Updated my personal website.
A new life in Kosovo…
I really don’t blog enough…
I was working in Kosovo in May and completed some really interesting journalism on ethnic tensions in the region (which I will post here later). But while I was working there, my local guide and translator took me to a basketball game. It was really intense. The fans are absoloutly nuts. I had the opportunity to interview some African-American basketball players in the country playing the professional game.
Here is the article I wrote up:
“There’s no life outside of basketball for me”, exclaimed 27-year-old Akida McLain, forward for Sigal Pristina in Kosovo’s capital city. “I just want to play ball.”
Originally from Pittsburgh Pennsylvania, and formally playing in Cyprus, Croatia and Ukraine, McLain is one of a handful of African-American basketball players living in Kosovo, one of Europe’s poorest and most underdeveloped countries. It is also the source of a bitter territorial dispute, between Serbia and the self-proclaimed Republic of Kosovo, that has sparked war and sporadic violence since the breakup of Yugoslavia in the 1990s.
“They don’t really teach much about Kosovo in the states”, explained 29-year-old Julian Terrell, a team-mate of McLain. Growing up in Nashville Tennesse, he was unsure of what to expect of basketball in Kosovo. “I didn’t know the fans would like it so much. I honestly just though it would be another country that didn’t get much support from its fans or the city”, he said.
But basketball is the most popular sport in Kosovo, along with European football, but unlike the English Premier League, Spanish La Liga and Italian Serie A, Kosovars can enjoy basketball live instead of on television. The local Pallati i Rinisë Kulturës dhe Sporteve, located in the centre of Kosovo’s capital city, is home to Sigal Pristina. Seating just 3,000 people, the epic noise and electric atmosphere tops any football game in Western Europe that may bring in 40,000 or more supporters.
Yet Kosovar basketball has a troublesome reputation in the Western Balkans and the rest of Europe. Opposing fans are banned from away games, players are frequently attacked, and heavy police forces can be found keeping the peace outside of venues with sub-machine guns. Chair-throwing at players is also a regular occurrence, and one that the Balkan International Basketball League (BIBL) is trying to curb, with much of the seating in Pallati i Rinisë Kulturës dhe Sporteve damaged or completely ripped out. McLain asserted that when he played in Cyprus the fans regularly threw things on the court too, but never chairs.
The heavy-handed approach to support demonstrated by basketball fans in Kosovo is welcomed by some players though. Terrell said “I’ve played in bigger gyms and to bigger crowds, but they don’t get into it as much as our fans do.”
“The city is behind us”, added McLain.
Off the court, too, life isn’t bad for Kosovo’s African-American basketball players. McLain stated “when I got here, everything was professional. Everything is nice, they take care of us. It’s definitely a great programme.”
“When it was winter it was real cold. My heater broke in my house, but then the team is very professional and got me a new one fast”, he continued.
Kosovo’s capital Pristina is believed to be home to some 500,000 people. It is an emerging city defined by the “Newborn” monument on Luan Haradinaj, unveiled when Kosovo declared independence from Serbia in 2008. Similar to many other European cities, well dressed locals sit at coffee shops for a macchiato, while the youth head out to bars and clubs in the evening to listen to Hip-Hop and RnB music. A few peacekeeping troops remain in the capital, but it is a calm and increasingly trendy place, with most of Kosovo’s troubles focused in the northern city of Mitrovica.
“Pristina is a big city”, said Terrell, “it’s easy to get around and the fans support us even when we’re walking down the street.”
“I like the city”, concluded McLain. “Everything’s good here.”
I also took some photos…
I wrote a feature article on the Bournemouth suburb of Boscombe; what it has to offer residents and locals despite its high crime statistics and housing problems. Yet in a good old fashioned lesson-in-journalism I had to cut my article from 1300 words to 500. It was pretty tough, but the 500 word article has been recieving positive responses on our website. See the cut version here.
Anyway, proud as I am of the original version, I decided I would post it here:
Tarnished with a bad reputation for its crime and housing problems, the Bournemouth suburb of Boscombe is lightyears from the mansions and yachts of Sandbanks, but it’s an area oozing in cool and perhaps deserves a rethink.
