Monthly Archives: October 2005

Review of Kim Fletcher’s: The Journalist’s Handbook

Kim Fletcher - frontcover of Journalist Handbook The book has two parts, roughly separated in practicalities and issues. Though the whole book is about practicalities, the second part deals with the Press Complaints Commission and its guidelines, moral issues, the difficulties of knowing the audience’s interests, the rise of the internet with new possibilities and its limits.
The first part is focussed on individual skills as to how to improve writing and reporting, expanding to the topics on how to get into journalism as a profession.
It is the second part which is really usefull for beginners with a richness of examples and case studies.
The book is recommendable for students and wanna-be journalists, the second part may also be of some relevance to initiate discussions amongst more experienced reporters and journalist colleagues.

What i liked about the book is that it is quite readable in contrast to the other books i currently read, it is an effortless fly-through, as the content is relevant, with lots of examples, the language is simple, most chapters are short or have vox-pox like inserts, and the style is positive, which is astonishing. Astonishing, because when Kim Fletcher appeared at the Guardian Media Conference, he came over rather disillusioned and negative, even a bit sarcastic.
His face was rather brown pigmented, I wondered if it was due to sun exposure or liver failure.
Older journalists in the profession are in general still perceived as drinking a lot as a side effect of their job.
Of course liver disease can also come of other causes, such as malaria and other tropical illness or longterm drug use (any drug being heavy on the liver including e.g. anti-epileptic drugs), but usually it is associated with accumulation of bilirubin which has a yellowish undertone.
Unfortunately i wasn’t able to examine the underlying causes more detailled as i did not come close enough. It just left me wondering.
Well, maybe they all came back from some exciting international reporting assignment or holiday in the sun.

In Richard Keeble’s book:“ethics for journalists” he writes on page 99:
“In 1999, the Fleet Street consensus again backed the US/UK attacks this time on Yugoslavia (with the Guardian proving one of the most jingoistic) and called for a ground assault. Only the Independent on Sunday opposed the war, and its editor (Kim Fletcher) was sacked just days after the bombings ended.”

Review of Jon Snow’s autobiography: “Shooting History”

picture of front cover of Jon Snow's Shooting HistoryThere are only few journalists today who are trusted by the public, and even fewer whose reports are trusted by anarchists. Jon Snow is one of the few. That might be because of his radical left student past. However, also Andrew Marr describes himself in his biography as something similar to having been a “marxist” once upon a time. So, do former leftists have a quality of trustworthiness and integrity other journalists fail to deliver? Does ideology and attitude of the journalist affect his status in the general population? Is the description “have been a lefty once upon a time” as much of a quality assurance as having smoked dope at university a generation time before reporting on a mainstream media outlet?

To tell the truth, after the catastrophes such as Hurricane Katrina, the earthquake in Pakistan and others, I dreaded the reports particularly of the American Channel4 correspondent.
If it would have been possible I wanted to shake him out of my television picture complete with sound as he sounded so superficial chewing-gum like, such as all US journalists.
In my opinion he is pretty disgusting. Krishnan Guru-Murphy seems occasionally up to Jon Snow’s job, specifically when he was reporting about the US attack on Fallujah, but for me it is the depth of humanity, the critical, rebel-like, biting attitude missing which Jon Snow has got. Krishnan Guru-Murphy seems just too professional a journalist, he seems like detached from the news, while as Jon Snow has got the most important characteristic a journalist can have; he personally seems to care about the people and issues he reports, and this integrity is apparent, appreciated and felt by the audience. And this is the most important treasure in the media world today – being able to care.

Originally though, i wanted to review Jon Snows Autobiography; “Shooting History”. At the moment I am stuck on page 290 and every paragraph is a battle against laziness. Has reading really got that strenious?
I seem to be attached to the television nowadays, and even though i still prefer autobiographies to biographies and novels to factual, the number of books I read seems to be declining month after month and year after year. Not that i buy less books, but i seem to be able to read less. The books I plan to read are stucked up on the side, and many i have already started to read, but switched to the next one after about page 20.
Though I actually don’t know if the amount I read is really less or just takes different forms, such as internet, emails, SMS, free newspapers and so on.

