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Bert’s bar: It’s quality over quantity when it comes to musicians, says Allen Youngblood

Allen Youngblood needs no introduction to the members of the FCC. He has been the man behind the music in Bert’s since it first opened in 1999. At that time Allen was an established player in the Asian jazz scene, having arrived in Hong Kong in 1992 from his native St Croix in the US Virgin Island by way of the United States, where he spent several years fine-tuning his talents as a jazz performer, teacher and festival coordinator. During that time he had worked as the artist-in-residence in several US states and earned the Seattle Arts Commission’s Individual Artist Fellowship in 1987 and the Jazz Composer Fellowship of North Carolina Arts Council in 1990.

Allen originally came to Hong Kong to play with the resident band at JJ’s, the Grand Hyatt’s popular nightclub of the 1990s, and had quickly become a major influence in Hong Kong’s fledging live music scene.

The FCC’s piano men, Allen Youngblood and Larry Allen, share a tune in Bert’s in the late 90s. Photo: Hugh van Es The FCC’s piano men, Allen Youngblood and Larry Allen, share a tune in Bert’s in the late 90s. Photo: Hugh van Es

“I started working at the FCC as a replacement for the late, great Larry Allen, the FCC’s iconic Vietnam-era keyboardist, just before the Handover in ‘97. I had just finished a year of residency at the new Conrad in Singapore and had returned to Hong Kong to be a part of the historical event and what better place than the FCC.” Allen explains, “I was playing the early evening shift in the Main Bar and then heading over to the Peninsula Hotel for a night gig. One night I was approached by the late Hugh Van Es and Dave Garcia and asked if I would be interested in becoming the musical director of what was to become Bert’s. As they say, the rest is history.

“So many great musicians have come and gone since then, as have club members. Back then it was a mixture of Jazz, Latin and R&B. Tables were moved as people liked dancing and it was an “Oldies but Goodies” feel, but we kept evolving the music and introducing new musicians to a keep quality over quantity in play. Which seems to have worked since Bert’s is consistently rated in the top five venues in Hong Kong, even though it’s a private club, and the musicians keep coming as do the members and their guests.”

Allen doesn’t just sit on his laurels as the FCC Music Director, he teaches jazz piano, performs regularly at many of Hong Kong’s now prolific live music venues and has been responsible for a number of Jazz and music festivals, including two successful jazz festivals in the FCC, the Puerto Galera Jazz Festival and The Allen Youngblood Jazz Series at Grappa’s Country. He has also performed at the Hong Kong International Arts Festival, RTHK’s Town Hall Concert Series. Sydney’s Darling Harbour Jazz Festival and more recently toured with British Jazz vocalist Ian Shaw at the Blue Note in Beijing, and JZ Club, Shanghai, as well as regularly touring with his own band, Jazbalaya, in Thailand, Macau, Taiwan, Dubai and the US.

Allen has performed with many of the world’s Jazz greats, both in Hong Kong and overseas, and is a composer in his own right. He has four original CD’s to his credit, three of them written and recorded during his time in Hong Kong, and has collaborated with other artists on several more. He still plays regularly at Bert’s, as well as booking and managing the talented and extensive line-up of performers there, so check the online schedule and head down to experience the FCC’s very own jazz master at play soon.

Wall Exhibition: Light Flight Series by Basil Pao

Light Flight Series began as a series of mistakes.

Times, where though the trigger finger had gone down at the precise moment, the familiar click of the shutter failed to materialise, for it had remained defiantly opened as the moment you were trying to capture disappeared forever.

These moments often occurred after a difficult journey where the cameras had been tossed around and the settings thrown out of whack unnoticed. At the time these images caused much frustration when they first came back from the lab, but sometimes these ‘accidents’ proved to be pleasant surprises.

By unwittingly surrendering power over the image to the will of ‘chance’, and ceding control of the composition to the natural flow of light and movement within the extra dimension of ‘expanded time’, the photojournalist in me, long addicted to the concept of the ‘decisive moment’ frozen in a still frame, was suddenly thrown, by accident, into the world of the Impressionists.

The images in this exhibition are excerpts from part two of the series: The Digital Age. In which we embrace the assistance available from new digital tools to reduce the influence of the ‘accidental’ and reassert control over the dimension of ‘time’ through the compression of a series of stills into a single image – much like freezing a tracking shot in a film into a single frame; thus allowing us to create more ‘painterly’ photographic images in the process.

 

3D photographer Matjaz Tančič documents life in North Korea

Photographer Matjaz Tančič spoke about his  “3DPRK” project which involves taking 3D portraits of ordinary people as they go about their daily life in North Korea at a club dinner on February 13.

He also presented a 20-minute video documentary about the making of this project which took months of negotiation with the Pyongyang authorities. There was also a presentation of his photographs – with 3D lenses provided for the audience.

The project exhibition was first shown in Pyongyang – he was one of the first westerners to do so and the locals loved his 3D format and more recently in China, US and Europe as well as being published in numerous photo journals and magazines.

From left to right: Nan-Hie In, Matjaž Tančič, Kate Whitehead. From left to right: Nan-Hie In, Matjaž Tančič, Kate Whitehead.

Tančič is based in Beijing and Ljubjana in Slovenia. The graduate of the London College of Fashion has participated in 60 group and 24 solo exhibitions, and his work has been featured in magazines such as Vogue, Marie Claire, L’Officiel, Playboy, Mercedes Benz Magazine and more. In 2013, he won a Sony World Photography Organisation award in the 3D photo category. In 2012, he also won a Slovenia Press Photo award in the nature category. The speaker was among the six finalists in the 2009 Google Photography Prize contest.

Nicholas Bonner (producer of the documentary) and Meg Maggio also joined in the Q&A session. Bonner is director and owner of Koryo Tours & Studio, which specialises in film, art, tourism, cultural and humanitarian projects in North Korea. Maggio is director of Pékin Fine Arts, a Beijing and Hong Kong-based contemporary art gallery and art advisory consultancy.

 

Why fake news is good news for some journalists

There is one sure way for an individual journalist to make money online: lie through your teeth to an audience that is not interested in facts and welcomes these “alternative” facts as the new gospel: fake news is good news, if it suits you.

The controversial LibertyWritersNews site illustrates how websites can use Facebook to tap into a surging ideology The controversial LibertyWritersNews site illustrates how websites can use Facebook to tap into a surging ideology

Two young former restaurant workers Paris Wade and Ben Goldman and their website LibertyWritersNews did just that by tapping into the Donald Trump momentum last year. The game plan was think of a headline, say, “Can’t trust Obama”; then make up a story very loosely on the facts; than conclude with “Down with globalists… if you love this country”; then wait for a few seconds for a response (from the base – white, working class woman, Midwestern) like, “you are the only one I trust to tell the truth”. See, easy.

The more successful bloggers usually feed into their own websites, have an active Facebook strategy and have been picked up by other websites for a fee.

At a time of continuing discussion over the role that hyperpartisan websites, fake news and social media play in the 2016 election, LibertyWritersNews illustrates how websites can use Facebook to tap into a surging ideology, quickly go from nothing to influencing millions of people and make big profits in the process. At its height, the website gained 300,000 Facebook followers in October alone.

This single-issue approach often works best with special interest groups and helps drive advertising and sponsorship. The more successful bloggers usually feed into their own websites, have an active Facebook strategy and have been picked up by other websites for a fee.

