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Ben Hammersley

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It’s kind of hard to slot a man who is editor-at-large of one of the world’s top tech magazines; a freelance reporter for the BBC; head of digital at a creative agency dealing with fashion brands; undercover war correspondent in Afghanistan and Iran; founder of a company called Dangerous Precedent and part-time long-distance marathon runner. Much of it concurrently.

And all of it very successfully.

Ben Hammersley’s most direct contribution to our lives is actually only a blip on his career chart – as inventor of the word Podcast, a mashup of ipod and broadcasting that he first used in The Guardian in 2004.

He also pioneered multimedia reporting for the BBC on assignment in Turkey, being the first to report for television, radio, Twitter, Facebook and YouTube equally. Earlier, he’d started out at 21 as the Internet correspondent for The Times when the internet was just taking off between 1997-2000, then moved to The Guardian where he designed and built the weblogs network as well as the political discussion site Comment is Free. 

Mostly, though, he has a knack for being in the right place at the right time – one that, it turns out, is no accident. “If you wait for people to ask you to go to a war, or to write a book, or to present a TV show, then you’re going to be waiting forever,” he said in an interview to an online blog. “My philosophy has always been that you have to just go and do it. And then once you’ve done it once, then you become that thing.”

That meant that when he wanted to be a war correspondent, he didn’t wait to be commissioned. Having sold his editors a story about Internet cafes being in trouble in Afghanistan or the place of the Internet in Iranian society, he travelled to both cities and explored the region. That gave him the confidence to ‘send himself’ to Burma and Pakistan to do pure news stories. The confidence wasn’t misplaced. He travelled undercover to Burma having scored an interview with Burmese opposition leader and Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi in 1999, for which he was later banned from Burma. He photographed the Hezbullah in Beirut, lived amid Philippine troops in Mindanao and has travelled to places others would be content to abandon at the height of their danger.

Today, his phenomenal understanding of technology and human behaviour makes him one of the world’s most coveted speakers on the effects of the internet and digital networks on global politics and culture. He teaches in London and Barcelona, is the Prime Minister’s Ambassador to TechCity (London’s Silicon Valley), and one of the four members of the European Commission’s High level Expert Group on Media Freedom – at the heart of some of the world’s most vociferous debates on internet freedom. He’s authored five books on internet technologies, with a sixth releasing this year.

But he’s still bemused when Financial Times calls him the “guru of the digital age”. That distinction, for him, probably goes to his iPhone.

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