Anyways the autobiography. I like the pictures in the book. They help to illustrate the reports. I wonder about him travelling to Uganda and India that early in life that far! Here in Scotland in the estates, i meet regularly people who have never even left the British Isles, sometimes not even Scotland. In Germany the English and British we meet and also we met in other foreign countries such like Italy or when skiing in Austria were always incredibly polite, well-educated, well clothed and friendly.
Only after actually spending some time on the housing estates my picture of Britain changed totally, I suddenly discovered the lower classes of British society, the people who actually make the ordinary and average people of Britain, who are poor, smelly, badly clothed and can only afford a new tracksuit once a year, be ill with colds as they can not afford new shoes and the old are leaking when it is wet and rainy.
They might not even have a cooker, being told by social service to live of chips from the Fish’n Chips shop, if they want to eat something warm.
The difference of the image of the British in foreign countries and how the average British people actually live like, is far apart and detrimental.

Back to the autobiography; I am always keen to know how people in general manage to change and detach their political opinion from the one’s their parents hold. In my experience most of the times, political opinions seem to be inherited and passed on from generation to generation. Jon Snow’s change of political attitude from something like conservative to free ranging liberal lefty who avoids to put a label to his politics. That it is somehow lefty however can be seen in the rest of the books- reports about El Salvador, Nicaragua, Cold War influence, wanting to side with the oppressed against the oppressors- but often too- what exactly? – scared?, polite?, self-censored?, editor-intimitated? to actually flame the oppressor and demand accountability of them.
But maybe that is one of the reasons why he survived so long in this business.

However, his MI5 recruitment experience is certainly worth reading and mentioning, and a lesson to be learned for all journalists.

The history lessons taken from a personal viewpoint make a reader-involved account. How sad when the first liberation theorist pope, Albino Luciani, dies after just some 33 days after his election under dubious circumstances, with a refusal to allow an autopsy. In my opinion, that was a particular good report, as well as the report about the students seizing the American embassy in Iran.

“I should have gone to the Tiananmen Square massacre nine years before, but did not, in part because I was in mid-transition from ‘the road’ to the studio. In truth i had also allowed my America-centric, Africa, Middle East bias to get the better of me. Although I am the presenter of Channel Four News, I also have a strong if informal input into the editorial process. I can push to be sent somewhere, or push to have a story covered, or alternatively indicate a lack of interest which can at times lead to a story not being covered.”

I also liked the many other reports, it is like history in high-speed. Wush! From 2nd world war to 9/11 in 350 pages. It is less about journalism than about the events at that time, and this is well good so.
If there still are at least some lefty journalists, who still consider themselves to be on the left nowadays rather than it being a fault of youth 20 years ago, they should definitely read and celebrate and learn from the book.

There is another lesson to be learned from the book: Although conservatives can be incredibly narrow minded, many of them can have integrity and pride, too, even if it is only occasionally and it might turn-up in very odd issues and topics and rarely be relevant.
So, quite often, unfortunately, I have seen hard working liberal ex-working class people shy away and fail and give up their integrity because they were not brave enough to go the extra step to demand the impossible.
In such situations, upper class, aristocracy and arch-conservatives have a self-confidence which the career-climbing working class can only dream of.
May it be Margaret Thatcher to demand freedom of movement in Russia during her visit in the 80ies, or to tell Ronald Reagan to stop his Star Wars programm, or Sebastian Haffner’s battle and resistance against the nazis first due to recognizing the corruption of the legal system, or even the ex-aristocrat and founder of the Green party in Germany Jutta Ditfurth, sometimes, but only sometimes, members of the upper class can show necessary resistance to war and demand civil liberties where the well-meaning liberals and tolerant lefties fail and shy away because of feeling inadequate in comparison and longing for recognition and equality.
In this autobiography, sometimes it seems that Jon Snow’s conservative upbringing described in the book actually plays to his advantage- to be able to ask critical questions in a way that would make other lefties fail, basically coming down to the feeling of equality with his interviewees.

