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October 9, 2008
Covering the worldwide financial storm

A Chinese newspaper covered protests in Hong Kong after the fall of Lehman Brothers.

Anchor Martin Savidge describes the indelible images and fundamental questions behind Worldfocus’s reporting on the global financial crisis.

“What in the world is going on?!”

It’s a phrase we use a lot these days, especially when we cringe over the latest news from Wall Street. This huge financial crisis has, in many ways, reminded us all of how interconnected we are — especially financially — from our economies to our portfolios.

Perhaps the most poignant reminder of this was a report from our partner Deutsche Welle about a little old lady who would check her portfolio on her laptop — woefully and daily. She lives in China and “invested” half of her entire life savings in a company called Lehman Brothers.

From where I sit each evening, I get to track world events as they unfold. Lately, it’s all about the economy. The financial crisis has been our lead story just about every night.

Every morning our staff comes together to see how our partners around the world show and explain the problem to their audiences. So far, we have included reports from Asian News International, Indian TV, Al Arabiya, Dubai TV, ABC Australia and ITN of Britain — just to name some of them.

We have also called in some of the best international financial experts as guests to deconstruct the financial storm. (I will say with just about every financial principle shattered these past few weeks, I’m not sure if even the experts really know — but that’s another blog post.)

A common theme I see among news organizations, no matter where they are, is the struggle to explain: “How did we get to where we are?” and “What can we expect next?”

In our newsroom, we try to understand these fundamental questions. We are watching the financial crisis radiate in markets around the world, and we’re looking for the connections.

For instance, we followed the significant decline of the petro-dollar-rich Middle East markets. In listening to and watching the footage, we found that the only differences from Bloomberg to CNBC and Dubai TV were the languages spoken (Arabic) and the business attire worn (headdresses and dishdashes — long, one-piece tunics worn by Arab men).

Just like that little old lady hovered over her computer in a corner of China, we’re all affected and we’re just trying to make sense of it all.

No region, no country, no market is immune — at least, not any more.

– Martin Savidge

Photo courtesy of Flickr user nocklebeast under a Creative Commons license.

October 8, 2008
Tech hassles “captured” in India


Ara Ayer transfers files on-the-go in Bhopal, India. Photo: Mary Lockhart

Producer Ara Ayer reports from India with producer Mary Lockhart. Ara runs through what it’s like to be a high-tech, multitasking, multimedia journalist on the go.

A Worldfocus shooter-producer wears many hats in the field. I have to wear more than most since I’m bald –- yet that’s not the topic of this blog. I’d like to digress about workflow.

Gone are the days when an electronic journalist could spend a day reporting and shooting then hit the local watering hole for refreshment. Today’s multimedia journalist has to report, do lighting, sound, operate the camera and archive digital video clips in the field. It’s the new reality of media production: five jobs, one salary.

Not to boast, but I’m an analog guy. I shoot photographs on 35-mm film, listen to jazz through a McIntosh amp, and used to enjoy shooting video on tape. That is, until I started with Worldfocus and learned to joys and hardships of working in an all-digital news gathering format.

My trial by fire came on assignment in India and Singapore. Fellow producer Mary Lockhart and I ambitiously took on the task of producing seven stories in three weeks.

Neither of us were experts using the high-definition Panasonic P2 camera. Unlike cameras of old, a P2 doesn’t require tape. The P2 camera “captures” digital video on reusable — but limited — memory cards.

Mary and I had to often break our shoot schedule to download and erase cards. Fading computer batteries often sent us scrambling to find power to transfer clip files from the camera to portable hard drives. We started taking over wait stations in restaurants, hijacking offices for electrical plugs and, if need be, using the car’s cigarette lighter for power.

If the assignment gods were kind, this process would end at sundown. Yet after the shoot day was done, digital clip files on the portable drive and the remaining P2 cards all had to be backed up to two archival hard drives in real time.

So if I shot four hours of video during the day, I spend four hours archiving at night. Mary and I often took turns sharing the archival duties –- assuring at least one of us got more than fitful sleep before the next day’s assignment.

The great boon of digital technology is access to the media. I can screen and edit my work virtually anywhere on my laptop. I know it’s nothing revolutionary to the YouTube generation, but the ease of scrutinizing material before we decamp for the next assignment or home truly helps make me and my colleagues better storytellers and journalists. Plus, with all the late nights transferring files, our clips are archived and ready to edit when we touch down in New York.

