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Jan 09 2012

A Quiet New Year’s Eve, and an Exciting Year Ahead

Happy New Year and welcome to the GRN blog!

After a festive semi-holiday (no rest for the wicked, the journalists, and their agency) we are all back in our Hammersmith office, happy to report there were no Tsunamis (unlike 2005) or hangings-of-ex-heads-of-states (unlike 2006) that caused all hell (and our phones) to break loose this year. But 2011 was a long and fascinating year, at the centre of which bloomed the Arab Spring with its hopeful and exhilarating moments and its violence and sacrifices. The earthquakes in Japan, New Zealand and Turkey and the floods in Australia kept climate change and its perils on the news agenda, and the death of South Korea’s Jong Ill ended the year of a reminder that nothing stays the same forever. As an agency involved in the coverage of the whole globe, Pyongyang, like Damascus and Rangoon, are still to a great extent almost impenetrable. We never managed to get a GRN correspondent into Pyongyang, GRN correspondents managed to get into Damascus this year and bravely covered events for a week or two but invariable had to escape, or were deported. Burma, despite some encouraging developments this year, is still pretty much shut lock stock and barrel.

In the middle of the year we tried to have a look at what makes a freelance correspondent successful in covering a breaking news story, in hope it could help our correspondents in their decision making process. It yielded the document “Work Smart” which received enthusiastic feedback, so much so that we decided to review it occasionally and add any new lessons we learn. We’ve already stressed the importance of speed in arrival to scene, the necessity of connectivity (from a live broadcast perspective there’s not much point in being a few meters away from Ghaddafi as he is being butchered by an angry crowd if you are unreachable on your mobile phone as it happens), the importance of being able to broadcast via Skype, and we reminded you how futile traveling without a proper insurance could be. This year we’d like to add to this “stick around” – when nobody can get access into Damascus or Pyongyang, there’s a growing demand for correspondents in Beirut and Seoul, especially if they are well informed, up to speed and well equipped. The “stick around” rule often applies to time as well as to a region. Normally as a crisis ensues broadcasters would wait a few days before they decide whether to send a crew in. But they will also pull this crew out once they believe the story has peaked. This, again, is an opportune time for the freelancers still on the ground.

A recent addition to our services is “location Skypers” obviously, all broadcasters prefer a correspondent who is as close to the events as possible, and if this fact could be seen and heard too, all the better. Clearly, if you are in the midst of a demonstration or a funeral, using those events as background to your Skype broadcast is ideal, but even if you are sitting at home or in your hotel room, the city view at your window or the typical mountain slope out your balcony can bring your viewers into the atmosphere and give them a sense of place. We encourage correspondents to do more of those “location Skypers”, and add an extra 15% to the standard payment, so keep your window open and go down to the street, as long as you have reception…

This Christmas we decided to gather our homecoming journo-troops for a round table about their experiences of 2011, and a drink or two (a few more in some cases). An unnamed MC had to rescue herself from the wilderness of Cockfosters after having fallen asleep on the tube on her way back. We were fortunate to have with us on the night the Sunday Telegraph’s Nick Meo, The Guardian’s Rachel Shabi, Our veteran London correspondent Christopher Walker who exchanged verbal punches with Leah Borromeo; Our Journalist and historian Tim Judah. Between them they have covered Tunisia, Libya, Haiti, The Balkans, the North Caucuses, Israel, Egypt, London’s riots, The massacre in Norway, and that’s in 2011 only. The lively discussion was attended by an involved and interested audience and was broadcast live on YouTube, and could be watched here.

The success of the debate prompted us to launch a few new ventures. First, we will try to host a GRN roundtable once in every quarter, with our correspondents who pass via London on their way from different corners of the world. The next one will be in late March. Also, I shall conduct a monthly interview with a GRN correspondent, about his or her latest experiences in the fields of their coverage. Interviews will be filmed and posted on our website and YouTube channel. During the year GRN, for the first time, will be commissioning out own material. We intend to commission three video and audio podcasts every week from our correspondents . And last, but hopefully not least, we are launching this blog to tell you a bit about how things look from our office in Hammersmith, London, and strengthen our community of editors, broadcasters, correspondents and audiences. We warmly invite you to post comments, and to email entries to the blog email address blog@grnlive.net. The shape that this blog will take will be up to us, but also up to you.

On behalf of all the GRN team I wish us all again a productive, fascinating and safe 2012.

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