Adam Westbrook // ideas on digital storytelling and publishing

Tout-mange

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

EscargotWith still a week to go until the French go to the polls and the networks’ attempts to bring the election to life has already grown tres thin; never before has there been such a thin selection of ideas – and parading of such gross stereotypes.

You see, for many top correspondents assigned to cover the elections, the truly unpredictable battle between right and left, Sego and Sarky, just months after riots in Paris…. is actually a chance for a leisurely promenade through the delights of rural France in the spring.

Robin Oakley, CNNAs Charles De Gaulle once said,” ponders CNN’s European Political Editor and Harry Enfield’s dad Robin Oakley at the top of a package today, “‘How can you govern a country which has 243 different types of cheese?‘”

That’s right: for the top hacks in Paris this week, it’s all about the food.

Every report I’ve seen about the upcoming vote, and the social debates behind it has been set in a food factory.

So the BBC’s Jon Sopel started off News 24’s coverage last week sitting in a cafe in Dijion. For no apparent reason it seems, other than it was sunny and nice looking. And to begin us on our journey through racial tensions and mass unemployment, let’s go visit a mustard factory. Jees.

Meanwhile back with CNN’s Robin Oakley who took us for a grand Keith Floyd style meander through the vinyards of Bordeaux on Friday, and thought to mention the elections at least once or twice.

And after what was clearly a tough weekend of eating food, he was back today reporting from….a patisserie.

Expect great insight throughout the week from Jon Snow, petite pain in hand and Peter Snow illustrating the split of the parliament on the side of a wheel of Brie.

Sacre bleu!

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Alan Johnston: one month on

Posted in Broadcasting and Media, News and that by Adam Westbrook on April 11, 2007

Alan JohnstonSo BBC Middle East correspondent Alan Johnston’s now been ‘in capitivity’ in Gaza for a month. The in capitivity part’s in quote marks because no-one knows for sure he’s actually being held hostage. We’ve heard nothing from any kidnappers or terrorist groups. No-one’s demanding money or the release of prisoners.

This is of course horribly concerning for Alan’s family and his employer the BBC, not to mention every other journalist working in the middle east or elsewhere.

Morbid statistics from the Committee to Protect Journalists show that already this year eight journalists have been killed in the line of their work.

The lastest was the terrible case of Ajmal Nakshbandi, an Afghan translator working with an Italian journalist. They were both captured along with a driver by the Taliban. The Italian was freed three weeks ago; on Sunday Amjal was beheaded. Footage on the wires today shows the driver was literally held to the ground and killed with a small machete.

Journalists have been the victim of kidnappings and intimidation for a long time. Usually though it seems to be domestic journalists that are most at risk, such as Russian journalist Anna Politokskaya killed in Moscow last autumn.

The worrying new post 9/11 trend is the foreign reporter being seen as a viable target.

On Thursday the BBC are holding a press conference to highlight Alan’s month still missing. In an unusual sign of solidarity, they’re producing a programme in conjunction with Sky News and Al-Jazeera on the dangers facing journalists today. We also filmed an insert for it at CNN this afternoon.

Johnston’s low appearance rate on domestic programmes has stopped his disappearance raising the eyebrows it should here in the UK. Hopefully tomorrow will help boost the profile.

People need to realise the risks others take to bring them news that chances are they don’t even take notice of anyway.

  • Click here to sign and read the petition calling for Alan’s release.
  • Click here for details of Thursday’s events

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Cabin fever

Posted in Adam, News and that by Adam Westbrook on March 23, 2007

What happens when TV journalists spend seven hours in an edit suite with barely a break?

This does.

Nick, Shona, Harry, Adam

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A future for Channel 4 News?

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

Channel 4 NewsroomChannel 4 chief Andy Duncan’s been making some worrying noises about one of the channel’s greatest assets: Channel 4 News.

As Michael Grade’s been trying to secure future funding for ITV News in the digital era, Duncan’s told a select committee of MPs that Channel 4 News won’t survive in it’s current form.

According to the Press Gazette:

Andy Duncan, Chief Executive of Channel 4, told the cross-party media select committee that Channel 4 News was unlikely to survive in its present form without public subsidy.

He said: “Whilst Channel 4 News is a flagship public service programme on the Channel, it is expensive to make and has limited potential for revenue raising.

“As such it is unlikely to survive in its present form – a one hour peak time programme, containing 40 per cent international news – in a purely commercial environment.”

The reason is simple: broadcasting on an analogue signal, all of the terrestrial channels have a certain public service remit. They’re all using large amounts of airwaves which belong to the public and in return they’re expected to provide us all with some news.

And because of this, and it’s unique public service remit, Channel 4 gets some cash for news.

But hark, on the horizon, the looming spectre of the digital switchover. We know now it’s going to start in Whitehaven on October 17th and will be complete by 2012. By then, all homes will be expected to have a digi-box and analogue transmissions will be turned off.

Broadcasting in naughts and ones is nice and compact. You can fit more channels and and not take up as much public airwaves. And because of this, broadcasters are loosing government cash (except the Beeb, of course.)

And – more worryingly – a channel’s news remit (again, except the BBC), will expire too.  Some channels – likely ITV and Five – may well say “screw news – why should I waste my money on that?”

And it looks like Channel 4 News, in spite of it’s scores of awards and cult following, could be forced to change in the next five years.  Let’s hope it doesn’t ditch it all together.

