Saturday, 2 May 2015

New media and the 2nd Royal baby- Periscope onto a centuries old story

As a Moscow based television correspondent (@TomBartonJourno) it was fascinating to watch the reports coming from outside the hospital where Kate and Will’s royal baby number two arrived.

Twitter, Instagram and Facebook have all been big in the coverage of course. But the relatively new app Periscope, a live video feed app via your phone owned by Twitter (there are other such apps like Meerkat), has been raising some interesting possibilities.

- Reporters have been able to show their contextual knowledge and provide up-to-the-second updates as things happen. They have more time to report and are live constantly.

- These updates have been between their live ‘hits’, the times they are actually on the main channel screen for their respective broadcasters.

- Periscope users watching their streams have been asking questions in real time. Some of the correspondents have been variously,
- taking their viewers on little tours of the area outside the hospital
- having dedicated sessions answering audience questions

- It showed more of the usually hidden workings of television news. Reporters found themselves revealing on air on the app (for they are no less ‘on-air’ there than on the television channel) things like,
-what times their producers wanted them to go live
-how parts of their broadcast equipment worked and some of its technical difficulties
-details like the fact that on a British story British media are more likely to get to ask questions first (that little known broadcast etiquette applying in many countries for domestic broadcasters)

- They revealed more of themselves and their lives rather than just the story like,
-how tired they were and how long they had been working
-thanking viewers for compliments or answering them back for criticisms
-joking about their clothes and hairstyles
-using their own families as a comparison to the royals, perhaps revealing for the first time that they have children of their own and that as a result they would understand why Kate would be tired.

This throwing back the curtain and chatting about personal details is raising new questions. Does this turn reporters into celebrities themselves? Does it allow them to build their personal brand as an authority on the subject? But at this experimental stage it is fascinating to see both correspondent and audience experimenting with what is informative and entertaining.

On a media saturated event like this the correspondents are having to leave the app video every hour/30 minutes to go live on their actual television channels. Much of the rest of the time they were using their phone live streams with gusto.

I couldn’t help thinking that despite the obvious differences in quality, it’s not inconceivable that before long it will be app live streams that have become the main event and the live ‘hits’ on the television become more of an appendage.

Let me take this all the way to a theoretical conclusion. For the first time I could see more clearly than ever how technology like this may change how traditional media looks and runs. 

- Instead of separate TV channels and newspapers, news organisations would run online ‘streams’ or ‘feeds’ (we’re already learning a new jargon) 

- Some will be at the scene for events or developing stories like this 

- Others will be in a studio or newsroom and will aggregate reporting for stories that aren’t being covered constantly.

- One central reporter will be at the centre of each stream and will interview both guests and other of their own colleagues who have been finding the latest details on the phone, on social media or on the street. These reporters will come and ‘feed’ new information into the news stream. It won’t have to wait for the next news bulletin or edition. Everyone will be working in real time. On one level that may be more intense for everyone but on another it may free up more reporters to actually be finding out about the story. Newsrooms may become less busy as more reporters can simply check in to the stream via mobile technology when they find out something new.

British Royal families have been having babies for centuries. To some extent this trend too has already been taking shape in broadcast newsrooms. But outside that hospital I saw, through a periscope, a possible new world of news.

Friday, 1 May 2015

Is the West getting closer to using the 'I' word over Ukraine?

The US has reportedly started calling forces in eastern Ukraine ‘combined Russian-separatist’ forces. This, says Washington, is based on good evidence.

The move could bring the US and other western governments closer to Kiev’s position, in calling what is going on an invasion, Russia making war on Ukraine, and accept the consequences that may follow.

Russia’s government have repeatedly denied they are sending troops and weapons to the separatists. Many governments do not believe them.

It may also make it more likely that weapons might be supplied to Ukrainian forces.

It might make it harder for Russia, now identified explicitly as the aggressor, to divide EU countries on the issue of sanctions.

Kiev would likely applaud this, as would other former soviet dominated European countries that have been alarmed by Russia’s armed annexation of Crimea and backing for militants in eastern Ukraine.

US General Philip Breedlove, who is NATO’s top commander, says that Russia has taken much more of the command of the militant units it has been backing in eastern Ukraine. That and the Russian weapons systems flowing into eastern Ukraine could be signs of preparations for a new offensive against Ukraine, he added.

According to Russian polls over 80% of Russians support President Putin. But some Russians too, it’s difficult to know how many, don’t believe their leaders’ denials that Russian soldiers are being sent to fight and die in Ukraine.

Whether the ‘I’ word is broached or not, Ukrainian soldiers have been dying in militant shelling attacks with a regularity that makes people question whether the latest ceasefire in eastern Ukraine really has a chance or is just being used as a pause to build up more forces for renewed warfare.

Wednesday, 29 April 2015

Russia, Europe, Turkey and natural gas- Pipes in the Sky?

Europe is diversifying away from Russian natural gas.

It may be harder for Russia to charge higher prices to European customers in future as a result.

Russia’s price gouging and halts in supply in 2006, 2009 and 2014 have seen more accusations that Russia uses energy supplies as a political weapon.

Because of EU opposition to the breaking of ownership rules, Moscow had to close its much vaunted South Stream pipeline to Europe in December 2014.

It has sought to replace that with a pipeline through Turkey to south eastern Europe, the so called Turkish Stream.

In 1995 Russia recognised the Armenian Genocide by Turkey in 1915.

Russian President Vladimir Putin went to Armenia for the 100th anniversary in April 2015. 

His speech there reaffirming Russia’s recognition of the genocide brought a blasting from Turkey’s government.

Turkey said that Russia, “knows genocide well,” referring the the mass murder and deportations of the Soviet Union.

The episode can do nothing to help Russia’s pipeline dreams.

Indeed, there is much politely left aside in gas pipeline negotiations with Turkey. Turkey is a NATO member. The prospect of Iranian gas being piped to Europe instead has been raised. 

All of this raises the prospect of Russia’s gas announcements coming to sound like so much hot air.

A kleptocrat's son drowned, mortgage slaves arrested and neo-nazis protected- a weekend in Russia

Over the 21st and 22nd of March 2015 a number of different groups in Russia had things go wrong- 

Former Ukrainian President and Russian stooge Viktor Yanukovich lost a son who drowned in Siberia's lake Baikal. Others around Yanukovich, who fled power after police massacred protesters in February 2014, have since died in mysterious circumstances. Yanukovich is wanted by Interpol, accused by Ukraine of embezzling millions of dollars of public funds.

Protesters, who have faced crippling repayments after having their mortgages in dollars, were arrested in Red Square.

Neo-nazi, fascist, anti-semite, anti-immigrant, Islamophobe, far right ultranationalists were invited to a hotel in St Petersburg by one of Russia's far right political parties. Pro human rights protesters outside were arrested while the radical nationalists inside were protected by militarist Russian cossack troops. The protesters say it is shameful that Russia claim to be the defeater of wartime fascism while supporting fascists. Reports have been growing that this is all part of Kremlin attempt to divide and rule Europe by supporting fringe parties. The Kremlin and its propaganda engines have been like a broken record criticising Ukraine for being a home for a 'fascist junta'. In fact Russia is.