Sarah Booker


Interviews take preparation, even the experts are thrown by blatant lies

Today’s big news story is the blatant lie by Kellyanne Conway during an interview on US television, when she created the Bowling Green Massacre.

Apparently it wasn’t covered.

Seriously, a terrorist attack not covered by news organisations? I think not.

Watching the interview online, it is clear MSNBCs Chris Matthews is flustered by this fairytale.

When he should have said “Please elaborate”, he didn’t. 

Maybe he didn’t want to look foolish on live television. 

Who can blame him for being thrown off his game when faced with a blatant lie.

Apparently she meant to say Bowling Green terrorists. A duo who never planned an attack on US soil!

The key thing trainees should take from this is never be afraid to ask something outside your plan. 
Prepare and listen are key when interviewing.

Prepare your questions in advance, have an idea of where you’re going and want to go.

However, listen for the cues telling you the story is going in a different direction.

Listen to what the interviewee says and question and ask them to expand on information you don’t know.

It’s better to get it right than keep quiet for fear of looking foolish.

For the past 18 months I’ve moderated on and been interviewed by junior reporters taking their NQJ senior journalist exams.

There are times when a look of panic crosses their face as they realise I’ve given them something and they need to go off piste.

Some hold on to their list of questions for dear life. 

Those who pass spot the cue and follow the new line. 

They get all the information and the keys to a great story.


Searching social media for news – dealing with the hard stuff

Refugees trapped between Macedonian riot police and razor wire on the Greek border. Image by Freedom House on Flickr, licenced by creative commons.

Refugees trapped between Macedonian riot police and razor wire on the Greek border. Image by Freedom House on Flickr, licenced by creative commons.

“Do you have a personal care plan?” Gavin Rees, director of Dart Center for Journalism and Trauma Asked the audience at News:Rewired In Focus.

Most of the audience kept their hands down. It is not something any of us like to think about.

Dealing with traumatic and violent images is part of the working day for many journalists, this can result in what Mr Rees “vicarious trauma”.

News services recruit people specifically to search social media for user generated content to provide eye-witness footage to tell stories.

These journalists are watching at the front line of battle without staring down the barrel of an AK47.

Mr Rees spoke without slides as images stay with us. It is a fundamental part of the mammal brain.

During the Q&A former war reporter John McHugh on Twitter of Varifeye Media, explained how watching footage in his office was more traumatic than three-months in Afghanistan.

He said: “After going to Afghanistan I had time to decompress.

“You’re there, then when looking at images it affected me much more.”

When he was out in the field he expected it. He was shot, shot at, saw people dying around him.

Going into a war zone is not a pleasant experience and he knew it,

Seeing footage of the same thing then having a chat with someone about last night’s TV is a difficult transition.

Sam Dubberley on Twitter co-founder of Eyewitness Media Hub, explained how data gathered found 56% of front line journalists expect to see disturbing as part of their jobs and 46% feel disturbed by it.

How do they cope? Watching dog-themed Tumblr and Taylor Swift’s Instagram were suggested mechanisms.

As one of his slides stated: “We do the Internet, that’s kittens…”

Kittens by Mathias Erhart on Flickr. Licenced by Creative Commons.

Kittens by Mathias Erhart on Flickr. Licenced by Creative Commons.

Journalist looking through Instagram, YouTube, Flickr and a multitude of other resources, see violence, blood and death.

Going back to the personal care plan, how can journalists protect themselves? How can employers help them?

  • Alternating what people work on. For example one week quirky and kittens, the following week Syria and Yemen.
  • Encouraging people to talk to one another. Share what upsets or traumatises. A trouble shared is a trouble halved is a useful piece of home-spun wisdom.
  • Take regular screen breaks.
  • Have plants and green things around you.
  • Use a mask over images or a piece of paper against the screen.

And finally, watch this:


Much-loved Brighton fountain will go if Green and Conservative councillors have their way

Filed under: journalism — Sarah Booker Lewis @ 10:30 am
Brighton's Mazda Fountain

Brighton’s Mazda Fountain

Two weeks ago I discovered the Mazda Fountain in Victoria Gardens will go if Brighton and Hove City Council has its way.

After launching a petition and emailing all councillors I have discovered this will go through if leading Green and Conservatives have their way.

It may seem obvious the Greens support it because the party is Brighton and Hove’s minority administration.

