Saturday, December 30, 2006

Goodbye 2006

I hate New Year. I really do. It always seems to point up to me the things that I have left undone over the past year, what I hoped and failed to achieve. (Besides feeling like I am 15 years old at Birkenhead High School and no one but no one will invite me to a party.....oh the horror of that still remains.....)
This year is no exception. I thought the January of 2007, I would be in a very different place to where I am now, both in my professional and personal life. Things didn't turn out as I expected.
Yet that's a good thing in the main. I had no idea I would be doing Nuffield this time last year. Which goes to show that plans aren't everything. (Although I have been having a succssion of anxiety dreams about the research - which is not what you want lying on the sofa bed back at your parents' home)
Still New Year is a lonely time. My sister is abroad and I felt I didn't really get time to talk to her over Christmas. I think about friends far away, like S who will never come back to this country now. I think about a friend that I turned away from last year after I lost patience with the way she was behaving. Should I have just bitten back those words one more time?
But D is here. I'm very lucky for that. I would be nothing without him.

I'm trying to come up with my customary 10 new years resolutions by tomorrow night. I always make ten so I have a chance of keeping some by the end of the year.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Looking back

Thanks to Adrian Monck for pointing up this Economist potted history of the popular press....good reading

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

It could be you
Even Time gets in on the act by praising new media in its Person of the Year edition


Channel 4's view on new media

Channel 4

Thursday, December 14, 2006

A novel way forward?
This is not me being obsessed with AlertNet this week I promise - but I read Ruth Gidley's suggestion for raising awareness on countries that miss out on coverage - - and enjoyed it very much.
In the past there have been writers like Fay Weldon - former Savoy writer in residence - who have been "sponsored" by companies to mention their products in books. Maybe aid agencies should be thinking about product placement themselves - a dashing Oxfam aid worker as a modern day Mr Darcy; Dr Quinn Medicine Woman talking about her work with MSF, Bridget Jones joins a Christian Aid project with hilarious consequences.....
Still anyone who has read Cause Celeb by Helen Fielding (Bridget Jones's creator) should know that authors are no easier to control than journalists.....

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Dispatches from Disaster Zones

To the Red Cross today for the conference Dispatches from Disaster Zones which brought aid agencies and media together to debate how to improve coverage of disasters including new research from CARMA International (blogged here by AlertNet as well as launching the Red Cross's Forgotten Disasters Report
Like Megan Rowling I did not find anything sensationally new in the CARMA report, although Tom Vesey's suggestion that one of the solutions would be to embed journalists with aid units rather like happens with the military went down very badly with the journalists present (including Michael Buerk, Christina Lamb of the Sunday Times and Anton Antonowicz of the Daily Mirror) - although one could argue that simply by travelling with aid agencies it is difficult to present completely objective reporting - particularly as the aid agencies often pay for such trips (these are usually follow-up trips however, not ones that take place during disasters). There was much more support for the ida there should be far more scrutiny of politicians after conflict on delivery of aid.
CARMA's conclusion that the coverage focused on the political rather than the humanitarian also sparked a fairly forthright debate on whether the humanitarian disaster was a political one - and how outspoken aid agencies could/should be when to be so would get them thrown out of places like Zimbabwe.
Buerk suggested that aid agencies might be debating with the wrong people anyway given newspaper and TV journalists were present. He said that 40% of under 45s do not regularly watch TV news and Google is now the second most trusted news source in the country - we should all be thinking about new media instead...

EDIT: Further update from AlertNet -

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

The world is not enuffield
No doubt the Scott Trust will be delighted to know that I have spent valuable time taking part in the Nuffield College pantomime which this year was a James Bond spoof....and I am told was one of the best. I only had one line so I can't claim any credit.
There is a particular tradition at Nuffield in which the audience shout 'Horse' at random intervals in order to try to persuade the horse to come on stage - (I have a feeling in several centuries time there will be some dusty old tract in the Bodleian by some linguistic theorist "Horse! An analysis of social customs and dialect in early 21st century graduate colleges)
The worst thing of course is finally meeting the person I was spoofing in the bar afterwards. You see that's the great thing about being a journalist; you write something up/record something and then run away and don't see someone again. You don't meet them while clutching a sweaty bottle of San Miguel, while Abba is playing in the background and have to start nervously saying "It was meant to be an affectionate portrayal....Honest..."
However most congratulations should go to the Warden of College Steve Nickell, former member of the Monetary Policy Committee (and in fact in an earlier incarnation Mandelson's maths teacher) - who gave a stunning performance as Dr Evil. He wins my vote as the kind of academic we should see more of.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Slipping through our fingers?
Yesterday Peter Horrocks head of BBC News gave a lecture at St Anne's College on the future of BBC News - or as he sees it the future of BBC Newses - with increasingly fragmenting audiences many of whom (the young, minorities and C2s are increasingly turning away from the BBC). The idea of journalists being able to tell people what to think has gone. Instead he says

Any power we once had to tell the audience what to think has evaporated...Our power to instruct the public is slipping through broadcasters' fingers

His concern is in a world where we increasingly choose the news we want to hear (see Helen Boaden's quote last week) it becomes increasingly important for the BBC to be able to remain telling people about stories they might not hear otherwise.