– Ara Ayer

October 3, 2008
Living and dying in Mexico

Women embroider traditional indigenous garb in San Nicolas, Mexico. Photo: Martin Savidge.

Anchor Martin Savidge reports on a quiet immigration town and the clamoring abortion debate in Mexico.

In my previous life before Worldfocus, I was a reporter. I still like to think I’m a reporter who just works from behind the desk. But when time allows, I still want to get out there to find some good stories to tell you.

So this past weekend, instead of going home to Atlanta, I kept on flying south down to Mexico to investigate two reports we will bring you in the near future.

For the first story, we rose early on Saturday and loaded into a minivan for a three-hour drive north of Mexico City. It takes at least an hour to free yourself from the sprawl of 20 million people. Eventually, the scenery gives way to farmland and distant peaks shrouded in clouds.

We arrived in the Mezquital Valley and the town of Puerto Dexhti, population 800. In a way, you could call it the town America helped to build. Many of the houses — even the town hall, which once a week is also the doctor’s office when he comes to town — were built thanks to dollars earned in the United States and sent south by immigrants.

But these are hard times in America, which means these are even harder times in tiny towns like Puerto Dexhti. It’s an immigration story told in a different way.

The other story is simple, but the implications are literally life and death. Abortion is now legal in Mexico City. That shocks many people since Mexico is overwhelmingly Catholic. We talk to all sides of this emotionally and religiously charged issue. How did it happen? Who performs the procedure when 85 percent of Mexico City’s doctors refuse? It’s a long-fought debate, but one made new when seen though the lens of another nation.

I’ll talk to you soon.

– Martin Savidge

September 24, 2008
Twelve down and eight to go…

Ilaria Mignatti, Stanley Spiro and Marc Rosenwasser review the show’s rundown. Photo: Joseph Sinnott

Anchor Martin Savidge reports from Worldfocus’s newsroom in New York during the show’s rehearsals.

We are in the thick of rehearsals for Worldfocus…12 down, eight to go. The idea is when we do hit air Oct. 6, we will have actually been turning out the show for some time, feeling confident and comfortable.

Right now I’m feeling impatient.

It’s a shame you can’t see the shows so far — I believe they are really that good. Of course, we have the international news of the day, but it is our enterprise reporting and partners that will leave viewers with a real sense of seeing something different.

Already there are several stories that have left an indelible mark on my mind. The “storm monitors” of Nicaragua — an all female network of amateur radio operators — are the trip wire warning system of storms and hurricanes. The network of storm monitors  is just one element of a program that supplies safety on a shoestring, compared to the U.S.’s high-cost, high-tech warning systems.

Our signature piece in tonight’s rehearsal was a Worldfocus exclusive on how the rest of the world views America — a recurring theme on our program. Contributing reporter Martin Seemungal reported from Kenya, a nation that draws its deep association to America in part because of Barack Obama, and especially because of 9/11.

I could go on and on, but just believe me, we have so much to share. I can’t wait to sit down with you each evening and tell you what in the world is happening.

See you soon.

– Martin Savidge

September 23, 2008
Flying over New York in a war plane

Lisa Biagiotti reported with Channtal Fleischfresser and Katie Combs from Teterboro, N.J. on the 60th anniversary celebration of the Berlin Airlift.

The tarmac at Teterboro Airport sizzled as the ground crew doused it with water in preparation for the “warbird’s” takeoff. The 63-year-old war plane had flown during World War II and hauled coal, food and medicine to 2 million Berlin citizens during the Soviet blockade of the city in 1948.

With cameras hoisted over our backs, Channtal Fleischfresser, Katie Combs and I climbed the ladder into the C-54 cargo plane. We were told to ignore the smell of burning rubber or the pings in the orange oil drum (anchored in at Katie’s knees.)

We watched 88-year-old retired Colonel Gail Halvorsen glide up the ladder to co-pilot the 30-minute flight. Colonel Halvorsen  — the original “Candy Bomber” — dropped parachutes filled with chocolates, candy and sticks of gum to Berlin children during the 14-month airlift. Children on the ground would look to the sky and wait for a plane to wiggle its wings — the signal for falling treats.

The Colonel recounted a story of a little girl named Mercedes who lived next to the open field where he dropped the candy. She wrote him a letter telling him that the roar of his plane frightened her chickens, but she could forgive him if he dropped the candy closer to her home. They wrote back and forth and finally met in Berlin in 1972. Halvorsen’s family has visited Mercedes, her husband and two sons 35 times, most recently this July.

