Adam Westbrook // ideas on digital storytelling and publishing

Where there’s smoke…

Posted in Broadcasting and Media by Adam Westbrook on April 27, 2007

Making live TV news is hard enough, but when the gallery fills with smoke, you know it’s about to get harder.

But never ones to let a good oppurtunity go to waste, the journos at CNN apparently leapt out of the pub and filmed “compelling images” for ITV’s London Tonight.

Nice.

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Pirates ahoy!

Posted in Broadcasting and Media by Adam Westbrook on April 20, 2007

Is there a battle raging in our airwaves?
A study by the UK media regulator Ofcom published yesterday showed that there are as many as two hundred pirate radio stations in Britain; half of them are based in London.

But the survey of three London boroughs – Hackney, Haringey and Lambeth  – shows that they’re becoming increasingly popular: around a quarter of people in those areas regularly tune into illegal stations:

  • 25% of these listeners tune in for the non-english programming
  • 16% tune in for the unique music

Last month I produced a short radio package on pirate radio in London for my coursework at City University, speaking to Ofcom, LBC and ex-pirate station Voice of Africa Radio.

It’s available online – click here.

Discrimination in the media: it’s not race – it’s money

Posted in Broadcasting and Media by Adam Westbrook on February 27, 2007

Is radio racist?

That was the question asked at a Radio Academy event I went to last week. Arguments went round in a circles a little bit, with nobody actually producing even anecdotal evidence of any prejudice or discrimination in the line of their work.

Then my friend Jimmy, who works at the Radio Centre, produced some yet-to-be-published statistics from Skillset, which poured a bit more fuel on the fire:

  • Averaged out, about 6% of the UK population are non-white.
  • 10.9% of the BBC’s staff are non-white
  • 3.1% of staff in the commercial radio sector are non-white.

A bit embarassing for commercial radio really, but you do have to mention that the majority of local radio staff work in regions and small towns. Compare that to the Beeb’s mainly London based staff. And in London nearer 30% of people are from ethnic minority backgrounds.

My own personal conclusion was (in regards to employment) the media industry is possibly the least racist industry there is. But it does discriminate still – against people, of all races, without money.

Greasy poles and NUJ polls

Take my course for example. To train to be a journalist at City University will set you back £5,995. Its equivalent at Westminster is £4,700 and £5,391 at Cardiff.

And on top of that we, plus anyone wanting to go into any branch of the industry, usually do at least a couple of months worth of unpaid work experience. And on rare occasions we get our travel expenses paid. That’s happened to me once.

I’m not for one second trying to moan about this or get above my station. I know I’m one of thousands clambering at the bottom of a great whopping dirty greasy pole; if I didn’t work for free, there are hundreds behind me who will. It’s part of the process.
But it’s worried the National Union of Journalists who today handed a survey to Her Majesty’s Custom and Exise highlighting the exploitation of people on work experience by certain companies. An early day motion’s also been tabled in parliament to discuss the NUJ’s findings.

They say some companies are bringing in unpaid students on work experience to fill HR gaps and sick leave. Here’s one example from the NUJ’s survey:

“At my local paper – I was given several by-lines including a front page exclusive and was not even offered payment for my travel expenses.”

Money, money, money

Again, I’m not here to moan, and a lot of the case studies in the NUJ survey seem to be just general “I didn’t get to do anything” rants. One person even complains I really had to push to get work and used my own initiative to get stuff on air”…well done mate – that’s how it works.

But they do raise a good point about the cost of going into this industry. And if you’re doing the work that a freelancer could be brought in to do, then by rights you should be paid the rates.

It’s a hugely rewarding industry when you get in and – I dearly hope – my six grand will have more than paid for itself this time next year.

But it’s cold and wet on the outside looking in. Is it surprising that people get turned off from the media when they have to sacrifice so much to get in? You need extraordinary amounts of money to get started, and it’s sad fact that most of the people who can’t afford fees or unpaid work happen to be from BME backgrounds.

But that’s a socio-economic problem for Britain as a whole – it’s not something the media industry (as powerful as it is) is not equipped to deal with.

Clapham shooting: media hype or worthy debate?

Posted in Adam, Broadcasting and Media by Adam Westbrook on February 18, 2007

Billy Cox, the fifteen year old boy who was shot dead on my estate on Wednesday, was one of the fifty people who are killed each year in gun crime. For the British media however this was something much more.

“WARZONE UK….NIHILISTIC ANARCHY!” screamed the Daily Mail.

“NO END TO GUN CRIME?” was Sky News’ dubious headline last night.

I could go into the journalistic flaws in a headline including “no end to…” but that’s beside the point. The point is I am apparently living in the centre of nihilistic anarchy.  Really? If I was, would I have been able to pop down to the shops for a pint of milk yesterday? Would my mate Jimmy have been able to come round to watch the Reading-ManU match?

