Adam Westbrook // ideas on digital storytelling and publishing

“Deadbeat Dads”

Posted in Broadcasting and Media, Journalism by Adam Westbrook on January 27, 2009

It was an innocent enough piece of copy from our news provider in London:

“A new crackdown on parents who refuse to pay child support goes before Parliament later.

“So-called ‘Deadbeat Dads’ could be stripped of their driving licences and passports without the courts being involved.”

Well, use of the word ‘crackdown’ aside, it sparked a big reaction from our listeners. Why? Because of the phrase “deadbeat dads”.

The script itself even says “so-called deadbeat dads” but that didn’t stop several people calling into complain.

But everyone was using it. I heard BBC Radio 1 Newsbeat use it, without the “so-called”; it also appeared in several newspapers.

And you can see why it’s used – it’s a catchy phrase which makes a bit of a woolly legal story more interesting.

Our callers  – single dads, mostly – felt singled out as the responsible party. Mums, they said, also skimped on child support. Why should they get a hard time in the press? And they’re right.

So what’s the answer? Should journalists avoid pithy catchphrases all together? Or do they make the story more interesting and relatable?

A good bit of advice for other journalists: the complaints weren’t bad news for us. We listened to their concerns, explained how the word made it on radio…and then convinced them to speak on air, giving us the best local audio on this story.

Have a listen

The US elections in pictures

Posted in News and that by Adam Westbrook on November 4, 2008

 

Voting in laundrettes

Voting in laundrettes

 

 

ID cards help avoid fraud

ID cards help avoid fraud

 

John McCain votes

John McCain votes

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That Russell Brand speech in full

Posted in News and that by Adam Westbrook on September 8, 2008

So old Russer hosty-wosted the MTV VMA’s last night, despite being a virtual unknown Stateside. Caused a few upsets though, mixing sex and politics, when we know only Sarah Palin’s daughter’s allowed to do that.

Enough wise-cracks from me, here’s what the man with the massive mullet said:

On the US elections:

“As a representative of the global community, a visitor from abroad, I don’t want to come across a little bit biased, but could I please ask of you, people of America, please elect Barack Obama, please, on behalf of the world.

“Some people, I think they’re called racists, say America is not ready for a black president.

“But I know America to be a forward thinking country because otherwise why would you have let that retard and cowboy fella be president for eight years.

“We were very impressed. We thought it was nice of you to let him have a go, because, in England, he wouldn’t be trusted with a pair of scissors.”

On Sarah Palin’s daugher Bristol:

“That is the safe sex message of all time. Use a condom or become a Republican!”

On himself:

“…a little sex once and a while never hurt anybody.”

“I’m famous in the United Kingdom. My persona don’t really work without fame. Without fame, this haircut could be mistaken for mental illness.”

Meanwhile at the other end of the country, another Brit was making a big impression in America. Misery guts Andy Murray got through to the final of the US Open. Very cool. But incidentally I was talking to people on the street in the UK today and the phrase “couldn’t give a toss” was an oft repeated one.

I wonder then, which Brit made the biggest impression on the US of A last night?

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When Adam met Jacqui

Posted in Adam, Broadcasting and Media by Adam Westbrook on August 7, 2007

As a local journalist it’s quite neat when one of your local MPs suddenly becomes important.

That’s what happened to Jacqui Smith, a teacher turned MP for Redditch in Worcestershire and – of the end of June – the Home Secretary.

Two foiled terror attacks, a flood and a foot and mouth crisis later and it’s been an interesting first five weeks.

I managed to wrangle a one-on-one interview with her last Friday – it’s up on the 102 Touch FM website for your audio pleasure now…

Pinochet and Manchester United

Posted in News and that by Adam Westbrook on February 6, 2007

Apparently my flat is a very political one. We spend our evenings ranking dictators into our own football premiership.

Well that’s what my flatmate Ryan says in an article on the Conservative Home blog.

I’m not sure whether that’s true, but his blog – saying Pinochet wasn’t all that bad – has caused a bit of a storm. Check it out if you dare.

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The million dollar question (literally)

Posted in News and that by Adam Westbrook on February 5, 2007

Dollar signThe big story of the day for all Claphams yummy mummys is undoubtedly the news that the education system for 11-14 year old’s to be shaken up.

“Useless” EU languages are going to be scrapped in favour of economically more fruitful ones like Arabic, Urdu and Mandarin.

Brilliant. I’ve always wanted to learn Mandarin, and besides I never use my French anyway.

But seeing as we’re on the topic of economically useful subjects, here’s one that really gets me:

Why were we never taught money at school?

As I flounder in a panic-stricken state, smothered by the giant pillow of £22,000 debt beneath a 13-tog* duvet of rising interest rates and an exploding property market I’m wishing I got told how to manage my money instead of being taught William Blake was a mentalist.

I have little idea of loans, APR, taxes and I only discovered there was such a thing as a credit rating and that failing one is bad news….when I failed one. Cheers for that one education.

And clearly I’m not the only one. Personal insolvency in the UK went up by a whopping 59% last year. In 2006 a record 107,000 thousand people were declared bankrupt and probably now live on a diet of cat food and cardboard, like me.

The government moans and blames the banks. But successive education ministers have been too proud to look at themselves – schools are to blame, not banks. Well, banks are a little too.

So great, teach kids Mandarin, and Urdu and Elvish, whatever. But why the hell aren’t we taught how to manage our money in a world where money’s everything?

