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June 02 2010

15:33

‘Keep your cool, but lose it if you must’: Jon Snow’s advice for journalists

Jon Snow has presented Channel 4 News for 21 years.He has worked in television news for more than three decades, always at ITN, but he is also the Visiting Professor of Broadcast Journalism at Coventry University.

What he does not know about making TV news and Current Affairs probably is not worth knowing and late last week, Snow passed on the wisdom of his years to young wannabe hacks at Coventry University.

Five golden pieces of advice from the master:

1. Stay sober: a lesson he learned in his early days at ITN then awash, in his view, with alcohol.

    The truth is you had to be pissed to get on in television. People drank vast quantities whilst they were working. We had a bar inside the studios and people would put out the lunchtime news and go and have a few pints and then go back to work completely squiffy.

    His road to Damascus came one day when after the early evening news, the editor at the time and next most senior person invited him for a drink:

    I went across the road to the wine bar, sat down with them and after about an hour, realising I still had to do a piece for News at 10, there were six empty wine bottles on the table and only three of us, so I realised I must have drunk at least one-and-a-half of them. I was now squiffy in any case. After a time I wanted to go to loo, so I went downstairs to the gents and I was unsteady on my feet and lurched into the cistern. It detached itself from the wall and crashed into the throne and then exploded in an eruption of water cascading everywhere. I made a very fast retreat, shut the door, saw the water pouring out underneath. I saw these two guys sitting there and thought ‘they’re going to drown’ and I said ‘chap,s got to get back and get my piece on for news at 10′. I sat there watching out of the window thinking this was the end of my career.

    It wasn’t. Snow has not really drunk on the job since.

    2. Keep it simple: Jon explained how he had appreciated reporting from Haiti after the earthquake had struck in January, because it went back to his roots – finding stories and telling them, simply, to viewers using all original footage and through this simplicity touching the hearts of millions .He pointed to the fact that £100 million was given by the British public to Haiti Relief partly as a result of the messages from broadcasters. Snow is planning to return soon to Haiti to follow up on the stories.

    3. Expect the unexpected: Tuesday 11 May was a moment of “complete magic” for Snow, as Channel 4 News went live outside Downing Street to broadcast the resignation of Gordon Brown.

    At 18 minutes past seven the car comes out and we have no idea where things are going. Normally the great thing about anchoring any programme is that you’ve got this thing [an earpiece], the lifeline, the umbilical chord to the producer, and they’re saying, ‘Jon he’s going to the Palace’. But they didn’t – I was hearing nothing but silence. I suddenly realised I was on a one-to-one adventure with the viewer. The viewer and I were equally ignorant about what was going to go on; it was a sublime moment of total equality when we were both peering at this helicopter image and the car was turning right and turning left.

    4. Have a point, but keep away from pressure: Snow said that TV had made the 2010 election with the Prime Ministerial debates dominating the agenda and the tabloid press having to follow that. The Murdoch-owned press fared especially badly, he said: “The tabloid press had a terrible, terrible election. They got it seriously wrong. Murdoch was beaten, in a fantastic moment in history Murdoch, decided to try and elect David Cameron and the Sun went out to bat for him. We now have the first government for a long time not elected with Rupert Murdoch’s support.”

    Then when questioned about the success of Channel 4’s comedy election night coverage and what that says about the British public, Snow said: “It tells you that people are real who necessarily wants to watch drab results with people as old as the ark coming out and saying ‘bark, bark’.”

    5. Keep your cool, but lose it if you must: Snow was very sympathetic to Sky News Political editor Adam Boulton about his outburst on air to Alastair Campbell on 10 May.

    It’s no good asking, ’should anybody have lost anything?’ He lost it, so what? Good God, the world would be duller place if people didn’t lose it (…) what’s misconduct? If he’s guilty of it I’ll have to go to the hang man’s noose.

    Snow said he saw Boulton’s outburst as a possible result of pressures building up on Boulton and Sky News to move along the road to a more Fox News’ style approach.

    Simple, to the point, straightforward – but that’s Jon Snow for you.

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    April 30 2010

    12:52

    Could peace journalism offer a future for news media?

    Non-violent activism is not reported enough in the media, which focuses on violence in too much of its language and reportage, Richard Keeble, Professor of Journalism at the University of Lincoln, argued yesterday in a Coventry Conversation event at Coventry University entitled “Give Peace Journalism a Chance!”

    Peace journalism is solution-orientated. It gives a voice to the voiceless. It’s attempting to humanise the enemy and exposing lies on all sides, highlighting peace initiatives and focusing on the invisible effects of violence, such as psychological trauma,” he said.

    Keeble attacked the traditional media, for acting as propaganda for war, rather than a resolution promoter, but stressed the importance of alternative media in promoting peace journalism.

    “Part of the critique is the critique of the language of the media and one of the things that always amazes me, is the way in which the metaphor of war is everywhere [...] there’s all different kinds of ways in which alternative citizen journalists are challenging the professional monopoly of this word journalism, and I celebrate them enormously.”