From the murals of Pokesdown station to the terraced streets of Christchurch Road, and from the quiet pier standing in the Channel to the cafe windows of Boscanova, Boscombe is a suburb unlike many others. Slick-dressed students listening to the latest house mix are coupled with rough sleepers; and while flurries of fashionistas flock to the The Royal Arcade’s Vintage Market, sunken-eyed folk stumble the street from the night before last. “There’s been high incidents of addiction”, said Councillor Jane Kelly, representative for Boscombe West. Because of this the “bad reputation has been warranted”, she admitted, casting the blame primarily on Boscombe’s housing problems. There is a “lack of a mix of accommodation”, she continued, as “people came here for the proliferation of single person bedsits.”
It hasn’t always been like this though. During the mid-19th century, as a 2006 report from Bournemouth Council and Dorset Police shows, Boscombe was going through its glory years, and it was one of the wealthiest areas in Bournemouth, being located close to the sea with a pleasant climate and environment. But today, Boscombe mansions have been turned into small bedsits, and just six miles up the coast from the luxurious Sandbanks; Boscombe is to Bournemouth what Salford is to Manchester, what Hyde Park is to Leeds; a vibrant area home to both young professionals and vulnerable locals, not without its problems and no-go areas. But it’s also an area undergoing social and economic transformation under the Boscombe Regeneration Project. This partnership, consisting of 11 members including Bournemouth Council, Dorset Police and The Drug & Alcohol Team, is currently working on key problems in Boscombe such as housing, crime and environment, and is the most well known initiative attempting to bridge the gap between deprivation and affluence in Bournemouth. “I believe Boscombe is haunted by the idea of its bad reputation”, said Antoine Saadé, a local resident, “but with a little community awareness I think this can be changed.”
Yet sitting in Chaplin’s Wine Bar on Christchurch Road, and with a mannequin of Charlie himself posing outside, the stigmas associated with Boscombe couldn’t feel further from the truth. The bar defines the word edgy, shaking off those stereotypical English drinking characteristics you might find at the local Yates’s or Walkabout. There are no red-faced burly men looking for a fight here, no large groups of lads, and no scantily clad girls; it’s the swinging sixties in here, and the who’s who of Bournemouth gather around tables with glasses of Mai-Tai and Margarita. The clientele are an Urban Outfitted bunch, and they show off their latest barber coats and Ray-Ban glasses. This isn’t the Boscombe you hear about; this could be Camden Town, Islington, Shoreditch, or any other up and coming area in the nation’s capital. “It’s such a cool place” said Georgie Trill, a Chaplin’s regular, “the bar is so individual and quirky”, she added. It’s no wonder, then, why Chaplin’s won the Best Bar None award for 2012, a scheme that aims to promote responsible management and operation of alcohol licenced premises, as the bar is frequented by many.
Further down Christchurch Road there are more positive signs, as a new local business has been opened thanks to the Bournemouth Council Talent Programme. The vintage shop, named Cotton Candy, is colourful and pretty inside, as it sells handmade treasures and vintage designs, ultimately illuminating Boscombe’s new obsession with all things vintage. Officially opening in November last year, it’s part of the Boscombe Regeneration Partnership’s Backing Boscombe campaign, which seeks to improve Boscombe as a place to live, work and visit. With this, new businesses can be helped with a £2,000 grant and move into an empty shop in the Pokesdown area of Boscombe. One of the owners, Cara Lloyd Hopkins, said that “without the Talent programme we would never have been able to realise our aspirations of running our own shop.”
But despite these successful ventures; the shattered glass, boarded up houses and broken bottles of Boscombe don’t tell lies. Recent statistics show that crime is certainly a problem in the area, with figures higher than the nearby suburbs of Bournemouth and Poole, in fact higher than Poole town as a whole. In November 2012 there were at least 580 reported crimes in Boscombe; anti-social behaviour being the highest with 301, and damage and arson coming second with 52. Violent crime stood at 41 reports. The suburb is also recognised as Bournemouth’s most socially deprived, with a drug market described as “thriving and well-developed” by the the 2006 Safer Neighbourhoods Profile. “I avoid a few roads”, admitted Antoine Saadé, “after reading a few police statistics it occurred to me that, on paper, Boscombe is a bit of a jungle of drunks and thieves.”
