Saturday, September 20, 2014

Journalists - tell your stories in amazing captivating ways. LET GO OF THE PAST!

She was singing near the town square in what was a beautiful day. The smell of fresh garlic from outdoor cooking suffused the air. 

Behind her a few boys gathered as is their want on street corners, probably discussing football and Ronaldo's form.

Her eyes widened to the lens with her infectious smile she is prompted to sing. It's a song about freedom -  a catchy melody, whose words you don't need to master.

Seven, eight...11 seconds later. Without a hint of what to expect, the implausible happens. A menace is visited upon the 13-year-old girl and surrounding people.

I have told you enough thus far to ruin your intake of the film, five minutes of which I show at the end of this post. I am aware it's  a spoiler. Normally I wouldn't but I am making a point.


with old acquaintance Travis Fox
Yesterday presenting at CUNY's #ReinventTV - gathering of innovators and journalists to discuss how to reinvent TV, I had a precious five minutes to make this point, But without a film.




Reinventing TV
I am a journalist, and a senior lecturer. I study film form and cognitive behaviour. I do this to understand how to tell a story so the effect is immanent - lasting.

As a TV journalist, I could have shown you the scene I have discussed to take you into the film. As a skilled TV reporter I could have said: 'what happens next is not for the faint hearted'.

But I have still ruined the moment for how you should perceive the film. The discovery must be your own.

In the 1960s television conceived amazing way to tell complex stories. Just before the 60s, the reporters job was to ask questions in the field and hand the film over to a commentator and scriptwriter. 

The reporter played no other role. Thank goodness for common sense. In the 60s heavyweight US media figures like Frank Reuven popularised the 'Integrated package'.

It was transformative. Within two minutes your could tell literally any story. Television invented an art form, which today still takes some time to master. It's not to be sniffed at.

Except today, the frame that penned the package to a structure has come under strain. 

Why does every report have to be under two minutes? Why does every report require a reporter? Why does every report suffocate me with facts, such that a minutes after the reporter, I'd be hard pressed to tell you what it was about. Why don't I care about what I have heard?

The package like any art-form needs a reboot.

However, within television firstly no one has the answer to what that may be. Secondly, any digression from the package is seen as breaking a fundamental tenant of journalism.

It is as if, journalism cannot grow, cannot mature, is not  bold enough to take risks, cannot figure out how to tell you the audience what's happening in a way that you care.

Why? Because, the juggernaut that drives to TV is managed by those wedded to its legacy. But I want to tell you a story! I am still a journalist ! But I want you to care.

So I tell stories in the richest vein possible, bound by the professionalism of the craft, and deliver this...at 11.30 seconds into the video.



At 11.30 seconds in Stephen Soderberg, arguably one of the finest story tellers around tells you how I see story telling. I knew this before Soderberg's talk, but he explains it in a way that gives it cred.

If photojournalism is the art of telling a story with pictures, videojournalism is the art of telling stories through cinema.

It's not a fudge. It may be your inability to understand the art of factual storytelling, that differs according to the story, the content, and my approach. It is not adhoc. It is saying I would like you to see this and be affected.

Is that not the job of journalism?



Sunday, September 07, 2014

Re-making television in the new age



I know what you're thinking.

Old picture, huh!

Some of you might know the figure. It's Kennedy.

To some that may not mean a whole lot. It's an old picture.

We live in a world where old is antique. A decade is a century. A year, an eternity. The moment is now.

Don't worry. It's a generational thing. In the seminal 1950s film Rebel without a Cause showing the rise of youth angst, the antipathy to things old, like parents is visibly on display.



So here's what I was thinking when I chose this image. One of the people, the producers, who created this film featuring a future president...imagine that, today trying to film Obama before he became president... was Robert Drew.

Robert Drew was a former pilot, before he became a journalist. Then in the 1960s around the age of 40, he invented a new film language, and a new camera, and a film that fundamentally shaped the world you and I occupy.

Yep, an old picture...

Last month, the great Robert Drew died aged 90. He was a generous person with his time and I was lucky to interview him a couple of years ago, tapping that huge mind, mining history.




So what has Robert Drew got to do with Reinventing TV?

I could tell you that to invent the future, you need to understand the past. It's true but a bit glib.

But listen to this story. It's what I gleaned from listening to Drew.

