Posts Tagged ‘Journalism’
Three times this week, I’ve felt like I was witnessing history; events that would be remembered for many years to come. As a journalist, it’s easy to get caught up in a story and treat it just as work. This week, that was almost impossible.
The first event was obviously on Wednesday, when the news of the terrible attacks on Charlie Hebdo’s office broke. I watched at home in shock, like millions across the world, as details of the events in Paris emerged. Like so many others, I was horrified that something as simple as a cartoon could lead to fanatics taking such action.
The second was Friday. I was working with the BBC World team as two sieges, one in Paris and one just outside, took place. It was hard to believe that live feeds of parts of the city looking like a police state, shutdown for hours as authorities hunted the men and woman responsible, were real. The images of police storming a kosher supermarket and people fleeing for their lives will stay with me for a long time.
In the face of such horrific events, it would be easy to have a grim view of the world. Luckily, there’s the third part of this story; the record-breaking unity rallies in France and support events in many other cities.
The sight of more than one million people gathered in central Paris in a show of defiance must be one of the most inspiring of recent times. To see such diverse groups; world leaders, individuals, Christians, Jews, Muslims and people of no faith all communicating broadly the same message, is an incredible show of defiance. The image of Israeli and Palestinian leaders on the same demonstration has huge symbolic power.
I spent this afternoon in Trafalgar Square in London, where several hundred people gathered to show solidarity to the Parisian demonstrators. I spoke to a number of people – French expats, Brits, Jews, Iranians – all of whom were determined to show their support for the French people as they face the aftermath of the attacks. Some spoke of fear about how safe our own city was, but all insisted we must remain defiant. Their message was clear: we won’t bow to terror.
When we look back on this week, hopefully the events of Sunday will be remembered just as much as the preceding days.
For the next wee while, I’m going to be helping out with the Guardian’s Edinburgh beatblog. You can find it here. The site is part of an ongoing project to offer hyperlocal news, based on blogs, news sites and other sources, to people in the capital. Please feel free to comment on the articles or email me if you have any stories you think should be covered.
The internet, most journalists would freely admit, has changed the profession. Last week’s BBC Radio Scotland show was an exercise designed to look at how this affected the industry- whether or not it is a positive thing, the difference between the stories that are covered as a result and how dependent on the net we should be. It showed some of the problems journalists are faced with when they over-rely on the internet, but this does not mean we should disregard its potential power.
The setting, Anstruther with its 3,600 people and distinct lack of internet presence, was as challenging as it gets. Working in such a small village, without prior knowledge of the population and its problems and interests was an extreme case. Any journalist given a new town that they had no prior knowledge off to cover would find it difficult to find stimulating news without any contacts or leads.
In such a scenario, being ‘on the ground’ is a distinct advantage for engaging with a community. Jim had the benefits of introducing himself to people and speaking to those who know the names of others involved in local issues. In such a small town, the ability to walk the high street, see the sites and speak to the community was ideal. The head of the community council was a fantastic source- one found through the hard graft of exploring the town.
However, would this have been the case in covering a city? Had we both been asked to find the biggest story in Edinburgh that day, working in an office would have been a lot simpler. In the capital, as is the case in most cities and a number of bigger towns, news sources online are plentiful. There are those organisations providing press releases, snippets in social media which often lead to some of the biggest scoops, and disgruntled individuals who want to make their voices heard online. You can communicate with people through social media searches in a way that would require much more work by foot. In the past year, I have met people through facebook who have proved invaluable sources in covering important city issues. I would have struggled to meet them without such a resource.
In the context of hyper-local journalism, how different would this have been had I, or anybody in a similar challenge, had previous experience covering such an area? Those of us who use the internet as a source in our work have learnt the best ways to maximise its potential- who to follow on twitter, be friends with on facebook and where to look for stories. Most contacts that journalists develop are happy to talk over the phone- something that most of us do on a regular basis and are happy with.
The show made some pertinent points about the potential shortcomings of office-dominated journalism. It can be harder to win the trust of a source you have never met and it can be difficult to understand a community which you have never seen. But that does not mean that the internet is not an valuable tool and journalists based in an office cannot produce the same, or indeed better, quality content. The right mix of the two provides us with the chance to cover more and engage with a greater number of people than ever before.
News, as was pointed out to me by Matt Roper (with whom I have only ever spoken on Twitter), is everywhere. Journalists can find ground-breaking stories through gossip in their local shop, leads through facebook or exciting new angles by looking deeper into a press release than their colleagues.
For me, coming into the profession in the age of the internet, the key is balance. There needs to be the opportunity to engage with communities and understand issues, to meet with people and gain their trust. But the new world of technology which has emerged over the last decade offers a new medium through which news can be generated and with which we can gauge the concerns people have and the issues they face. As journalism continues to adjust with the challenges of funding and staffing, the office cannot become the only sphere through which we work, but the internet and telephone cannot be disregarded as invaluable resources.