#sms2011: Small Media Initiative conference – the tweets

I’m at SOAS, London at the Small Media Symposium 2011. You can find the programme and more information here. Academics and media practitioners are presenting papers about “small media”, also known as – as the event’s site says – “alternative media”, “participatory media”, and “social movement media”. This Cover It Live should pick up some of the tweets…

Live blog at this link

When does a workie become a worker?

Since I covered this issue on my blog at the weekend and I’ve noticed debate springing up elsewhere (Press Gazette / FSB: 1 & 2) I thought I’d post the work placement guidelines that have  just arrived in my inbox from the NUJ. Here’s one part that jumped out:

Placements can be unpaid provided the individual is not a ‘worker,’ as defined by the National Minimum Wage legislation as outlined below. However, work experience placements should be time limited and should not exceed 160 hours, carried out either full-time over a four week period or part-time over a three month period. If the terms of the placement are such that the individual is performing as a ‘worker’, and the placement is not being carried out as part of a further or higher education course, then the National Minimum Wage should be adopted throughout the duration of the placement. In both cases, reasonable and pre-agreed expenses should be reimbursed.

Unpaid interns seek money back? Good luck with that…

I’ve half followed the debate about unpaid internships and Girish Gupta’s fight against the Indy.

Initially, I couldn’t see how such cases would be successful, given that there’s no contract for payment, and the internships are advertised or offered as such. But the NUJ is bullish. Claim back your cash, it advises me in the latest issue of the mag:

Have you worked as an unpaid intern within the past six years? You could be entitled to claim back the National Minimum Wage, regardless of the terms of your internship agreement.

The National Union of Journalists wants to hear from any former journalism intern who would like legal support from the union to claim unpaid wages.  It could be possible to recover up to £232 per 40-hour week of the internship.

Wow. A quick sum. Before getting paid part and full time jobs in journalism, I did about six or seven weeks on regional newspapers; four weeks at a national; six weeks at a newspaper overseas (air fare and accommodation were paid); and two or three weeks at a broadcaster. 18-20 weeks in all*.

I wouldn’t mind getting £4,176 back now! I probably would have felt more exploited if I’d done longer stretches in one place. While I filed lots of copy in those places, I also benefited from many journalists’ time and help while I was learning/training.

Obviously, I was lucky to be able to do those stints (numerous kind friends/family putting me up in various cities) but I don’t regret the experiences and have been very grateful for the support of some of the journalists/friends I met along the way.

While I can see it’s tempting for ex-interns to go for the Murdochs of this world, these payouts could be devastating for small media companies. So I’m sitting on the fence on this one. The unpaid culture needs to change, but I’m not convinced this is the best way to do it.

It did cheer me slightly (at the same time as boiling my blood) that Tories had paid thousands of pounds for their children to do unpaid internships, as a party fundraiser… Or how about £8,000 to work for free at City AM for a fortnight?**

No thanks!

*{update} looks like any work experience conducted as part of a journalism course would be excluded. Not sure how much of mine falls into that category. Some of the time on the newspapers was obligatory as part of the course, although we arranged it ourselves, and we were also expected to have completed a certain amount of experience before starting the course.

**That last one was for charity Help for Heroes.

Ten years since Titanic Express Massacre in Burundi but campaigners still demand justice

This post marks (belatedly) the tenth year anniversary since the Titanic Express Massacre in Burundi.

Ten years have passed since the ill-fated Titanic Express bus was attacked as it travelled from Kigali in Rwanda to Burundi’s capital city, Bujumbura. Twenty-one people were killed including 27 year old British aid worker Charlotte Wilson and her fiance, Richard Ndereyimana, a Burundian teacher.

Amnesty International describes what happened on 28th December 2000:

The attack took place in Bujumbura Rural, a former stronghold of the then armed opposition group, the Palipehutu-National Liberation Forces (Palipehutu-FNL). Those onboard were separated according to their ethnicity. Hutu were released, while Tutsi passengers and one British woman were killed. The Burundian authorities, diplomatic sources and some international organisations have attributed responsibility to the then Palipehutu- FNL. The FNL denies involvement. Ten years later, those responsible have not been investigated and brought to justice.

