Archive for category Uncategorized
As I progressed with my MA in Online Journalism and published most of my journalistic work on Birmingham Eastside, I needed a new professional website. Land Inside now displays its own domain name and it uses a Facebook page to reach users and supporters.
Have a quick look at the front page of the website and click on the link below to visit.
I must say Birmingham is possibly the best city in the UK to report on faith. Since I have started to know the communities around churches and mosques, the charities such as St Basils, the social activists here, it gave me that feeling of real community cohesion.
When you find that in a city of over 1.1 million people, it is quite something, don’t you think?
Since I have started my MA in Online Journalism with Paul Bradshaw at Birmingham City University, I discovered multimedia as a form which can be used to its full potential on the web. All I have done so far (including this blog, which is due a renovation soon) seems just child play compared to what I could do.
With a BA in Theology and Literature, I decided to cover Faith for the local news website quite soon into my MA studies. It took a while though to figure out how to make a presentation for the new section.
Using a few sterile words, some links and photos did not seem enough.
Doing a documentary-style presentation which would involve local representatives of different faiths seemed too much. Overstretching my skills did not sound like the best idea and it could have taken a lot longer.
So I decided to go for this.
Filming myself: mistakes
For starters, let us consider this video.
I have never filmed myself before, and through trial and error, I have managed to record a piece which works for its intended purpose.
What do I mean by trial and error exactly?
First, I wrote down a text. I did not feel confident enough to speak freely in a video which represents Birmingham Eastside and the Faith section I see as future investment not only for myself, but for other young journalists as well.
Writing a script was good, trying to use it as a prompter version, like in broadcasting, guaranteed my nervousness, rigidity and a lifeless speech. My partner helped me with the first trial session and he gave me a good lecture over it. He has worked as a cameraman in a local TV station.
Another mistake I did was trying to film it in the evening. All I can say is DO NOT film with artificial light unless you have professional lamps available or any other lighting system which will allow for the following:
- Get rid of the shadows behind you (you do not want to appear as a character from a Hitchcock movie or the Twilight zone).
- Get rid of the shadows on your face (if you do not have the tinniest prettiest nose in the world, as I don’t, having it cast a shadow on half your face might not be really flattering).
And the third major mistake I did was to sit down while I delivered the speech. It just did not work, for a few reasons:
- When you speak sitting down, you are either in a group of people, in your private space or with one other person.Talking to the camera and sitting down might not feel natural at all, hence you might look tensed and deliver a robotic speech.
- It restricts your movement. If you are not an actor who can be expressive enough in front of the camera with just small changes of their face, it will not work. In this video, I rely on my hands to help me do the talking, while my face stays reserved as to fit the subject.
A better approach to self-filming
Everything went smooth as soon as I changed the previously mentioned mistakes. So this experience has taught me that you need to:
- Use your previous experience. You might have never filmed a video of yourself before, but have you on any previous occasions talked in front of a group? What made it work ? For me, it was teaching. Standing up, gesturing, not too much, but enough as to deliver a convinced and convincing speech.
- If you make a mistake, do not change your face too much. Keep the same face you had, and start again where you made the mistake. This might make editing easier.
- Do not stress with sticking to a script. Remember, you are not doing broadcasting. Repeating the pars I have written enough times helped me memories them, but not down to the last word. I felt more relaxed then.
- Leave space and breath between different parts of your speech. This will be useful in editing, as well as with adding photos or other videos later on (a short footage of an event you talk about, for example).
Final conclusions on self video recording
I’m hardly an expert after just one video of myself, but I am pleased with my work so far. Making this video first stressed me out, made me think I am no good in front of the camera like this, then made me really think.
It might not be for everybody. But trying and learning cannot hurt. Not that much, after all.
My next plan is to start vlogging, which will happen by end of March – beginning of April.
Would you like to see the studio where BBC Breakfast is made? Take a tour of the productions floors at MediaCity UK, in Manchester, together with a group of students from Birmingham School of Media.
Facts about MediaCity UK
- About 3,000 people work here for the BBC, according to Aziz Rashid, Head of BBC North West.
- BBC Children, BBC Learning, BBC Radio 5 live, BBC Sport, BBC Radio Manchester and BBC Breakfast as well as Religion & Ethics and the BBC Philharmonic are housed here.
- Around 7,000 people in total work in media production here.
- ITV’s “Coronation Street” is produced here as well.
The group went on a tour through the production rooms, the studio and the gallery where news are released on air. Aziz Rashid, Head of BBC North West, talked about the advantages of this studio. One of them? Having non-halogen lamps means TV presenters do not feel like their make-up is melting due to the heat generated.
As Aziz Rashid explained, the BBC Breakfast studio has real plasma screens in the background.
A very sleek look.
