Adam Westbrook // ideas on digital storytelling and publishing

Current TV: Crisis in Kenya

Posted in Broadcasting and Media, International Development, News and that by Adam Westbrook on February 17, 2008

Occasionally I get enough time to watch some Current TV.

It’s almost always worthwhile.

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“Why don’t we promote the positive?”

Posted in Broadcasting and Media, International Development by Adam Westbrook on May 6, 2007

Here’s a really interesting statistic, you probably didn’t know: 60% of all the people who access the BBC News Africa page via their mobile phones…do so from Nigeria.

Frontline logoIt’s just one of a whole host of interesting points to come out of a debate on how the media cover Africa at London’s Frontline Club this week.

And the big question that came out of it was: “why don’t we promote the positive?

Here’s another fact that proves the point: Zimbabwe has the continent’s worst economy. Inflation was at 1600% last time we all checked. And it get’s argubly the most coverage in the western media, alongside the conflicts in Somalia and Sudan.

And the country with the continent’s best economy? Angola – it’s growing massively. But when was the last time you saw an article on Angola in the western media? Well I’ll help you out a bit: June 16th 2006 was last time a specific article was published in the New York Times.  When was the last time you saw it on a TV news bulletin?

The debate was handed to an audience of journalists working from Africa and they raised some interesting points – here’s a summary:

  • Western media has a “soft touch” with Africa, born out of colonial guilt.
  • Most African newspapers are now online, so there’s no excuse for not knowing what’s going on.
  • Is there an Africa fatigue?
  • Western editors follow the news agenda like a flock of sheep – courageous editors and reporters are needed to break away and cover the uncovered.
  • We are failing because we’re not making African stories interesting to western audiences.
  • Is it time to help normal people in Africa tell their own stories?
  • And the most worrying point: “Nobody cares – editors don’t care.”

And the one thing I’d add to that myself is money. A problem in the eyes of coin counting editors is that it just costs too much to report on Africa. Maybe the answer might come from enterprising young multiskilled journalists going out with cheap kit and reporting it at a lower price? Who knows.
So is all news out of Africa bad news? For the most part yes – but then most news out of anywhere tends to be bad news. I definitely agree with the point that we’re not making it interesting enough and we’re not connecting stories from Africa to our own lives.

And with hundreds of western corporations investing in Africa, we are most definitely having an impact on the shaping of the continent. And not always for good.

There are many journalists and bloggers freelancing in Africa at the moment – I’d be interested to see what they think…

Kenya’s Mobile Revolution: a film you need to watch

Posted in Uncategorized by Adam Westbrook on January 6, 2007

Now I try and keep an eye out for these sort of things, and I haven’t found a genuinely surprising and stereotype-overturning piece about anywhere or anything in Africa since the excellent Inside Africa films I blogged about ages ago.

In fact the only people out there fighting Africa’s corner are the armies of bloggers like E.K. Bensah and Sociolingo – if you read their blogs (and I strongly urge you to do so) you’ll see a different side to the continent; a far cry to the famine, disease and war western newspapers and broadcasters would often have us believe.

Which is why it’s such a great surprise to see “Kenya’s Mobile Revolution” coming up next week on Newsnight on BBC 2 in the UK.

As part of BBC Newsnight’s Geek Week 2.0, they’re showing a film made by their tech reporter Paul Mason. He travelled to Kenya to see how mobile phones are literally changing every aspect of people’s lives.

Mobile Phone in KenyaTwo mobile phone companies have created an 80% network coverage of the country – which I’m sure is better than in the UK! – and even the Maasai nomads in the Rift Valley are texting each other. Even more, mobile operators are pioneering services yet to appear in Europe, like being able to send someone else cash with your mobile.

More and more people are getting them and Paul Mason reckons the mobile could be a democratising tool in a country where the ruling elite’s rife with corruption.

It’s beautifully shot, insightful, and crucially Mason answers the big question for us: “so what?”

When I was last in Ghana back in 2003, I noticed people were using mobiles; hawkers sold mobile phone covers on every street corner. Ironically, I refused to take a mobile phone out there, but if I had, I would have had constant coverage.
So if you’re in on Monday night, watch it. If you’re not, Sky + it. But being the techno-savvy lot you are, I’m sure you’ll watch the online preview now available. It’s 18 minutes long but well worth it.

Click here to watch the online preview

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At the Frontline

Posted in Uncategorized by Adam Westbrook on November 17, 2006

Frontline Club logoWent to a very interesting awards/debate event at London’s Frontline Club last night, after an invite from the lovely James, Rachael and David at Westminster Uni.

 

 

Hosted by CNN’s Christiane Amanpour, it began with the Kurt Schork Awards, highlighting brave freelance journalists like Kurt himself who was killed reporting from

Sierra Leone in 2000. One award went to Steve Vincent who was killed recently in
Iraq and there was a touching moment as his widow accepted the award from Kurt Schork’s widow, which really brought home the sacrifices some people choose to make.

