Monday, June 29, 2020

In closed humidity, amid summerish heat of 32 degrees, and a cornucopia of distant sounds, the sun finally turns its golden yellow and begins to surrender for the day. In its diminishing glow hidden in a cul de sac, a convoy waits. 

We have arrived early and are obliged to patiently stay motionless for an hour or so on the outskirts of a village, Asokore, near Ghana’s hinterland city, Kumasi. We wait because it is forbidden to come forth in daylight with one of the village’s returning sons — a respected man from a lineage of popular figures in the days, some of whom were chiefs. 

We wait some more, before the sun disappears over the horizon and the convoy and lead car purr their engines and slowly make their way snaking on the potholed roads. We are here. Onlookers crane their necks and whisper. Written from the perspective of a British journalist, this ritual seems endearing, if perhaps amusingly bewildering. 

What might anyone, with a lack of knowledge of customs and the culture, transported to this spot, have made off all of this?  This is a funeral about to begin its run of three days. The returning son is my father, born in Asokore, who became a police officer, and then sought a new destiny with my mother in the UK. 

Several years later, he has returned home. Sankofa , a well known Twi maxim means “go back and retrieve”. It is almost a fitting prose for what we are to experience. Everything about my father’s home coming had been a system of processes — several business ends in the UK ensuring his safe passage. 

But it is also a metaphor, alongside others, for sonorous journalism. Let me explain. Now in Ghana, rituals that have lasted many years — some extruded to accompany Ghanaian’s penchant for lavish funerals, have now taken hold. It’s said of Ghanaians that it’s at funerals where you’ll find your future husband or wife. 

Three days affords you some time within the solemnity of the occasion. This is so far removed from the clashing of cymbals and gyration of hips to some genre of music in a night club in London, Croydon — where you rendezvous to find your future soul mate. During the three days my family and I will perform many rituals and sermons. I have to brush up on my Twi — the language of the Akans — which is rich in metaphor. Death is described as literally turning your head to face the wall. 

I remember saying this and drawing nods of appreciation. “He’s done well” said one elder afterwards. And then this which has forever stuck with me. On the final day fifteen clothed elders gathered in a room. It is time, a relative tells me, to take gifts to thank them for their time, for their support, and for the appreciation of one of their own through his children. 

For brief moments I lose my guard as a family member, and become a storyteller, a journalist. How might this feature be relayed so it’s less a curio from someone not knowing local customs? I have flashbacks to being in Soweto with white journalists friends who’s parachuted into South Africa’s election from the UK and saw men toying with clubs. 

They looked fearsome, but you’ve nothing to be afraid off. I think back to SUS law arrests in the 80s/90s in which police accosting a black man, would interpret his actions as “shifty”, were he failed to look an officer in the eyes, whilst shifting his weight, head titled.

Were white police officers aware that there were generations of men whose idea of respect was not to “eye ball” their fathers, officials or elders? “Don’t be eye-balling me son” was not an uncommon refrain in some households I knew. Or that further back in time these fathers’ fathers did similar. Under their publishing company X-Press Dotun Adebayo and Steve Pope would release a book Yardie that the met police implored its officer should read. Fiction and non fiction merged to unveil a culture unknown to Police. 

This was the 1990s. Standing in front of the Ghanaian elders, they asked the seminal question. How much did all this cost, the flight, the laying on of food, the gifts to other members and Dad’s resting bed, a patterned gasket. There was murmuring and darted expressions when we told them. Translated into English, with the customery ooms and aams, the eldest of the elders spoke. 

He thanked us for doing one of their own right and thanked some more, and then told us, you in the West are crazy. You’re crazy to spend all this money on the dead, when the living are suffering. Look what we do he said drawing attention to his faith. We wrap our loved ones in a shoal and then commit them to the ground the very next day or after. 

Instead he continued, you’ve given rise to a business — a thriving one for those who are pass on. There’s a passage in Around the world in a trillion dollars a day, where senior financiers from South East Asia assail the Americans who attempt to sell a new package of debt swaps. No more packages, they say. 

In modern parlance, the world has discovered and developed and intricate set of business ends that bamboozle, bind people even as they take their last journey. “We need in this kingdom only priests and school teachers, and no merchandise, unless its wine and flour for the Mas”, said King Alfonso I in a letter to the King of Lisbon in 1526. Alfonso, elaborately portrayed in Hochschild’s King Leopold Ghosts is lamenting the business of human slave trade taking place at alarming rate in his Kongo (spelt Kongo). 