In reality, the BBC Breakfast studio is not as big as it seems on screen.
The gallery for this studio resembles a star ship, at a first look. And a second. And a third. The only bigger thing I have recently seen comprising so many screens is the NASA centre control room in “The Martian”.
Aziz Rashid pointed out:
Everything needs to be working like a well oiled machine. If it doesn’t, mistakes show on air.
Just a corner of the “control station” of the BBC Breakfast (and news) ship at MediaCityUK.
According to Aziz Rashid, on big news they run out of outside sources screens
(upper middle rows, as seen here).
The sound station, in the same gallery. Looking at all those controls,
don’t you feel a bit lost?
If you want to visit the BBC at MediaCity UK, you have to know you cannot go in and out as you wish. As a visitor, such as this group of students, you will be met at reception and taken exactly to where you need to go. Nor can you get out as you wish. The revolving doors are operated only by magnetic ID cards. Without one, you are stuck there.
The whole building in itself is massive, very contemporary and presents lots of open space. Have a look below.
Rows and rows of desks for BBC production at MediaCityUK.
And another production floor.
“Children in need” is produced on site.
At the end of the tour, Aziz Rashid gave two main pieces of advice to media students who would want work experience with the BBC. Watch below what he said.
Matt Damon gets left behind on Mars. Thought to be dead, injured and stranded at 50 million miles from Earth, he survives, at least until things start to go really wrong. The Martian keeps your attention just as alert as a survivor on Mars, in an astronaut suit, must be.
The season seems to have opened to stories set in very dramatic locations. While Everest has received some rather mixed reviews, so far The Martian gets good viewers and critiques reception. After watching it this week, I can give you more than one reason why the story played by Matt Damon scores all the high marks.
Science versus fiction
First of all, this is not really a sci-fi, but a survival story set on another planet. The planet happens to be the next target of humankind for spatial exploration. Currently NASA is planning to send astronauts there in the 2030s, while Mars One foundation seeks to send the first team over in 2026. The choice for Mars is not by chance, as only about two weeks ago NASA announced the discovery of proofs for liquid water on the Red Planet.
But then the movie is a sci-fi. Consider the difference between real current dilemmas regarding Mars exploration and the difficulties faced in the on-screen story. While NASA talks of sending a completely sterile probe to avoid bacterial contamination of fluid water, The Martian speaks of actually colonizing the planet. Put these two into balance and see which weighs heavier.
The super-geek succeeds
One of the hot-spots of the movie is, in fact, the astronaut Mark Watney himself. If you wish, he is a superhero, but a more tangible, real, human in flesh and blood one. And yes he bleeds, and yes he fails, but then yes, he does not give up. After all, he is the super-geek, the muscular biologist who finds a way to grow food on the Red Planet.
The camera plays well with different types of imagery – see reflection in Matt Damon‘s helmet
The fact that Matt Damon plays the character comes as a bonus. I must admit, he is handsome, although for me he just lacks something, a matter of personal taste, probably. Still, I have to give him credit for a the way he walked his character on the fine line between black humour and despair, between confidence and frustration.
The Mark Watney played by Matt Damon stays a memorable character. He makes science appealing, turns it into a superpower, and gets the viewer on an emotional rollercoaster watching his progress and his failures.
If you are anything like me, then prepare yourself to be jumping in your cinema seat a few times, to cover your mouth, to make lots of sounds in terror or surprise, and to occasionally swear. Not that the astronaut himself refrains himself from swearing, but then he at least has got a good excuse. And plus it adds to the humour.
How to survive on your own on Mars
A brilliantly played Mark Watney, who later becomes a lot more lively
The biologist left behind on Mars finds a way in circumstances which would probably make most people think of suicide. It has crossed my mind while watching, and the idea is sawn with finesse in the thread of the story. When he realises he was left on his own, Mark Watney records an entry in the mission logs. He describes the ways in which he could die:
“If the oxygenator breaks down, I’ll suffocate. If the water reclaimer breaks down, I’ll die of thirst. If the Hab breaches, I’ll just kind of implode. If none of those things happen, I’ll eventually run out of food and starve to death. So yeah. I’m fucked.”
After making this entry, he adds that he considers rather surviving. To be honest, if I was faced with such a dilemma myself, I am not sure I would not be so demoralized I would rather shoot myself in the head. But then, I am not a super-scientist, with the adjacent muscles and provided with NASA training.
The Martian is not an action packed, fast paced movie either. It has got the quality of great imagery of possible landscape on Mars, and it has got the solar-system type of a Robinson Crusoe. It has got that touch of theatre play in it, with its one character only scenes. And then it has got, of course, the political plot on the background.
