Sips from the Firehose
A blog that seeks to filter the internet into a refreshing, easily-gulped beverage


Jun 26

“Fairness over truth” – StopFake points out vulnerabilities in The View From Nowhere

Posted: under Conspiracy Theories, Politics & New Media, Ukraine.
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Ukrainians fighting the Kremlin’s propaganda machine release report on what they’ve learned

While I’ve been regularly sharing, reposting and ReTweeting the efforts of my friends, colleagues and students in Ukraine over the past year and a half, I must admit that there are times when I kinda lose track of what’s really happening over there.

front page of StopFake.org

Every day, they scour the airwaves and the web for examples of Russian propaganda. They are like the “Daily Show” of Ukraine … without quite so many jokes. Because, well, people are dying. And that’s kinda hard to make into Teh Funny.

I can’t quite express in words how proud and humbled I am by StopFake.org, the online effort by Yevhen Fedchenko, the Mohyla School of Journalism, and the Institute for the Digital Future of Journalism, to report the truth and counter the cynical, evil lies that are being daily concocted by the Putin regime to mislead and delude people around the world.  Their efforts these past few years have made me feel like a spoiled gringo, as so often happens when I work with journalists in countries where the government or cabals of criminal oligarchs decide to crush a free and independent press.

Which is why it’s even worse to see us doing it to ourselves.

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May 15

Ukrainian Journos Use Digital Tools to Fight Disinformation

Posted: under Ukraine.
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This is why it is important to teach journalists how to use social media.

My friends and colleagues in Ukraine are fighting a protracted battle in the global court of public opinion, and they are using all the digital tools and techniques that I’ve been referencing/showing off/misusing during the last seven years that I’ve been teaching and training there.  Read More

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Nov 10

Ukrainian Professors Play with New iPad 2s

Posted: under Digital Migration, new media, Online Video, Ukraine.
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…in the courtyard of the Institute for the Digital Future of Journalism

I’ve got great video of everyone having a blast, experimenting with the new guerilla-style video production tactics I’ve been teaching them — I showed them how to use the front and rear-facing cameras on their iPads to shoot video. Here, they are working on producing “establishing shots” using whatever equipment is available to you at the time; in this case, it means holding the iPad up in front of your face and doing slow 360s, talking to the camera, so the audience can see for themselves what the landscape around you looks like.

journalism professors playing with ipads

They absolutely loved their brand-new iPad 2s. It was like seeing little kids getting handed Magic Mirrors. They were polite enough for most of the day, but about mid-afternoon, I just lost them in the wilds of the App Store. Also - I will never understand how the Ukrainian women manage to walk down these uneven, treacherous ancient cobblestone streets in stiletto heels.

I also taught them the basics of shot selection, framing, the Rule of Thirds, and some basic stuff about editing and shot sequencing as a means to create emotion. It was about a semester’s worth of material crammed into a one-day lecture, but at least I opened them up to what is possible, and where they can go to try to learn more on their own.

This is still a beautiful city, even if the sky in unrelenting slate gray, and the wind from Siberia knifes right through you after the sun goes down…

At night, the streets of Kiev are filled only with the rumble and clatter of Dr. Zhivago trolley cars, and the whistling north wind. The architecture here is like the people; kind of battered, but still full of character. Resilient.

I haven’t gotten to see as much of this city as I would like; I’ve always been working too hard, or pretty much exhausted & creaking from the demented flight schedule it takes to get here from Los Angeles. Still, the little I have been able to discover on my own has been delightful.

ukrainian student concentrates on the screen

This time around, my students arrived in my classes with significant New Media skills. Some of them were already creating infographics, and this girl is already ghost-blogging for big financial companies. As you can see, she is quite determined; meanwhile, behind her, another of my more active and vocal students gasps in horror at the convoluted assignments I have inflicted on the class...

One of the greater joys of this class was seeing my students help each other out. When they got stuck with some of my more technically challenging exercises, they reached out to each other, and shouted advice back and forth across the classroom.

There is no better feeling for me. I am only here for such a very short time; I keep wishing that I had an entire semester to really reach deep into these young people, to help them draw out their skills & refine them. But seeing their willingness to follow me down these strange multimedia pathways, and to help each other out along the way … leads me to believe that they will continue to help each other out after I am gone.

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Apr 19

Children of Chernobyl: Persistent Effects of Long-Term Radiation Exposure

Posted: under Online Video, Politics & New Media, Ukraine.
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200,000 deaths. Could Fukushima get this bad?

This video was produced by my students at the University of Mohyla‘s Institute for the Digital Future of Journalism in Kiev, Ukraine. It’s in Ukrainian, so my English-speaking audience won’t be able to understand the narration or interviews.

Which is kinda beside the point, after you look at these kids.

Child victim of radiation poisoning from Chernobyl

Children are particularly vulnerable to the radioactivity spewed out in a meltdown. Their bodies are growing, and as part of the growth process, the body is constantly looking for calcium to add to their bone structure.

In light of the recent disaster at the Fukushima Reactor Complex in Japan, it is more than a little chilling to look at these pictures of deathly ill children that are still – STILL – turning up in “cancer blooms” in Ukraine, long past the time when the rest of the world considered the whole matter done & dealt with. That’s the thing about true nuclear meltdowns: they don’t just go away when the news cycle gets bored of them (they way it so clearly has with the Fukushima situation).

children dying slow death from Chernobyl radiation poisoning

The problem is that Strontium-90 looks to the body like calcium. So the children's bodies grab it and add it to the calcium being deposited in the bones. And once it's there it quietly goes about poisoning the bone marrow, causing strange and unpredictable cancers. Mutations. Leukemia is about as benign as it gets.

