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.

Monday, May 06, 2019

Twenty five years ago, the world held its breath; one country in the palm of the human-verse

Photo Award winning photojournalist, Yannis Kontos - for more of his amazing photos go here
Twenty five years ago, a generation or so ago, we watched, some chewed their nails, others cradled their heads in open palms. Was this it? Was this the moment that humanity would be the victor?
A pariah state, South Africa, that had been ostracised from the world because it legally and plaintively viewed non-whites, black people in particular, as sub human had its chance to put the past behind it.
Apartheid, the word does not easily trip of the tongue today alongside other inequities, but it was ugly, fearsome, and real. To socialise, to challenge, to be, to walk down the road and dare hold the hand of someone white incurred wrath, abuse and assaults from white, even sometimes blacks trying to figure out what they were witnessing.
This, the tail end even of Apartheid (1994). I was walking behind a friend; a Londoner, a model, who’d had a child with a South African. They were nonchalant as they strode downtown Joburg. Me, six paces behind could see the orbit of red emotions flaring towards them.
I’d been in South Africa now for little over 18 months, a strategic attempt on my part two years earlier to get a front row seat to the biggest international story of the decade thus far.
I’d left London, part direct thought; other, escaping the toxicity of a climate in which a mini UK recession meant if you were a young reporter searching for work, if you were a young black reporter searching for work expect lean times ahead.
I had spent eight years previously in Ghana, growing up under a regime that festered corruption, counteracted by coups. This clip here was heard live.
In the late 1990s when I did a job for Ghana TV and they asked me how they could pay me, I asked for the Jerry John Rawling’s recording (above) of the coup on that day.
South Africa was closing in on the eye of the prize and there were many forces, hidden and some known, politicking and threatening all sorts. I was fortunate in my education.
My sojourn to SA prompted by an on-air exchange with its ambassador led to a triumvirate friendship with different figures: a leading theatre director and his friends which included diplomats, a cadre of young progressives black and white, and ANC activists and journalists. Something that would help in creating a raft of programmes in 1992, such as this for the domestic broadcaster, “Through the Eyes of a Child”.

I got to know a world which was uniquely complex, but I could navigate by how I opened my mouth. Shut, I could be any black South African, though many took me for coloured. Open with a London accent I was British. Open with my Ghanaian accent I was an African foreigner. I could, with the help of my friends like Milton Nkosi, get in and out of Townships, and if the feeling overcame me engage in Kwame Nkrumah’s ideals of African empowerment.
Every student, at least in my college in Ghana, was taught about Nkrumah and history told us about Mandela and many of his colleagues whom either schooled in Ghana or had a great affinity with the country.
Strangely, South Africa’s ultimate story was one that precluded others. An irony of mega proportions. Perhaps, it being the catch of any foreign news outlet, and everyone who was anyone was in South Africa, meant the big guns only were allowed in town.
At a Mandela press conference when I was working for ABC News as a producer, and terrifyingly asked the first three questions, this was evident. I was the only black british broadcast journalist, or one of a handful on the ground. If you were there too, please ping me, I’d like to apologies and correct my myth. Diversity wasn’t a badge of note back then, but think today about looking through the archives and how the world is shaped by narratives.
I earned my spurs reporting South Africa from the 1980s on BBC Radio Leicester, attending various Wembley live band conferences, opened by (Sir) Lenny Henry and British pop.

The narratives weren’t a wrongun, but nuance is something you need when reporting, otherwise translated as a having a different world view. Five years later when I produced and directed Africa’s first co-production under the exec production of Edward Boateng, then head of CNN Africa, now Ghana’s Ambassador to China, we looked to at how each country could report through the lens of its own culture, language and historicity.
Twenty-five years ago then, South Africa’s gathered in long unwinding queues to vote in their first election. The day before violence threatened captured below in reports to the BBC World Service.
The day before, a 40 minute documentary would air on BBC Radio 4. A fitting honest tribute, I think, to a country and people anyone could easily fall in love with. It stands as one of the only international documentaries played on domestic South African radio.

Twenty five years ago we held our breath. The elections passed. Nelson Mandela became president and South Africa titled the earth’s axis to humanism.

