Tag Archives: Benazir Bhutto

‘Breaking News’: a play by a company that’s not a company

“Breaking News might be documentary theatre. It might be more technically absorbing than (strictly speaking) poetically engaging or playful. It might, in truth be a very long way from Aeschylus. But Aeschylus was an inventor, a radical maker, two and a half thousand years ago, of a new thing called drama. In all their work, and most ambitiously to date in Breaking News, Rimini Protokoll have created live spectacles that are similarly new for the media-orientated 21st century.” (James Woodall, Breaking News programme, 2009)

A friend recently went on holiday and emailed another of our friends an update: she had redefined the trip as ‘educational visit’ and now was enjoying it much better.

I undertook a similar exercise at the theatre at the weekend: once I’d redefined ‘Breaking News’ as two hours (without an interval) of informative, rather than necessarily entertaining, activity, I was much more settled in my seat at the Theatre Royal in Brighton last Saturday.

Rimini Protokoll is the German company (‘the sort of outfit that probably could come only from Germany’), except they don’t call themselves a ‘company’, which produces Breaking News, their latest ‘documentary’ theatre endeavour – visiting Brighton for its UK premiere.

“[G]enerally, they use neither actors nor published texts; and because they do not really consider themselves a company. So what is left? What are they? What do they make?”

Good question from theatre critic, James Woodall, in his introductory notes in the programme. On this occasion, Rimini Protokoll have brought together eight international ‘news people’, all based in Germany, onto one stage, to live-interpret the news from their variously angled satellite dishes. The ninth contributor is an exception: Ray, from Ship Street in Brighton. Perhaps they found him in the Cricketers.

The company improvises in a ‘arrangement of stage spontaneity’ – and this is the first time it has been done in English – their reactions to, and interpretations of, the news on various international news channels that they consume at their individual televisions, or computer (in the Icelander’s case). Intermittently, they take turns to ascend a podium to read extracts from Aeschylus’ The Persions.

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So, what did I learn from my educational excursion to the theatre? These are some of the nuggets gleaned:

  • Iceland likes a giggle during its news: The Icelanders take the end of the news bulletin ‘lollypop’ very seriously: for Saturday’s performance, we caught an item on the success of the Icelandic Symphony Orchestra’s Maximus the Musical Mouse. It’s very important that ‘you don’t leave your news audience depressed’, explains Simon Birgisson, who was once an investigative journalist for the DV newspaper. I was also tickled by Iceland’s TV channel history: its first ever station, Sjónvarpið, translated directly as ‘television’. Its second was called 2.
  • Al Jazeera has its critics: Djengizkhan Hasso, a Kurdish interpreter, and president of the Executive Committee of the Kurdish National Congress, criticised the channel for its emotive use of language in some of its reports. He also added that it would be very difficult to perform a play like Breaking News in an Arab country. Hasso’s performance was particularly memorable for the role-play of the time he met George Bush. He told the other actors what they had to say, and they solemnly repeated it back, so the audience got each segment of the conversation twice.
  • What counts as a high ‘alarm’ story for press agencies is very subjective. Andreas Osterhaus, a news editor at Agence France Presse (AFP) in Berlin said he raised such an alarm on the day of Benazir Bhutto’s assassination, but his colleagues thought he had acted a little hastily. Previous alerts included the Princess Diana car crash, the attacks on the World Trade Center in 2001, and the capture of Saddam Hussein.
  • We also learnt that Sushila Sharma-Haque, who watches various Indian and Pakistani, as well as German, news channels, goes to bed at 10pm promptly. She did just this on the night of the performance, making at an early exit from the stage at around 9.30pm. She did, however, pop back to take a bow.

Related links:

Innovations in Journalism – Seesmic.com

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1) Who are you and what’s it all about?

I’m Cathy Brooks, Seesmic executive producer.

Seesmic is a platform for global conversation. We take all the best of blogging, IM, Twitter and social networks and bring them together, creating a rich environment for debate and discourse using video as the medium.

2) Why would this be useful to a journalist?

Think of it as having access to a global pool of expert sources.

With 4,000 people from 25 countries currently in the system Seesmic provides journalists with eyes and ears in virtually every major part of the world.

When Benazir Bhutto was assassinated in December 2007, the Seesmic community almost exploded with discussion, revealing a deep, rich pool of commentators whose backgrounds and geography would have made them invaluable to a reporter.

Seesmic also can serve as a sounding board for story ideas and topics, often resulting in finding experts whose knowledge can support a journalist’s efforts.

3) Is this it, or is there more to come?

This is just the beginning. Seesmic opened its doors in September 2007. We have been in a closed, alpha stage with invite only access to the platform since late 2007 and will be opening more widely to the public in 2008.

We will be building out our community substantially as we open to a more widespread audience. We also will develop and produce both original and sponsored programming as well as create an array of channels for conversations.

4) Why are you doing this?

Because in the massive echo-chamber that is the world of social media there are myriad ways to broadcast thoughts and messages to either one, a few or many people, and there are even some ways to have group discussions, but there is a distinct lack of resources allowing people to truly communicate and converse in a meaningful, rich way.

By leveraging video as the conduit, Seesmic provides a truly personal and human connection.

5) What does it cost to use it?

There is presently no cost to the user and we will always provide a free service. There may, in the future, be subscription level “professional” versions with additional features and functionality but that is still in the future.

6) How will you make it pay?

Presently we are building our community and our technology. We have several potential options for revenue – from contextual advertising and sponsored channels/programming to subscription level services that provide additional features and no advertising.

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Benazir Bhutto assassination: the citizen and pro photojournalist takes

Mindy McAdams has highlighted some interesting pieces of photojournalism documenting the tragic events of last week when Benazir Bhutto was murdered after speaking at an election rally in Rawalpindi.

Two pieces of work of the same event effectively sum up the citizen vs pro debate.

The BBC has footage that it claimed shows the assassin firing shots into the back of Bhutto’s head before blowing himself up (effectively debunking the Pakistani authorities’ line that she broke her neck while trying to take cover and evade the bullets).

As you’d expect it’s grainy, wobbly footage, but that’s not so important as it’s the event rather the quality of the craft that’s makes this compelling.

Compare that with the professional slideshow put together for the New York Times by the Getty photographer John Moore who was covering the event.

He gives a spoken first person account as his pictures show the rally, the brutal attack from further back in the crowd and the shocking fallout.

Look at the video images from the amateur and the powerful stills from the pro, then if you can think of a better more succinct example of how citizen journalism and the work of pro-snappers complement one another, I’d love to hear about it.