Mark Watney is lonely, but not alone
Unfortunately, the poster is not very accurate: it is stated in the movie Mark Watney was at
50 millions miles away. Mars was just starting to distance itself from Earth
Once NASA officials have found out Mark Watney is still alive, they have to make a difficult decision: how to help him, how and when to bring him back. And this is a great opportunity to set in motion the political arsenal behind institutions founded with public money. The movie gets the whole picture: you have the guy who considers freedom of choice and the humanitarian side of it all, you have the guy who considers the political reasons behind it all, and you have the guy who tries to cover everything (phew, tough job!).
Well balanced with humour, the tension of what happens to Mark Watney alternates with the growing tension in the rescue team. When I say rescue team I mean the NASA specialists who work on a solution and do nothing else for a few months. Sleeping at their workplace becomes a must as well.
This is actually the beauty of the movie, besides the great scenery, the good dosage of the action versus emotions and characters’ insight. It does not leave anyone behind. The scientists striving to find a solution to bring the astronaut home are more than present. Without them, there would be no mission to Mars. Without them, Mark Watney would be dead.
One planet for one man
The only way they could bring Mark Watney back is by joined efforts of not only many people, but a few nations as well. So, besides being and not being a sci-fi movie at the same time, a super-geek movie and a science-drama, “The Martian” is about the strength of one individual and the power of all. Two ideas stay with me after watching it:
First, each individual must strive and be ready to give his life for the greater good, the good of the whole society.
Second, society itself should strive to help each individual, as every person matters. As seen in the trailer, between the two NASA officials:
“It’s bigger than one person”
“No, it’s not”
Joined together and followed through, these two principles would make the world a better place.
If anybody asks me why I have left my country, Romania, I think the best answer I could give is by showing them the following video. It all happened in Bucharest just a couple of weeks ago, on the 10th of August, and if you are not a Romanian you won’t, of course, understand what they say. Be patient enough and watch it through, pay attention at what age group the people in this video are, the aggressors especially, and you might get a good impression on what I am also going to tell you.
The video is filmed at the so-called “Sunday walk” initiated by the most popular journalists (they do not really deserve to be called such, but never mind) of the television channel Antena 3. They had been broadcasting like mad hours and hours of a talk show after the owner of the media trust had been found guilty of fraud and prosecuted to go to jail, on the 8th of August 2014. They were inciting people to go out in the streets and protest because their beloved mogul is being condemned on political reasons and without real grounds, of course while being clean as a new born baby’s mind. They were clearly stating that this was all the work of the Romanian President, that the court was acting as a puppet and there was no justice in what they ruled.
In other words, one of the major television channels in Romania was making serious accusations regarding the Romanian President and the Romanian court. I wonder if any of them made a formal complaint to any superior forums, such as the European Court of Human Rights. If not, I wonder why.
The news about this Romanian mogul has made it even into British media, as far as I know in one newspaper I would not like to link to. His name is Dan Voiculescu, his wealth rising to approximately 350 million euros, and he is now in jail for the fraudulent purchase of the Romanian Institute for Food Research. He was prosecuted to 10 years in jail, for money laundering and buying the institute for 60 million euros under its worth, by fraudulent side agreement and paperwork, thus causing the Romanian state to lose these money.
Now let me tell you a few things about this “charming” pensioner, a media mogul with such an impressive fortune, and the founding president of the Conservative Party, who twice initiated the procedure for the dismissal of the Romanian President. Both attempts failed, as not enough Romanians came to vote. Anyhow, I am not a supporter of any of the current political parties in Romania and I am certainly not a supporter of any particular politician there. The only thing I can say in this matter is that, while they have tried twice to cause the dismissal of Traian Basescu, the still acting President, they have failed.
Also, Voiculescu is not the first wealthy Romanian politician to go to jail during the President’s mandate. A prominent figure in the Social-Democratic Party (the old Communist Party with a new name, a political group which has ruined Romania after the hasted execution of the former dictator), the named Adrian Nastase had been jailed for the first time in 2012, as being found guilty of acts of corruption while being the Prime Minister. He got out of jail under parole just a year later.
Then, at the beginning of this year, according to the Romanian media, another case was built against him, regarding bribery, usage of fake documents with the Romanian Border Agency and blackmailing. He got another 2 years in jail, but funny enough, got out of jail again just last Thursday, on the 22nd of August, as he had served a third of his sentence.
The good part is that these people have been jailed. The bad part is they are getting out of jail so soon. It really enrages me to know that a friend of mine, from my parents village, has spent about 2-3 years in jail (if I remember correctly) for helping some of his mates transport and sell big bags of flour they had stolen from their work place. The story is that these boys, all in their late teenage years or early twenties, were working at a food depot. Their employer was exploiting them, failing on a continuous basis to pay them their salary. Meanwhile, they were struggling back home, as they all came from families facing financial difficulties. The employer and owner of the depot kept saying that they will get their money next week, when next week came he never paid them their whole salary, so the boys decided to take their part by stealing and selling some flour bags.