This devastating event was only one in a series of mass killings during the Burundian civil war, says the human rights organisation. Along with his family, Charlotte Wilson’s brother, Richard, a blogger, author and human rights activist, continues to campaign for justice. On the 10th anniversary of the killings he said:

“Despite repeated promises from Burundi’s government, no serious effort has been made to deliver justice for the 21 victims of the Titanic Express massacre. Tragically, those responsible for Charlotte’s murder have killed many more innocent people over the last ten years, while countless others have died in reprisal attacks, highlighting the deadly consequences of Burundi’s culture of impunity. The Burundians we know tell us that justice can help end the cycle of violence.

“In solidarity with all those who have lost loved ones in this brutal conflict, my family calls on President Nkurunziza to honour the memory of the victims, and move swiftly to establish the Special Chamber and TRC [Truth and Reconciliation Council].”

Amnesty International UK supports this call for the Burundian government to establish the Special Tribunal, and stipulates that such a body should be “mandated to independently investigate and prosecute serious human rights violations without prior referral from the TRC”.

Richard Wilson is also campaigning for the release of journalist Jean-Claude Kavumbagu. He writes on his blog:

Tragically, while the war criminals remain free, one of the Burundian journalists who has done most to highlight the Titanic Express massacre, Jean-Claude Kavumbagu, has been languishing in prison since July. He is facing a criminal trial for “defamation” and “treason” after making critical comments about Burundi’s army.

The Amnesty appeal for Kavumbagu’s release can be found here.

To mark the anniversary of the massacre Richard Wilson conducted a 24 hour ‘Twitterthon’, using Twitter to post messages about Burundi and its recent history every 15 minutes from 1.30pm on the 28th (the time that the attack began) to 1.30pm on December 29th 2010. His Twitter feed can be found here, @dontgetfooled. His aim was to detail human rights reports, expose the ongoing activity of the FNL and call for press freedom in Burundi.

Follow the Face the Future conference in Coventry

I’m at Coventry University for its annual journalism conference. You can follow on Twitter via the tag #facethefuture, or watch the video afterwards on the BBC College of Journalism (will be up tomorrow). There will also be reports on http://cutoday.wordpress.com/.

I’m going to be speaking about Twitter and its value to journalism, although it seems Alan Rusbridger beat me to it last week…

Liveblog at this link.

openDemocracy: ‘Investigative Comment and the future of journalism on the web’

Today journalist and author Clare Sambrook won the Bevins Prize for Investigative Journalism 2010 and was presented with the Rat Up a Drainpipe trophy, for her reports on the website openDemocracy and its UK section, OurKingdom.

Last week she won the 2010 Paul Foot Award for campaigning journalism and its £5,000 prize. This is the first time a web journalist has won either award.

Anthony Barnett has written about her journalistic approach on openDemocracy, copied below, under the terms of the Creative Commons licence.

By Anthony Barnett, founder of openDemocracy and the co-editor of its UK section, Our Kingdom. 9 November 2010:

Clare Sambrook has just won the Bevins Prize for Investigative Journalism, as well as scooping up the Paul Foot Award last week, both of them for her stories exposing the scandal of child detention in Britain. It is a terrific recognition of her and her team of unpaid fellow campaigners at End Child Detention Now. openDemocracy is proud of being her main publisher, in our UK section OurKingdom. Her reports are listed here.

It is the first time that either award has gone to journalism primarily published on the web. The changing balance between the new and mainstream media, much chattered about, is now becoming real. In the process the nature of journalism is being changed. For the better.

We have heard a lot of complaints about the downside, the supposed lowering of standards as superficial, vitriolic comments fill the blogosphere. But even if the internet does give voice to the “swinish multitude” it is opening up the public realm to well-researched demands for honesty and integrity.

Clare’s kind of active reporting is changing journalism in two respects. Hitherto a shibboleth of the journalist profession has been the separation of fact and comment. Clare does not do this. In her words, what she does is “investigative comment”. She says, “If we respect the reader, then all journalism ought to be investigative — probing, curious, digging —except where it is plainly reporting what happened, such as a match report or a court report.”

