Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Working 9 to 5: how quaint

The news industry is at once shrinking yet expanding...but in the expansion, there's a catch. The expansion is in online news...where everything is about speed, hits and the need to constantly update -- not necessarily inform. This piece in the New York Times is an excellent warning about the effect this is having on media workers -- early burnout.

Reporters are being measured by simple output -- which is assessed by "most viewed" lists on home pages. Pay is based on how many readers click on your article. What kind of world is this? One that burns out its young, apparently.

When digital technology turned our work into "multi-platform" and the distinctions between online, TV and radio were erased....most of our jobs morphed dramatically. We are expected to do it all, on many services and media, twitter/blog about it and do it five minutes faster than the competition. Workload has become the main issue for employees, far outpacing compensation. Looks like the treadmill will only move faster -- before anyone has time to think about the effects on our industry -- and those of us who work in it -- as a whole.

Monday, July 5, 2010

What's happened to all the G20 video, pictures?

Amy Miller, one of the arrested independent journalists at the G20 summit last month (see previous blog post), tells me that all the journalists and others she knows who recorded police arrests/abuse/beatings etc. had their cameras wiped or "gone missing" while they were in the detention centre.

That video would obviously be useful for the public record about those fateful two days. It may be evidence for someone's defence. It could be damning evidence about the actions of the police. Or it could support the actions police took. In any case, it's all gone, and we should all be demanding whether police kept copies of the material confiscated, and whether and how it will be used.

Here's an example of some of what these independent journalists tell me:
Scott Weinstein says he was arrested July 1 at the Montreal G20 solidarity demo. He says he was told "that the group of agent provocateurs/undercover police who tried to infiltrate the demo previously" were at the demo, and he started filming them. "I was on the street and they then left the sidewalk and surrounded me, grabbed me and tried to take the camera. I want to state clearly that I at no time touched them or tried to fight back. I simply held onto the camera as long as I could (about a few minutes). I lay on the ground, trying to get into a fetal position as they were kneeing me and hit me with a few punches. It seemed about 4 or 6 of these guys were on top of me, and for a while, I had the illusion that I could actually keep them from taking the camera away... I was arrested, charged with assaulting the police with my bicycle, and they got the camera....I was held till about 5:30 p.m., and to my surprise, I was released. My camera and digital card were returned to me, but the file containing the film of the agent provocateurs was erased, along with photos I took of some of the speakers at the demo, and some of the vans carrying riot police."

Lisa Walter, the Our Times journalist, says she got her still camera and video camera back from police after her detention, but the memory card was taken from her still camera, and they erased the data on the video camera's hard drive.

Jesse Freeston, a video-journalist with The Real News Network, says he was attacked and had his mic temporarily taken away from him on Friday June 25th while covering the "Justice for our Communities" march. He thinks it was in order to stop him from filming what appeared as excessive force by police in order to clear an area after they made "a very suspicious and violent arrest of a deaf man named Emomotimi Azorbo". His video is here.

Some find it easy to dismiss the complaints of the G20 independent journalists because...well....they're independent and they have a point of view. They happen to be young, in most cases, and consider themselves activists. So what? Those are not good enough reasons for police to steal their private property and rob them and the public of the valuable images that was contained on all those hard drives and memory cards.

Friday, July 2, 2010

G20 journalists garner support from Canada and abroad

It's comforting to know that groups far and wide are coming to the support of the media who were roughed up and/or arrested during the G20 weekend.

The latest is a release issued in Vienna from the International Press Insitute, a global network of media executives, editors and journalists. The IPI Press Freedom Manager says journalists "have a right to cover such events, including any protests that accompany them, without interference or harassment from police".

We at the Canadian Media Guild are asking members to tell us about what happened to them, to make sure that the whole story affecting media employees is heard, in all the right places. Julian Falconer and four journalists have filed complaints with the Office of the Independent Police Review Director in Toronto. That complaint is important. But it's not all that should be done. If and when any other inquries are called, the way the police handled all members of the media ("mainstream" and independent alike) must be documented and included.

The Canadian Journalists for Free Expression is doing what it can to make sure what happened is properly documented. It's doing a survey of journalists who believe "their freedom of expression was compromised by police/security personnel".

Now that we've had almost a week to hear from people, it's clear that the range of interference and harsh treatment directed at media workers was unprecedented. The cases of the independent journalists that Falconer is handling are the most publicized. But going largely unreported is the way the "mainstream" accredited employees were prevented from doing their jobs, in varying degrees. Read this account by Colin Perkel, long-time Canadian Press reporter who's done several tours in Kandahar (and yes, at one point he was a CMG executive member). He tells of the police operation that trapped hundreds of regular citizens and media personnel at a city block (Queen-Spadina) for five hours on Sunday. What I had not heard before is the degree to which equipment owned by Canadian Press was ruined by this operation, as police kept these people trapped in a torrential downpour in an operation now known as "kettling". I understand the cost to replace the damaged gear may be higher than $20,000.

Gear can be replaced, of course. It's the disregard for professional news gathering during public events like these that's cause for concern.