However, what may come as a surprise to many is the Conservative opposition leader is just as supportive of the scheme.

In response to my email asking him to vote against the scheme Conservative group leader Councillor Geoffery Theobald wrote this:

As you rightly point out, the proposals as they currently stand would require the Mazda fountain to be removed from its existing location, to be replaced by a new feature specifically designed for Valley Gardens that will be both cheaper to run and more environmentally sustainable.  Unless there is a large groundswell of public opinion against these plans I am minded to support them at this stage.

Note he is minded to support unless there is a strong public response against it.

Here’s the part that annoyed me.

I have asked officers for a briefing on the fountain  that I understand was originally designed to be situated on a lake in London for the British Empire Exhibition of 1925 where it would be illuminated and demonstrate technical virtuosity. It was removed to Brighton at a later date when the exhibition finished and so there is no inherent connection with this city and its history and architecture. Having said that, I would be more than happy to see the fountain relocated within the city if there is support for this and a suitable place can be found for it.

So the fountain has been in place for 80 plus years, for the majority of people’s living memory, but because it wasn’t built for the site it has “no inherent connection” with the city.

Tell that to my family members in their 60s who have signed the petition. They grew up with it, they love it. I grew up with it, I love it too.

This large fountain may not look like much but when the waters flow it is a stunning display with varying jets, just like the Bellagio on a smaller scale.

What makes it extra special is the stunning control box.

It is like a little green TARDIS with stunning stained glass windows.

In two weeks I have seen surprise and anger from people I don’t know. On Brighton Facebook groups I have seen people say “the Conservatives won’t let this happen”. Oh yes they will as Mr Theobald’s response shows.

Not all Conservatives support it. I’ve had a few saying they’re not happy.

What has pleased me is Labour councillors are passionately against it.

It is not surprising as the Valley Gardens project saw a consultation happen two years ago but what is happening bares little resemblence to what was presented.

Removing the Mazda fountain was a joint decision by Greens and Conservatives behind closed doors.

Don’t let it happen.

Email councillors, particularly Mr Theobald.

Sign the petition

Share the petition, let people know this is happening.


Ten key lessons from inspiring and terrifying Fleet Street Fox

Fleet Street Fox at Journalist Works

Fleet Street Fox at Journalist Works

I always enjoy a talk from Fleet Street Fox aka Susie Boniface.

When I first came along to Journalist Works to hear her speak I was packing for my honeymoon, but was such a fan of her blog I had to hear what she said.

It inspired me to sell myself a better for online journalism sessions.

Rather than “I’ve been on the internet since 1995”, I led with a list of my exciting deeds.

Unlike Fleet Street Fox I have never driven a nuclear submarine but I covered Sir John Mills’ funeral and interviewed Rolf Harris (that’s a different blog post).

She always starts off with the hard truths of journalism.

People do think you’re going to turn every conversation you’ve ever had into a news story.

People will stop trusting you as soon as you say what you do for a living.

People will treat you like scum.

You will see and hear horrific things.

But it also is such great fun.

Tweeting and Instagramming Fleet Street Fox's visit to Brighton Journalist Works.

Me (right) Instagramming Fleet Street Fox for Journalist Works, Brighton. Picture by student William Axtell

Here are a ten key lessons for journalists from her talk today (February 19):

  1. Want to work online? You’ll have a career in 20 years
  2. Your objectivity is not enough, it is the reader and source who must believe your ethical objectivity
  3. What you need is a level of enthusiasm bordering on mental illness
  4. Scotch eggs are a complete meal in a ball when you’re waiting on a doorstep
  5. You are not the story. Write for readers not for you
  6. Reporters do not say what they think. If you think someone is a scumbag you can’t tell them
  7. Understanding your analytics means knowing when people are reading. Target your tweets when your readers are online
  8. You get a knee-jerk reaction on Twitter from the headline alone. Facebook readers tend to read the article before sharing and commenting.
  9. Writing online is like writing for the regional press. Readers will tell you when you’ve messed up very quickly
  10. Don’t be a twat


Drone photographer Eddie Mitchell right to stand his ground

Filed under: journalism,Law — Sarah Booker Lewis @ 2:08 pm
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Photographer Eddie Mitchell made news headlines after being arrested for breach of the peace while filming a fire for the BBC.

His arrest by Surrey Police is mind boggling as it goes against ACPO guidelines.

