Archive for the ‘online news’ Category

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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I have a new blog feed-  or collection of thought processes – over at SBS News, my employer. I’m posting mostly on technology and media issues, including the changing landscape we all find ourselves in as we migrate from paper to digits. More inkybinary stuff, perhaps. Most recent posts include the UK getting ‘in a Twitter’ over free speech, microblogging and Ryan Giggs, as well as the rise of Google’s Android.

Here’s a link.

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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This week, Dedicated Denial of Service, or DOS attacks hit the mainstream media big time, with the news that supporters of the WikiLeaks website were, as they saw it, fighting back against companies which had dared shun the site.

I’m no ‘hacker’, as large parts of the press like to term these armchair activists, but I have been familiar with the concept of what a denial of service attack is for a number of years. I had the pleasure of attending the Chaos Computer Club’s Easter Hack in Cologne back in 2008, and have watched these shadowy free-speech absolutists with admiration for years.

To perform a DOS attack such as operation payback, or #payback, you get as many people, or simply computers, to head for the same website at once, and hey presto, said website can’t cope with the requests.

So today, I thought I’d look at how to join operation payback, indeed how to join in a DOS attack, from a technical point of view. There’s no immediate masking of IP addresses with the software in question, so you can get caught pretty easy if your ISP wanted to assist your local authorities in this legal grey-area, but as a journo, it’s my right to find out ;)

It’s hilariously simple – although not as simple as the the most simple method, basically visiting the site in your browser. First, it seems most of the ‘anonymous’ peeps and others are using LOIC – or Low Orbit Ion Cannon – a very easy to operatre desktop client that fires off requests to a certain website. It’s a tongue-in-cheek name for a very 21st century form of conflict – although I’d hesitate to call it war as ‘the media’, which I’m a part of, has done. Activism, it certainly is.

There are plenty of places hosting LOIC for download. There may be other pieces of software for DOS attacks for the not-too-tech-savvy punter out there, but this could not be easier. You load it up, put your URL in (in this case, Visa, Mastercard, Amazon et al), and press the big button which says something along the lines of ‘Imma fire mah lazer’, and hey presto, you’re sending oodles of requests to the servers, along with your comrades, who’ve presumably used Twitter or chat rooms to all do it at the same time.

It’ll be fascinating to watch this sort of activism develop in the coming years.

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I recently finished a project I had been working on for a couple of months. I’d been making a film on legislation surrounding the koala, as a way to discuss urban sprawl. You can’t just tell a TV news bulletin’s editor or SP that your film’s about Australia’s inability to plan properly, I thought: you need koalas, too. Well, maybe the senior journos can. But not me. So, the decision on whether to list the koala as vulnerable under the threatened species list was the hook.

The first cut is the longer one which I wanted to make. It goes into some detail. The second one, below, is the cut which actually went to air on SBS World News Australia, where I work as an online journalist. Note the subtle, and not so subtle, differences. I provided a cut  for TV which was at least a minute and a half shorter, and they trimmed another 10 seconds out of the middle. Crudely, I might add ;).   Colleagues in online news helped me get there by suggesting putting some koalas at the top, which I did. How to edit for TV news, I guess.

Other suggestions, easy to spot, include shortening the film and thereby tightening the message – and so the whole middle section concerning some of the issues with koala numbers, nationwide, as well as at a small proposed housing estate near Campbelltown on the edge of Sydney, had to go. As a film essentially about the legislation, in a way it could live without it. I would have liked it to stay though, of course, but it wouldn’t have gotten aired. There is clearly a big difference between current affairs film making and cutting films for TV news.

Some of the shots in the above worked less well, including the introductory shot to Sally Whitelaw, the councillor. As it was suggested that I improve the visual storytelling, as well, I put in some shots of a house being built, and hit two birds with one stone. In the end, I stuck this into the longer version as well. Coming from a print/online background I am still getting better at this element of film making – taking the viewer along using imagery, seeing as they’re not listening half the time anyway! I also learnt not to use ‘flappy’ footage of talking people; I thought the sequence of Geoff the koala rescuer pointing out a potential development besides a shopping centre’s car park was decent (well, considering a journalist edited it). But it was pointed out it contained a big no-no; flapping lips with no audio, and me talking over the top.

It was also suggested I do another voiceover before submitting. But after planning, copious research, shooting, driving hundreds of kms, writing and refining all on my lonesome, I wanted it done – and with the legislation potentially being dropped at any moment, I could not risk another few days. At the time of writing, though, it is still pending. Anyway, thought the post would be an interesting look at learning the ropes of TV journalism from a print, or student viewpoint.

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,

We’ve launched our federal election portal at SBS -Vote 2010-  mostly a World News Australia affair with some input from other departments.

As such, we’ve been working on getting small packages for online news up, condensing the morning’s campaign by early afternoon.

I’ve written and cut a few this week such as the ‘Red Faces’ package and the climate troubles piece here, and we’ll be trying to get one out each weekday for the duration of the Australian federal election.

It’s been a help using the new quantel system with pre-ingested material – all part of SBS’s shift to digital, and a real help with the speed needed for online news. Final Cut Pro is naturally a better editing tool – but the integration with raw footage is not to be sniffed at.

Turns out quantel has a few nice features of its own, anyway.

As the onus is on speed – along with accuracy and journalistic integrity, to be sure – some of the cuts in these packages are less than perfect.

But with several hours less than our TV counterparts to wrap proceedings up in, we think it’s a fine job we’re doing.

Media convergence at its finest should be on show this Sunday night for comprehensive online coverage of the leadership debate.

Bring on the polls.