Archive for the ‘media convergence, media platforms’ Category

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1) Tunis medina street art – Vote! 2)Pro-niqab sticker at Manouba University. 3)25 sugars with your sweetened green tea? 4&5)It looks like KFC..the artwork is KFC..but it is not KFC; both a good and bad thing. 6)Arabic grammar. 7) Bourguiba Institute students react to Arabic grammar. 8)Breakfast. 9) Royal Dick hamburger, anyone? 10)Rotting hulk of magnificent French building, Tunis. 11)Large spray-painted mural – not quite graffiti – in Tunis medina. 12) Justin Bieber fans show their love in Djerba. I’m picturing the teenage girl (or was it?) who painted this one night. 13)Tethered sheep ponder their fate next to the BBQ, Kairouan.

My interest in the Arab world has grown massively this year. I guess I’m not the only journalist saying that- who could fail to be inspired (or at the very least intrigued) by events across the region. We took a trip to Syria (pre-chaos), I’m learning Arabic, and I also have further trips in mind. Below are a couple of pieces of work I’ve put together for SBS in the last month.

First, a map of the year’s developments, using the finicky (but free) Tableau software. It’s hard to get interactive multimedia going in online news without spending any money, but Tableau, if you can get your head around it, is ok; yet not ok enough, it seems, to want to get interactive via the embed code on this blog.  For full interactivity, check it out here. Next, a wrap of the year’s events, with outcomes and approximate death tolls which I’m quite proud of, as it goes into some real depth; every Arab country, from Algeria to Yemen, and not just those which successfully ditched a despot. Here’s a link to that one.

Finally, a slideshow I put together using some of the best agency pics of the year put to a friend’s music. In lieu of visiting the region, a nice multimedia wrap to end the year.

And I almost forgot – a cheeky exclusive on the first woman to cast a vote in an election following the Arab Spring – anywhere – when a Tunisian woman from Sydney cast her vote down here in Australia. Who says nothing happens in Canberra?

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Android vs iPhone? Ok, a bit simple. Android is challenging Apple’s iPhone in the smartphone sector in Australia, but as flexible and affordable as they are, a few peeps would like to keep a close eye on Google.

NEW YORK, NY - MAY 01: People celebrate in the...

Image by Getty Images via @daylife

I felt compelled to write a post this evening, following a long week in the newsroom. At the start of the week, Osama bin Laden died.

Osama bin Laden has long been known as the leader of al-Qaeda. Al-Qaeda, in turn, has long been regarded as a fearsome islamist terror cell.

In the minutes, hours and days following the rumour which stopped – and then quickly started the newsroom – a rumour which, even before it was confirmed (that’s the word we used) by President Obama, had everyone in the newsroom tingling with excitement, the news that bin Laden was dead, unverified information – and plenty of spin – was being hurled around at breakneck speed, and continues to be. Despite the myriad tweets, articles, packages and talking heads, do we now understand the story better?

There is a dominant narrative surrounding the cult of Osama bin Laden. It is nurtured by journalists, like myself, who are, when it comes down to it, ill-informed and pressed for time. The primary source of information on such figures as bin Laden, as was well-illustrated this week, is the US government and its multiple agencies. Spin, rumour, and plenty of conjecture abounded. You do not have to be Noam Chomsky, seeking the conspiracy, as some would have it, to find a problem here. A state actor cannot have a public enemy number one, but also be the prime gatekeeper of information on this individual or group, without a major distortion of the facts entering the public sphere of knowledge.

Most likely, the individual known as Osama bin Laden was, if you’ll excuse the phrase, a very bad man. Why, then, did the US, dutifully echoed in the media, state that he used his wife as a human shield? From the start of this affair, the misinformation was – or should have been – easy to spot. Yet countless journalists trawled it out. Respected anchors and correspondents mused over ‘the fact’ that he used his wife as a shield, showing us ‘what kind of man he was.’

Was he not bad enough already? I’m pleased to say I did not publish an article following this line in my role as an online producer. But I felt like pulling my hair out when I saw this very line at my and every other news outlet, treated as if it were a fact.

Was there a firefight? Perhaps so, in which case a journalist must report that there was, according to the US, a firefight. How would they know otherwise? This frequently did not happen – and the US, days later, conceded that bin Laden was not armed. Official sources are routinely taken as more reliable. I’d argue they often – but not always – don’t deserve this treatment.

Bin Laden was living in a million dollar mansion, they said. So say who said it. Do not report it as fact. The US government, in the fog of war – for they have always called it a war – is not a reliable source. How could it be? It is besides the point whether the US government is more or less reliable a source than its enemy. It is just a fact that it spends a lot of money, time and effort in winning the information war as well as the war of killing.Days later, it seemed that the house, dirty and unkempt, was perhaps worth $250,000. But who knows. Not me. And not half of the talking heads who spoke about al-Qaeda on 24 hour news channels as if it were now holding a board meeting on who to vote in as the new CEO.