Apparently people in the area had complained about him flying his drone over a mobile home fire, but this may not be true.

Press coverage of tragedies may annoy people but it is not against the law.

Some online commenters have said he should have stopped when asked, but journalists will not leave incidents when they know they are doing nothing wrong or illegal, just reporting what is happening.

Police guidelines are to assist the press but some officers are overzealous and unfamiliar with good practice.

There are also comments from people saying he should not have filmed the burning mobile home as it was in bad taste.

This is what journalists do, show what is happening both good and bad.

Undoubtedly the same complainers would moan if there weren’t any pictures as people always want to see and read more bad news even if they say otherwise.

Police officers need reminding they should not obstruct journalists and photographers going about their business.

These situations happen too often.

Eddie is well-known across Sussex and beyond to journalists and professionals in the emergency services as an excellent photographer.

He is often the first journalist at the scene of fires and accidents, day or night.

Now his big selling point is his skill as a camera drone pilot.

His photographs and video of the Eastbourne Pier fire captured the tragedy better than any land-based snapper.

Early in 2014 he promoted his business with a series of images over Brighton.


Cutting through social noise at Buzzfeed

Filed under: journalism,Web journalism — Sarah Booker Lewis @ 8:39 pm
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Buzzfeed finds the news people want to share by keeping its fingers on the social media pulse.

One of the key places its journalists find news is on Tumblr, UK news editor Richard James told students at Brighton Journalist Works

“Tumblr interesting because there is so much stuff,” he said.

“It has quite a young demographic but it is miles ahead of everyone, breaking news and stories.”


Buzzfeed has a young audience because it is writing about what interests them in an informative and shareable way.

As Richard pointed out, traditional media does not know how to deal with or categorise social media stars.

He said: “The Sam Pepper saga was a story the mainstream press would not know what to deal with.

“He’s a YouTube star, so knowing what was being discussed meant we could reach out to people.

“There is huge gap in the market for someone like us as the mainstream press don’t appreciate the fame of these people.”

Buzzfeed also informs with what Richard described as explainer pieces to give people an introduction and wider understand of a story.

These often end up trending on Facebook or Twitter as they share well.

Richard said: “We want to be one stop shop for people wanting to find out more about Hong Kong protests.

“We try to do something different rather than blocks of text for example using an image of a poppy for every soldier killed in the First World War or Following Russian soldiers on Instagram in Ukraine. You can tell a story in a thousand different ways.”


The amount of stories Buzzfeed is covering is growing and reporters are recruited every as the site is building a good reputation for news.

Richard said: “Our reporters are on the ground around the world from Liberia, Syria and Ukraine, this not what people assume Buzzfeed is doing.

“We are getting great exclusives and hard hitting pieces.

“It is a case of looking at what people are talking about, but not in the mainstream press, we see what people are talking about on Facebook.

“Reporters are spending the time properly investigating stuff.

“There is so much noise on social media I am pleased and proud at how we look at what is trending and then give you the full back story as sometimes online the wider context gets lost.”

His advice to Journalist Works students is to be all over social media, watching and monitoring the trending subjects.

It is the best way to find news and the buzz of what is going on in the world.


My own Rolf Harris experience

Filed under: journalism — Sarah Booker Lewis @ 1:04 pm
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Back in 1993 I interviewed Rolf Harris at the Glastonbury festival.

He had just performed a storming set on the Pyramid stage and signed autographs for fans at the side gate.

I felt lucky to have the opportunity to interview one of my childhood heroes.

Rolf answered my questions, telling me how much he enjoyed the experience.

Afterwards I told friends how weird it felt to have him staring at my chest the entire time.

It was a hot summer day and I wore a vest with a crochet top over it.

“Nice shirt,” he said at the end of the interview.

He’d obviously enjoyed looking at my 22-year-old boobs.

I felt disappointed but thought he’s a man, that’s how some men are.

Since his conviction other journalists have told how he touched them inappropriately.

Now I feel fortunate for nothing more than a look and sleazy comment.

Picture above from Glastonbury 2010 by DG Jones licensed by Creative Commons on Flickr.


Student journalists scoop Brighton traveller stand-off

Last night (June 11-12) I burnt the midnight oil with three Journalist Works students who went into a hostile situation for a breaking news story.

Travellers evicted from Wild Park in Lewes Road, Brighton, had moved onto a community playing field in at he suburb of Patcham.

