Be a Mensch first!

For image source click here

Journalism used to be a respected profession. We go out and meet other people, share their stories, report them for the benefit of others. If we are considered to be rude or inappropriate, at worst let it be for a persistent question asked, for that is our trade, whilst we must know also our boundaries in terms of what is a person’s private sphere.

But there is another side I witness at times. I have to say, sometimes, I wonder about the self-centred “me first” ambition of some of my fellow journalistic colleagues (not all, thank goodness!).

Here is an example that I encountered today as I waited in front of an English court of law from from around 08.00 in the morning onwards for the doors to open at 09.00 (I left my home at 06.45 for that). My preparation had paid off, as I was one of only five colleagues, who were amongst the first in front of the court-building door. By the time the court-building had opened, there were some 25 journos outside, and by the time the courtroom door (up on the third floor) opened, it must have been well over 30 colleagues plus ordinary persons, members of the public, who just came to observe.

I always treat my fellow colleagues with collegial respect. Having been in the business for a while, in fact I have been in journalism on and off for about 28 years, I experienced oftentimes that colleagues help each other and try to prevent replication of asking a source. Sometimes the help goes above that, with cars, food, even accommodation shared, even if one is not from the same media organ. But not always, and today I almost missed out on a court hearing due to good manners, which include as it stands, to not push myself in front of others with disregard and to try to upkeep civility and politeness – a skill that got not the least refined from living in England – when others showed hardly any of these attributes.

It started when some colleagues, who arrived rather late stationed themselves self-importantly beside and then before me and in the front line. As soon as the doors to the building opened, they and others almost run into the court building trying to be the firsts to be in. As I was right in front of the main entrance door, in spite of those pushy folks, I managed, without too much hurry, still to be amongst the first ten persons in the waiting room on the third floor in front of the courtroom, after we were let in and had gone through the security controls. Had they not pushed, I would have been amongst the first two or three upstairs. When the doors to the court-room opened after another hour of wait upstairs, the media league began yet again and with even more eagerness to ferociously push itself through the door into the court-room itself, as if inside somebody was giving out free diamonds to the first to arrive inside.

The entrance was almost blocked when several people at the same time tried to enter. Some of those who had come last were amongst the worst offenders. It was unbelievable behaviour these professionals beared to the open. As I finally entered, there were hardly any seats of the 30 plus seats left. A man shouted, there was a seat still free beside him. Whilst I was in front of a woman, a young determined journalist half my age, I was cavalier enough to allow her to take that seat, saying, please, You have it. Now I I am asking myself , why on earth did I feel the need to be polite? She self-righteously instead pushed ahead without a thank you.

So it was, that despite being one of the first at the location ready for work, I nearly missed out on one of the available seats, leaving me standing in the room, quite confused as to what had just happened. Already a court official declared that “those still standing would have to leave the room.” I feared for the worst, when only due to some sudden reshuffling on the order of the court officials, I was finally able to gather a seat, to my great surprise and relief.

Having witnessed that conduct, and having remained a mensch, almost to my detriment, the next frenzy was only about to start. One clever cocky journalist, well trimmed and in a fine suit, you would mistake him for what they refer to in this country as supposedly a gentleman, decided to request the names of the defence and prosecution lawyers single-handedly for himself. When he failed to volunteer his “most precious information” to all his other fellow colleagues, another five or six journalists started getting up from their seats queuing up behind the lawyer who had volunteerd the details, also requesting for the names and then, to my surprise, also not sharing the details to all (at best they did to those seated next to them). It was totally disorderly and very non-collegial. The rule in the room seemed to be ‘get what you can’, ‘disregard all others, or how you get it.’

This may be an attitude that at times helps journalists in certain situations, but it really had no place inside an English courtroom, not the least, because court officials will always assist journalists to get whatever information they may require about the persons involved in a case, unless they are instructed not to. Eventually, the court officials put a stop to the small queue of journos behind the lawyer in question, who himself was rather baffled by it all.