Reading on to page 291 there is the appearance of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, and on nearly every page there are ethical questions from the past, important to the present. Above all, it is a book to learn from history for the future. On page 304 Jon Snow writes about the Lockerbie disaster:

“Satellite technology was providing us with raw pictures from the scene of the news quicker than we could get there to find out what was happening. I was in at the beginning of a new and potentially serious disinforming period in which I was expected to report events from the studio almost as if I were at the scene. It was to become ever harder for the viewer to tell whether we were actually witnessing what we were reporting, or were holed up in a video editing booth voicing over material fresh from the satellite.”

Later on he tells us about him objecting to an OBE.

The Guardian Media Conference: What is it like working in the Media?

Here is a review of The Guardian Media Conference: What is it like to work in the Media? from the Glasgow event on 18th of October 2005. I wasn’t very impressed and should have spent my time and money staying in Edinburgh reading books, persuing projects, job-hunting and writing.

The long review is in the content box, including suggestions for making it better. Slight problem in how to get this review to the people who matter, and to get them reacting and changing for the better. Now, i wonder if anybody would appreciate that or not. Actually nobody would most likely appreciate it, subject to apathy and inertia from the organisers site and probably scared rabbit like behaviour from the audience.

Guardian Media Conference: “What is it like to work in the Media?”

The Guardian Media Conference “What is it like to work in the Media?” was a total disappointment for me. First of all I discovered I only had 30 pence left in my purse and 12£ in my bank account. Being left in Glasgow with hardly any money, no clue where to go and already getting hungry and graving for a cigarette, i asked nearly every passer-by for directions as there was no address given and finally made it after a lot of searching and guessing to the Bute Hall in the University. Only then I was told that the conference would now take place somewhere else. So I arrived quite late, but luckily enough the doorman was happy with £10 entry fee. I took my seat in the old church hall now transformed into a theatre. Immediately I noticed how narrow the leg space was and how uncomfortable the seats. I had trouble with taking notes.
The audience of about 90 people sat in the theatre seats and the speakers at a table with microphone and mineral water were some 5-10 metres away from the first row. From the first moment on, it seemed to me neither the speakers nor the organisers wanted to make any contact with the audience at all, but were just there to deliver their talk, self-celebrate, get some money and disappear again.
Questions were not allowed in the morning and it seemed impossible to catch any of the speakers before or after their talk. They did not hang around either, and had no name tags attached to their suits. The website of the conference had no contact details either, only information on how to pay. It seemed the whole gist of the conference was rather to preserve their elitism in journalism than to open it up. It was very discouraging actually, rather than empowering or encouraging. Often, the speakers would even repeat themselves or the content of previous discussions.

The chair seemed to be rather ignorant and uninterested in the audience and hardly made contact with us. I don’t know her name either. The atmosphere was rather hostile. However, the other participants of the conference were rather nice to me and we chatted away and helped me out a bit. Participants came from all over Scotland, like Paisly, Inverness, Stirling, Edinburgh and beyond from various different courses, such like Media Studies, Security Studies, Design, gap year after Journalism, English or teaching.

There was no apparant interest from any of the speakers really in the audience, that was particularly disappointing. Though the recruitment consultant specialising in media jobs was at least doing a quiz and giving away some tickets to people who got the answers right.

In the afternoon it was a little bit better, though at that time I was already a bit too pissed-off to try to engage with any of the speakers then. I felt a bit set-up by The Guardian, as it always gives the impression it would be a more ethical media outlet than the other papers and actually care about people at least occasionally, especially as it is a media trust and not owned by a private individual, media conglomerate or share-holding multinational company.

Also most of the time it wasn’t actually about working in the media, it was about getting in. The first section focussed most of the time about pushing advertising and media sales jobs, which I hate. Occasionally, the only journalist on the panel would try to chip in with ideas about blogs, podcasting, rss-feeds, individualised media and digital TV, which was then taken up by the other two in how to include advertising in these new media outlets. I hate advertising. I hate capitalism. I felt really sad, is there no ethical and moral job in the Media possible? Most likely not. Fuck it. Fuck the corporate Media!