He is tired of merchants. Hochschild tells us what makes stories of the Kongo gripping is that for history, journalism first draft of accounts, whites exploiting the land are not the only authors. Their white narrative sees the native Kongolese as savages, but for once there is a historical account of that era from a black man, learned and understanding of customs. 

The centuries ahead, greater emphasis placed on commerce and business becomes a measure of a nation’s status, its place in the world, as opposed to greater recognition of its priests, school teachers and medical personnel; architects, artisans and artists. Centuries ahead too, the Western world would invent a story form called journalism through which events are comparatively largely recorded through the eyes of those visiting, unaccustomed to customs and rituals. 

They interpret events as curios. They can’t be mindful of the gravitas of events if they lack in its experience. Yet the world is told through their eyes. If learning is about being liberated, then vast swathes of knowledge are entombed through ignorance or otherwise complicity. Alfonso’s letter was met by Belgium’s king with a rebuke. 

The king’s emissaries, he said, tell him Kongo is a vast place and there are many potential slaves, such that the trade will not run dry. One Kongo king’s version against another, the King of Belgium. One version of events against another. One who understands his culture against a King, Leopold who never once set foot in Kongo, but raped its riches and people, brutally. Of all the definitions and frameworks put together to sow together a divine model of journalism — few ever cite how culture is integral. 

That at the heart of our exchanges is in an attempt to make sense of cultures; super, supra, boardroom and community et al. Storytelling of a kind called journalism represses the super, between people, profoundly, whilst cinema saw stories through the eyes of the beholder who knew their apples, and could offer nuanced interpretation. Cinema! Reportage‘s stories are more muted. 

Why? Because, perhaps to those who offer its craft at the highest pedagogical level, from circa 1700s there was no other culture, but the one worthy of note. Rebooted in the 1980s by a Prime Minister it became there’s no such thing as society. It’s as if you’d asked a fish the temperature of its water. 

How would the fish know? It’s only occupied one realm. In the 1700s onwards, culture was one, mono, undifferentiated. There were other people from different places e.g. Gold Coast, but their numbers were insignificant, though not unimportant to contest there existed varying cultures, and as such an expressiveness in contemporary storytelling. Who lives, who dies, who tells your story appears in Hamilton the musical. 

Victors tell the stories, journalism is about power, and the power to shape narrative. Hamilton is pure juju for reworking the agents of American’s founding fathers performed by a significant black cast. Andrew Marr’s My Trade a well written book on a short history of British Journalism underscores this mono narrative. It doesn’t purport to be a history of journalism, for it reflects events of white Anglo-Saxon heritage. EH Gombrich, one of the highest authorities on Art, behind the knowledge expanding Story of Art did not see why he should features black or women artists, believing they were not important. 

You can’t begin to understand how the world shaped by television and opinions hewn by news, reduces customs and culture to generalisations. It’s obvious through not only the lack of diversity in programmes, but of different people, from different cultures, being on the tables that decide what we eat. Culture matters. It matter a lot. Yet comparatively few intellectuals acknowledge its profound impact in storytelling alongside objectivity, impartiality etc. 

Prof Michael Schudson speaks of journalism as the following: Journalism practice is a cultural construct, dependent on societal changes and literary traditions. To story tell requires understanding those cultures. My father’s burial, as much as how Covid-19 is blighting black communities are stratas of culture — that require exegesis in play. 

The sun is appearing on the 4th day ending our ritual. In the future across the world we see the prospect of a new dawn. I carry forward my father’s legacy and new knowledge for new ideas and co-creations as cultures meet. Journalism Storytelling Ghana Culture BlackLivesMatter

Saturday, January 25, 2020

In the week of UK-Africa investment, Dr David Dunkley Gyimah, voted one of Ghana’s most influential people in the UK, reflects on his visit to Ghana to find it boxing clever and taking on heavyweights

He’s tipped to be Ghana’s next sporting boxing megastar, and embodies the characteristics with which Ghana is being described via boxing metaphors. Sporting allegories befit some countries more than others. Ghana is one of them. Not the worn tropes, “punching above its weight” more “shaping up” and “boxing clever” on the international scene.
The country’s pedigree in the sport is legendary. At the nondescript venue The Gym in the capital boxing legends, such as former World featherweight champ Azuma Nelson trained here. On the wall is a photo of another World Champ for whom I was his cinema journalism filmmaker during his epic fight with Mike Tyson for the undisputed world championship. I would accompany Lennox Lewis to the UK Ghana High Commission en route to Ghana.

