Saturday, January 31, 2009

No nonsense journalism guide migrates online

The News Manual Online
by David Ingram and Peter Henshall, with illustrations by Bob Browne

Reviewed by Julie Middleton: Pacific Journalism Review

An important journalism primer that has trained many Pacific journalists has finally migrated online, ensuring it a wider audience and a longer life. The trio of books dubbed The News Manual, which grew out of a search in the mid-1980s for resources for University of Papua New Guinea students, were published in 1991 with backing from the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO).
A thorough and clear guide to basic reporting skills, including ethics, the law, and English grammar, their 700 pages formed an important resource in a region where only a lucky few got tertiary training, let alone specialised journalism coaching, and were (and still are) often plucked from a short secondary school career and thrown in the deep end.
The updated online version bills itself as a "straightforward, no-nonsense guide" to journalists in developing countries - it has a Commonwealth bias, reflecting the authors' teaching experience - but it is just as relevant to journalism newbies in more developed societies.
So much of learning the craft of journalism is about marrying technical skills with common sense, nimble thinking and people skills, and the resource reflects this in a way a lot of developed-country textbooks don't (but should).
The beauty of The News Manual Online is that in its friendly, straightforward tone and content it makes no assumptions about what readers know. Journalism texts do need to discuss the telephone manner that gets results, how to break the ice with strangers in a natural way, and how to accurately calculate the numbers of people in a crowd, all areas covered by The News Manual Online.
The chapters give simple, clear examples in explaining concepts such as news
sense. This is how it describes the need to make every intro word earn its

>> Your intro is like a canoe being paddled against a fast flowing current. Every word in the sentence should be like a man with a paddle, helping to push the sentence forward. There is no room for lazy words sitting back without paddles in their hands. They just make work harder for the rest of the words. So look closely at every word and ask yourself: "Does it have a paddle in its hand?" If it doesn't, throw it overboard!
>> Some of the fattest and laziest words to be found in the intro canoes are titles. Inexperienced journalists often think that they have to put full titles in the intro when, in fact, they belong later in the story.
>> Try to shorten titles for your intros wherever possible.

Exercises offer practice in intro writing and news story structure. The News Manual Online also discusses important issues for all reporters such as the dangers of stereotyping, the need to protect victims, and gender-neutral language. It looks at tricky issues such as the impact of tradition, culture and outside pressure, personal beliefs and reporting, and asks questions media everywhere still struggle with, such as whether the families of public figures should be fair game for media.
There are useful links and resources and a public feedback page. Most importantly, the website is easy to navigate and uncluttered, so those with sluggish internet can make the most of it.

>> Julie Middleton is an Auckland journalist. She is a former advocacy and communication officer for the Human Development Programme, Secretariat of the Pacific Community. Cartoon by Bob Browne.

>> Contact David Ingram

Interim government's broken promises

Re: Pacific Media Watch 5921 FIJI: Opinion - media 'freedom' failure symptom of malaise:

[Snippets with Croz Walsh's blog comments on Jennifer Blake's article in the Jakarta Globe.]

Bainimarama promised change and led a bloodless coup with much popular support. But his initial popularity has faded because he has failed to deliver on his promises. The embattled interim government is now making dangerous moves to maintain order. The diplomatic snub (of Forum meetings) foolishly reinforces Fiji’s isolationist position ... [It is difficult to estimate his support when the media, some NGOs, and those who stand to lose from electoral reform are so vocal. Both sides, of course, will claim majority support.]

His alleged 'broken promises'
>> Commitments to media freedom broken. [Hastened perhaps by irresponsible reporting].

>> He promised to reinvigorate the economy, yet under his leadership, the national GDP has contracted by 3.1 percent. [Many factors at work. Most world economies contracting.]

>> He pledged to unify the people, but his methods have created nothing but division. His perceived pro-Indian policies have done nothing to heal the bitter rifts that span its history. [At least, he's trying. Jennifer, I note your comment that --

"Fiji stumbled on the road to democracy — a fall brought on partly by his former prime minister’s unabashed distaste for the “foreign flower” and its flawed ideology. Qarase’s government was riddled with corruption, blatantly racist and fatally short-sighted."
[Is it not possible that the "pro-Indian" tag is being promoted by the pro-Qarase faction?]

>> Perhaps unintentionally, he has sidelined the powerful Fijian nationalist voice, a gamble that could cost him his leadership, provide grounds for a future coup or justify a violent backlash.

[You could well be right but the "sidelining" of extreme nationalists and the chiefly elite was a reason for the coup. I hope for Fiji's sake that your prediction is wrong.]

>> Bainimarama is being backed into a corner, facing attacks from the national press, the regional and international community, and a potential massive and humiliating loss at the polls should he call elections this year. The likelihood is he will soon face a challenge from the Fijian nationalists, perhaps presenting itself in the form of a coup — Fiji’s fifth in 22 years

[Unfortunately, being backed into a corner makes your prediction more likely.]

>> Bainimarama needs to act quickly in order to prevent another violent grasp for power, which would devastate the Fijian economy and decimate any hopes for democracy in the near future.

[Yes, but how, without checking the media and acting against opponents, for which you, among others, criticise him.]

