Monthly Archives: February 2012

Smartphone video reports – the dirty reality

Having learned my reporting skills as a print journalist, before the internet got big, I have been trying for years to bolt on some video skills to take account of the new realities of news.

This can be an expensive and time-consuming process – which means my output of video reports has been far less than it might have been in the years since I left salaried work at Reuters.

My voluntary redundancy package included some retraining money, half of which I spent on a made-to-measure video training put together by a mate of mine. I learnt how to shoot video on a DV camera, including the basics of recording sound, framing shots, and so on, as well as editing it all together into a short video film which I put up on Youtube in September 2006. There were many steps involved getting from the story idea to the publication – all of which slowed the process and decreased the chances of it ever getting done.

I’ve done a few more reports in the years since though far fewer than I would have liked given the constraints of time and equipment.

So far, so straight forward

While researching Fraudcast News, my book about reframing democracy and journalism, I came across visionOntv and their radical news-making project. I met its main personnel at the 2011 Rebellious Media conference in London, when I did their mobile phone training.

It was a revelation – shooting no-edit video reports according to a set template – maximising the chances of the report getting done and getting out there and cutting out many of the resource-sapping steps of the conventional route. There are certainly compromises involved in terms of video quality and sound. Being no-edit means the reporter has to concentrate on holding the smartphone steady and doing rapid pans between shots. The one-shot template ensures some basic standards though, increasing the chances of a report being useful to an audience and getting out there super fast.

The next step up is to go for longer reports, up to three minutes, using a slightly more involved template that visionOntv are working up now. The main additions are that two people are required – one filming, the other doing the interviewing – and that the smartphone be equipped with the necessary add-ons to record decent-quality interview sound.

I was recently a guinea pig for shooting one of these, the result being what you see at the top of this post. It involves a series of the five standard shots – 1) opening to camera, 2) over interviewer shoulder to interviewee, 3) close-up interviewee, 4) close-up interviewer and, 5) two-shot interviewer/interviewee. To go between shots, the camera operator needs to “whip pan”, moving smoothly but rapidly from one to the other with the minimum of overrun.

My effort was OK but nothing fantastic. There is too much LH space with the interviewee, I should have got more full-on face views of both parties, the camera was wobbling alot, and the background could have been better. Other than that, bring on the Oscars.

The beauty of smartphone reports is that if it’s rubbish – you just do it again.

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It’s out there

After much huffing and puffing, Fraudcast News has finally made it into paperback form – what I have to confess is still my preferred reading medium.

Self publishing – whatever people might write  about the death of conventional publishing etc. etc. –  is damn hard work.

You can get a copy here.




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Cover drive

I’m just about to finalise the cover design for the paperback edition of Fraudcast News, so this is the last chance for any budding cover designers to have their say on what it looks like. Having tried various routes to regular graphic artists, I decided to have a go myself.

All comments – constructive or otherwise – will be considered.

This is the last leg of the production process, one that takes a little more than just handing a manuscript to the publisher. So nearly there. The paperback should be available to buy within the next few days.

If ebooks are your thing, you can already get one of those here.


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Democracy, journalism and film nights

It’s never been easier to complain about our politicians and our journalists – neither species has covered itself in glory over the last little while. The big challenge is what to do about all the problems they leave unresolved.

Rather than railing against the failures, it’s far more uplifting to investigate alternatives. This post, which I wrote for the Transition Network, describes some small-scale responses, ones I absolutely would encourage you to try at home. Many might be familiar, some you may even be doing already, their combination is probably less so. In time, they raise the prospect of something truly powerful, a global network of reporters focused on the way we run our communities.

A big part of that equation is the staging of regular film screenings, wherever it is that you live. They bring local people together, stitching together community where there may not have been one before. Added to that is the staging of free video journalism trainings for anyone who’s interested, creating a pool of local reporters who focus on how their communities are governed. Linking these with reporters elsewhere, nationally or internationally, starts to look like a virtual news agency focused on how we are governed.

These are the bones of a proposal I lay out in Fraudcast News: How Bad Journalism Supports Our Bogus Democracies.