It’s the million dollar question.

* you need to have worked a summer selling people duvets to know that 13 tog is a really thick duvet that you have when its cold.

I’m not denying climate change, but…

Posted in Uncategorized by Adam Westbrook on February 2, 2007

So another big report’s been released today confirming the effect of our fossil fueled gluttony.

More than 2,500 scientists from 130 countries have gotten together to say, in one voice, we’re destroying the planet.

I’m totally behind this report, hopefully – as Channel 4 News suggested today – a final nail in the coffin of the climate change deniers. But there’s a simple fact that the media at least is getting wrong:

Climate change isn’t destroying the planet…it’s destroying our ability to live on the planet.

Let’s not forget: this planet is billions of billions of years old. Humanity is but a blip on earth’s endless graph, but a spot on its back, a scrawny pube on its left testicle.

Climate change is bad news for us human beings. But to suggest our disgusting love affair with cars, chimneys and coal is damaging this massive lump of rock is not true.

A six degree rise in temperature over by 2100 will be fatal for us lot. It’ll be a slow nasty painful death, like drowning in boiling maple syrup. For earth, it’ll be a mild passing sunstroke.

The sooner we realise our pathetically tiny scratch on the earth’s surface the better…that way we might actually stand a chance of sorting the climate mess.

 

Planet Earth

A good start for Ban Ki-Moon

Posted in Uncategorized by Adam Westbrook on January 27, 2007

Three weeks in and the new Secretary General of the UN, Ban Ki-Moon’s begun his first foreign tour. And he’s chosen Africa as his first stop.

Ban Ki-MoonToday he’s been in Kinshasa, the capital of a country which let’s just say had an eventful 2006. After months of wrangling, violence and uncertainty, elections were held in the D.R. Congo; the country can now justify the “democratic” part of its name.

Incombent Joseph Kabila won convincly with his rival Jean-Pierre Bemba joining the opposition…the country now seems on a more stable tack.

Addressing the Congolese national assembly today, Ban Ki-Moon hailed last years elections as a sign of hope for the country and urged law makers to start a “good governance pact” to see it continue.

After this, the UN Sec-Gen’s heading to the African Union summit in Ethiopia and meeting the not-so-applauded Sudanese president Omar Al-Bashir.

A good sign

To visit these countries first is a promising sign. It shows that Ban Ki-Moon’s serious about following his predecessor Kofi Annan’s commitment to peace on the African continent.

It would be easy for the South Korean to put more emphasis on problems closer to home, like the North Korean nuclear missile issue, but he’s made it clear that issue won’t take the spotlight off Africa.

And with Darfur still rumbling on, often without notice, Ban’s come at the right time.

Kofi AnnanBut we can’t get our hopes up too much. Africa was Kofi Annan’s mission too, taking his post in the raw years after the Rwandan genocide. And while victories for peace and progression have come in some places, like Liberia, Sierra Leone and D.R. Congo, Somalia only got worse and now Sudan’s in turmoil.

With so many concerted efforts gaining pace elsewhere to erradicate malaria and tackle HIV, Ban Ki-Moon needs to show he’s not all talk but a leader who can tie these threads together and really make change happen.
He’s got 10 years, starting from now.

In the dark corridors of power

Posted in Uncategorized by Adam Westbrook on November 3, 2006

This week I learned how in the dark corridors of power, politicians contrive to screw over journalists. And then I learned how to do it myself…

It seems that politicians have been trying to hoodwink journalists since year zero. What really amazes me is the outrageous lengths they go to manipulate the press and deceive the public. And what amazes me even more how many journalists willingly tag along.

It happened in 1938, when the government did a deal with the BBC to support appeasement and keep Chamberlin afloat. And in 1956, the government tried flat out denying their involvement in Israel’s invasion of Egypt. And in 1974 the US government tried flat out lying to the press over Watergate…except they weren’t lying – in the words of the White House Spokesperson, their previous statements had become “obsolete”.

WestminsterThese days, screwing over journalists is known as “media management.” In Britain, the goverment has all sorts of systems in place to exploit the media: complex timetables, called the GRID, which co-ordinate ministerial statements and bury bad news as effectively as possible. Ministers in the lobby “leak” stories to undermine opponents or boost their careers. Each government department has a press office which produces long ‘media handling strategies’ and every utterance on radio and TV closely monitored and recorded.

As part of an intensive week learning about how government works, we had to swap sides and play the government press officer. Our task was to produce a media handling strategy and a press release for a controversial (and fictional)  government announcement about pesticides.
It was basically an exercise in learning how we will be continually deceived, misdirected, diverted and controlled by the political machine throughout our careers.
After outlining to the fictional minister (imaginatively named John Smith) the announcement he must make and the controversy surrounding it, I then gave a list of the possible responses (farmers would like the announcement, and campaign groups wouldn’t). Then I had to come up with a strategy for handling the media and it went like this:

  1. Completely undermine a serious scientific report, saying it wasn’t scientific enough.
  2. Hype up  the government’s own study, which supports the minister’s decision.
  3. Go overboard expressing the minister’s sympathies with the other side.
  4. Take any journalists  who might support the decision out for lunch to get them to really support the decision.

Finally, I wrote a press release so convoluted that not even an academic could understand it. The controversial announcement was buried right down in the middle of the release and was packed full of made up quotes.

And at the end, I was almost quite proud of myself. But I am never, ever, taking a press release seriously again. They are evil, pure evil!