Ghana’s economy is catching world attention. Growth saw movement from 5.6% the previous year to 6.7% GDP, just shy of its forecast, but making it one of the fastest growing economies, alongside Rwanda, Ethiopia and Cote d’Ivoire. How the turn around? Oil revenue, and the further discovery of off-shore fields, pumping out their liquid resource is one, just outside the capital there’s evidence of another, which will play well into the dynamics of the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA).

Fields of Dream

On the outskirts of Accra, I meet CEO Francis Osei of ISEO’s Agricultural consultancy. In just two years, deploying tech, world expertise and home talent, he’s created one of the largest Maize farms in Ghana, the size of 6000 football pitches. It’s a template that has attracted interest outside of Ghana and he’s preparing to scale up.

CEO Francis Osei has created a 440 hectare farm, the size of 6000 football pitches in 2 years.

There’s a knock on effect for job creation, manufacturing and services adding to Ghana’s domestic GDP. Government policies reported by DW have also acted as fuel for growth. But as in boxing parlance a round is not the match.
Ghana’s heavyweight status has materialised over a lengthy period. Trade and current account deficits, mounting external dept and poor growth has often been the mood music. Twenty eight years ago, I reported for the BBC on US Secretary Ron Brown’s foreign direct investment (FDI) visit to South Africa, to stimulate its economy. The rub? Multinationals were drawn to the country’s favourable market policies but the impact on local jobs and the GDP were comparably minimal.
Ghana’s flank exposes similar patterns and requires forethought. Several more multinationals attracted by trading conditions are due to set up shop in 2020. Al Jazeera report
Nissan, Suzuki, and Volkswagen will open plants in the country in 2020, transforming the region into a hub for the African car industry.
Part of the pull is Ghana’s spend against its revenues coming under check and efforts to clamp down on commercial corruption. A friend, who’s a senior executives at a high performing multinational, has hit on an ingenious scheme for transparency and due diligence and its making and impact. We’ll report on this in the future.

My late father was part of the wave of Ghanaians who left the country soon after independence, swelling and popularising, like so many others, the label of “diaspora” — which the present government last year designated the year of homecoming for the many dispersed. It attracted, and continues to draw attention. At Elmina castle, where last year US House speaker Nancy Pelosi and 13 Congress members visited, photographers approach us and we share a conversation.
They request we pose and moments later will appear with the prints for a fee. I thank them and also suggest politely they’re missing a vital component of storytelling. Rather than capturing events for as representation, they might do so for the drama as documentary photojournalism. It’s the story and emotions that country’s lack when telling their grand vision.
In the city, the Overseas Development Institute is training young people in documentary photography, as well as an assortment of skills. It’s encouraging to see. Youth and employment are rousing themes in Ghana, with the president acknowledging there’s work to be done, particularly in educating the next generation, training them and helping them find jobs.
Perhaps one of the biggest stories which should have global recognition is caught in what could be termed “Start-up stasis”. Ghana’s government has made education free for students to secondary school. That’s a big deal and politically requires traction. Unesco’s 2010 stats says eight out of every ten 15–24 year-olds is literate. For the over 65 years-olds that drops to three out of every ten. That’s a huge story to champion and sell which which should impact skills.
Parallels with South Korea come to mind when in the 1950s the average income for South Korea and Ghana respectively was $490 and $491 respectively, by 1990 South Korea was $4,832 to Ghana’s $481 — a ten fold magnitude jump. South Korean boosted learning and savvy businesses.
Akushika and Earl, former presenters of the Breakfast Show. Akushika is today editor of the Ghana Broadcasting Corporation
Media is one of Ghana’s success stories in its matured democracy. The air waves reflect a liberalism and free speech, unlike many other African states. I’ve arrived at a time when there are ongoing talks between the media and government over press freedoms and the protection of journalists. In the offices of Joy FM Ghana’s leading independent stations I’m introduced to Israel Laryea — one of the country’s most prominent newsmen courtesy of one of my former Masters students.
It’s clear from when we start talking we share mutual interests in, amongst others, an old friend I’ve not seen in 21 years, the former BBC Ghana correspondent Kwaku A Sakyi-Addo who now heads up Ghana’s media regulatory body — the equivalent of the UK’s Ofcom.

