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Karachi Literature Festival in London

I’m excited to be speaking at the Karachi Literature Festival in London next week!

As a journalist in Pakistan, I’ve reported on the KLF (and it’s sister event the Islamabad Literature Festival as well as the unrelated Lahore Literature Festival – metropolitan rivalry is a big thing in Pakistan).

In Karachi, the heat and stench (sorry!) from of the Arabian Sea are the backdrop to a long weekend of literary events, speakers and readings at an enclosed venue with armed guards (I’d almost forgotten that detail, the ubiquity of machine guns at every ‘important’ place almost make them invisible).

The KLF started up at a time when there was the global interest in Pakistani literature was at its height. There was a steady publication of an array of Pak Lit including one that remains a favourite of mine, Mohsin Hamid’s Mothsmoke.

Hamid has been at a number of these festivals, and is a humble and low key interviewee. I didn’t get to interview Hanif Qureshi when he attended in 2012 but recall watching agog at his Q&A session as he dared to publicly slay a member of Pakistan’s formidable Aunty Brigade who’d asked some silly but innocent question or other. By that year my knowledge of the cultural hierarchy in Pakistan was attuned enough to know that Aunties (middle aged women of the upper classes) are off limits. So it was astonishing to watch in slow motion I’m certain one brought down a peg or two in front of my – and a couple hundred others – eyes. “What a stupid question.” I think his exact words were.

What Hanif Qureshi lacked in charm, Mohammed Hanif made up for. I’ve never seen anyone so adored and adoring speak at an event before or since and he certainly knows how to work a crowd. He had that very Pakistani way of blithely ignoring criticism – in this case of Our Lady of Alice Bhatti (his follow up to A Case of  Exploding Mangoes) – while charismatically seducing the crowd who’d come to see him. I’ve seriously learnt a lot from that man.

But will there be Aunties in London? Who in fact is going to come? The criticism levelled at these types of events in Pakistan is that they’re targeted at a very exclusive audience. Let’s not forget that the vast majority of Pakistanis are illiterate; and a only a very tiny margin of Pakistanis are literate in English and yet the Pak Lit that caused (causing?) a international stir is written in English.

But I’m actually really fascinated that the KLF is happening in London. I’m a Londoner who spent nearly a decade in Pakistan and being submerged with my British Pakistani ways into Pakistan itself was a mind bending to say the least. So having the Karachi Literature Festival in London will be..what?

The last vaguely similar event I went to was a London memorial to Sabeen Mahmud, a wonderful young activist I knew who was assassinated in Karachi in 2015. The crowd there were largely Pakistani and yet not the kind of Pakistani I’m surrounded by normally in London’s grubbier edges. Not the kind who left their lives and families and histories behind to find opportunity abroad because Pakistan would not offer them any.

I’ve never been able to adequately express the 360 rollercoaster I experienced in Pakistan adequately. But one day I will try.

I’m speaking on the subject LGBT and Misogyny: Is Legislation Making Transgender People and Women Safer? in relation to my film Poshida at the Karachi Literature Festival at the Southbank in London on 20th May.

Mobile Journalism

MOBILE JOURNALISM

I’ve accidentally stumbled into mobile journalism.

I didn’t  notice I was already doing it and I didn’t know that there was a name for it and a whole community and conference dedicated to it.

For me, it started around 2012 when I got really into Instagram while experiencing the incredible sights as I lived in Pakistan reporting on news – I’d take tonnes of pictures and share them online.

Later I used my iPhone as a voice recorder while researching my documentary and while interviewing subjects for my LGBT Pakistan story for Vice News.

Then last year as I was lamenting the cost of a new video camera to reboot my video journalism work and I started reading about Mobile Journalism. I’d always admired the quality of pictures and video on the iPhone and started to wonder if I needed to buy a new video camera for work at all.

Finally there was a deciding incident. I’d humped my regular camera kit, tripod, mic kit and lights half way across London for a not-great-paid charity gig. I seriously began to wonder if I could ‘just’ film these things on my phone.

At  this point, I had that thought that I think a lot of people have had: That’s cheating!

But why is it?  The camera quality on the iPhone as some other smartphones are broadcast standard plus if you need bells and whistles there are plenty of accessories out there.

And you do need a few. The very basics I’d suggest are  microphone & tripod but those are more for production value than to make up for any deficiencies in a smart phone camera. but more on that in another post.

A bit of online research and I discovered a vast array of MoJo accessories that allayed my main concerns about storage, sound and wobbly video so I ordered some basic bits of kit and am pleased beyond reason that most of it fits in the palm of my hand!

Here’s the full list of what I got and I’m using headphones and battery charger I already have.

Why Now is the Time to Train in Video Making

 

I first started video journalism around 2008 with the AP and it’s no surprise to me that the medium is becoming more popular.

The statistics say something like 80-90% of everything we see on the internet will be video in a couple of years – just think about your own internet and social media usage, rings true right? It’s certainly true for Facebook. Mark Zuckerberg says that in a few short years, the social media giant will be mostly video. On top of that 5G is coming our way very soon, meaning near instantaneous downloads.  And then think about how journalism as an industry is continuing to change beyond all recognition. Where do you consume it? Not newspapers, most likely.

If you’re a journalist these days, you can’t have failed to have noticed how your sector is changing.  Perhaps your news organisation is asking you to start capturing video on your phone while your out reporting or perhaps you want to future-proof your career.

That’s why after a stint as an onscreen reporter, I’ve decided to resurrect my video journalism skills. And it’s exciting!

Things used to be a hell of lot harder and more time consuming when I started out.  I recall my early days in TV news production in the 90s when the studio camera man tried to get us recent graduate recruits interested light and lenses and  when a two-man crew (and it was 99% men) with a big heavy camera and and chunky sound kit were standard for going out on news shoots with a reporter in tow. That all seems pretty archaic now.

It wasn’t til about 2009 when I first saw a reporter film his own piece to camera, squatting in front of the lens because he was so tall – I thought it was ridiculous.

More fool me it transpired, because that’s the ways things are moving in journalism. What’s more you can now affordably buy everything you need to shoot and edit a video news package and even broadcast live. And on top of that the technology is smaller and lighter than ever before leading to the growth in what’s called MoJo or Mobile Journalism (see my last post).

Best of all it’s getting easier – you really don’t need to be a tech nerd to do this stuff and the software is far more intuitive and user friendly than it used to be. Take iMovie for example which is basically a simpler version of industry standard Final Cut Pro X. (Realising that btw also led me to buying Garageband rather than the latest version of Logic Pro for my side hustle of music production).

The basic skills of video storytelling are underestimated at the moment, however. Anyone can wave a phone around but it takes a bit of extra thinking to get sound, video stability, and lighting right at the same time as well as learning to shoot for the edit. That takes a lot of brain power and is best left to those who are good at multi-tasking (isn’t that traditionally women?!)

These skills aren’t the flash techy stuff I agree but frankly, isn’t that nerdy stuff secondary to the actual journalism?

It is after all about the story at the end of the day.