She also queries the point of pure comment, “Unless the analysis is brilliant and revelatory, why should readers bother to read someone who hasn’t troubled to find anything out, something that’s only opinion?” She adds “when the government explicitly works to take control of the narrative, it’s bonkers to demand that investigative work should be ‘fair and balanced’.”

This is a crucial point. We live in a world where, as Mike Edwards reports, vested interests seek to “dominate the entire intellectual environment”. In the face of this, neutrality becomes a way of playing their game or at least accepting such domination.

Independent journalism challenges official control of the narrative. Investigative comment does not hide the advocacy motivating its research. On the contrary, its own arguments are tested by the facts it reports. I would argue that this makes it more transparent – OK, I mean more honest – both as to its use of facts and the way it presents arguments, than most official journalism.

This also distinguishes it from the special pleading of many campaigns and NGOs.

But ‘investigative comment’ is not new or a just web phenomenon. It dates back at least to William Cobbett. Today, in the Observer, Henry Porter has demonstrated the effectiveness of investigative comment. When Heather Brooke asked about MPs’ expenses and wanted the actual receipts under the new Freedom of Information Act, she was simply doing research for a book on the right to know. But, as she says, “if you are at all interested in power, access to information is the key” (Silent State, p226).

Her advocacy and comment about freedom of information was factually driven. As such, it changed our parliamentary culture for good.

The Guardian’s father figure, J.P Scott famously argued that “facts are sacred”. So much so, indeed, that they are locked away. Our role should be to expose them, publicise them, deconsecrate them and make the truth ordinary.

To achieve this you need a point of view – or, at the very least, a suspicion and a purpose.

The web is a natural home of such ‘investigative comment’. But it also needs a culture of how to publish such material in a way that is itself open to counter-challenge. Otherwise such a self-declared approach can easily become another vehicle for authoritarian or populist agendas.

This is where openDemocracy comes in, as now perhaps Britain’s oldest web publication. I report on how openDemocracy survived, in a response to Alan Rusbridger’s draft lecture on the media and the web. As Tony Curzon Price, its Editor in Chief has argued, oD is distinct in having ‘openness’ as its operating principle.

Openness is different from neutrality or balance. openDemocracy does not ask its contributors to be neutral or seek an impossible ‘balance’ in their coverage. Instead, it looks for an engaged, well-argued case, based on information that is open to rebuttal, disagreement and a counter-case, should one be offered.

This is why I was delighted when I read the first piece by Clare, when it arrived in my inbox. I had learnt of the scandal of child detention in 2008 when I saw Juliet Stevenson and Natasha Walter’s play Motherland, which I reviewed in the Guardian online and blogged in OK. I learnt, for example, that Labour amended its own Children’s Act to ensure that its safeguards did not apply to kids in prison as asylum seekers, which means the government knew what was going on.

It is one thing to learn about a scandal. It is quite another to do the reporting that keeps the story up to date, against all official pressures and obstacles. Clare, helped by her colleagues, set about it in clear, compelling prose. If they were wrong they could be challenged. It was not the kind of comment that fits into an ‘op ed’ page. Clare wasn’t well known. Her reporting was urgent and argued, which ruled it out for the news pages. These three disqualifications from the point of view of the mainstream media were all positives for our website.

As I’m arguing for a development of the best of traditional journalism, not an opposition, I’ll end with a quote from Judith Townend who did a lot of the online publicity for End Child Detention Now, “So many journalists still have this ‘blogger vs journalist’ thing in their heads. We should push them past that. It’s not one or the other; it’s about communicating the story and the message…”

Creative Commons

This article was first published by Anthony Barnett on openDemocracy.net under a Creative Commons licence.  It is re-published here, on jtownend.com, under the terms of the CC licence.

Clare Sambrook awarded Paul Foot prize for campaigning journalism to end child immigration detention

Investigative journalist and author Clare Sambrook has been awarded the Paul Foot award 2010 for her campaigning journalism against the detention of children by the UK immigration authorities.

As I’ve written before, Clare’s tireless campaigning over the past year should be an inspiration to journalists everywhere, especially those who are tackling tricky issues not always given much space in the mainstream press.

