“Reality” Television

I’m a “freelancer” now.

I know, doesn’t it sound exotic?

Actually, it’s a euphemism for “poor” but let’s not allow that get in the way of recording the associated advantages: staying in your pyjamas until all hours of the afternoon, leaving for work at 6 pm, and filling your head and diary with eclectic projects, many of which are yet to come into fruition.

My main job, remarkably, is in television. Would you believe, I translate and write news items, apparently watched by millions. (Don’t worry, there are lots of checks by more experienced people before my words turn into broadcasts).

I’ve only done a few shifts but I am learning rapidly how “news” works.

When I arrive at the office, I sit down at a computer and open a software programme which contains a run-down of all the news items due to be broadcast on the upcoming show.

Reports tend not to last more than about 2 and a half minutes and shorter bulletins are over within 25 seconds. So brevity and clarity are essential.

Kate Katharina reporting from Washington, with foam microphone.

So is understanding exactly what a story is about. It takes an expert to break something down into its barest form.

You have to work quickly. If a story is breaking, you need to sift through the information coming through the wires, distil it, find appropriate pictures and videos to accompany it and finally send it on to somebody who will produce it and fix any technical glitches.

It’s a huge responsibility.

And it’s that responsibility which I have been thinking about.

It’s important to remember how lucky I – and I assume most of my readers – are to live in an area of the world with an independent media and in an era in which information can go global in seconds.

More people have more access to more information than ever before.

As a result of this mass circulation and sharing of information, we can get away with having fewer sources.

And because the media now works like a web, rather than through straight lines as it used to, things can get tangled up more easily.

Since newspapers and television rely in a huge part on “wires” (=news agencies like Reuters and Associated Press) the pressure and responsibility on those reporters to be 100% accurate is enormous.

News agencies are a business. They can’t afford to send their reporters absolutely everywhere in the world, particularly not to every war-torn country with poor infrastructure and hostility to foreigners. So, our news comes from the people who happen to be stationed in certain parts of the world.

The headlines we get are a political, social and economic reflection on western life and values.

And it’s important to remember that we probably miss as many stories as we run.

Having been surrounded by extraordinarily hard-working and intelligent journalists, I’m far from disillusioned by how the media works. But I am becoming more aware of how arbitrary the selection and presentation of news has always been and will remain.

Things are moving in the right direction. Tweets fly off from the obscurest of locations, bloggers are becoming more influential, and technology is advancing in the developing world.

However, manipulation is becoming easier and more sophisticated, and misrepresentations can spread like wildfire.

I’m only starting out in the field and I am young and stupid. My main concern though is a noble one. I want to tell a truthful story well. And if that means staying small-scale and telling you about a a spindly old man and his giant dog, or about the old man who couldn’t stop falling, at least you know that these are things that I have seen with my own eyes, not images which have landed on my screen after rushing through the wires. And no matter how timid a voice I am on the blogosphere, the fact that I have one screams volumes about the democracy which we should never, ever take for granted.

Page One – Inside the New York Times: The Future of Print Journalism

Nobody – not even the New York Times is safe from the digital revolution. That’s the message of Page One: Inside the New York Times , a docu-film -showing at the IFI this week, which follows editors and writers at the publication as they respond to falling revenue, new media outlets and the speed of social networking. Most of the scenes come from inside the NYT Headquarters and feature an array of high-strung, high-functioning individuals in front of multiple computer screens, yelling down the phone, exchanging smart comments and looking like they’re about to boil over as individually they compete for space in the publication and collectively fight for their survival.

Footage is taken from between 2008 and 2010 and while there’s no obvious narrative structure, we’re gradually introduced to key figures, like David Carr, staff writer, former crack addict and in-house character. We get a glimpse of the dilemma facing the publication as wikileaks arrives onto the scene and bewilders the world by posting videos of disturbing war scenes on youtube. We get the first reactions (what’s wikileaks?) to the final question over whether collaborating with the Guardian and Der Spiegel to release wikileaks’ wires renders Assange a source or an associate.

Comparisons are made between The Watergate scandal, which broke over the course of a year and a half’s reporting – primarily by Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein of The Washington Post- and Assagne’s overnight release of a vast quantity of sensitive material for pubic perusal. We get the sense that the source of power is changing: where Woodward and Bernstein relied on the Washington Post to distribute their findings, now The New York Times depends in part on Assange’s willingness to use it as his outlet.

