Daryl Ilbury

Archive for May, 2013|Monthly archive page

Comic Caption: How a blog extended a radio show’s offering

In Eish! on May 30, 2013 at 10:11 am

Blair 3

I am always intrigued at how radio shows use their blogs. Invariably they are dumping grounds for silly embedded YouTube videos, the latest celebrity gossip cut and pasted from other sources, a place where listeners rant unmanaged, and/or the ‘poll-of-the-day’. There’s very little in the way of original content that is an extension of the radio show, or a place where listeners can express themselves creatively.

In early 2007 I was approached by the management of East Coast Radio, where I was the host and executive producer of the breakfast show, and asked to start a blog for the show. They knew of my success as an op-ed columnist, and suspected – quite correctly – that I would embrace the idea. At that time the concept of blogging was still in its infancy, and smartphones – as we know them today – were still in the realm of science fiction.

My challenge was to convert the ethos and character of my radio show to a consumer interface that was largely visual. It had to be intelligent, opinionated, relevant, creative and entertaining. I also had to make it compelling enough to ensure there was engagement with the listener/reader to the degree that the show enjoyed. My show commanded the bulk of the station’s listenership, and East Coast Radio was the biggest English medium independent station in Southern Africa. So there was a high degree of expectation.

I also, personally, wanted to see if an online medium could become an extension of a radio show.

The answer came in the idea of the Comic Caption. Each day I posted an image that demanded the listener/reader post their suggestion of a suitable caption. Depending on the image, this could either be a descriptive statement or an image character’s comment or thought. These were posted on the blog below the image as comments; and then at the beginning of the following broadcast day I would choose the best caption and repost the image – comic-style using Comic Life – with the winning caption, plus that day’s new image. And so on.

Importantly I would announce on air that morning the winner’s name and say wondrous things about them. This was for two reasons: I wanted to encourage others to take part, and, (because of the station management’s dithering) I didn’t have a prize.

Given the number of Comic Caption comments/responses, the most popular images were those that had been created by Adje – a Dutch photoshop genius, who very graciously allowed me to use his images. I believe in giving credit where it is due, and I always linked to his site. Adje deservedly scored a whole new legion of fans in the process. He has a wonderfully subtle savagery in many of his images, which made them a joy to use. The image above is an excellent example of Adje’s creativity in one of the winning Comic Captions. This was from February 2007.

So, did it work? Oh yes. It helped my show’s blog win 3 SA Blog Awards, as well as several Kagiso Media Awards.

More importantly it showed that it was possible to provide radio and online content as part of a combined media package.

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Tornadoes: science vs religion

In Eish!, Fools, Science on May 24, 2013 at 11:30 am
Oklahoma tornado

Image: PAUL HELLSTERN/AP

As a journalist who writes about the interface of science and society, and how it’s covered by the media, there are few better events to cover than natural ‘disasters’.

Of course, there’s no such thing in nature as a ‘disaster’. ‘Events’, maybe, but not ‘disasters’. Even then, what is an ‘event’? Tornadoes, hurricanes, floods and volcanic eruptions are part of nature, and are as much of an ‘event’ as a flower opening its petals to greet the early morning sunshine.

However, given the scope of the impact of tornadoes on the natural, built and social environment, it seems fair to refer to them as ‘events’. What I do find interesting though is that we only use the phrase ‘disaster’ when such events impact on humans in a way that we consider them ‘disastrous’.

The tornado that swept across the city of Moore, in Oklahoma on Monday 20th May is a wonderful example, as it unearthed a typical social reaction to such a part of nature, as well as the role the media usually plays in shaping such reaction.

As news broke of the tornado, various (mainly Western) media outlets scrambled to collect information and disseminate it in a balance of fact and emotion that would (hopefully) unleash a torrent of consumer reaction without sacrificing what’s left nowadays of ‘journalistic integrity’. News anchors (feigning dramatic shock) attempted to get closer to the action and grab increasingly qualified commentators with the hope of breaking a story before their competitors; while TV news cameramen and photographers captured visuals that would hopefully carry a suitably impactful emotive tone, all the time praying to be there when a rugged fireman plucked a quivering puppy from the debris of a destroyed home. CBS managed to capture the closest to this.

