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‘I heard the mechanic click. I knew this is not good’: Joao Silva’s speech

August 30th, 2011 | No Comments | Posted by in Editors' pick, Photography

The New York Times blog today published in full a speech given by photojournalist Joao Silva at the Bronx Documentary Center earlier this month. Silva was severely injured after stepping on a landmine in Afghanistan last year.

Silva lost both legs below the knee, with months of recovery ahead of him at the Walter Reed Medical Center in Washington. Just last month his work returned to the front pages, with an image accompanying a story about the closure of the very medical centre in which he was staying.

In his speech, published in full here, Silva describes that moment in October last year when “everything changed”.

I heard the mechanic click. I knew: this is not good. And I found myself lying face-down on the ground, engulfed in a cloud of dust, with the very clear knowledge that this has just happened and this is not good. I could see my legs were gone, and everybody around me was dazed. I was like: “Guys, I need help here.” And they turned around and saw me on the ground. They immediately sprang into action. I got dragged out of the kill zone, for safety reasons, to a patch of ground a few yards away.

Immediately, there were medics working on me. I picked up a camera, shot a few frames. The frames weren’t very good, quite frankly, but I was trying to record. I knew it wasn’t good, but I felt alive. Adrenaline kicked in. I was compos mentis; I was on top of things. So, I made some pictures. I dropped the camera, then I moved to Plan B, which was to pick up the satellite phone. I called my wife, Vivian, and told her: “My legs are gone, but I think I’m going to live.”

Silva also used his speech to offer advice to young photojournalists keen to enter the field. And the key is perseverance, he said.

It’s not an easy industry. It’s highly competitive. Every year there are literally thousands of young kids coming on the stage, a lot of them so talented. For freelancers, it’s a juggle every day. There’s only so much money going around. There’s only so many publications that will employ people. Even though demand for knowledge and content has grown, the market has shrunk. It’s really sad, but it’s a reality.

As for Silva’s own journey, he said it is likely to be another year before he is “fully functional”, but added that the ultimate goal is to get back to work.

Without a doubt, life is strange. Everything has changed. But I hope to pick up from where I left off, to a certain extent. In the meantime, I just take a little more courage and a little more perseverance and quite frankly, take as many drugs as I can.

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Journalisted weekly: Wimbledon, Glastonbury, Euro crisis, & Afghanistan

Journalisted is an independent, not-for-profit website built to make it easier for you, the public, to find out more about journalists and what they write about. It is run by the Media Standards Trust, a registered charity set up to foster high standards in news on behalf of the public, and funded by donations from charitable foundations. 

Each week Journalisted produces a summary of the most covered news stories, most active journalists and those topics falling off the news agenda, using its database of UK journalists and news sources.

For the week ending Saturday 26 June

  • Wimbledon and Glastonbury cover features and back pages
  • Greek economic crisis and Afghanistan war dominate international news
  • Another flotilla, and Aung San Suu Kyi addressing Congress, covered little

Covered lots

  • Wimbledon, with Murray, Federer, Nadal and Sharapova cruising to the quarter finals, 1,243 articles
  • Glastonbury Festival 2011, headlined by U2, Beyonce and Cold Play, 381 articles
  • The Eurozone crisis, with Osborne standing firm on refusal of UK aid in second bailout, and Greece’s government surviving a confidence vote, 370 articles
  • Obama announces an exit strategy of US troops from Afghanistan by 2014, followed by Cameron’s and Sarkozy’s for British and French troops, 159 articles

Covered little

Political ups and downs (top ten by number of articles)

Celebrity vs serious

  • Cheryl Cole, maybe getting back with her ex, Ashley, 67 articles vs. riots in Belfast, reported to be the worst in a decade, 23 articles
  • Singer Beyonce, closing Glastonbury, 49 articles vs. a plane crash in Russia killing over 45 people, 21 articles
  • George Clooney, split from his model/TV presenter girlfriend, 36 articles vs. PC Simon Harwood, charged with the manslaughter of Ian Tomlinson at the 2009 G20 protests, 12 articles

