‘Bad Blood’ Boiled Down To a Masterpiece

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In the month of November, 2006, Alexander Litvinenko walked into a hotel to have a drink with two fellow Russians. They ordered drinks, he ordered radioactive tea. More than two weeks later, his heart stopped. The puzzling and tragic death of Russian dissident Alexander Litvinenko made headlines around the world and six years after, the renowned investigative journalist William Storr takes the reader on a fantastical literary journey from which they may never return: the life and poisonous times of Alexander Litvinenko.

The story Storr aims to tell is one of empathy. His intricate storytelling achieves the impossible: he makes the reader care. Storr sets the reader up to develop empathy for Litvinenko, his life, his work, his wife, and his ultimate tragic death. Although the details surrounding Litvinenko’s death is murky, his life journey is not. Storr shows the reader how Litvinenko lived as a young man, joining the army at seventeen and later becoming part of the KGB. However, Litvinenko soon realised he distrusted the Russian government as it became a warped, corrupt organisation where individual interest were served. Litvinenko became a known dissident and whistle-blower, choosing to stand against certain decisions made by government organisations. Ultimately, many believed he was poisoned to be silenced. Storr takes the reader even further by laying out the labyrinthine surrounding Litvinenko’s death, and the lethal poison used to ensure it. After Litvinenko became violently sick and was hospitalised, Polonium-210 was found in his bloodstream, turning his blood ‘bad’ and causing him to die an agonising death.

Storr turned a mysterious and tragic case into a fantastic piece of literature. He kept the story human, and brought the reader to the experiences of Litvinenko – the outward struggle he felt between justice and patriotism, and the inward struggle he went through as poison tore his body apart. The in-depth research Storr did and the people he spoke with gave the article a much-needed soft side, balancing fact with emotion. The combination of journalism and storytelling is clearly visible and makes for an engaging and thought-provoking piece that will definitely stay with readers.

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Will Storr is an award-winning investigative journalist and lietrary magican.

Hell hath no fury like a god scorned

I have fond memories of growing up with a wild imagination. Daydreams of clouds, castles and talking animals were my friends and marveled in the glow of the silly, impractical and odd stories I would come up with. Add about 10 years to those daydreams and stories, and here I am, a 20-something writer with an unencumbered taste for imaginative stories and surreal beliefs that television could come close to depicting the magic of words and imagination. Luckily, American Gods has not disappointed me.

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Mr Wednesday (Ian McShane) and Shadow (Ricky Whittle) make an unlikely duo

Based on the brilliant and eerily foreseeing novel by Neil Gaiman of the same name, Starz’s American Gods is a TV series that depicts the complex relationship between people and what they choose to believe in, in an extremely violent, sexual and satirical manner that translates into stunning imagery and impactful critique on the world.

The show visualizes the impending war between the world’s old gods and the new, showcasing their different ideologies and following the character Shadow Moon as he gets caught in-between the gods. The show’s creators, Bryan Fuller and Michael Green, encapsulates the novel’s visual dreamland of historical and modern day deities perfectly, and brings the novel, which was written in 2001, to today by tweaking certain characters and their mannerisms. It seems to be an almost seamless transition from novel to script.

The show places emphasis on a lot of controversial topics, such as the destruction of religion, homosexuality, racism and cultural shocks. Each scene dealing with these issues was expertly shot by veteran director David Slade, and had a fantasy and satirical approach to heavy topics. That, I believe, is one of the many successes of the show.

Let’s delve deeper into the story line. American Gods follows Shadow Moon (Ricky Whittle), an ex-convict recently released, as he makes his way home after finding out his beloved wife, Laura Moon (Emily Browning), passed in a car accident. On his way home to Indiana, he meets a man, his first words to Shadow being: “This must be your lucky day, huh?” Upon engaging with him, he introduces himself as Mr. Wednesday (played by the incredible Ian McShane), his personality as odd as his name. He offers Shadow a job as his bodyguard, and soon the pair becomes entangled in the bizarre world of the gods.

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“This must be your lucky day, huh?” Ian McShane shines as the scorned god Mr. Wednesday

Throughout the series, the audience meets seemingly average people, who are in fact old-world deities living as ordinary citizens in modern America. What I found interesting is how they are all portrayed as powerless individuals living in a world where they have become mere myths, and how they seek to either regain power, or cause general chaos. (I had to read up on each of the gods as I had no idea who they were, which just shows one of the points the series tries to make.)

