Sunday, April 03, 2016

Death Marches and Rabbit holes - inside the multi planar world leading new media design

It’s that tingling, numbing sensation in the fingers, closely followed by the perennial fight to keep your eyes open. Focus, focus! There’s a flaw in the code. What’s more there’s another three days ahead of this. The room, intermittently, visited by others, displays cans of strewn cola and pizzas — the diet of start-upers.
Memories like this don't leave you; all part of the lifestyle - death marches and rabbit holes. That  scene in the matrix where Seraph has to fight Neo and declares you don't know what someone  is like unti you fight them. Well, in the dotcom boom you didn't know what a person was really like until they're really tired and find that little extra mile of problem-solving neurons.

Soho 2001 seems a long time ago, but in 2016 a new generation is at it. In 10 contact days spread over 10 weeks in between a raft of other modules a group of students with no prior knowledge of the web and comms will have the opportunity to go from zero to heros pitching their sites at a google exec at google headquarters in London, but first there is the little matter of understanding what it takes to create a site.

There was a time when when there was a clear division of labour: Front end folks e.g. designers and project managers were the presentables, a mix of casual and denims. Back enders, usually coders and system engineers looked like they worked the vice squad undercover, and then there are the intermediaries such as SEO marketeers and data analysts.

In the visceral multiskilled world of millennia with zero hour contracts,  'bait and switch' policies and heightened risk taking, you'd be a fool if you didn't try and understand the mechanics of the whole work flow. This is the era of the jack of all trades and master of all. Paradoxically, that doesn't mean becoming a loner on the basis you can do it all.

In 1998 I learned to code, but was so hung up on the narcism of showing my stuff that I struggled at what to show and how. Agency do it with aplomb attributing success to the team. On your own, beating your chest can come across as self-aggrandisement syndrome.

I took the plunge anyway with this I found on wayback, the Internet archive being one of the first scrawled (2003) designs, using HTML and Flash. It looks awful by today’s standards, but back in the days, it held its own. You can see also my influences from this comparative screen grab of Channel 4 about the same time.

I took the plung anyway with this I found on wayback, the Internet archive being one of the first scrawled (2003) designs, using HTML and Flash. It looks awful by today's standards, but back in the days, it held its own. You can see also my influences from this comparative screen grab of Channel 4 about the same time.

But guess what, whilst Channel 4 had a team of web coders and designers, I was just me.

Amongst some of my top stories at the time, my film work with heavyweight champion Lennox Lewis fighting Tyson, an interview with a former head of the CIA about their new recruiting policy, a diving expedition to the cold waters of Gallipoli and my international work in South Africa and its townships freelancing for the BBC World Service.

In 2003, the traditional route, still employed by broadcasters to get noticed was a showreel on VHS. The VHS has since been dropped, but broadcasters are still fixated on the opening 15 seconds of what you look like and how you sound. I would later find out it was one of the biggest barriers to hiring minorities, on the basis you just didn't look and sound right.

Now, today our media has a place to breath, but what's the skinny on tooling up yourself?