In the end, all journalists found a space to sit and all journalists who required information received it. There was no need for the behaviour shown.

Perhaps, with foresight, the court officials should have prepared for that, given the amount of media interest. I have been in courtrooms where the information of the names of the accused, the judge and the lawyers were already prepared on a special hand-out list for journos or sometimes a sheet with that information would circulate from seat to seat for us to copy. I have also been in courts where there was a number put to journalists, in accordance to arrival time, sometimes, especially in Old Baily cases, we have to pre-announce our intention to reserve a space.

The colleague next to me was one of the five people who managed to get those names from the lawyer. She shared those with the man to her right, but forgot me, seated to her left. She only thought of volunteering the names after I explicitly asked for them (at least she did that without further ado). In the end, I did not even need the names later, as it was not too relevant for German news.

There were about a dozen people in the public gallery watching the behaviour of all of this, as well as the court officials and lawyers. If people have little respect for our profession, here was just another admittedly small example, showing that we can not even behave well towards or respect our very own colleagues. Treat your neighbour like yourself, or treat your colleague like yourself is an anathema here, it seems.

The last time I witnessed such behaviour was about three years ago, when a journalist went up to an emotionally strained Grenfell survivor to ask for her details in a public meeting and refused to share that detail with other colleagues, requiring them also to go up one by one to that survivor (this was only days after the inferno). I remember that the journalist had eventually given me some information, but not all, giving off an attitude of somehow being the clever or deserving one. Maybe she was, was she?

A few years ago at a large world leaders and experts summit hosted by the British Foreign and Commonwealth Office, journalists were treated with a degree of contempt, amongst others, not being allowed into many areas into which we should have been allowed for access (such as where debates and presentations occurred). Our access area was severely limited. I complained about that at the time. But to be honest, after what I have witnessed today, is it a surprise, if some think, we must be managed quite vehemently, and that often, in order to report, we have to get accredited, which, by the way, is still not a guarantee that people, fellow journalists, behave themselves with courtesy and with respect to others. In my rule book for the job that is amongst the twelve commandments of the trade. But maybe, approaching my 50s I am just old-school, like the fact, that I still prefer to take notes on a paper notepad, rather than record everything digitally. But to be a mensch, to be kind, surely, is never something outdated, though at times it could be rare.

Journalisten Studenten ausquetschen – Pay for your work practise UK Journalism students told

Britische studenten des Journalismus sollen in Zukunft in Grossbritanien bei dem drittgrößten nationalen Zeitungsverlag für Arbeitserfahrung Knete auf den Tisch legen.

 

Journalism Students in the UK have been asked by the third biggest national newspaper publisher to put money on the table for the honour of getting work practise.

Link to my report (German):

www.taz.de/Praktikum-fuer-liquide-Studenten/!154597/

Journalism, because you believe in it. ● Journalismus, weil man daran glaubt

My report in the taz:  www.taz.de/Urteile-in-Grossbritannien/!136624/

#Nicholasjacobs free.  I was one of the only few German journalists (maybe the only German at the beginning?), that went to the trial for a few days and reported on it for #TazDieTageszeitung, the only German newspaper independent and clever enough on such issues.

Because most people do not want to pay for news anymore, reading free of charge online or those free hand out newspapers,  I did not get  paid much for the many hours in court apart from one article,  but I understood that truth and information are sometimes more important, than what you get paid, especially whilst much of the UK media was taking the side of the crown prosecution even though now they claim otherwise.

I remember how on the second Monday of the trial, I was the only journalist at all observing the entire demo for Jacobs, whilst a BBC colleague with camera did a 2 minute recording and then left.

This – going to trials, listening and taking longer notes – isn’t sustainable for ever for journalists like myself, but I know what I am in journalism for. I could have continued to build a career as CEO of NGOs, but chose to go back to journalism, because of passion for truth, justice and reporting from angles others don’t, based on a solid foundation of original studies in politics, sociology and modern history, journalism and years of commitment to the media. I was also in a minority by hinting to the internal corruption of the police and the problems with the witnesses produced.

