Category Archives: Journalism

Journoporn

 

 Helevision is using her ‘Easter Break’ to indulge in a spot of journoporn.

Don’t worry, it’s not Andrew Marr in hotpants again.

 Nor, for those of you coming from Julia Raeside’s Guardian blog, does it involve Robert Peston. Sorry.

No, ‘journoporn’ is my very own collective noun for the autobiographies of famous journalists. Preferably foreign correspondents. With war-wounds.

It’s the sort of book designed to make me think I might not spend the rest of my natural life reporting on cake sale bans (headline news in the world of student journalism this week).

So, in the spirit of sharing the love, here’s a list of my favourites:

1. Jeremy Bowen – War Stories

Journoporn par excellence. Bullets, near death experiences, slightly crazed TV ranting, it’s got it all.

Bowen himself terms his war-reporting days an addiction and it certainly feels that way. Very interesting to read how he changed though.

2. John Simpson – too many to list

Helevision’s current journoporn of choice; I’m on “Strange Places, Questionable People”. Which I probably should have started with, given it’s the first one.

Fascinating stuff; the section on reporting Ireland during the Troubles is particularly good. Slightly off-the-wall anecdotes include getting punched by Harold Wilson.

It’s not as instantly likeable as Jeremy Bowen though; there’s often a sense of ‘and then I outsmarted them all’ but then he is one of the greatest broadcast journalists ever so fair’s fair!

3. Kate Adie – The Kindness of Strangers

No porn top 5 would be complete without some girlie action now, would it?

I read this a few years ago but remember it being excellent.

It’s also very encouraging for student journalists to know that even Kate Adie didn’t really have a clue when she started out (read about her Radio Sussex days to find out).

4. Fergal Keane – Letter to Daniel

Actually, this one isn’t really journoporn in the bullets and bayonets sense.

Rather, it’s a collection of reports and columns filed from around the world. I’ve included it in this list because the writing is the most movingly beautiful I’ve read in a long time. His pieces on South Africa and Rwanda genuinely made me cry.

5. Piers Morgan – The Insider

Now, from the sublime to the cretinous.

To be read with a large pinch of salt but highly entertaining nonetheless.

And definitely journoporn for those who prefer red carpets to green zones.

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Talking of fascinating blog arguments….

If the BBC Editor’s Blog debate isn’t enough for you, take a look at the cyber-row that’s developing between Lawrence Rustem of the BNP and  one of my fellow broadcast journalism students on her blog.

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BBC succumbs to the Twitter chatter of shiny Tweets

A fascinating debate is raging over on the BBC Editor’s Blog. Photo from www.freefoto.com

And, for a change, it doesn’t involve anybody’s salaries/jokes/genitals/grandfathers.

No, it’s about the BBC’s use of Twitter messages (or ‘tweets’) in its live update reporting of the Mumbai terrorist attacks.

Accuracy v Speed

The comments seem to fall into two camps:

1. Those that love the excitement of news updates

2. Those who want accuracy, not speed 

The first group (who are much smaller in number on the messageboard) feel that it is just a case of embracing new technology into traditional forms of reporting.

The second maintain that the BBC has founded its reputation on accuracy and that is where its focus should remain.

Journalism

I think I largely agree with the second group.

Obviously, as someone training to be a journalist, I love the excitement of breaking news.

The thrill of trying to puzzle out what is going on from hundreds of sources is immense.

But I also admire the BBC – and aspire to work there- primarily for its reputation for being fair and correct. Without it, the Beeb becomes just another news outlet.

Facts

The thing I love about breaking news is line after line of ‘facts’ or presumed events.

And the BBC’s line by line updates from other agencies and from their own correspondents provided that very well.

The tweets on the other hand didn’t really add a huge amount.

Take these, for example:

0424:harshender tweets: We as common man should create a memorial right near Gateway to show respect and honor to all who died in this attack.

 

0404:angsuman tweets: “nothing is hard for us” says a commando. Same hold true for India. Bravo

To me, it’s just a bit of mindless chatter – the textual equivalent of listening to a TalkSport phone-in.

