Monthly Archives: November 2011

Bragg channels Guthrie into Occupy London

Learning how to do live TV interviewing with visionOntv is a laugh, you never know who might walk into their instant pop-up studios. I found myself interviewing the songwriter Billy Bragg this week down at the newly squatted Bank of Ideas, having dropped by to lend a hand.

Bragg is a veteran of political activism and song-writing, blending folk, punk and protest into his work over several decades. He recently reworked the lyrics to the classic “Which Side Are You On?”, a song written by Florence Reece in 1931, using ones inspired by Occupy London.

“Those who’ve been fighting for a fair and compassionate society in the 20th century feel that the wind is blowing our way now and we are very, very excited by what’s going on with the Occupy movement,” he said during a video interview at the newly squatted former offices of Swiss bank UBS.

He spoke after running a free song-writing workshop.

“What we are doing is Woody Guthrie’s work,” said Bragg, crediting the American singer-song writer as having inspired him and the work of a whole generation of other artists such as Joe Strummer of the Clash and Bob Dylan.

So what did I pick up about TV interviewing from all this? Sit still, don’t swing in your swivel chair, chill out and, most of all, switch off your damn mobile phone before the no-edit interview begins. All useful lessons learnt thanks to the fantastic platform and energy offered by the fine people of visionOntv. (The mobile phone incident is in the second featured video below)

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Not the nine o’clock news

It’s not the 9 o’clock news but then that’s probably a good thing.

Below you can watch three no-edit videos I produced as part of a mobile phone training run by visionOntv for citizen journalists. It was part of a whole series of events being run at the Bank of Ideas, a building that used to house the Swiss bank UBS before being opened to the public by Occupy London.

I helped teach and learned at the same time, meaning I had some homework to do along with handful of others on the course. We were aiming for one-minute, one-shot video reports, using visionOntv’s standard template for mobile phones.

The idea is to produce short films that say where they’re located, that are shot without camera wobble and that feature a voiceover script and sign-off. The more people that get used to the technique – shooting and uploading video quickly to the internet – the more we will all get to see alternative narratives about what is happening around us. That means not having to rely on conventional media outlets, with all their shortcomings and blinkers, the core point I make in Fraudcast News.

I shot mine on November 23 at Occupy London Finsbury Square using a borrowed Samsung Galaxy Europa GT-15500, an android mobile phone. I bluetoothed the files to my laptop, from where I uploaded them to YouTube account we created for all the participants. Had I had 3G on the phone, I could have uploaded the videos directly to YouTube from there.

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Occupy your smart phone

You may have guessed I’m obsessed by democracy and journalism. I’ve read a lot about both and done a lot of the second. Journalism that helps improve democracy is what really gets me going. Not fake democracy, the odd meaningless election, but real democracy. That would mean people having direct and ongoing power over their governors via radically different political structures to today’s. We need to be creative.

So I’m excited about the Occupy movements springing up around the planet, not least the ones in London. For me, they show people’s huge appetite for a step-change in the way our societies are run.

I want to do a lot more journalism that does something about our democracies, which are in crashingly poor health. That means real, practical journalism that illustrates our governance problems and explores alternatives.

Today will give me, and maybe you, a chance to do all that at a workshop with visionOntv from 3 to 5pm at Finsbury Square in London, one of the Occupy sites in the capital. I’ve volunteered to help train people to do mobile phone news reports. The aim will be to produce short, simple news, recorded and uploaded to the internet in minutes. We’ll look at storytelling skills and getting straight to the point. That means short video pieces – no wobbly shots, decent sound capture then the necessary tagging and all for effective distribution.

If it works well, no reason why not, there’ll be others on other subjects such as interviews, kit and so on.

If you’re interested, come along. Bring a fully charged phone if you have one plus external microphones and headphones. Don’t worry if you haven’t got them.

These are great skills to learn. This Guardian story explains why. It highlights video footage showing Oakland police beating Iraq war veteran and ex-marine Kayvan Sabehgi. He suffered a ruptured spleen in what looks like an unprovoked attack. The images don’t lie – we need more cameras on the ground.

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Hackers and hacks – dangerous liaison, lost in translation or the odd couple?

It’s not an obvious union but like all the best ones, it could be a winner for both partners. As a long-time hack journalist I have  been a distant admirer of computer programmers – hackers, coders, geeks, call them what you will. Not so much for their coding skills, of which I am an enthusiastic if ignorant user, but more their mode of working and self governance.

I was first put on to it a few years ago by a computer programming friend, who pointed me towards  The Cathedral and the Bazaar. I’d talked to him about my ideas on democracy and journalism and that was his response.

