The best use for Twitter, defending the front page, Ant, Dec and sharing and a film for 2014

2013 was the year I found Twitter to be a useful resource for breaking news and a signpost to reading material I would otherwise have missed


This was the year of joined-up thinking, when we simultaneously tweeted, Instagrammed, Facebooked and Vined our every move. We were linked in and signed up, and despite the protestations from some that being in thrall to sharing meant oversharing, 2013 was the year I found Twitter, in particular, to be a useful resource for breaking news and a signpost to reading material I would otherwise have missed. (For those who follow me and discover I mostly tweet about food, apologies.)

But where it matters most, there is no joined-up thinking, no sharing of information. Time and again, we have read about cases of individuals let down by a series of different agencies and services, none of whom spoke to each other. It's hardly new (we are five years on from Baby P, Peter Connelly), but to reverse a hackneyed response, Lessons Have Not Been Learnt.

I felt a red mist descend when listening to one of the victims of the Rochdale sex abuse ring explain how she had reported her attackers to the police only to be ignored, or be arrested herself. Even when the crimes were undeniable, the authorities deemed these girls – who were suffering horrific mental and physical abuse – to be unreliable witnesses; therefore, cases could not be brought.

Last week, a survey of Lancashire police found that officers polled spent one day a week solving crime, the rest on "admin". On the surface of it, a depressing statistic. But when one learns that the rest of the time is spent on looking for missing people, assisting with those with mental health problems and dealing with troubled families, which might be the early intervention that prevents crime, it makes more sense.

Meanwhile, yesterday we heard that the former Director of Public Prosecutions, Keir Starmer, is to lead a Labour Party review into establishing a "victims' law" that will protect witnesses from aggressive and traumatic cross-examining in court. That's welcome, but in isolation it's no good – we need to join up the services that come into contact with vulnerable people before criminal activity. In far too many cases we hear that, for instance, doctors never heard that a teacher saw a child eat dirt, or mental health services were not aware of calls to the police. If they talked to each other, these concerns should "go viral", and be noticed within the agencies.

This is going to sound facetious, but it's a serious suggestion: the emergency and social services, NHS and schools should have their own (highly encrypted) version of Twitter, where short bulletins on anything that concerned them could be shared and logged. Perhaps some of those philanthropic tech billionaires might turn their attention to this.

Making a splash

Last week's paper had a photograph of Prince William on the front page. He had lent his support to The Independent on Sunday's charity appeal, which raises funds to prevent elephant-poaching, and had given a strongly worded statement. One or two readers have commented that it seems disappointing and out of keeping for The IoS to have a royal in such a prominent position. In my eight months as editor, I had not until then had a reason to show any member of the Windsor family – not even the newest one.

But "baby being born" and "duchess wearing new dress" is one thing; one of the world's most famous and, arguably, influential men speaking out about conservation is another. Protecting our planet and the wildlife on it is at the heart of the ethos of The IoS. So I make no apology. (It's also, by the way, why I used a photograph of one of my mates as the "splash". He happened to be Frank Hewetson of the Greenpeace Arctic 30 protesters detained in Russia for two months, who had written to me from prison. Personal connection or preference is not significant: sharing an important message with the readers is.) And they both beat Strictly Come Dancing, IMHO.

Castaways calling

It's a Sunday morning habit: Andrew Marr at 9am; Radio 4's Broadcasting House at 9.45am. Have they mentioned the paper? What news has broken overnight? Then it's radio silence while The Archers grinds on. At 11.15am I return to Radio 4, for Desert Island Discs. Even if I don't like the castaway, or the music, it's always a compelling programme. And who hasn't compiled their own eight discs, just in case?

I felt a pang of sympathy, then, for Ant and Dec when their edition (to be broadcast this morning) was previewed. The poor dears don't merit a slot each; they come as one entity. But I suppose if you have made being joined at the hip your shtick for 23 years, you can't expect separation when it suits you.

I haven't heard the programme, but I hope to discover that when they eat dinner, they sit down Ant to one side with the knife, and Dec to the other with the fork. (Think about it.)

No slave to the audience

Our Arts & Books section has an excellent array of previews for the year ahead. I've been lucky enough to see one of the biggest films of 2014 – Steve McQueen's 12 Years a Slave. This harrowing, yet beautiful, adaptation of Solomon Northup's book – which details his brutal treatment at the hands of white masters – already has Oscars and Bafta buzz. At the screening I attended, director McQueen was asked questions about the subject matter, the contemporary parallels and about the astonishing scene in which Northup – the brilliant Chiwetel Ejiofor – is forced to whip a fellow slave. The scene continues longer than is comfortable, and a mother in the audience had shielded her teenage son's eyes. It was I who asked McQueen if he had measured how much to show, whether a balance of decrying and glorifying violence was weighed up. He was what I suspect is typically forthright in his response. "I didn't think about it," he answered. "I made the film because I wanted to, not for an audience." Bold, brief, words.

I wonder, though, whether he will be provoked into a longer retort following the scandal of the Italian posters advertising the film – which is, remember, an important study of the treatment of young black men and reveals a hitherto less known side to slavery. The posters showcased Brad Pitt, who appears briefly in the last 15 or so minutes. After this awards season, I suspect no one will dare mess with McQueen's uncompromising vision again.

Janet Street-Porter is away

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