So yes, the BBC should be doing live updates with their own reporters. It should include agencies. It should even include tweets if they are a) accurate and b) add something to the development of the story.

But it shouldn’t do it just because it can, even if just for self-preservation.

After all, if news is simply becoming a stream of unanalysed sources delivered to the public, what is the point of the journalist?

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Could the I-Ball grenade camera be the next frontier in war reporting?

The I-Ball

The I-Ball

camera capable of being fired from a grenade launcher is currently being developed for the Ministry of Defence.

But could it also be the next step for war reporters?

In the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts, we have seen an increasing desire to be ‘in the thick of the action’.

We, the viewers, no longer want reported action; we want to be virtually there as it happens.

We got used to seeing Ben Brown in his flak-jacket and 3-day-stubble crouching in holes in the desert or Rageh Omaar doing a piece to camera as missiles exploded into masonry above his head.

Or even, as the BBC memorably showed us at the outbreak of the Iraq conflict, real-time thermal images of Baghdad as US missiles screamed towards the city in the first wave of ‘shock and awe’.

Where can war reporting go from now?

I-Ball

Imagine, then, the possibilities of a device that can take you even closer to that action.

The I-Ball could provide that opportunity.

It is a small, round camera that transmits high-quality pictures from the moment it is released – either by grenade launcher or simply thrown into a room.

It is even designed to compensate for rolling and tumbling to give soldiers a clear idea of who or what is awaiting them.

Clearly this technology isn’t going to be cheap enough initally. But then again, neither were mobile phones twenty years ago…..

Voyeurism

With a live feed from a camera like the I-Ball, we, the viewers, could be finding out what is around the corner at the exact same moment as troops on the ground.

Voyeuristic? Certainly. Exciting? Undeniably.

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Is Dawn Porter the real Bridget Jones?

For those of you who have not yet discovered Dawn Porter, you are missing out.

Especially if you are a bloke, my boyfriend helpfully (and suicidally) informs me.

To explain: Dawn is a method journalist. Or, as I like to think of her, a method girlnalist.

Her approach is to take a topic, usually of particular interest to young women, and live it wholeheartedly.

Size Zero

The first time I ever saw her was in a documentary called ‘Super Slim Me’ in which she was challenged to go from a Size 12 (UK size) to a Size 4 (the much-hyped Size Zero in the US).

And boy did she do it, taking the viewer every step of the way from depression to a slimming addiction.

Open-minded

What I like most about Dawn is her wholehearted willingness to engage with anyone and her total lack of guile.

Take her documentary on polygamy this week, for example.

It was surprisingly warm and showed a human side of polygamy seldom seen. There was no attempt at underhand exposure just a genuine interest in what it’s like to live as a ‘plural wife’.

The standout section for me was her interview with the ‘first wife’ in the house, who had lived with her husband for 17 years before he married a second woman.

It was both frank, moving and was a whole new look at polygamy from inside.

Unthreatening

She is also completely unthreatening, with her quirky fashion sense and wide-eyed childlike demeanour.

No wonder the polygamists let her in.

In fact, she is the embodiment of the ‘Bridget Jones’ school of journalism. (She even opened her latest series with “I have been single for 4 years”)

You can easily imagine her sliding down firemen’s poles or starting interviews with “So Eleanor, did you fancy Kafir the first time you saw him?”.

Youth

I also think Dawn Porter could be an answer to engaging young people in news issues.

She looks and sounds like every girl, she voices what everyone wants to know and is totally approachable.

Have a look at her blog where she dispenses fashion advice at the same time as promoting her new shows.

In fact Dawn Porter has pulled off a rare feat: men slightly fancy her and women genuinely like her.

With Dawn leading the charge, the future of youth journalism looks deservedly rosy.

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Boris Johnson: the Media Mayor or a Pyramid of Piffle?

Mayor Boris

Boris Johnson

I  should start, as all good things related to local government must, with a declaration of interest:

I like Boris Johnson.

Whatever you may think of his shambolic persona or his political views, you have to admit that the man can turn a phrase.

Take his opening gambit to Mayor’s Questions this week, for example:

He dismissed media coverage of the economic crisis as hysteria that would have us believe that “the sky is dark with falling bankers”.