I'm seated now with my mac, my googleglass, peering out of the window looking at squirrels scurry around playfully. Oh and my cupa tea.

Imagine it's 1960. Some fifty years ago. Television is a rare thing. Drew has an idea. A decade earlier, only a handful of people had television sets.

It was too expensive and nothing of note was on. But gradually people started to buy this box and place it squarely in their room. The habit of huddling around the radio listening to radio shows was transferred to TV.

It's fair to say, at the start of TV, executives were fairly innocent. At CBS, a few twenty-something year olds tasked with developing the medium couldn't believe the freedom they had.

All the grey men in suits would leave them alone. Television was a bit like the Xbox -  a plaything.

Then one day CBS's young turks have a fright. The boss joined their morning meeting. Advertisers too were willing to pay big bucks, because they'd realised something.

By stealth, a new medium had wormed its way into the heart of people's lives, in the middle of their social space - the living room.

It's like placing a fox in a pen of chickens. 

Powerful people and bodies realised they could speak directly to their electorate and influence hearts and minds.

Forces set up to regulate television would soon give way to the powerful.

In 1960s, Drew, an innovator, pioneer and all around American, got a chance to play a part in the new television. He would summarily be passed off.

What and how?

The forces behind TV had come to recognise its social and political importance.  And they were not going to cede control to anyone, even someone who wanted to make TV better.

Instead as Drew told me, they took his equipment and made off to reinforce their ideas.

Today second to the Defense industry in the US, television, as part of the news and entertainment industry is a multi-billion pound industry.

How do you reform it?

The Internet!

Somewhat! But so far no! 

This is not about tech, it's political. It's about competing for a space in your living room, in your home, in your comfort zone.

How do you reform television?

Jeff Jarvis, an inveterate innovative media speaker and professor at CUNY university in New York has invited 20 people to look at this.  I am honoured to be one of them. 

If you're in New York or want to tune into find out, I look forward to it. Here's the full list:

Joe Alicata, Vox; Jim Brady, Stomping Ground; Mark Briggs, KING 5;
Scott Cohen, Steve Alperin, Vocativ; Adam Davidson, NPR; Adam Ellick, New York TImes;
Adriano Farano, watchup; Fred Graver, Twitter; David Dunkley Gyimah, viewmagazine;
Jenni Hogan, Tagboard; Jeff Jarvis, CUNY; Tom Keene, Bloomberg; Robert King, ESPN;
Sean Mills, NowThisNews; Riyaad Minty, al Jazeera; 
Matt Mrozinski, TV News Storytellers, WTHR; Mark Piesanen, TouchCast; Tim Pool, @Timcast; Michael Rosenblum, rosenblumtv;
Fred Seibert, Frederator


Monday, September 01, 2014

An ill five-year old, his family and the state—an unfolding story of Ashya King and journalism's role

An ill five-year old, his family and the state — an unfolding story of Ashya King.


This morning I watched patiently a father speak about his very sick child.
The video does nothing fancy in shot cuts. It is the story within, the content which is compelling and which one of my film mentors Noell Carroll would claim is the cinema.
Ashya King, a five-year old has been diagnosed with cancer. He has been receiving treatment in a hospital for which his father expresses gratitude.
The time line and narrative is all over the Net. The boy was taken by his parents from Southampton hospital, driven to Portsmouth port where they crossed the English channel to France and then on to Spain.
What we largely know has been the result of mass media journalism. We know the doctors are concerned. A battery-powered feeding devices will run out of battery-life soon. The boy’s life is in grave danger. His family are Jehovah Witnesses, we’re told.
There is a history, reporters allude to of Jehovah devotees resisting medical aid. Though several reporters refute this based on speaking to close family and friends, it is the white elephant in the room.
There is no white elephant in the room.
However, your thoughts turn to a white elephant. The act of saying it’s not in the room does little to help. Lawyers are often rebuked by a judge for introducing evidence in a case, when they might know it is inadmissible. But is has an effect, however much it's refuted. The family’s religious background appears to be similar example.
The parents are ‘on the run’ by implication of journalism reportage, deranged, uncaring; the police mug shots feed into this narrative.