Any journalist who does not take information as it is trawled out from a government with a pinch of salt, including a government fighting some very distasteful characters,  is a mug.  And there were plenty of them this week – I’m sure I failed my own tests once or twice.

The release of a photo of bin Laden’s body is another matter entirely. As one user-generated comment put it, they’d save themselves a decade worth of conspiracy theory documentaries if they’d just release one.

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Here’s a news inspired Google map of the political unrest in the Arab world.

A few weeks back, Australia was inundated by severe flooding in many different areas. This was a busy time for us at SBS news. To best tell the story, I was updating a Google map each day – first ‘Queensland Floods’, and then spreading to incorporate northern NSW and Victoria. It turns out, people LOVE this kind of visual storytelling. I was aware of them as a useful tool, but the article it was embedded in has done amazingly well for us as a news site, and exceeded all expectations. Amazingly well.

As such, I came up with another on due to the ongoing civil unrest in the Arab world. First in Tunisia (as we were quick to publish at SBS, leading in to a special coverage minisite with updates from Brian Thomson in Cairo backing up agency copy), then of course notably in Egypt, but also elsewhere in the region. Publishing online news articles on a protest in Egypt or a self-immolation in Mauritania can only go so far in telling the story, so visuals do the job well. Some would say viewers are lazy. There’s probably an argument here, but if they inform people, so be it. This one has particular resonance for me as my partner and I are heading to Syria and probably Lebanon in just a few weeks. Naturally, and for entirely selfish reasons, we are hoping that the Syrians might put up with decades of oppression and censorship until our holiday is through. This, I feel,  would be considerate. And so I have a careful eye on developments in the region. So, it turns out, do readers of SBS World News Australia online.

This ‘news map’ has also done pretty darn well. News, though, online or elsewhere, is always newsier for people, let’s say, if it is in their backyard, and the Queensland flood map smashed it in terms of clicks. Either way, I’m sure we will be doing a few more of these.

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Dateline (Australian TV program)
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Here’s a link to what I think is probably the most exciting piece of reportage I’ve seen in a long time – Norwegian Paul Refsdal’s film as an embed with the Taliban. Yes, the fucking Taliban.

First noticed it when Channel 4 News reported on it (not sure if they screened the whole thing), then SBS‘s Dateline showed it in Australia.

I knew I would like it when I heard about it – but I thought in hindsight that the sheer bravado and possibly bravery/lunacy in pursuit of the story would be the clincher. In fact, it’s amazing because it showed me up to be a guy, like many others, who knows nothing about the Taliban… I select and edit what international stories make it on to the SBS World News website on a daily basis, but this unique portrayal of ulitmately human Taliban fighters, shocked me. So dang ignorant.

Who would have thought these were such regular dudes? (minus the suicide attacks etc, I guess.)

Great stuff.

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It’s been called the beige election.

The K-Mart election, for its array of pick and choose policies.

Renowned historian Niall Ferguson told Radio National that  the bickering and petulance reminded him of council politics in Scotland.

So what’s wrong with Gillard v Abbott 2010?

Is it a lack of leadership?

By almost all accounts, this is an election short on major themes. The kind of narratives that grab you by the lapels and demand you to get off your (mortgage-belt?) picket fence.

2007 was surely what they call a ‘change’ election. More of the suffocating conservatism that had held sway for over a decade, or Kevin Rudd’s brand of progress?

In the other Anglo-Saxon dominated democracies we so often look to for inspiration, the UK’s last election was a thriller. As for the US, well, no hyperbole here, but you’d be hard pressed to find someone totally disinterested in that one.

But in this election, the defining feature so far is the mud that is being slung. And it is being slung relentlessly. Particularly, it has to be said, by the Coalition.  There’s a perfectly good reason for that. The lack of cohesion in the Labor camp is, to say the very least, highly unusual. Abbott could be on to a winner.

To say that Gillard has been presented with hurdles is an understatement. The shadow of Rudd, not to mention Mark Latham, perhaps the most bitter politician in the country, are obstacles that the Coalition is more than happy to talk about.

This is because, according to some commentators, partisan, and less partisan, they are low on policies. We’re told this is a boring election. A ruthless (foolish?) Labor machine held hostage by dark union forces, up against a Coalition with a leader who snuck into the job by one vote, in order to get rid of a man who wanted Labor’s emissions trading scheme enacted.

With the political execution of Kevin Rudd (ignoring the tragi-comic resurrection), and the fall of Malcolm Turnbull, we were denied an election which surely would have had more of an eye on the macro than the micro. But maybe I’m kidding myself.

