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February 2012

Journalism school to revise curriculum in the aftermath of Norway terror attacks

Crisis reporting is set to become integral part of a three year bachelor degree in journalism, if plans to revise the degree’s curriculum go ahead.

- Today you can go through a three years journalism degree without receiving any training in how to cover terror and catastrophes, Trond Idaas, whose survey of the Norwegian journalists who covered the 22/7 terror attacks was a key inspiration for the suggested changes, said when his survey was published.

Idaas is an advisor at the Norwegian Journalist Union and has also written a masters thesis on the experiences of journalists covering the Tsunami in 2004. He feels it is very important that crisis reporting becomes an integral part of journalism training.

Besides, his survey found that more than 40 per cent of the journalists covering the tragic events in Oslo and on Utöya on 22/7 had less than five years of journalistic experience (July being in middle of the summer holidays in Norway) .

This finding has, according to Journalisten, been an important reason for the journalism school at Oslo and Akershus University College to suggest making crisis reporting an integral part of its bachelor degree. Also, there was widespread public reactions to the use of live broadcasts from Utvika on 22/7, when some of those intereviewed quite obviously were in a state of shock.

Idaas said integrating crisis reporting in the curriculum, such as suggested at Oslo and Akershus University College, is "quite revolutionary and not even widespread internationally"

Looking through the text books from when I did my journalism degree at City University in London, I could find precious little mention of how to cover terror and catastrophes (but then I handed in my masters thesis only weeks after 9/11, which may help to explain the abscence - though we did have a lot about war reporting, which makes it seem strange).

The only mention I can find of the topic is a chapter on "How to cover major incidents" in David Randall’s eminent "The Universal Journalist" (I always did like that book). That chapter is however, very instructive – also on what not to do.

For my own part, one direct result of the debates about the media coverage of 22/7 was to contact two of the journalists who covered the hit-and-run accident that almost killed me when I was 17 to thank them for being so professional when interviewing me while I was in shock after the accident.

Now, in terms of interviewing people in shock, my case can’t really be compared to 22/7 as I gave my first interview months after the accident.

But I was certainly in shock then, and for several years after the accident: years when I wasn’t quite sure whether I was just living in a dream (or nightmare), when it often felt like my life was just some surreal movie, when I lost all sense of fear etc

In that state I could easily have said yes to the journalist who, when the case came to court, wanted me to pose for a photo shaking hands with the guy who ran me down for the ”I forgive you”-story  the journalist seemed to have pre-written (which he never got. More on that story here )

Over all though, talking to the media mostly just felt therapeutic back then.

Since I didn’t have any memory of the accident it also helped me piece everything that had happened together. I even met the guy whose car my dog stopped, the one who called the ambulance in the nick of time after my dog alerted him to where I lay unconscious and critically wounded, on a TV show - all very surreal.

But my story was only about a car accident - with the big catastrophes, riots and terror attacks we've seen recently all kinds of ethical dillemmas are multiplied and new ones emerge. The sheer scale of it all is in itself a massive challenge.

In general though, I think it may prove very benificial to make crisis reporting an integral part of journalism training.

Not all journalism students go on to become journalists, but handling communication in times of crisis is something all communication professionals are likely to be called upon to do when they least expect it. 

Just think of the many tumultuous and often tragic indidents of 2011.

Also, being prepared makes dealing with disasters, however tragic, easier.

Idaas said his research shows more experienced journalists, and certainly journalists used to covering war and atrocities, deal with the impressions more efficiently and are far less likely to suffer from delayed stress reactions than inexperienced journalists.

Despite rumours to the contrary, journalists are not immune to the impressions from the many traumas of disaster. Nor are police, firemen and other emergency workers.

So 22/7 will also be a test of how well the organisations employing any of these workers handle the aftermath of crisis, that remains to be seen.




Will we see state-controlled intranets start replacing the Internet in 2012?

"I think we’re beginning to see the fragmentation of the Internet into numerous state-controlled intranets."

The words belong to author and investigative journalist Misha Glenny whom I interviewed about his new book, «Dark Market: Cyberthieves, Cybercops and You», when he was in Oslo to talk at an IT-security conference early November. I also reviewed the book and found it a fascinating read.

But I was reminded of his prediction when reading this piece on Iran recently:

"If you think anti-piracy legislation like SOPA and Spain's so-called Sinde law are as far-reaching as it gets, you obviously don't live in Tehran.

"...Web censorship in the Islamic republic is nothing new, but this latest initiative cranks things up quite a few notches and paves the way for a government-approved domestic intranet that will be completely cut off from the public World Wide Web we all know and love. Iranians are already reporting painfully slow Internet connections and difficulty accessing certain sites or using VPNs, the Wall Street Journal reports."

Iran may be a special case but all the current, sometimes really far-out, attempts to police the internet often depress me.

The suggestion by an EU polictian to build internet surveillance into every operating system is one example (thanks for the link, Leo). SOPA is of course another, although there were some good news on the SOPA-front this week - with The White House coming out against SOPA and DNS blocking

But how worried should we be about all this?

As mentioned in my previous post, I would love for JP Rangaswami to be right, that what we're seeing are just the last, desperate attempts of the dinosaurs - as he describes in this paragraph:

"DMCA. Hadopi. Digital Economy Act. ACTA. SOPA. Yup, with the passage of time, the level of desperation is getting higher, the clauses are getting less and less workable, making the laws harder to enforce, to prosecute, socially, politically, economically. It gets harder to sponsor them when you have information from sites like Maplight available to all; it even gets harder to support, as GoDaddy found out recently.  We live in a world where trust is an increasingly important currency, and where transparency is the mint that produces that currency. So it’s over. It may not appear so, but it is."

As the financial climate keeps getting worse, and the protests against those in power keeps getting louder I fear that may not be the case. I fear Douglas Rushkoff may be right that the Internet in its current form is unredeemable. But I would love nothing better than to see my fears proved wrong.

Update 16 January: On the same topic, check out Cory Doctrow's notes on how "SOPA is DYING; it's evil Senate twin, PIPA, lives on"

New year, new opportunities (even to see the end of SOPA)

I have so much I want to blog about from last year and for this, but I guess I'm suffering from a bit of a blogger's block.

In the meantime, here's wishing you all a happy and prosperous new year and a link to a much more optimistic outlook on law proposals such as SOPA, and how it all will play out, than what I've held until now:

"SOPA is a terrible act of legislation because of some of the words used in the bill. Words that were put in by people desperately trying to preserve the problems of the past. And the level of desperation is a good measure of the way time is running out."

I'm not sure if I fully share the optimism, but as always lots of food for thought from JP Rangaswami in this blogpost on why he's excited about 2012.