This is a link to Peter Horrocks's full speech Will post more on this later...

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Death of Nick Clarke

The death of Nick Clarke is such a sad event. I worked as a reporter on the World at One and PM when Nick was presenting and the tributes that are pouring in are fully justified. His great ability was to remain fearsomely polite - terrifyingly so - when interviewing and sheer lucidity of writing, which when you listened to the programme meant you frequently thought 'Damn, why can't I encapsulate things like that'. He wrote simply but never simplistically, with no unnecessary flourishes.

I particularly liked Eddie Mair's tribute on PM. Devoid of sentimentality, it reminded us that along with his supreme journalistic ability, Nick had his idiosyncrasies - I remember several occasions in G601 when he was incandescent because his vegetarian sausage sandwich was not just as he liked it. Don't even get started on the coffee. I also liked Eddie's anecdote that Nick saw it as a badge of honour never to have interviewed Tony Blair.
His audio diary is well worth listening to again

Update: Andrew Marr's report on Nick's funeral I wish I could learn to do links properly.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Launch of the Reuters Institute of Journalism
To St Anne's College to hear the great and the good at the launch of the Institute Among them, Wahad Khanfar of Al Jazeera International, my old boss Len Downie of the Washington Post and Helen Boaden director of BBC News (so I guess another old boss of mine then). Spotted in the crowd: Ian McEwan, Alan Rusbridger, Sir Crispin Tickell, Liz Forgan
The topic of the speech and the debate was journalism post Iraq...
Some snippets...
Downie admitted that the Post did not listen as much to the sceptics on WMD as they should have done and they did not give stories enough prominence.
Helen Boaden on the changing nature of audiences and how they get their news: "if you are not interested in Africa you never need consume another story about Africa in your life" (Note: she was not advocating this; just pointing out that people can now avoid stories they don't want)
Wahad Khanfar pointed out that AJI was the first place that Israel got an editorial platform in the Arab media - and that AJI was put under huge pressure from governments and intelligence agencies as a result.
Timothy Garton Ash presided - and said he saw himself as an academic who writes journalism as Conor Cruise O'Brien put it "with one foot in each grave". Could that apply to journalists turned aid workers I wonder?
I was sitting next to Prof Adrian Monck who heads up journalism at City University whose waving hand was somehow ignored by Garton Ash. Maybe that's because he wanted to ask Wahad Khanfar whether Al Jazeera English will use the term suicide bombers - which AJI does not...or whether it will use the Arabic term which uses martyrs. He writes about it on his blog this morning -
Meanwhile at dinner I found myself opposite Dr Suzanne Franks who is writing a history of the BBC but has done a lot of the Ethiopian famine of 1984 so we swapped tales of journalists and aid workers....but mainly argued over is there ever such a thing as a natural disaster? Even the tsunami could be said to fail to be a natural disaster given the decision a year earlier to not put warning systems in the region...

Friday, November 17, 2006

Paying for it?
I noticed the following story on Guardian Online yesterday -,,1949140,00.html - about the fact that the BBC is going to pay for some user generated content in future if it is "particularly editorially important or unique."
Hmmm. We'll see what that actually means in future. But I spent the afternoon at the News Interactive Centre at the BBC earlier this week, as UGC is becoming increasingly important when it comes to covering natural disasters. The cliche is that the tsunami was particular because it happened to be a disaster where there were lots of rich Western tourists with video cameras and was thus a one-off.
But according to the BBC journalists that I spoke to the tsunami may have inspired people in disasters that followed to send in emails and footage. The Asia Quake of October 2005 saw 3,000 emails flood in on the first day (including one from Margala Towers a mere eight minutes after it happened). If you look on the BBC website then you can see a wide range of video footage, witness accounts, and photographs sent in by people who were there, rather than journalists. Of particular interest is the photo gallery sent in by Rab Nawaz of WWF who photographed the remote Palasis - peoples that journalists would probably have never got access to.
I don't think UGC will replace journalism as some people seem to fear. But it will be a useful addition for colour stories and eyewitness accounts. The interesting thing for aid agencies is that these are the kind of stories that they have traditionally acted as mediators - setting up case studies, spokespeople etc for journalists - what is their role when the middleman is cut out?