Our students in ten weeks do the following

  1. Coding HTML 5 and CSS3 and Java
  2. Coding for mobile first and responsive designs
  3. Creating the brief that underpins research into the name, and purpose of the site. This tends to be a rigorous exercise employing both working in a team, turn taking, and understanding one's limits.  Members gather data on the exemplars that may influence them, performing their own internal analysis. Referred to as white paper syndrome, more often than not students will struggle on how to get started and will require a series of nudges.
  4. Their efforts are evaluated through a systematic approach to critiquing.  Students then must present their work. Self-organise into a division of labour with an overview of collective responsibility. We encourage students to take on roles they would not mormally assume, so they're outside their comfort zone.
  5. More often than not here too, by critiquing students come to learn of their own flaws. The knowledge exchange approach is not to indicate what anyone might percieve as wrong, for there are rarely straight cut flaws in this process. After all it's their design. My role is to question why they're doing something and the reasons they got to where they are
  6. Back to design, coding to build on their briefs. This becomes a collective process, something akin to a thesis. Their proposition must lead to questions about their aim of their thesis and they'll be picking any number of methodologies towards that process. It is however an artistic approach, so there is flexibility and creativity in building the process.
  7. Design principles are re-emphasised, with hierachies and different cognitve design and compositional process. Often I'll use my knowledge of the Romantics, impressionists and classical painters. How did the great masters teach us how to see the world and what conventions do we possess to decode websites. A good point here is that different countries have  different conventions at looking at style. This too is dependent on the audience and the era. Note how my 2003 Mrdot design ( above) wasgood for its time, but is deflating now.
  8. Videojournalism and photoshop compositional workflows are introduced, alongside other rich media, but the prompt is partially the student. By now they're taking on so much knowledge that any new knowledge will only be of use, if they have a direct need, so we set up scenarios for that need.
  9. Further critiques and presentations. The web presentation must complement a booklet handout they must put together for VCs to read. This critique often yields more testing, particularly with the audience and different operating systems.
  10. By the fifth week we hold surgeries to find out from students their concerns. These often yield a range of issues from wanting more coding time, to the use of rich media.
  11. The week after is soft launch. This is death march teritory. It's often one of the biggest snags. Design, code and content flaws arise. Here too the content, style and tone can be assessed with their market and students are encouraged to poll, test, conduct qualitative analysis with their target audience.
  12. Hard lauch follows with tweets to industry, friends etc about the launch. Another death march ensues. SEO strategies on the page and strategies of writing for SEOs are debated at length.
  13. The site is up. Back to the brief. Does the site match the brief, if not it needs to. Students present a pecha kucha - ten minutes or less to sell their site to a VC or expert. Here business plans for expansion and social media methodologies are finessed.
  14. Presentation to Industry. In the following years we've presented to Channel 4 News, ITV, senior exec at the BBC WS. This year we're at google.
  15.  The next three weeks involves building their own sites, based on the workflow above. This involves identifying who the students would like to work for and how we approach the employer.

 Presenting at the BBC World Service and Channel 4 News

This year's Onliners presenting at Google.

A couple of take aways here. Whilst the emphasis appears to be laid on skills, which is necessary, the main investigations involve cognitive skills at understanding the psychology of websites. For instance, why would anyone come to your site? What's their motive? What do you want from them? How do they navigate your site? How do colours affect them? How is your writing style tempered to the audience?

The issues coupled with the whole concept of web design become the rabbit hole. It becomes addictive. On several occasions students will express at the end of the course that they never want to go near a site again. Many email me to say they are now working in online.

There is one abiding memory that I have which keeps me focused and spurs me on. That if you have the potential, if you believe in what you can achieve, if your dreams keep you excited, then online is not a job, it’s a window into your world that showcases whet you want and others may take some joy from too.

In 2005, I won ( a dream) one of the US' most coveted international digital awards, the Knight Batten for a website that has changed since but was built on these principles. Since then many of the students I have been fortunate to interact with have come close to their dreams.

And all because of Death Marches and Rabbit Holes.

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Poetic Logic : Creativity beyond the rational

Scary story! You’ve been working for an outfit for some 15 years — even as a regular freelancer, you had some inkling of the next pay cheque.
I did stints at the BBC, WTN, Channel One and the rest and then one day at Channel 4 News the dreaded knife struck. A dozen of us were let go.
If it has happened to you yet it’ll come in some guise. For new grads coming onto the market, it’s equally scary as they send off cv after cv — been there too.
For mid-careerists, at some point you’re either elect to go alone having built up a cadre of contacts or take that leap into the unknown.
Army personnel speak about their life inside the forces, compared to outside, civvy street where a simple trip of going to the grocery is alien. Even Presidents talk about the loss of trappings and attention. I’ve been neither, but I can’t think the feeling is any different.
So what do you do?
I read endless self-help books — course you do. Anything that works and audited my own experiences and then fundamentally made the web and new associates my friend; networks became my partners, and my transferable skills an unlikely hidden gem.
Today, as a university lecturer, who still practices his craft, my passion has been to pass it on. Invariably this pathway can be traditional, but there exists a poetic logic — an unwritten manner at creativity beyond the rational in pursuing a goal, which can make your work stand out.
The term derives from the work of the great Russian filmmaker Andrey Tarkovsky. Poetic logic from a poetic conscious attempts to create a unique and aesthetic course to complement your identity. You are the artist — and the job can be anything.
I have learned over the years there is no one size-fits all, because cultures, societies, different races create different meanings. My job, I have come to learn is to inspire; to open up new learning practices; to pass on cognitive skills e.g.reading human behaviour consuming media; to acknowledge fears and concerns as necessary, and understand why and what’s happening.
My deepest desires is to channel what I have learned, to utilise my experience as a professional, an artist in residence at the South Bank Centre, a researcher imbuing my complex identity like most of us ( I’m a Black Briton, with a German grandmother) to forge a path that rewards emotionally (emotional intelligence) and financially.