One of my first project in Ghana was in 1997 working with the then Turner executive Edward Boateng, whom is now the Ambassador to China. Together we launched Ghana’s national television’s Breakfast Show taking them on their first outside broadcast to South Africa where in the early 90s I was an Associate Producer for ABC News.
The digital entrepreneur and start-up culture too in Ghana is shaping up. Tech Nova writes that four Ghanaian start-ups lead the way for the Africa Prize for innovation. AfriTech announced several digital entrepreneurial schemes for accelerator funds. The challenge however to accelerate these program depends on a strategic theme favouring a different philosophy to nominal tech start-ups and that is the Chinese model of leveraging innovation and business supported by local government, rather than the organic growth witnessed in Silicon Valley.
I’m leaving Accra. The Arts centre is a microcosm of Ghana’s future. Craftsmen and women accost us for sales, driving hard bargains. They’re determined, persistent, and have a vision of what they want, but to expand it requires joined up and local government thinking. Unquestionably solutions are complex, but as my seller poses in his shop no. 163, I’m reminded. A country’s brand and character is shaped by the people. Can Ghana keep its up it momentum and how transformative does the various sectors set different goals. It’s up to you them to Keep jabbing.
Dr David Dunkley Gyimah was voted one of the top 40 influential Ghanaians in the UK’s Ghana Abroad. He attended Prempeh College in his teens. A former broadcaster, he’s an academic specialising in Tech, AI and Entreprneurs and runs the Emerging Media at Cardiff University. He’s worked or consulted in Lebanon, Tunisia, China, Russia, Egypt, India, South Africa, America etc. More on him here

Sunday, October 13, 2019

Training in foreign news reporting in the digital noisy age.

ana couldn’t believe her misfortune whilst setting up in one of the world’s hot zones, Ukraine’s Maidan Square. It’s quiet now. Five months earlier it was under siege; a battle zone between government security forces and protestors against president Ukrainian PresidentViktor Yanukovych,
She’d checked and doubled checked everything before she left London; equipment, risk assessment, pre-shoot research script, but now one of her contacts had bailed on her.
When you’re on your own and a chunk of your programme idea falls away your options are either to can the idea or improvise to save it whilst evaluating the risks. Great improvisation comes from a canny instinct and understanding craft skills. You can’t make up what you don’t know proficiently. Today tech calls that agile production.
Back in London, Oana’s grafting would earn her report high praise. Rare footage taken by a videojournalist she acquired provided unseen knowledge behind the bloody protest. She graduated from her Masters and duly found work at the BBC and made a number of special reports from Poland. Her desire was always to work for the international arm of a network and become a foreign reporter. Somewhere in the world, I know she’s doing just that.

The Foreign News Reporter Paradox

By definition reporting from a foreign land makes you a foreign news reporter particularly in the digital age where everyone is a potential broadcaster and no one needs to vet your skills. In his promo, multi-award winning mojo Yusuf Omar explains:
I wanted to be a foreign correspondent in Syria and they said I was too young. I wanted to tell stories across Africa and they said it was too dangerous…
Thus Omar did what legions before him would do, he went it alone reporting for his citizen journalism outfit. The big or brand named publishers may have alluded him, but he probably gives that short shrift now as he travels the world delivering workshops on journalism with a mobile phone, as well as acquiring celebrity status.
In practise, and by convention (if you listen to convention) becoming a foreign reporter, or to use its much less loaded word, “international reporter” for a named publisher calls on an expert understanding and analysis of a country’s socio-politics, or at least how to source it.
Being around the block enough for industry figures to have a measure of your ethics and professional standards which will be tested. Meanwhile you sport unkempt grey hairs suggesting you have skin in the game and sharp elbows — a firm desirable. Being an international reporter is not for the meek. You may taking the OCEANs test find you’re not cut out for its rough and tumble.
Viewed as the plumb of plumb jobs, with all its romanticised travel, daring-dos and hotel hopping, it’s small wonder scores of reporters want a crack at it. In reality writes Tony Grant editor of BBC Radio 4’s flag ship programme, From our own correspondent, it’s far from it.
The job involves a great deal of hanging around, often late at night or early on the morning, waiting for people to arrive at airports or to emerge from hospitals or courts clutching statement.
After stints at BBC Newsnight, and reporting on BBC 2’s Reportage in the early 1990s, I too felt the itch. Naturally, after several rejections I became aware no one was going to hire a Chemistry and Maths grad with a penchant for African politics. Hence, I made my own way to one of the world’s trouble news spots, South Africa, and slowly but methodically listened and learned.