Here’s some info about the End Child Detention campaign and Clare’s work. Clare submitted work that exposed:

  • government attempts to bury medical evidence that detention harms children, & the cosy relationship between government and the security companies that run prisons and detention centres for profit.
  • Clare’s journalism is rooted in End Child Detention Now, a citizens’ campaign to end the scandal of child detention by the UK immigration authorities — formed in July 2009 by six friends.
  • End Child Detention Now members working unpaid and unfunded: persuaded 121 MPs to sign a parliamentary motion calling for the end of child detention; held vigils and demonstrations in London, York and Dagenham; support families in detention and on their release; addressed the Church of England Synod Public Affairs Council; collaborate with campaign groups including Shpresa, Refugee & Migrant Justice, SOAS Detainee Support, Women for Refugee Women, Yarl’s Wood Befrienders, Welsh Refugee Council, Positive Action in Housing; coordinated a series of public letters in the national press from church leaders, novelists, children’s writers, actors & directors; prompted questions in the Commons, the Lords and the Scottish Parliament and in six months raised nearly 5000 signatures on a national online petition.

Commenting on the rising ECDN campaign towards Christmas 2009, Dr Frank Arnold, clinical director of Medical Justice and an expert in torture scars said:

Over many years numerous groups and individuals have attempted to combat the horrible practice of detaining children, families, torture survivors and others who have sought refuge in the UK from brutality in their homelands. The process and the justifications for detention have become ever more illogical and baroque. For the first time, we are beginning to see a truly powerful groundswell against it.

So how did Clare end up doing what she does? Clare worked as a Daily Telegraph financial reporter before going freelance to pursue investigations. She is co-author (with Andrew Jennings) of The Great Olympic Swindle, shortlisted for the William Hill Sports Book of the Year Award (2000). Her debut novel Hide & Seek (2005), published in thirteen languages, was a New York Times Editor’s Choice. Clare lives in Cumbria where she is working on her second novel. Her journalism appears in Private Eye, openDemocracy and  guardian.co.uk among other titles. She says:

Reading Paul Foot’s books when I was fresh out of university gave me a strong sense of what journalism could and should be. This is a massive honour, hugely encouraging and a real boost to the End Child Detention Now campaign at a time when the government has reneged on its commitment to stop this inhumanity.

The Paul Foot Award was set up by Private Eye and the Guardian in memory of Paul Foot, the campaigning journalist who died in 2004. The £5,000 first prize was presented to Clare on Tuesday 2 November in London – each of the runners-up received £1,000.

The runners-up:

Jonathan Calvert and Clare Newell (Sunday Times) on MPs and peers seeking cash for influence (“I’m like a cab for hire” – Stephen Byers)

David Cohen (Evening Standard) on the plight of the poor in London, including children’s poverty and the continuing existence of paupers’ graves in the capital

Nick Davies (Guardian) on phone-hacking conducted by the News of the World when Andy Coulson, now the government’s director of communications, was editor

Linda Geddes (New Scientist) on evidence that DNA tests are not always accurately interpreted

Clare’s submission included: 7 X openDemocracy pieces,  8 X Private Eye, 1 X New Londoners and 1X Guardian.co.uk.

Links at:

Private Eye (issue 1269) 20 August 2010

Double detention
By Clare Sambrook
No wonder security company G4S was ‘disappointed’ with the news that the government is to close Oakington immigration detention centre, where a 40-year-old asylum seeker collapsed and died amid claims that he had been denied swift medical help.

Private Eye (issue 1266) 9 July 2010
Homer’s oddity
By Clare Sambrook
Amid mounting political concern about child detention just before the General Election, UKBA granted private contractors Serco a contract to carry on running Yarl’s Wood for the next three years, costing the tax-payer £900,000 every month.

Private Eye (issue 1265) 23 June 2010
Child’s prey
By Clare Sambrook
Last year, after a serious incident of child sex abuse at Yarl’s Wood, UKBA failed to investigate the incident or provide adequate care for the children involved. Then an official report on the matter was sneaked on-line with the words ‘Yarl’s Wood’ omitted.

