All posts by Richard Sambrook

Journalists at risk undermine us all

This post from Prof. Richard Sambrook was originally posted on the INSI website

csm_000_E39MV_01_b48b5ba098This month I stand down as Chair of INSI after nearly five years – and many more having been involved with or supporting the organisation. It provides some perspective.

INSI is a charity focused on safety and the prevention of harm to journalists and media workers around the world. It is supported by news organisations seeking to look after their staff and freelancers and to that extent is focused very much on real-time, in-the-field journalism.

But to really understand the current risks to journalists – and to journalism – we need to take a more strategic view. The safety of journalists has wide social and political importance as well. And if we are to tackle the corrosive issue of impunity for those who kill journalists, that social and political link needs to be recognised and pursued.

Exposing corruption

Civil society relies upon information to provide citizens with the opportunity to build political representation, grow economic capacity, improve public health and education and strengthen the quality of life. In providing that information, journalism can oversee the formation and implementation of policy and shine a light on corruption, human rights abuses or poor governance.

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The BBC Charter – threats avoided but leash tightened

Posted by Professor Richard Sambrook

This post originally appeared in The Conversation.

The dust is settling on the skirmishes of the past few months, now that the White Paper on the future of the BBC has been published. While many of the worst fears of the corporation’s supporters have not come to pass there are still some big points of principle at stake – and a lack of detail in key areas.

The BBC had four criteria it believed needed to be met by the White Paper: clarity over funding, creative and commercial freedom and independence from government. So how do the government’s proposals stack up? Firstly, the new charter is for 11 years, taking it out of the political cycle and potentially reducing the political heat around the BBC’s future.


On funding there is broadly good news. The licence fee deal struck last year is confirmed for the next 11 years – and while that deal – which loaded an extra £750m of costs for licence fees for the over-75s onto the BBC – was not a good one in itself, at least the concessions over future inflation proofing have been met.

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Lessons from The International Journalism Festival, 2016

By Una Kelly, MA Journalism student 2015-16

“It seems like these days to be a journalist you also need to be a computer science expert and hacker and lawyer,” someone whispered next to me. We were at the International Journalism Festival (#ijf16) in Perugia, Italy, which brings together people working at the cutting edge of journalism for five days of discussions and workshops. In an industry changing so fast there was lot to learn, but the atmosphere was one of optimism and excitement about the state of journalism.

The common thread from most conversations was ‘innovate or die’. The need for good reporting and storytelling hasn’t changed, but the architecture of how we tell stories has. With 60% of the BBC’s traffic now coming from mobile, Trushar Barot, mobile editor of the BBC World Service, said a news organisation will not survive if its content doesn’t work on a mobile device – and Jomec’s Richard Sambrook made the point that mobile journalism is not an just an adjunct to TV news.

Several speakers, including Megan Lucero from the Times data journalism unit, even commented we need to stop talking about ‘digital journalism’ and ‘data journalism’ and just call it journalism, since they are no longer facets of journalism, but just what the trade now is. It was mentioned many times that entry level journalists should at least be able to do some basic data manipulation and coding. On a panel called ‘Why do journalism schools still teach like it’s 1996?’, Jomec’s MSc Computational and Data Journalism got an honorary mention when John Crowley, editor-in-chief of the International Business Times, said the course teaches exactly the skills he’s looking for in a journalism graduate.

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The Panama Papers: How does an international investigation work?

Posted by Prof. Richard Sambrook

This post originally appeared on The Conversation.

The reporting of the Panama Papers – which has been based on a massive global analysis of documents leaked from law firm Mossack Fonseca outlining how the world’s elite use tax havens – is a remarkable feat of collaboration which builds on several trends in investigative journalism.

The whole story started with a whistleblower who leaked a huge number of documents and data. At 2.6 terabytes of information, this leak is enormous, dwarfing the Wikileaks documents about the Iraq war or even Edward Snowden’s leaks of NSA surveillance details. Once again it shows how in the data age all organisations are vulnerable to vast caches of information being smuggled out on a computer hard drive or USB stick.

Following the authorities’ pursuit of the people behind those stories – Julian Assange, who is in the Ecuadorean embassy in London; Edward Snowden, who remains in exile in Moscow; and Chelsea Manning, who is serving a 35-year jail sentence, many had feared that whistleblowers would be more reluctant to come forward.

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Sue Lloyd-Roberts Scholarship

Last year, the award-winning video journalist Sue Lloyd-Roberts sadly died from Leukaemia at the age of 64. She was a pioneering reporter who worked for many broadcasters including the BBC, ITN and Channel 4. Her reports -usually produced working alone or in a small team in difficult and closed societies – focused on human rights abuses and international affairs.

Sue in Jungle - cicrca 1990

In memory of her significant achievements her family and friends have launched a fund to pay for a scholarship for a student on one of Cardiff’s  MA courses (MA Journalism or MA International Journalism).

The scholarship will launch this year 2016 and hopefully run for many years ahead. Candidates will have to outline their interest in international affairs or a human rights issue along with a cv. Details will be published on the University and School of Journalism website, and via this blog, later this year.

The successful candidate will be expected to undertake a project related to international affairs or human rights during their course.

The Scholarship fund is  underway and aims to provide scholarships for the next few years – but her family and friends are still raising funds to build it for the long term.

More details about the scholarship can be provided by Professor Sambrook. Donations (every penny raised will go directly to support the fund) can also be made now via

Please include Sue Lloyd-Roberts Scholarship in the comments box.