Arab spring (countries & current leaders)

Who wrote a lot about…’Wimbledon’

Mark Hodgkinson – 18 articles (Telegraph), Simon Cambers – 16 articles (The Guardian), Kevin Mitchell – 15 articles (The Guardian), Paul Newman – 15 articles (The Independent), Alexandra Willis – 13 articles (Telegraph), Steve Brenner – 12 articles (The Sun), Brian Viner – 12 articles (Independent), Stuart Bathgate – 11 articles (The Scotsman), Neil Harman – 11 articles (The Times), Ben Smith – 11 articles (The Times)

Long form journalism

More from the Media Standards Trust

Visit the Media Standards Trust’s new site Churnalism.com – a public service for distinguishing journalism from churnalism.
Churnalism.com ‘explore’ page is available for browsing press release sources alongside news outlets
The Media Standards Trust’s unofficial database of PCC complaints is available for browsing at www.complaints.pccwatch.co.uk

For the latest instalment of Tobias Grubbe, journalisted’s 18th century jobbing journalist, go to journalisted.com/tobias-grubbe

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Death of Daily Mirror reporter in Afghanistan blast was ‘unpreventable’, inquest hears

April 1st, 2011 | No Comments | Posted by in Editors' pick, Newspapers

Nothing could have been done to prevent the death of Daily Mirror defence correspondent Rupert Hamer, who died in a blast in Afghanistan in January last year, the Press Association reports from an inquest into his death.

An inquest in Trowbridge, Wiltshire heard that he died despite wearing full standard issue body armour.

A US Marine was also killed and Sunday Mirror photographer Philip Coburn, who was sitting next to Mr Hamer, was seriously injured.

Recording a verdict of unlawful killing, David Ridley, Wiltshire and Swindon Coroner, said: “No matter how much training was given, I don’t think it would have changed the outcome.

“This was not an act of war. It was a cold-blooded killing. The purpose of the device was to maim and kill American service personnel.

In the days after his death the Mirror paid tribute to Hamer, who had worked for the title for 12 years.

The UKPA story is at this link

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Blood and Dust: Vaughan Smith on the rescue teams saving lives in Afghanistan

February 18th, 2011 | 1 Comment | Posted by in Broadcasting, Editors' pick

Frontline Club founder and freelance filmmaker Vaughan Smith has produced a new film following two weeks embedded with the US Army’s 214th Aviation Regiment in Afghanistan.

The film, produced for Al Jazeera’s People & Power series, follows the trials of a US military air ambulance crew as they attempt to save the lives of soldiers, local nationals and Taliban fighters alike.

“I have done a fair number of military embeds in Afghanistan over the last few years,” says Smith, “but was concerned that I hadn’t filmed the suffering of war, just its machinery.”

“I have worked with Al Jazeera on this because I couldn’t find another news broadcaster in Britain that would show the film without cutting out the stronger images. I have huge respect for the way Al Jazeera as a broadcaster engages the world while so many others appear to retreat from it,” he adds.

Media Briefing editor Patrick Smith says: “What I enjoy about Vaughan’s work is its absence of politics. A BBC, Sky or CNN journalist may frame a report around whether the troops should be at war or not. This is just a document of professionals at work, doing their job, stitching people up in the most unimaginable heat and horror.”

More information on the Frontline Club site at this link.

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Afghanistan and journalism: who’s winning the media war?

September 16th, 2010 | No Comments | Posted by in Events

Earlier this month, Journalism.co.uk ran a series of exclusive extracts from the book ‘Afghanistan, War and the Media: Deadlines and Frontlines’. Last night contributors to the book came together to debate the media’s role in the Afghanistan conflict, its portrayal of the war and what should happen now. Co-editor John Mair rounds up last night’s debate at the Frontline Club:

Now for the ultimate journalistic challenge: how do you report a meeting that is not supposed to have happened?

