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UN journalism fellowship now open to applications

March 3rd, 2011 | 1 Comment | Posted by in Awards, Editors' pick

Journalists from developing countries can now apply for a fellowship which will give them the opportunity to report from the UN in New York.

The Dag Hammarskjöld Scholarship Fund for Journalists’ fellowship scheme is open to reporters aged 25-35 who are native to one of the developing countries in Africa, Asia, South America and the Caribbean, and are currently working full-time for a media organisation in a developing nation.

Applicants must demonstrate an interest in and commitment to international affairs and to conveying a better understanding of the United Nations to their readers and audiences. They must also have approval from their media organizations to spend up to two months in New York to report from the United Nations.

According to the fund’s website applications can be submitted until 6 April.

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Journalism Daily: Amish media, James Murdoch’s speech and the Bastiat online shortlist

September 1st, 2009 | No Comments | Posted by in Journalism Daily

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ReadWriteWeb: Google may hand over Caribbean journalists’ IP addresses

ReadWriteWeb follows up Wikileaks’ report that Google could comply with an order to supply the IP addresses used to access a news site’s GMail account, as part of a libel claim in the Santa Clara, California Superior Court, regarding government corruption in the Turks & Caicos Islands.

The TCI Journal is a news and commentary site based in the Islands, run by ‘journalists, lawyers, professionals, students and patriots.’ RWW reports:

“A property developer discussed at length in the Journal’s documentation of corruption and in the official UK government inquiry report is now suing the journal for libel.”

According to Wikileaks and RWW, Google intends to hand over the requested records in just over two weeks, unless the Journal files a counter-motion with the court itself.

Google has supplied RWW with a statement that said the company was ‘still evaluating all [its] legal options regarding this particular request’.

Full post at this link…

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Trinidad’s tabloids scream loudly, but Barbados’ press could do with some balls

July 24th, 2009 | 2 Comments | Posted by in Journalism, Newspapers

John Mair is a senior lecturer in broadcasting at Coventry University. He was born in Guyana and regularly returns there to help build local media, print and TV. Previous posts looked at the Caricom Summit held July 2-5 in Georgetown. Trinidad and Barbados were the final stops.

After experiencing Guyanese ‘journalism’ during the Caricom summit, any order is better. In Trinidad, there is much economic prosperity due to oil and natural gas: ‘What recession?’ they ask here. The economy is healthy but the society has some of the fissures of Guyana.

Trinidad politics
Indians were brought here in thousands as indentured labourers to replace the freed black slaves one hundred and seventy years ago. They live in the south of the island, the African Trinidadians in the North. They have much of the wealth, the prime minister and his ruling PNM party are black and have the political power.

There is much violent crime – especially kidnappings and murders – and that is the staple fare of the super tabloids who make up the Trinidad & Tobago newspaper market. The Guardian, the Express and Newsday are much the same. Screaming headlines on the cover but much content inside. They are big in pagination and include lots of classified ads.

Politics gets a big shout and through that the racial dimension. The leader of the opposition (at the moment) Basdeo Panday is Indo-Trinidadian. He was prime minister until 2001 but was driven from office for alleged corruption. Today his UNC is breaking into bits.

His former attorney general Ramesh Marhaj is leading a ginger group/internal opposition within the party together with another MP – Jack Warner, who runs football in this part of the world, is vice-chair of FIFA and has been the subject of critical investigations on British TV about his dodgy behaviour in that job.

Warner’s son sold the travel packages and tickets for Trinidadians to the to the 2006 World Cup. Panday wants Warner to account for $30m (T&T) of election expenses. Warner says it was money he gave the party so no need to account. This makes the British MPs look tame.

Columnists abound on the pages of the T&T press. Different races. All have views. Many far too prolix for the page. Sub-editing is not a craft that seems to have been found in the Southern Caribbean. But the three dailies and the local TV news programmes – sadly also divided on racial lines – make for lively reading and listening. Crime sells. They certainly put the fear of God into the bank manager cousin with whom I was staying.

Keeping awake in Barbados
Not so Barbados. The problem here for a journalist is keeping awake. The best description for the Barbados Nation and Advocate? Stodgy, boring, dull. They make the Bedworth Advertiser look interesting. Boring headlines and even duller stories. It is like reading a parish newsletter for a nation.

The ‘news’ is based on government news conferences and other press conferences by NGOs and the like. On such sexy subjects like polyclinics, insurance and diabetes. Again, writing is prolix and not of great quality.

Barbados is a very polite and ordered society (the murder rate is a fraction of Trinidad’s) and that shows in its press. The hacks need to get themselves some more balls. The TV news is not much better.