The smell of burning rubber dissipated, but the air hung still and heavy in the un-air-conditioned cabin. The plane cruised at 150 miles per hour, bobbing up and down New York Harbor. We settled into the blue patent leather seats and tipped our heads back imagining the sacks of flour, bags of coal and Colonel Halvorsen in the cockpit wiggling his wings before landing…in New Jersey.

– Lisa Biagiotti

September 22, 2008
Brazil plans to improve highways

Brazilian workers pave a road.

Bryan Myers reported with Megan Thompson from Brazil on an upcoming story on roads and infrastructure.

Read Bryan’s first blog post from the field: Truckin’ through Brazil.

According to Pedro Bastos, an HSBC investment officer based in Brazil, “We need to invest in highways, rail networks, and airports. We need to improve our infrastructure to take our harvests to ports or processing centers. And frankly, we didn’t invest when we needed to.”

Many truckers couldn’t agree more. One trucker we spoke with has been driving along the same shoddy road for 34 years. He delivers eucalyptus wood from Brazil’s central coast to brick kilns near Rio de Janeiro. He said it was about time the government did something, and told us he’s looking forward to the day his trip goes a little smoother and a little faster.

However, we did meet one trucker who said he thought the government was “lying,” saying that officials have a long history of announcing ambitious plans, only for them to result in nothing. He’ll believe it when he sees it, he said.

One of the roads high on the government’s priority list for improvement is the BR 101. The BR 101 is a two-lane road that leads into the important port of Sepetiba, just south of Rio de Janeiro. As it is, the road has trouble handling all the trucks trying to get into the port. The sight of trucks lined up idling alongside the road is common. The 101 is now being widened to four lanes and appears to be close to completion.

Eventually, the government hopes to connect the 101 with another road on the opposite side of Rio de Janeiro, the BR 493. The 493 is also a narrow two-lane, full of bumps and swales, and it too is slated for improvement.

What is the goal of connecting the 101 and 493? To eventually form a bypass around Rio de Janeiro, solving another problem — that of trucks having to pass through the city.

Some of the $250 billion dollars President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva wants to spend on Brazil’s infrastructure will come from public coffers. But the rest is expected to come from private investment. This effort to enlist private companies has some wondering if Brazil’s poorer citizens will literally be relegated to the slow lane.

– Bryan Myers

September 18, 2008
Truckin’ through Brazil

Bryan Myers reported with Megan Thompson from Brazil on an upcoming story on roads and infrastructure.

Trucks along BR 493 near Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

Ask Americans what come to mind when they hear the words “road trip,” and they are likely to mention things like “adventure” and “freedom.”

Mention these words to a Brazilian, and you’re more likely to hear things like “ordeal” and “frustration.”  Simply put, driving long distances in Brazil can be a trying experience.

Along with several reporters from the Worldfocus team, I spent several days traveling Brazil’s highways, talking with motorists and truckers.

Although Brazil is almost the size of the United States, it doesn’t have nearly as many major highways. Apart from areas around São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro, most roads labeled as “highways” are actually two-lane roads. Many of them are in poor shape.  Adding to Brazil’s highway headaches are the large number of 18-wheelers on the road—in Brazil, most goods are shipped by truck.

But if Brazil’s president has his way, that’s all about to change. Last year, President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva announced the most ambitious plan to overhaul the nation’s infrastructure in Brazilian history. Lula’s plan calls for spending over $250 billion on infrastructure projects by the year 2010 — $17 billion of that will go toward fixing roads.

Lula’s plan couldn’t come at a more crucial time. Along with China and India, Brazil is one of the world’s hottest economies. Much of its newfound wealth is the result of exporting commodities like iron ore, coffee and soybeans. In turn, a newly prosperous middle class is hungry for imports of consumer goods. Timely shipments are essential to keeping the wheels of commerce turning.

– Bryan Myers

Read Bryan’s second blog post from the field: Brazil plans to improve highways.

September 15, 2008
Martin Savidge stresses the need for global news

Anchor Martin Savidge explains the mandate and mission behind Worldfocus, a new show on public TV that covers international news. [MEDIA=7]


I’m Martin Savidge with Worldfocus. The landscape of international news coverage has changed dramatically in the last 10 to 15 years. When I first got started in this business, I think news directors would shun the idea of putting international news in their newscasts because they felt that the American audience didn’t care or they didn’t understand. The reason that they didn’t understand was the fact that the stories probably weren’t really told that well. Then came 9/11, and we began to understand that what the rest of the world thinks about America does matter. It not only matters from a point of view, but it also matters for our own safety. And so you saw greatly expanded coverage of international news in the domestic newscasts.