I went to Totnes in Devon this week to a film screening there – featuring Michael Moore’s Capitalism – A Love Affair. His film remains as relevant as ever.

I took the chance to demonstrate the potential of video journalism to Ben Brangwyn, co-founder of the Transition Network, using nothing more than a smart phone and a dodgy microphone. You can watch the outcome here or below.

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No jobs, no money – ordinary Afghans pay the costs of war

(Photo: Traditional market in Herat Afghanistan. 25-5-09
Copyright © Guy Smallman. All rights reserved.)

I spent a fascinating evening in London on Thursday listening to two men who have stepped away from mainstream political thinking and policy on Britain’s military adventures in Afghanistan, both of them having experienced the place for themselves.

The first was Ben Griffin, an ex-SAS soldier who served tours of duty with the British army in Iraq and Afghanistan. In 2005, after three months in Baghdad, he quit in protest at the tactics being used by occupying forces in that country. He went on to set up Veterans for Peace UK, whose aim is to resist war through non-violent action, to support persecuted war-resisters and to counter militarism in society through education.

He spoke alongside the British photojournalist Guy Smallman, one of the few to work unembedded in the country, which is to say out on his own without military minders. Smallman’s choice of subjects breaks the mould of most UK press coverage out of the country, which focuses on British troops. He looks instead at the everyday lives of Afghans and the ways in which war and occupation have left many of them destitute.

“The big problem in Afghanistan is povery, poverty and unemployment. They affect everyone,” he said.

Smallman showed excerpts of an exhibition and a short film he compiled to mark the 10th anniversary of the invasion of Afghanistan. It is now available for groups to host by contacting the Peace News office on +44 (0) 20 7278 3344.

Below is a brief smartphone video interview I did after the event, inspired by the VisionOntv mobile template. I got an audience member to shoot the pictures while I asked a couple of questions. The idea is to practice, and have others practice, doing the sort of public-interest citizen journalism I promote in Fraudcast News. The sound is more dogby than dolby, my fault, a problem I’ll have to remedy next time.

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Silence is not the answer – Afghanistan behind the headlines

Good to see some people working hard at keeping Britain’s military activities in Afghanistan and other war theatres in the public eye. If you’re not vocally against these actions, you’re silently in favour by default.

This week offers a chance for Londoners to learn more about the work of a couple of them – photographer Guy Smallman and British army veteran Ben Griffin:

7.30pm, Friends House, 173 – 177 Euston Road, NW1 (opp. Euston station).
Co-hosted by Peace News and Quaker Peace and Social Witness.

The following video features former SAS solidier Ben Griffin talking about the three aims of Veterans for Peace UK, which are:

1. Resist war through non-violent action
2. Support persecuted war-resisters
3. Counter militarism in society through education

Can’t say fairer than that.

Ben Griffin of Veterans For Peace UK from Jason Gleeson on Vimeo.

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Marrying revolution and transition – can it be done?

These are two apparently very different films that I see as being totally on the same page.

The first How to start a Revolution, is already out, garnering jury prizes at film festivals around the world. I haven’t seen it yet but I love the book on which it’s based, From Dictatorship to Democracy. It lays out a radical, non-violent message of change.

The second film, In Transition 2.0, wears its politics less obviously but ultimately raises the same questions of power. Its focus is on peak oil, climate change and community resilience in the face of both. I haven’ t seen the second film either though I did see In Transition 1.0 and I know the work of the Transition Network. Its message, too, is one of radical, non-violent change.

The challenge is how to marry the thinking and actions of the films’ constituencies to address a problem that is common to both – namely the poor quality of Western representative democracies and their effective capture by global corporations and banks.  The revolutionaries and transitioners would do well to work together or rather it would be in their mutual interests to do so.

I count myself as being in both camps.

My approach is to do and to nurture local, citizen journalism focused on the transparency and accountability of government. We need to learn how to do it ourselves and to teach it to others who want to learn. Having built such journalism up locally, practitioners can soon stretch out to focus on political accountability and governance at higher levels, linking up with other reporters doing the same. The result would be a reporting network focused on improving the quality of our governance, locally to globally.

That way, we might have a chance of bringing about the sort of radical political changes that both these films talk about.

I’d better watch them then.

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