There we have it. Prosperity, tabloid culture, Little England and the news values of British suburbia. Funny how they all travel. But Blighty calls.

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It’s no use having a platform if you have no customers. Full stop.

John Mair is a senior lecturer in broadcasting at Coventry University. He was born in Guyana and regularly returns there to help build local media, print and TV. His last posts looked at the Caricom Summit held July 2-5 in Georgetown.

As one door closes in the media, another opens. The trick is to spot whether the train leaving the station will crash or make it to the new destination. British newspapers and others are standing watching the various emerging platforms wondering which ones to accept and which to reject.

Some are dithering and may die. Imagine you are the editor of the Coventry Evening Telegraph facing steadily declining sales. Do you boost them on a  new web platform, do you throw your resources, mainly journalists, at that platform? Do you try to revive the traditional paper? Or do you give up the ghost?

For the last two and a half weeks, I have witnessed, here in Georgetown, the death of one platform and the rise of others. The Plaza Cinema in Camp Street is, or was, right opposite my hotel. It was a Georgetown institution when I was a boy.  A huge art deco cinema which played the big films. I saw ‘Ben Hur’ there over 50 ago as a young boy.

There were five or six big cinemas in the town which provided entertainment for the masses especially at weekends. Films came from Britain or the USA a few weeks after their release there. Each town and village on the coastal plain had a small cinema too. The films they showed varied according to the ethnic group of the area.

Indo-Guyanese village cinemas showed Hindi films with English subtitles – early Bollywood; the African Caribbean diet was Hollywood. Cinema was part of the very fabric of life. The cinemas supported a daily full page advertisement in the local papers.

Then along came television. Most of it illegal – stealing from satellites and from video shops. Copyright was for the birds. They showed anything and everything. When I pointed out to one transgressor that the film he was showing on his TV station clearly said on screen ‘For Home use only’, his retort was instant: ‘I show it in my home, they watch it in theirs. What’s wrong with that?’ Iron logic. TV stole the cinema audience. People preferred the comfort and safety of their living rooms to the trip into town where cinemas were old and often smelt of bodily functions.

The illegal DVD trade took up any slack (last week within twelve hours of it happening live in LA, I could buy a DVD of the Michael Jackson Memorial Service in Georgetown market). The cinema platform firmly died first in the villages, then in the town. There were fewer and fewer ads in the paper.

Three weeks ago, part of the art deco facade of the Plaza fell down. It had been closed for two or three years now. That was followed by an army of scavengers who, day and night, over two weeks literally stripped the place of anything worthwhile.

Timber went first, taken away in scores ofdray carts (horse drawn carts) to pastures new to make new or improved houses in which to watch films on TV or DVD. It was like watching ants taking food from one place to another.

Now all that is left of the once great Plaza is a breeze block back wall and some steel pillars. The human scavengers have like locusts left just the shell. If ever I wanted a real-time demonstration of the death of one media platform and the rise of another, this was it.

In the not-so slow death of the Plaza Cinema in Georgetown lie big lessons for those trying to ride the tiger called the internet.

It’s no use having a platform if you have no customers. Full stop.

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This is Georgetown but it could be Westminster: journalists hunt in packs wherever they are

July 8th, 2009 | No Comments | Posted by in Events, Press freedom and ethics

John Mair is a senior lecturer in broadcasting at Coventry University. He was born in Guyana and regularly returns there to help build local media, print and TV. His last post looked at how summits bring out the lazy side of journalists.

The herd mentality is alive and well and living in the sun. I’ve just seen it at the Caricom (Caribbean Community) Summit (July 2-5) of 14 Presidents and Prime Ministers with the Caribbean media. A pack without teeth. The government of Guyana established a very slow accreditation system and a media centre in the conference venue. But the media centre was a broiler room. Up to 20 hacks, computers (usually working), tea, coffee and confusion.

The highlight of the day was often lunch, with the President’s press secretary presiding over just who got fish and who got meat. Big decisions. He and others in the communications team at the Summit did precious little briefing, precious little spinning in advance, or even ex post facto. That was left to the principals and usually in impromptu corridor press conferences where they were waylaid by journalists. The worst sort of herd mentality. One hooked the prey while the others piled in, often not knowing what questions to ask, but not wanting to miss out on the action. A journalism flash mob with plenty of heat and not much light. The leaders love this. They can bluff on a wide variety of subjects for several minutes to feed morsels to the hungry hacks.

Away from the pack, the masters of journalism. None bigger than Rickey Singh. Sitting typing in the corner of the media centre. Thousands of words over three days for his outlets in Jamaica, Trinidad, Barbados (where he lives) and his native Guyana. He is a one-man Caribbean press corps and the institutional memory for the travelling correspondents covering the Summit. Any historical or other questions they ask Rickey out loud. He knows all the answers. He has lived them.

