Posts Tagged ‘journalism’

Help young people understand the world

February 23, 2015

Help crowd-fund this worthwhile project in journalism. I did.

http://bit.ly/1BFZkF2

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Russian editor heckled at Oxford University

May 20, 2012

A senior Russian editor attracted a large audience at Oxford University today to hear her view of Putin’s Russia as seen from London, but found herself harangued by a couple of Russians with decidedly anti-British and pro-Putin views.

Irina Demchenko, Deputy Editor-in-Chief and UK Bureau Chief of RIA Novosti news agency criticised anti-Putin coverage of British media as superficial. But she herself was clearly none too enthusiastic about the prospect of another 12 years of Putin either. “Maybe he will still be there when I am taking my teeth at night and putting them in a glass,” she remarked gloomily.

She recalls the collapse of Communism when she was 30, and the subsequent years when she and her peers put politics aside and devoted themselves to ensuring a good education for the children with the possibility to meet people from other nations.

Now the young Russian intellectuals (average age 31) are out on the streets against Putin demanding political reform. He needs them to modernise Russia, but they have gone into opposition against him. “The government can’t do anything with them, nor without them,” she says.

When it comes to questions, up jumps a Russian with a speech about how well Russia is doing, how viciously anti-Russian the British government is, and how British newspapers editors are given orders about coverage by MI6 – the spy agency.  What was the question? Not much. Shortly afterwards, another Russian in the audience delivered a similar diatribe.

The atmosphere grew a little tense, and one participant asked Irina if she felt at risk because of her views about Putin.

An apt question. The wild allegations and latent menace in the interventions of the two Russians reminded me of my time as a Reuters correspondent in East Berlin and Prague before Gorbachev. I asked a question too, for which I was berated by one of the visitors as “a Cold War dinosaur.”

When somebody asked them who they were, they replied that they were research fellows. Mmm.

Numbers, damned statistics and egg on journalists’ faces: cautionary tales

March 1, 2012

If you read a headline that eating a bacon sandwich a day increases your risk of cancer by 20%, that’s sounds bad. Not according to Tim Harford, columnist of the Financial Times.

At a seminar of the Reuters Institute in Oxford, he gave a hair-raising account of the pitfalls awaiting journalists tempted to use juicy statistics in news stories.

So what cancer was involved? It turned out to be bowel cancer. How many people get bowel cancer in the UK? Four in 100. So a 20% increase means five in 100. Is that so much different? Is the bacon sandwich factor significant? Hardly.

A British Prime Minister announced that his government would spend £300 million over five years on care for pre-school children. Seemed a lot. But divided by five, the amount each year was £60 million. Around one million pre-school children in the UK qualified, so that made £60 per child per year. Which was about 20 pence per day.

“Not much childcare to be bought for that,” notes Harford.

These are his tips for journalists dealing with numbers:
– Is it true?
– What’s really being said? Does the statistic exactly define what’s measured?
– What’s the bigger story – the context, the history, the period of time?

Mmm. After 50 minutes of his harrowing tales, I think I’ll avoid numbers altogether. I’m just going to look silly.

“Sift, crunch, pack” – making money out of news in the digital age

November 23, 2011

Fascinating talk at the Reuters Institute in Oxford by The Economist’s Tom Standage. He says his newspaper’s strength is that it is seen as The Voice of God, telling its readers (and Obama, Merkel etc) what to think.

A few choice views from the oracle, as conveyed by Tom:

– The Economist makes 70% of its revenue from subscriptions and 30% from advertising. It is profitable on subscriptions alone. In five years, he expects the ratio to move to 80:20 or even 90:10.

– The Economist employs 75 full-time journalists – the New York Times some 1,200.

– The Economist’s processing of news can be described as “sift, crunch, pack.”

– Economist journalists now write news in two ways: one for print and the other as blogs. Blogs can test ideas for the weekly print edition, since they attract feedback.

– In the digital age, publication of an article is no longer the end of the process. It is the beginning.

– Impartiality is venerated in America, where local newspapers have a monopoly and don’t want to antagonise part of their readers. The trend is for an openly expressed point of view to be accepted. “Transparency is the new objectivity.”

– Digital publishing of newspapers is not always more profitable than print: advertising in print editions does not necessarily migrate to digital versions.

– Apps have an advantage over web sites in providing news, in that consumers feel they are getting the whole news, not just bits and pieces.