Ashya King’s parent taken from BBC Report

We’re made to ask why are they doing what is a thoroughly inhumane thing to a five-year old. In the absence of any knowledge, we hang onto the journalists’ expertise. They are after all professionals in words, meanings and constructs.
To the audience, the symptomatic reading is that family are the abusers.
Until that is you watch this and when you do, you realise large swathes of information you learnt earlier amounted to speculation, supposition, nuanced narratives that philosopher Jurgen Habermas talked about in his public sphere of discourse. This is where institutions dictate the terms and to which mass media is beholden. The viewer is but a passive player.





In the video, the battery-powered device is still working, the family have a supply of feeds. They, the family are not on the run. In fact as they put it they are running to save their boy’s life? The father wants to do everything to save his boy’s life. The perception is not one of a deranged father.
How could reporting have got this so wrong, front-loading the narrative with officials discolouring the family’s intentions?
Reporters will argue, we reported the facts and what we had. This video becomes new information. If you look and listen carefully to the news today the wheels of accountable journalism should turn a full 180 grinding- gear degrees. It’s never the journalists’ fault.
Arguably, they the authorities, medics and police know better. That is what we as a society have learned to accept, and more often than not via tacit knowledge, the ‘abduction’ of a young boy in these circumstances raises dark thoughts.
But that is not the case here, and is the starkest reminder yet of a world, where dominions, though still respected, are not exclusive repositories of knowledge. And that a newer type of relationship between the citizen and the state should come to fruition. The people of Ferguson know this all too well.
We know that much from journalism. There have been times when the citizen outdoes the professional journalist as Eliot Higgins, known as Brown Moses has amply shown.
In an age of accessible specialist knowledge, it has not become unusual for people to lean about once obscure medical conditions, or intractable laws.
This is the situation that has shown itself watching this video.
Could mass media journalism have have presented information, factual, as it in a different way to the status quo?
Could they have been more critical of authorities?
Could they have sought a more humanitarian angle: Ashya’s story without the formal journalism packaging of 30-second soundbites buttressed against authority figures?
The role of professional journalism is needed. This is not an out and out criticism of its form, more a pressing need to critically review story dissemination and construct.
Without YouTube, specifically, which came online a decade ago, this family’s harrowing story would not have been known in this detail so soon. Naveed the brother of Ashya makes a point. They ( journalists) are editing the videos, so come back to his account for regular updates.
How many television stations will today air the whole ten minutes of the father’s statement? Very few if any. Perhaps the mentioning of two Doctors impugns their reputations to thwart professional journalists from running the full video. 
Perhaps we need a new form of television that bridges the social community benefits of citizens, with the mass media of television. Either way, this case opens up a dialogue to examine journalism language and construct in an Internet age.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Four smashing summer reads sparking fresh thinking

The morning run was particularly eventful. I closed my eyes and reflected on four books I'm reading that have been enriching in different ways.

Just a Sound Guy- The Life of a Film and Television recordist is Ken Mellor's biography working in television news flitting from one assignment with lords of Yorkshire manors to the next moment unwittingly agreeing to work in war--raven Da Nang in Vietnam.

It's a jaunty read of some 200 pages written in a conversational tone. It'll make you laugh out loud in places; Mellor's humour and often put-downs are quintessentially old school brit gentleman. Otherwise, you feel the angst of Mellor's predicaments.

More prominently, Mellor's account from being one of the first sound employees of UK commercial outfit ITN News shows how the world has changed from five to one-person crews. There's a prescient moment when Sony Beta-cams emerge as a substitute to film and Mellor notes the game was up.
.
His vast jazz collection and masterful recollection of the media through photographs and diaries has now become his hobby-career.

Daniel Kahneman's international best seller Thinking Fast and Slow opens up the reader to the way we think, using two systems. The first, system 1, refers to intuitive, snap judgement. The second, Kahneman explains is more reflective.

Kahneman's psychological tour explains some everyday reasoning we may take for granted. Why when we're tired we're much more likely to agree to tasks that normally we would not. How saying something over and over again does become convincing as the truth.

If there was ever a way to underpin stolid scientific study of human behaviour to describe patterns behind social networks away from the nonsense blabber you read online, this is the book. Kahneman is a psychologist by trade and a Nobel Prize winner for Economics.

 It features several studies written up in a couple of pages. Wisdom of crowd he notes doesn't work efficiently if the crowd come from similar pools of interest.