If that sounds reasonable, I’d love to be involved in what you’re doing, to cross paths, to as, Jude Kelly the Artistic Director of the South Bank says: “to collide”.
What’s the point, after all of acquiring all of this if you don’t intend to engage.
Please contact me here and here @viewmagazine

Dr. David Dunkley Gyimah
University of Westminster

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

PR is journalism with a conscious to not strive towards objectivity

Perhaps, an illustration of PR from the early 1900s illustrate its strategic approach and difference to journalism.

Up until 1929, smoking for women was considered immoral. Psychoanalysts equated the cigarette to the penis and male dominance. Cigarette barons though were desperate to have women as a new market. They hired press agent turned father of PR Edward Bernays who recognised if he could find an irrational/subconscious emotion that played to women’s desires, he could reach them en masse.
Bernays hired debutantes to conceal cigarettes on the Easter Sunday Parade in New York (1929) and on his cue, they would light up. He informed the press and ensued the photos which had that studium (taken well to provide his impact) gained maximum coverage. His message to the press was women were smoking torches of freedom. Freedom and liberty were a general, as well as women’s movement post-war.Cigarette sales soared.
Press-Pr-Marketing often operate as a single entity in commercial enterprises. They’re in the business of selling the explicit and subconscious e.g fears, desires. A headline and photo that works unconsciously (at first) on our irrational fears/desires is what’s needed to drive this human construct we call ‘news’. In the instagram age, paradoxically and often to us innocuously, our images and words are continuously being scrubbed for how they might provide secondary-to-primary meaning. Commerce eh! 
Read what Bernays did to Bacon and the standard breakfast here

The juggernaut of presentations: the SXSW experience in Austin Texas

I’m doing SXSW.
To the couple of media people around me in London, when I heard the news, I might as well have spoken Klingon.
That’s #SXSW people — the super bowl of pressies and social gatherings. I’m still getting flashbacks today watching live on TV Marcus Allen’s 74-yard touch down at Super Bowl XVIII.
Seriously! SXSW’s gravitas is so A-game, they can call on a @Potus to drop in.
My talk, having passed the public vote would coincide with the start of an academic itch. A big itch. A PhD. I’d been a self-camera shooting journalist for some 15 years, a journo for 20 and it was now so patently obvious as a practitioner that news as a construct and journalism as practised by TV Networks was the equivalent of Nipper the dog earwigging an antique gramophone.
You know, His Masters Voice, abbreviated as HMV, in which the Masters were TV suits inured and sated by spin and corporate agendas.
It wasn’t always the case. At the time of SXSW, I was reading Michael Thomas Conway’s, Ph.D. which by coincidence Conway is a prof at The University of Texas at Austin — yep home of SXSW.
His account of the history of CBS is truly fascinating. Those pioneers, in there 20s and 30s, such as 33-year-old Henry Cassirer really tried to do something revolutionary. Conway cites a Cassier report in Journalism Quarterly in 1949 “A Challenge to Imaginative Journalists.” That section reads.
It will not be true television unless it uses most of the facilities available at the television station, adapting each one to the best way of reporting the individual story. (Film, for instance, is best to report a parade, graphic work is more adequate to visualize a tax debate in Congress, and remote cameras are most 420 effective to convey the colorful scene of a convention. Maps can tell battle movements better than words, but late reports from an overseas conference are most suitably and speedily summarized by the commentator himself, speaking to his audience “on camera.) — Henry Cassirer Journalism Quarterly 392
They got McLuhan’s the medium and the message, so much so, that today whilst digiratis beat their chest about discovering data journalism, visual journalism and the likes, the CBS young turks had it covered way back.
Conway then says something that grabs me. One day at an editorial meeting, an executive showed up and the journos sensed something was up. The suit was dictating editorial coverage. American broadcasting business folk had twigged that News was a money maker, a big one. The ethos of a journalism holding the powerful to account within the political economy and framework of journalism was about to be laid to rest in favour of, you guessed, business interests. Raise a glass to Edward Bernays, the father of PR.
Cut to almost seventy years later and the the lack of diverse stories on television, or the networks’ refusal to show a plus size commercial on the spurious grounds of nudity, when executives believe they’ll lose contracts from clients who promote size zero beauty above an alternative, shows the power of the greenback in story telling. Alternatively, what about this, the head of CBS Les Moonves defending Donald Trump’s excessive news coverage.
It may not be good for America, but it is damn good for CBS … The money’s rolling in and this is fun. I’ve never seen anything like this, and this is going to be a very good year for us. Sorry. It’s a terrible thing to say. But, bring it on, Donald. Keep going.