Facebook leads the way

News websites carefully maintain and feed their Facebook pages to bring in new readers as well as maintain their base. The US-based news website Quartz began operations on Facebook producing content for mobile phones and tablets as it found that growth in readership of news was on those devices. It was only later that Quartz designed a desktop version.

“Clearly we think a lot about Quartz’s presentation on Facebook based on the conviction that patterns of people finding content on their mobile devices via social networks actually reaches a wider demographic than you would have thought,” said Quartz’s founder and editor-in-chief Kevin Delaney.

Just as many individuals and companies can make a good living on Facebook selling products and services direct using all the nifty Facebook tools to gain followers and sales, so too can individual journalists. It all starts with having good content with interesting links, images, and updates every day. Then you add as many affiliate programmes as you can get, start writing e-books. By creating fan pages (and websites to go with them) you can then start selling posts on these pages. You can also join the Facebook posts market or Facebook fanpage market.

Another tool for journalists which has become popular in the last year is Snapchat which has become an important player in the social media landscape. While it has mostly been used by celebrities and individuals, many journalists and news organisations use Snapchat as a fresh way to deliver the news and connect with audiences.

Some of the news organisations that use Snapchat include the South China Morning Post; Al Jazeera English (using its network of 80 bureaus to cover underreported stories); BBC News (journalists report like they would in a television news segment);  The New Yorker (shows how they make their editorial decisions and interactions with readers); National Geographic (posts informal snaps of content); ABC News (Australia); CBS News; AFP; NBC; The New York Times; The Washington Post; Le Monde.

Former winner of the FCC’s Photographer of the Year Awards John Stanmeyer, a National Geographic photographer, understood the app’s power very quickly and used it both for the company and his own account.

For freelance journalists, it’s another useful tool to get the word and image out – and many around the world have taken advantage of it. Former winner of the FCC’s Photographer of the Year Awards John Stanmeyer, a National Geographic photographer, understood the app’s power very quickly and used it both for the company and his own account. He is also an avid user of Twitter and is considered a pioneer for using Instagram.

Snapchat brings the reader into the story. Each viewer becomes a part of the assignment. They are my travel companions,” Stanmeyer was reported as saying. “When millions of readers pick up the magazine each month, they only see 12 to 15 photographs. But so much more takes place.”

As mobile devices increasingly dominate the scene, so too does the so called mobile journalist or mojo… believe it or not. These days there is a wealth of resources for budding mojos online. Both Twitter and Facebook have practical tips about the language that suits you better and for the type of phone you work with. Mojos are particularly active on Twitter.

 

 

 

Take your measure

While news outlets are increasingly open about the need to better engage their readers, definitions of what “audience engagement” actually is can be inconsistent at best and elusive at worst. Engaging and interacting with readers isn’t just essential for staying relevant – it can make or break a freelancer or newsroom’s financial survival as well.

It is straightforward enough to measure the metrics of a website or story through Google Analytics. For tracking how well your organisation is performing on social media sites, both Facebook and Twitter have built-in analytics. While traffic analytics can give an effective snapshot of an audience’s browsing habits, they don’t show the full picture of how readers interact with content. This can be done with a reverse Twitter or Facebook search which has proved an effective way to find people engaging with your news content. Another way is to place your link into Twitter and see who is talking about it – then to engage with that audience. There is also the Center for Investigative Reporting’s Impact Tracker, an open source platform for monitoring and visualizing stories’ long-term impact over time.

Online videos

Producing online videos either as part of websites or on YouTube has become profitable and a competitive business. In mobile device-savvy Hong Kong where some 96% of smartphone users browse the Internet daily, the average user watches more than 147 online videos per month which averages to 12 hours of online streaming every month.

What makes YouTube the place to go is its YouTube Partner Programme where contributors share advertising revenue with the site, with the contributor taking 55%.

Tommy Leung produced a video – Everyday Narcissism Worsens – which became viral three years ago, where he uses a “freestyle” tirade about vain Chinese men who post “selfies” on social networks. It has since it had over 1.5 million hits and 15,000 likes. Using this self-made celebrity, Leung has turned it into a business making freestyle monologues about everyday bugbears as well setting up his own new media company which provides product placement services to brands and creates viral videos for clients,

Bren Lui is an established YouTube beauty expert who started video blogging when the programme first started in 2011. For Norma Chu, it all started with a food blog and her DayDayCook website which developed into YouTube channel of culinary videos and recipes. The site now gets 1.5 million page views per month and 120,000 unique users that Chu pushes to her website via her YouTube channel. To maintain the channel she produces some eight to 15 short videos a week.

Money making online: Journalists can make money online, but it does take a combination of opportunity, luck and plain hard work.

Funding from an angel investor (eBay founder Pierre Omidyar’s First Look Media) or funding from a corporation that is willing to make a long-shot, but potentially high yield investment (some of Bloomberg’s ventures)

Ads from real (not network) advertisers; add network ads; AdSense ads from Google; outbrain-style links to other people’s content that pay when readers click it; native advertising (paid content that matches the website’s editorial standards while meeting the audience’s expectations), and make the native ads yourself (and thereby get a production fee). Also build a microsite for the native content and get paid separately for that.

Subscription (no content unless you pay); paywall (some content, then you have to pay, like the New York Times); micropayment (pay for each individual piece of content); membership (content is free, but bonus stuff for members); tablet-only subscriptions; paid app; tip jar (asking for support without perks); Kindle subscriptions.

Sales revenue: Sell swag and merchandise directly to readers; Amazon Associates revenue (via links in stories); Amazon Associates revenue where you assign stories about products in order to get the sales cut; sell your own merchandise but through a company that fulfils it and pays you a cut (Café Press).

Syndicate stories to other digital publishers to run on their sites; syndicate stories to print publications; syndication for textbooks/academia; LexisNexis; syndicate content for advertiser’s microsite.

Promote yourself through: public events (ticket and corporate sponsor revenue); conferences for professionals (ticket revenue, badge sponsorship, mobile service sponsorship, booths/expo revenue); bring people in for content of event, then sell them something; native events put on for advertiser; paid parties: readers pay to socialise with you; teach classes for readers or other journalists; Webinars.

Foundation funds journalism on a favourite subject; university funds journalism on a favoured subject; donations from foundations not tied to a particular project; kickstarter fundraising.

Mobile banner ads; mobile and tablet interstitials; video ads from real advertisers; network video ads; Google/YouTube pays to have you create video; YouTube video revenue share.

Podcast ads — not host-read; podcast ads, host-read, paid for click-through/sign ups; podcast ads, host read, not paid for performance; podcasts created for sponsors; product placement – get paid for using products and reviewing them.

Publish an e-book of your digital content; Kindle singles and other e-books; sell unusual books for non-Amazon publishers; sell photo archives both digitally and as prints; sell access to archives.

Other sources. Use your Google page rank power to put in links to other places and get paid for referrals; sponsored tweets; get paid to make Facebook posts on a particular subject; ads in emails; build apps for people; produce higher-end specialised products; targeted research for subscribers who pay a premium (BI Intelligence); join an affiliate programme; get people to sign  up for an email list for an advertiser, as Upworthy does; sell your subscriber data; sell your email lists.

Build a platform, put great journalism and/or photos on it, and sell the platform (Atavist storytelling site now backed by angel investors).

