On Sky News, Twitter, and whether we would like journalists to be human

Those who work for news organisations should, within reason, have a free hand in their personal twee

Those who work for news organisations should, within reason, have a free hand in their personal tweets and writings.

Would we like journalists to be human? That's the question we should ask about the rules slapped on Sky hacks, forbidding them from retweeting other news sites or straying off their own specialisms.

Do we want real people, with opinions and personalities, to be tweeting, or would we prefer a Borg-like newsbot collective? It'll be a pretty grey old world if we settle for the latter option. If you want journos to be frightened, feeble characters mimsying around corporate gags and guidelines, be my guest. But good luck when you try and claim your business is all about free speech.

Journos are, after all, (mainly) people. They are often (relatively) good with words and (sometimes) like to read other people's stuff -- if that stuff is good they like to pass around examples of good stories and good writing. That's not really a corporate crime; it's just good manners and being professional.

Sure, human beings have failings. Sometimes they say or do daft things; sometimes they make a mess of it; sometimes they link to things or retweet things that are a bit iffy. But so what? Does it really reflect so badly on the employer?

It's embarrassing for everyone involved when someone does a "bad" tweet and their opponents pile in to draw attention to it. That kind of pack mentality around people who supposedly have transgressed is a feeble thing, and often makes those complaining look a lot worse than those at whom they're pointing their fingers.

We shouldn't prevent people who work for news organisations having a free hand, within reason, in their personal tweets and writings. After all, they really are people, just like you and me. Honest.

Patrolling the murkier waters of the mainstream media
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Stephen Hawking's enthusiasm for colonising space makes him almost as bad as Trump

The physicist's inistence on mankind's expansion risks making him a handmaiden of inequality.

“Spreading out may be the only thing that saves us from ourselves,” Stephen Hawking has warned. And he’s not just talking about surviving the UK's recent run of record breaking heat. If humanity doesn’t start sending people to Mars soon, then in a few hundred years he says we can all expect to be kaput; there just isn’t enough space for us all.

The theoretical physicist gave his address to the glittering Starmus Festival of science and arts in Norway. According to the BBC, he argued that climate change and the depletion of natural resources help make space travel essential. With this in mind, he would like to see a mission to Mars by 2025 and a new lunar base within 30 years.

He even took a swipe at Donald Trump: “I am not denying the importance of fighting climate change and global warming, unlike Donald Trump, who may just have taken the most serious, and wrong, decision on climate change this world has seen.”

Yet there are striking similarities between Hawking's statement and the President's bombast. For one thing there was the context in which it was made - an address to a festival dripping with conspicuous consumption, where 18 carat gold OMEGA watches were dished out as prizes.

More importantly there's the inescapable reality that space colonisation is an inherently elitist affair: under Trump you may be able to pay your way out of earthly catastrophe, while for Elon Musk, brawn could be a deciding advantage, given he wants his early settlers on Mars to be able to dredge up buried ice.

Whichever way you divide it up, it is unlikely that everyone will be able to RightMove their way to a less crowded galaxy. Hell, most people can’t even make it to Starmus itself (€800  for a full price ticket), where the line-up of speakers is overwhelmingly white and male.

So while this obsession with space travel has a certain nobility, it also risks elevating earthly inequalities to an interplanetary scale.

And although Hawking is right to call out Trump on climate change, the concern that space travel diverts money from saving earth's ecosystems still stands. 

In a context where the American government is upping NASA’s budget for manned space flights at the same time as it cuts funds for critical work observing the changes on earth, it is imperative that the wider science community stands up against this worrying trend.

Hawking's enthusiasm for colonising the solar system risks playing into the hands of the those who share the President destructive views on the climate, at the expense of the planet underneath us.

India Bourke is an environment writer and editorial assistant at the New Statesman.

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