Then came a debate on the impact of new technology (such as DV Cams and VJs) on local freelance journos around the world. Some were worried that the accessibility of equipment would water down journalism, and others that the equipment’s too expensive for local journalists anyway. But I reckon the flood of “citizen journalists” (if the flood ever happens) will only strengthen the need for accurate, well trained journalists (cough-cough!).

 

But I remembered something the venerable Emmanuel Bensah said a while back when I got excited about new technology:

Video journalism is all exciting, innit, but I have to say that I espouse a visceral belief that journalists are far from dead. In the long run, these are TOOLS, TOOLS, and TOOLS, NOT substitutes. When all else fails, we need our journalists to do the quintessential work of, erm, journalism, no?”

I also got to meet David Dunkley-Gyimah who runs the ever expanding View Magazine site. He’s riding the new media wave big time, and apparently View Magazine’s going to make Minority Report look like Postman Pat before long. Brilliant.

Ruud ElmendorpDavid also mentioned that Ruud Elmendorp just won the International TV Award at the Video Journalism Awards in Berlin. Ruud works freelance in East Africa and his reports are a much needed alternative side reporting in Africa. Definitely check out his excellent report where he meets the imfamous Joseph Kony. Great to see he’s got some recognition.

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Frustration and inspiration

Posted in Uncategorized by Adam Westbrook on November 8, 2006

…all in one day.

Today I’ve been in radio reporter mode, my task: to report for a local station based in North London called EC1 FM.

As part of our training we spend one day newsgathering, and then tomorrow we produce bulletins with our material.

It didn’t look promising as we all rolled in, bleary-eyed, at 9am.  There seemed to be a distinct lack of news in the Islington area: the local rag was already a week old, and council websites were fruitless. But we did manage to scrape together about 20 ideas between us, which ranged from a new CCTV initiative in the area, to a local bikshed being given an award (oh yes.)

Normally days like this are one of complete frustration over stories, rather than anything else. Your best idea falls through when the interviewee pulls out. Or worse still, it turns out not to be a story at all. Not today. This time, I somehow managed to grab 3 different stories: a hard news story about asylum seekers living rough on London’s streets, an interview with a local world record holder and an off diary idea about the lack of poppies on sale ahead of armistace day.

But then the frustrations began.

I recorded some vox pops with students about whether they’d been able to get hold of poppies. Great stuff, but the battery on my Minidisc recorder died halfway through.

Then I went to Highbury, North London, and got a good interview with the record holder (she irons clothes under water). Then to Shoreditch to Amnesty International HQ to record an interesting asylum seeker interview.

I’m a happy man, but when I get back to Uni, I discover the MD has mysteriously erased my interviews. Aaargh!

It’s the worst feeling ever, but at least it’s happened now rather than when I’m getting paid. Definitely going to be more careful from now on.

So I ended the day feeling immensely frustrated. After work, we headed for a talk by some of the team behind Channel 4’s excellent Unreported World. The reporter of last Friday’s programme about gang warfare in Guatemala is Ramita Navai, an ex-City student, who amazingly only graduated from here 3 years ago. Alongside her was David Lloyd, renowned producer, behind Dispatches and Unreported World on Channel 4.

It was a totally inspiring two hours – Unreported World is a brilliant, unique piece of journalism, that goes to the places we never hear about. And Ramita’s story of how she got to where she is, gave us all the real get-up-and-go to do great stuff.  It takes time, perseverance and, it would seem, luck to make it far in television journalism, but I felt far more motivated than ever before.

If you’re in the UK, watch the programme: Friday’s 19:30 on Channel 4. If not, you can listen to the programme in radio, by clicking here.

So a bit of a mix today, but far better than any day at the office!

Damned by debt relief

Posted in Uncategorized by Adam Westbrook on November 5, 2006

This week I came across a charity called WORLDwrite who, among other things, recruit volunteers to make films as a way of fostering global understanding.

They’re touring UK universities to promote a new 28 minute documentary called Damned by Debt Relief which puts a compelling case that the G8/Live8 extravaganca of 2005 didn’t do all it promised.

The documentary was shot in Ghana by a group of WORLDwrite volunteers; Ghana was one of the so-called “HIPC” (Highly Indebted Poor Countries) that had it’s debt cancelled as a result of Gleneagles and “I hate Mondays”. What we weren’t told was all the strings that came attached, that some say, has made the situation worse.

It would appear that the idea of helping poor countries to help themselves has been forgotten and western governments still insist on telling poor countries how they should spend their money.