New York Times feels the pinch as China’s Great Firewall holds firm

It seems that hardly a day passes that individuals using social media and websites in China are restricted, closed down or prosecuted, usually with some variation of “inciting subversion of state power” as the reason. China’s almost blanket control of the country’s Internet – and consequently all forms of public dissent – has become the model for other countries  to emulate for many of the same reasons.

The latest of these is the case of Kwon Pyong, who had been active on social media speaking out against authoritarian rule and human rights violations in China and who also participated in the pro-democracy demonstrations in Hong Kong in 2014. He was indicted in February by the authorities who cited 15 comments he posted on Twitter and Facebook, both of which are blocked in China. Days before his trial began, Kwon’s lawyers were dismissed, a tactic increasingly used by Chinese authorities to block activists’ right to effective legal representation.

On another front, The New York Times app was wiped from Apple’s App Store in China in January. The paper’s website has been blocked in China since 2012 when Chinese authorities moved against it and other international publications including The Wall Street Journal and The Financial Times. But readers in China could continue to access content through the paper’s English and Chinese-language apps.

The New York Times app was wiped from Apple’s App Store in China in January. The New York Times app was wiped from Apple’s App Store in China in January.

Also in January, mainlanders who got around the block to big-name websites by using virtual private networks may now face criminal charges. The use of VPNs and special cable connections in China must now be approved by the government, essentially making these services illegal in the country.

In early February, Guangxi Normal University Press social media editor Dai Xuelin received a five-year prison sentence for running an “illegal business operation”. Dai and his business partner Zhang Xiaoxiong, who was sentenced to 3.5 years, had been independently distributing unauthorised books from Hong Kong and Taiwan. Their case was reportedly handled by the same Ningbo police who pursued their sources, the five Causeway Bay booksellers who went missing in late 2015.

The case of the arrest of news website 64 Tianwang founder Huang Qi last December is fairly typical of what news websites can expect for “disclosing state secrets” – which can mean a sentence of many years in prison. Since then, 64 Tianwang’s “citizen journalists” continue to suffer systematic repression by the authorities.

While China’s news website journalists can face serious consequences, conditions for foreign correspondents in China also remain difficult, with journalists reporting cases of harassment, surveillance, and restrictions on where they can work, according to findings by the Foreign Correspondent’s Club of China which were reported in detail in the last issue of The Correspondent.

In China, internet censorship tightens

China’s powerful internet censorship body the Cyberspace Administration of China further tightened its grip on online news reports towards the end of 2016  by warning all news or social network websites against publishing news without proper verification.

“All websites should bear the key responsibility to further streamline the course of reporting and publishing of news, and set up a sound internal monitoring mechanism among all mobile news portals [and the social media chat websites] Weibo or WeChat,” Xinhua reported at the time.

“It is forbidden to use hearsay to create news or use conjecture and imagination to distort the facts,” it said.

The CAC also ordered its regional subordinates to fully fulfill their duties on the basis of content management, strengthen supervision and inspection, and severely punish fake news or news that deviated from the facts.

“No website is allowed to report public news without specifying the sources, or report news that quotes untrue origins,” Xinhua said, adding that the fabrication of news or distortion of the facts were also strictly prohibited.

A number of popular news portals, including Sina.com, Ifeng.com, Caijing.com.cn, Qq.com and 163.com, had been punished and given warnings for fabricating news before distributing it.

Officials say internet restrictions, including the blocking of popular foreign websites such as Google and Facebook, are needed to ensure security in the face of rising threats, such as terrorism, and also to stop “the spread of damaging rumours”.

And the authorities have their work cut out for them with more than 600 million Internet users, 400 million mobile users, and 300 million microbloggers. The amount of pure content and communication created and enjoyed hourly is staggering.

Before the authorities began tightening China’s Great Firewall just over three years ago, much of that content was unimaginable these days: pointed comments, reporting, pictures, and jokes on corruption, food safety, transport conditions, dodgy deals, abuse of authority, and scores of other challenging topics.

Now the likes of Sina Weibo, a feature-rich, user-friendly platform that enjoys immense popularity, and other social media sites such as Tencent (the second-largest microblogging platform), YouKu, a video-sharing site, and Renren and Kaixin, Facebook-like social networking sites are being ultra- careful to avoid prosecution or restrictions by the authorities.

In the past two years some of the banned words and phrases – most you would expect – including: Xi Jinping’s brother-in-law (mistress, etc) and almost any combination of words or associations

Microblog platforms use a variety of methods to comply with government censorship requests. Keyword filtering is the most widely deployed method to limit content. Some terms will prevent a post from being published at all; others will mark it for editorial review, while other terms cannot be searched through the platform’s search engine, making those posts difficult to access.

China Digital Times researches and maintains lists of terms banned by Sina Weibo search and has collected more than 3,000 banned or temporarily banned search words over the past five years. In addition, Sina Weibo users often report that their posts have been published for only the author to see, so they may not realise at first that they have been censored.

In the past two years some of the banned words and phrases – most you would expect – including: Xi Jinping’s brother-in-law (mistress, etc) and almost any combination of words or associations; of all things Zhou Fang (internet controlling body); flowers bloom in warm spring (lifting ban on publications); Tibetan government-in-exile, but also the parliament of the Central Tibetan Administration, and the Dalai Lama; June 4 and Tiananmen, massacre and tanks (pointed at a person), student movement; Hong Kong and riot and demonstration, universal suffrage, Ten Years (film); forbidden to broadcast, Freedom to Write Award, Southern Metropolis News; go back on one’s word; female infants and family planning; protest, take to streets, dark night forum, human rights; Kashgar and violence, terrorist attack, holy war, Muslim (beasts); violence and terror, weapon, explosive devices; entreaty to take power, army change; Cultural Revolution, incompetent (public security), communist thief, elder (continues to live), death sentence, removal from office, secret execution; of course, anything Taiwan; there also is a focus on moral tone – various swear words (and body parts), names of drugs – to name a few.

If a user posts on a forbidden topic despite the filtering techniques, their account can be closed temporarily as a warning, or permanently for repeated offenses. According to an internal management notice from Sina that was leaked online, any “harmful” information that is posted must be deleted within five minutes, and posts by blacklisted users, who are still allowed to have an account, must be checked before publishing. Also, weibo service providers are required to give public security agencies access to their back end, through which officers can directly enter keywords that should be blocked and immediately delete videos and photos.

Besides the keyword filter system there are also personnel to manually review content before publishing, and transfer that information to a third tier where staff track current events to help the front end improve and update their banned keyword lists.

Citizen News joins the news website fray

A new Chinese-language website pledging to provide Hong Kong with “independent, accurate and fair” news is the latest journalism venture to open in the city, in an attempt to counter increasing Chinese control of the media. Citizen News was launched January 1 by a group of journalists, including Kevin Lau Chun-to and Daisy Li Yuet-wah, who say they plan to cover a wide range of issues and views across the political spectrum.

The idea of Citizen News was developed in 2014 when Lau was recovering from an attack in which an unknown man slashed the former editor-in-chief of the Chinese-language daily Ming Pao with a meat cleaver. It is unclear whether the attack was linked to Lau’s journalism, but in an interview with The New York Times Lau said he could not think of any other reason for it.

Citizen News website offers grants to journalists covering issues that are ignored by the media. Citizen News website offers grants to journalists covering issues that are ignored by the media.