Facts first: the book ‘Afghanistan, War and the Media: Deadlines and Frontlines’ edited by Richard Keeble and myself was launched at the Frontline Club in London last night. A debate was held there too about who was winning the media war in Afghanistan, but under the Chatham House Rule, which rather stymies reporting.

Participating were senior editors and correspondents from the BBC and Sky News and a senior military public relations official in front of a paying audience of 120. I can tell you no more about who took part. That’s the rule.

But some interesting themes emerged that I can talk about:

  • the media war was firmly being lost by the West and won by the Taliban;
  • the US authorities are better at managing the media than the British, who seem addicted to embedding;
  • embedding is nothing new but the British military have got better at straight news management (e.g.minimising the filming of casualties on the grounds that soldiers had rights to privacy and refusal);
  • the British army has made coverage of the war cheap and within the reach of regional papers and television to suit their own agenda;
  • embedding with the Taliban has been almost impossible and the era of the unilateral journalist firmly finished in this theatre of war.

One of the most interesting things to emerge was a perceived multiplication of casualties through military procedures and the 24-hour news cycle. Soldiers “die” five times: when the incident happens, when their name is announced by the MoD, when the body comes home and through Wooton Bassett, at their funeral and at the inquest into their death. So the 330 plus British casualties to date in Afghanistan can seem like many more thanks to this rule, hence the lingering but dwindling public support for the War.

It was a fascinating discussion and let me leave you with some quotes. Under the Chatham House rule, it is up to you to decide who said what:

  • “Afghanistan has seen the Hollywoodisation of war”;
  • “There are more embeds in Afghanistan than any other conflict”;
  • “Embedded is just posh silly name for what journos always done”;
  • “Sports journos know more about sport than war journos know about war”;
  • “We have an absolute duty to tell the truth”.

Did I break the Rule? You decide…

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MediaLens’ response to Alex Thomson on Afghanistan

September 3rd, 2010 | 18 Comments | Posted by in About us

A response from the website MediaLens to Alex Thomson’s piece on the Afghanistan war and the practicalities of embed journalism:

In his September 1 piece, ‘Afghanistan: the rough guide to roughness’, Alex Thomson writes:

“Chief among the carpers about embedding, of course, the indefatigable editors at MediaLens who get extremely hoity-toity at the entire concept of embedding.

“However, ask them how they would cover Helmand if they were off to the main bazaar, Lashkar Gah, at noon next Tuesday and guess what? Total silence from the normally electronically incontinent MediaLens email service. Which rather clinches the argument, simple though it is.”

This is false. In April, Alison Banville, an activist and freelance journalist, asked us to respond to Thomson’s question. We did so and she forwarded the following comments to Thomson on 3 April:

“From the Davids [David Edwards and David Cromwell, editors of MediaLens]:

“He’s never asked us ‘how will you cover Helmand assuming you are going there next week?’ The answer is that he should report it as he would any illegal invasion of a sovereign state. He should report it as he would have reported the 1979-89 Soviet invasion and occupation. In other words, present the opinion of the invading forces, of the people under occupation, including the resistance, and of experts in international law who declare the whole operation illegal.

“Obviously, alongside the warmongers, leading anti-war commentators should be regularly quoted and featured: Chomsky, Herman, Pilger, Goodman, Curtis, Ellsberg, et al. I’m not suggesting he could achieve all of that himself in the field, but his reports should be part of a news service that does. There’s no question of intellectual cowardice [on our part, as claimed by Thomson] – the answer couldn’t be more obvious. Happy for you to quote us on this.”

Thomson responded to Banville’s email on the same day, expressing agreement with our comments while claiming that Channel 4 had already done as we had suggested.