10 O’clock on a Saturday morning, I know where I’d like to be I tell attendant’s — in bed, so I’m grateful for those who’ve showed up. Over 45 minutes I map out a different form of newsgathering construct, which incorporates multimedia and an integrated form of videojournalism.

The talk revolves around the use of embed video and sharing, using SEO to reframe millennial journalism; alternative outlets e.g. micro sites to publicise work (four years earlier I’d won one of the US most coveted prizes for innovation in journalism,the Knight Batten); the Outernet which is not too dissimilar to the Internet of Things; and how videojournalism spawns new forms of reportage. These strategies and more were developed with the videojournalist, lone worker, in mind and those wanting their voice heard above the chemtrails.
By some accounts, the talk goes reasonably well. Here’s a sample of that:
Freelance writer Amanda Hirsch, former editorial director of PBS Interactive wrote she was concerned the style I was promoting left little room for finding the story and that…
when I posed this question to him, he got a tad defensive, assuring me that he always listened first, and that he emphasized to his students how listening is key.
Tony, a delegate blogged: ( I’m clearly gushing now !)
Excellent presentation A+. Great presenter. David shared tips and was humorous. This is what SXSW is about. Great job David!
And I even managed to interview a few people after the talk.

 The rest of SXSW was as an exhilarating experience of social banter, an exploration of ideas and ambition. I made new contacts. The comedy/ agent of wit trouble-making Baratunde Thurston (left) whom I met up with in London on his tour of his New York Times bestseller How To Be Black. He’s now at the Daily Show. Have to say thanks too to CC Chapman who supplied me with the majority of these photos.

So, yes that was seven years ago. SEVEN YEARS… a life time… but SXSW represents a kind of ground zero for sharing and since then, a number of things have happened that give rise to reflection.
  1. Yes I could now put Dr at the front of my name, but I live in trepidation of that moment on board a plane when the pilot asks if there’s a doctor on board. Yes you in seat 21.
  2. Video has experienced a boon.
  3. Television, in spite of the social media onslaught is still the most popular medium through continual reinvention and still retains what UK TV expert Simon Albury calls ‘Groupthink’ — ideas being made by insiders.
  4. We’re largely chasing the same tools and skills, with more or less the same narrative structures, making us less diverse and distinct. This calls for a revolution at a more fundamental point in our quest for media literacy — a philosophical one.
Such seeds for creativity lay in the stories of the CBS and what I found in my research, a similar more contemporary story on Innovation called The Thirty.