As the Chinese government continues to increase its influence over the city’s traditional media, particularly through pro-Beijing business interests taking ownership of newspapers, the attack on Lau has come to symbolise the extent to which the situation has deteriorated. A group of news websites has emerged to counter the tide of this restrictive environment, but the journalists behind them face the risk of being detained when travelling to the mainland, financial uncertainty, problems with access, and cyberattacks.

An example of the pressures faced is illustrated by the case of Tony Tsoi Tong-hoo, the co-founder of House News, who unexpectedly closed the news website in July 2014. Shortly after the closure, Tsoi, who was also CEO of a Hong Kong electronics manufacturer, had gone missing for several days earlier in the month. In a note released to the public explaining the closure, Tsoi said that he was “haunted with fear” every time he crossed the border between Hong Kong and the mainland. On one occasion State Security Police detained him and pressured him to denounce Occupy Central and the Umbrella movement.

In December 2014 Tsoi resigned from his position at the electronics company and founded Stand News with two editors from his previous outlet. To better resist external pressure and maintain independence, Stand
News
abandoned the for-profit model of House News and operates as a trust financed by public donations.

The nonprofit model is also being used by Citizen News. Li, the site’s editor-in-chief and former chief executive of the online news division of Apple Daily News and Hong Kong Journalists’ Association stalwart, said the website is exploring new operation models such as crowdfunding. The website also offers grants to journalists covering issues that are often ignored by the city’s mainstream media.

“If we can succeed, we bring hope to the young journalists: if we old people can, the young people definitely can,” said Li.

Crowdfunding is also used by the English-language news website Hong Kong Free Press, which was founded in 2015. Its editor-in-chief, Tom Grundy, said that funding remains a continuing concern, but that he has become less worried as the website matured. “If we do good work, I think our readers will support us each year,” Grundy said. The site’s second crowdfunding campaign last year meant that it had “fully funded” 2017.

Grundy said the biggest problem for Hong Kong Free Press is the ban on journalists from digital-only news outlets accessing government press conferences and press releases – although this is currently under review by the government which is worried about the lack of a clear definition for “online media” as a reason for it being imposed.

Digital journalists also face the risk of digital and physical attacks. Oiwan Lam, co-founder of Inmedia, a Chinese-language news portal, said the website has been “a constant target of  denial-of-service attacks.”

Li said Citizen News’ founders were not overly concerned about the threat of attack or pressure. “We do what we need to do. The corrosion of press freedom starts not necessarily from pressure from power, but from news organisations choosing to self-censor,” she said.

 

 

CAPTION:

Citizen News website offers grants to journalists covering issues that are ignored by the media.

 

Why the FCC president in 2025 could be a hackbot

Journalism as it is conventionally understood – the printed word mediated by a pantheon of reporters and editors, the electronic media often regulated and constrained by law over content and ownership – has been besieged during the past few decades by technology, ideology and costs.

Alternative sources of information now offer endless opportunities for entrepreneurs, demagogues, narcissists and accountants to variously promote their views or maximise the returns on their employers’ investment while eroding the previously near-monopolistic grip major press, TV and radio empires, franchises and state-owned corporations had over their respective audiences.

While such an apparent democratisation of information, opinion and expression creates and serves new markets it equally erodes the previous era of cultural coherence when restricted media outlets served readily definable markets and audiences rooted in social, political and class preferences. This process at the content level may be defined as the traditional realm of ‘journalism’.

A new and potentially even more disruptive element to journalism than the borderless, unlimited terrain fashioned by the Internet is already among us. It threatens to widen rapidly expanding generational and political divisions based on access and an ability to navigate this cyber-souk of ideas, prejudices, fantasies, porn and stuff without what is now increasingly viewed as the paternalist oversight of regulators or the filtered information provided by ‘good’ journalism.

AI in the media is being promoted as a means of freeing up journalists and other creators of copy from the routine drudge work of writing material that reads like corporate boilerplate.

Artificial intelligence (AI) is the Orwellian term for enabling machines to, among other functions, mimic or surpass human intellectual endeavour. The technical side of AI is beyond the scope of this piece, and far beyond this hack’s ability to explain how it works. However, its impact on journalism, specifically the written word, and likely trajectory is more readily understandable.

Briefly, AI in the media is being promoted as a means of freeing up journalists and other creators of copy from the routine drudge work of writing material that reads like corporate boilerplate. Various news media, mainly in the United States but increasingly elsewhere – including China – have been producing readily formatable copy using AI software programmes for a number of years. Sports results and economic stories have served as the testbed, reflecting their often repetitious use of language with the results sufficiently encouraging for the techies and their employers to consider more ambitious efforts. Efforts have also been made to soothe the concerns of the human, Organic Intelligence (OI), component, telling them their jobs were safe and that AI would free them up for more interesting and creative work while the boring stuff was processed in a climate-controlled shed hundreds of miles away.

According to media reports, such developments have been greeted ‘warily’ in the affected newsrooms, as well they might be given the increasingly parlous state of relations between working hacks and their paymasters. The careers of many journalists drawn into the trade during the last decades of the previous century have ebbed, flowed and often been prematurely ended by technological change. Being ‘wary’ is a rational, if polite, response for what many must know or fear is heading their way.

This interface between AI and OI will prove either a point of collegiate cooperation or a war zone where human egos are confronted by computer generated instructions, delivered by bland emails.

The laws of unintended consequences, however, are also set to kick in as AI starts to seep up from templated copy and into what its promoters see as its editorial function of searching massive global data bases in near real time and then produce a basic story that can be sent instantly to innumerable subscribers while directing OI hacks towards angles they may have overlooked or had been unable to connect a complex skein of dots.

This interface between AI and OI will prove either a point of collegiate cooperation or a war zone where human egos are confronted by computer generated instructions, delivered by bland emails or the sort of soft female voice used by the US air force in its missile silos to talk the firing crew through the Armageddon launch sequence. This will likely lead to the often sweary exchanges many of us have had with satnavs and Siri, the modern equivalent of the sullen muttering that followed a real editor pointing out the gaping holes or unpursued angles in submitted stories.

A dystopian take on the march of AI into the newsroom and studio sees new and notionally more nimble and literate AI software being rolled out, cementing the confluence between cost and content. Readily cross-referenced stories written in the wire service style of dynamic first grafs followed by the more static contextual copy lends itself to AI templating, exponentially accelerating the production process while incrementally reducing employment opportunities. As confidence in the systems develops, OI editorial oversight will come under increased scrutiny for relevance – and of course cost.

Owners and their editorial and financial consigliere will be first tempted and then impelled to push the technology deeper into previously red-lined areas of content generation – features without any market moving or libelous risk would be good place to begin. The OI’s would either surrender to, sulk over or seek to sabotage the remorseless destruction of their trade and livelihoods. Journalism as still practiced in open societies would fade to grey.

As newsrooms struggle with dwindling resources, it’s not hard to imagine a future where AI plays an increasing role in mainstream media, but whether that is good news for journalists and readers is another story.

A counter scenario offers, for OI’s at least, a more positive outcome based on AI’s potential to fail to meet the expectations of what much of the market for the written word wants to consume, coupled with a number of systemic and anticipated flaws in a machine’s ability to produce original thought – admittedly a not infrequent OI failing.

For example, how to write software that comprehends humour, irony, sarcasm and puns? While the proponents of AI in journalism argue that the creative process will remain under the control of mammals, where are these creatures to come from when the basic tradecraft of the job has been usurped by equipment, offering few entry level avenues into the work of manipulating and ordering words?