New Londoners 17 June 2010
Despair, hope and despair again: the rollercoaster ride towards ending child detention
By Clare Sambrook
Ministers have taken the cruel and witless decision to carry on wrecking people’s lives while civil servants and ‘stakeholders’ engage in a wide-ranging review, chaired by . . . the detention policy’s most fervent defender: Dave Wood, UKBA’s director of criminality and detention, who misled a Parliamentary committee over the medical evidence of harm to children at Yarl’s Wood.

OpenDemocracy, Manchester Mule, Counterfire 19 May 2010
When they said ‘We will end child detention,’ they meant ‘Keep on arresting babies’
By Clare Sambrook
Sehar Shebaz and baby Wanya (picture above) eight months, arrested and detained, rushed out of Britain into danger in May 2010, only days after new government announced commitment to ending child detention.

Private Eye (issue 1262) 14 May 2010
Scare Centres
By Clare Sambrook
‘We recognise that when your child arrives at one of our centres they may be bewildered, tired and worried,’ security giant G4S tells families of young people locked up at its secure training centres. Children may be rightly worried.

OpenDemocracy 12 May 2010
Let’s make sure they really do end child detention now
On the day the coalition government pledges to end child detention Clare Sambrook urges heightened pressure and scrutiny.

Private Eye (issue 1261) 30 April 2010
Crime Pays
By Clare Sambrook
G4S Nick Buckles pockets £1,656,251, on top of a £6million pension pot, on top of a £115,000 dividend payment on his £4 million stack of shares, as detainee Eliud Nguli Nyense dies at Oakington Detention Centre.

OpenDemocracy 26 April 2010
Election: asylum seekers lose last safety net
During the General Election campaign asylum seekers lose their last safety net: MPs’ assistance
By Clare Sambrook

OpenDemocracy, Counterfire, Manchester Mule 13 April 2010

Surveillance + detention = £Billions: How Labour’s friends are ‘securing your world
By Clare Sambrook

Private Eye (issue 1259) 2 April 2010

Pulling the Woolas
By Clare Sambrook
Is minister Phil Woolas —  the MP for Oldham East and Saddleworth (majority 4,225) —  lying about child detention in order to appease the 5,435 Oldham residents who voted BNP in last year’s Euro Elections?

OpenDemocracy 19 March 2009

Has Meg Hillier gone mad?
By Clare Sambrook
The minister’s lies and evasions about child detention read on

Private Eye (issue 1258) 18 March 2010
‘All the detainees are treated with dignity and respect’
By Clare Sambrook
Rima Andmariam (above), aged 16, under threat of deportation because Home Office refuse to accept evidence of her age. Woken by Yarl’s Wood staff and told to dress for deportation the morning after her removal had been halted

OpenDemocracy 8 March 2010
Take one traumatised child . . . Arrested, detained, put in padded clothing, and held behind bars with adult men, because Home Office insisted he was a grown-up:  Child M, aged 14, pictured with his big brother Z, who is acknowledged by the Home Office to be 17.
By Clare Sambrook

The Guardian 19 February 2010
Don’t deny this detention damage: Government lies to undermine the Children’s Commissioner’s report about distress suffered by children held in Yarl’s Wood.
By Clare Sambrook

OpenDemocracy 17 January 2010
Roll calls, body searches and sex games
By Clare Sambrook
What Parliament isn’t being told about children’s lives inside a UK detention centre

Private Eye 10 December 2009
Serco Clowns
By Clare Sambrook
Serco and the Home Office throw a party to open the new school for innocent children forcibly detained at Yarl’s Wood.

Clare’s work — researching, writing, ghosting, dreaming up stunts, press-releasing, guiding into print — has directly generated reporting and comment on the government’s appalling detention policy in Private Eye, guardian.co.uk, openDemocracy, The Observer, The Daily Telegraph, The Guardian, The Independent, Community Care, Big Issue In The North, Morning Star, Counterfire, Nursery World, Manchester Mule, Baptist Times, Cumberland Herald, Cumberland News, Quaker Asylum & Refugee Network, Independent Catholic News, New Londoners, Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants bulletin, and on other campaigning blogs.