– There is no single new business model for news, but for digital metered paywalls are promising – the reader gets a few news articles per month free, then has to pay.

Will Leveson change the British media? Unlikely. But something can be done.

November 23, 2011

This year’s Reuters Memorial Lecture in Oxford earlier this week focused on the astonishing invasions of privacy by the UK media being revealed to the Leveson inquiry. A panel of leading academics and media people provided interesting and varied insights into the conflict between privacy and freedom of the press. ‘Something must change’ was the consensus, and in the direction of more control.

I doubt whether all that much will change in the long run, nor should it. Britain has laws protecting both privacy and free speech. The tension between the two has existed ever since people gathered round the village pump and chatted.

Hacking into telephones of victims of crime does seem outrageous. At the same time, a glance at popular media web sites shows some celebrities pretending to be enjoying private moments clearly pose for paparazzi to attract attention, adding sexual titillation to make it captivating. Likewise, media headlines every day reveal attempts by governments and corporations to manipulate and cover up. So we may regret more controls.

Can anything be done? Baroness Onora O’Neill, the lecturer, suggested journalists should have to reveal publicly the extent to which they use covert methods to collect information. No betraying of sources, just a cataloguing of their practices. I am not sure what benefits this would have brought when I was a foreign correspondent behind the Iron Curtain in the Cold War. But generally transparency is welcome.

I suggest mobile telephone companies should also be regulated to force them to make their phones more secure. In the digital age, this is unlikely to be absolute. But banks have generally been able to keep ahead of the criminals in e-banking, so why not mobile phone makers?

Lastly, people having a tough time with journalists could make more use of professional media coaching. This is not foolproof, but can allay fears and restore confidence. For people with few resources, perhaps the state could even provide this for free, in the same way as it offers psychological counselling to victims of crimes of violence.

Ukraine: cut off and thirsting for contact with the world

April 15, 2010

The roads are broken up with potholes, the pavements are full of ice, slush and mud, the buildings are Soviet and not much works. The students I am teaching can’t speak much English or any other foreign language. The Schengen visa system makes travel to western Europe difficult, and few can afford it.

I am in the Ukraine. It means “borderlands,” and that’s what it is. One of my students asks me anxiously: “Do you think we are European?” I say: “Of course you are.” She is relieved. She was not sure she qualified, but she definitely does want to be one of us.

Excluded as Ukrainians largely are from contact with the West, they have an uphill task joining the modern world. The Institute for Human Development “Ukraine” in Kirovograd, a sprawling provincial city, is doing its best by inviting foreign teachers, but its internet service usually goes off in mid-afternoon because the service provider rations its kilobytes.

Nobody speaks nostalgically of the old days, but there is little sense that the collapse of Communism and the Soviet Union in 1990 was a turning point. Life did not change much. Now the oppressors are corrupt politicians, officials and businessmen. Individuals are unsure that they are empowered. Pessimism is the norm.

In the gloom of the fag end of an Eastern winter however shines the eternal Slav spirit – warm, hospitable and emotional. My journalism students snatch the western newspapers I have brought from my hand (the Swisscontact aid organisation has sent me). I give lessons in journalism, but what they really want to hear is how it is where I come from. They beam with pleasure that somebody has taken the trouble to come to them.

My hosts immerse me in culture. I eat bortsch and blinis with cottage cheese. Two of my students take me to a sauna, I buy a fur coat and I end up at the local beauty contest. I learn how to toast vodka: the first of the 39 traditional Ukrainian toasts is for good, the second for friends, the third for women, and after that nobody can remember any more.

After a couple of weeks, I am feeling quite at home.

Man landing on Moon 40 years ago – seems like yesterday

July 18, 2009

I feel as I were there (except I wasn’t). I remember where I was when the television showed the blurred pictures of the American astronauts stepping down on to the Moon. I was a young Reuters correspondent in Paris, manning the office late in the evening and wondering why I was not on the big story.

I was young, the world was changing, I was growing up fast, and landing on the Moon was one of those exciting things which kept on occurring. After the Moon, no doubt something else.

Now 40 years have passed, and nobody has traveled to the Moon for a long time. It fascinates nobody, is on nobody’s radar screen. Watching the television pictures of the landing is just one of those many things I did long ago. Some great, others mediocre and the odd thing I feel slightly ashamed of.

Landing on the Moon even begins to sound like one of those old war stories – no doubt hairy for those involved, but of concern to us today? Not much.

Anybody out there feel thrilled by all this?


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