Eventually I would be reporting for the BBC World Service, its African and Caribbean Service and BBC Radio 4 documentaries. By the time I’d left South Africa filing my last report covering President Mandela’s inauguration the Head of Studies at Chatham House, Professor Jack Spence would invite me to become one of its youngest full members. Twenty-five years later, I’m still a member.

Skills and Knowledge
What I learned becoming an international reporter has been put into practice countless times helping a new generation and whilst age is not a defining quality, craft skills and embedded knowledge of a subject do matter.
Tamer, written about here in 2007, had come from Gaza to gain an MA in journalism. With the course barely over, he told me he was going for a job as Gaza correspondent for the soon-to-be launched BBC Arabic service.
There were two major skillsets he’d learned. Here’s what you do I advised. At the age of 24-years Tamer returned the next day to break the news. “Mr David I’m now the BBC’s correspondent from Gaza”. He beat a field of experienced practitioners. He did it.
Today those technical skillsets have changed in a new digital era, but the underlying principles and artistic skills remains in tact.

This is the storyverse, which you’ll want to master. It correlates with the workflow of storytelling, digital tools and pre-visualising how to proceed in the digital noise age where disinformation is rife.

What you see and how you interpret events is framed by your cognitive thinking — the black box; your approach and dissemination of knowledge. Skills can be easily acquired. A few classes mastering camera work, or shooting on mobile is enough to get you up and running, the knowledge of how framing and camera movement affects the audience takes longer.
There are competing interests, but one of the first things is to develop an idea of your audience’s persona. A butcher sells meat, a lawyer legal services, as a journalist you sell stories. Buzzfeed and Vice magazine’s case studies are informative and worth studying. There are several ways to build a likely audience’s profile, perhaps from surveys. In the digital noise era which I’ll explain in a future post, I’ll show how you can get even more granular.
Next in competing interests are ideas. Creative ideas and problem solving, two highly ranked characteristics in the World Economic Forum’s 2020 data, have a direct impact on your audience’s needs.
When I landed in South Africa for the first time and each time I travel on a story I ask to be taken to a popular coffee shop or pub, where you can hold a decent conversation. I usually take a curio which can easily start off a conversation. In South Africa, as a genuine Rugby fan, I’d wear an England shirt. The sight of a black man, wearing England colours would often spark incredulity before the archetypal question. “Are there black people in England?” or “Why are you here?”
The next thing was to analyse nupes and trend extrapolate their output; a pattern soon emerges about what the region’s main newspaper or digital publishers produce for their audiences. This can be significant but also requires caution. If Buzzfeed or Vice followed the popular signage they would not have been successful as they are. There’s a swathe of untapped readers that publishers are vying for.
The third for this post is style and form for your audience. Over the last two decades several branches of journalism have emerged, each of them a reaction to a deficiency in the market. I’d like to think, amongst them there are very few that are platform agnostic and deal with story structure.

For dye-in-the-wool videojournalists that would be cinema journalism — a craft that subsumes all other forms in its quest to tell stories. A crude analogy to imagine is its fictional form. Films like The Big Short, Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, and The Kingdom (below) are three different movies that incorporate styles in seen in data, Tik-Tok and motion graphics. The Kingdom’s opening sequence is still one of the best journalistic stories told, which can be achieved using after affects. You can find more about videojournalism and cinema journalism in my medium posts and this short film here .

Tuesday, October 08, 2019

Five life lessons learned; the importance of relearning

When asked about his talent, his awards, his performances, he stopped looked the interviewer in the eye and simply said: “I just wanna work, man!”

Society sets a series of de facto rules. Who get’s to make their way draws currency from its bank. It’s a loan with varying interest. Other side, it’s an application which more often will be denied. So you build your own imaginary reserve. And slowly, inexorably work to a plan that seems ad hoc, but there’s meaning, because like the actor: “You just wanna work”.

We listen to stories because they give us something to anchor. Sometimes these stories are stars lighting up a hidden destiny.

I once had a meeting with the foreign affairs editor of the BBC in the BBC canteen. After perusing my CV for a moment, he asked somewhat confused: “So, what is it you do?”

You see my CV reflected a myriad of interests, which could either suggests the convention of a lack of focus, or an interest in many things. I grew up working in my active imagination. I was a foreign correpondent, a firefighter, an at one time a milkman, then I wanted to become an artist, but my father wanted a doctor. I got so far as Chemistry and maths.