    Talking about the exposure of war, Keeble said: “It is the responsibility of journalists to expose the truth.”

    “You are not being told to be objective,” he added. “There’s no way in which X can be balanced with Y, because what about A, B, C and D and everything else in between? The whole notion of balance is problematic, isn’t it?”

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    March 23 2010

    15:33

    From the frontline: how ‘true’ is the media’s picture of Afghanistan?

    Journalists gathered to discuss the British media’s coverage of the war in Afghanistan at last week’s video conference at Coventry University.

    The ‘Afghanistan – are we embedding the truth?’ event, chaired by the editor of the BBC College of Journalism, Kevin Marsh, brought journalists such as Vaughan Smith and Stuart Ramsay together with academics Richard Keeble and Tim Luckhurst, and the Ministry of Defence’s head of Operational Communication, Brigadier Mark van der Lande.

    Vaughan Smith offered what was perhaps the most troubling thought: “Sports journalist knows more about sports than war correspondents know about war, and that is a cultural problem”.

    Vaughan, a news pioneer and independent video journalist who has in the past managed to disguise and bluff his way into an active duty unit to shoot uncontrolled footage of the Gulf war, also held up two photographs as part of his speech; one of Hiroshima’s mushroom cloud, and another of an injured civilian in Nagasaki.

    He used these photographs as evidence to explain that you never see enough of the second type, showing the injured and other devastating side effects. Instead, the audience is shown ‘Bang Bang’ images; “a fundamental problem,” he said.

    Jonathan Marcus, BBC’s diplomatic correspondent, had a mixed response to the event’s theme: “I think it’s a pointless question, we are embedding some truth, and the truth is very complex. War through a keyhole is what war correspondents are giving you.”

    Nonetheless, he doesn’t think that embedding is bad practice, when taken as a whole: “If you put all these keyholes together, you start to form a bigger picture and understand what is going on.”

    “However, it is a problem that paradoxically, with advances in technology and globalisation, we can do a lot more. Yet, we are reporting less than we used to,” he said.

    Brigadier Mark van der Lande argued that they don’t instantly show casualty because they have a duty to inform next of kin first. “We are not hiding things for the cost of war; we are looking out for individuals,” he said.

    It is difficult for the MoD, he said, because the ‘Bang Bang’ is what the audience and the media in general is interested in.  Most of the time the more important things that the military look into aren’t released simply because “it is of less interest to the media and the audience,” he argued.

    The media do, to a certain extent, manufacture stories, agreed Tim Luckhurst, a Professor of Journalism at the University of Kent, but it is not because of dishonesty, it’s because “we simply cannot stay away from the impact kinetic stories get; embedded journalism serves the needs of the state.

    “We do not see humanitarianism or suffering children because it bears no relevance to the needs of the states.”

    “Views of the military and government do not comply with journalists’ views, and today’s conference has revealed the extent of that fact.”

    Robert Williams is a student at Coventry University.

    Read more here, over at Daniel Bennett’s blog, including detail of the video contribution from Channel 4 News’ Alex Thomson.


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    March 18 2010

    12:44

    #afghancov event – Afghanistan: are we embedding the truth?

    Follow coverage of Coventry University’s event ‘Afghanistan – are we embedding the truth’ in the liveblog below from 1pm – 4pm.

    The discussion will examine coverage of Afghanistan in the news and wider media with correspondents in Kabul. There’s more details at this link of the line-up, which includes Channel 4’s Alex Thomson and Kevin Marsh from the BBC College of Journalism.

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    March 16 2010

    08:52

    Channel 4 News: Embedded journalist in Helmand province

    Channel 4 News correspondent Alex Thomson was embedded with the Coldstream guards in Afghanistan, while they came under heavy fire from insurgents.

    His film from last night’s news programme:

    Yesterday Channel 4 news wrote in its evening email, Snowmail:

    [The film] reveals the state of relations between the Brits and the rather hapless Afghan army – who spend much of their time shooting in the wrong direction – or arresting, then releasing a local man who may, or may not have done anything wrong.

    Suddenly the troops come under heavy fire as the insurgents start shooting straight at them. Our team are pinned down with the soldiers as bullets fly overhead – even into one soldier’s head, whose helmet luckily saves him. Not much ground is won at the end of it all – but it’s a remarkable watch.

    Alex Thomson was tweeting throughout his visit, via http://twitter.com/alextomo. Tweets from the battlefield had a time delay because of operations security. An example from 12 March:

    (Not live) RMP shot in helmet wakes up realising he has woken up . Alive. A shd let hm keep smashed up helmet. He’s back on roof sentry.

    Thomson is due to participate in this week’s video conference in Coventry: Afghanistan – are we embedding the truth? The event is due to be livestreamed on this site and the BBC College of Journalism. The Twitter tag will be #afghancov.


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