The more diverse, the better. Reason enough to build eclectic communities if you're in the 'proving' game.

Talk Like TED by Carmine Gallo explains a number of methods great TED speakers use to grab the attention of their audience. There is an underlying set of principles Gallo detects from studying successful TED speakers, such as personalising stories, injecting humour and not necessarily being bound by power point slides.

As it turns out Gallo links this process back to the teachings of Greek philosopher Aristotle, where good storytelling involved ethos, logos and pathos.  They stand for credibility, logic and emotions respectively.

Good TED talkers were heavily bias towards pathos - emotions and emotional engagement.

When set aside Kahhnerman's book a construct emerges that helps explain the classical language of journalism and emerging paradigms of social networks news.

Film Theory - An Introduction by Robert Stam is an encyclopedic foray into how cinema and how its interpretation has changed, and the difficulty in understanding the totality of cinema. It's a rich, perhaps compact book for the non-aficionado, but what Stam does it to underline the varied and different theories that have ceded each other to explain the world of film.

Importantly, there is no one theory that adequately explains patterned observations in our work of cinema. I used Stam and several other key books for my doctorate thesis to explain the need to combine theories such as film, cognitivism, semiotics and multicultural theory.


Changing face of Journalism
Presenting at the World Association of Newspapers in 2008

I have learnt the hard way when it comes to presentations, so of course wish I'd had access to these when I was starting as a public speaker when I was in South Africa way back in 1992.

The four mentioned books have a particular resonance for the changing face of new journalism. The combination of social networks and videojournalism-as-cinema promotes a revised way of seeing the world, which is at odds with normative journalism.

As Gallo notes storytelling amongst TED speakers, a barometer for what's new in the Net world, points to empathy and emotion as key indices in storytelling. It's a theme observed in Social Network speakers such as Richard Millington of Feverbee. I've found Millington's work intriguing; Kahneman's work provides psychological theory behind our behaviour patterns.

In an era of social, a multicultural view point is a valid, to-be-taken-seriously-point position. We've tended to favour Western ideas as superior when the East, South (Africa) contain valid view points that ought to take precedence on the world stage.

In less than a month, new cohorts will join the International Masters programme for a year of new learning. On average Masters students joining programmes will be born into a world of digital and subsumed into practices that promote empathy in storytelling when traditional journalism does not.

It's aptly captured in this scene from the hit show, The Newsroom.



These systems are having to live with one another, sometimes uncomfortably, and it requires new fresh confluent thinking for them to make sense to various constituents,  and that's what these four books reveal for me.

Friday, August 22, 2014

Video Journalism: How a variability in confidence impacts videojournalism news stories

Students being entertained by one of the UK's most respected journalists, Jon Snow
When someone asks you how you're doing?

The common response could be: I'm doing fine, otherwise, 'I'm fine, how are you?'

This reciprocal effect to the common usage of language is best illustrated in teaching manuals for the travellers to foreign countries.

You know it well, when learning Spanish, French or when a non-English speaker is learning English for the first time.

Invariably the recipient of your phrase can judge you to be a novice. Where local parlance would do, such as when Brits say: Alright! with the inflexion indicating a question, this can be lost in translation.

Every language moves from a first-base approach of communications to more informal. less rigid, exchanges.

In 'Good Morning Vietnam' Robin William's character breaks the rules with his Vietnamese class he's gate crashed.

'Give me some skin!' he intones to one student as a response to 'how are you?'

Poets are some of the leading proponents of up ending words and meaning as this video I created about the British poet Lemn Sissay shows.



In effect, poets and those who purposefully veer away from 'Im fine, how are you'?  exhibit what I call an indexical variability in confidence.

It allows them to do things, in which they confidently assume others may understand. Television, a domain, I have been associated with intimately for more than 25 years as both a news reporter, producer or anchor, and then a lecturer is one of the most interesting areas for observing this variability in confidence.

In my PhD thesis looking at communications and reportage in the 21st century, I took on the task of trying to understand how TV News was shaped from proponents of documentary, factual and even cinema. There are many strands that I will delineate through this blog. Here's one of them.

The understanding that video is not a language in the same way as the spoken word is a fixed now, but it is agreed by scholars that it is language-like. The way we use a camera, which is naturalised, depends on a filmic language.

