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February 11th, 2011
06:54 PM ET

Mubarak Steps Down: What Next for Egypt?

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Here in Hong Kong it’s after 2 am. Even on one of my wilder Friday nights, I’d normally be tucked up in bed by now. But I’m finding it almost impossible to tear my eyes away from the scenes on the streets of Cairo. Egypt’s future is far from secure. But its present is rapturous, unbridled and – ultimately – momentous. No Friday night I have ever experienced equals that which Egyptians are experiencing now.

It’s not difficult to feel invested in these scenes when you’ve spent 18 days writing Egypt’s story – without ever really knowing what the conclusion would be. We don’t know it now – but the unique images we have broadcast on CNN (horses and camels rushing through Tahrir Square, thousands praying as protesters threw rocks behind them, apparent innocents taking bullets to the head, and Mubarak’s none-too-ambiguous podium appearance just last night) are indelible in the minds of viewers around the world.

We have introduced various players (opposition leader Mohamed ElBaradei, VP Omar Suleiman and protest talisman Wael Ghonim among them), little knowing what their influence might be. Now we watch Egypt come under the guidance of its enigmatic military, and the next chapter will be just as beguiling to behold.

The CNN team in Egypt has done a supreme job in telling this story – and in attempting to represent the views of the entire Egyptian population (anti-Mubarak, pro-Mubarak and neutral alike). And their efforts have been reflected in the words of a man who has influenced developments in an unbelievably News Stream-friendly way. Between Facebook page creation (and subsequent detention), Twitter updates and a compelling interview with CNN’s Ivan Watson, Wael Ghonim has been a worthy human face of this revolution. And his appreciation is humbling:

“You guys have played a great role in saving the lives of hundreds if not thousands of people. CNN did a great job. You guys deserve a great recognition from the Egyptian people and we are not going to forget your role. You guys are heroes as well. You are part of the revolution. You should be proud of yourself.”

Stay with News Stream – and CNN as a whole – as we follow Egypt’s progress to an uncertain (but certainly intriguing) future.

February 11th, 2011
08:11 AM ET

Valentine's Day: Newsworthy or not?

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There are several people in the CNN newsroom and elsewhere who refuse to accept my cynical standpoint on Christmas. I have grudgingly grinned and borne it, despite the following defenses for my dislike:

  • The pressure. What bright spark decided that late December was the time of year when we MUST ENJOY OURSELVES OR ELSE?
  • Busy pubs. Just because everybody has decided it’s the season to be jolly, I must wait longer to get a drink. Tremendous. I’m really jolly now. Thanks.
  • Pan pipe versions of Jingle Bells on loop in stores and stations. As far as I’m aware, reindeer are not native to the Andes and probably don't visit. Which brings me to...
  • Secret Santa. Oh wow, I really, desperately wanted a pair of Bart Simpson boxer shorts. How did you know?!
  • Santa generally. Lying to children is neither big nor clever.

But while Christmas has its plus points (family togetherness and food chief among them), I cannot fathom why anyone would choose to celebrate Valentine’s Day. I’m not the cynical one here. The whole occasion is a cynically conceived and cynically executed exercise in fakery.

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Filed under: General • Personal musings
January 25th, 2011
07:31 AM ET

Admiring Andy Murray

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I was going to call this post “The Strife of Supporting Scottish Sportspeople” but I appreciate there’s only so much alliteration people can stomach in one sitting.

Let me first make my shocking confession: I really do admire Andy Murray. His tennis style can be spectacularly entertaining – but his off-court antics delight me just as much. In the Age of Beige, when sports stars are typically media trained to within an inch of a coma, Murray is nothing if not unpredictable. In his post-match interviews, he is frequently grouchy. But he is just as often very funny. In fact, only Australian Open comedy queen Caroline Wozniacki has challenged him in this department of late.

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Filed under: General • Personal musings • Sport
January 18th, 2011
08:13 AM ET

Did Ricky Gervais Really Cross the Line?

Another awards show. Another dissection of Hollywood’s dress sense – or lack thereof (naming no names, Helena). Each year after the Oscars forerunner, more column inches are inevitably geared towards gowns than globe winners.

On Monday’s News Stream, we examined the Twittersphere’s take on hits and misses in the style stakes. (No surprise that #globesfail was a trending hashtag throughout the ceremony.) But there was one fact we couldn’t ignore. The most talked-about individual was neither dressed to impress nor guilty of a frock shock.

