Adam Westbrook // ideas on digital storytelling and publishing

Journalism & the environment

Posted in Broadcasting and Media, International Development by Adam Westbrook on October 15, 2009

On the weekend dozens of climate change protesters climbed onto the roof of parliament in the latest stunt to get public attention for the cause. They used ropes and ladders to scale perimeter fencing before climbing up onto the roof of Westminster Hall.

The purpose: to ask MPs to sign a climate manifesto on Monday morning.

I write about journalism and multimedia for most of the time, but because it’s Blog Action Day today, I’ve been thinking about where the two meet. And the answer, it seems, is not in many places.

Let’s think about how the mainstream media cover the issue of climate change. It is of course well documented in broadcast news, with reports every few weeks (for example, from the BBC’s David Shukman). Big newspapers like the Guardian and Times have their own ‘environment’ sections online, featuring the calls of action of Bibi Van Der Zee among others.

And of course there have been landmark cinema releases including Al Gore’s glorified powerpoint presentation, Inconvenient Truth and Franny Armstrong’s Age of Stupid.

As for new media, when I checked 63,000 climate change related websites had been bookmarked by delicious. 69,000 videos are on Youtube with the similar tags.

Are we more informed as a result?

It’s an important question because there is little argument climate change is the most significant and global threat facing us today, and tomorrow. And for the next century.

It deserves more than 90 seconds in the 6 o’clock news every few weeks, and a feature in the G2.

The mainstream media, I think, have missed a massive opportunity to really inform the public on a regular basis. It affects us all, there is an appetite for news, analysis, advice on climate change. Yet it has no regular and protected space on our TV screens, supplements or radios (with the exception of One Planet on the BBC World Service).

PlanetDoes it not deserve a regular, accessible, digestible and regular form of coverage?

I would love to see a weekly magazine show, dedicated entirely to the environment. It would have the usual magazine-format mix of the latest news, interviews with important people in the fight against global warming, reviews of the latest green cars or gadgets, and practical advice on cutting your own carbon emissions.

The closest we ever came to that last item in the UK was Newsnight’s failed Green Man experiment.

Importantly this new video-magazine would not be preachy, it would accept the realities and practicalities of modern living, but show us solutions to those problems.

Perhaps we could all become united around this weekly offering, which shows us how to work together and take small steps as individuals to limit the effects of climate change, and make those dramatic Westminster protests unnecessary.

Just a thought. I suspect though it will be for new & social media to fill the gap.

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.

At the Frontline

Posted in Uncategorized by Adam Westbrook on November 17, 2006

Frontline Club logoWent to a very interesting awards/debate event at London’s Frontline Club last night, after an invite from the lovely James, Rachael and David at Westminster Uni.

 

 

Hosted by CNN’s Christiane Amanpour, it began with the Kurt Schork Awards, highlighting brave freelance journalists like Kurt himself who was killed reporting from

Sierra Leone in 2000. One award went to Steve Vincent who was killed recently in
Iraq and there was a touching moment as his widow accepted the award from Kurt Schork’s widow, which really brought home the sacrifices some people choose to make.

Then came a debate on the impact of new technology (such as DV Cams and VJs) on local freelance journos around the world. Some were worried that the accessibility of equipment would water down journalism, and others that the equipment’s too expensive for local journalists anyway. But I reckon the flood of “citizen journalists” (if the flood ever happens) will only strengthen the need for accurate, well trained journalists (cough-cough!).

 

But I remembered something the venerable Emmanuel Bensah said a while back when I got excited about new technology:

Video journalism is all exciting, innit, but I have to say that I espouse a visceral belief that journalists are far from dead. In the long run, these are TOOLS, TOOLS, and TOOLS, NOT substitutes. When all else fails, we need our journalists to do the quintessential work of, erm, journalism, no?”

I also got to meet David Dunkley-Gyimah who runs the ever expanding View Magazine site. He’s riding the new media wave big time, and apparently View Magazine’s going to make Minority Report look like Postman Pat before long. Brilliant.

Ruud ElmendorpDavid also mentioned that Ruud Elmendorp just won the International TV Award at the Video Journalism Awards in Berlin. Ruud works freelance in East Africa and his reports are a much needed alternative side reporting in Africa. Definitely check out his excellent report where he meets the imfamous Joseph Kony. Great to see he’s got some recognition.

Comments Off on At the Frontline

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!