So look at these images.  Remember that back in ’86, the governments — in the USSR and elsewhere – were also saying that there was nothing to worry about. That the levels of radiation that were released were so low that they posed no real danger. Nothing to worry about. Move along.

It came as quite a surprise to me to learn that there is a widely known (but officially denied) statistic: 200,000 people have died as a result of the radiation leak at Chernobyl. Apparently, even the average Ukrainian on the street (Dmitri Six-Pack?) knows that the government has drastically underplayed the casualties. The problem is that it is devilishly hard to pin down what it is that has caused a death 5, 10, 20 or more years after an event. Was it the radiation? Or heavy metals in the groundwater? Second-hand smoke? Or just genetic bad luck?

doctors try to figure out the root causes of the cancer crisis
Valiant Ukrainian doctors refused to shut up about the root causes of the cancer crisis. Some of them paid a heavy price for not going along with the program. Not shutting up.

When I was teaching at Mohyla, coincidentally, across the hall from my classroom, there was a doctor’s conference being held. The doctors were quietly furious. They felt that they had been screaming their lungs out about this problem, but that they were being ignored, hushed up.

Even arrested and carted away for daring to contradict the official line.

They had come to a journalism school to meet directly with people who they hoped would help them sound the alarm. To tell the story that things weren’t what the Men In Charge were saying.

“At least 500,000 people — perhaps more — have already died out of the two million people who were officially classed as victims of Chernobyl in Ukraine,” said Nikolai Omelyanets, deputy head of the National Commission for Radiation Protection in Ukraine. “[Studies show] that 34,499 people who took part in the clean-up of Chernobyl have died in the years since the catastrophe. The deaths of these people from cancers were nearly three times as high as in the rest of the population.

“We have found that infant mortality increased 20 percent to 30 percent because of chronic exposure to radiation after the accident. All this information has been ignored by the IAEA and WHO. We sent it to them in March last year and again in June. They’ve not said why they haven’t accepted it.”

Evgenia Stepanova, of the Ukrainian government’s Scientific Center for Radiation Medicine, said: “We’re overwhelmed by thyroid cancers, leukemias and genetic mutations that are not recorded in the WHO data and which were practically unknown 20 years ago.”

It’s impossible to look at these pictures and not feel a small sliver of dread in the pit of your stomach.

tiny child pulling adult-size IV around
So many children have gotten awful, incurable cancers that they have had come up with all kinds of special equipment to treat their frail, tiny bodies.

This is going to happen in Japan. The invisible killer has already been unleashed there. The radioactive poisons released into the ocean are, by definition, heavy metals. They aren’t going to go very far. At least, not at first.

So decades from now, the fish that eat the crustaceans that eat the plants that grow in the muck … those fish will have Strontium-90 in them. Cesium-137. Ruthenium-106. Phosphorus-32. Plutonium. Uranium. God knows what else.

I haven’t seen a TV news show yet that has come clean about what is being released into the environment. The closest we got was on the Bill Maher show last Friday night, where scientist Michio Kaku said it plainly: “This is a giant science experiment. And we are all the guinea pigs.”

child cancer patient - staring eyes
The parents of these children do what they can to cheer them up. Note the little stars and decorations on the surgical mask. I’m not sure if this makes it better, or even more heartbreaking.

 

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Feb 13

Ukrainian Drinks Menu

Posted: under Foodstuffs, Ukraine.
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…and this is where my problems really started…

Note that in Kiev, you can get sex on the beach.  The drink, that is.

Actual sex on the beach is not recommended.

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Mar 14

When Kiev Mutton Speaks…

Posted: under Ukraine.
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I’m on my last day of training here in Ukraine (I was informed that they prefer that we gringoes say "Ukraine" rather than "The Ukraine" … not sure what their objection to the article is, but OK…)

The reporter teams have done some stunning work in only a week.  We assigned them to go out and shoot and edit together video reports for the web; yesterday, we went over their (mostly) finished results, and gave them some pointers on camerawork, editing and sound.

I hope to be able to post some of their efforts here – the reports range from the funny (a piece on how Ukrainian women are so much more demanding now than they used to be – the poor guys here used to be heroes if they brought a woman a piece of smoked fish – now they have to get diamonds and perfume) – to the tragic (a piece on how the out-of-control development here is displacing old widows who are struggling to survive in a world they no longer understand).

And then there’s the interviews with the victims of the sex slave trade.

My only regret so far is that I have not been able to do any real sightseeing here, but this task (teaching print journalists how to handle a videocamera, how to edit in Edius and Avid Liquid, what sort of stories are appropriate for multimedia, etc.) has been so demanding, I really haven’t had the energy to get out and see this ancient, beautiful city.

Heh. I did go out last night for Tex-Mex food.  It was my inner daredevil taking ascendancy again … I wanted to know how Ukrainians  could possibly process the South Texas cuisine … but I have to say, it wasn’t bad.  Beats Taco Hell, that’s for sure.  And it goes good with the strong local beers…

Photos and (I hope, I hope) video to come…

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