Somewhere between these two parameters lies the probable outcome of the melding of AI and OI into a workable means of controlling cost, employing creative talent, targeting increasingly discrete markets and maintaining an approximation of the journalism we still know and appreciate.

However, as with all technological advances, there comes a time when the new becomes common place and effectively vanishes. AI will achieve this feat when it is caught making up quotes, going off the air for few hours as it bunks off the cyber equivalent of the pub and is elected virtual president of the FCC.

AI-powered journalism

AI-powered journalism has been around for a few years, with a handful of companies like Narrative Science and Automated Insights capable of producing basic data-heavy news items for sports and stock analysis, but it  has become a serious contender since the Washington Post developed the Heliograf AI software specifically for its Twitter feed of the Rio Olympics last year.

The Post then followed up with a more advanced version with a stronger editorial capability to cover the US elections and are working to transform Heliograf into a hybrid content management system using both AI and human input.

“This dual-touch capability allows The Post to create stories that are better than any automated system, but more constantly updated than any human-written story could be,” said Jeremy Gilbert, The Post’s director of strategic initiatives.

The Washington Post’s automated Twitter feed covering the Rio Olympics in real time. The Washington Post’s automated Twitter feed covering the Rio Olympics in real time.

The Post is reportedly planning to license this new AI CMS to clients like Tronc, a consortium that includes the Chicago Tribune, the Los Angeles Times, and dozens of other regional papers.

Thomson Reuters have recently teamed up with Graphiq, a semantic technology company, to provide publishers access to an enormous database of interactive data, which is constantly updating in real time. Associated Press has partnered with Automated Insights to deliver stock market reports and sports coverage. Start-ups Persado and CortX are also making serious inroads into AI generated copywriting and web content respectively.

China’s Tencent Holdings has developed Dreamwriter, its own AI media software, and claims that it will provide reporters more time to perform more complex and challenging reporting tasks, while the software critically analyses big data and produces basic stories.

Cheap computing power is driving  rapid advances in AI technology beyond mere grunt work. In time it is expected to do things like search the web to see what people are talking about, then check to see if a story is being covered. If not, then either alert editors or write the piece itself. Mind you it’s not a perfect AI world yet, when Facebook fired its Trending module’s human editors last year and let an algorithm take over, it promoted a story which falsely claimed that Fox News had fired anchor Megyn Kelly and then racked up thousands of Facebook shares and millions of views before it could be removed.

But Narrative Science’s Kris Hammond predicts that “A machine will win a Pulitzer one day” and goes on to estimate that 90 percent of news content could be written by computers by the mid-2020s.

As newsrooms struggle with dwindling resources, it’s not hard to imagine a future where AI plays an increasing role in mainstream media, but whether that is good news for journalists and readers is another story.

 

 

 

 

Hong Kong University journalism students join FCC as contributors in maiden project

The Journalist and Media Studies Centre and The Correspondent are putting together a programme where students from the JMSC will report on an issue related to journalism and media under the guidance of JMSC’s faculty and editors from the magazine.

“It’s an exciting opportunity for our students to learn from professionals and get exposure. The Correspondent’s long history of serving the journalism community in Hong Kong will provide a great learning opportunity for future journalists,” said JMSC Director Keith Richburg.

Keith Richburg said JMSC students would learn from professionals and get exposure. Photo: Sarah Graham Keith Richburg said JMSC students would learn from professionals and get exposure. Photo: Sarah Graham

The partnership will begin with students producing reports on social media and censorship in China, using Weiboscope, a JMSC research project led by Dr King-wa Fu, which tracks social media posts from a select group of Chinese microbloggers who are being censored on the Sina’s Twitter-like platform Weibo.

Two former FCC presidents Jim Laurie and the late Diane Stormont were heavily involved with JMSC as teachers and programme leaders. In fact, not long after JMSC started Stormont was one of the first students of its Masters programme. Photographer Kees Metselaar has been a teacher with the programme for the past seven years.

The JMSC was founded in 1998 with the goal of bringing professional journalism education to Hong Kong’s premier university. Over the past 17 years, students and staff of the JMSC have won some of journalism’s most prestigious awards including the FCC’s Human Right’s Press Awards.

Rubio and Cotton’s U.S. act reaffirms policy towards Hong Kong

At a time when China is tightening the screws on Hong Kong’s freedoms, US senators Marco Rubio and Tom Cotton have introduced the Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act that “establishes punitive measures against government officials in Hong Kong or mainland China who are responsible for suppressing basic freedoms in Hong Kong”.

The bill, which replaces the US-Hong Kong Policy Act of 1992, was updated to reflect the latest political developments in Hong Kong and made suggestions such as freezing the assets of people responsible for kidnapping Hong Kong booksellers.

Rubio and Cotton, respectively the co-chair and commissioner of the Congressional-Executive Commission on China, said the Act “would renew the US’ historical commitment to freedom and democracy in Hong Kong at a time when its autonomy is increasingly under assault.”

The proposed Act reaffirms this principle, and that the Secretary of State would be required to certify that Hong Kong is sufficiently autonomous before enacting any new laws or agreements affording Hong Kong different treatment from the China.

Chinese journalists in jail. China is consistently among the world’s worst jailers of journalists. This year, it has been eclipsed by Turkey, which is holding a record number of journalists behind bars. But since the Committee to Protect Journalists began conducting an annual census in 1990, China has topped the ignoble list 18 times. China currently has 38 Chinese journalists behind bars.

Want to join the FCC Board? Here’s how to nominate yourself or someone else

It’s that time of the year again for the annual Board election for the year 2017-2018.

If you have some ideas that you want the Board to run with or maybe you would like to give your time and effort to the future of the Club, then you are encouraged to stand for the Board.

The nomination process is pretty straightforward: from March 10 you can fill in a nomination form for the category of membership for which you are qualified. Nominations close on Wednesday April 5 at the Nomination Meeting. At this meeting, it is also possible to nominate yourself from the floor.

Ballot papers and candidates’ bios will be sent out to members by April 12. The ballot will close on Wednesday May 24 at 3pm sharp. This will be followed by vote counting.

The long voting period was originally put in place to allow members who travel or are on holidays to have the opportunity to vote.

At the end of the AGM on Friday May 25 the new Board will be formally declared. The current Board will then perform a small handover ritual. Usually following the AGM the new Board will meet in session for the first time.

Then it’s free drinks at the bar for members.

Clare Hollingworth: Larger than life pioneer of journalism

What a life. What a larger than life character. In order to get to grips with the immense scale of the life and times of Clare Hollingworth and the earth-shaking events that punctuated her 105 years of life, it is worth recalling that she was born on October 10, 1911.

That was the very day a revolt broke out that led to the downfall of China’s last imperial dynasty. It was also only eight years after the Wright brothers’ first flight. Clare died on January 10, 2017, just 10 days before a blustering, damn-your-eyes businessman and reality TV host was sworn in as the 45th President of the United States.

And for a remarkable amount of what happened in between those bookend dates – or more particularly the war-torn and otherwise violent and tumultuous events that took place during that time – foreign correspondent and FCC legend Clare Hollingworth was there.

Clare on assignment in Palestine in the mid-1960s. Clare on assignment in Palestine in the mid-1960s.

She is most remembered, of course, for the amazing news coup she pulled off, literally in her first few days as a working journalist: the massing of German tanks and troops on the Polish border in readiness for the opening bludgeon blows of World War II.