And there is that word: ‘praying’. There seems to be a lot of referring and appealing to a god during such events, and the media – both mainstream and social – capitalise on it; from witnesses of the tornado saying on the TV news how they prayed to be spared; to survivors who claimed it was because they prayed that they were saved (even though their home was utterly destroyed); to amateur video footage of the tornado on YouTube, complete with shocked ‘Oh my God’ commentary; to the inevitable Twitter follow-up hashtag #prayforOklahoma.

So what’s wrong with this? Everything really.

Firstly there’s the claim that there is some form of sapient god – even though there’s absolutely no evidence thereof outside of the wildly divergent and irreconcilable claims by a broad spectrum of warring religions – and that this sapient god is omnipotent and therefore the guiding hand behind all events in the world – including tornadoes – and therefore he/she/it requires constant subservience/respect through prayer. The danger of this unquestioning and uncritical belief is that it is easily hijacked by religious zealots with twisted agendas and pliable followers.

Secondly, there’s the assumption by survivors that because they were not killed or injured by the tornado after they prayed, it is evidence of a god, and his/her/its benevolence because they prayed. However, to quote a cornerstone of scientific research: a perceived correlation is not evidence of causation. And when survivors of the Oklahoma tornado look to the sky and claim they were ‘spared by God’, I just hope they will have an opportunity to repeat it to the families of the children who were killed, and whom, it’s fair to say, would also have prayed.

Furthermore, I find the embracing of such selection-by-a-god logic by supposedly critical individuals such as seasoned journalists unbelievable (if you excuse the pun). Cue seasoned CNN anchor Wolf Blitzer getting his graceful comeuppance.

Thirdly, the proponents and supporters of #prayforOklahoma seem to think that tweeting a message is going to help somehow. Outside of providing a bit or moral support to those who need it and who are for some reason biding their time on Twitter, firing off a free tweet doesn’t actually do anything. It may be a very public portrayal of an act of caring, but it certainly doesn’t help the survivors. Donations of money, food and supplies do. And if you think praying (through Twitter) is going to encourage a god to help heal those who are injured; remember what happened when Pope John Paul II was ailing and millions around the world prayed for him – he still died!

Finally, and this is what really angers me, there’s the seemingly complete denial by such god-fearing people of the real evidential role of science in mitigating the possible catastrophic impacts of tornadoes. Here’s the wake-up smack: The only reason more people don’t die from tornados is because of the work of scientists studying tornadoes to understand how they form and move; the tracking of tornadoes by the incredible technology of weather-monitoring systems and the experienced teams who operate them; the active role the media (including social media) has in disseminating information about tornado activity and any necessary warnings;  the myriad official (and unofficial) evacuation systems put in place by various authorities; and of course the hundreds of trained medical professionals who treat the injuries of those who are injured.

‘God’ has nothing to do with it.

Subtle redefinition of racial discrimination

In Eish!, Politics on May 11, 2013 at 12:31 pm

20130511-140529.jpgMy favourite is this: “Preference will be given to candidates who contribute to the diversity of our organisation” – it’s such subtle spin on a selection process that is, at its core, evidence of racial discrimination.

Whenever I read that line in a job advert, I’m reminded, rather dramatically I must admit, of a horrifying chapter in recent history that took hold in Europe following a letter dated 31 July 1941. It was sent by the Nazi Reichsmarschall Hermann Goring to Reinhard Heydrich, a General in the SS, and ordered Heydrich to devise (quote) “…die Endlösung der Judenfrage” (a ‘final solution to the Jewish problem’).

The result was the slaughter of millions of Jewish men, women and children, which we now know as ‘the Holocaust’. To the Nazis it was presented as nothing more than the solution to a problem.

The Nazis were well known to use euphemistic terminology, but it certainly didn’t end with them. It remains evident wherever there is an uncomfortable or controversial component of a state’s policy. The spin doctors are called in, and, with the help of shady textures of marketing-speak, they liberally coat the component to cover up any nasty cracks that could attract unwanted attention.

The US military are experts at this. For example: When innocent civilians are killed in a drone strike, they are referred to as ‘collateral damage’, suggesting that the tragic outcome was – like a collapsed building following an earthquake – an unfortunate accident out of the control of those who targeted the drone.

They have plenty of others…’coercive interrogation’ (torture), ‘friendly fire’ (the killing of members of the same/allied forces through bad intelligence), and of course ‘neutralise’, meaning kill. These would all be quite ridiculous if they weren’t so savage in their intention. Here are some more.

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