Adam Westbrook // ideas on digital storytelling and publishing

Another rare work update..

Posted in Adam by Adam Westbrook on September 23, 2010

It’s been quiet on the blog so far in September, as I’ve been working hard starting and completing around half a dozen new projects (who said multitasking couldn’t be done?!)

I know it’s not what you stop by here for, so I’ll keep it brief.

Some films

Two commissions from the VJ Movement have kept me very busy this month. The first, a challenging story on the uncertain fate of refugees in Britain, was published a week ago. I spent some time with a Kurdish refugee who doesn’t know whether she’ll be kicked out of the UK. Her legal files are in a pile of boxes somewhere in south London; she’s in York. Click here to watch it.

An article on the closure of Refugee and Migrant Justice also appears in this week’s edition of Big Issue In The North.

A second commission, on the surprisingly expensive problem of Japanese Knotweed, is delivered this week. I’ve had fun trekking through woodland, stalking through quarantine facilities and taking a look at the new Olympic site on this one.

Some more films

Meanwhile, studio .fu, my production company is slowly gathering pace. I’ve been working on building a portfolio of work, and building relationships with potential clients too. I’ve finally completed a short about the artist Toni Lebusque, and I am delivering two films for two clients this week (phew!).

Great fun has also been had beginning a series with presenter Matt Walters about green living…which began by filming his car being demolished – I’ll share when it’s up!

Some words and sounds

I’ve been appearing in various forms elsewhere on the internet. Check out my views on paying for journalism on the Tomorrow’s News Tomorrow’s Journalists blog; I’ve also appeared at owni.eu (in French) and the European Journalism Centre this month. More time is being taken up by blog.fu, studio .fu’s own storytelling blog. And I’m also becoming slowly addicted to Tumblr too.

And a couple of weeks back I appeared alongside Richard Wilson and Jon Slattery in Judith Townend’s Meeja Law podcast. It’s called I’m a Blogger Get Me Out of Here and here’s my segment talking about being a blogger and keeping on the right side of the law. (Click on the play button to listen)

Social mediary

I’ve clocked up more track-miles talking to journalists and academics about social media. I was in Glasgow at the start of the month talking about how universities can use social media more; a couple of days later I had the privilege of running a training session at Trinity University College in Leeds. More training plans are in the pipeline as we speak.

Next Generation Journalist

There’s some really cool Next Generation Journalist stuff on the way in the next week or so. I shot interviews with several of the interviewees for the book – you’ll get to see them soon. And there’s also a Facebook group to join. Don’t forget copies are still available – and now there’s five good reasons to get a copy too!

And back to the classroom

And as September rolls around its time to think about the new academic year; I am returning to Kingston University in London on a more permanent basis this month, and teaching both undergraduate and post-graduate video journalism modules.

It’s also required me to return to the classroom as a student, and take a Post-graduate certificate in Higher Education Teaching. Crumbs!

I promise to keep blogging useful stuff as much as I possibly can. And as always, thanks for reading!

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Covering court cases: the questions you were afraid to ask

Posted in Journalism by Adam Westbrook on January 26, 2009

Journalists undergoing training get excellent tuition these days on media law. The difference between libel and slander, section 39, contempt of court, jigsaw ID, all that.

The idea: to leave the course with an instinctive knowledge of when a story isn’t legally sound. Some alarm should go off in your mind.

All well and good, but just 2 weeks after finishing my training, in June 2007, I found my way to court for the first time, on my own,  covering the sentencing of a woman who’d been convicted for dumping her stillborn baby on the banks of a river.

It hit me then: I knew the law – but I sure as hell didn’t have a clue how to cover a court case.  The practicalities. So everything I’ve learned, I’ve learned on the job, covering trials for murder, rape, fraud, armed robbery you name it for nearly two years.

The questions you were afraid to ask (or never got told)

How do I find out about court cases?

To find out if a case is due to appear in a given court, on a given day, the online source Courtserve is a good first stop. You can browse cases by court, although the next day listings won’t appear until mid-afternoon the day before.

Every Crown and Magistrates Court has a listings department; it’s good practice to call them to confirm the appearance as often changes are made at the last minute.

Finally there is no substitute for maintaining a thorough court diary (court jester) on your newsdesk. Every time a crime hits the headlines, note the arrest and follow up subsequent appearances.

What is the legal process?