Not even Tilda’s toga could upstage the man of the moment – awards host Ricky Gervais.

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Few in attendance – or otherwise – avoided falling victim to the barbs of a man described variously on Twitter as “cheap”, “insightful”, “a mean-spirited bully” and “a legend”.

In the aftermath of the Golden Globes, viewers and news outlets alike have fallen over themselves to offer opinion on the Brit’s prickly performance.

Was he simply taking overdue potshots at a Hollywood elite many regard as self-absorbed and self-congratulatory?

Were his jibes just too callous for an evening of celebration?

Were the top brass at the Hollywood Foreign Press Association (organizers of the whole shebang) even speaking to him by the end of it all?

On this last point, it seems highly unlikely the HFPA would take umbrage. Gervais is, after all, a man who rose to international prominence thanks to “The Office”, a TV show in which jokes about racism and disability came entirely as standard.

[CNN’s Marquee Blog offers more evidence as to why Gervais’s repartee should surprise absolutely no-one.]

NBC / Getty Images

Most commentators have sought to address the following question: Did he cross the line?

Needless to say, the views vary wildly.

The issue of crossing the line is a thorny one. The line in question shifts wildly according to location, context, audience and all sorts of other variables.

I have personal experience of straddling the line and risking falling onto the wrong side. In my previous job as a reporter, a few moments spring to mind:

  • Suggesting that the best thing about one town in our news patch was the road leading out of it;
  • Comparing Scotland’s First Minister to Scotland’s national dish (haggis) in both shape and substance;
  • Stopping just short of donning a transparent pink kilt after a last-minute decency warning from management

In each case, a decision was made based on the story I was telling – and the manner in which it was being told.

The report we aired on Monday’s News Stream contained two carefully-selected, equally acerbic offerings from Gervais. And viewers were left to decide which side of the line he was standing on.

Yet many news organizations have stepped across the editorial line in defense or disparagement of the host. Here’s just a selection:

  • The LA Times called Gervais’s efforts a “snarkfest” with a “corrosive tone”
  • The New York Daily News led with the headline: “Ricky Gervais digs himself into irreversible hole”, later noting “Gervais missed “fun” the same way he missed “funny””
  • The Washington Post’s review of the show even endorsed violence : “You kept hoping the crowd would rise up and pummel Gervais.”
  • Britain’s Daily Mail congratulated him for mocking the Beverly Hilton brigade, noting “You have to recall that these starlings of global glitter are dim birds”

The Hollywood Reporter didn’t disguise its approval either. But it did include one undeniably astute paragraph:

“Gervais's jokes were so incendiary that when he went missing during the second half of the show, the Twitterverse lit up with suggestions that he'd been fired backstage. Clearly, Gervais had done so much damage entertaining the viewers at home (or appalling them, depending on their belief in decorum), that he became the story of the night.”

People that unfailingly toe the line don’t command much press attention – and they don’t command much audience attention either.  When Piers Morgan (himself an adept attention-grabber) interviews Gervais on CNN this Thursday, you can bet the viewership – and subsequent column inches – will be pretty darn sizeable.

January 7th, 2011
06:53 AM ET

Demonstrating the Deluge

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 It's the size of France and Germany combined. It's the size of Texas. It's the size of Egypt.

All impressive facts to convey the scale of the flooding affecting northeastern Australia. But comparisons like these – thrown casually into a broadcast script – are now so commonplace that (in the words of an episode of Cougar Town I watched last night) the news becomes white noise. We work in TV, so we have a duty not just to tell people how big a floodzone is; we have a duty to show them.

News Stream prides itself on the strength of its visuals. And visuals are key when telling a story like the Queensland floods.

At the moment, floodwaters in places like the city of Rockhampton have reached a peak and have – give or take a few centimeters – remained at that peak for three days. They're expected to remain there for another week. It's safe to assume life is getting worse for the hundreds of people who've been displaced. Frustration, anger and exhaustion are sure to be on the increase.

But the numbers, the comparisons and the extremities in this story are going nowhere. So it's up to us as writers, producers and newsgatherers to take our output forward in an engaging way.

