In 1998, Ben Hammersley was the first reporter for The Times to be dedicated to covering the internet. Right at the start of the dotcom boom, he realised that to be successful in his role of explainer of that technology and the radical changes it was even then bringing about, Ben would also have to be a high level practitioner of it. So he started to add coding and technical skills to his journalism, principally in web technologies, like RSS (he wrote two books on this), and web publishing (another book on this), and the semantic web - the precursor to work Hammersley does today with AI and tools for thinking.
Incidentally, the RSS data standard he wrote two books on provides the underlying technology that enables podcasting. And the word “Podcast” is generally considered to have been invented by him in an article for The Guardian in February 2004. A year later and it was declared Word of the Year by the New Oxford American Dictionary.
The journalism never went away: from writing then for the Guardian, and other newspapers and magazines, through to being the Associate Editor, and later Editor-at-Large, at the launch of the UK edition of WIRED magazine. In 2015 Ben Hammersley presented the six-part BBC World News tv series “Cybercrime with Ben Hammersley”, and he has many years of making radio programmes for BBC Radio 4: including the 5-part series Futureproof Yourself, and investigations into online privacy, personal genetic testing, and the canon of fictional universes.
But back in 2007, Ben was the reporter who pioneered multi-platform reporting for the BBC. It was an experiment that saw him file for TV, radio, and the web as he covered the election in Turkey. No had previously done all of this, and far from being the enthusiasm of the young, this multiplatform journalism was based on missions Hammersley had undertaken to Afghanistan for The Guardian. There he used cutting edge video cameras and satellite phones to deliver words and video from the Forward Operating Bases and combat areas of war-torn country. Beginning in Kabul, and then reporting from Naray in the East, and Helmand in the West, Hammersley was able to use the systems that he had built in the years before, when acting as the secret skunkworks developer for the Guardian’s online department, building their pioneering range of blogs, including the award winning Comment is Free.
His foreign news reporting, which lead from Afghanistan to Beirut, Mindanao to Tokyo, was mainly conflict based, and lead to observations that brought him to the third arena: national security and strategic foresight. Drawing connections between the innovation cultures and practices of Silicon Valley with those of non-state actors and terrorist groups such as Al Qaeda and Hezbollah, Hammersley was able to show government and military audiences new ways of considering the world and the threats within it. This lead to work for the UK Foreign Office, the European Commission, parts of the US government, and then more than 10 years of advising corporations, and individuals, on the nature of the changing world.
This background, and the ability to work as a translation layer between different fields, different generations, and different cultures - and to highlight the interconnections of technological change with political, economic, strategic, social, and cultural change - is what drives Ben Hammersley's work today.