But time’s gone by. Things have changed. We also have a very big political year. And then there is the expense. A lot of news organizations have been cutting back because it is very expensive to go out there and cover stories around the world. At Worldfocus, we’re going the opposite way. We’re growing; we’re expanding. We’re doing that by reaching out to our partners, of which we have many all around the world. Great news organizations – and the beauty of this particular system is that we will be talking to reporters and they will be reporting to us from the regions in which they live. They will report their stories from living the stories. The perspective that they have, unique to the region in which they’re located – that’s something you won’t find on the other networks. And what we’ll do is bring it home to you and say “Alright, well why does this matter to Americans? Why is it important to us?”

And then the other stories are the smaller ones; the things about people. Those commonalities that we share around the world; the unique stories that you don’t get to see perhaps in newspapers or certainly in broadcast programs. These are the little things we’ll be looking for, because they’re big in many ways. That’s what makes that connection – when you see how other people live, when you find out we don’t really think that differently. We’ll begin to realize that the world maybe isn’t as big and mysterious as we think it is, but in fact in a lot of ways is just like the backyard we look out on everyday.

That’s what we’re going to do with Worldfocus. We’ll bring everything back to you after traveling around the world. Foreign news hopefully won’t seem so foreign. It all begins on October 6, and then the beauty of the system is you can reach out and communicate to us at Hope to hear from you. Hope to see you.

September 11, 2008
Martin Savidge shares his worldview — What’s yours?

Worldfocus Anchor Martin Savidge. Photo: Lisa Biagiotti

Martin Savidge, a veteran journalist of NBC News and CNN, is the anchor of Worldfocus.

I guess you could say I was born into this international thing.

I popped out in Lachine, Quebec, Canada to British parents who not long after moved to America and became U.S. citizens. That’s three countries in a single sentence. Growing up we would make trips back to the U.K. for visits, which whetted my appetite for more travel.

It’s part of the reason I became a journalist. In order to know, you had to go. In other words, you had to travel to get the story. Starting out in Champaign/Urbana, Illinois, there wasn’t much foreign travel. The same was true of my next stop, Peoria, but things changed when I got to Cleveland, Ohio.

I was able to convince my news director that going overseas wasn’t going overboard when it came to news coverage that mattered to Clevelanders. As a result I went to Russia, Ukraine, Thailand, Vietnam, Britain and France.

That reporting caught the eye of CNN, where I traveled next, and for nine years the world was my beat. Initially, I was an anchor and worked on just about every show the network had on both domestic CNN and CNN-International.

I eventually convinced the network to put me in the field rather than just behind a desk. I became CNN’s first anchor permanently assigned to the field. That took me to the gates of Buckingham Palace for the death of Princess Diana, to Amman for the death of King Hussein and to Sydney for the 2000 games. I witnessed the handover of the Panama Canal and in Havana the handover of a little boy named Elian. I covered the fighting for Kosovo, traveled beneath the Ionian sea in a submarine and reported the atrocities of East Timor. Then came 9/11. I spent six weeks at ground zero in New York and three more years in at least six other war zones including Iraq and Afghanistan, from Kashmir to the DMZ.

Ironically, I felt the closest to the world not overseas but here in America, in New Orleans during and after Hurricane Katrina. I was now working for NBC. I rode the storm out in the Superdome then moved to the street where we reported and struggled to live for days.

At the convention center, people would beg us to take them out when we left the city. I had to explain that only our reports left via satellite; we remained. If we couldn’t take them, they asked if I could please call their families to let them know they were alive.

Not all of those trapped by the storm were from New Orleans. There were many tourists from all over the world. People would scribble the telephone numbers of loved ones on bits of paper and garbage and slip them into my pocket. I promised I would call later that night from my satellite phone — it was my only connection to the outside world. Most of the time my calls were answered by machines. So I’d leave a simple message in English, telling them who I was and that “I saw your mom today” or “I saw your dad or son or daughter. They are okay. They are safe.” Then I would hang up.

Not long after, my phone began to ring. On the other end of the line, I heard sobs — and in broken English, delivered in all kinds of accents, the words “thank you.”

Never have I felt so close to those so far away. We had made a connection, a connection that had made all the difference.

I can’t promise every night on Worldfocus will be as dramatic, but we will be able to communicate. It’s a whole world of opportunity.

— Martin Savidge

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