Bilqius, the Queen of Sheba, is a seductive, beautiful woman who indulges in sexual pleasures with men and women, and swallows them whole through her genitals to gain power and restore her greatness as it once was. Interestingly enough, she uses the power of social media to find partners though dating apps. Anansi, also known as Mr. Nancy, is a stylish, retro jazz man who is also a spider, who comes to the aid of slavers on a Dutch ship, and delivers one of the best speeches on the injustice of black men and women over 300 years I have ever heard. (Emmy-nomination, anyone?) He still keeps it light though, as he is a god who likes to make fun of people for their stupidity, by biding the black slavers to take swimming lessons, adding “this is how we get stereotypes.” Mad Sweeney, a king from Irish folklore, is a red-haired happy-go-lucky guy who refers to himself as a ‘leprechaun’, perhaps to indicate how the world sees Irishmen: foul-mouthed, frequent drinkers, small and rich in gold. The most controversial of spiritual deities is Ifrit, a variation of a dijjn, with pre-Islamic Middle Eastern roots. He engages in a passionate homosexual love scene with an Omani-salesman. Like I said before, this show tackles A LOT of topics.

The audience will also get to meet the new gods of the world. Techno Boy (Bruce Langley), embodies the young millennial: he vapes, wears odd fashions and curses repeatedly. He represents people’s obsession with technology, and how the smartphone has become the new bible. In a conversation with Shadow, Techno Boy states the hard truth of today’s world: technology has taken over.  “..We have reprogrammed reality. Language is a virus, religion an operation system and prayer is just so much f*cking spam.” Media (Gillian Anderson) comes to shadow in the form of Lucy Ricardo, a fictional character from the television show ‘I Love Lucy’, and explains to Shadow how she came to become a god. “…The screens the altar, and I’m the one they sacrifice to, golden age to golden age. They sit side by side, ignore each other and give it up to me. Time and attention, better than lamb’s blood.”

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Techno Boy (Bruce Langley) is the youngest, most powerful god with a vape and cornrows

Technology and media have become the religion of the new world, while old ones are forgotten. Being able to hear, see and touch these new gods is what drives people to believe in them – technology is inviting and media is so accessible, it’s easy to consider the old gods, well, old. As man progresses, so does his god. What people want, what they need and what they find comfort in has changed, and it is much more rewarding to be retweeted or liked on social media than to have a conversation with a god today. The show calls out the entire world on their bull, and I absolutely love it.

The show has only aired three episodes, and many old and new gods are still to come. Based on the novel, the story will show the development of each character, particularly that of Shadow, and the dark secrets Mr. Wednesday hides. I am giddy with excitement to watch the plot thicken even more and watch the battle of the gods unfold.

The themes American Gods showcase are relevant if not super important. It shows how people need to believe in something in order to thrive, whether it be a god, religion, or even love. The acting is absolutely brilliant and the director, David Slade, must be a mad genius, for he has pulled off some hardcore scenes and made the whole show, which is based on myth and fantasy, believable.

I think what is the most shocking and most truthful part of the show is the opening credits. It shows colorful images of old religious icons being violated by the new icons of today that people worship, such as the Buddha, surrounded by drugs, and the Hindu god Ganesha on a platform of weapons. The haunting images provoke morbid feelings of irony and a sad truth that encapsulates the point of the show: the deterioration of religion from the past, and the worship of new, seemingly better, icons of today. Whether American Gods shows progress, destruction or sheer fantasy, each individual takes something different from it. If you’re not inclined to do that, merely enjoy an imaginative, surreal and surprisingly spot-on show depicting the idiocy of the world. I personally  marvel at the irony.

 

New age Journo students: Blogging their way forward

The modern day journalism student must have various skills, attributes and tools in their arsenal in order to become a successful journalist.  One of the most important tools is an effective blog.

The key to developing your writing skills and adding your unique voice to a sea of others is to establish your ‘brand’ and niche on an interesting, informative and unique blog. Blogging is the best platform for journo students looking to explore their views, develop researching abilities and get a feel of what the rest of the journalism world is up to. With a blog, you are able to share your informed opinions and views in a space where other bloggers can read and comment on your writing, enabling you to improve in areas you didn’t know you were lacking. Blogging also helps build your portfolio. These days, every news agency wants to see what you’ve written, and what better way to showcase your skills than on your blog? Journalists are their work, and blogging is a super effective way to sell your unique writing and persona.

Journalism students who are looking to go far in the field need to start blogging – it’s the best thing you can do for your career!