It certainly raised a laugh and had an impact.

Until I read his latest blog post – a copy of his Telegraph column from this week – and found the same pithy phrase nestling in it.

Which, as Carrie Bradshaw might say, “got me to wondering” how far does Boris the Journalist affect Boris the Mayor? And what about the other way round?

Boris the Mayor

As a journalist, Boris understands the power of words.

Watching him from the public gallery at Mayor’s Questions this week, it was easy to see how his linguistic dexterity gives him the upper hand.

He uses clever witticisms as a powerful tool to bat away inconvenient questions with the appearance of nothing more strenuous than a spot of gentle ‘whiff-whaff’.

This allows him to dominate proceedings with outward confidence.

It also gives him license to dress up his facts and policy points in an engaging way; The ‘spoonful of sugar that makes the medicine go down’, if you like.

The Power of the Soundbite

Crucially, he understands the importance of a soundbite.

Boris Johnson is eminently quotable and, if you are good for a quote, you will get media coverage.

Pretty handy if you happen to be trying to push the interests of a whole city…

This was also something that Boris’s predecessor, Ken Livingstone, understood and did well.

Brand Boris

However, the fundamental difference between Livingstone and Johnson is one of image.

Livingstone wore his heart on his sleeve when it came to his role as Mayor and this earnestness often translated into an abrasive style when dealing with the press.

Likening a reporter to a ‘concentration camp guard‘ probably didn’t help much either.

Johnson, on the other hand, truly understands the power of ‘image’. In fact, he is possibly one of the most image-savvy politicians in Britain.

Now I realise this may sound like an odd thing to say of a man with a haircut like a haystack and the worst-fitting suits in Westminster but bear with me.

What do we associate with politicians today? Either slick, be-suited and smiling or worthy but dull.

What Boris Johnson has done is to carve out an external image of the anti-politician.

If David Cameron is the slick ‘salesman’ of the Conservative party, Boris is velcro made from tweed.

But it is precisely this carefully-built cover of the ‘affable buffoon’ that allows him to engage his audience and argue his agenda without appearing to preach.

It is politics by stealth.

Boris the Journalist

While Johnson’s journalistic experiences have clearly helped him in his role of Mayor, the outlook doesn’t look so rosy if you turn the tables.

One of the primary functions of a journalist is to hold authority to account.

Boris IS authority now. Real authority: he has the fates of 7 million Londoners in his hands.

His journalism can’t help but be neutered as a result.

I cannot imagine him now writing something so controversial that it would force him to apologise to the entire City of Liverpool. Or the whole country of Papua New Guinea.

Surely his Telegraph column is now no more than a national soapbox from which he can promote London? Or else discuss ‘safe’ subjects on anodyne topics?

Much as I enjoy his writing, is it now time for for Johnson the journalist to put down his pen?

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Help! I’m in love with Robert Peston

Robert broods on an impending crisis

Not, I hasten to add, in the Observer sense. This is pure, unadulterated journalism love.

How does he do it? As one friend of mine put it today ‘Surely the man can’t sleep?’

He is so often on our screens/airwaves that the Beeb should seriously consider renaming it the ‘Pes-Ten O’Clock News’. Or give him his own percentage of the licence fee. Or his own channel.

His blog posts (and there are often a few every day) are long, detailed, interesting and, most importantly, intelligible to the non-City animals amongst us.

Oh and, according to some of today’s papers, singlehandedly capable of creating financial meltdown.

Which leads us to an interesting situation: by doing his job incredibly effectively, is he now actually driving changes in the markets on which he is reporting? Has he got his finger so firmly on the pulse that he is now stopping the blood flow?

It is an interesting, but as far as I can see, near insoluble conundrum. If he stops breaking these stories he will, necessarily, be failing in his job as a journalist.

If he continues, could he really trigger economic Armageddon?

Who can say?

But, for my part, he can bring on the end of the monetary world. He’ll do it intelligibly and excitably.

And you can bet your bottom dollar (literally) that he’ll have blogged it first.

Robert, you had me at ‘Northern Rock’…….

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