These aspirations; I didn’t quite make firefighter and milkman, I lasted two days before my parents told the milkman a child of nine going out on milk runs, was well, not right. But if I have learned one thing, you’ll either conform to what people want, or you’ll forever chase lights with moments of fulfilment.

I do these, not because of anything than I just wanna work. So since my encounter with the BBC head, I chase them lights, often hoping and have taken people with me.
  1. Give yourself different experiences. I once dived with British and Turkish navy divers into a world war one wreck off the coast of Turkey. Thirty metres down, I was trapped by a thermocline and ran out of air. I don’t advocate that, but in the process somebody from the BBC was interested to hear my thoughts.
  1. Collaborate, share your gifts. It won’t always be accepted, but that’s not the point: I imagined with a friend what it would be to shine a light on the incredible array of people who are talented. We created the leaders’ list, sixty of the UK’s leading BAME producers.
  1. Humility is the key to people giving you their success. My friendship with a senior tv figure would result in an invitation to a dinner, and whilst eating, a tower of a man appeared. We stood. I said hello, shook his hand, and like many was and still am mesmerised by him. It was President Nelson Mandela.
  1. Search for them stories: I’ve loved stories from the time my mum would rerun Doris Day’s Calamity Jane. That love has fuelled me towards coding, a different form of journalism storytelling, and photojournalism which my peers have recognised through international awards. But, I just wanted to work.
  1. Live life with the certainties that uncertainties is but a rock in your path. I recall my foster parents, my boarding school, my parents and mum who recently passed. She was a figure of hope. We shape our world by the way we let society frame those conventions. Each journey can finish like you want it to, when your imaginary reserves materialises as they will. It all starts with that simple commitment; I just wanna work.

Saturday, September 28, 2019

The wonderful story of student standing on street for a job reminds me of the extreme lengths for my big break

David Tyoember, a besuited Chemistry undergrad, stands outside London Tube stations with a placard looking for a job. It's not the first time it's been done, but it still takes gumption. Robert Toffel, a veteran investor was exiting the station, took a photo and his CV, and with David's permission shared it on Linkedin.

His story went viral. David has since been inundated with job offers, and today following press interest is on Sky News. The future looks bright. Last year 22-year-old Mohamed Elbarkey, also suited, graduated with 2:1 in Aerospace Engineering from Southampton University. He was outside Canary Wharf with a sign. His message contoured to the struggle he'd endured: "Came as a refugee, just graduated from UCL in Rocket science". What's not to love about this story?

Last year too Reggie Nelson (below) fascinated by the lifestyle and the homes of people he saw as successful, he decided to knock on every single door and ask what they did to make it. It paid off. In all three cases success was a derring-do away. How far would you go and what would you do to get that job?

The three mentioned here and undoubtedly there are more found themselves trapped by the imperfections within conventional job hunting, and perhaps even more frustrated by what they could do to find a job in the competitive market. Then they got creative and it worked. Why? You could seek a myriad reason.

Whilst the three examples don’t by any means exemplify the spectrum of extents to which a young person would go to find a job, it says something about character, confidence and resilience, but that doesn't seem enough. During a visit to a publisher in central London, seven Masters students are entertained by an editor of a well known woman's magazine.

She, the editor, expresses an admiration for creativity. As we wrap up and leave one of the student asks me: "David, I've brought my CV with me, should I give it to her?" Earlier that week I had told the students how in pursuit of a job I would carry a CV in my breast pocket and dole them out, even, at night clubs where I knew lots of TV people went. The student did, and after her work experience was kept on.

Industry conventionalises the accepted method and approach when it comes to job searches through HR. However, it remains an imperfect system. HR faced with stacks of applicants has specific criteria in mind. A well polished presented CV is a requisite, but there are nuances that shape decisions. A lack of connections to the potential job, or your surname alone, as BBC discovered, puts candidates from ethnic backgrounds at a disadvantage.

BBC Media Editor Amol Rajan asked the question in an insightful BBC documentary “How to break into the Elites: Why are working class kids passed over for top jobs?” Lack of networks, contacts, confidence, their mannerism, dress sense and the dynamics of an unwritten game said one of Rajan's interviewees. A sort of finishing school is required. When a student of mine found herself being invited to an industry dinner at a media festival, I couldn't have been more happier for her. Take lots of CVs and cards. You're about to face a captive audience for 2 hours.

