News on a knife-edge: Gemini journalism and|
a global agenda.
Richard Bourne., London: University of Luton Press, 1996.
ISBN 1 86020 524 0
Reviewed by: David Quinn
News on a knife-edge by Richard Bourne (University of Luton Press, 1996) is also a book about agendas. Its sub-title is: Gemini joumalism and a global agenda. It is a lively account of the London-based Gemini News Service which since 1967 has been trying to put on the agenda the kind of news which the news agencies of the West (or North) have excluded. It also happily includes a varied selection of stories published by Gemini.
The key person behind Gemini was Derek Ingram, formerly deputy editor of the London Daily Mail. He was passionate about the Commonwealth - not, as the author points out, as "just a fag-end of the British Empire" but as "a living, growing association" (p185) - and in the late 1960s Gemini was seen primarily as a Commonwealth news features agency.
By the late 1980s, however, it had developed into a world news service, though one of a unique kind. It sought to promote development in the Third World and used indigenous rather than parachute journalists.
The book portrays Gemini as a pioneer in recruiting indigenous journalists, reporting matters of interest to developing countries; in providing new types of journalism, and in the kind of specialist training it provided for journalists. And as well as reporting development and Commonwealth issues, it covered global trends and events in developing countries, as well as scientific, health, rural and environmental issues worldwide.
Ingram has objected to Gemini being categorised as a Third World or alternative news service. He wanted it to be regarded as a "mainstream source of copy", "to be seen by the big boys (Toronto Star, Melbourne Herald, Straits Times etc) as a bona fide news agency, small of course, but nevertheless a competitor to the big agencies". (p63)
Gemini was kept going on a shoe string and went through three major crises. It survived thanks to the commitment of its tiny staff as well as timely grants and, at times, the patience of creditors. In 1988, income from grants outstripped that from the sale of news features. The lack of cash in the London office no doubt ensured that staff did not become insulated from the realities of the Third World.
Given the increasing commercialisation of journalism, it is good to read about a news service driven by the idealism of those whom bottom-line hacks call bleeding hearts. And it is refreshing to read about journalists who do not regard news as an end in itself, who realise that there is a real world beyond the engulfing horizon of the cliché-world of self-absorbed journalism.
One example of the Gemini spirit is the Village Reporting project: Gemini obtained finance for a scheme under which local reporters were paid for up to three months to live in a village. "More than 15 reporters in almost a dozen countries, ranging from India and Sri Lanka to Fiji and Lesotho, took part. Shyamala Nataraj, an Indian who spent two months in a village in Tamil Nadu, found it 'one of the most rewarding experiences I've ever had'." Apart from enjoying himself tremendously, he learned "much about my country and my people that I would have been totally blind to otherwise".
I know from my own experience the satisfaction of working for a journalistic operation, however shoe-string, that is led by people with extra-commercial commitment, so I will not echo the Buenos Aires Herald by describing Gemini's story as heroic. But it is, I think, relatively speaking, exemplary.
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