But as I would find out from many South Africans five years later in a Channel 4 News videojournalist piece, there had been a political transformation, but not a social one. Today, South Africans go to the poll. The world again is watching, thought with less scrutiny around race, but wealth; wealth, its distribution connected to race, nepotism, corruption and class.
And looming in the distance, less we dare not speak its name are the forces that are wanting to tilt the Ukraine, UK, Europe and US away from humanism. Twenty five years ago they South Africa held the world in their palm. Where will they be in another twenty five years?
End
Dr David Dunkley Gyimah is an international award winning journalist and the first Brit to win the coveted Knight Batten Award for Innovation in Journalism. He’s an artist, creative and technologist; a former artist in residence at the Southbank Centre, and was one of the younger members in the 1990s to join Chatham House. He’s been a journalist for thirty years and is currently based at te Cardiff School of Journalism. He’s behind the Cinema Journalism movement. More here

Saturday, April 27, 2019

Game of Journalism. The Battle of Ideas. Lost notes uncovered that changes the game



In the end, the executives would have a change of heart not because their better selves could see the moral bankruptcy of their decision, but somehow they were made to feel like lesser men. Standing in front of them, cutting a lone figure, a 34-year-old, whose history making would be all the remarkable for what he aimed to achieve. Antonius Gvilielmus Amo Afer was not asking for pity or that the Christian faith of the facing men regard him and his kind worthy, but that that those judging him take a look at themselves.

It was a bold move. One that struck at the masculinity and civility of these intellects. Rationale and empathy would prevail during this time of great knowledge growth. This story may sound like another man facing a stern panel of judges, in say, America’s three strike system, looking for clemency, but this is much more. Much, much, more. Amo’s deft move would perhaps suggest a new thinking fit for modern times.

Today, society, men and women in boardrooms and broadcast executive suites resist attempts to recruit men and women from diverse backgrounds. The methodology over the years has morphed from morality, generosity, it’s the right thing to do, to a business proposition. Netflix’s juggernaut and its growth which has been demonstrated to be inclusive is evidence, but in the UK the dial has rarely shifted.

 Amo was a philosopher. His vision also brings forward historical precedence to question one of the most epoch philosophical statements about life and being in history. In 1734 this polymath Ghanaian stood in front of his examiners in Germany to defend his PhD thesis. He was a lone African intellectual in Europe; a sequence of unusual events resulted in him being one of the most learned men of his time. He spoke Latin, Greek, Hebrew, French, German, and Dutch. He had a degree in law and studied at the University of Wittenberg, specialising in philosophy, history, and medicine. Yet chances are you may not have heard of him. His PhD thesis Of the Apatheia of the Human Mind, encapsulated thoughts from previous works ‘‘The Rights of Moors in Europe” otherwise the “Rights of an African in Eighteenth Century Europe”.



This was the period of Enlightenment, the launch of rationalism, Cartesianism Vs Leibeiziniam and the Church’s waning stranglehold on power. Amo’s defence, from Gottfried Ludewig’s Universal Historie published in 1744, was this. They, learned men, could hardly align themselves with Roman values by not acknowledging the rights of the individual. “Mysteriously”, writes Howard University’s Dr. Marilyn Sephocle, his thesis disappeared. His other works: The Apathy of the Human Mind and his treatise on mathematics, remain.

Amo was born in the Gold Coast ( now Ghana), enslaved or gifted to gentry Duke Anton Ulric, and then his son August Wilhelm. His ascent to professor at Halle University and then Jena was the impossible feat made possible. But when his patrons died, and French racism seared through the land, in 1747/51 he returned to Ghana and lived out his life as a hermit. Lewis R. Gordon writes in “An Introduction to Africana Philosophy” about France that: King Louis XVI saw it necessary to enforce a new law in 1777 called Police des Noirs. As opposed to the previous two laws that applied to black slaves only, the Police des Noirs focused on all nonwhites. Entry into France was prohibited to all blacks and people of color regardless of their status as slaves or as freedmen.



