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Thursday, August 7, 2008

All fired up over Wintec's Spark festival

This has been a good week with much spirited conversation about journalism, daily news and how the web is changing how, where and when we get our news.

It's Spark Week at Wintec in Hamilton - a festival of international and local speakers, workshops, films and exhibitions open to students, staff and the community at large.

Well worth a look at the Spark website to check out the programme if you're in town. There's still a lot to come including Pecha Kucha 7.30pm tonight in the Hub - Wintec's new high-tech function centre, meeting space, library and cafe rolled into one.

My contribution to proceedings started on Tuesday with a Media Bites lunch - a regular Wintec event open to students and the local media and business community. Media Bites, hosted by Wintec's Editor in Residence (that's me), brings in industry speakers to share ideas and experience and spark conversation about what's happening in the industry, and what should be happening.

In previous years we've heard from Dominion Post editor Tim Pankhurst, TV3 news chief Mark Jennings, John Campbell, former Al-Jazeera bureau chief Trish Carter and Morning Report's Sean Plunket.

Earlier this year Waikato Times editor Bryce Johns spoke about the way his paper handled coverage of the Tamahere coolstore fire, a major story for the region.

This time Sam Farrow joined us to talk about his time at New Scotland Yard developing new media systems to improve communication with the UK media. Sam, whose background spans PR, news and IT, managed the development of an online news programme at the Yard. He's now back in NZ and until recently was New Media Manager at NZPA.

Early on Sam told us that when he joined the Yard its only means of talking to reporters was by phone. That meant fielding 300 phone calls on an average day. It was closer to 1,000 on a day like September 11, 2001.

That's a logistical headache by anyone's definition. So they started setting up email networks, sending out press releases with print-ready quotes and later broadcast-ready audio.

Interesting stuff, made more so by the fact that Sam cheerfully let us in on some of the mistakes made along the way. I think Sam's going to set his slides up online soon and when he does I'll post the link. If you're interested in coming along to Media Bites or presenting some time, drop me a line at

Yesterday Sam followed up with a workshop based on a real-life scenario. Police received a taped phone message of a distressed young woman saying she'd been abducted and was in trouble. The message cut out before she could say where she was.

What followed was a slow drip feed of information, and those of us in the workshop were asked each step along the way whether we should start talking to the media and how much we should say if we did, given that a young woman's life hung in the balance.

I'll be honest, I found it really difficult to decide - I wanted to be open with the media but I didn't want a mob of reporters showing up outside the barn where the girl was thought to be held for fear the abductor would react badly to the added pressure. A very interesting exercise if you ever get the chance to do the workshop, or something like it.

Before I go, a quick nod to the Sparkettes, two Wintec students working on Spark week who are blogging about their 12 days of Spark.