Surely we would need to have been wearing flak jackets and I would have expected to have been airlifted to safety by Friday at the latest.
The series of shootings in the last fortnight are, as far as the police know, unrelated. They’re a statistical anomaly, which, if they continue, would boost the average number of shooting fatalities year on year.  But we don’t know that yet.

I’m not accusing the media of lying. Every report I’ve seen has dutifully reported the facts, but the events of the past week have revealed a meta-level of news: the stringing together of several unrelated events to create a narrative of gun crime anarchy in the UK.

But on the flip side, although it’s a distortion of the truth, the media hype has sparked a high level debate about the UK’s gun laws. The Met Police held and emergency meeting on Thursday, and Tony Blair appeared on BBC One’s Sunday AM programme this morning talking seriously about updating gun crime laws.

And that can only be good.

Has Billy’s death come a month ago or in two months time, it would have hardly warranted an inch in page 10 of the Metro. But that’s news I guess…as someone far wiser than me said to me last week…in news you simplify and then exaggerate.

Clapham shooting: the interest continues

Posted in Adam, Broadcasting and Media by Adam Westbrook on February 16, 2007

The quiet South London estate I’ve been living on for the past five months has become an extraordinary hive of media and police activity. The far entrance, near the high street, which was the original spot for reporters has been sealed off, and someone figured out the next morning that the best location was the small car park inside the estate, which my flat overlooks.

So today there have been 5 satellite trucks parked outside and at least 2 TV crews doing live 2-ways from near Billy Cox’s home. A pile of flowers have been growing today as well, and joining police and journalists have been scores of locals coming to pay their respects.

Interestingly I’ve seen a lot more gangs in the area today – that’s to say groups of teenagers in hoodies etc. They’re not normally from around here, so I guess they’ve come to pay their respects to (as one tribute put it) a fallen soldier.

Apparently there are several big gangs around South London. There’s the Peckham Boys and the Young Peckham Boys, Man Dem Crew and Peel Dem Crew – they’re the closest to Clapham – plus the Ghetto Boys near Lewisham and the appropriately posh sounding South Man Syndicate operating in Tooting Bec.

None of the gangs visiting Fenwick Place tonight seem threatening; rather they’re here to pay their respects and move on. Or it could be the fact that you’re never more than 10 feet away from a police officer.

It’s interesting that the media glare is still here so much – 15 year old Billy Cox’s body was taken away yesterday, and the story has moved on now to the government response. But BBC News and ITV London both got hold of teenagers from the estate today who were surprisingly willing to talk on camera. The juxtaposition with BBC posh man Daniel Boetcher was odd to say the least.

They usually say communities “unite in grief” during times like this. People from Fenwick Place are coming together but, it seems, more to watch the TV reporters than to mourn together.

Certainly Wednesday’s killing has shocked this relatively quiet and crime free estate. It looks rough from the outside, and we all moved in with some trepidation – but this is the first incident in five months and as a resident in the middle, I don’t feel any less safe after this weeks sad events than I did before.

[edit: and just minutes after I posted this entry, the TV trucks have all moved away. The three kids from the family on the floor below us are back out, happily playing football in the carpark.]

Clapham shooting: close to home

Posted in Adam, Broadcasting and Media by Adam Westbrook on February 14, 2007

A teenager’s been shot and killed in Clapham – the third victim of gang violence in South London in 10 days. This latest killing has happened yards from my flat earlier this afternoon.

It happened just before four o’clock this afternoon, and the story made it to air not long after 9. Several satellite trucks are parked around the back of my estate, Fenwick Place, in Clapham North.

The scene by the police corden Clapham North

Police have sealed off most of the estate, and as I write forensic tests are being carried out before the teenager’s body is removed from another flat.

Fenwick Place, Clapham, London

It’s brought London’s spiralling gun crime close to home. Just over a week ago a sixteen year old was killed at an ice rink down the road and a week ago today another teenager was shot in his bed in Peckham…where Damilola Taylor died 7 years ago.

Police Commissioner Sir Ian Blair has called an emergency meeting tomorrow. Gun crime in South London it seems has gotten out of control. But it’s not something that bothers many people…here’s the scene outside the Falcon Pub inches from the police corden. Plenty of people are happy to head out for a drink or two at a crime scene.

The Falcon pub, Fenwick Place, Clapham

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An underserved audience?

Posted in Broadcasting and Media by Adam Westbrook on February 11, 2007

“Griffin Park has never seen anything of this magnitude; the jubilation was incredible”

Ghanaians celebrating after beating NigeriaThat’s how people described Wednesday’s “clash of the titans” between Ghana and Nigeria. The world cup friendly saw the Black Stars – still high on their world cup success last summer –  “thrash” Nigeria’s Super Eagles 4-1 at Griffin Park.

But it seems the jubilation was short lived for any Ghanaians living in the UK. The African Voice newspaper on Friday reported outrage that the BBC had not mentioned the match the next day.
“BBC blasted over ‘biased’ broadcast” goes this week’s headline. The paper says there’s anger after BBC Breakfast did not show any highlights of the match on Thursday morning – even though it mentioned every other friendly match from the previous evening, including Portugal-Brazil and Denmark-Australia.  Says one Ghanaian in London:

“They showed the goals from all other matches but not the Nigeria against Ghana game. I was so angry.”