Why, amongst the cannons of philosophy, Descarte, Kant, Schelling, Hegel and Hume to name a few, does Amo not prefigure? Either he wasn’t that good, yet scholarly texts dispute this, or historians ignored him because he was black, or that his ideas were explosive for his audience? These reasons resonate in modern times within industries that systematically ignore others for their ideas and the potential of a workforce from diverse backgrounds. Hume’s racism was well documented, Kant’s surety of the inferiority of blacks because of the heat ( really!), known too, so draw your own conclusions.

“I think therefore I am” is one of the resounding philosophical statements, which has informed generations since, yet we learn of how Amo elegantly pulled this apart, and in the process emphasised an African situatedness from the metaphysics of Akan, a Ghanaian language. This is breathtaking and gets to the heart of culture, language and intellect. Marshall McLuhan, a 20th century media scholar notes in Understanding Media “Each mother tongue teaches its users a way of seeing and feeling the world, and of acting of the world, that is unique”. Another idiom points to how journalism could be blindsided within the universal language, English. “If you want to know the temperature of water, don’t ask a fish”, says McLuhan. Language shapes shared ideas, shapes narrative, story and subsequently this multi-billion construct called news.

To Amo, “I think therefore I am”, writes one of this century’s enduring African philosophers Kwasi Wiredu is problematic for Akans — one of Ghana’s many people. Wiredu writes:

He (Akan) or she would be compelled to ask, ‘‘You are what? Where?” Wo ho” is the Akan rendition of ‘‘exist”. Without the ‘‘ho”, which means ‘‘there”, in other words, ‘‘some place”, all meaning is lost. ‘‘Wo”, standing alone, does not in any way correspond to the existential sense of the verb ‘‘to be”, which has no place in Akan syntax or semantics. [Return], now, to ‘‘I think, therefore I am”, and consider the existential component of that attempted message as it comes across in Akan. 

Wiredu continues:

In that medium the information communicated can only be that I am there, at some place; which means that spatial location is essential to the idea of my existence. It is scarcely necessary to point out that this is diametrically opposed to Descartes’ construal of the particular cogitation under scrutiny. As far as he is concerned, the alleged fact that one can doubt all spatial existences and yet at the same time be absolutely certain of one’s existence under the dispensation of the Cogito implied that the ‘‘I”, the ego, exists as a spiritual, non-spatial, immaterial entity. The incongruity of this sequence of thought, quite apart from any non sequiturs, must leap to the Akan eye. 

And concludes:

There is, of course, nothing sacrosanct about the linguistic categories of Akan thought. But, given the prima facie incoherence of the Cartesian suggestion within the Akan conceptual framework, an Akan thinker who scrutinizes the matter in his or her own language must feel the need for infinitely more proof of intelligibility than if s/he contemplated it in English or some cognate language. 


If you’re a storyteller, or work in news, this has profound meaning for how African storytelling at its root, through language, differs in many ways to European forms. I’ve been learning Mandarin and there are comparisons too with the “I”. In a previous posts I spoke about the Akan expressions “sankofa” that points to the ineluctable thread of memory, the past, space and its influence on the present for Ghanaians. Chinese culture’s relationship with the past too such as Confucianism and its impact, not widely taught, on the likes of Kant warrants attention.

As CGTN in London, China’s global network is setting out to launch a super network. How might they promote a different sensibility to news creation and stories, as thus far the adoption of current western ideas invariably flattens cultural values.


Take this example of how the avoidance of “fake news” and false witness is embedded in Ghanaian culture. A couple of week’s ago, I learned from my cousin that his mother had died. Ghanaian tradition calls for certain protocols, so my siblings and I set off to visit my cousin, whom by deference, because of his age, we call uncle. Once greeted at my uncle’s door, we filed in with drinks, something for the wake keeping that will be shared by close family. We sat down caught up with old news and then when the momentum of the conversation dropped my Western sensibilities led me to state earnestly why we had come.

