holiday, it won’t get the – ahem – exposure it deserves. But here’s a thread on its very own forum of nearly 50 excited potential Mumsnet subscribers who can’t wait to develop vital life skills ( “finally a USEFUL academy class!”, as one puts it). Yes, maybe some are in on the joke – but not all.

The only straight-faced report I can see so far is on marketing business site Brand Republic’s, which also got tweeted by BrandRepublic editor Gordon MacMillan – although maybe in a totally post-modern and knowing way.

It’s a shame it’s not real. I for one would be more than happy to sign up to hear a keynote speech from TOWIE star and “vajazzle junkie” Amy Childs on the semiotics of personal adornment in the arena of contemporary motherhood. A learned dissertation awaits…

March 14, 2013

Oscar Pistorius: one mystery solved

There are many puzzles in the Oscar Pistorius did-he-murder-Reeva-Steenkamp-in-cold-blood-or-was-it-a-tragic-accident case – but one, at least, looks like it has a solution.

Why, oh why, asked prosecutor Gerrie Nel, did tragic Reeva take her mobile phone into the toilet with her at 3am?

Of course there is data to tell us. Research (or, ‘research’) by Sony and O2 reveals that fully three-quarters of us use our mobile phone while sitting on the toilet. Mainly to stave off boredom, apparently. How those minutes drag. 

So in fact it would have been more suspicious if Reeva had left the phone in her handbag in the bedroom, not less. 

Watch out for more legal insight as the case develops. Though probably not here.

Welcome back, by the way – posting has been light-to-non-existent while I learn about electromagnetism and Special Relativity. I’m hoping to ramp up a bit as spring approaches. Once a month, maybe…

December 10, 2012

Paperback writers: how to move into freelance book writing #3

We’re asking  freelance journalists about their experiences in the book market and what tips they can offer to anyone who fancies taking the plunge.

The third case study in our series is Trevor Merriden – an experienced business media editor who wrote several technology business books in the early 2000s, including Rollercoaster: The Turbulent Life and Times of Vodafone and Chris GentBusiness the Nokia Way and Irresistible Forces: The Business Legacy of Napster.

Why did you want to start writing books?
A mixture of vanity and curiosity. I wanted to get “my name out there” to be well known for something at least.

How did you get your first book deal?
A wonderful man called Mark Allin co-owned a young publishing company, Capstone. He had some great ideas and wanted to here from me about others once I expressed an interest in writing. I suppose I had the journalistic credibility and he had the know-how to move me from writing features to writing books – two very different skills.

Do you need any special skills beyond the usual journalistic ones?
Patience – it’s like climbing up a mountain. You see what you think is the summit and then realise when you get there that there’s much further to go. You have to understand that by the time you’ve finished the first draft, the final chapters will reveal all sorts of holes and inconsistencies in the early chapters, so you need to be self-critical, professional and be ready to go back and do a lot of re-writing. If you don’t tell yourself what’s wrong, your publisher will, and it’s better that you spot it first.

What are the differences between planning, researching and writing a book as opposed to, say feature articles?
A book is not just a collection of essays or features (unless that is what you’ve specifically been asked to write of course). You have to plan out something much bigger than you’ve ever done before. You have to be well organised in collecting together all your source material. Bookmark everything that could help you – make collecting material as you go along an ingrained ritual in your daily life and not a panic exercise immediately before you are due to start.

Did/do you enjoy it?
I enjoyed finishing my three books! Doing it was particularly fraught for me personally. Each time I signed a book deal, my wife announced within a few weeks that she was pregnant (the two events were, I believe, unrelated) and so I had in each case an Ultimate Deadline to face – there is no way you can write a book after the happy event. A good thing in that it focused the mind but bad in that it created long hours in evenings and weekends.

What about money? How was your deal structured. Was it fee-based or was it based on royalties?
I received an advance and a small share of royalties (too small, in retrospect).

Was it worth it (financially or otherwise)?
Unless you are a rare person who writes a bestseller, you will not make much money from writing a book. So financially, not really. However, it is a wonderful thing to say that you have written three books – it gives you a real credibility that really helps you get a foot in doors and so on.

