Monday 25 August 2014

James Foley: What drives journalists to do what they do?

Like many people I was shocked and disturbed by the brutality of Islamic State in the beheading of American freelance journalist James Foley.

I watched the video of his death earlier this week after finding a clip of it on Twitter. I debated whether I should watch it or not and wondered whether it was disrespectful to Foley.

I did watch it, but I did so because I wanted to understand more about what we're dealing with. The 5 minute video is without doubt uncomfortable viewing.

James Foley was a freelance photo journalist doing his job and in doing so this ultimately cost him his life.

In 2011 he'd worked in Libya during the uprising against Col Gadaffi. He'd been kidnapped by forces loyal to Gadaffi before being released.

When I heard this my immediate thought was why did he go to Syria knowing the risks when he'd already been kidnapped before. But as soon as I thought this, it made me think about what motivates people like James Foley and other freelancer journalists to risk their lives reporting stories from some of the world's most dangerous war zones.

Journalism is a strange industry. There are so many cases where journalism does itself no favours in the way some reporters operate. Think back to the phone hacking scandal which revealed some of the worst aspects of tabloid journalism to the public. Such stories show journalism at its worst.

On the other hand the death of James Foley reminds you that journalism is also an incredibly dangerous profession in which people risk their lives to report and tell stories that we might otherwise not hear.

You realise that journalism is still very much an idealistic and noble profession. All over the world governments, terrorist groups and religious extremists like Islamic State know how influential journalists can be in their reporting and this makes them a threat.

After returning from Libya, Foley took up an editing job for the online website
GlobalPost but it seems life in a Boston office was too dull and the urge to return to the frontline was too great.

Did this make Foley reckless? From what I've read he was certainly fearless and possessed a huge amount of self confidence but I suppose these were the qualities that allowed him to become and be a successful freelancer photojournalist.

In this line of work you have to take risks in order to be in the right place at the right time and to get the pictures to tell the story.

James Foley's tragic death has reminded me of the bravery that he and many other journalists display everyday all over the world reporting and telling stories to the outside world that many others would prefer not to be heard.

Sunday 10 August 2014

The problem with Gaza

About a week after the current crisis in Gaza started I was chatting with a friend about the situation.

When I said to him I hadn't really been following the story much he was surprised, as the crises had been dominating the news agenda for a number of days.

I was honest with him and said I felt fatigued about stories from the Middle East. Whether it's Israel, Syria, Iraq, the foreign news agenda is overly dominated by this part of the world.

I said there are other parts of the world where atrocities and violence take place everyday yet we hear very little about this.

The argument I put to my friend was essentially this: Tell me what's going on in Gaza now that's so different to what always seems to be going on over there?

My friend was even more surprised by my reaction and he correctly pointed out that hundreds of innocent civilians were being killed as a result of Israel's attacks on Hamas.

As the crisis has grown it's this human element and tragedy that has eventually pulled my attention to the crisis. It's this element that captures people's emotions.

Jon Snow's excellent appeal on Channel 4 news really brought the issues home for me.

I think Israel's response has been disproportionate and it appears they're willing to accept civilian casualties as a price worth paying to weaken Hamas.

When I was thinking about the current situation in Gaza it reminded me of a blog post I wrote on the subject 2 years ago.

The politics of the Palestine/Israeli conflict continually leave me baffled and exhausted. I find you're always having to remind yourself just exactly why they're fighting.

This was the point I made two years ago in my blog post entitled:

Confused about the Israeli/Palestinian conflict? This might help

In that post I included a great link to an article from the Washington Post which answered the most basic questions people might have about the conflict. It's brilliant and incredibly useful.

I could have just reposted that article today as everything I said then still applies now. This is the problem I have with Israel and Palestine. It's a narrative that appears to simply go round in circles.

Once this latest cease fire takes hold and things quieten down for a period, you know eventually a new crisis will emerge and we'll be back to square one.

I'll again ask myself what's different this time before reminding myself of the human element of the story which is really the best way many of us can understand the situation.

How do you feel about the conflict? Do you agree with anything I've said? I'd love to hear.

Saturday 2 August 2014

Tattoos are so Middle Class

We've enjoyed a pretty good summer this year and it's meant people have been bearing the flesh on a daily basis.

Seeing so many bare arms and legs you may have noticed the increasing amount of tattoos on show these days. It seems everyone has a tattoo. Even the most unlikely looking people have some sort of ink on them.

Reading today's Times newspaper they had an article arguing that tattoos have become mainstream. They've become so Middle Class and are no longer the preserve of the Working classes, sailors and criminals.

The article is so right, tattoos are everywhere. They're not alternative anymore. They don't mark you out as being part of a counter culture movement, they're not rebellious.

Tattoos have become mainstream for ordinary average people to express themselves, but like so many fashions and lifestyle choices - once everyone starts embracing that fashion it loses it edge and original appeal.

Over the last few weeks I've looked at my own unmarked skin and thought there's something missing. My skin looks too plain and bland without any markings.

But I'm now beginning to think that having no tattoos is the new tattoos. Perhaps I'm the alternative, rebelling against the mainstream of clich├ęd tattoos markings and symbols.

I'm not against tattoos. I don't have one as I can't think of what I'd want permanently marked on me. If I'm going to have something on me for the rest of my life I want to make sure I get my choice right!

If I did have a tattoo it would have to be at the top of my arm just below my shoulder. I hate the 'sleeve' look made popular by the likes of David Beckham, where the entire arm down to the wrist is covered in tattoos. I think this is horrible.

I think it's becoming more and more difficult to embrace fashions, lifestyles and cultures that are truly alternative and counter culture without the mainstream eventually getting hold of them and incorporating them into a mass culture. It looks like this is what's happened to tattoos.