As a student journalist, I know how important it is to build your brand and create a unique opinion that will attract the right people. On that note, here is an introduction to my blog, myself and what I would like to accomplish with FreshMind365.

Student Foodie Fuel On Roeland

The East precinct of Cape Town, South Africa consists of many amazing streets, each offering a mix of culture, great food and interesting heritage. One of these streets is Roeland Street, tucked neatly under the splendid view of Table Mountain.

Walking down the street, you realize that it is home to two colleges – at the top of the street is the Cape Peninsula University of Technology, where students studying photography, journalism and public relations attend classes. At the bottom of the street is City Varsity, a private institute that caters to students studying photography, graphic design, film, art and sound.

Roeland Street is always bustling with students in search of relaxation and the most important element of any day, food. For a student, especially a budgeting one, it can be hard to find places with affordable, yet nutritious and delicious food. That is why I, a student myself, decided to visit each and every restaurant or café that Roeland Street has to offer. After looking at their prices, sourcing some of their food and getting a feel of the vibe of the place, I listed the best restaurants and cafes for the Student Foodie on a budget in Roeland Street:

Design Garage

Established in 2015, the Design Garage doubles as an art shop and coffee pit-stop. It was founded by students from the Cape Peninsula University of Technology, and boasts with a variety of arts and an impressive coffee selection. Their coffee starts at R15 and with the artsy vibe and great services it provides, what’s not to love? Tamlyn Christians, a journalism student from CPUT, enjoys the comfort of the shop. “It’s right next to my class, so it’s easy to pop in for a quick hot chocolate – they make the best ones. It’s also a great place to hang out before or after class.”

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The entrance to the Design Garage off Roeland Street
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Tamlyn Christians enjoying her famously favorite hot chocolate from the Design Garage

Food Lovers Market/Fruit and Veg City

This franchise food store offers a wide variety of food – it houses a bakery, grill shack, fruit stand and other convenient foods. The outside of the building has a dated feel, but the store itself looks appealing and welcoming. Tried and tested recommendations are their freshly made pizza, fruit salad and muffins. Foodies and students should definitely make a stop here, as it serves really great food at reasonable prices. It’s the all-in-one stop for a hungry, budgeting student.

Vida e Café

Vida is a popular franchise café found around South Africa. They have a wide variety of coffee available, as well as delicious teas and smoothies. Their food menu includes yummy-looking sandwiches, croissants and bagels. Having personally tried their muffins, they come highly recommended. Jarita Kritzinger, a trained chef from Cape Town, enjoys the vibe of Vida. “I personally love the music they play, and I always feel amped to buy from them. What I also love is that they offer a ‘babychino’, which is like a cappuccino for babies – it’s made with milk froth and hot chocolate, and it’s adorable.” The café itself has an awesome vibe, and with friendly staff blasting groovy tunes you can’t help but feel transported to a tropical paradise, coffee and muffin in hand.

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Patrons enjoying coffee at the Vida cafe

The Raptor Room

This quirky restaurant is a hipster’s paradise. Although an average meal would cost more than the average prices, an ice cream float is the ideal student fuel. The staff is really friendly and the overall feel is hip and retro. Caylen Barendilla, a photography student from City Varisity, loves going to the Raptor Room. “It feels like it belongs in Jurassic Park, it’s awesome.”

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The pink neon sign of The Raptor Room is unmissable from the street
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The Raptor Room offers a variety of retro-inspired eats and drinks

East City Eatery

The East City Eatery is a great place to relax and unwind after a hard day at collage. They offer yummy-looking sandwiches and hot-dogs at reasonable prices, as well as a great breakfast special, and gluten-free pizza. It has a cosy, modern feel to it and seems to be a great place to relax with friends after a hard day at collage.

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The view of the East City Eatery from the street
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The East City Eatery has a laid-back vibe and is a great place for socialising

Franchise 9

On the corner of the street, this restaurant sells Chinese cuisine at affordable prices. They have great specials on sushi and other foods. It is a good place to spend your afternoon studying, taking advantage of their free WiFi and enjoying an affordable meal.

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Franchise 9 is located on the corner of Roeland and Buitekant Street

Grabbing a bite on Roeland has never been easier, or more affordable. Whatever your budget, and whatever your fancy, Roeland Street’s got what you’re looking for.

Whenever you find yourself in Cape Town, head over to Roeland Street for affordable meals that foodies, students on a budget and travellers alike will approve of.