Thomson now claims that by “total silence” he meant we had totally evaded his question – hard to reconcile with the meaning of “total silence” and with his positive response on April 3 when he made no mention of evasion.

The truth is that we never avoid difficult questions from mainstream journalists. On the contrary, we are forever seeking to engage them in written debate and are consistently ignored or fobbed off. Readers can find 3,000 pages of examples here: http://www.medialens.org/alerts/archive.php

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Deadlines and frontlines: extracts from new book on journalism and the Afghanistan war

August 31st, 2010 | No Comments | Posted by in Broadcasting, Press freedom and ethics

This week, Journalism.co.uk is publishing extracts from a new book about the media coverage of the Afghanistan war.

‘Afghanistan, War and the Media: Deadlines and Frontlines’ brings together the testimonies of frontline correspondents and detailed academic analysis, with a particular focus on the pros and cons of so-called ’embedded’ journalism.

Earlier today, we published an introduction to the book by journalism lecturer and co-editor John Mair, followed by a look at the dangers of ‘news management’ by Frontline Club founder and war correspondent Vaughan Smith.

Smith’s essay will be followed in the next three days by contributions from Channel 4 News presenter and war correspondent Alex Thomson, Sky News’ Asia correspondent Alex Crawford, and others.

All extracts published so far can be viewed at this link.

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Rarefied truth at rarefied atmospheres: the in-flight magazine that tells all

August 20th, 2010 | No Comments | Posted by in Editors' pick, Magazines

Safi Airlines’ in-flight magazine tells it like it is. Not for Kabul’s start-up airline is the rose-tinted journalism of the traditional in-flight magazine: Safi’s reading material typically includes the likes of “an article on Kabul heroin addicts, photos of bullet-pocked tourist sites and ads for mine-resistant sport-utility vehicles”.

Says Christian Marks, the magazine’s cheerfully blunt German editor: “I would like it to be a magazine where you can read interesting things, not just get brainwashed by some marketing agency that says you can’t show problems.”

And Marks’ is a truly warts’n’all approach, as the magazine’s hotel guide shows:

The rooms are individually air-conditioned, accessorised with amenities you will find in 4-star hotels abroad, sheets are clean, view from the room is nice, and – after the suicide bombing that took place – security measures have been implemented.

Full story on the Wall Street Journal at this link…

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Afghanistan government criticised for closing down TV station

Press freedom groups have condemned a decision by the Afghan government to close down privately-owned TV station Emroz.

According to a BBC report, the government closed down the station which is owned by MP Najibulla Kabuli for allegedly fueling religious tensions.

The Committee to Protect Journalists urged the government to put the station back on air while Reporters Without Borders added that the move breaks media law.

The government must not under any circumstances violate the media law, which gives the media commission sole decision-making authority when a media commits an offence. We call on the government to rescind these decisions and never interfere in the content of Afghan TV stations again.

See the RWB full post here…

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Controversy over Time Magazine cover showing mutilated Afghan woman

The Atlantic Wire site has published a series of different points of view about this week’s Time Magazine cover, which shows a harrowing image of an 18-year-old Afghan woman who has had her nose and ears cut off by the Taliban.

Under the headline “What Happens if We Leave Afghanistan”, the magazine’s picture caption reports that the woman was attacked for having tried to flee from “abusive in-laws”.

The Wire asks if Time Magazine is right to publish the cover, with answers first quoted from managing editor Richard Stengel discussing the reasons for their decision.

I thought long and hard about whether to put this image on the cover of Time (…) But bad things do happen to people, and it is part of our job to confront and explain them. In the end, I felt that the image is a window into the reality of what is happening — and what can happen — in a war that affects and involves all of us. I would rather confront readers with the Taliban’s treatment of women than ignore it. I would rather people know that reality as they make up their minds about what the U.S. and its allies should do in Afghanistan.

The article then moves to comments from a range of other publications, some who say the cover is “good journalism” while others feel it “oversimplifies war”.

See the full post here…

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