News Management Workshop

Day one of the Post-Conflict News Management Workshop at the American Center in Colombo Sri Lanka with a great group of participants. Glen Davis, a former UC Irvine professor who is the cultural affairs officer here, introduced the session. Not many TV people this time, but radio, print and web people are all interested in storytelling with online video and developing a three-screen strategy. These working professionals are at various stages in their careers, but all are interested in moving their country toward a freer environment for news reporting in all media. The English langauge media here tends to stick to a very narrow definition of “news” as reporting on what the politicians say, so the workshop focused on giving more of a voice to ordinary people, and going beyond the press release toward more interpretive journalism and storytelling. My demo tape story profiling a US pilot who was wounded in Afghanistan prompted a discussion of how to improve coverage of the many disabled fighters from the Sri Lankan conflict which ended just over a year ago. Coverage has tended to focus on politicians cutting ribbons on monuments and rehab facilities, rather than the dramatic stories of the combatants themselves. There are still restrictions on coverage of the Sri Lankans who were displaced by the war. The spirited discussion continued over lunch.
I learned a lot from our lively discussion of news management and ethics. For example, it is not uncommon for low-paid Sri Lankan journalists to accept gifts or free travel from the people they are covering. It’s not always possible for them to “just say no” because struggling independent news organizations couldn’t afford to do such things as travel with the president on their own. This touched off a discussion of transparency and disclosure. The role of the investigative reporter generated much interest, with discussions of when it’s appropriate for reporters to help the police and the use of hidden cameras in documenting official wrongdoing. We’re going to have more discussion of examples from Sri Lankan media tomorrow and the challenges journalists are facing here. I’m feeling thoroughly beat up as I sit here at 2 am while an intense thunderstorm rumbles outside the window, assembling the examples for the next round.
I can’t wait for Day Two!
Interesting cultural note: The American Center is celebrating Press Freedom this month with a series of films about American media. including “All the President’s Men,” “Network,” and “Being There.”
Last night, after a showing of the classic “Citizen Kane,” a viewer wanted to know if “Rosebud” referred to one of the women in the story. Apparently Sri Lankans who have never seen snow had no concept of a sled or why that might have been significant in Kane’s life.