>> This brief "leftist" venture might soon see an enormous pendulum swing to the "right". [The Fiji situation does not fit neatly into "left" and "right", but a counter-coup would certainly undo the good that the interim government has achieved and give new strength to the anti-democratic forces of intolerant ethno-nationalism and religious fundamentalism.]
Croz Walsh's blog

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Refreshing view on Pacific coverage

Just read David Robie's comments on the TV3 James Murray blog article. I think it is a really refreshing analysis from your side and that the media in NZ should take cue from it. I think sometimes the media forget that the most striking stories of people are found in the aftermath of a disaster - the human spirit that goes into rebuilding lives, the good souls that lend a helping hand - I think these are the sort of stories that leave a greater impression on the minds of people. Pictures of floods etc are eye-catching but they will fade ... a story of human spirit - that's likely to leave a long-lasting mark ...
Thank you David, for your insight - I hope other journalists find it as refreshing as I have.

Reggie Dutt

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

A message to the media - your bias is showing

These past three weeks we've had many terrible stories reported of the murderous assault on the people of Gaza by the Israeli military. But adding insult to the suffering of Palestinians has been media reporting which reinforces the tragedy.
Consider these points:

Media descriptions of the combatants:
Palestinians fighting have been described variously as militants, Islamists, insurgents, extremists or even terrorists preceded by either the adjectives Hamas or Palestinian. Israeli troops are described as soldiers.
These descriptions regularise Israeli forces but marginalise Palestinian fighters who are resisting Israeli military occupation of the West Bank and Gaza.
Why does the media have no difficulty describing the French resistance in WWII as resistance fighters but can't afford the same respect to Palestinians? Palestinian fighters should be referred to as the Palestinian resistance.

Reporting who said what:
Media reports here have featured regular direct commentary from spokespeople for the Israeli embassy in Australia as well as official Israeli government spokespeople. We would not know there is an official Palestinan diplomatic presence in Australia. Israeli diplomats have dominated TV, radio and the print media. New Zealand reporters based in the area invariably report from inside Israel where it is safe. The Palestinian view has been reported secondhand usually from translated Hamas news broadcasts. We realise the language problems for the New Zealand media but this isn't an excuse for allowing the Palestinian view to be regularly swamped by the well-oiled Israeli propaganda offensive.

Balance means...?:
It seems the media is using reports of the humanitarian disaster on the Palestinian side as a "balance" to frequent quotes and interviews with Israeli spokespeople. However humanitarian reports alone convey nothing of the reasons for the Palestinian struggle. The public are left in the
dark and as talkback radio testifies most of the blanks are filled in with bigotry and prejudice using the media descriptors of the fighters (as described above) as the only guide.

A survey of New Zealanders would tell us...?:
If a survey were to be conducted of New Zealanders' understanding of the Middle East conflict it is almost certain a majority of New Zealanders would believe things such as:
  • * Palestinians are occupying Israeli land (this has been shown to be a majority view in several Western countries) and are the aggressors.
  • * Israeli is fighting foul but only because they have to against dirty, sweaty Arabs who want to kill all Jews.
  • * Israel wants peace but Palestinians want an endless war.
  • * Hamas is a terrorist organisation while the Israeli government is democratically elected.
  • * Israelis have built a beautiful country through hard work while Palestinians prefer to live in lazy squalor.
Erroneous views such as these are prevalent in New Zealand and while everyone is entitled to their point of view the public should have access to facts and clear descriptions of context so they can develop informed opinions. With the Middle East this hasn't happened for 60 years.
The best indication of how abysmal media reporting on the Middle East has been for many decades is the predominance of ignorance in comments on talk-back radio. Listen to the drivel and weep.
Then take a closer look at how balanced media reporting has been these past three weeks.

Mike Treen


New Zealand

Photo: Del Abcede

The truth hurts

As editor of the Vanuatu Daily Post, I have often come across such situations over the years I have been here and to say it bluntly, truth hurts. It's unfortunate that Marc Neil-Jones bears the blame every time people are not happy with the truth coming out.
In most instances his only crime is that he is a white publisher. I say this because Mr Neil-Jones does not get involved in the day-to-day editorial decisions of the paper. That is my prerogative and people should be calling me up if they think the paper has failed to uphold its high ideals.
I just hope that people, including those in the higher echelon of society know that the media operate at exactly the same wavelength regardless of where one may be on this planet.
They publish/broadcast news, views and opinions—much of the latter appearing in the letters and opinion pages like the one I am writing.
There is a world of difference between hard news, if I may use that journalism jargon which simply means reporting facts without tampering it with the writer's own biases; and straight-forward opinion.
In the case of Marc's editorial opinion calling on [the Acting Director of Correctional Services Joshua] Bong to resign, that was his right. It was clearly marked "Opinion". During such a discourse, he didn't require Bong's side of the story. On the other hand Bong had all the right to respond to it in a professional manner, not hide behind a façade, as he seems to be doing and inciting subordinates from what should be a disciplined force to carry out his sinister motives.

Kiery Manassah
Vanuatu Daily Post
Port Vila

Monday, January 19, 2009

Re:5884 VANUATU: PMW condemns assault on publisher

You never mention the continual abuse of the Vanuatu Media Code of Ethics by Marc Neil-Jones. How can you claim balanced reporting when these proven facts are ignored, and you simply choose to report the story from a one-sided perpective?
While ALL violence should be condemned, provocation through poor reporting and the pre-judging of individuals with a constant trial by media, as witnessed in the pages of the Daily Post, also can't be supported by the community.
Have you ever questioned the high incidence of "problems" Neil-Jones brings on himself, especially when compared to the 100 or so media practitioners who report on the same issues and are never attacked ?
Will you be doing a follow up centered on media ethics in the Pacific? You may also want to write on the topic of social destabilisation as caused by irresponsible journalism and reckless reporting.

Marke Lowen
Vanuatu News
Port Vila