While I do not commend what they have done, I do understand the circumstances. I had visited this friend when he was in jail and after he got out I understand he did well. Now we are not in touch anymore, he started working as a lorry driver and I think currently lives in Italy. I knew this boy and he is not your common thief. He came from a family struggling, with a drunkard father whom his mother finally divorced, had to pay him his part of the flat so that she can still live there with the two boys, and then lost her job due to the factory she worked in not doing so well.
To see that the wealthy and corrupted people in Romania, leading figures in politics, get out of prison in no time while young boys from struggling families get to spend years as inmates does enrage me.
But now let’s get back to Dan Voiculescu.
I am blessed to have amazing friends back in Romania, whom I miss, but whom I am also very glad to know. Nowadays Facebook and blogging helps us keep in touch and, while we are miles apart, I can still appreciate their friendship, all that I learn from them and all that we share. One of them is Mugur Grosu, an amazing artist and Romanian journalist (a species in peril) who has worked, with a whole team, on investigating what happened to Ceausescu’s money. While it was known that the dictator had an impressive fortune for himself and his wife, it has never been truly found and claimed back by the Romanian government. That money should have come back to the people, as they have been gathered through the people’s work and misery.
Guess what: as evidence suggests, evidence investigated by my good friend and amazing journalist and artist Mugur Grosu and the team he worked with, Ceausescu’s money has never been deposited in personal accounts with foreign banks. The accounts were opened under the name of the trusted Securitate officers (political police) or other high ranked officials working under the command of the dictator. One of the most trusted and most successful ones was Dan Voiculescu. He led the operations of the Romanian company “Crescent”, which was responsible for massive exports for the construction industry, and apparently made a profit of 1.5 billion dollars.
Now it really becomes clear why Ceausescu was shot after a very rushed trial. He had to be put down before he could talk about the money. His trusted directors, such as Dan Voiculescu, had to be able to keep the fortune and live happily ever after, as successful businessmen in a country where people like me could not work as journalists anymore. A country where the elderly go to protest in the streets against the “unjust” prosecution of the media mogul, and they attack the young journalists from other television channels. What the young lady in the above video asked the pensioners was why they protest against the prosecution of a person found to have stolen from the Romanian state. Have they been with him when he did it? Have they shared his fraudulent profit with him? And then a disgustingly coward man with grey hair kicks the journalist from behind. And later in the video we see an old man lifting his clutch as if to hit the cameraman with it.
Yes, Romania is unfortunately a very young country with no real set of values at the moment. The older generation either regrets Ceausescu’s time, or support today’s big thieves, successful businessman who have profited from the money they got into accounts for the old Communist regime. These are the people who vote massively and whose vote can be bought with a bag of flour and couple of bottles of oil. These are the people who have voted for the former President Iliescu, after he summoned the miners from Jiu Valley to come and restore order in the capital, where young people, mainly students and intellectuals, where PEACEFULLY protesting in the University Square against the government composed mainly of ex-communists. They voted for Iliescu again after people were killed in the streets by these miners, after the opposition parties head offices had been raided and destroyed by these brutes, some of which were suspected not to be real working class after all. And the older generations still voted for him.
And, after all, they are the generation who brought up many people my age, who have learnt the same lesson: know your place and, if you have the opportunity, go on and make your fortune with monkey business. Everybody does the same anyway. What, do you think these journalists and intellectuals are not being paid to claim they mean what they say? Come on, don’t be a fool, they are paid and they just do what they are told to.
Yes, my generation and the younger ones had their own University Square protests, against the government austerity measures and against mining with cyanides for big foreign profit in the Western Carpathian Mountains. They have won, so far, but who knows for how long? Meanwhile, people like me are not needed, after all, how many young intellectuals who don’t like or practice monkey business can one corrupt country accommodate? And not to forget that you might get attacked by enraged 50+ men if you dare do your job and report on how people ask for one of the wealthiest man in the country, with communist money, to be released from prison. Or for part of his wealth not to be confiscated, so that their beloved television channel can still broadcast and fill their empty lives with filthy circus.
I think this kind of sums it all up why I am no longer in Romania, but trying to live a peaceful life while earning a decent salary, travelling, doing my writing and getting ready to help my parents when they have to retire on pitiful pensions. However, I intend to write more about the matter and even, in a future article, explain the cultural and historical differences between the provinces, which make the whole country not to stick well together. These days I have read a very good material about how Transylvania, where I come from, was brought down and has not benefited at all from being part of Romania, and, in a way, my feelings agree with it.