In a Data-state-of-mind

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An open mind leads to a Data-state-of-mind. Source: http://siliconangle.com/files/2014/12/Open-Your-Mind-to-All-The-Data-1080×675.jpg

The human mind is a beautiful thing. Every day, we are able to analyse and process a huge amount of data. As modern-day technology and the digital world evolved, so did journalism – hence “data-driven journalism”.

Data-what?

Data-driven journalism is traditional journalism working with data to produce a story. It combines three aspects – sourcing data, using statistics to interrogate this data, and then presenting the data. Data-journos can quickly access a range of digital tools to collect, edit and publish data on all platforms.  Data of all kinds can be used in reporting – statistics, spread sheets, records, documents, even algorithms and programming. The goal of using data in reporting is to add important perspective to stories, back up claims, verify facts and make connections between various sources of information to best inform the public.

A practical example of data journalism would be:  An American newspaper, The Las Vegas Sun, did a piece in 2010 on hospital care in Las Vegas. They analysed over 2.9 million hospital billing records, and revealed that more than 3600 preventable injuries, infections and surgical mistakes were made. They then identified more than 300 cases where patients died because of preventable mistakes. Adding data to a story not only enhances it, but has the power to add more perspective to your story. You are interpreting data and discovering a story that you wouldn’t have found otherwise. A one-dimensional story can thus be taken to another level with data sources.

The demand of technological data-journos is increasing in the industry. Their skill to think more analytical and reach a wider variety of audiences is now more sought after then ever, especially those who are equipped with digital skills. Tim Berners-Lee, founder of the World Wide Web, believes that data-driven journalism is the future. Journalists need to be data-savvy, and although sourcing stories used to be just about talking to people, journalists can now take a different approach. They can pour over data and equip themselves with tools to analyse what’s needed for the story. Chris Taggart, from OpenCorporates, is of the opinion that good data journalism is hard, because good journalism is hard! It is important to figure out how to get and process data to find the story. If it was about just pressing the right button, it wouldn’t be good journalism. Our lives are increasingly becoming more data driven – journalists should too.

So should the next generation of journos be studying maths?

No! There’s no need to add maths to the journo equation – all a  journo needs is keen insights and training to develop the skills required to become a good data journalist. Journalists should see data as an opportunity – they have the power to turn something abstract (like data) into something your audience can understand. You don’t need to be a math genius or scientific hero to practice data-driven journalism. Equip your beautiful mind with the right tools, and you will be fast on your way to entering a data-state-of-mind.

For more information on modern data-driven journalism, watch The Age of Insight: Telling Stories with Data

From Terminator to Journinator: Embracing Robot-journalism

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Robots entering the playing field of journalism. Source: https://pbs.twimg.com/media/CYLfwFpW8AAt64x.jpg

It was once an idea seen only in movies and novels – robot and machines slowly taking over the world. (Think Terminator – scary stuff). In today’s age, is quite normal to see a robot or machine doing a once human job. Robotics have replaced many jobs in society, and journalism is no exception – enter automated journalism. Robots in the newsroom have a profound effect on journalists, but the influence it has on society is even greater.

What exactly is automated journalism?

When the term robot-journalism comes to mind, one might imagine a robot walking around the newsroom, calling sources and verifying facts. It is actually merely a piece of software. Automated journalism, or robot-journalism, is computer-generated articles made possible by using a specific algorithm to generate a news story.  Nick Diakopoulus outlines the algorithm that is followed:  “(1) ingest data, (2) compute newsworthy aspects of the data, (3) identify relevant angles and prioritize them, (4) link angles to story points, and (5) generate the output text.”

Automated journalism was first used by Associated Press in 2014 that partnered with automated insights to use their technology to auto-generate data-filled articles about finance and sports. Ross Miller wrote for The Verge that last year, Automated insights unveiled a Wordsmith platform designed to automatically generate natural language reports based on large data sets. It is intended to be used on a large scale, because once you have a template, you can use it generate multiple articles based on different data. Since then, AP and sites like Yahoo has jumped on the robo-journalism train.

The idea of automated journalism has many benefits. Speed, efficiency and less mistakes means more stories produced in less time, with fewer people to pay. Robots are currently only used for hard news – opinion pieces are still left to human journos. The downside to it is obviously the loss of jobs, but Associated Press and other companies have argued that robo-journalism will create new jobs in the industry, as data journalism will develop and journos with more diverse skill sets will be needed.

What influence will it have?

