Adam Westbrook // ideas on digital storytelling and publishing

Some awesome photographic panoramas

Posted in International Development, Journalism by Adam Westbrook on December 6, 2009

Here’s a couple of innovative photographic panoramas which have caught my eye over the weekend.

Nairobi by Steve Bloom

The first, which has been tweeted healthily, is a huge panorama of a Nairobi street. It’s author, Steve Bloom, thinks it may be the longest photographic panorama in the world; sure enough it takes more than six minutes to explore it all in video form:

Kroo Bay by Anna Kari & Guilhem Alandry (for Save The Children)

Thanks to Tewfic El-Sawy over at The Travel Photographer for highlighting this multimedia beauty. Using video and audio slideshows to tell the stories of the people living in this Sierra Leone slum isn’t particularly new of course; but each story is presented within quite remarkable interactive 360 degree panoramas.

Kroo Bay for Save the children

The images are of exceptional quality and I was taken aback by how effectively it brought me into their world. The use of natural sound in the background (such a powerful tool, please use it lots!) sucks you straight in. I could almost smell the sewers again.

In particular check out Scene 3, a colourful portrait of Kroo Bay’s most popular musicians. Not every slum story has to be about diarrhoea, malaria and poverty. You can donate to Save The Children clicking here.

What makes these two work? Exceptional photographs, great use of sound, and the authors do not intrude in the storytelling. More please!

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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.

“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…

Somalia: state of emergency

Posted in Uncategorized by Adam Westbrook on January 13, 2007

Interesting snap just in from Reuters:

BAIDOA, Somalia, Jan 13 (Reuters) – Somalia’s parliament on Saturday declared a state of emergency for three months in order to restore security in the country after several weeks of open warfare ousted rival Islamists, an official said.

“A three-month state of emergency has been passed. If need arises for the government to extend the period then the president will have to ask parliament for approval,” second deputy speaker Osman Elmi Boqore told parliament.

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And once more back to Somalia

Posted in Uncategorized by Adam Westbrook on January 11, 2007

It seems my prediction that Somalia would become a big story in 2007 has proved true..albeit earlier and in a more bizarre fashion than expected. On Monday the US military revealed that they had spent a relaxing Sunday bombing the shit out of suspected Al-Qaeda militants.

Interestingly the news came from the US and not from the ground itself; southern Somalia being so remote no reporters in the country new much about it at first.

And it’s interesting on another level because it marks the first American intervention in Somalia since the imfamous ‘Black Hawk’ incident in the early nineties, which until Monday, caused an utter withdrawal from Africa and (some might say) let the Rwandan genocide continue unheeded.

And up one level more, it hits the interesting mark as the interim government, until two weeks ago holed up in a tiny town miles outside the capital, have supported the foreign intervention.

One Somali in Mogadishu told the BBC on Monday:

“I see that the warplanes that were used in the bombing were chasing terrorists and we Somalis have to support the efforts of the transitional federal goverment”

The interim government are taking a dangerous move in embracing foreign intervention from both the Americans and the Ethiopians, especially when that intervention comes loaded and ready to fire.

Most worryingly it’ll do nothing to salve the divide growing inside the country: interim government, US and Ethiopia on one side, Islamists and Eritrea on the other, each vowing to wipe the other off the map.

As usual with the US War on Terror (c) (TM), the two outcomes were the same:

  1. They didn’t actually kill who they wanted too.
  2. And – according to the excellent Nima Elgabir on site for Channel 4 News – they killed dozens of civilians including a wedding party.

More soon.

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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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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.

Meanwhile in Somalia…

Posted in Uncategorized by Adam Westbrook on October 28, 2006

I’ve been following the major upheavals going on in Somalia over the summer, which has basically seen fifteen years of chaotic warlord rule ended – by a fundamentalist islamic group.

It all unfolded like this:

11th July: the Union of Islamic Courts took control of Mogadishu. The country’s official (but feeble) government holed up in Baidoa, north of the capital. Peace talks between the two sides begin.

20th July: reports came out that the Islamists were advancing on Baidoa to remove the official government. But at the same time, reports appear saying that Ethiopia was massing troops on the Somali border. Which, of course, they denied. It all gets a bit ugly as the Islamists vow a “holy war” on Ethiopia for intervening.