Angry neighbours blocked the field with a car and a four-hour stand off with travellers began.

Walking into a hostile situation takes gumption but Georgina Townshend, Lisa Meakin and Federica Bedendo did just that.

The story they put together had strong quotes from both sides.

People in Patcham and across Brighton and Hove are frustrated at repeated incursions on public parks and playing fields.

Equally travellers need to park up for the night and lack transit camps.

Their article gave a voice to both sides of the argument.

As a nursing mum I’m often up at unearthly hours so could advise on a copy edit to tighten up the story and keep it in Argus style.

The stand off finished at 10.30pm and the first draft was completed at 1.30am with pictures.

It was an excellent piece of work and read for The Argus website first thing in the morning.


Following Hacks/Hackers London

Filed under: journalism,Storify — Sarah Booker Lewis @ 8:15 pm
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As I couldn’t make it tonight I created a Storify from Hacks/Hackers London.

Brilliant #HHLdn opening from @timesjoanna about why the event helps newsroom journalists get digital training they might not get elsewhere
September 28, 2011
Impressed that ten people in #HHLdn just put their hands up to say they were online in 1993
September 28, 2011
Here is the original article about Scientology that Wendy M. Grossman is talking about at #HHLdn *cough* with link
September 28, 2011
At #HHLdn, @wendyg is talking about “astroturfing” – 1995 style –
September 28, 2011
Great to hear a story about a journalist trying to get to grips with computers, anonymity & the interwebs in the early 90s #HHLdn – @wendyg
September 28, 2011
Fabulous trip down memory lane at the hacks/ hackers event. Early days of internet hacking – and I was there 🙂
September 28, 2011
Chris Sumner starts by saying that Maltego is great if you’re in to stalking 🙂 #hacks/hackers
September 28, 2011
At #HHLdn @TheSuggmeister is showing Maltego – – a way of visualising Twitter networks
September 28, 2011
Another great #HHLdn phrase from @TheSuggmeister – “I’m willing to share the code for free”
September 28, 2011
At #HHLdn, @TheSuggmeister is suggesting that it has become a lot harder to search the archives of Twitter. He also just said Perl & STDOUT
September 28, 2011
Also pitched at #HHLdn, some great looking courses from the centre for investigative journalism –
September 28, 2011


Remembering 9/11

Filed under: journalism — Sarah Booker Lewis @ 11:00 am

It is one of those days when you remember where you were. I was sitting at my desk at the Buckinghamshire Advertiser office in Chalfont St Peter. We had just put the latest edition to bed, and were planning the next one, when the editor walked out of his office. I’ll never forget his words:

My wife’s just phoned and said a plane has crashed into one of the World Trade Centre buildings.

It was such a different time. We had no television, no radio and just a dial-up internet connection on one machine in the office. It was jealously guarded by the deputy editor, but he fired it up.

When the editor came out of his office a few minutes later and told us his wife had called to say another plane had flown into the second tower. we knew it was an attack. I grabbed the phone and called Heathrow and kept hitting redial as the deputy editor asked for someone to call. “Already on it,” I said.

Once we established there was no immediate local link we knew we didn’t have to ‘hold the front page’. The one radio we had didn’t work without earphones, so I listened as we worked on. Then the horror hit.

I’ll never forget the terror in the voice of the correspondent, I think we were listening to Radio 4, as they started to describe the first tower falling. I relayed her words and I remember seeing the shocked looks on my colleagues faces. A few minutes later the editor returned, we hadn’t noticed he’d gone. He had a small TV and indoor aerial.

We gathered around the TV when it was set up and saw the second tower go. Again I’ll never forget the editor’s words:

We have just watched thousands of people die, and we’re going to know some of them.

We did.

Six months later I went to Oli Bennett‘s memorial service. I had interviewed his mother Joy Bennett before it and a few times afterwards. She was against the Iraq war and featured in Roger Graef’s film September Mourning.

It was a moving memorial. One of Oli’s colleagues spoke about the many friends he had lost that day, his voice breaking with the emotion.

I don’t think they’ve found any trace of Oli. The Bennetts buried an urn of ash from Ground Zero in the churchyard at Penn Street, near their home. Even though I didn’t know Oli, I always think of him and particularly the loving parents he left behind every September 11 and whenever I hear the ELO song Mr Blue Sky which was played at his memorial.

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