After living in Ghana for a while in 2003, I’m unabashedly in love with the country; I left feeling that although there was great poverty in places, it is still a modernising country, stable, peaceful, with a bourgeoning middle class and ambitious young people, like the audacious and witty E K Bensah.

Obviously there were some things I missed – see this NYTimes article on child labour in Krete Karachi (on the northern shores of Lake Volta) where I’ve been, but didn’t notice well enough.

Next March is Ghana’s 50th Anniversary of Independence. It was the first country in Africa to gain independence from Britain, so I reckon it’s a big deal. Ideally I’m hoping to go back briefly next year (money permitting), possibly with a camera in hand to see how Ghana stands on the brink of fifty.

And in contrast to all the negative, patronising publicity HIPCountries get too often, Ghana was recently surveyed as the 10th happiest country in the world – above both the UK and the US. So something’s going right!

I’m going along to the next WORLDwrite meeting in a couple of weeks to find out more – I’ll fill you in. In the meantime, watch a shortened version of their Damned by Debt Relief video – it’s a very interesting 3 minutes 30.

Current TV comes to the UK!

Posted in Uncategorized by Adam Westbrook on October 8, 2006

Exciting news from the media world this weekend: Sky’s announced plans to launch US network Current TV in the UK and
Ireland in spring 2007.

…..well I’m excited anyway.

And you might not be dribbling away like me because you probably haven’t heard of Current TV…so allow me to enlighten you.Current TV wall

Launched last year by the 21st century’s own version of Captain Planet, Al Gore, Current TV is
America’s first “user generated” network. This means that around 30% of its output is produced by its viewers, ordinary peeps like you and I.

Some are professional film makers, some journalists. But they all have a story and a passion to tell it.

Each film (or “pod” as they’re known as) can be between 1-10 minutes long or thereabouts.  First users upload their films where they’re watched and voted on by other viewers. Those deemed good enough for broadcast are given the “green light” and it enters the network’s schedule to beamed across
America.

A quick peruse on the site reveals coverage of a hunger strike to call for the recall of US troops in Iraq, the story of a young Brazilian emigrating to Europe and a film about an oil spill in the
Mediterranean.

It’s great because anyone can make a film as long as they’re interested in the subject. So events that would be ignored by network media gets due coverage; issues big business would prefer we didn’t know about get exposed. In other words Current TV does what good journalism should do but often doesn’t.

And the fat cats are sitting up and taking notice too. Current has the one thing big business gets hot and sticky about: the attention of the 18-34 market. Young people make these films and young people watch them too.

So I’m excited about Current TV coming over here. Partly because it’s a great chance for young British filmmakers to get stuff on air and because it’ll be fascinating to see what us lot will make programmes about.

Oh and did you know they pay up to $1,000 for pods that make it to the air?

Al Gore’s excited too, he said the UK deal is: “a big step in fulfilling Current’s mission of sparking a global conversation among young adults

Dispatches: Burma’s Secret War

Posted in Uncategorized by Adam Westbrook on October 4, 2006

Channel 4 logoAn excellent Dispatches hit our screens on Monday night: a thorough piece of journalism on a story that is criminally under-covered, plus brilliant story telling, which I reckon, shows video journalism at its best.

Dispatches: Burma’s Secret War (Channel 4, 8pm) took us into a country that’s literally cut off from the outside world. Few tourists go there and the draconian military dictatorship have banned foreign journalists.

Evan Williams is one of those (well, can you call yourself a journalist until you’ve at least been banned from somewhere) – but he hasn’t given up, and entered the country undercover in order to get the story.

Evan WilliamsWhich is just as well really; it wouldn’t have been half as rivetting if he hadn’t gone back.

A sudden call from the Free Burma Rangers last Christmas began for Williams a month long trek through the Burmese jungle. He followed the rangers (a Christian group providing medical aid to villagers) as they trekked to burnt out villages while similtaneously avoiding being captured by the Burmese army. The rangers insisted he come alone so he had to film the whole experience himself.

According to this week’s Broadcast magazine, he took just 14 batteries and 40 tapes for the whole month. He used a Sony A1 HDV camera operating it himself.

And yes, the camerawork was shaky and the light not always great and the sound not perfect, but this was first hand storytelling, and it was gripping.

Williams didn’t try to hide anything either. We were taken to a medical tent where a landmine victim’s shattered shinbone stuck in the air as he lay on the bed in agony; the rotting corpse of a murdered villager was another grim but necessary sequence. Audiences eating their dinner would have been put off their food – I hope they were.

The programme, made by Hardcash Productions exposed dealings between the British government and Burmese junta, but most of all it was the story of the silent agony of millions of Burmese people.

But will anything come of it? Authored docs like this are the best for keeping an audience enthralled for 60 minutes, but as soon as the credits roll, the attention is soon diverted. And until we solve that problem programmes like this will remain as silent and unacknowledged as the suffering of the Burmese people.