Keeping it (very) simple: once someone has been charged they will appear at their local Magistrates court, and depending on the seriousness of the crime, it will be sent to Crown Court. There is often at least one Preliminary Hearing where details like the defendant’s name and address are confirmed.

Then comes the Plea and Case Management Hearing (or PCMH) this is where the defendant will plead “guilty” or “not guilty.” If it’s the former it goes straight to sentencing, if it’s the latter, a date will be set for trial – and a window for that trial to take place.

The trial itself will take place: the jury sworn in, then opening statements, before the prosecution and defense have full blow at all the evidence with witnesses galore. Both sides sum up, before the judge sends out the jury. After deliberation lasting hours to days, they return a verdict. At which point the judge adjourns the case while he decides a sentence. He may also ask for psychiatric reports to be prepared which can delay the process.

The sentence is given, and case closed.

justice

What should I wear in court?

I would always recommend wearing something vaguely smart, but I’ve never been kicked out for wearing trainers and jeans. It’s no worse than the relatives of those appearing will turn up in.

What can I take into court?

Into the courtroom itself you can take your bag,  a pen and notebook. Phones are allowed but for the love of God, turn it to silent (be paranoid about this!).

Broadcasters: you will have to surrender your mics, cameras to the security desk. I recommend approaching them with eye contact and a smile and the line “I need to hand this over to you” If you leave it for them to find it in your bag, then it gives them a major lecture-licence which we could all do without.

Where am I supposed to sit?

Every courtroom has a press gallery, usually in the ‘pit’ of the courtroom. There’s also the public gallery, but press is preferable because you can swap notes with other reporters.

What happens if I arrive late or need to leave early?

People are allowed to come and go from a courtroom, but it is customary to turn and give the judge a respectful nod as you leave or enter. At some stages, arriving or leaving will be banned.

How do court rooms work?

When you arrive you’ll go through a security check, often with a metal detector. A frisking isn’t unusual. Broadcasters, handover your recording equipment.

Then there’s a lobby, with access to all the court rooms. You’ll see all sorts in here:

  • A group of people looking scruffy: normally the family/friends of the defendant, and not unusually the defendant themselves.
  • People dressed smart, looking nervous or crying: often witnesses about to spill all.
  • Smart looking people sitting next to them: the detective on the case, hoping the witness says the right thing.
  • Very smart people in a gown: the clerk of the court: They’ll call in witnesses and announce the start of proceedings in a certain courtroom.
  • And the people you’ll probably want to ID the fastest: other journalists. Make friends-you’ll need to share notes and know you’re in on the right case!

I’m in the court building but I don’t know what room I’m supposed to be in, what do I do?

Navigate your way round with the flatscreen monitors dotted around. There’s at least one in the lobby, listing all the cases due that day (by defendant’s name, case number, case stage, place and time).

Each courtroom usually has a room specific monitor outside it.

Still you’ll need to keep your wits about you – there’s nothing worse than realising you’ve gone and sat in on the wrong case.

How do I find out if there are any reporting restrictions?

Normally there’s a note on the press bench. Again, this where it’s useful to make friends with other hacks – especially PA or the local paper. They’ll tell you if there’s anything you should know about.

Who can I talk to for help?

Your afformentioned journo friends. Also you can usually approach the court clerk at an appropriate moment, or one of the council. Every court also has at least one attached freelance court reporter who files copy for organisations who can’t be there. Living in the building they’ll tell you everything and anything – but be warned, they earn their living on passing on court copy, and a reporter present = one less sale.

Will I be upset?

You may be. On a murder or sexual assault case the details are graphic and unrelenting. Be prepared for sex assualt cases in particular, when the charges are often listed by each individual ‘penetration’ (which is then described). And you’ll hear bad language all over the shop, including from barristers and the judge (when reading out witness statements).

Am I allowed to approach anyone?

On a big case, you might want to interview the police on the case or the family of the victim. There’s no problem with this, but use your common sense and tact. Courts are very distressing places for some people.

What are good questions to ask?

If you’re looking for that extra scoop or new angle, try and speak to the officer who tried the case after verdict (they’ll be at court). Were there any previous convictions you can now report? By arrangement the families may give a statement or take questions outside court. This is usually done with arrangement with the police press office.

What happens if I get any grief?