The topic of second take was ethics in media. Might have been a good opportunity for the conference to evaluate itself. Instead, we had to cope with a disillusioned, bitter and sad, conservative, ex-Telegraph editor who could not even see that he had done the right thing with his anti-war stance for which he was sacked.

The most positive thing about the 2 lectures was, that at least it was possible to catch the full name and the professional positions of the speakers thanks to Power Point. Not that I like Power Point presentations particularly, however, sometimes they are better than panel discussions. Also at least the talks were structured well and sparkling, even though I don’t like recruitment solutions, but at least we were treated with some video clips and a well enthusiastic, interesting and professional talk with the possibilities of interaction, and the guy had put some efforts and preparation in the talk.
I liked the talk of Matt Locke though, it was so good to have some reference to the Creative Commons licenses and the efforts of the BBC to give something back to its users and build and participate in a community.
However, what pissed me slightly off is that the topic of the Jim Brown talk was actually not about the different “Careers in Media“. I expected to be treated to a good overview of the different positions available and introduction to the structures of media companies from everything from cleaner to printers to secretary to PA to journalist to editor to media owner, instead there was just a separation into “creative” and “commercial” sector, and most of the talk focused on what would the ideal candidate for the recruitment agency be like, along with the assurance that they would not take any penny of the candidates salary.
One of the turn-offs apparently is if the applicant has its own blog and critisises employers on it.

So even if my review would mean I would incredibly narrow my future employability, I would still do it. Because Indymedia gives us the confidence, that

“WE WILL NEVER BE SILENCED AGAIN”.

Neither by ourselves or by others. We will continue to resist. May the rest of the world be co-opted and surrender to capitalist forces, may they drown in competition, selfishness and greed, we will continue to fight for what we believe is right.

One of the Guardian people said she would not consider employing a trainee if they would not have their own blog. Wonder if they would look at the content of the blog, too, and I wonder if there would be any censorship or limits to freedom of expression taken. Well the other two panel discussions where nearly the same as “working in the media” ended up very similar to “getting your first job”.

And what pissed me off tremendously even more is that they did not respond to either of my 5 emails asking to give me the name and job discription of the people sitting on the panel so I can share and complete my notes. I asked for it last Wednesday or so, and today it is Sunday, with still no response.

If arrogance, ignorance and being self-centred is the biggest turn-off of prospective job candidates for media jobs, it certainly is for ordinary folks regarding journalists already in the job, too.
As well as the power balance makes it an even more bitter battle in the latter.


How to improve the Media Guardian Conference?

  • more group work like in the Sheffield International Film Festival Newcomer Day
  • everybody should introduce themselves, speakers and audience, and have name badges,
  • lunch and breaks should be held together so there can be some informal talk, too,
  • the speakers should be named at least on a sheet handed out on the day
  • there should be real contact details of the organiser and the chair of the event(s) on the website and the magazine, including telephone number, email and a postal address
  • speakers should include university lecturers/teachers
  • more time for private and public questions
  • cut the advertising talks/speakers
  • have group works according to intrest of audience,
  • have at least a feedback session/questionnaire at the end and take suggestions for improvement seriously
  • have exact location with street name and full address on the website so people know where to go and can show up on the day on the door
  • have a mobile phone contact in case people get lost in search of the conference location
  • put out some signs on the street
  • have the bus connections and public transport connections to the location on the website
  • location to have more comfortable seats with more leg space and laptop and electricity connections and writing facilities
  • make conference attractive to people of all ages, not just the 19 year olds

Yippieh! Blog back online!

[ from the dept. ]

Ahh. The blog is back. Some evil hackers broke into the server and were trying to get other people’s money with scams. Luckily enough it was early detected and the whole thing shut down. Then it was necessary not only to rebuild the whole thing, but also to check the technical solutions and additionally to move to another server.

There has been a lot happening the last weeks and I am really, really happy as I am back to studying.

I am also really happy that I am out of ACE. So much time available better spent on other projects.
G8 court cases are going on at the moment, and activists in Glasgow are writing and publishing regular reports on Indymedia Scotland.
Apparantly both the clown and the fairy got off okay.