At Bafta, a young black woman struck up the courage to ask the star documentary maker Neil Crombie, who produces Grayson Perry, how she could get her doc on TV. "Great !", I said to her afterwards when Crombie publicly offered to put her in touch with Channel 4. "But ask too if he can email or ring through the introduction and if he wouldn't mind a meet up to mentor you".

No alt text provided for this image Job searching can be soul destroying, but Tyoember shows "you dare you increase the odds of winning", which made me reflect on my journey back in 1988 and which continued into the 90s. I studied Applied Chemistry, like Tyoember, but for love or money afterwards I couldn’t find a job. I had one interview for a chemical company and I was wearing an ill-fitted suit. That did not go well. I desperately wanted to work in media.

A clever decision, truly not, but that's where my heart was. The rejection letters poured in. I had enough to plaster two walls, which I did. Sometimes the replies were kind, others pointed to flaws they made you feel were the size of golfball boils on your face. I quietly knew I could work on a couple of things. "You know you have an African accent, and your intonation...", someone told me, which essentially meant if you're planning a broadcast career in the UK, forget it. I tried for the African service and got rejected too.

There comes a point when you have nothing, absolutely no more to lose. Your dignity has itself been shot, but you cling to it as the facade of your being. One thing I was always aware of, I liked people, was personable and could hold a conversation when I needed. Then I did two things that changed my fortune. Firstly, I wrote a courteous but firm letter to the BBC requesting why I was always overlooked.

They, after several weeks, responded and called me for an interview. Except it wasn't an ordinary interview. Several BBC executives would interview me, as they were being observed to find out what I was doing wrong or whether they were missing something. Some months later, I was called to an interview for a job I applied for. The post was researcher, BBC Newsnight - the BBC's flagship news programme. I got the job.

I talked about my letter and BBC experience. The immense joy of that was tempered by fact that after the contract post I was out of a job and couldn't find another one. It's wrenching when you're in that despairing state. I don't think I'd ever contemplated standing outside a station, or knocking on doors, but had an idea. Where was the biggest challenging story in the world at that moment? Amongst a small number you could include South Africa (SA).

How far would I go to get a job? Would I go to South Africa? I didn't know anyone there and couldn't afford the fare. Then, I found someone in the newspapers and wrote to him. He wrote back. My friends warned me about fraternising with Afrikaners (whose politicians drove apartheid).

It was as if all Afrikaners were the same, which was ridiculous, but I had nothing more to lose. A recession in 1991 was beginning to bite in Britain. I then wrote a letter to British Airways explaining what I wanted to do. They wrote back. One of its senior UK marketers met me in a pub in Brixton, South London. We had a pint and he gave my guilt-edge free tickets to go to SA.

When I got to the country, South Africa Airways matched British Airway's hospitality with unlimited travel around the country. I would come back to the UK for some months and then return for almost two years. On the ground, broadcasters who would not even reply to my letters were now asking me to produce some broadcasts. In 1994, on Mandela's inauguration, I wrapped up one of my last reports broadcasting on the BBC World Service.

It's a moment I will always savour. I had survived some tricky moments, become a bit more wiser and come to know more about a place and people I'd read from afar. But I learned too a lesson about me. This proved to be a turning point. Other challenges would surface again and again, but the experience of Guillaume Apollinaire's poem 'Come to the edge' had empowered me.

I’ll be adding David’s story to my lectures when I talk to students about job searches: How far would you go to get that job? What would you give? No one owes you. It’s not personal. Finesse the CV. And you can’t win it if you’re not in it. People will chuckle, some smile, some even belly ache laugh, but it’s you and what you want. Few things come easy.

No one get’s there without sacrifice. You can be the best in the world, but you need to come into the light from behind the bushel. Give and you’ll get back. And then there's the sense of humour in all of this, as if that sounds too far fetched. Up for an interview with a large exporter, my friend Sandra summoned the courage from loads of rejections to apply for the Comms job.

Her favourite suit and heels were readied. Upon entering the interview room, with the chief executive, personnel and operations manager seated, she momentarily baulked, her confidence gave way and so did her step. Her 3-inch heels got entangled on the carpet, snapped, and she was sent flying across the room splayed out inelegantly in front of the panel.