  • This post was updated on 25/05/2016

An interview with Sir Harold Evans

This post was originally published in The Conversation 

Posted by Prof. Richard Sambrook

Sir Harold Evans was the legendary editor of The Sunday Times in the late 1960’s and 1970’s. Among his many achievements in that period was running a major campaign in defence of the victims of Thalidomide – the drug prescribed to mothers during pregnancy which led to major birth defects. I recently had the opportunity to talk to him about the campaign,and his reflections on it now.  The audio file is about 30 minutes long – and the quality of the phone interview is not brilliant – but there is a full transcript below.

Richard Sambrook: When did you first hear about thalidomide and the problems it was causing?

Harold Evans: I was editor of The Northern Echo in 1961/1962 in Darlington [Northeast England] and I saw some photographs, in the Observer, of thalidomide babies who were at Chailey hospital, without legs [or] arms. I was touched, and so I arranged to publish some of those photographs in The Northern Echo.

To my astonishment, it was regarded as a very bad thing: a number of readers complained, “we don’t want to see these terrible sights.“ I was very shaken by that, because I thought it would be regarded as bringing attention to their difficulties.

At that time, of course, I had no idea how shocking this scandal was. How corrupt everything was. How the press had been totally, hopelessly supine. How the politicians had lied. How the law was totally ineffective. At that time, when I put those photographs in, I had no idea of that.

When I got to be the editor of The Sunday Times, by one of those coincidences, a very good reporter called John Fielding told me he had access, he thought, to some documents by Distillers, the company that manufactured these drugs, on the license from the German company called Chemie-Grünenthal.

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Finding a job in journalism

Any student contemplating a vocational course to become a journalist is bound to ask “will I get a job?”

It was the question at the heart of a recent panel discussion held by the Online News Association and the BBC Academy – which included me and former JOMEC graduate Ellie Wright (along with Aron Pilhofer from The Guardian, Blathnaid Healy from Mashable and the BBC’s Steve Herrmann). A full account (and video) of the discussion is here. 

Two key issues to come out of it were whether in the digital age journalists need to code and whether other specialisms are helpful.

On coding, it was no coincidence that last week the Head of Visual Journalism at the BBC, Amanda Farnsworth, told us the number one thing her team needs is journalists who can code. That’s because the visual journalism team are undertaking some of the most cutting edge production in BBC News. Not all journalists should, or need, to code but – and I can’t emphasise this enough – if you can, you become hugely employable. Every media organisation I talk to is looking for people who can bridge between the newsroom and technical development. It is one area of journalism and media where there are more opportunities than qualified candidates available – and the same is true globally.

That’s why at Cardiff we launched our MSc in Computational Journalism and why we encourage other students who are interested to join the Code Academy for free tuition.

But coding is not the only specialism that can help. Any specialism will set you apart from the crowd – look for the areas of growing interest and importance. Currently Business and Economics journalism offers a lot of opportunities for journalism graduates with a good understanding of how the markets work. And, as the recent Wincott Lecturer, Luigi ZIngales, pointed out, Business and Economics is in need of good old fashioned investigative, muckraking journalism to keep it healthy. We only have to look at the stream of stories over the last few years to recognise it is an area rich in journalistic opportunity – with specialist employers looking for graduates with the right expertise. (NB: The Wincott Foundation offers scholarships for students pursuing Business and Economics Journalism at JOMEC)

Again, that’s why in Cardiff we have added a further specialist elective module in Business and Economics reporting alongside other specialisms like Politics, Sport, Data, Lifestyle and Motoring with more to come.

So how do you get a job in journalism? Be well trained, look at the areas of news and media that are growing and get the specialist skills that employers are seeking.

There are jobs out there for the taking.


Why train to be a journalist?

Posted by Prof Richard Sambrook

Why train to be a journalist? It’s a reasonable question as we read about the many apparent crises in the media. But the answer is simple. We are living in the information age – and journalists are information professionals whose skills are increasingly needed. As technology transforms the media, the journalism skills of gathering, verifying, assessing and analysing information, skills in fashioning a compelling story and in engaging the public, are in higher demand than ever.

Of course those skills, and the tools a journalist uses, are changing rapidly with new technology. Today, knowing to ask “Who, What, Where, When and Why” is not enough. Today’s journalists need to understand the dynamics of social media, how to use and visualise data, how to tell video stories at 20 minutes for documentary, 2 minutes for a news programme or 20 seconds for Instagram.

They need to understand the new relationship with readers and audiences. Journalism is no longer about telling the public what you think they need to know. It’s now a collaborative exercise, working with the public to explore the world and engaging them in a more personal one-to-one relationship than the sometimes lofty tones of the past. Underpinning all this, the core skills remain essential. Students need a thorough grounding in media law, public administration, media ethics, interviewing and reporting skills, tight writing and editing.

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What kind of BBC do you want?

This post by Prof Richard Sambrook was originally published in The Conversation.


There is now a clear choice following the publication of the British government’s green paper into the future of the BBC.

In one corner, we have the traditional view of public broadcasting, offered by the BBC and supporters, based on the principle of universality. This says the BBC should be for everyone, providing quality programmes for all audiences, including comedy and entertainment as well as drama, news and high arts programming.

In the words of Huw Wheldon, this view sees the BBC as being about “making the popular good and the good, popular”. It believes there is an increasing role for a trusted voice in the increasingly crowded digital market – one that is accountable, focused on the public – as opposed to commercial or political – interests; that seeks to bind the country together through shared experience and national debate; that seeks to offer a diversity of views to challenge the homophily of our other media habits; that contributes to supporting and developing the creative sector in the UK and which ties the UK together to the rest of the world through international programming and services. It recognises the BBC as the UK’s only global media brand – and one which has to have the resource and remit to continue to innovate in a dynamic, international marketplace.

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