22nd July:  the Union of Islamic Courts calls off talks with the interim government because of the Ethiopia connection.

It’s been a summer of relative peace – and for war-weary Somalians – a tempting hint of a hopeful future. But this silver cloud has a dark lining.

What’s worrying is the development of a proxy war between Ethiopia and Eritrea, both bordering Somalia. On one side, Ethiopia openly supporting the interim government, and massing troops on the border. On the other side Islamic Eritrea supporting the Islamists.

Ethiopia and Eritra, it seems, are gagging for a fight. A bitter border dispute ended in 2000 but it all kicked off again about a year ago. Ethiopia moved half it’s armoured force onto the border and Eritrea sent troops into a demilitarised zone, and tensions rose dramatically. Last October it all looked a bit serious…until you look at a map of the disputed land (from BBC News Online):

BBC Map of Ethiopia-Eritrean border

In other words: it’s tiny. And by all accounts, dusty, deserted waste land. Definitely not worth fighting over. With UN diplomacy, it all calmed down, but with Somalia entering the game, causing tensions between all three countries, it could spiral with worrying ease. This is of course a part of Africa already in turmoil.

This weekend, UIC supporters in Mogadishu are calling for a Jihad against Ethiopia,  while reports are emerging of refugees flooding into Kenya and Yemen in the most horrible of conditions.

(more…)

More biased coverage

Posted in Uncategorized by Adam Westbrook on October 12, 2006

From AFP (French Press Agency):

200 leading journalists gathered in a recent conference in Johannesburg, and agreed that western media do not grant Africa fair coverage, failing to report positive economic and democratic news. “Every time a country like South Africa is reported internationally, we are reminded about escalating crime and diseases such as HIV and AIDS,” said Tim Modise, a presenter at Johannesburg-based South African 702 Talk Radio.

A confirmation of the fact that the coverage of African stories needs to be enhanced, can be seen in the recent decision of major international media organizations to have a more significant presence in the country.  Zafar Siddiqi, chairman of CNBC Africa, an affiliate of the US NBC, said he is planning two new offices in South Africa, and others across the country. Al Jazeera announced the same intention, and offices will be opened in Abidjan, Cairo, Harare, Johannesburg and Nairobi.

 

More proof of what I’ve been saying for ages. But it’s a problem that we’re not seeing any attempts to correct bar, perhaps, this conference earlier in the year.

In April I wrote about a Commonwealth Broadcasting Association survey into whether television was reflecting the real world and my conclusion was something along the lines of:

News producer need to be more creative in the stories they find, reporting the good and the bad, in new and original ways that are more reflective of the continent, as well as the rest of the developing world.

And producers from other genres must broaden their horizons. The survey has found that audiences do want to see more from the outside world, but they’re tired of the same repetitive formats.

Good to see Al-Jazeera will be boosting it’s Africa coverage when it finally launches later this year.

The solution isn’t simple, but I’d be really interested in what bloggers in Africa think…do you think British/American/European media outlets reflect your world accurately? Make some noise!

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Got 20 minutes free today?

Posted in Uncategorized by Adam Westbrook on September 10, 2006

Inside Afrika logoThe Inside Africa project has been a remarkable collaboration between a guy called Tim Metz and the charity Out of Africa. Tim’s a twenty-something Dutch guy who recently returned from 6 months living in Kenya. It was a gapyear type thing like many others, but Tim did something different – he filmed it all and produced a series of amazing video reports.

As well as being decently produced, his films do something that so far no other professional journalist has managed – reporting Africa in a stereotype-breaking way. Did he film starving babies affected by the Kenyan droubt, so typical of western media?

No. Instead he met everyone from artists, musicians, chefs and prostitutes and told their story in a non-patronising and intimate way that breaks so many of the stereotypes compounded by European and American journalists.

So, if you have 20 minutes free and give a bit of a toss about Africa or Kenya, then sit back and watch his final film, The Walk of Life, where he hops frantically all over the country to cover as many different stories as possible.

Click here to watch The Walk of Life

Journalists have got a lot to do to change the way we cover the continent in a way that engages western audiences but doesn’t betray the reality of African life. It’s a massive goal, and Tim and the Out of Afrika project has made a vital first step.