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Looking in the mirror
In the past there has been the idea that journalists and aid workers are fundamentally opposed to each other. One group are hardened old hacks the other are weedy humanitarians. But I was listening to a podcast of a debate between journalists and aid workers entitled Children, crises and the media and I heard Gordon Weiss of UNICEF make what I think is a very interesting point:
The crude divide between teddybear carrying journalists* and bleeding heart humanitarians is closing. The transition of the media into 24 hour news cycle means that we don't know what is going to happen. Papers like the Times are going to have to compete with those who can very cheaply travel to those parts of the world and upload their video and news stories or blogs and trigger a news landslide like we saw in Niger
Weiss raises an issue both for the media - who's going to decide what's a story if anyone can generate content and for aid workers - who should they be focusing on to sell their stories too these days?I've just come back from a seminar about the blogosphere at Green College in which John Naughton, an expert in this field and Observer columnist warned against thinking that new media means old media will be wiped -it's just a time of tremendous adaptation, a different media existence. But both journalists and aid workers have to acknowledge that and think what it means for them.

*Weiss was referring to a comment Mail special correspondent Ann Leslie made in the same debate about the old journo trick of taking a teddybear with you to a disaster so that if there are no abandoned kids to photograph in the rubble the snapper can throw a teddy bear into the debris and hey presto, heartwrenching picture. Maybe I am very sheltered but I've never actually seen anyone do this...Honest

Sunday, November 05, 2006

PR - it's always been with us

I went to the Holbein Exhibition at the Tate on Saturday to see a masterpiece in PR - Holbein creating the image that Henry VIII wants us to remember...that of the mega-monarch. Forget the fact that Henry was already beginning to suffer ill-health, was potentially the laughing stock of Europe after disposing of three wives (there's a great portrait of Christina of Denmark who turned down any chance of the King's proposal pointing out that she would gladly marry him if only she had two heads at her disposal) and that the arch- alpha male had managed to father only one rather sickly son....
It made me think again how important the image is...and to try to justify my day trip as as relating to my research, how image is all in deciding which disasters are remembered and which forgotten. Part of the reason that coverage changed for the tsunami and the Pakistani earthquake is because of the flow of images back to the West; in fact the BBC set up a whole new unit of UGC (user generated content) to cope with it.
On a lighter note. I love this picture of Mary Wotton. When Holbein paints her she looks stiff and rather terrified. Here she looks like a tremendous good-time girl.

Friday, November 03, 2006

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

NGOs - a disaster for disasters?

I have AlertNet ( to thank for this provocative headline - it's not mine! I went to meet the team in Reuters spanking new HQ at Canary Wharf yesterday to talk about humanitarian coverage in the media, as AlertNet bridge the gap between aid workers and the media a lot of the time. When I was looking through their site I came across a very interesting debate with this title that had been held at the LSE earlier in the month (
One of the speakers, a senior MSF official said that massive public appeals by aid agencies in the wake of disasters were wrong and should stop. The reason? They were often too late to be any use and led to inept interventions. "The real relief work during the first week of a disaster is already prepared, pre-planned and pre-paid," said Gorik Ooms of MSF Belgium. "You buy tents months or years before you need them."
The media - who often run their own appeals - wouldn't be best pleased to hear this I'm guessing.
Of course MSF were - controversially - the NGO who asked the public to stop giving them money a week after the tsunami in 2004. This led to criticism, which Ooms acknowledged in the debate.
A common response to MSF's tsunami announcement [from the public], he said, was: "You have ruined our way of showing solidarity with these people. Shut up now and tell us one month later that you are going to spend the money elsewhere."
And it wasn't only aid agencies affected by MSF's pronouncement - or potentially riled. Many media outlets' appeals at the time of the tsunami raised thousands if not in some cases six figure sums from ordinary people.
In fact it wasn't just money that people gave at the time of the tsunami. I remember in the Sunday Times we ran a story about DIY aid workers who went out to help with the relief effort. I wonder what happened to those who went out? Did they help - or as many NGOs feared - hinder? Did they feel they made a difference - or did they return disillusioned? I'd love to know.

Monday, October 23, 2006

I'm a celebrity....