But that was merely an opening salvo in an extraordinary career that took her to the war-racked Balkans, Greece, North Africa, Middle East, India, Pakistan, Vietnam and then to the rather more peaceful, if still fraught, Middle Kingdom of Mao Zedong. As chronicled in “Of Fortunes and War”, the superb new biography by Clare’s great-nephew Patrick Garrett, Clare managed to be in the right place at the right time to bear witness to a succession of seismic and often violent events. And she did so often by putting herself in harm’s way with an apparent fearlessness and even insouciance that made many of her male journalistic peers break out in a cold sweat.

Before she walked into the Fleet Street offices of the Daily Telegraph in August 1939 and got a job, Clare was rushing around East Europe assisting literally thousands of vulnerable people to escape from the growing menace of Nazi Germany.

It was, Garrett says, “manic story-chasing” and a “perverse pleasure in warfare”. Clare explained her apparent sang froid as she chased after the sound of guns as follows: “If I stopped to think about it, I would probably be terrified. It’s just that I don’t feel frightened under machine-gun fire. The excitement of the job overcomes it.”

But while the tales of Clare’s derring-do are always worth re-telling, as Garrett does with panache, there was much more to Clare than the endearing image of a doughty and slightly dotty Englishwoman roaming the world’s battlefields equipped with little more than a toothbrush, a typewriter and a pistol or two (she once had three, including a pearl-handled revolver tucked in her handbag).

For a start, she was remarkable because she not only survived, but thrived, in a line of work in which, in her early days at least, women were not supposed to get a look-in. We talk nowadays of mould-breakers, destroying gender barriers, smashing glass ceilings, abolishing stereotypes, and so on. Clare was doing all that before any of those terms came into common parlance.

A young Clare Hollingworth on the job in the early 40s. A young Clare Hollingworth on the job in the early 40s.

It was not just in her profession that Clare faced a daunting wall of sexist prejudice (in North Africa in World War II British General Bernard Montgomery, learning that Clare was present somewhere near the battlefield, said, “I’ll have no women correspondents in my army…Get rid of her”).

Her whole background, born and raised in bucolic, rural and deeply traditional England, militated against her pursuing any activity as hare-brained as journalism. In those days, most women didn’t even have their own passport, merely being listed as “Wife” in their husband’s travel documents.

“My mother thought journalism frightfully low, like trade,” Clare told the Daily Telegraph in 2011. “She didn’t believe anything journalists wrote and thought they were only fit for the tradesmen’s entrance.” There were few freelancers in those days, so just to get taken on by a newspaper was a challenge, let alone to be allowed to report a war.

But, even before Clare cut her teeth as a foreign correspondent in such spectacular fashion, she was exhibiting those qualities of determination, persistence, resourcefulness and sheer bloody mindedness that not only served her well as a journalist but also set her apart from almost all of her generation of women.

Even at night, before she would settle to sleep, Clare still insisted that her shoes be ready, right at her bedside, in case she had to leave in a hurry, and that her passport be always within reach on the dresser.

Before she walked into the Fleet Street offices of the Daily Telegraph in August 1939 and got a job, Clare was rushing around East Europe assisting literally thousands of vulnerable people to escape from the growing menace of Nazi Germany. By wily hook or by crook, Clare provided these frightened refugees on the Gestapo’s wanted list the documentation they needed to reach a relatively safe haven. While Clare was dubbed the Scarlet Pimpernel by the UK press, British officialdom looked askance at what she was doing, and may even have suspected she was part of a network of Communist agents. It was a typically dramatic episode in Clare’s life, but one that she gives only brief mention in her 1990 memoir “Front Line”. This is possibly because, Garrett suggests, Clare felt guilty that she had not been able to save even more lives.

When married, Clare retained her name, not taking those of her two husbands, Vandeleur Robinson and Geoffrey Hoare. (The latter was no marital paragon: Clare threatened to shoot one of his mistresses, but still spoke fondly of Geoffrey after his death.)

Clare and Tim Page in Saigon during the Vietnam War in the early 1970s. Clare and Tim Page in Saigon during the Vietnam War in the early 1970s.

Clare eschewed the terms Miss/Mrs/Ms. When she received her Order of the British Empire honour from the Queen, she asked to be referred to simply as Clare Hollingworth.

But if that makes Clare sound like a fervent feminist, that would be a mistaken conclusion, Garrett says. “I don’t think Clare really was a feminist. She was an ‘equalist’, if the term exists.” Because she strove to be seen on equal terms as her male peers in journalism, she was not in favour of any kind of special treatment on account of her gender. She believed that in the long term, any positive discrimination for women worked against their interests, particularly women journalists. Her thinking was that by having additional help in the field, women would be regarded by the powers that be as a nuisance, a liability, and therefore less likely to get the necessary access and facilities to do their work.

Janine di Giovanni, the award-winning foreign correspondent, wrote in the Spectator that Garrett’s book about Clare is “a tribute to all the great women who’ve made it possible for today’s female reporters to work in conflict zones.” However, she noted that Clare never gained the renown that her contemporary Martha Gellhorn did. Gellhorn’s life was “perhaps more bling”, wearing handmade Belgian shoes to the front line and marrying Ernest Hemingway. Clare’s standard working attire, in Asia at least, was a safari suit.

Clare would not have approved of the Daily Mail’s Ann Leslie, who during the Bosnian war was reported to be wearing a full-length mink coat and was advising her female colleagues: “Shake your bangles at the soldiers. It doesn’t do any harm for them to think you’re a birdbrain.” However, while Clare disapproved in principle of women using their femininity to get ahead, she herself did once throw off all her clothes to avoid being arrested by police in Bucharest, her theory being that police might strip her but could hardly force her to dress.

Clare Hollingworth. Clare Hollingworth.

Only once did I witness Clare threatening to deploy her perceived feminine weaknesses in an effort to get what she wanted. In the early 1980s, when China had started opening up to the world but was still bureaucratically hidebound, I was helping her to book a room in a Beijing hotel (Clare had next to no Chinese – she knew the word for “beer” but that was about it). However, the man at hotel reception was adamant. Yes, he said, the hotel had lots of empty rooms but Clare couldn’t have one because she didn’t have the official piece of paper authorizing him to allow her in. In a last-ditch bid to weaken the man’s idiotic obduracy, Clare whispered to me: “Should I start to cry now?” I advised against that as being pointless. Conceding defeat, we left.

While Clare was understandably pleased to be the first female defence correspondent of the Daily Telegraph, what really made her proud was to be first civilian to land the job. Her predecessors had been superannuated brigadiers. She was also scornful of men correspondents who she thought were not pulling their weight. In Saigon she was horrified about the men who topped their stories with datelines where they had never been. She reckoned that unlike conscripted or drafted soldiers, male hacks had volunteered be in conflict zones and should make the most of the opportunities presented to get as close as possible to combat.

She is most remembered, of course, for the amazing news coup she pulled off, literally in her first few days as a working journalist: the massing of German tanks and troops on the Polish border in readiness for the opening bludgeon blows of World War II.