Also consider this statement from Marshall McLuhan
If men were able to be convinced that art is precise advanced knowledge of how to cope with the psychic and social consequences of the next technology, would they become artists? Or would they begin a careful translation of new art forms into social navigational charts? I am curious to know what would happen if art were suddenly seen for what it is, namely, exact information of how to arrange one’s psyche in order to anticipate the next blow from our own extended faculties.
 Marshall McLuhan (Understanding Media)
What do you think?
We rarely talk about artists in media, referring instead to the age of the Tech, blogger, social media etc. but Artists and exemplary ones at that are the weather vanes of a vision of the future.
They defy listicles and simplistic framing. They find ways to connect the inner self with the external world and rarely are taken seriously within the present.
The level of experimenting, of looking for individualism, of innovating within innovation is set to repeat a cycle in history — the 1900s. What I spoke about at SXSW in Integrated Multimedia Videojournalism represented the iceberg of a more potent form, which can simply be understood as Cinema, journalism — a myriad of cinema and it’s one I look forward to multiple sharing

Thanks for dropping by


Monday, February 15, 2016

The Thirty (untold movement): the Soderbergh, Von Triers and Lees of new cinema journalism.


  • There are no rules, just guidelines.
  • Different cultures interpret stories differently: know your audience.
  • Storytelling is an art and science — study it
  • Respect the giants whose shoulders you’re standing on, and let others one day stand on yours.
  • Sod everything else.
[roll on reality]

For the best part of 50 years in broadcast and hundreds of years in newsprint, the establishment pretty much had the field to itself. Businesses supplying hardware locked their clients into long term deals, so they could future proof their profits and the chief executive could afford that St Tropez yacht, without risking the mortgage payments.
When the sails came down, new astute, more nimble entrepreneurs surfaced. Who can blame them? Drone journalism, mobile journalism, citizen journalism, long journalism, solution journalism, data journalism, video journalism, laptop journalism, indifferent journalism, and the rest…
Some of these new niche genres were genuine byproducts of traditional journalism’s inertia. Others would give love-handles to characters from Mad Men proud, a sleight of PR hand reworking new business opportunities.
Take mobile (phone) journalism. Yes, it’s been transformative to social media, but in video production please don’t be fooled, it’s just another camera competing amongst a panoply of others. Some talent would sell off previous gear to go mobile purchasing an array of lenses and accessories. That makes little sense creatively, unless budget is the key reason.
Ultimately, it’s about using the most appropriate gear for the job. By the way, mobile journalism was the term to label 1960s Direct Cinema when cameras and synch sound gear could for the first time go mobile.
There’s more than enough material on digital’s impact on storytelling. InKeanu Reeve’s documentary Side by Side and equally exemplary Mark Cousin’s The Story of Film these visionaries provide a teleogical impact of digital: Reeve’s on the format over film and Cousins a lengthier expansive look at cinema’s development over a hundred years that ends with ones and zeros.
Digital in the 90s aligned with one of the more significant contemporary movements (Danish) in film called Dogme 95. Celebration directed by Thomas Vinteberg and DoP’d by Anthony Dod Mantle spearheaded Dogme’s intent. The film’s visual language, aided by smaller cameras, is more immediate; whip pans, super close-ups, and distinctive angular framings fill the screen.
But just as Dogme was baring its teeth in fictional film, alongside a revivalist indie market in the US, another revolutionary change was occurring in the world of journalism in the UK — a profound creative movement setting off teutonic ripples, but which little is known about.
Digital provided an impetus to a form of journalism known as videojournalism: journalists who authored their own stories; saw no need for editors in newsroom; became jack of all trades in video styles and master of all, from presenting, creating reality shows to making programmes online and could when pushed knock off four, 2 minute interview-reportage in a day.
But there was one feature that has been continually overlooked, which 20 years on is only now slowly being appreciated. Like the Dogme 95 movement making fictional cinema, this group of videojournalists, referred to asThe Thirty were creating factual cinema — cinema journalism.
The wider perception is that cinema journalism is linked to DSLR cameras circa 2008, but that’s another myth. DSLRs provided a sharper (cinematic) image, but the perceptual qualities of cinema that derive from structure, plot, composition, art, narrative qualities and philosophy was cracked by The Thirty movement in the 1990s. It so riled the establishment it was pilloried, derided and dismissed by industry, and only now are experts reflecting on its impact.
History provides a number of salutary lessons to learn from and in the next post I’ll explain how this movement and their working methods are a model for creativity. How cinema journalism envelopes an amazing breadth of styles illustrating the Soderbergh, Von Triers and Lees of new journalism, and why it will undoubtedly become a defining feature for non-fiction storytelling embracing all other forms.