By some coincidence both the Guardian and Independent media sections are running stories today about what can happen when celebrities, the media and aid work all get involved with each other - and they both provide a fascinating insight. In the Independent Marina Cantucuzino ( writes about her trip to Addis Ababa with Rupert Everett - and how he ended up writing about her in his autobiography Red Carpet and Other Banana Skins. There's various amusing incidents she recounts of her time with various celebrities - and she's honest about what journalists are often after - the hope that a celeb will spill the beans on their own life later in the trip.
She asks a serious question though:

the question that the celebrity, the charity worker and the journalist must all ask themselves is, will these people's lives improve because I am here? The answer, I believe, is yes- but not immediately and perhaps not to those people specifically. Money is donated to programmes, awareness is raised, and readers start to think of Ethiopia or Laos or Brazil as more than just holiday destination

Meanwhile in the Guardian Sue Ryan spills the beans on what happened when Unicef took Jemima Khan to Pakistan a year on from the Pakistani earthquake (,,1928722,00.html) - and how what can seem ideal can go wrong. Amidst the trials and tensions of conflicting journalist/aid worker demands, Ryan is left uncomfortable by the fact that Khan finally appears in the Evening Standard wearing a £15,000 outfit - the danger is she feels is that it looks like a fashion shoot with a collage of disaster pictures in the middle.

Saturday, October 21, 2006

Something for a sunny Saturday

Nothing to do with aid work or journalism - but listen to Allison Crowe sing Leonard Cohen - a fabulous way to start the day.

I found this thanks to Rachel North whose blog I read - I once commissioned Rachel to write a piece in my previous life at the Evening Standard.

Friday, October 20, 2006

Life on the front line.

I spent the morning at the Frontline Club ( This is an alternative media club set up by a co-operative of freelances who used to work in warzones and promotes independent journalism, runs discussions and events ( as well as having what's meant to be a very good restaurant and - they say - a 'blistering wine list'). It's great - all distressed rugs, old battered leather sofas and lots of books. My ideal room.
I'd gone to meet Mark Brayne who runs the Europe office of Dart Center for Journalism and Trauma to talk about what happens when journalists work closely with aid workers and in situations that are often very distressing.
The Frontline's the kind of place that while you're just sitting there you bump into people - in the time I was talking to Mark we met someone who'd been out helping give out aid during the tsunami . He said that he had found it very frustrating when aid helicopters were taken up with journalists - meaning that they couldn't get as much aid out.
Whose fault is that though? The journalists would say they have to go to see for themselves - and often the aid agencies are keen to get journalists out with them (see the quotes from David Shukman below). And without the coverage - would the money and aid flood in? Do aid agencies believe that one seat on a helicopter less pays off in the positive effect that a striking colour piece could bring?
Or are the aid agencies finding that trying to do their work comes second to journalists desperate to get the story? - and that aid should never be delayed so that a journalist can get to a place?

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

One day in history

A chance to put down your diary of the day to be part of what they claim will be the world's biggest blog.
A disaster that there is no disaster?

"Come on darling," the photographer from the News was saying to me as we stood outside in heat that threatened to take the skin off our faces. "You don't want me taking pictures of the celebrity with the kids. You don't want me taking pictures in the hospital. What am I doing here? There's a story to tell love. It's got to be done somehow."
Vernon Briggs the TV producer was making his way up the path.. "There isn't a bloody story that's the bloody truth of it," he bellowed.
"This is a right bloody carry on this is. We can't make an emergency appeal out of this lot. Nothing bloody well wrong with 'em. Crying wolf is all these aid agencies ever do."
"It's not crying wolf," I said. "It could all still happen."
"Not in the next two bloody days it couldn't. If we weren't stuck in the middle of effing nowhere, I'd put a call in London and pull the whole thing now. It's a bloody disaster."
"A disaster you say?" Muhammed one of the camp elders was standing very still. "It is a disaster that there is no disaster?"
-From Cause Celeb by Helen Fielding

This was one of the things that inspired me to start thinking about how the media and aid agencies work together when there is a natural disaster (as well as being fascinated that Helen Fielding wrote this book - a pretty biting satire on the media, aid workers and celebrity endorsements - before Bridget Jones). It's really easy as a journalist to get caught up in wanting the most dramatic pictures, the most dramatic stories. But it's not just the journalists who get caught up.
Remember Sofia Pedro...she was the woman who gave birth up a tree during the 2000 Mozambique floods. International reaction had been slow to the floods....but a strong image like that meant that it went to the top of the media agenda.
In a BBC news online debate (, the BBC's World Affairs Correspondent David Shukman pointed out that while Sofia and her baby Rositha were got to safety, given the sheer number of media-chartered helicopters covering the rescues, a few Mozambicans may have been blasted from tree-tops by the force of the downdraft.
But he also said that aid workers should not be so quick to criticise the media for over simplifying. He wrote
One colleague who covered the famine in Ethiopia last year described having trouble opening his hotel-room door because the agencies had left him so many notes inviting him to join THEIR helicopter or Landrover the next day to visit THEIR particular project. They all wanted coverage; in fact they couldn't afford NOT to have coverage; and the result was a little unseemly on their part.
His point - both aid agencies and the media should be examining what they are doing and how they could do it better. And this is what I hope to do in my year at Nuffield.