As to the issue of the events 30 years ago, I hope some sort of truth and reconciliation process could emerge for all victims of the time, those who were targets and victims of the Met and for the family of the murdered officer Keith Blakelock.

DEUTSCH

Mein Bericht in der Taz http://www.taz.de/Urteile-in-Grossbritannien/!136624/

Ich war einer der wenigen Deutschen Journalisten ( anfänglich evtl. der einzige Deutsche), die einige Tage des Prozesses gegen Nicholas Jacobs im Gericht beobachtet hatten, und einiger der wenigen aller, die überhaupt über Probleme im Fall, Polizeikorruption und unzuverlässige Zeugen von Anfang an schrieben.

Mein Honorar dafür, war mehr, dass mein Sinn für aufrichtigen und informativen Journalismus, basiert auf eine fundierte Ausbildung in Politik und Zeitgeschichte, und Jahre der Erfahrung, richtig war, als das wenige Geld was man mit dem Journalismus dieser Tage verdient. Es ist deshalb wichtig und essenziell , dass von allen unabhängiger Journalismus finanziell mitgetragen wird, sei es durch Abos oder die 10 Cent beispielsweise auf der Taz Zahleinrichtung für bestimmte Berichte, oder mindestens durch Verteilung über die sozialen Medien. So bleiben nicht nur Zeitungen am Leben, sondern vielleicht kriegen Journalisten auch irgendwann wieder genug bezahlt, so dass man es sich beispielsweise immer erlauben kann, bei Prozessen beizusitzen.

Written on mobile phone in Germany.

TAZ: Zeitungskrise in Großbritannien Der Scheinriese | Newspaper crisis in the UK. The pretend-to-be-giant?

Deutsch: logo der tageszeitung the guardian
Deutsch: logo der tageszeitung the guardian (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

An English intro follows behind the German summary. 

In diesen Bericht in der Taz schildere ich die Ambitionen des Guardian Verlags, der online die drittgrößte Zeitung der Welt ist (via guardian.co.uk).  Der Guardian verbuchte trotz massiver Investitionen, manche sagen,wegen ihnen, über Millionen hohe Verluste.  Nun sollen auch noch 100 redaktionelle Mitarbeiter aus der Guardian News & Media Group (GNM) gehen,  der freie Zugang zu Guardian online soll trotzdem nicht abgeschafft werden, im Gegensatz zur ehemalig freien New York Times , die seit 2011eine Paywall hat.  Entweder gewinnt die ganze Welt einen linkszentrierten Nachrichtenverlag, oder alle und vorallen Grossbrittanien verlieren seine seriöseste Pressestimme mit sozial und ökologischen Interessen.  In der zwischenzeit, das steht nicht in meinen Bericht, hat sich Chefredakteur Alan Rusbridge,  damit beschäftigt professionell Klavier zu spielen.   Wer über 400.000 Euro verdient und mit um ihre Zukunft zitternden Journalisten zu tun hat braucht solche Ablenkung.  Rusbridger wurde mir von ehemaligen Guardianjornalisten sowohl als Genie als auch als etwas verdächtig beschrieben.  Mehr im Bericht.

www.taz.de/Zeitungskrise-in-Grossbritannien/!108878/

It was the famous German author Michael  Ende who defined first the word Scheinriese for the German vocabulary in his book Jim Knopf and the Wild 13.  A Scheinriese is a pretend-to-be-giant.  In Ende’s story it is a man who looks like a giant from far way, but as one gets closer to him, he turns out to be of normal stature.     In my report about the Guardian Media Group I look at the tension between it being the third largest online newspaper, and its huge deficit in the last financial year.  The Guardian desires to grow further with expansions in New York and Australia, whilst it aims to rid itself of about 100 editorial staff.  But its free access policy is to remain in place regardless, even though the New York Times has introduced a paywall in 2011.   Either the whole world gets a global left-central news corporation, or all and especially Great Britain lose their most serious voice with an interest in social and ecological affairs. I asked a former editor, the chief-editor of the UK’s main media publication, the Press Gazette (which itself saw its print edition vanish) and we learn from Andrew Miller, chief executive of GMG that all is quite well, well enough for Alan Rusbridger, chief editor of The Guardian, to tell BBC World Service about his achievement of finding enough leisure time to learn to play the  piano very well in the last few years and from scratch at that (see also below article from Guardian )

The article is part of the debates on how news and media move forward in the digital age.

