Adam Westbrook // ideas on digital storytelling and publishing

Bad news for the kids…

Posted in Broadcasting and Media, News and that by Adam Westbrook on February 13, 2007

Child poverty in UKShocking, but hardly unbelievable statistics out today revealing Britain as the worst place to grow up if you’re a kid.

Newsnight are holding an interesting debate as I write. The government minister in charge of children Jim Murphy’s just appeared to try and defend Labour’s rather poor record over the past decade.

I was at a seminar on child poverty a few weeks back while covering the news that north London child poverty is some of the worst in the UK. Jim stood up at the beginning for a speech, which in fact was more of a discussion – or rather a “we don’t know how to solve this…so what do you think we should do?”

Good to get experts involved, but Jim had a rather hopeless air about him. The Joseph Rowntree Foundation say £4.3 billion is needed every year to do reach the government’s ambitious targets. Kids of the UK, don’t get your hopes up.

Keep it simple!

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

Training to be a broadcast journalist is a bit like being taught a new language. When it comes to writing, you have to ignore all those rules you learned at school and university and the result is something between C++ and poetry.

One of the golden rules hammered into us is to keep things simple. And keep. Your sentences. Short.  Listeners and viewers can only take in a news report once. Even in the impending “on-demand” world, they’ll only want to take it in once.

So if you turn on the TV and radio you usually hear short sharp conversational sentences with all the fluff removed.

Usually.

Admittedly, Channel 4 News tries to be different. It aims to be a bit more creative, but from what I gathered from chief writer Felicity Spector when she came into City a few weeks ago, it still has to be concise.

So, what on earth is this all about?

It’s a report on the Chinese president’s visit to Africa this week, by the usually excellent Faisal Islam: ex City student and Channel 4 News‘ business correspondent. It’s an interesting piece, but check out Faisal’s first line (watch it here):

“The Chinese presidents twelve day tour takes in eight nations including Sudan the most controversial of the host countries where Chinas unconditional aid policy has angered western governments many of whom say Beijing should use its economic weight to end hostilities in Darfur.”

Say what?

It’s 43 words long. That’s nearly twice the recommended length of any sentence for broadcast.  It could be broken down into no less than four separate sentences:

“It’s a breakneck tour for China’s president: eight countries in a dozen days.

But Hu Jintao’s been criticised for visiting Sudan.

Western leaders want Beijing to use its economic muscle to end violence in Darfur.

Instead in its eagerness for ties with Africa China’s giving aid freely.”

Admittedly that’s not great either. But I think it’s easier to understand, and a bit more conversational.

But it goes to show that even with the best journos working for the best stations, the basic rules sometimes still get broken.

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.

Call centre journalism

Posted in Uncategorized by Adam Westbrook on February 4, 2007

For some, there’s nothing more frustrating than calling a UK helpline only to find the call directed to India. It’s something we’ve all come to expect from the big banks and insurance companies.

But the news agencies? Surely not.

So I was surprised to read an article on BBC News Online about the internationally respected Reuters news agency outsourcing it’s Wall Street financial coverage…to Bangalore.

The latest financial information from the trading floors in New York will now get to the business people who need it in New York (and London, Paris, Berlin etc) via India.

Like our beloved call centres, the sub continent outsourcing is for financial reasons. So is the largest financial news agency in the world becoming a cheap skate?

David Schlesinger, Editor-in-Chief of Reuters says he could hire a hundred Indian journalists without firing a single one in his New York office. He told the BBC:

“Now we can send our New York journalists out to do more interesting stories. This is good for our business and good for journalism.”

Maybe so; if the journalists in Bangalore are trained to the same standards then there’s no worry. Perhaps its another example of the ever shrinking world that this information can go out before it comes back in.

“I encourage them to read the NY Times and Wall St Journal online every day.”

And if it allows more quality journalism to go ahead then I ain’t complaining. I just won’t be calling the Reuters helpline anytime soon.  

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Give peace (journalism) a chance?