Sky News announced it was taking itself off the Freeview platform last month. Fellow journo Doidge rightly says the loss of competition in broadcast news can only be bad. Imagine that on a massive scale – and the redundancy consequences.

News is a bizarre commodity- like war, it costs loads to do with little or no financial returns. Not one to pitch to Dragons Den.

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.

We lie, you blow all your wages on our rubbish quiz

Posted in News and that by Adam Westbrook on February 19, 2007

Alas, it seems Richard & Judy’s too-good-to-be-true quiz You Say We Pay has left our screens. It comes after embarrassing allegations that the nations favourite dickish couple were getting us all to call even after they’d chosen the winner.

Hardly surprising. They were always cheating and giving the answers away anyway.

But seeing as it’s been dropped, here’s a hilarious episode of the quiz, courtesy of Adam Buxton from the hilarious Adam & Joe duo.

The worst newsreader EVER

Posted in News and that by Adam Westbrook on February 19, 2007

On my journo course at City University, we’ve spent the last week on an intensive but brilliant television masterclass. As part of that we got some excellent training on newsreading in the studio.

It’s pretty promising to come away knowing that none of us are nearly as bad as this poor sod…clearly the Americans don’t have as higher standards as we do in the UK. Watch, laugh and then pray it never happens to you.

This week’s youtubeauty, courtesy of the 800lb gorilla:

‘Snow joke

Posted in Broadcasting and Media by Adam Westbrook on February 10, 2007

What japes we get up to on the City journo course in London. This week, in preparation for our weekly TV news programme fellow student Neil was asked to go an make a short you-tube style film in the snow, to illustrate a news story about UGC.

The result has been bluetoothed across Islington and is now on the web – hilarious through accident rather than design.

It gets funnier the more times you watch it.

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Brooker’s back

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

I wrote about how ball droppingly funny Charlie Brooker was. You laughed. Then I told you to watch his Christmas special. It was barn storming.

Charlie Brooker's ScreenwipeAnd again, I return in a triumphant beam of my own smugness to command you to watch his brand new series on Monday nights, BBC Four. Last night he tackled OFCOM, Celeb Big Brother and TV Psychics and I’ve since spent the past 18 hours reattaching my testicles to my body with chicken wire.

Fin.

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Write on

Posted in Uncategorized by Adam Westbrook on February 2, 2007

Apologies first off for the terrible pun which is supposed to be the title of a blog about good writing. Can’t have everything though.

I’m feeling pretty drained after an intensive few days in the first of a series of masterclasses that make up part of my journalism course at City University. Alongside watching Guiness adverts over and over, realising our collective cultural and historical ignorance and sweating away in a box size room full of 40-odd people we’ve also been given an introduction to what I’ve realised is one of the main pillars of journalism: good writing.

It’s perfectly easy to make it in journalism as an alright writer (and probably a shit one too) and plenty do. This week with department head Adrian Monck was about trying to be a really good writer and taking writing seriously.
And in the last few days we’ve got to read and watch some pretty brilliant stuff. The classics were in there: Michael Buerk’s famous reports from a famine ridden Ethiopia, and the beautifully crafted introduction to the World At War. You get a whole new appreciation of them when you try and improve them, and instead write something laughable.

It’s all made me realise how important good writing is even in television, where the pictures are supposed to tell the story. If you look at some of the most famous journalists, they’ve all been good writers: (my favourites) Ed Murrow, Bill Neely, Barnaby Phillips and Matt Frei.

And why is good writing important? Here’s Vin Ray in his rather good book Television News:

“If there’s one area which really separates the best correspondents from the rest it’s good writing…the best scripts can be defining moments in themselves; and the very best are, once heard, never forgotten…good writing and delivery and a lightness of touch will lift and illuminate the driest and most difficult subjects.”

So here’s to good writing. I don’t think I’ll ever achieve it, but I’ll at least try. And if you’re wondering what the hell I’m on about, here’s an example of something special: the BBC’s Matt Frei on poverty in Japan; it’s creative, surprising, conversational and hooks you in:

“It’s 11.15 am. The queue is getting longer – and more nervous. Some people have been here since dawn. Expectations are rising. They’re afraid the free bowls of soup will run out. For many this could be the only hot meal of the week. Listen to the sound of hunger:

[NATURAL SOUND]

No this is not North Korea. Nor a slum in China. But Japan – and these are the homeless of Osaka.”

From Vin Ray, Television News

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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Somalia: media clampdown

Posted in Uncategorized by Adam Westbrook on January 15, 2007

One of the perks of working at the BBC is that you get access to the latest news wires all day. Following the continuing events in war torn Somalia this week you realise the other perk is the freedom to work as a journalist without (much) pressure or threat.

As a journalist it’s sad to see the interim Somali government today closing four major media stations in the capital, Mogadishu.

“The statement which was issued just a while ago by the TFG’s [transitional federal government] National Security Agency ordered the closure of Shabelle, HornAfrik, Holy Koran, and Al-Jazeera stations in Mogadishu.” (Reuters)

It doesn’t take much to infer those stations are arab in origin.

It’s extremely sad that the Al-Jazeera office has been closed. Since December their correspondent has been filing excellent reports for AJE – the only broadcaster to the west with a sustained presence in the country.

Overall I think AJE’s focus on Africa is commendable and one of the highlights of the new channel. No response yet from Al-Jazeera or the CPJ…we’ll see if anything comes later this week.

Oh, and as an aside, if you get a chance try and watch Adam Mynott’s report on the Somali refugees fleeing to Yemen; a fine piece of package making.

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