How US politicians play the media with ‘dead cats’.

 In the run up to the UK General Election in 2015, with the Labour party gaining head steam, the chips looked like falling for its leader Ed Milliband — a doppler-type figure aiming to be somewhere between Bernie Sanders and Roger Ramjet — edging into Downing Street.

Labour’s advisors, following a series of political Harry Houdinis — 100 business leaders were rubbishing Milliband in the conservative-partisan Telegraph — were to play an ace card.
Anyone living abroad, the wealthy and tax evaders, were about to be carpeted. Milliband announced he was scrapping a loophole in the law that enabled “non-domiciled” UK residents to avoid paying any tax on foreign income.
Canny political calculations, his advisors noted, would give Labour at least three days of headlines, effectively controlling the news agenda and picking up more steam amongst the electorate.
The Conservative party knew it too and played one of their most dastardly campaign strategies. One of the conservative’s more respected politicians, Defence Secretary Michael Fallon, presented in the media as a mild mannered person, did a Trump. Sorry mate the Brits got their first.
In PR terms it’s called a ‘Dead Cat’, a strategy coined by Australian strategist Lynton Crosby, who was hired to be the Conservative’s campaign director. Simply put, imagine you’re at a dinner with your family. You’re winning the argument about why Bobby, your brother should not be going out with friends in Mum’s car when he’s five times over the drinking limit. Then Bobby puts his hand under the table and the next thing places a dead cat on the table. What happens next?
Everybody stops talking about Bobby’s traits and screams, ‘There’s a dead cat on the table’. For the forseaable future it’s all about the dead moggy.
For Labour, Fallon crowed to the media that Milliband was unfit to be Prime Minister because he had stabbed his brother in the back in winning the party leadership. He couldn’t be trusted.
It was an outrageous comment axiomatic with Trumpisms. Labour knew it. Some advisors, it’s said, even quietly admired the chutzpah. The Conservative’s knew it. And the media knew it too. But the collegiate village-environment of mainstream media couldn’t resist the bait.
Milliband’s initiative had been pole-axed and the media led for a series of days with the Labour leader’s lack of integrity and Fallon’s bromide comments. For as long as Trump’s campaign has been running, the reality TV star who knows how the media function has been placing one dead cat on the table after another. And the media has proved inept to see through them.
Being out of the limelight has its draw backs, so Trump’s dead cats serve to re-orientate the media’s gaze on him, providing him with the oxygen to be nicey-nicey with his audience, play the media victim, shape-shift to his audience’s preferences, before teeing up the next cat.

Saturday, January 30, 2016

Multi tasking makes you less efficient, but helps your memory

Why the modern world is bad for your brain’ published in the Guardian by neuroscientist Dr. Daniel J Levitan summarises how the world of tweeting/ emailing and watching tv at the same time is bad for your health. It causes stress and releases hormones that 'overstimulate your brain and cause mental fog or scrambled thinking'.

Perhaps not so much strict multi-tasking (could do with a definition), but the experiments conducted by the widely respected Bjork Human Learning and Forgetting Lab at UCLA explain how the process of learning that involves variation and difference aids long term memory retention.
In Veronica Yan’s presentation from the lab’s experiment from 1.52 mins in from this video the following comes as a surprise. Two sets of participants were tasked with recognising the styles of 12 different artists. One set studied one artist’s work, before they moved onto another. The other group studied the same artists but in a random fashion. Contrary to presumed belief, the second group ‘learned the styles a lot better’, says Yan.
Professor Bjork refers to the process of learning which involves deep engagement, like the random sampling of artists, as ‘desirable difficulties’. So while switching from a supposedly different task to task may have its problems according to Neuroscientist Dr Daniel J Levitan, switching foci on elements in a learning process helps your memory, says Professor Bjork’s lab.