Top tips for potential freelance book authors

  • You have to really want to do it
    It is a big project so make sure that you can take it on without the rest of your life and your income being put on hold.
  • Be well organised – a must-have requirement for non-fiction books
  • Don’t expect to get rich
    Go into it not to make money, but as a means of developing your reputation – if you do make money from it, then that’s a bonus.
  • The journey is not the best thing about it
    Don’t believe whoever said “It’s better to travel than to arrive” – when it comes to writing books it’s more like running a marathon, a fantastic thing to have done!

December 3, 2012

Paperback writers: how to move into freelance book writing #2

How can freelance journalists make the move into non-fiction book authoring? We’re asking  freelance journalists about their experiences in the book market and what tips they can offer to anyone who fancies taking the plunge.

The second case study in our series is a sports writing partnership – Martin Cloake (who took part in the Value of Journalism debate in this blog a couple of years ago) and Adam Powley, who also lectures in Sports Journalism at the University of Creative Arts. Martin and Adam’s latest book, The Glory Glory Nights, the official history of Tottenham Hotspur in Europe, is now out and can be browsed at, yes – I know it’s a hardback, so technically that headline is wrong.)

Why did you want to start writing books?
 My first book was We Are Tottenham. I’ve been a Spurs fan since the early 70s, and spent vast swathes of my time watching and talking about the team. I’ve also got a close group of friends built up through going to games, one of whom is a great storyteller.

There’s a bit of a tradition of swapping campaign stories amount football fans, and I’d often thought it would make a good book. It was also at a time when football crowds were getting more attention, but there seemed little recognition of the individuals that made them up. So I wanted to show the variety of people who come together to form a crowd, and to exchange some of those stories about the amazing lengths and daft things people do to follow their team.

I floated the idea to Adam Powley, partly because we had similar views, and partly as a way to ensure I delivered because I didn’t want to let him down. I’m a regular performance psychologist.

All that went together with the fact that I’ve always enjoyed writing and quite wanted to get a book done. I haven’t cracked the definitive socio-political crime novel about the state of Britain yet though. But there’s time.

How did you get your book deal?

Martin: I circulated a proposal to a number of publishers who published similar material – in my case sports publishers. It took well over a year – long after I thought the idea wasn’t going to fly – before Mainstream Publishing got back to me and said they were interested.

Adam:  Martin had been talking about doing a book and he came up with an idea to pitch. I had been working in publishing and knew a few people to contact either for advice or to approach to commission the book, so we pooled ideas and took it from there

Do you need any special skills beyond the usual journalistic ones?
 It helps if you understand how to market your book once it’s written. The writing itself was relatively straightforward. The book was a series of interviews with the fans of the football club I support – Spurs – and I wanted to keep the conversational style. So that involved sitting and talking for a few hours with people, taping it, then transcribing and boiling down the tapes. Very laborious.

A key skill I needed was to be able to quickly and accurately type up those interviews – the typing pool isn’t as deep as it was. The rest was working contacts, teasing interesting information and anecdotes out, making judgements on what to use, writing in an engaging style, getting the facts right – pretty much like journalism.

If you plan to self publish ebooks – which is an option you should give serious consideration to – then there’s a lot of other technical stuff you need to know. That’s perhaps another discussion, but it should be mentioned as an option.

Adam:  The kind of books I work on (non-fic) require very similar skills to journalism – finding stories, research, interviews, features, picture research, etc. One of the main differences regard deadlines – rather than day-to-day 24 hour deadlines, there’s at least a two-month ‘lead time’, so you have more time to put work together but also have to be disciplined

What are the differences between planning, researching and writing a book as opposed to, say feature articles?
 Time’s the obvious one – especially for a project such as this. From the outset you need to be honest about whether your idea is a book or really just a long article. Then you need to plan it out in some detail and deliver to that plan. You’ve also got to weave more in and sustain the reader’s interest over a longer period than you would for a feature. And you’ve got to be meticulous in your research. A book is much, much more permanent than a newspaper or magazine article. Finding the time to do the thing properly is a challenge, especially if you’re doing a full-time job and especially if that job involves writing and editing.

