Raymond Snoddy on Media: Disrupting the news

Raymond Snoddy
Raymond Snoddy

LONDON - From Hollywood.TV to citizen journalists, a fresh form of news dissemination and comment is arising

Chances are you have never met, and probably have not even heard of, Sheeraz Hasan, a former restaurateur. However, he certainly made an impact last week at the annual News Xchange conference in Valencia, which is attended by television news executives from around the world.

There were worthy chest-thumping sessions on whether they had all 'crowned' Barack Obama, rather than covering his campaign, and on the difficulties of interesting audiences in world hunger, torture, investigative journalism, and so on.

Then there was Hasan, founder and chief executive of entertainment web-site Hollywood.TV - wearing, like his acolytes, a Hollywood.TV T-shirt, and speaking in a session on the unstoppable rise of entertainment news.

What Hasan does is very simple, and very disruptive. He and his chums point $50 cameras at celebrities wherever they can find them and, without worrying too much about the finer points of editing, whack the results onto the web.

Sometimes, he boasts, the process can take as long as 15 minutes. In an inevitable hyperbole, he claims audiences of at least 1bn for his work. That certainly is what the technology allows you to do these days.

Hasan's activities are doubly disruptive because he is a great believer in the laws of supply and demand. If the audience wants more entertainment news, that is what they are going to get - and there are few limits. If it happened in public it goes out, whether it is evidence of drug addiction or stars in a state of physical collapse being shipped off to a hospital. If broadcasters or websites use his material, he says, then the responsibility lies with them. If a celebrity were to commit suicide as a result of all the negative publicity? Obviously, that is their responsibility too.

A German public-service broadcaster asked, almost wistfully, if there should be some limits, such as not showing people who were mentally ill, or suffering from drug addiction.His squeamishness was squashed by the laws of supply and demand. Afterwards, over Cava, the executive admitted that maybe the game was up and he was just old-fashioned.

However, there was also evidence in Valencia of new communication technologies being used for a slightly higher purpose, although just as disruptively. The boys and girls 'on the bus', those professional journalists officially accredited to the Obama campaign, had less real access to a presidential candidate than any in living memory. The few occasions when the Obama mask slipped, such as the disparaging remarks about the white working class of Pennsylvania, came from the 'off the bus' organisation - an assembly of more than 12,000 'citizen journalists', who had no chance of getting off-the-record briefings with the candidates.

The really scary thing is that it all cost remarkably little: a total of $250,000, or a remarkable $21 per citizen journalist.

At the moment, this group uses mainly text. However, Mayhill Fowler, one of its national correspondents, accepted that it was time for the citizen journalists to master video.

Life will be difficult for political journalists in the US as Obama heads behind the walls of the White House. The new president is liable to bypass traditional journalists and use the web to spread information, just as he used it to get elected. If that happens, only the hordes of citizen journalists and sites such as Hollywood.TV will make a difference.

Raymond Snoddy is a media journalist and presenter of BBC's Newswatch

30 seconds on...   Sheeraz Hasan

 

  • In 1991, at the age of 16, Sheeraz Hasan took over his family's struggling London restaurant and turned it into themed restaurant The Tinseltown Café.
  • Once the business was on its feet, he moved to Hollywood, and became host of 'Tinseltown TV', interviewing stars from the Bollywood and Hollywood film industries.
  • Hasan professes to favour a spiritual focus that 'encourages stars to use their fame to make the world a better place' and to 'create a positive image for Muslims in America'.
  • In 2005 he launched www.Hollywood.TV, airing 'compelling, raw moments with the stars moments after they've been shot'. The site names Sky, CNN and the BBC as users of its content.
  • Hasan has hosted TV shows raising funds for humanitarian causes including the 2004 South-East Asian tsunami and an earth-quake in Pakistan this year.
  • His autobiography, Sheeraz: the Muslim American Dream, was published in 2006.

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