Sunday, January 31, 2010

How to do TV news reports

This past week, my colleague George Hoff and I taught a class of post-graduate students at Centennial College how to put together a very basic television news package. We weren't expecting Pulitzer material. Just a basic story they could find that morning, right on campus, go out and shoot, and come back and cut it into a minute long piece. In a half a day.

Despite some technical problems (SD card wouldn't read, batteries not fully charged, coldest day of the winter to shoot outdoors in) most of the students did the assignment properly.

They shot interviews, standups, b-roll, streeters, establishing shots, cutaways, medium shots, and used a tripod and their hand held microphone, along with their HD video cameras. Most white balanced the camera properly.

And the topics they found for stories? The subjects ranged from how to book out equipment from the Library on campus, to what happened to the cafeteria lady named Tracy, to the fact it was the coldest day of the year.

Ironically, the workshop coincided with a brilliant piece of YouTube that's been making the rounds all week. It's called How does Broadcast Journalism Work.
I don't know if I should show it to them! What do you think?

if it doesn't play, try this link:

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Haiti, journalism, Twitter and Carel Pedre

In my radio class yesterday, we listened to several radio stations which are still broadcasting from Haiti. Despite the devastation, they are still broadcasting. I don't know how. But you can listen Live via the Internet. If you Google Haiti Radio, you will find a list of stations, and their links. Sure most haven't updated their content since January 12, which was when the earthquake hit.

But Radio One, the FM music station in Haiti is still broadcasting. (As of today, Wednesday three days later, it is no longer on the air. But radio Signal FM is....)
Listen here.
And it's riveting listening to the announcers discuss water, and food, and need for assistance, and courage.

They are taking phone calls from people this morning: one says "Aide moi, help me" and "I am trying to locate my family."

One of the most popular DJs on the Radio One station, is Carel Pedre, in Port Au Prince. He's been Tweeting since the earthquake, on his Twitter account, passing on messages of folks who are still buried, and where they are located. Other posts show who is injured, what street they are on, and where to find now. Now reporters from CNN and CBC have started looking at his Twitter feed as a source for stories as well. One story on his feed this morning had a survivor being rescued and given medical treatment by an Israeli doctor and taken to hospital on a CNN truck.

He's also started a Facebook group to try to put families in contact with each other. But Facebook's only permitting him to have 5,000 friends, so he's now trying to get Facebook's CEO Mark Zuckerberg to eliminate the limit. Someone has nominated him for the Shorty Awards for using social media to try to save lives and provide a public service.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Media ethics of covering Haiti

Take a look at these two screen captures of recent scenes from Haiti. An Australian Television reporter is handed a baby who'd been pulled out from the rubble alive, after four days. He's her first aid provider.

The other photo shows a young teenaged girl being given the last rites, and was administered with cameras rolling.

These two scenes from recent tv coverage of Haiti relief efforts highlight the ethical issues which media organizations surely must be facing as they try to capture the horror and devastation of the recent earthquake in Haiti. What are news agencies telling their staff who arrive in Haiti: are they telling reporters to help to rescue people, or telling them to remain objective bystanders? Should they help pull people out and distribute water and food, or should they just cover the story?

And why are there so many reporters and news organizations crawling over Port Au Prince anyway, using up electricity and resources? Does CNN need all those people there, and their producers and crews? Why did they not form a pool, and send a lot fewer reporters and crews to the scene? It seems strange and somehow callous that the masses of reporters are able to move around, eat and drink, and use cellphones and electricity, when 3 million people there, can not.

And how much personal space are the refugees and displaced Haitians being given by media organaizations -- are the reporters and camera crews even asking permission to film such intimate human moments as the last breaths of a dying girl?

And with people in shock, traumatized and barely able to eat or sleep, are the victims of the earthquake fully able to understand what camera crews and reporters are filming? Or do they not care, or are they not even realizing they are being filmed?

And how do media agencies decide to show someone being filmed close up, at the moment they are dying? Why not shoot the scene using a wide shot, and let the viewer see it, from a respectful distance. We get it. I feel that anything else is a personal invasion of privacy for that woman and her family. I hope permission was asked before the shooting was done.

It is such a tragic story that I imagine many journalists now in Haiti must feel they need to try to help, while at the same time sending stories back to their newsrooms.

But is there a corporate policy against becoming part of the story? A reporter last night on CTV News went to a neighbourhood near Port Au Prince to try to find a Canadian who's family had not heard from her. The report which Tom Clark filed was great, and luckily, they did find the Canadian woman alive. Will CTV airlift her out on the journalists' planes back to Canada? It
would be interesting to find out.

Perhaps it's too soon to discuss this whole ethical issue about reporting on Haiti. And perhaps I would be doing the same thing if I was on the scene -- trying to get the best sound, the best story, the most vivid images. But seeing scenes like this next one made me shake my head: a woman reporter, I think from Brazil, stuck her microphone nearly into the airholes of the collapsed buildings while rescuers were still trying to dig out a baby who'd been trapped for days. It made me wonder why the reporter wasn't also helping to dig? Why not show this rescue job using a wide shot, rather then have the reporter crawling over the broken concrete blocks, right in the shot, poking her mic near the airhole, while the trained rescuer listens for noises to signal the baby was still alive? What if that reporter could have helped, but didn't and then the baby died?

I don't know the answers to this one. I do know what I've seen and done in my war reporting career. I covered civil wars in Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Mozambique. I travelled into war zones and refugee camps on UN flights. I interviewed traumatized survivors of torture, machete attacks, rape, amputations and hunger, and thanks to our fixers, and the World Food Program (WFP) and the UN, I was able to see distribution of relief supplies, and health clinics set up in the field by Medecins San Frontieres. As the journalist, what I saw moved me, and shocked me, but I didn't try to roll bandages or feed a malnourished child myself. I did record the sounds and the sights as best I could for CBC's the World at Six radio program. And I carefully prepared stories using the best sounds and interviews that I could to tell the listeners what I'd seen and what was going on.