Adam: Wordcounts are obviously much higher. Interviews tend to be planned longer in advance, and the actual interview can take place over a longer period of time than a quick half hour phone call or presser. There’s more ‘room’ to write as well – more reflective and analytical rather than quick-fire hard news

Did/do you enjoy it?
 Yes, I did and I do. By definition you have to have an enthusiasm for the subject, so there’s obviously enjoyment in researching and writing the book. And seeing the book published gives areal sense of achievement. If you win any plaudits or prizes, as I’ve been lucky enough to do, that’s a great feeling.

Adam: Not half!

What about money? How was your deal structured. Was it fee-based or was it based on royalties?
 My first deal was a case of take it or leave it – that’s the nature of first book deals. Subsequent ones have been better – but the book market is getting hammered at the moment and deals are being squeezed.

As a rough rule of thumb, you get an advance that’s paid in three blocks: on signing the contract; on delivering the manuscript, and on publication. That’s an advance, not a fee, so you need to make that total in royalties as a minimum. Royalties in this sort of deal can be from 9-12.5%.

In the sports area, there’s more of a tendency to do licenced books. With Waterstone’s reducing the number of copies it takes, that’s often the only way a publisher can guarantee a return. That means authors get a fixed fee. The size of the fee depends on the project, but we’re not talking big money and there’s a certain element of labour of love that publishers rely on.

Was it worth it (financially or otherwise)?
 I’ve done OK, but all my books put together certainly wouldn’t earn me a living. It’s certainly been useful establishing myself as a published author – it can bring in work. I see it as just one way of marketing myself. And I do enjoy it, especially as I do a lot of my work with an excellent writing partner, Adam Powley. I can honestly say it’s the most productive and straightforward working relationship I’ve ever had. We both have a very similar take on things – uncannily so sometimes. As with most things, it’s the people that make the difference.

Adam:  On the whole yes, but it can be a lot of hard and intensive work without much reward. Don’t even think about the hourly rate. But it is very rewarding in terms of seeing your book in print, on the shelves and being read.

Top tips for potential freelance book authors

  • Be tough on your idea – destruction test it before you take the plunge.
  • Know your stuff and choose your market
    But be prepared to be flexible and tackle other subject areas.
  • Be clear about what you want from the project
  • Weigh up the wider benefits
    Something may not pay fantastically, but it can be worth doing to raise your profile or increase your cachet.
  • Be prepared to market your book yourself
    Not all publishers get behind books in the way you think they might. Use your contacts; use social media; offer extracts. You will care more about your book than anyone. And if you’re on a royalty, then it’s worth your while pushing.
  • Consider ebooks
    The process looks daunting but it is just a matter of approaching things in a new way and having some patience. This also gives you the opportunity to turn longer articles that are not book length into short books – Adam and I do it with our Sports Shorts ebooks, and The Guardian and The Atlantic Review are among the news organisations publishing short form books and collections of articles as ebooks.
  • Don’t take rejection to heart
    Be thick skinned – as a journo you should have this ready grown.

November 26, 2012

Paperback writers: how to move into freelance book writing #1

They say everyone has one novel inside them and, given the number of creative writing degree courses on offer, there’s a lucrative market in encouraging people to excavate it.

But a more realistic course for freelance journalists is a non-fiction book – probably on one of their specialist beat topics, such as sport or business.

This week we’re looking at the experiences of three freelance journalists who made the jump to paperback writer – how they did it and what skills they needed, plus a set of tips for anyone else who fancies giving it a go.

The first case study is from Stuart Derrick, who saw his Startups: Going Freelance: How to set up and succeed as a freelance worker hit the bookshops in August. (Disclosure: there are some excellent and relevant contributions to the book via Freelance Unbound).

Why did you want to start working on books?
Many journalists are frustrated authors, but not me. I’ve never felt there was a book in me waiting to get out. It was purely an offer that came my way.

How did you get your book deal?
As much as I’d like to say that it was all down to my entrepreneurial zeal and a recognition that I was an expert in the field, the truth is that I was commissioned to write it. In the past I worked for the publisher Crimson, so it all came down to contacts, which is one of the important lessons you will read about in the book.

