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Be Careful What You Wish For

19 Oct

“Be careful what you wish for”, were the eerie words of wisdom from The Politics Show front man Jon Sopel.

Having experienced post traumatic stress disorder after helping lift dead bodies onto a helicopter after the Lockerbie disaster, Sopel has seen the dark side of journalism.

Jon Sopel and I

Sopel was young and naive when he experienced this, after asking a helicopter pilot at the incident whether he could join him and see from the sky the terror that shook the Scottish border. He made the mistake of being too eager and didn’t ask any details which led him to have “seen things, touched things that you don’t want to do”. 

“It was a difficult Christmas that year”, says Sopel, who now admits to having experienced post-traumatic stress. 


Reassuringly, Sopel enthused that mistakes are made early on, and it is best to start in local media, whether it be radio, television or print.

Sopel says, “You can wish for too much too quickly. I was asked to present the Today programme aged 32, next to John Humphries. The BBC were thinking ‘Who the hell is this guy?’ It was too soon for me to be doing that”.

Since Sopel’s early days in local radio, he has famously interviewed the likes of David Beckham, Jack Straw, Heather Mills and Gordon Brown to name but a few. He has reported from Afghanistan, Iraq, the Asian tsunami and Northern Ireland. He has seen and done things which I can only imagine.


With a wealth of contacts, Sopel is able to construct fair, unbiased reports on people and events. His advice to the general public is, “don’t tell journalists secrets. My job is not to keep secrets.”

Sopels powerful ability of reporting truth in his so cleverly constructed unbiased way  has led to the downfall of George Pearson’s career, and also the disastrous relationship between Lib Dem Charles Clark and former PM Gordon Brown.

“You suddenly become friends with contacts and broadcast something and they say ‘You bastard!'”

Sopel sees this as his licence to be nosy. These hard-hitting truths have not gone unnoticed and Sopel hasn’t been short of criticism.

Peter Mandelson, who Sopel describes as a “clever and slippery politician”, wrote a four page letter to the BBC explaining why Sopel should be sacked. Senior communicator for the Lib Dems denounced Sopel’s words as ‘lies’ during the election.

However, Sopel believes it to be his duty to tell the truth, regardless of whom it may anger (and in the case of Mandelson it seems to happen rather frequently).


I asked Sopel whether he thought it was ethical and respectful that images of parents holding their dead children, for example, should be shown as a result of dreadful events.

He believes it to be a question of taste: “As long as the images are justifiable and used sparingly it is completely necessary for people to see, so long as it won’t make them throw up during dinner”.

“You can’t show the missiles of war, and not show people the outcome”, Sopel added.

As a result, Sopel claimed that families thanked him for showing people what is truly going on.


Sopel hinted on the mental trauma which comes with reporting from war-torn countries. He has seen police beat starving people when they try to get food, as he drives back to a 5 star hotel and orders room service. He has had to put a gas mask on in seven seconds while reporting on live BBC news. He’s faced mine fields and lost friends – Sopel was drinking with Terry Lloyd the night before he crossed the Kuwait border and never returned.

This does not phase Sopel, who responds to the danger with, “You wouldn’t cross the road with the small chance of being hit by a lorry if you always thought like that, You have to assess the risks”.

Admittedly, not everyone is put out for this. Sopel described a woman who completely flipped and panicked whenever she had to put a gas mask on. The woman was sent home.

For many journalists who so triumphantly say, “I want to be where the action is!”, John gives this message:

“Be careful what you wish for”.

Take Me Back To The Dark Ages

19 Oct

Today Paul Brannan visited uni and unravelled a truth I had known but tried to avoid: The future for journalists is mobile phone technology.

Brannan gave an incredibly convincing speech on ever improving technology available, allowing us to track where people are with a landscape of information at our finger tips.

He showed us how we are able to project an image from an Iphone onto the wall, miles away from the constrained picture on the mobile screen.

I had a romantic image of myself, typing furiously at my (imagined) type writer or if I were to be pushed, a PC (yes, PC! Not MAC, heaven forbid).

I do check the news occasionally on my, now perceived as ancient, Blackberry Curve. However, each page takes at least ten minutes to upload. I am partial to a bit of online news. I also begrudgingly joined Twitter, but so far my followers consist of my class mates, Barbie and Ken, and a person pretending to be a dog. But, am I alone in preferring to ‘hold’ the news? Seemingly not.

Sir William Preece and I would have got on. As Chief Engineer at the British Post Office he said in 1878,

“The Americans have need of the telephone but we do not. We have plenty of messenger boys”.

I wonder how Sir William would think if he glanced down your average train in Japan to see every single person with their up to the date phones, blogging/Tweeting/texting… Apparently our mobile phones are in the dark ages in comparison. It is hardly surprising that Nokia are the biggest camera manufacturer in the world.


Before long, we will be able to point our phones at different buildings and monuments and people able to learn all there is to know.

 For instance, if you were to point the phone at Churchill’s statue, you would be able to hear one of his great war speeches. Information in the landscape will be tagged, giving us knowledge beyond our wildest dreams.

Other new technology includes ‘mobile wallets’ which are routinely used in Japan and pay for public transport, using the same technology as Oyster cards. Similarly, Estonia used similar technology on their mobile phones to park cars.


As ‘marvelous’ as all this may seem, there is the dark side to this new invasion of mobile phone technology. As Brannan said,

“The technology is very powerful. If it didn’t have this dark side, it probably wouldn’t be as powerful”.

People are becoming increasingly suspicious of this ability to track others at all times.


I raised the question, “Will this new media alienate people?”, to which Brannan swiftly replied, “definitely”.

“There is a huge digital divide. However, there’s an image at the BBC of a granny holding an Ipad”.

I believe that people are made to feel inadequate for not being up to speed with the new technology. Just glancing at the BBC website proved this as it states:

“Have you used BBC Mobile services to keep abreast of football scores, or check the weather forecast, or dip into news headlines when you’re out and about?

If you have then you’re in a minority at the moment.”


Thankfully, Brannan confirmed that this new media will not be the end of ‘real’ reporters. He started by saying, “We still need journalists to verify…” (I love hearing those words, usually means that print has not died)… “what is going when Geo tags information is lacking”. Oh no, I cannot hide from the ‘geo tag’. I may as well kick my dusty type writer away and become a… Librarian.