She says, she stayed on the floor for a beat, stood up calmly, looked back at her heels and then the panel and dryly said: "Well I've made a right old heel of that, haven't I?" The panel were now in tears of laughter and admiration. She got the job. Be yourself and never forget the gifts you have, even when those times are hard. No alt text provided for this image

Dr David Dunkley Gyimah speaking at Apple's flag ship store in London. He's a senior lecturer at the Journalism School in Cardiff and a Co-investigator on future of News projects. He's an advisor for the British Library's News Project. More on David here

Saturday, June 15, 2019

Futurologists of stories

I wanted to become a journalist, but instead I'm more a futurologist.  My PhD looks at cognitive practices of storytelling. My experience inspires my writings, from conflict zones in apartheid South Africa, the borders of Syria, to tech speaking at Apple and international events.

Here's the next years

Monday, May 27, 2019

Photo by Ian Espinosa on Unsplash

The sclerosis eviscerating the UK is accelerating. The PM Theresa May has resigned. The charge is she had cloth ears, inadequate social skills and political capital to bring together a majority of people to accept her terms to leave the EU.
Her last speech at Downing Street, a eulogy for historian’s first draft, was so skewed with references of her generosity that you coughing back into your pint wouldn’t be unbecoming.
She failed, but in her mind she was smited. Forces on her own side did her in. What happens next? An SOS call sign is being lit.
A new tory to be PM is being sought. The field is widening. Old adversaries will face one another e.g. Gove vs Johnson and the tories’ 100, 000 members will close the deal. What a deal it is?
The mood now is towards Brexit by any means necessary. On October 31st deal or no deal, a majority of all the contenders for the game of thorned thrones are in unison. But the chances of a deal seem so slim from any of the UK’s vantage points.
That’s not the half of it, political guru John Curtice’s analysis or not. Conservatives flocked from Ukip to Brexit to leave the EU. Once the UK leaves ( is this a given?) they’ll flock back into the Tory ranks ( sorry Fge) where age old policies bind them. The next PM will have to be as calculating and the rest as Daenerys to win back the faithful.
The thinking from those ready to pull away the harness on the parachute is Great Britain can fly without the help of a canopy. Britain like the Marvel’s Hulk can land with aplomb and ram its way to whatever it pleases.
In Britain many are patriots. I could say all, but you’d ask me for evidence? “Many’ is a safe estimate. The issues scaring the bejesus out of many is what happens to economy, when Britain severs ties with the EU and its 69 partners? Britain will cope, is the response.
What happens to doctors and nurses believing they’re no longer welcome. There’s already in nurses a drop by 87% from 6,400 in 2016/17 to 800 in 2017/18 coming from the EU.
Britain will cope, is the response.
The police force suffering cuts over the years and facing a surge in crime looks to a response post-Brexit, for which there’s no panacea in sight. An officer writing in the Guardian explains his anxieties and fears. 20,000 cuts to front line policing has the force teetering on well-being.
Britain will cope.
Writing in the Observer columnist Nick Cohen says
The right has nothing to say about tariffs destroying the car and steel industries and wiping out agricultural exports. Nothing about the service sector, which comprises 80% of our economy, and will find leaving the single market hard enough, let alone a fall into the fire.
Supposedly too Britain will cope.
Britain will regain its fishing territories with staunch defence by officials policing waters. The farming industry, however, will be seeking from government the shortfall in EU subsidised budgets.
So here’s the scenario, worst case, which looms closer. October 31st Britain leaves. The reigning PM banishes the back-stop, N.Ireland holds its breath. What happens next as the PM and cohorts batten down for a cup of tea with their best china does not bear thinking.
The service industry finds itself overwhelmed. Goods and produce in the shops face acute shortages. Health service might only see essential patients, but lack of funds means they’ll be asking for money (pre-privatisation).
The press, having done their job, now really come into their own without readers sensing the rich irony. All that is going wrong is helping to sell more newspapers. Tensions loom between generations of Black, Asian, Minority and Ethnic — who are British — as coarsened nationalists, what with the pressures of the police force, see themselves as taking the law in their hands.
Anyone who would rather have physically done nothing e.g.intervene for those in distress, confront the ugliness in public attitude, make a stand, will now find themselves facing their conscious and having to take sides.
My God What have we done! will be a common refrain. How did we get here? What could we have done to prevent it? And how do we safeguard the next generation, just how?
The warped thinking from commentators advocating a hard leave is, things might get worse, but they’ll get better. That might be the case, but for how long, and how deep?
But no worries. Leave means Leave is the rallying cry and so it’s likely to be so. Great Britain will leave, and then the a reality unrealised will unfold.
So yes Britain needs help my friend. How, we’re not quite sure yet.