I’ve never gotten grief from someone involved in a specific case. The only resistance you’re likely to encounter is – bizarrely – from the people who work in courts. For some reason, no-one’s ever told them the important role journalists play in justice and democracy, and you’re seen as a nosey parker.

The answer: remember Lady Justice with her two scales. Justice is to be done and seen to be done. If you need to give a (minor) court official a reminder on this, all the better.

Broadcast Journalism: a bibliography

Posted in Adam, Broadcasting and Media by Adam Westbrook on November 1, 2008

Here’s a post which has been sitting in my draft folder for more than a year! No Idea why I never published it at the time…but here it is. Other journos: feel free to add your own suggestions or reviews of the below!

(more…)

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Bridgend Suicides: more media soul searching

Posted in Broadcasting and Media, News and that by Adam Westbrook on February 20, 2008

It’s becoming an increasing trend for the media to self criticise an analyse these days.

In the last few weeks there’s been some tough soul searching: first over the ‘hounding’ of Britney Spears; and more recently over our impact on the ever continuing suicides in Bridgend in South Wales.

The 17th victim – 16 year old Jenna Parry- was found hanged yesterday.

So the big questions are being asked: are the front page splashes and TV/Radio pieces encouraging others to seek their fame posthumously? Should there be a voluntary ban on reporting suicides?

I’m not sure where I sit on this. As far as I am aware it is already against PCC/Ofcom policy to include lurid details on suicides to avoid copy cats.

There are some errors in reporting though. A lot of papers suggest the “town” of Bridgend is under the grip of the suicide horror – in fact Bridgend is a county borough and the deaths are spread across it.

A new trend?

It never seemed to happen much before, except maybe when Princess Diana died and we all wondered whether the paparazzi had driven her into the tunnel wall.

Last year, in the fever of the Ipswich Murders (the verdict of which is expected imminently), no-one slammed the outrageous behaviour of the BBC and Sky who fought a tooth and nail battle to get exclusives.

The BBC famously broadcast an off-the-record interview with a suspect-something any journalist should never do. The papers published pictures of his MySpace site and called him an internet weirdo.

He was later released without charge.

But let this soul searching continue! In the absence of a solid fifth estate, the more self monitoring the better.

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All quiet on the Westbrook front

Posted in Adam by Adam Westbrook on May 30, 2007

Been wanting to use that line for a long time…

Yes it’s been pretty quiet round here for a while..ever so sorry n all, it’s been proper crazy don’tcha know.

I usually don’t bother talking about myself on here – no-one’s interested in that – but it’s been a month of change which is probably worth scribbling down.

First things first, I’m not a student any more. And I’m now a proper journalist and everything.

I finished my exams 8 days ago and started my new job just 7 ago, which was a streak of luck, not half because I’ve also run out of money.

I’ve taken up a reporting job in Warwickshire with Touch FM, owned by the CN Radio Group. It’s a brilliant job which gets out and about lots and doing the whole reporter thing and the station’s got a good rep in the area.

So I’ve said goodbye to sunny Clapham and moved back to the Midlands and more specifically to Leamington Spa which’ll be my home for a good few years I expect.

It’s proper mad busy like, but fear not: I’ll still be keeping the blog torch alive within the contractual bounds of my job, hopefully adding some insight on life on the very greasiest bottom rung of the UK media ladder.

Oh, and another little milestone: this blog’s been visited more than 10,000 times since it started in September. Well, it looks good on the side don’t it…I’ll sum all that up shortly.

Call in the lawyers

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

I’m in the early stages of revising for my upcoming Media Law exam. It’s a vital element of becoming a qualified journalist because a knowledge of the law is vital when covering many stories, mainly to stop you getting into trouble for libel or contempt of court.

Right now, I can’t remember enough to solve this “media law issue of the week” as our lecturer likes to coin it – maybe a reader with a bit more know-how can help out.

Check out these pictures, printed in papers, websites and broadcast on television yesterday:

Hugh Grant in the Star

It accompanied the story that Hugh Grant had been arrested for allegedly throwing a tin of baked beans at a photographer. The photograph (taken by the photographer) shows the actor apparently throwing the beans.

Now, correct me if I’m wrong, but the photograph is evidence. With Hugh Grant arrested, the case is technically “active” which means contempt of court rules apply.

And publishing/broadcasting these images could affect the decision of a potential juror in the case.

So why are they allowed to print them? Or are they not – and am I also in Contempt for linking to one of the images?

Answers on a postcard!