It is to see a man who has called himself John Howard’s ideological offspring leading in the polls, three years after Howard-era politics was said to be dead and buried.

As such, Abbott and his minders are keeping a fair bit under wraps. Part of the charm, for want of a better term, of Tony Abbott, was always his forthrightness. His ‘fair dinkumness’, perhaps. He is likely to the right of most Australians on a range of issues. We’ve known this for a while. And it is in Labor’s interest to highlight this, but at the moment, they don’t look to be doing to good a job of it, so entrenched as they currently are in their own civil strife.

When it comes to policies, it’s perhaps easier for the incumbent to present, in a timely fashion, policies to the electorate before the election date. And the Coalition has been slow bringing policies on a number of issues to the table.

The election was branded ‘beige’ due to an apparent lack substance, and little differentiation, between the major parties. No policies on the things that mattered, apparently.

But is it true? The fact of the matter is that despite the fact that issues which, according to pollsters, people want discussed missing from the agenca- and the elephant in the room is of course climate change – the media and the campaign trails are almost one.

And so there is a lack of questioning.

Seen through the media, a modern Australian election is a cacophony of gaffes, leaks, sloganeering, polarised personalities, he-said she-said tit for tat, and photo opportunities. Just count the baby-hugs.

Of course, the commercial networks and tabloid newspapers play their part. But, unfortunately, the ‘quality’ papers (shrinking in number, and quality) and state-funded broadcasters are at the same game.

In an interesting post, Laura Tingle goes someway to outlining how this happened throughout the nineties.

Politics, not policy, now rule in Canberra, she points out.

In particular, the media has become fascinated with the Kevin Rudd issue. Watching the Canberra press pack on the campaign trail, it is hard not, in some strange way, to feel sorry for the actual politicians.  They come with their new policy, focus-grouped to the teeth to swing those swing voters in those swing seats into their grasp, and the journalist wants to know about Kevin Rudd. Why Abbott won’t debate Gillard for a second time. Why Abbott used the term ‘no means no.’  About Gillard being an atheist. Whether Mark Latham is annoying the hell out of Gillard. And it goes on.

This is partly down to the fact that the big-dog journalists are often not on the trail.

These older guys are more experienced in combing through policy documents, looking at the detail and running costings themselves.

But they’re also, it has to be said, given more of the freedom and liberty to get away from the constant churn and sit down and read the pages of announcements and detail that pour into any journalists email account during a campaign.  I’ve tried to read what I think are the major announcements – but leave your desk for twenty minutes and you’re inundated on your return.

There are policies coming out on a daily basis, and they’re hardly being tested when there is the chance at the press conference, where there is also the chance to ask about the issues which are not even being debated.

As well as climate change, there is the question as to whether we want to remain, and grow in our role as, the world’s quarry. Surely we cannot be serious about acting on climate change when we do not consider the coal that we sell to be burnt overseas as something we’re responsible for?

There is a war in Afghanistan which Australia troops are dying in, but the term ‘Afghan’ only makes the agenda when it is a refugee fleeing that same war. There is a looming agricultural challenge over whether to lease fertile Australian land to overseas companies, which the Nationals are keen on discussing but, one can be fairly sure, won’t become a big issue in the next fortnight.  There is a potential to join an Asian trade bloc, to actually consider where we want to look, and be, in an increasingly globalised world.  There is a debate over population growth focusing on relatively small amounts of arrivals by boat, but barely any mention about Australia’s ailing transport network, beset in the cities by chronic overcrowding, and, if the Greens are to be believed, held back at the interstate level due to the interests of the trucking lobby. There are pledges of money for the tourism industry, made on the Barrier Reef, but no action on what we are doing to destroy the reef with silting, and of course, rising sea temperatures. If it aint there, tourists won’t come.  And closing the gap with indigenous Australians? Ha! 2007 seems like decades ago.

All of these issues come down to where Australia wants to be in twenty, thirty, forty years time.

But strangely, parents have been targeted in this election. Families, and communities, those two old catchphrases. The cynics say (that would be us journalists) that this is to convince the breeders in the mortgage belt (disclaimer – I’m a parent, but mortgage-free) that $500 here or there means one major party is better than the other.

But surely parents of all people have an eye on what they would like this still-fairly lucky country to be like in forty years time?

There is no doubting that to get there, to get anywhere, we need leaders.

Rudd seemed to have an idea. Little Johnny too. But it’s hard to know what the real Julia and Tony want. If she’s a puppet, and he’s been gagged, we’re not going to find out.

Sadly, this election has shown a failure of leadership in the mainstream media, as much as from the leaders of the main political parties.

Take it as a devastating critique of democracy.

In 2010, our leaders are failing us,