Adam Westbrook // ideas on digital storytelling and publishing

On revolution.

Posted in Entrepreneurial Journalism by Adam Westbrook on February 11, 2011

Image Credit: monasosh on Flickr; taken Jan 29th, Egypt

Tonight, Egypt’s 30-year-old regime fell.

The hundreds of thousands of protesters in Tahrir Square showed the rest of the world what persistent, peaceful protest can really achieve – in a short space of time. If I were a despot in another part of the world, I’d be nervous, to say the least.

The revolution in Egypt follows (but is not necessarily connected to) a series of major revolutions affecting the world this century. Most immediately the similar political ones in Tunisia and Yemen; but more importantly the revolutions in society, careers, technology – and yes, journalism, which are reforging the way the world works.

The fact is unavoidable: we live in revolutionary times.

These aren’t the thoughts of a lone conspiracy theorist crackpot. I’m not the only, and certainly not the first person to write this. In fact, one of the smartest people on the planet – Sir Ken Robinson – has been saying it for ages. In this speech at the Aspen Institute he defines what revolution really is:

…we are living in times of revolution. And I believe this is literally true; I don’t mean it figuratively, like ‘it’s a bit like a revolution’, or what we think of as a revolution, or what we’ve come to call a revolution. It is a revolution.

A revolution is a time when things you think are obvious turn out not to be. Things you take for granted turn out to be untrue. Things you do habitually turn out to be ineffective. And I believe that’s where we are now, and the pace of this is picking up.

If you work in journalism, hopefully that last paragraph rings true.

If you’re under 30, I think revolution will be the gift, and perhaps also the burden, of your generation. It certainly sets us apart from the baby-boomer generation before us. It is not for us to choose this burden, but it is in our power – and our responsibility – to live up to it.

Before you close this tab and dismiss me as an anarchist, I am not calling for the masses to take up arms and head to the streets. Revolution is rarely about violence (the social-media revolution is the opposite of violence, right?) In fact, all you have to do this: accept it; relish it; embrace it. Revolution is messy, so be prepared to get your hands dirty and your feet wet. You’ll have to accept the conventional wisdom is wrong, and the things you might have taken for granted are untrue.

But whatever you do, don’t resist it. Don’t linger in the past, don’t yearn for things to be the way they were. In a revolution, the Mubaraks always lose. And the only person who suffers when you do that is you.

For the last seven years, this blog has been about a very specific revolution: the revolution in journalism; and about a very specific way of dealing with it: seeing opportunities where other people see threats; being entrepreneurial and creating your own luck…in other words embracing it. The revolution is why I quit my conventional job 18 months ago – and it’s been a wild ride since.

I genuinely think there are unique and extraordinary opportunities to reshape our craft (for the better) that our predecessors never had, if only we go for them.¬†Imagine living in The Matrix – but only temporarily. For as long as the revolution lasts, it is possible to bend spoons if you believe it can be done. But to do so you need to take risks, make your ideas happen, create change, lead other people and start movements…but do it now, because it won’t last forever.

So seriously, jump in – the water’s lovely.

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Torture in Egypt

Posted in Uncategorized by Adam Westbrook on January 26, 2007

On Wednesday, the BBC Ten O’Clock News broadcast a report by their Egpyt correspondent Ian Pannell uncovering endemic torture in the country’s police cells.

A number of videos have starting appearing on the internet, the latest of which shows a man, under arrest, being sexually assaulted with a stick.

Ian Pannell’s report on Wednesday night contained part of this video. To say it is shocking is a massive understatement. Everyone in my flat fell silent when the piece was shown, and it’s been hard to forget.

But it’s caused a bit of a furore on the BBC Editors’ Blog this week. Opinion seems divided on whether it was right to show the video. Some were outright against it:

“I totally disagree with the display of the extremely disturbing pictures displayed on the news. The story was disturbing enough without the graphic images. We are cabable of understanding and believing a story without seeing it….I think the increase in graphic images of people in distress or killed in conflict and so on, on the news is a sad reflection of obsession with sensationalism…”

And some were OK with it:

“Good for the beeb to bring this to a wider audience. By dealing with it responsibly (and not focussing on the gruesomly sensationalist) it’s brought the shocking practice to light – and making people notice.”

The editor of the Ten Craig Oliver seems happy with his decision saying he believed they struck a balance between a need to show what happened “with concerns about exposing the audience to graphic images.”

Bodies in Bags
But should there be a need to strike a balance? I am totally in favour of the BBC reporting on this in the way it did. The role of journalism after all is to expose wrong doing and hold those responsible to account. Some moan that a British audience shouldn’t be exposed to an Egyptian problem, but hey – 700,000 Britons go on holiday to Egypt each year…feel like a holiday there now?

I don’t.

But it brings up the old issue of when is it right to show graphic images. When I spent a training day with the ITV news team last year we got to edit together a practice report about more deaths in Iraq using agency footage.

The 3 minute long tape from Reuters showed blood on the walls, bodies in bags, and distressed women and children.As young idealists we included lots of this – we felt we were telling the story truthfully. Our mentor was shocked and said the images we chose would never make it onto the evening news. It’s too upsetting.

But surely it’s the lack of images like these that have left the Iraq conflict sanatised and detached. All we take away are yet more deaths, more statistics and more burning tyres. And how does that help anyone?¬†

Click here to watch Ian Pannell’s report.

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