Ghanaian tradition demands the converse my uncle gently reminded me. It was my uncle’s prerogative to enquire in a sombre tone: “what’s the purpose of your visit?” Such formalities remove any ambiguity as my uncle would go onto explain whether you’re here under other pretenses. Are you being sought after and seek shelter? Are you in danger? No I answered and in responding made my second faux pas when I noted the news and how sorry we were. Traditionally my uncle reminded us you should ask that you’ve heard some news and you want to know whether it’s true. That’s in spite of the fact my uncle had told me earlier on the phone.

Yet such face-to-face verification removes doubt or hearsay. If there was ever a cultural moment that by its very nature arrested false news or fake, this was it enshrined within culture. This thing we do with television, produced as a social tool bringing people together, has been engineered to prey on our fears. I have spoke at length about this from depth manipulators e.g. Edward Bernays and political spinsters.

Watch here too the response from a Ghanaian masters student about western journalism from the question I posed, “If”, recorded in 2006.


Like many cultures, Ghanaians have a complex advanced diverse culture, which is often overlooked, or ignored for its simplicity. Amo reminds us, as does Professor Wiredu, and indeed my uncle what we’re missing. The Johari window’s unknown unknowns renders us impotent, without us knowing it. Journalism deserves a systems thinking approach. It strikes me too that the China-African pact gaining in currency speaks to what philosophically and culturally is common ground, that’s being awakened. Journalism should do the same.



The author Dr David Dunkley Gyimah gained his doctorate from University College Dublin which researched, amongst other things, cognition in storytelling and the science of thinking. He is the first Brit to win a (US) Knight Batten Award. The Guardian and Storyful were subsequent winners. Originally an Applied Chemistry grad, he would work for the BBC, Channel 4 News and ABC and become one of the Southbank Centre’s first batch of artists in residence under Jude Kelly OBE. David is designated a leading videojournalist and is one of the top 20 writers in journalism on @medium platform. He is at the Cardiff School of Journalism.

Monday, April 01, 2019

How my DNA literally inspired innovatory storytelling


When they ran the tests, for a moment time stood still. Did it work? The data was a series of dark dashes of varying shades — a sort of morse code internalised, fixed within us. The government finally relented. 

It’s 1985, the first ever practical use of DNA genetic fingerprinting in the world. The tests would change the course of my family’s life, and mine. 

For two years we’d battled with the home office aided by a local law centre for whom we will be eternally indebted. A mix up at the airport when our youngest brother was coming back from Ghana would result in a protracted maternal legal case. Andrew, then a teenager had called mum “auntie” arriving at the airport; a term of endearment for Ghanaians. 

He hadn’t seen mum for many years since we’d all been sent to Ghana to live in the 1970s. Shy and withdrawn, his response was redolent too of his predicament. He knew who mum was but more from fading memory so called her the term that came to mind. Immigration didn’t get it.Two years dragged on. Detention centres, visits, and home temporarily. 


Immigration did get it after geneticist Dr Alec Jeffries from Leicester University served up his pioneering evidence. It would be the first practical use of DNA fingerprinting and it proved unequivocally the link between all the siblings. The odds? One in some billion. The landmark test case Sarbah Vs Home Office which involved an exhaustive odyssey to prove one’s identity, had finally ended. We won. DNA won. Science won. And unknown to me then innovatory storytelling had won.

Science and Art
Storytellers have a aphorism: “The world is too important to be left to journalists”. Journalism is seen as the exemplar for trading much needed information to make sense of the world, supported by a trillion dollar industry. Funny that when you consider modern print journalism is about 120 years old, radio about 100 and television around 70. 


Our story had been on BBC national Television News. The reporter was John Harrison, who would later become the BBC’s South Africa correspondent. We’d been on the most popular BBC magazine programme Esther Rantzen’s This Life which drew viewing audiences in the double figure millions. We’d been in the newspapers. And yet it was another form of data that solved the problem. 

Whilst each piece of reportage exposed parts of the story and the hidden absurdity; the photos we had proved we were siblings etc, the story forms also revealed shortcomings. That would stick with me. It has stuck with me. 