Automated journalism is the next step in evolution of journalism. It will change the newsroom, as well as society’s perception of news. Although it has only yet been seen in print media, it might even branch out into television reporting – a big step, but one that might be taken in the near future. I think it will influence the newsroom, as well as society in a positive way. News will be more accurate, sent out much faster and no bias whatsoever will be detected in hard-news stories. If robots and humans find common ground and work together to produce the best news possible, journalism will enter a new phase of accuracy and fairness, something that is seen too little these days. The media, as well as society, can only benefit from automated journalism.

Society should view robot-journalism as the Terminator that Arnold Schwarzenegger famously portrayed in Terminator 2: Judgement Day. At first, it’s new and quite frightening, but once you get to know it, you will be pleasantly surprised. They don’t want to take over the world – they want to help make it a better place.

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Embrace the Journinator. Source: http://collider.com/terminator-retrospective-t2-judgment-day-revisited/

 

 

It’s a bird! It’s a plane! It’s Citizen journalism!

In the iconic comic-book and television action series of Superman, when ordinary people in the street looked up at the sky and mistook Superman for a bird or a plane, citizen journalism took place.

People were reporting what they saw. They did not check their facts or find a credible source to verify these facts – they just exclaimed in excitement and shock what they thought they were seeing. This is the simplest form of citizen journalism – reporting what you see.

In the digital world, it has been the easiest thing to report what you see around you. A person with a smartphone, tablet, camera, etc. can take a video or snap a picture of an event, and instantly post it to various social media sites. By sharing their observations, citizens can create and distribute news on a global scale – something that was usually left for professional journalists.

What is citizen journalism exactly?

According to online encyclopaedia Wikipedia, citizen journalism is based upon public citizens “playing an active role in the process of collecting, reporting, analysing, and disseminating news and information.” The audience thus takes on the role of the journalist in order to report news quickly; on the scene and write, record or take a picture of what they see as it happens. I’m pretty sure “It’s a bird! It’s a plane! No, it’s Superman!” would have made a great headline for a citizen journo writing a story about spotting Superman for the first time.

Citizen journalism holds many benefits for society. Journalists cannot always be everywhere to report all newsworthy events, and sometimes they will only arrive at the scene when the news has passed, thus missing the scoop. In many cases, journalists are banned from reporting in war zones, like the recent Sirnak terror attack in Turkey. It is in such cases that citizen journalists become the only ones with access to what is happening on the ground. If done correctly, the stories filed by citizen journos can be used by journalists or mainstream traditional media to base their reports on.

Although citizen journalism holds many advantages, it is a flawed concept. Citizen journos are not trained, professional or experienced journalists. They rarely have any affiliation to any publication, and thus need not abide by any standards of traditional reporting. A story that a citizen journo publishes, can very easily be bias and one sided. Sometimes the story happens to be written without any external sources or verification of facts, which can cause various problems. Even though it took three tries for the people to correctly identify Superman, citizen journalism can be done correctly, proficiently and add value to society. Those who do it must just get it right the first time.

It is thus of absolute importance that citizen journalism be monitored and checked before it is published. Citizen journos need to understand what it means to be a journalist – to report fairly and accurately, and to contribute positively to the community.

Does South African media care about citizen journalism?

In my opinion, South African media does not care enough about citizen journalism, and it needs to make more space for it. Back in 2005 the website Reporter.co.za was launched, which publishes citizen journalist’s news stories, but the website failed. More recently, in 2014 a citizen journalism project was launched by the partnership  Making all voices Count and Health E-news with the aim to put the spotlight on public health services in South Africa. It has played a successful role in promoting citizen journalism

Currently, there are very little platfroms for citizen journalism in SA to flourish. New opportunities and platforms need to be created specifically for citizen journos, in order for the practice to grow and become part of daily South African media. Only then will citizen journalism feel the love of the South African media.

The thing about citizen journalism is that it is ever changing. As technological tools become better, and more people gain access to these tools, more citizen journos will pop up, from every corner of the country, and the world.

Citizen journalism is the future of journalism, and people better get used to it. As Ted Conley said at a TEDxMidAtlantic talk, “It’s not going to be Anderson Cooper forever.”

 

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Citizen journalists doing what they do best. Source: www.studio28.tv

Resources:

http://mediashift.org/2006/09/your-guide-to-citizen-journalism270/

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Citizen_journalism

http://www.socialmediatoday.com/content/rise-citizen-journalism

http://en.trend.az/world/turkey/2653135.html