“It’s all about housing”, explained Lisa Northover, local campaigner and editor of the website Boscalicious, “and things happen because of that.” Due to its cheap accommodation, Boscombe has attracted people such as drug users and those who have recently left prison, which has blighted the area. As a former Council representative for Boscombe West, Lisa knows the suburb through-and-through, and she’s candid when discussing its problems. “Legislation has been poor or not enforced”, she said, and this needs to be “directly dealt with.” Dampness is an issue in many houses, for example, and in a rental property, at 12 St.Clements Road, Lisa said the occupier, who was moving out, was told to paint over mould on their walls to get their deposit back. “Someone else will move in there”, she said, concluding that Bournemouth Council should “crackdown on landlords.”
But the council claim this is something that’s improving. Jane Kelly said that, after many years of work, the regeneration project is beginning to show signs of success. “We’ve gained authorisation to build eleven houses that young people can afford to buy”, she said, adding that there will be less houses in multiple occupancy and more self-contained flats for families. But Lisa Northover argued that new houses won’t make any difference, reminding the Council that “nothing will change” unless the root problem of poor quality housing is resolved.
The Boscombe Regeneration Project sees Boscombe as soon offering positive opportunities for all, having neighbourhoods to be proud of, and inspiring through an artistic buzz. But a progress report also shows that locals have asked for “less scary people hanging around” and “less drug and alcohol abuse”. While the continued efforts of Bournemouth Council and various other organisations show a will to change this, perhaps more is needed to achieve these goals.
Despite concerns though, Boscombe is beginning to offer more to local residents, and Lisa Northover described the area as having a “good sense of community”. The award winning Honeycombe Beach complex that overlooks the sea now sells flats for roughly £1million, in 2010 Boscombe pier was named Pier of the Year by the National Piers Society, and the area welcomed the Stereophonics to an intimate show at the O2 Academy in December 2011. Perhaps this is demonstrating a shift back to its mid-19th century glory days, but more likely the locals are just looking for an improvement to housing and crime problems. “It’s never going to be Mayfair”, laughed Jane Kelly, “but I see a thriving economy, a different mix of residents, arts and culture, and lots of small businesses.” And this sounds about right, because Boscombe wouldn’t feel the same as a flashy Sandbanks, and it’s instead finding its feet as Bournemouth’s cooler suburb, and one that the town may soon be proud of.
On the 16th January myself and six other Bournemouth University journalists put together a radio and TV news day, and it was a pretty hectic day to be covering live events.
I woke up at 7am and got straight online to see what was happening in my local patch and the wider world…to my surprise it was all rather dull. I was more so surprised, then, when on the bus to university I received a text telling me a helicopter had just crashed in London. Of course, this was put straight on the agenda along with various other local stories including the live reporting of Bournemouth Borough Council deciding on a Council Tax Reduction Scheme. I was lucky enough to get a telephone interview with an eye witness in London, and spent a good 7 minutes speaking with Karen Fowler-Watt, who was staying in Vauxhall during the helicopter crash.
Just as we went live on radio though, at midday, we heard the news that roughly 40 foreigners had been taken hostage in Algeria; even bigger news than the bizarre and tragic helicopter crash. This was put straight on the agenda for TV.
It was a demanding day, we had to absorb new information, verify it and report it. But just 30 minutes before I was presenting live TV, we got the news that Blockbuster would be joining HMV and Jessops in administration! This, too, was included in our news show, along with developments in Mali and the gun control laws brought in to New York state. What a day to report the news.
Successful albeit complicated day. Both radio and TV broadcasts went smoothly, we gathered a wealth of original material, and presented it with style.
Now just 5 or 6 more to go.
Comments more important than stories?
As news becomes more and more interactive, user-generated content (UGC) will become more and more vital to news.
Comments are, perhaps, the most simple and widely-used aspect of UGC on news websites. People are passionate about what is going on around them, and the little box at the bottom of a story is becoming increasingly important to journalists to find out what their audience thinks, and what the general feeling about an issue is. Take a look at some of the popular news websites such as the BBC, The Guardian or The Daily Mail. Thousands of comments can come through in a short space of time, from well thought through assessments to the odd troll or grammar policeman (which is fair enough considering you’re a journalist).