Contacts are everything for a freelancer. Never burn your bridges, and as much as you may want to tell people to sling their hook after an unhappy freelance gig, be aware that existing contacts are your best source of future work. Bite your tongue, count to ten, and one day you too could be a top B2B author.

Do you need any special skills beyond the usual journalistic ones?
Organisational and planning skills are more important to this kind of writing. With shorter journalistic pieces, it can be possible to take off and see where you end up. With this sort of commission – 80,000 words – you need to be more methodical and have a better idea of where you want to go with the writing, what bases you want to touch on the way, and where you want to end up.

The desk research element was a much bigger element than for my journalism. Usually when I’m writing about a topic I don’t know about, I find somebody who does and pick their brains. Going Freelance covered a lot of bases, but the publisher didn’t really want external voices, apart from case studies with real freelancers. This meant that I had to find the information myself, mainly online.

This sounds easy enough. You can find anything online, can’t you? As a journalist who started in the pre-internet age, I’m conscious of the fallibility of online sources, so I did a lot of cross referencing of certain topics, particularly technical issues, to ensure that they were right and not just the first Google result. If I still got things wrong after that, then that’s all down to me.

What are the differences between planning, researching and writing a book as opposed to, say, feature articles?
It’s on a bigger scale and takes place over a longer period, so everything has to be more planned. With features, it’s easy to jump in at the deep end, grab as much information as you can and then crack on with the writing.

With the book, it was broken down into chapters and sub-sections within that, and you have to tackle them in a fairly methodical manner. I had the list of topics stuck above my desk and continuously monitored it. I tried to work through it a section at a time, but there were times when I would come across information that I knew would be useful for another section, so would squirrel it away for future reference. I had files of information on my laptop and bookmarked webpages that I thought would be useful.

One of the big challenges was keeping on top of what I’d already done. With a 2,000 word feature, it’s easy to re-read to get a sense of what you have, but when you are 40,000 words into a book, it’s harder to do review quickly. It’s also quite tough to remember what authorial tone you are using too. I’m sure I started out with one ‘voice’ and drifted into others as I wrote. It can depend on what mood you are in as you write.

I was writing the book around other things, which can make things a bit disjointed. The best work came when I devoted solid blocks of time to the project. You get back into it and develop more of a flow.

Did/do you enjoy it?
It took a lot longer than I thought, and there were times when it was a definite chore. It was a great feeling finishing it, thinking that the weight was lifted from my shoulders, but then the publisher’s queries and comments came back, which I had to act on. Then I had to read the proof. I definitely like the idea of having a book to my name though, and, at the risk of damning myself with faint praise, there are parts of it where the writing isn’t bad. It’s actually quite tough to keep the quality consistent in a book this long, and I think I’ve done a decent job of that.

One of the things I enjoyed most was speaking to other freelancers. It’s a lonely job sometimes, so it was encouraging to hear about other people’s experiences.

What about money? How was your deal structured. Was it fee-based or was it based on royalties?
I was given the option of having a straightforward fee for the project, or a mix of fee and royalties. The publisher wasn’t able to give a very accurate indication of how many it was likely to sell, so I opted for the cash. I suppose that I could have gone down the royalty route and then tried to be more proactive with promotion in the hope of driving sales, but to be honest, that’s not where my skills lie.

The payments were staged: 25 per cent on signing the contract; 25 per cent on filing the manuscript, and the balance when the proofs were cleared. It was something like that.

Was it worth it (financially or otherwise)?
In bald financial terms it was nowhere near as lucrative as journalistic writing. It may well be that in the future this will change if I am recognised as the go to guy for features and tips on freelancing – I’ll just cut and paste what I’ve already written!

In terms of skills development it gave me a lot of ideas on how to better project manage editorial projects – not just books. I think it would be easier the next time.

I like being able to say that I’ve written a book. It has a nice ring to it.