Full version (in German) here www.taz.de/Zeitungskrise-in-Grossbritannien/!108878/

Taz Die Tageszeitung: Nichts zu feiern bei der BBC

Newsnight
Newsnight (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Daniel Zylbersztajn Taz: Bei der BBC gab es nichts zu feiern.  Ich schaue ein bischen hinter die Kulissen.

German Taz Die Tageszeiting main feature:  Nothing to celebrate at the BBC after 90 years!

Link TAZ Nichts zu feiern:  http://www.taz.de/90-Jahre-BBC/!105546/

For my English language readers who do not speak or read German

My article in the Taz about the BBC Newsnight Lord McAlpine debacle of the BBC in the last weeks gives some background on the amount of change its employees were so far subjected to.  Not that it was already enough, Helen Boaden‘s  QF speech to staff meant that the BBC had more axings planned:  about 800 jobs are to go until 2016, along with the merger of the world service and BBC News.  Staff, who wanted to keep anonymous,  told me about discrepancies in pay, with managers highly paid, those making programs usually low paid.  Another editor complaint that her language service was no longer being measured by quality, but by quantity of hits.  She said that only if she reports the “heartbreaking story of the donkey with his prosthesis” will she survive.   It is not to be forgotten that this is a member of staff who already witnessed cuts, the loss of funding from the foreign office, and the final departure from Bush House.  My article then shifts to a brilliant documentary made by the BBC, one of those we ill see probably less of in the future and produced by James Cook and presented by Mike Thompson (online version is here www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-20267659).  It puts the current affair headed by the mistake of falsely accusing one politician into perspective.  According to BBCs  research about 20.000 Jewish people less could have died in 1944, had the BBC not withheld the truth.

Nevertheless things look difficult at the BBC.  I have heartfelt feelings for some of my colleagues and friends who work there, and have told those I conversed with personally that there is no better alternative than take to Doris Day‘s ce sera.

However on a serious note, I do believe the course leader of the highly regarded MA Radio at Goldsmiths,  Tim Crook, who works closely with the BBC,  was right when he told me that he sees the integrity of journalism under threat.  It is important that everyone understands that every time we take a free newspaper in our hand, or read news only online,  that is without paying for it, we are contributing to the decline of journalism.  This is not to say free stuff and blogs are not sometimes brilliant.  They do an excellent service at times.  But we need a reliable and in deed trustworthy network of newspapers and media outlets to counter the barrage of spin, political intrigues and corporate chauvinism.  At the taz.de they have a nice system of providing the articles free of charge but enabling readers to pay even as little as 5 Pence for any one  article voluntarily.   It is easily done online and rewards the paper and the journalist.

When it concerns big corporates like the BBC, which receive the main part of their funding from the tax payer, I think it is right to ask why the  management gets more than those who physically produce the news.   A management which has been accused now of partially not really being in charge, nor having a clue.  It is impossible to say to what extend this is right, but what is certain is that far less news will be produced in the future by BBC, for example party conferences will no longer have dedicated teams.  Some of the midday news slots will also disappear and there will be more repetition.   The merger of the WS bilingual section and BBC news in foreign affairs will also change the way the BBC has traditionally reported, namely through well skilled  journalists who are sent to different regions for some time.  It is questionable given already huge cuts and redundancies since Hutton, if the same tools of cuts  ought to be applied to the BBC as anywhere else because of the government’s austerity brief.

Daniel Z