The question that I’m thinking about, though, is if comments can be more important than a news story itself? Of course, UGC is not more important than news per se, but for on-going stories where a fresh angle has been added, where an audience may already know and understand most of the key points, do comments hold a greater importance?
I was on the BBC News website recently, and the main story was Bashar al-Assad’s speech in Damascus, where he proclaimed that the Free Syria Army (FSA) were puppets of the West with no clear leadership. The story already had over 900 comments, and I was eager to see the editor’s picks. The great majority of comments aired disgust at the conflict, but they also showed no clear signs of partisanship with either side.
One comment read -
I pity the ordinary people of Syria - monstrous maniacs on one side and maniacal monsters on the other.
Another read -
A leaderless revolution is simply a riot without a clear goal! From what I’ve seen so far the opposition are indeed ‘a bunch of criminals’ Very nasty ones!
This interested me, because most of the media coverage in the UK has been anti-Assad, even though one of the clearest things coming out of Syria is how unclear the true picture is. Take a look at The New York Time’s innovative handling of the citizen journalism coming out of Syria, as they seek to set out exactly what can and cannot be verified in every video they get their hands on.
The comments seem to suggest there is little support for either side of the civil war in Syria, yet there is a huge sympathy for the innocent civilians. This may be useful for some news companies to extensively monitor, but will it ever change the news agenda?
Perhaps it will and perhaps it won’t, but with stories like this, while nobody should ever skip over a story to read comments, they can give a great deal of insight into how a particular audience is reacting to a particular story. And that should count for something, right?
2013: Best year?
I set up this blog within a few weeks of starting my MA in Multimedia Journalism at Bournemouth University. I started with some promise, but as the work really piled up it became somewhat neglected. I find New Years Resolutions a bit sad but if I did make one, it would be to blog more often.
As expected, my degree has been going really well, and the achievements I’ve made so far have been pretty incredible. I’m going to Kosovo in the summer to make a documentary (I’ve been planning this in my head since I was about 19 years old!), I featured live on Hope FM on the night of the US Election discussing US foreign policy and youth engagement with politics, I’ve won scholarships and grants, presented a TV show, interviewed some big names (in Dorset at least…), and made some pretty amazing friends along the way.
What does this all mean? Well I have a feeling, if things keep going so well, that 2013 will be the best year of my life so far. I have a lot of work to do, but I think it will be worth it.
So, more blogging to come on the all things journalism and documentary, more photography, or just more of what’s going on at university.
Happy (belated) New Year!
Made my website.
The first draft of my radio package on US drone strikes in Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia; though I doubt much will change right now.
Got to work on that accent…
This is fairly late, but felt it was still worth writing about…
Since 2002, Gary Mckinnon and his mother, Janis Sharp, have been fighting a lengthy and exhaustive legal battle to stop his extradition to the USA. Accused of hacking into military and NASA computer systems, the USA claimed Mr.Mckinnon, who is a sufferer of Asperger’s Syndrome, caused hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of damage.
Since the legal battle began, Gary Mckinnon has gained a wealth of supporters and brought to the forefront of the media the UK-USA extradition treaty, which many this side of the Atlantic feel is one-sided and inconsistent.
On the 16th of October, Home Secretary Theresa May blocked the extradition of Mr.Mckinnon to the USA, much to their anger. Considering the Home Secretary’s general stance on the treaty, this came as a surprise to many, but of course to the delighted ears of Mr.Mckinnon and his mother.
While people such as Gary Mckinnon, Christopher Tappin and Richard O’Dwyer have faced long and painful legal battles (some for not committing and UK law), and still do, the UK public has become increasingly alarmed by the ease in which the US can take a British citizen from their home country. Moreover, there have been incidents in the past where the USA refused to extradite those who funded the IRA while they waged a terrorist campaign against the UK, and furthermore the strange case of Shawn Sullivan, wanted by the USA for sexual offences involving children, who had an extradition request blocked in favor of staying in the UK.
Gary Mckinnon’s victory is long overdue, but certainly had the majority support of the British public. I fear problems for Christopher Tappin and Richard O’Dwyer however, with one now forced to live in Texas, and the other fighting final appeals to be tried at home.
Food for thought.