Many educationists, teaching programmes, training centres and tertiary study programmes teach this language, and heuristics shows this to mainly be the: 'how are you?', I'm fine approach'.

It makes sense too. It is the most accessible and though may sound banal and simple guarantees a lot of  novices and 'foreigner's will understand.

Fo that reason, the language of Television News in the way video constructs meaning has not changed much, compared to how poets would orate.

But my studies came across a group of individuals, significant by how they are respected by their peers, exhibiting a variability in confidence in their language of video. They are neither tethered by social communities, and come from different territories, which makes it even more interesting.

They perform functions with video that would normally be eschewed. A German scholar Wolfgang Kissel brought to this my attention almost a decade ago, when he was evaluating my work.

The video of Lemn Sissay is perhaps an example of video interpreting an event, breaking the 'how are you?'.

But now I prefer to turn the tables on others to find out what makes them tick.


Confidence Evangelists
What then enables them to do what they do? On observation is this confidence comes from, among others, being radicalised by practitioners outside of their domain.

An examples of this is, if you work in television journalism  and I say: when you think of news amongst people like Cronkite, Murrow, Snow or Amanpour, what would you say?

The chances are  you're likely to reciprocate a dialogue along the lines of one of the above, or even journalists closer to them.

If you ask for any other influences. If you're depleted, you'll say nothing else.

Interestingly, a couple of things are happening. psychologists such as Robyn LeBoeuf and Eldar Shafir identify what I have done as 'Anchoring' you to supply an answer based on the question supplied.

However, those journalists that I have researched from my six-year PhD thesis exhibit a)  a confidence so they break out of the anchoring and b) deliver answers that are surprising.

They are less inclined to name a journalist, but more inclined to posit filmmakers, such as: Pier Paolo Pasolini, Andrei Tarkovsky,  John Ford or David Fincher, and many more.

What does this tell us?

That the aforementioned filmmakers are recognised in some guise as being poets of their craft. The 'give me some skin' parade.

That for videojournalists, what matters, surfacing for the first time is an interest in the process of fllmmaking, rather than solely journalism, as the writer/reporter, which appears to be a given.

And that just as over the years poets of the spoken/written word have been recognised, that an assumption is these videojournalists, whom though disparate in numbers are being recognised by industry, will likely inspire others.

In a couple of weeks time, I'm travelling to Columbia to engage in a debate about the future of television. Though I will not discuss this, it anchors into an overall schema for a new type of television-like I call the Outernet - a hybrid system.

End+

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Why you wouldn't want to follow someone on twitter?



Tuesday, August 19, 2014

The Power of You: Moment of Thought


I see it now!


Scientists refer to it as the ‘Aha’ moment. Otherwise, also the ‘penny drops’, or that moment of lucidity, when strangely the answer appears so blindingly obvious that you wonder why you were held up in the first place.

Cognitive torpor. So slowly you roll the person over, metaphorically of course.


By the end of the academic year, as the Masters students on the documentary programme of the University of Westminster prepared to hand in their final project, I had an idea.

Nothing extraordinary on the surface, but there was something in it! What’s the most memorable form to tell a story?

A story that is self-contained, but because of its internal dynamics, could leave a secondary message of pedagogy in our times.

That 21st century conundrum which, if it weren’t for the precedent in the enlightenment, we could surely argue this is a period of unequivocal great change.

Except it isn’t. All generations wipe the lens of their glasses until their rosey enough to distort history. The citizen journalist, for instance, has forever been amongst us, in the super 8mm users clubs of the 1910–80s .

Jessica Borthwick, a pioneering filmmaker of 1913 was a CJ, whilst women were still fighting for their due rights. Borthwick took a camera course, a couple of guns and headed off to Bulgaria to film the conflict between the Balkan states e.g. Greece and Serbia and the Ottoman empire. She spent a year and showed her films back in London.

Paul Garrin, my favourite delivered an homage to Russia’s naughty boy filmmaker, Dziga Vertov. Garrin who in 1989 filmed riots in New York’s Lower East side became a national figure amongst news folks with his hi-8 camera. Oh and his hommage was ‘Fuck Vertov’. Tasty!

Mustafa Hussein, filming the Ferguson riots in Missouri is our contemporary vision.