Garrett says her great aunt could be catty about female rivals, but she was willing to help women as long as they were not a direct threat. She was also something of a snob and accused by some of being too close to senior establishment figures, particularly in the military. Robert Fisk, the much-garlanded British foreign correspondent, wrote: “Ms Hollingworth’s snobberies are very tiring, her cozy relations with British embassies irritating.” It was true that, in her imperious manner, Clare tended to regard any British diplomatic mission as some sort of support team, put there for her benefit. It was a British consulate car that she “borrowed” to cross the Polish-German border in 1939 and gain her greatest scoop. And once having acquired that habit, it died hard. A British diplomat who was in Beijing during Clare’s time there in the 1970s recalled – quite cheerfully – that “she latched on to me as a helpful young unmarried bag-carrier in the Embassy”.

While clearly relishing the company of the high and mighty, Clare was generous with her time and hospitality with young people. One such person was Isabel Hilton, the distinguished writer, journalist and broadcaster, who was a student in China in the early 1970s.

“The characteristic I most remember about Clare was her curiosity about everything, no matter how insignificant it seemed to us. She lived for journalism. She was always in pursuit of a story or writing one and she once said that she expected to write a story every day… She was definitely an inspiration. I was a hopeful, aspirant journalist but not what you would call firmly on the path.”

And as Hilton found out, Clare did not take kindly to being offered help she felt she didn’t need. “I do remember once making the mistake of taking her arm at the top of a staircase. Her eyesight was really terrible by then. She snatched it away and I never tried to help again.”

But Clare did need help in her final years, after a legal tangle over her finances left her struggling to make ends meet and relying on the support of friends. It was a sorry end for such a seemingly indomitable figure who, as Garrett recounts, persisted with her end-of-the-day foreign correspondent rituals even nearing the end of her many days: “Even at night, before she would settle to sleep, Clare still insisted that her shoes be ready, right at her bedside, in case she had to leave in a hurry, and that her passport be always within reach on the dresser.”

So where did Clare’s swashbuckling gene come from? Could it be from her great-great-great grandfather, who was a highway robber (and hanged for his pains 219 years ago)?

—————

Clare’s Halcyon Hong Kong Years

By Sarah Monks

It’s a balmy southern California morning in July 1990 as Cathay Pacific’s inaugural service to Los Angeles touches down – completing the longest non-stop flight of its time – to kick-start a major Hong Kong promotion.

Striding out through the VIP channel with the official party is a diminutive figure of determination in a Vietnam War-era safari suit – Clare Hollingworth.

“Clare, why don’t you take the car?” offers mission leader and then Trade Development Council Chairman Baroness (Lydia) Dunn, pointing to a Hollywood-style stretch limousine, complete with fully-stocked bar. As the glamourous peer boards the coach with the rest of the Hong Kong group, including several FCC members, this writer is assigned as Clare’s escort.

All is cruisy until we approach the portico of the appointed five-star hotel in Beverly Hills. A brass band strikes up; the hotel manager and staff form a receiving line. A look of terror flashes across Clare’s face as she realises they think she is Baroness Dunn. Slumping below the rim of the smoked-glass window, she reaches for the door handle. While the limo is still moving Clare is out the door, darting behind pot plants and columns and disappearing into the hotel through a side entrance. As the band’s jaunty tune unravels, it remains only to explain that the lady who just vanished was not the baroness but the great and fearless war correspondent Clare Hollingworth.

By 1990, Clare had been residing in Hong Kong for nearly a decade since leaving London and her post as The Daily Telegraph’s defence correspondent.

By 1990, Clare had been residing in Hong Kong for nearly a decade since leaving London and her post as The
Daily Telegraph
’s defence correspondent. Woe betide anyone who assumed that Clare had retired here. Au contraire, as she would say. These were active and productive years. Aside from still “calling London” each evening, Clare wrote “Mao and the Men Against Him” (1985) and finished her 1990 memoir “Front Line”. She was also writing columns for The Daily Telegraph, The Sunday Telegraph, International Herald Tribune and The Wall Street Journal, and held a research position at HKU’s Centre of Asian Studies.

Clare on the job in the Main Bar. Clare on the job in the Main Bar.

It surely helped that Clare’s next door neighbour in Upper Albert Road was the Governor. Sir Murray (later, Lord) MacLehose, was a particular friend from Saigon days, when he was British ambassador and, before that, Paris. Clare enjoyed weekends on the Governor’s yacht Lady Maurine in once-pristine waters at the colony’s marine edges. She also enjoyed swimming privileges “at the pool next door” in the grounds of Government House. Clare loved swimming. Indeed, the first words she uttered to this writer back in 1981 were: “I knew your father. We used to swim across the Bay of Beirut together during the war”.

When Clare began frequenting “the Club” at Sutherland House, she had to overcome an uncharacteristic fear of lifts to reach the dining room on the 15th floor. “Give me a restaurant that’s under fire, any day,” she would say.  “I will crouch under the table. But never trap me in a lift.”

Clare soon re-encountered Richard Hughes, whom she had first met in Cairo during the North African campaign, after he had taken to wearing a monocle (a whole other story). It was a cordial if respectfully distant reunion of two legends in each other’s lifetimes; doyen and doyenne. “His Grace”, holding court at his usual table, would smile benignly whenever Clare stepped out of the lift, raising his hand to dispense a blessing and greeting her as “Mother Superior”.  Clare would respond with equal noblesse to this unsolicited Vatican honour.

When Clare began frequenting “the Club” at Sutherland House, she had to overcome an uncharacteristic fear of lifts to reach the dining room on the 15th floor. “Give me a restaurant that’s under fire, any day,” she would say.  “I will crouch under the table. But never trap me in a lift.”

It doubtless helped that Clare’s arrival and friendship with Sir Murray coincided with the Club’s search for a new home, spearheaded by then Club President Donald Wise, another living journalistic legend.  Spiralling rents portended the end of the Club’s “borrowed time” at Sutherland House (with its famous “loo with a view”) and he had already written to the Governor. Just as Sir Murray was leaving office in 1982 came the happy news that the government would allow the FCC to lease the old Ice House.

An FCC evening with Clare was a ticket to the front row of some of the 20th century’s stranger moments, such as the drunken misdeeds of diplomat (and spy) Donald Maclean in Cairo when out carousing with journalist pal Philip Toynbee (“they urinated in front of Egyptian ladies-in-waiting during an official reception at King Farouk’s palace”), and how she ended up with Melinda Maclean’s fur coat after the defector’s wife joined him in Moscow.  She got on well with “the Shah” (of Iran), witnessed the spittle on the hands of “Charlie” (Charles De Gaullle) from the kisses of Arabs in Algiers who moments earlier had surrounded the French President with fists raised in menace, could offer a firsthand opinion of Wallis Simpson (“I never cared for her. But he was very charming”), and gave instructions on how to sleep in the desert (“you make a little hole for your hip”).

Clare with Sir Edward Heath at a Club function in 1987. Clare with Sir Edward Heath at a Club function in 1987.

But the lion’s share of Clare’s time in those earlier Hong Kong years was spent “smelling the breezes” to stay informed both for her work and the powerful who sought her out. Her classic opening line at dinner “a deux” was: “In deep confidence, tell me what you think is going on with…”

Smelling the breezes also meant travelling. Clare was still doing a lot of that, always with a small shortwave radio tuned to the BBC World Service. She went often to her old stamping ground in Beijing, where she was a welcome guest of successive British ambassadors. Summers took her on a circuit of visits in Europe and the US to a who’s who of global diplomacy, military and the secretive spaces in between.