Thursday's News Stream offered an example of this. We've seen countless aerial shots captured from the skies above Rockhampton, Bundaberg and elsewhere. But we hadn't yet seen the view from further up. Thanks to our friends at NASA, we were able to demonstrate what three weeks of record rainfall looks like from space.

Here's the view of the Fitzroy River Basin on December 14:

NASA

And here's the same view on January 4:

NASA

There. That probably conveys more than saying something's the same size as somewhere half the world away, doesn't it?

But if you're going to do comparisons from space, it's pertinent to show how the situation has changed from a Queenslander's perspective.

We were fortunate that CNN meteorologist Mari Ramos drew our attention to a particularly eyecatching example.  The image below may look like your average estate agent web page, advertising a two-storey home in need of a spot of repair. "Roll up your sleeves," the site advises prospective buyers. "There's work to be done."

 Now have a look at this shot from Getty Images, taken this week:

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As we stated on News Stream, the website might want to consider changing its health warning to "Roll up your trouser legs. There's even more work to be done".

The home described as being "a stone's throw from the Fitzroy River" has now found itself in the middle of it.

A useful exercise in comparison and a sobering depiction of the human cost of the Queensland floods, rolled into one.

Tune into News Stream today at 9pm Hong Kong, to see (and hear!) where we take the story next.

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Filed under: General • News Stream ephemera • Space
December 28th, 2010
07:42 AM ET

Found Out Via Facebook

On Monday’s News Stream, we told the tragic tale of Mario Ferri (aka ‘Il Falco’/’The Falcon’), a serial football pitch invader whose exploits across three continents were all but nullified by a single act of stupidity. When trying to evade the U.A.E. legal system as successfully as he evaded stadium security, Ferri made a fatal error. He told his Facebook friends exactly what he was up to.

"I hope they don't catch me, otherwise I will be in a heap of trouble,” The Falcon is said to have astutely remarked on the social networking site. Probably best not to announce it to the world then, is it Mario? Bird by name. Bird by brain.

The multi-game gatecrasher is not the first person to be found out via Facebook – and he’s unlikely to be the last.

Perhaps the most documented ‘victims’ of Facebook disclosure are the world’s philanderers. When making friends with people they held a torch for at school, many have a tendency to get overly friendly – and the results are all too predictable. 

Flirtation by Facebook is one thing – but it gets worse. An especially unpleasant uncovering involves the wife and mother who found wedding snaps revealing her husband’s bigamous attachment to another woman. Adding insult to injury, the nuptials took place at Disney World, with hubby dressed up as Prince Charming and Wife 2.0 as Sleeping Beauty. Ouch. 

But social network snooping isn’t limited to suspicious spouses. Those upholding the law of various lands are now using Facebook as a means to keep tabs on the populace.

Tax inspectors in the UK – despite being banned from using Facebook for personal use in the workplace – have found the site comes in handy for exposing benefits cheats. It seems the domestic framework outlined on claim forms can differ somewhat from the version depicted on applicants’ walls and photo albums. 

In Israel, young women are required to serve time in the military unless they are Orthodox Jews – who are exempt on religious grounds. When the number of exemptions started to skyrocket, the draft officers turned to Facebook. What they discovered was behavior among the excluded that would have seemed more orthodox on an episode of ‘Jersey Shore’.

For every individual exposed, there’s another who has been deceived – and who needs a place to vent his or her anger. Thankfully, Facebook offers such a sanctuary – but it comes with a health warning for anybody who values grammar. The so-called ‘Your not sorry, Your sorry I found out’ has 380,437 fans – and counting. Compare that to one of my own favorite pages – 'If you're going to create a group, at least check your grammar first' – which boasts a mind-blowing 92 members.

Yes, I admit it. I’m a pedant. I'm one of a dying minority. Consider me exposed.

December 24th, 2010
01:32 PM ET

Life Through a Lens

Is it an ECG monitor? Is it an especially spindly cantilever bridge? Is it one of those weird sea creatures that you can never remember the name of?

Well, no. It's none of the above. This image does in fact depict the heart of a mosquito, magnified 100 times over and aided by fluorescence technology. The shot – taken by Vanderbilt University's Jonas King – was awarded first prize in the 2010 Nikon Small World Photomicography Competition. And a worthy winner it is too.

By looking this closely into the biting beast's insides, King has aided life scientists in the study of malaria. As Nikon puts it, the photo "provides insight into how mosquitoes move blood to all regions of their bodies". So it's not just striking; it could be a lifesaver.