Like the many millions who see video as the communication medium par excellence, while I don’t deny its prowess, there is a nuanced view I take in its potential.

The conflict between video that shows a message, invariably used in news and video that interprets with connotative images, reserved for cinema, is a long contested one.

Before narrative became the dominant expression lifted from literature and theatre, all film enveloped a style, Gunnings called The Cinema of Attraction.

At its heart, it is the moment, the spectacle, the cinema idyll. Pre-narrative cinema around 1907, the progenitors and actors acknowledged the camera, breaking the fourth wall. They were expressionists. The creators were not bound by rules.
Oh just look at the shimee. Film too was about to get a buff. Hollywood, then in development sensed how to make a buck with imagined stories, and thus Griffith, Porter, Chaplain found a home.

From thereon, cinema had its surrogate, and the new kid on the block to play second fiddle was documentary, except in and amongst the documentary modes of Western Europe there were still artists who saw how they could use cinema of attraction’s metier in their films.

Even the daddy of documentary, Grierson was described by the daddy of suspense Hitchcock on Scottish TV in 1961 as a man of the cinema.

Now, if that hasn’t confused you!

But in that great tradition of how we promote conventional wisdom, which French philosopher Michel Foucault would call a discursive formation, collective thought is subsumed by authority.

And that authority is so respected we suspend huge areas of independent knowledge to their wisdom. The news brand in front of you, knows so much, it’s not worth you thinking.

How on earth did the BBC collaborate or even goad Yorkshire Police into a public carnival to search Sir Cliff Richard’s home on allegations of sexual assault. They should know better. Ah!

In this period of quint enlightenment, the most impressive and necessary role for educators and baby boomers is to help address this fandom to the phantom immediacy of new knowledge, as if the world was stupid before 2000.

Without yesterday, we wouldn’t have today.

As Carolyn Marvin, author of When Old Technologies were New, puts it:
Focusing attention only after people start relying on a medium misses the critical era in its development. By the time an audience has gathered around a source, many of the negotiations over purpose and mission are complete. Routines have already been developed. Limits have already been set. A “hard pattern” of processes and purposes might already be guiding the product.
Everything now has an antecedent, and helping ourselves and others to understand them and their contexts is enlightening.

How could then this idea amongst Masters students be put into practice? I call it videojournalism-as-cinema. And technologist Rob Ojok and myself see huge potential.

It is a transmogrification of media and its ends, a respect for factual, but also what the giants of filmmaking bequeathed us that we have somehow forgotten.

You never forget a movie Metz, a film scholar, once said, even when it’s a bad one. The film is called Moment of Thought. Its function is to entertain, but also educate in a discursive way.

I’ll be dumping it onto www.viewmagazine.tv in a couple of weeks.

When I finished explaining this to a friend, he uttered: ‘I see’.

No you don’t, I replied. Not just yet!

Saturday, August 16, 2014

How journalists and police complicitly played hard and fast with the law

Wherever events surrounded Sir Cliff Richard end up, he has been hard done by. The public press coverage is a powerful lynching stick, loaded with supposition and winks.

The presumed innocence before being charged and tried is overarching, but something more strategic is at play.

According to Leveson's recommendation unless the alleged perpetuator is a risk to the public, they shouldn't be named, when accused.  They blame the BBC.

However, the police in proceeding as they did have played a cynical but legal loophole card. 

To charge someone, means the case becomes active and no contextual pieces can be published by the press. This often diminishes the chances of others from coming forward because they may not know the detailed circumstances/ history of the charge. 

Furthermore, police are presumably deprived of any potential investigative leads that may be unearthed by the press, in an era of squeezed police resources.

In this situation the CPS, in considering the case, must attempt to build their evidence on that of one person against the alleged offender.

By putting the story in the public domain, and not charging, the press are free from the constraints of contempt on an active case.

Moreover, others with so called 'relevant' information, if that is the case, may feel compelled to add to the charge. 

When the CPS deem they have enough evidence then they may feel emboldened to charge the accused. 

Surprising however that the BBC, the moral arbiter of journalism standards should be complicit in this story, if that is reports it tipped off police are true.

One can only surmise that the Savile scandal has swung their ethical pendulum.

But the wider concern is journalistic probity is compromised. Do the means justify the ends?