Rickey has been to virtually all the Summits since the founding of Caricom. After 40+ plus years as a journalist, often against the odds and the subject of official displeasure, there are no new names and faces for Rickey in the Caribbean. Just watch him in action, prowling the corridors of power at a big event like this. No media scrums for him. As he walks around casually, his name is all. The powerful stop him and talk to him. Now, that’s contacts and working them. Rickey pumps out news, features, opinion, the works from his corner position in the Summit newsroom. The ultimate freelance, the ultimate journalistic craftsman.

For many Guyanese journalists, a little knowledge is enough. The big issues they leave to politicians and their prolix communiqués. The hacks take what they are offered, too often with little or no deep questioning. Barbados Prime Minister David Thompson was given a very easy ride in a press conference he called after facing criticism for an exercise in ‘ethnic cleansing’. It’s not a pretty sight to see how easily young journalists can be kept happy.

There we have it; experience against naivety, age against youth, solo against the pack. This is Georgetown but it could be Glasgow or the Westminster lobby. Herds don’t need cold weather to exist.

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Reporting from ‘the EU in the sunshine’ where hacks are hunting in packs

John Mair is a senior lecturer in broadcasting at Coventry University. He was born in Guyana and regularly returns there to help build local media, print and TV.

Summits bring out the worst in hacks. Lazy journalism by design. You arrive, get spoon-fed information, report it and then leave. You get fed and watered too. No need for digging, no need for investigation.

The Caricom (Caribbean Community – think EU in the sunshine) Summit, which opened last week here in Georgetown, Guyana, is no exception. Fifteen regional leaders and distinguished others from all round the world propelled at speed by police outriders all over the Capital City to a brand new Conference Centre. They ‘meet’ for three days to discuss the pressing issues of crime, security, economy and more in the region. But, like all summits it is a sham. The team have long been at work preparing the final communiqué. One person told me minutes after the end of the Opening Ceremony last night that the final communiqué was done and dusted – just crossing the ‘T’s’ and dotting the ‘I’s’ left to do. Where is the journalism in reporting that charade?

But the 60 or so journos from all over the Caribbean who are here go through the motions. The Guyana Government has set up a press centre in an anteroom of the summit to feed regular morsels to the hungry hacks. They run on the spot, faithfully file and come back for more. The herd instinct in action.

There is one real story at this talkfest. The Prime Minister of Barbados, David Thompson, is it. He is a pariah in the Community as it heads towards integration. He wants to clear his Little England island of illegal Guyanese immigrants. His police round them up early morning, interrogate then and so far 53 have been dispatched South in two months. Caricom is supposed to be about the free movement of labour. Thompson held a bizarre press conference on arrival in Georgetown. Local journos failed to ask the right questions. But the ‘Bajan bans Guyanese’ story will run and run.

The local media hunt firmly in packs – whatever their race or the politics of their paper/TV station. At the ceremonial opening last night, the usual suspects were present. All corralled in the lobby or in one small room. All using the feed from the State broadcaster as their only source. Some of them will not file for a day or so. ‘Soon come’ journalism is common here. But how many of the Guyana Press Corps will have the courage to announce the opening as a non-story? Nothing really happened. Fifteen men in suits sat on a stage and listened to six of their number drone on for two hours. Sound bites aplenty there were not.

More to follow on the conference, which ran July 2-5. Over the weekend, the Premiers and the Pack headed off to the Chinese built Conference Centre to go through the elegant quadrille that’s called ‘reporting’ major summits. Me – I got hold of a copy of the final communiqué and sat beside a hotel pool reading it and reporting it. If you are going to be lazy, do it right.

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Guyana: Four daily papers and 20+ television stations but a poor standard of journalism

June 29th, 2009 | 1 Comment | Posted by in Broadcasting, Comment, Journalism, Newspapers

Regular Journalism.co.uk contributor John Mair is a senior lecturer in broadcasting at Coventry University and the inventor of the Coventry Conversations, now on iTunes U. He was born in Guyana and returns there regularly to observe and advise the local media. His nom de plume in Guyana is Bill Cotton/Reform.

I am at one of the frontiers of modern journalism: Guyana in South America, but of the Caribbean. Most things go here. Four daily papers and 20+ local television stations feeding the news appetite of the 750,000 population. Journalists rank just above dog catchers as a trade in Guyana. At least the latter get some training.