The book  describes different software engineering methods, the top-down version of traditional, commercial software writers versus the bottom-up, free software approach. It sounds a bit techy but it’s not really.

The cathedral idea is one of building software within a constrained environment, the process overseen and controlled by a narrow elite that releases code as and when it wants. The bazaar model is the more chaotic, open-door approach involving code writing and sharing  over the internet, in full view of the public and with the possibility of intervention by anyone. The possibilities and creativity released by the bazaar approach makes it infinitely more exciting, fun and flushed with potential.

The metaphor has parallels both for journalism and for democracy. For the latter, what excites me is the comparison of old-style representative democracy versus the emergence of deliberative, participatory approaches to governance. Our traditional governance models are bust, certainly in the UK but also in the United States and elsewhere, we urgently need new ones. I think hackers can teach all of us some lessons on this, as journalists, citizens or both.

A session at the Mozilla Festival 2011 gathered hacks and hackers together to talk about their relationship problems, why they didn’t necessarily know they might love to be together and why perhaps they should. It was moderated by Rich Gordon – Medill School of Journalism – Northwestern University, whose passion is to bring the two sides together.

“The future of journalism is inextricably inter-twined with the future of technology,” he said. I totally agree.

VisionOntv, for whom I volunteered throughout the festival, have exactly that in mind with a follow-up event on November 14 in London, at a venue to be announced. Their plan is to draw together coders to work on some open video challenges they think would help replace the closed-source corporate media hold on our worlds.

If that doesn’t work, there is also Hacks/Hackers London: November Meetup.

Who knows what they might produce?


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Tired of the TV news? Think you could do better yourself?

If you have ever dreamed of making TV news rather than just watching it, here’s some good news: it’s not nearly as hard, or as expensive, as you think.

I am at the Mozilla Festival 2011 in London this weekend, a meeting of hacks and hackers working on media freedom and the web. Rather than just coming along as a participant, which would be great in itself, I have volunteered to work with visionOntv. So far today I have been on teams doing no-edit mobile phone reports and studio interviews with the huge variety of people here. The idea is both to do journalism and to teach other people how to do journalism.

“We are all about no edit,” says visionOntv’s Marc Barto. “When you edit, it’s extra time. What we want to do is to teach people to use the media-making tools they have, wherever they are, and to upload their stories on to the internet from wherever they are.”

That means interviewing participants about the software and journalism projects they’re working on, what they’re looking for in terms of collaborators at the festival and who they’ve found. There are great stories going on all around and we just reach out and pull participants in to tell us all about it. Catching it on video helps bring the projects alive, getting the message out and playing a part in the collaborative process. It gives a chance to those who can’t make it down to North Greenwich in East London to get a sense of it all. For those who can come, it’s a chance to make media and learn new reporting skills.

“We want to empower people in this process by showing what’s behind the cameras, to demystify the media,” adds Marc.

For mobile phone reports, that means a 3-shot sequence done in one take with an introduction, interview and closing piece to camera. The trick is to use a mike to make sure the sound quality’s up to scratch and to have enough phone battery to keep working. The first shot is an establisher, the second the content and the third the sign off. The next stage up here is the two TV studios visionOntv is running at the festival, one fixed the other mobile, each hijacking people as they move between the various great sessions going on over the weekend.

The explosion in user-generated content over the last few years is great. Unfortunately a lot of what comes out is rubbish, either too long, or shot with poor sound or a wobbly camera. visionOntv, which bills itself as an independent internet TV station, wants to help people improve their work. They try to teach people a few tricks to make their video reports so much better, with the tools they already have in their pockets. They don’t have to become professional journalists to do high quality work – some would say it would probably help produce hi






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Media, freedom and the web – 2011 Mozilla Festival

I’m going to this event on Saturday and Sunday in London’s North Greenwich – looks excellent.

The aim? To assemble Open web developers, journalists and educators to reinvent media on the web. Not too ambitious then.

Rather than just consuming and participating, I also plan volunteering with the prodigious VisionOntv crowd, interviewing people and reporting on the event and some of its planned outcomes and collaborations. Should be a blast.

This is who it’s asking for:

•A reporter exploring how to better cover breaking stories?

• A teacher encouraging students to level-up their web skills?

• A filmmaker unleashing a documentary from its runtime?

• A gamer pushing the frontiers of play in the browser?

• An activist trying to counter widespread surveillance?

This event gives you the freedom to propose a radical idea, a diverse group of experts with whom to collaborate, and the resources required to make something awesome.

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