Top tips for potential freelance book authors

  • Look very carefully at what you are being asked to do and the amount of work that is likely to be involved
    If it’s an area you already write about, or that you know about then it could be worthwhile, especially if you can repurpose material that you have already written. Bloggers with a particular niche could be very well-placed to pitch a book to a publisher as they will have a lot of the copy that they need – as long as the publisher is happy with that sort of approach.
  • Allow more time than you think the project will take
    I overshot my deadline twice, but thankfully I had an understanding editor and publisher.
  • Budget carefully for a longer payment process
    The editorial process for books is more protracted than in newspapers or magazines, whether you hit deadline or not. This means you will have to wait longer for your money.

Final thought?
There’s definitely a book in advice on how to write a book, but not from me.

November 16, 2012

What skills do journalism students need to get a job in PR? (Clue: social media)

At a recent talk to journalism students at UCA in Farnham, Paul Marinko, media and public affairs manager at Surrey County Council, revealed the key skills required for journalism students who want to work in local government PR and public affairs. In short:

  • Social media
  • Video editing and package making*
  • Content is king – you need storytelling skills
  • Good writing – it’s amazing how many people in PR can’t write effectively

Crucially, you don’t just need technical ability in social media software and platforms – you need the communications judgement to know how to handle interaction on social media. Does something need an apology or a slap down? How important are the comments and commentators? How do you develop followers and engagement?

“Keep up with social media networks, keep aware of how best to communicate with social media, as it is gong to be the future of PR”

*Clearly our own trademark wobblycam® video camerawork fails utterly on this score

October 19, 2012

Free, limitless energy from thin air! This week’s scientific breakthrough in journalism

It’s time to tear myself away from the new term at the Open University (module S207 – The Physical World) to take a look at what passes for rigorous scientific and economic journalism in the nation press.

So, the Telegraph – on a fabulous new development in synthetic fuel: “British engineers produce amazing ‘petrol from air’ technology”.

A small company in the north of England has developed the “air capture” technology to create synthetic petrol using only air and electricity.

It sounds wonderful. At last we can rid ourselves of our dependence on foreign oil, solve the problem of catastrophic, man-made global warming and bring those rocketing fuel bills right back down to earth for hard-working families – all at a single, British-engineered, high-tech stroke.

Wait. Let’s take a closer look at the story.

1. The science makes no sense
A prize to anyone who can actually explain what’s going on from the actual reporting.

The “petrol from air” technology involves taking sodium hydroxide and mixing it with carbon dioxide before “electrolysing” the sodium carbonate that it produces to form pure carbon dioxide.

So, we’re taking carbon dioxide and turning it into, uh, “pure” carbon dioxide. In case the carbon dioxide we started with is contaminated? Or are we separating the CO2 from ordinary air here?  And it’s not “electrolysing” like that’s some unknown new word nobody’s ever come across before. It’s just electrolysing, like we discovered how to do in 1800 (Wikipedia alert).

 2. Wait – how much energy did we put into this? For what return?
There’s a lot of electrolysis going on here: to make the carbon dioxide and to make hydrogen from water vapour. Electrolysis needs electricity. How much? We’re not told. What return are we getting? Apparently five litres of gasoline in “less than three months”.

I understand that this is research, not a viable industrial process. But it is still worth telling us how costly it is in energy and resources for a specified output so we can get a real sense of how big a breakthrough this is. If at all.

3. “Funded by a group of unnamed philanthropists”
Um – are we sure we can’t do better than some shadowy cabal of do-gooders? The company’s page on the Renewables Information Network says:

The company expects to take advantage of fiscal incentives for renewable energy and transport fuel, available in the UK, to develop and establish the technology

ie the UK taxpayer. Which sounds more plausible.

Bear in mind that if this really was a “game changer” in energy supply and the battle against climate change, the venture capitalists would already be beating a path to Teesside.

This isn’t a pop against Air Fuel Synthesis per se, (though I was amused to see that its registered headquarters of 94 Cleveland Road, Darlington used to be, apropos of nothing really, the headquarters of the Neuro Linguistic Psychotherapy & Councelling Association).

But, really – if you’re going to cover new and speculative technology companies:

  1. Make the science clear
  2. Do the economic sums
  3.  Ask who’s behind it and why

Which is kind of what basic journalism is supposed to be all about…