Over here there is a university course in ‘Public Communication’ but little else to fine-tune wannabe hacks. The best and brightest go north drawn by the bright lights of the USA and Canada, like many others in their country. Newspapers are still sold on the streets by vendors on commission. The four on sale range from the supermarket tabloid Kaieteur News to the urbane Guyana Times. Kaieteur is the baby of local shoe shop entrepreneur Glenn Lall. Brash, vulgar, full of crime stories with some challenging columnists (including me behind a nom de plume).

It hits the popular mark as nearly does The Stabroek News, a paper instrumental in bringing democracy back to Guyana in 1992 after a period of dictatorship. Its guiding light, the Caribbean media giant David Decaires, died last year. The paper has lost some direction since. It is worth looking at though – for the letters column alone. A national Conversation tree but one which is prolix. Working out which letters are genuine makes for a fascinating read. Both major political parties (the PP and the PNC) and racial groups (Indo and African Guyanese) employ specialist correspondents to support their positions under a variety of noms de plumes (I am not alone in my anonymity. It is a Guyanese tradition).

Third in the press race is the Government-controlled Daily Chronicle. Cynics dub it The Chronic or The Daily Jagdeo in honour of the now second term President Bharrat Jagdeo. If a government minister speaks, they report it. If the President does, it hits the front page. The masses have not gone for it in thousands, nor for the new kid on the block for the last year, The Guyana Times. Intelligent, erudite, semi-broadsheet and the brainchild of a pharmaceutical baron Bobby Ramroop. It is well-written if stodgy, but at a level way beyond the literary level of the mass of the population. The Guyanese middle classes are now not here but in Toronto, New York and Miami. They read their papers on the internet.

The big action is on screen-in TV journalism. That is madness. Tout court. 20+ stations all stealing product from international satellites and re-transmitting it. The Guyanese journalism content ranges from the vulgar-local poujadist and station owner CN Sharma, the soi-disant ‘voice of the people’ with oppositional news shows like ‘Capitol News’ and ‘Prime News’, to the ‘Chronic’ of the airwaves NCN and its ‘Sixo’Clock News’ – which I invented a decade ago. The latter is news on the station owned by the Minister of Agriculture (and President manque) Robert Persaud and makes few pretences to impartiality.

Few of the TV journalists have any training. Few stay in the job for long. Few ever work out what the medium means. They think relaying a press conference with a few links is a ‘story’. More than one over several days if they can spin it out as they get paid per piece. Wallpaper is too kind a word to describe their use of pictures to tell tales.

So there you have it. Poor journalism by under-trained hacks. But all will change later this week when the heads of the Caribbean Governments come to town for their Annual Caricom Csummit. They bring with them the cream of the Caribbean Press Corps. That should be an intriguing piece of media anthropology in action. I will be there.

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Where does the BBC have bureaux and why?

Journalism.co.uk had been surprised to learn at last month’s Journalism in Crisis event that the BBC used only stringers to cover South America, according to director of news Helen Boaden.

The location of global bureaux ‘is something to do with your colonial past’ she said, adding to comments by BBC director-general Mark Thompson, when he was questioned by an irate audience member on the corporation’s lack of coverage in that part of the world (specifically Latin America).

Audio here:

Does the BBC really have no bureaux in Central and South America? Well, the BBC press office later told Journalism.co.uk, it depends how you define stringers and bureaux.

There is a distinction between ‘newsgathering hub’ bureaux and ‘non-hub’ regional bureaux the BBC spokesperson said. While there are no ‘newsgathering hub bureaux’ in South and Central Americas, there are four regional offices, located in Sao Paulo, Buenos Aires, Mexico City and Havana. How many in each, Journalism.co.uk asked.

Two in each of the four cities: one producer and one local fixer, both on sponsored stringer contracts with retainers. Other individual stringers cover the rest of the continent other parts of Latin America and the Caribbean, with freelancers working from Colombia, Peru, Venezuela, Chile and Jamaica.

It’s an interesting question: where are international news organisations’ bureaux and why? A particularly pertinent one to raise, given the difficulties in accessing material from Iran at the moment. The BBC office in Tehran remains open, but permanent correspondent Jon Leyne has been ordered to leave the country, the corporation reported yesterday.

While the BBC had two producers inside a Gaza office in 2008, it did not have any permanent crew on the ground and this affected its coverage of the crisis at the end of that year, and the early part of 2009.

It was helpful for Al Jazeera to have people already based in Gaza, as its two correspondents told Journalism.co.uk in a live-blog interview in April.

NB: Whether Al Jazeera were the ‘only’ English-language international broadcaster in the area for the 12-day media block is still a bone of contention: a journalist later reminded Journalism.co.uk that his employer, Iranian government-funded Press TV, was also reporting from the region during that period.

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