Chris Hollins apparently apologised on screen for not showing the footage; perhaps it was to do with rights or for time reasons. (The African Voice, interestingly, didn’t contact the BBC for a response.)

But it’s not quelled the anger.

As much as the story is a bit of a storm in a teacup it’s still raises interesting points. Read any BBC job application form and it’s all about reaching underserved audiences. Chris Hollins on BBC Breakfast

Well there are around 200,000 Ghanaians living and working in the UK. There are no official figures for the Nigerian counterparts, but I would suspect it’s the same if not greater.

There was equal demand for showing clips of this match as there was the Denmark-Australia game, and arguably more than for the South Korea-Greece one. If the reason was other than a practical one (rights/time) then the BBC’s made a mistake.

Reaching underserved audiences doesn’t just mean hiring local reporters with local connections. It needs the London based producers to open their eyes a bit more and be as equally understanding of Britain’s amazingly diverse communities.

A long day at Gray’s Inn

Posted in Uncategorized by Adam Westbrook on November 25, 2006

Yesterday seven of us from City University’s Broadcast Journalism course had an “operational visit” to ITN‘s headquarters at Gray’s Inn Road in central London. For those who are unfamiliar, ITN produces daily television news for ITV and Channel 4 in the UK, and – as IRN – radio for hundreds of commercial stations across the country.

ITN HeadquartersIt’s paid for as part of our course, and it was an absolute highlight of the year so far. The seven of us turned up bleary eyed at 8am and were met by Richard, a senior producer and our guide for the day.

We got to sit in on the daily planning meeting where all the senior editors get together to bash out the days news. No surprise what was on the agenda yesterday, with Alexander Litvinenko’s death the obvious lead.*

The rest of the day was split between watching ITV News in action, sitting in the gallery during the Lunchtime and Evening news programmes, and getting our hands dirty with some journalistic exercises.

Richard had us debating the running order and writing copy for short “ulays” (short pieces of footage you see on screen while a presenter talks, usually during a ‘news in brief’ segment). With access to ITN’s huge archive of source material and their editing software we wrote and edited a short package on the Australian fires, which Richard then critiqued.

He was an excellent teacher and I learned loads about writing to picture and how to use your pictures creatively.

ITV News studioIt was great seeing ITV News in action as well; with Michael Stone storming Stormont (the alliteration rolls of the tongue) less than an hour before the Lunchtime News went on air, it was chaos in the gallery but the team pulled it together without anyone at home noticing.

I’ve always kind of ignored ITV News in the past, dismissing it as popularist and tabloid. If yesterday showed me anything its that ITV News writes better and uses pictures more creatively than its rivals.

*Bizarre story of the day: three weeks ago, a talk was held at City Uni about the tragic death of Russian journalist Anna Politkovskaya. Due to talk was her friend, Alexander Litvinenko, but he pulled out at the last minute – due to illness.  

SRA success!

Posted in Uncategorized by Adam Westbrook on November 11, 2006
  • Posh hotel: check
  • Nice suit: check
  • Free drink: check!

I mentioned earlier that RaW (my old student radio station back at Warwick Uni) got some nominations in the national student radio awards.

We all turned up and got thoroughly merry. All the drunken gossip that usually arises aside, I think we left with 2 silvers, 2 bronzes and a gold for technical innovation. The silver for Best Station was much deserved. Well done everyone!

Here we are all getting hammered (and looking like we’ve been set alight…)

RaW at the Student Radio Awards

Regent’s Street christmas lights

Posted in Uncategorized by Adam Westbrook on November 11, 2006

Regents Street Christmas 3

 

In an abortive attempt to get properly festive this year I popped along to the turning on of the Regent’s Street christmas lights in central London, the smaller sibling of the big Christmas light display on Oxford Street.

Regents Street Christmas 2

The verdict? Garish, crass, not at all christmassy, and a sickenly commercial plug for the latest sugar filled kiddies movie.

All the lights are adorned with characters from “flushed away” (some film about toilets apparently).

While I was there though, I had a quick look at the BBC’s much feted W1 Project: a rennovation of Broadcasting House including the largest newsroom in the world.

W1 Project

 

More frustration

Posted in Uncategorized by Adam Westbrook on November 10, 2006

The bulletins yesterday went very well, and the interest rate announcement at midday made it pretty exciting.

In the end I didn’t get time to put my off-diary story about the lack of poppies on sale together (see here). Didn’t think much of it, until the London Lite ran the same story on their frontpage. Whoops.

After all the technical cock-ups on Wednesday it’s been a week of “how not to be a reporter”.

In other news, lots of lovely golds and silvers for RaW – my old student radio station – at the swanky student radio awards last night…not mention all sorts of goss…more soon (when the hangovers gone!)

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!