She would stay at her strategically-located “pads” in Dorset Square and the Rue Saint Honore, where she met the ultra-connected at “the Travellers” (Club) in London and “the Cercle” (Cercle de l’Union Ineralliee) in Paris. If she holidayed at all, it was to see her great friend the remarkable Dowager Lady Egremont at her castle in Cumbria, or to the south of France where there was a veritable FCC colony in residence with the likes of Donald and Daphne Wise, Derek and Shizue Davies, and former Hong Kong solicitor Brian Tisdall.

And there was always former British Prime Minister Edward Heath, with whom Clare had another important, longstanding friendship. Returning from one UK sojourn, when both were into their 80s, Clare mentioned that “Ted”, ever a bachelor, had invited her to stay with him at his home in Salisbury.  “I said no,” she confided. “People might have talked”.

Clare’s ongoing connections across the Atlantic were just as illustrious. During her time as The Daily Telegraph’s first correspondent in Beijing she had befriended the first US emissary to the People’s Republic, David Bruce, and his wife Evangeline. Years after his death, she continued to visit the celebrated “Vangie” when in the US “catching up on gossip” and on latest military and geostrategic developments monitored at the Center for Strategic & International Studies.

Clare and Club President Diane Stormont welcome Chris Patten to the Club for the launch of his book “East and West” in 1999.
Clare and Club President Diane Stormont welcome Chris Patten to the Club for the launch of his book “East and West” in 1999. Photo by Kees Metselaar

On that score, Clare never lost her youthful gift of prescience. “Muslim fundamentalism is fast becoming the chief threat to global peace and security as well as a cause of national and local disturbance through terrorism,” she wrote in an article for the International Herald Tribune in 1993.  “So far there has been scant reaction from the Western world, but it is increasingly important that members of Nato sit up and pay attention to aggressive Islamic trends.”

At the Club’s reception to celebrate Clare’s 85th birthday, a message was read from a veteran war correspondent that went something like: “Clare, the tanks you saw entering Poland in 1939 have just arrived in Kabul. Wish you were here.” “Rather!” Clare responded loudly from the floor. “I’d much rather be there!”

With her passing, along with that of the unforgettable Anthony Lawrence and others of their generation, an era has truly come to an end for the Club, correspondents in general and war correspondents in particular. Peace at last, Clare.  Sorry.

 

 

Clare’s readers and helpers

By Joyce Lau

I met Clare when I was an editorial assistant, barely a rung up from unpaid intern on the journalism ladder. I was also a new member at the FCC, and settled quickly into my favourite spot in the far corner of the “quiet room,” also known as The Bunker.

Perched in the opposite corner was the wizened figure of Clare Hollingworth, wrapped in a shawl, listening to the BBC on giant headphones. I didn’t realise who she was at first, but soon noticed that anyone presuming to sit at her table incurred the wrath of the FCC staff, who were fiercely protective their “Po Joi” (little grandmother).  When I discovered her back story I became fascinated by her.

Cathy Hilborn Feng and Clare cut her birthday cake on the occasion of her 89th birthday. Cathy Hilborn Feng and Clare cut her birthday cake on the occasion of her 89th birthday.

I started reading to Clare by happenstance. I read the papers at the FCC anyway, and she was clearly struggling to do the same. She was in her 90s then, and I had never met anyone so old. Even my sole surviving grandparent was a generation younger than she was.

I soon leaned that hidden behind the frustrating barriers of deafness and blindness were a sharp intellect, dark humour, and keen news judgement. And that is how I spent a decade reading to a war correspondent more than 60 years my senior.

There were many friends who supported Clare, the most dedicated of which was Cathy Hilborn Feng, a Canadian working in Hong Kong as an editor. “Her legend had preceded her,” Hilborn remembered about meeting Clare in 1994. “I was somewhat wary of her, at first I thought, ‘Oh my God, she’s so famous’. And I thought she’d be very unapproachable. But I found that to be so far from the truth.

Clare never spoke of her situation – possibly out of pride, but more likely out of disinterest. This was a woman who bragged about sleeping in trenches, who trudged through war-torn Europe carrying little more than a pistol, a typewriter and a pillow-case of clothes.

“I think as people age, younger people especially tend to avoid them,” she said. “So she didn’t have too many younger people approaching her. Although she had lots of friends and lots of older people giving her respect. I noticed she was having trouble reading and using a great big magnifying glass.

“She needed human contact,” Hilborn said. “She needed someone who will read those stories with her and discuss those stories with her. She wanted to be engaged and interactive.” So she and the Women in Publishing Society arranged for a different reader each day. It was a joy to do. Well into her 90s, Clare was both a colourful storyteller and gossip.

Clare at the piano. Clare at the piano.

“There was a long period when Conrad Black, her former employer at The Telegraph, was in the news himself, so it was my job to find all the relevant articles and read them to Clare and she delighted in that because she knew Conrad,” she said. “And she had her own wonderful stories to tell about Conrad, so that was quite fun.

Patrick Garrett, Clare’s great-nephew who would later become her biographer, started checking in with her daily around 1997. Clare, then in her 80s, was still sprightly enough to get around or book a plane ticket without warning – but also in denial about her own failing eyesight and memory.

“That’s the period when I flew up to Beijing she would (without warning) just follow,” Garrett said.  “And the first I’d know, I’d get the 7am call at the hotel, checking to see what I was working on.”

When I met Clare, she was still living independently, with no live-in helper, in the elegantly decaying Ridley House on Upper Albert Road. She boasted that she was perfectly happy “rolling down the hill” to the FCC. But the reality was that she was a legally-blind nonagenarian, navigating the steep hill of Glenealy next to busy traffic.

I offered to pick her up at home one day, and I was dismayed at the state of her one-bedroom flat. There was a sagging single mattress and a kitchenette with a mostly empty refrigerator.

That day, I learned the hard truth that greatness from a half-century ago doesn’t pay the current-day bills. Even if Clare had (modest) sums in the bank – as well as friends and relatives with good intentions – it was not enough to secure the sort of 24/7 care needed for a person of her age.

Clare shares her 100th birthday party with a full house of family and friends in the Main Dining Room in 2011 Clare shares her 100th birthday party with a full house of family and friends in the Main Dining Room in 2011

Clare never spoke of her situation – possibly out of pride, but more likely out of disinterest. This was a woman who bragged about sleeping in trenches, who trudged through war-torn Europe carrying little more than a pistol, a typewriter and a pillow-case of clothes.

In time a move was organised, first to a modern serviced apartment right next to the FCC, and then to another space.

Susan Perez, a Filipina domestic helper, was hired in 2004 – and she stayed loyally with Clare for 13 years, until her death. Susan was joined by
her sister, Helen Penuranda, and the two became Clare’s family and constant companions. They would sit at Clare’s table in The Bunker, drizzling her food with honey to tempt her to eat, and watering down her daily glass of white wine.

They remembered blasting the BBC so loudly that everyone – even the neighbours – could hear the news. Clare would listen until the football came on, and then yell ‘No! Put it off! Put it off. I’m not interested in sport, it is rubbish!’”

Susan and Helen also remember taking Clare back home with them to the Philippines on vacation.

“She was able to walk at that time, still no wheelchair,” Susan said. “Caring for Clare, there was no other option. She would not be comfortable with anybody else. She couldn’t see, so she was insecure. We arranged between the two of us so one of us would always be with her. She would not complain as long as we were there. She could recognise our voices.

Photos: FCC Archive

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