Then there is, how much to show and how much not to show. I imagine there was a lot of discussion Saturday night in the photo editor's office at the Toronto Star over the photo which the paper ran on Sunday's front page of the print edition. The Toronto Star accompanied an account of some vigilante justice, the burning and torturing of a suspected looter, with a graphic photo of the victim's body with his attackers still poised to strike him. It was an incredible photo, and reminded me of the one Paul Watson took of the U.S. soldier in Somalia being dragged through the streets after
Black Hawk Down. Brutal. That photo won him the Pulitzer Prize. So why did the Star publish the graphic photo in its print edition, but not online, and indeed put a warning up, that would show the photo ONLY if the reader clicked through? Was it so graphic that online viewers would be upset, but the readers who get the hard copy edition wouldn't? I don't understand why the difference.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Real life Hollywood movie hero reads my blog!

Liev Schrieber, Daniel Craig star in Defiance.

A year ago, James Bond star Daniel Craig and X men star Liev Schreiber brought to the silver screen the true story of the Holocaust partisan Bielski brothers, who saved 1,200 Jews from the Nazis by creating a Jewish settlement in the forests of Belarus. The movie is called "Defiance" -it portrays Tuvia and Zus Bielski's story.
I wrote about seeing the film, and how it reminded me of two dear friends now living in Toronto who also survived the Holocaust by living in a cave in the forests near Harkov, Ukraine for two years.

Jay Bielski and wife at premiere of
"Defiance" in 2009 (courtesy The Jewish Star)

This week, a year later, I received a comment on my blog from none other then the son of Zus Bielski, a Dr. Jay (Jakow) Bielski, who is a psychologist now living and working in New York. I nearly fell off my chair when the post arrived!

I have to admit that although I was shocked at first, it was tremendously flattering that my insignificant personal musings would interest anyone, not to mention the offspring of one of the most courageous characters to survive the Nazi Final Solution.
Then my journalistic instincts kicked in, and I thought 'Well, perhaps it's a hoax?" So I researched Dr. Bielski, and it turns out he is who he says he is. A prolific blogger, public speaker, and curator of the memory of his famous father and uncle. He also has very strong views about the Middle East and how to solve the Israel-Palestinian issue, and how to respond to terror.
In my research, I also discovered that the blog post he sent to me about my story, was not unique -- he has sent similar versions of it, with one or two additions, to other websites and blogs.
I grew up after the War with Zus and Tuvia; I'm Zus and Sonia's son. I am named after my father’s brother and my mother’s brother, both Yaakovs, who were murdered by the Nazis, I am Yaakov; how fitting. Defiance captures the impulsivity of Zus and the wisdom of Tuvia. None of the Bielskis were petty criminals prior to the War that was made up in the movie as an explanation why they had, and still propagate via their children and grandchildren, aggressive skills. The reality was that they lived in a small village and had a mill which converted wheat and other products into cooking fares (breads). Growing up they had to defend themselves and their business from the locals. They were always a family team, 9 brothers and 2 sisters, and also had many non Jewish friends who helped them during the Holocaust. They developed a reputation before the War that "you shouldn't mess with the Bielskis because you are sure to lose" a quote by Aron Bell Bielski. As the environment grew more hostile against Jews and the Bielskis in particular, the ante was raised and so was their response to it, ruthlessness and compassion. The Defiance movie did not show Bielskis' enemies’ heads being axed (Jerusalem in the Woods, The History Channel 11/06). The Bielskis gave the death penalty to captured Nazis by grenades as each Nazi watched his fellows get blown up knowing that he will be next. "It was very smelly" said Shula Rubin in The Bielski Partisans a documentary by Kumar 1996. Many unmentionable acts were done without remorse by the Bielski Otriad (excluding the massacre fallacy of Naliboki, which falsely accuses the Bielski of killing civilians unnecessarily). Remember what would you do if they killed your mother and father, your brothers, your wife and daughter? Zus never considered his revenge disproportionate nor did he consider Israel's responses to the killing of Israelis ever disproportionate. He told me many times, THEY, will only understand the stick. The THEY change over time in the Jewish experience, was our response to Egyptian slavery disproportionate, after all many died of the plagues and sea? I think that whether by choice or coincidence Mr. Zwick prioritized Tuvia as the Moses figure and Zus as David, of Goliath fame. This inadvertently (?)points to disproportionate responses are necessary to maintain Jewish life. Between me and you if the Bielskis’ Defiance movie has any positive influence on Israeli gov’t a more assertive and permanent solution would already be in place both politically and militarily. Defiance was not intended to directly comment on Israeli policies it intended to show that all Jews are capable and obligated to live and be defiant to anyone who threatens our existence, anytime, anywhere. ‘I am Bielski’

So I Facebooked him, to make sure he was for real. I asked him how my blog came to his attention.
Today, he responded that he has a Google Alert for anything that mentions "Defiance Bielski".
I trust he wouldn't object to me sharing his message with you:

"Dear Ms. Bessner, your blog came to my attention because I have a google alert on Defiance Bielski. When I read about Lidiia and Ilya I felt compelled to respond to such an amazing and uplifting description of their lives. Because of my background I need to tell people about the Bielski Brothers and what they were able to do despite the overwhelming oppression and murderous intentions of the Nazis of their time and the would be oppressors of our time. It is not impossible to win, what the Bielskis have done was deemed impossible but as we now see there are many thousands of people here because they said 'nothing is impossible'."