Page One documents the complexity of the relationship between The New York Times and Assange. Granted it’s symbiotic but in comparison to the media landscape of the 1970s a disproportionate amount of power lies with the source. Assagne benefits from the relationship because his material becomes associated with a credible source but The New York Times faces the uneasy task of ‘keeping up’ with a story that’s developing faster than it can be be digested.

Furthermore, we can see how The New York Times is taking a risk with Assange: how can they substantiate a source that describes himself as espousing the “values of activism” over those associated with journalism. What does that even mean?

Page One asks the questions it cannot answer. How can print media sustain itself? How is the role of journalists changing?

Newspapers didn’t predict that advertising revenue would disappear with the rise of the internet. They weren’t ready for the arrival of websites that featured classifieds and for the advent of faster, flashier, funkier outlets like gawker.com.

Things changed fundamentally in about 18 months, an insider tells the camera.

In the course of filming, 100 odd people are let go. The deputy obit editor has been there for over 20 years and takes voluntary leave. The Books and Arts editor seems on the way out too. We watch a teary few words from somebody leaving. Gathered about her are her colleagues applauding numbly. We get a shot of the enormous multi-storeyed newsroom and the tiny cluster of people gathered about the retiring journalist. It’s an image of resilience but the journalists appear tiny amongst their overwhelming surroundings.

The newsroom atmosphere has always been one of high-tension but in Page One we really get a sense of individuals constantly on the verge of boiling over. They’re always nibbling, always minimising windows on their computer screens while firing questions down the phone and gesturing to their colleagues to get things done. Where they excel though is in their attention to getting it right: there’s constant debate over what should go in and at two daily meetings, editors must justify their content. They’re still all about reporting from the ground, and there’s a sober clip of a goodbye party for a young correspondent being sent to Iraq. As the credits roll we find out that he has become chief Bagdhad correspondent.

Page One does a good job of documenting the uncertainty that surrounds The New York Times, along with all other print media. Unconsciously it documents what might be its saving grace – attention to detail, passion, unbrdidled dedication to getting it right and the conviction that a journalist’s place is first on the ground, and then on twitter.

Page One – Inside the New York Times is showing twice daily in the IFI until Friday 29 September.
The NYT HQ: image source: http://www.editorsweblog.org/web_20/2011/07/new_york_timess_second-quarter_results_s.php

What I learned online today about Global Leadership

Hamid Karzai is in tears. He’s scared about his son’s future and he wants the fighting to stop. It’s a global news headline and so we are watching him cry all day, everywhere, on repeat. Bob Woodward’s claim that he has been diagnosed with depression accompanies the BBC report on his emotional outburst. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-south-asia-11424198

Meanwhile, back at the ranch ‘Pistol Bristol’ is preparing to Dance With The Stars. In her introductory clip, she dances pseudo-sexily while announcing herself as “public advocate for teen preagnancy prevention”. Her mentor advises her to dress “like her mom” at the beginning of her performance and then “kebam” rip it off into something really sexy.  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=89yiGsd2ARA Later,she tells Jay Leno that RIGHT NOW, her mother is out hunting. Also, she’s not heartbroken after her break-up with Levi. She is a “really independent person” and is now going to focus on being a good mom. By Dancing With The Stars.http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lb4lS4sQdkU&feature=related If you listen carefully at 3.29 you can hear the mother take possession of her daughter’s speech.  

On thedailybeast.com Kirsten Powers is accusing Obama of suffering from an empathy deficit. She bases her accusation on his cool response to two despairing suppporters at a local townhall meeting. She’s keen to stress that “Nobody is asking Obama to have a meltdown. That would hardly be presidential”. In other words: he is not to do a Karzai.

Afghanistan has a literacy rate of 30%. Its president is weeping. There is the daily threat and reality of suicide bombings in marketplaces and children are too afraid to go to school. The 2012 US Presidential candidate hopeful is hunting an animal I haven’t heard of and her daughter has been promoted to the position of office manager, where she deals with offers to Dance With The Stars via text message. Having agreed a stimulus package and brought through a healthcare bill, the deficit Obama should be most worried about, is his emotional one. It’s just another day in online comment on global leadership.