Fancy getting involved in the world of photomicography? Well, beware. Taking pictures of tiny things entails a mighty price-tag. But watch News Stream's segment on the Small World phenomenon, and we're sure you'll be inspired nonetheless.

December 16th, 2010
08:00 AM ET

Tweeting about Facebook

Congratulations to U.S. satirist Stephen Colbert, author of the most retweeted message of the year. In the BP-bating summer of 2010, this was the definitive social media contribution:

Colbert was able to triumph over a plethora of pop stars, including News Stream's guilty obsession Justin Bieber (who had to settle for fourth place). That's not say young Justin didn't feature heavily in the top ten. Both Joe Jonas ("I cry because I love Justin Bieber!!!") and Rihanna ("Justin Bieber just flashed me his abs in the middle of a restaurant! Wow! He actually had a lil 6 pack! Sexy, lol!") offered belieber-themed nuggets that thousands saw fit to forward.

But Colbert is riding high. So influential are his outpourings that he was among the favorites to be named "Time"'s Person of the Year. And not content to lose out on the prize quietly, his thoughts on the actual recipient are now trending highly in America and around the world:

Stephen Colbert has apparently inspired countless skeptics to take to Twitter and vent their feelings on Mr. Facebook. Whether swayed by the less-than-flattering portrayal Zuckerberg received in "The Social Network" or merely objecting to the mighty scale of his cultural phenomenon, it appears Twitter fans aren't the biggest Facebook fans.

Here's a selection of the cleaner offerings:

Yes, the last of these is a lie. But just as we were outraged by Susan Boyle's snub in favor of Ben Bernanke last year, our small team would like to reach out to Mr. Bieber in his hour of isolation. Your "Time" will come, Justin. We, er, beliebe.

You can read more about the world's reaction to Time's decision on cnn.com.

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Filed under: General
December 1st, 2010
07:56 AM ET

Let it Snow... But Spare Me the Sheep

With not a little smugness I have sat in the hazy yet clement climes of Hong Kong, watching our esteemed colleagues at the CNN International Weather Center report on the unyielding snow that's dropping on the heads and homes of my friends and family back in Scotland.

But I have one teensy issue.

Why must our nation, birthplace of the Enlightenment and blessed with vibrant, cosmopolitan cities such as Glasgow and Edinburgh, be represented by pictures like the one below?

Don't get me wrong. I appreciate that Scotland is largely rural and that sheep do exist in considerable numbers. But I often wish we could treat CNN's global audience to something a little more stirring.

Imagine my joy yesterday when I learned that the pictures used to portray the week's wintry weather had changed. I sat excitedly as Ivan Cabrera told us how the latest snowfall had left schools shut, homes cut off and cars stranded. (In retrospect, maybe 'excitedly'  is the wrong word to use. Sorry, Scotland.) But then I saw this:

No longer was my nation a land of fields and farm animals. It had become a place where clearly unhinged individuals frolic in their underwear while risking hypothermia. Another sublime depiction to transmit to the world.

I have trawled the CNN image library and – while horses and highland cattle are certainly more prevalent than modern metropolises – I wanted to find something to redress the balance. So here is a perfectly pretty shot devoid of sheep or simpletons, showing that Scotland – in addition to rural charm – has roads and electricity. Rant over. And Merry Christmas to one and all.

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Filed under: General • Personal musings
November 29th, 2010
10:08 AM ET

Japan's Suicide Epidemic

An average of 30,000 Japanese people take their own lives every year. Today, News Stream examines the role the internet is playing in this challenging national issue.

While web discussion boards have attracted their share of criticism for 'promoting' suicide online, another phenomenon has emerged that is more shocking still – live suicide streaming. A recent case in Japan has made international headlines, and today's edition of News Stream looks at the webcast that drew an audience of more than 4000.

We also examine the hidden side of the country's suicide epidemic – a remote forest in the shadow of Mount Fuji where up to one hundred people go each year to take their own lives. The sign above is one of a number in the Aokigahara woodlands that ask troubled individuals to consider the effects of their actions.

You can read more about Japan's 'suicide forest' on CNN.com. And click here to see the work of New York company VBS.TV – a sobering examination of the chosen final destination for scores of troubled souls.

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