Posted in Uncategorized by Adam Westbrook on February 4, 2007

Bob GeldofNews this week that the pope of poverty, Bob “da poyple are fookin’ doyin'” Geldof is planning on launching a TV channel devoted to promoting peace.

Funded by Point of Peace, Geldof’s developing the idea with his production company Ten Alps and will announce whether the channel will launch later this year. Let’s just hope it’s not 24 hours of black-and-white charity commercials set to Coldplay.

Among journalists there’s a parellel debate running: whether or not war correspondents should report conflicts with a bias towards peace.

Peace Journalism, as it’s known, has been enshrined in a book by Jake Lynch and Anna McGoldrick; I’m yet to read it, I’m afraid to say, but us City journos were given a taster this week courtesy of Roy Greenslade.

Essentially it argues journalists can and should promote a peaceful resolution to conflicts. It’s a noble aim, and you can’t argue its intentions, but pragmatically, it’s not to clear cut.

Asking too much?
War reporting is ahistorical peace journos say. Each day we’re told the bare facts: the what, where, when and who. But not the why and the accusation is that reporters don’t give us the origins and consequences of the violence we see on our screen.

Fair enough. I think we can see this in the day-to-day reporting in Iraq, Gaza and Afghanistan. We’re told the “latest”, and (in Iraq) reminded yet again “the country is sliding ever closer to civil war.”

So here-here for more indepth analysis on our screens. But it’s not so simple: reporters and producers suffer one major limitation – time.

Can you report the latest and give indepth analysis in 90 seconds?

And this is where the problem with peace journalism lies. If you look at some of its recommendations they jar with reality:

  • Avoid portraying conflict as a battle between two forces over the same goals.
  • Don’t just report a suicide bomber from one group killed scores from another – explain what the motivations are.
  • And show the invisible effects of conflict – mental illness, depression etc, not just the visible effects.

Great goals – but where’s the time to do it?

Noble aims
This isn’t to say I disagree with the concept at all. There are some really good recommendations from Lynch and McGoldrich that would really benefit journalism. Things like avoiding showing the human rights abuses and/or suffering of just one side; avoid showing opinion as fact and avoid blaming someone for the conflict.

Just try telling that to the hardened hacks in the field.

(more…)

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Resolution One: Go Green

Posted in Uncategorized by Adam Westbrook on February 3, 2007

Yesterday’s climate change report was a timely reminder for me of my pledge last year to go green in 2007.

I’ve gotten off to a slow start mainly because of financial reasons, but luckily I came across a website that looks like it might make things a bit easier.
CoolMove.Org is a site dedicated to providing little tips on how we can reduce our carbon footprint. From energy saving lightbulbs to frugal flushing, they’re all things that someone renting a flat like me can do.

Here are some good ones I’m going to try and implement on the asap:

Tip #10 :: Take a shorter shower

Showering accounts for about 20 percent of the water used in the home and it takes a lot of energy to heat that water. Reducing your shower time by five minutes will save you from heating 15 to 30 gallons of water each time.

Tip #18 :: Unplug your cell phone charger when you’re not using it

Even when turned off, things like microwaves, cell phone chargers and televisions use energy.

Tip #21 :: Put a recycling bin next to your trash can

This is an easy and convenient way to remember to recycle more often.

Tip #32 :: Eat Local

According to some sources, food travels an average of 1,200 miles to get to your plate, and accounts for thirty percent of the goods transported by road. Try to find locally produced food to cut down on these unnecessary emissions.

Tip #44 :: Lunchtime

Pack your lunch in tupperware containers that can be reused each day
These are all things I don’t do, through laziness more than anything else. I reckon 2007’s going to be the year that we start to take this go-green thing seriously. If you’ve got any other eco tips, pass ’em on!

Planet Earth

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

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

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.

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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The world (so far)

Posted in Uncategorized by Adam Westbrook on January 15, 2007

The world (so far)
This map’s done the rounds, but still always fun to put it up…the countries in red are the ones I’ve visited in my 22 years.

Going to Russia certainly helps make you look travelled…but Africa’s still looking too grey for my liking.

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