Case done, I could settle down full-time to my studies and pursued an Applied Chemistry degree in Leicester which shaped the following, and there’s a reason why I’m profiling this for later: 


  1. Take a hypothesis (an idea) based on substantiated theory. A theory is more than just a hunch. 
  2. Test it through various assumptions and parameters. 
  3. Evaluating and document the results to discover whether they align with the initial theory. 
  4. If not, try again by altering some of the test’s framework and rechecking theoretical claims. 
  5. If it fails again, it may be useful in providing data nonetheless, otherwise if the test proves commercially viable (prototype) take steps to capitalise on it. 


My Chemistry note books from my Applied Chemistry Degree in Leicester 1988 Bythe time I’d hit my second year in uni in 1988 I wanted to become a journalist, remembering the BBC reporter at our house. By combining my science understanding with the DNA experience I sought a home. BBC Radio Leicester would take me on a freelancer. 

My first report was on a new illness, AIDS, sweeping the US that was said to have originated from Africa. A professor and a pundit were almost trading blows during the interview. Couple of years later doing my postgrad in journalism in Falmouth, I would create a 40-min radio documentary on genetic fingerprinting interviewing the philosopher Baroness Warnock she recently died) and finally meet Dr Alec Jeffries whereby after interviewing him I thanked him. He drew a blank. I had to explain. It was a moment for both of us. 

DNA and storytelling
At this point in proclaiming how my DNA literally inspired innovative storytelling, I could talk about whether my DNA revealed signs of creativity, or that built into my genes, or otherwise Junk DNA that still baffles scientists, was my programme to tackle life — indeed the resilience and determination to want to become a journalist, but no that didn’t happen. 


And our DNA only reveals part of the answer about who we are, our environment and external influences too shape our being. Science architects an approach to finding results to problems. That combined with my knowledge of Dr Jeffries’ work, and that the fingerprinting process was about evidence gathering, which today you might easily call data journalism, proved a powerful elixir. 

Another aphorism, “Data persuades but storytelling inspires”. Who are we? And how do 23 pairs of chromosomes in 4-base pairs of DNA frame us? My parents come from Ghana, where I spent 8 years of my teens. I grew up being looked after by foster parents, who wanted to adopt me. My late grandmother is German, arriving with her father to Mina (Elmina) as settlers from Europe’s slave trade. I met her once — a slight woman, who spoke little English. And my dad was a fierce Ashanti. 

Questions like these set purpose in life’s petri dish. Over the years many extraordinary things have happened influenced by events of the past. Remember that saying journalism is too important… and that data persuades... In 2005, jaded by mainstream media’s narrative and having learnt action scripting in Flash and HTML/CSS I built a website which would win one of the US’s major prizes for innovation in journalism. viewmagazine.tv — David’s award winning website 

Some years later storytelling, culture, history, behaviour, economics, journalism and tech would fold up into a PhD. Stories inspire… but how do they do that? a kaleidoscope of styles and form were stripped and rebuilt. I would call the process and practice cinema journalism, paying homage to the Cinéma vérit/ Direct Cinema pioneers of the 1960s, such as Robert Drew, whom I would get to speak to. A film I made with this approach would net an international award. 

Cinema is a cultural construct influenced by literary and social issues. Author Jerome Silbergeld writing about chinese contemporary cinema says it’s: rested not on a simple aesthetic of good looks but rather on the ability of such works to communicate deeply and richly to create and effectively interrelate image and text to engage subject and context to artistically and convincingly raise complex social and philosophical issues. 

A film like Chen Kaige’s 1984 Yellow Earth may not be the commercial cup of tea for an Indian audiences, just as G. P. Sippy Sholay (which I saw more than 30 years ago) would be for US audiences. Or Med Hondo’s Soleil O could be at odds to mass British audiences. It tangentially brings to modern life James Walvin’s Black Ivory — history of Slavery. And amongst US audiences Charles Burnett’s Killer of Sheep is replete with cultural symbolism, you could easily miss. Somewhere in the engineering feat of television news journalism, nuances and culture are more often than not jettisoned. 

Factual Cinema is the original moving image form towards storytelling and its collocation with journalism or documentary provides huge potential to see blind spots in problem solving. Problem solving is key here. What’s more cinema journalism practitioners, I have come to know, operate much like their fictional counterparts. 

In storytelling everything and anything is deployed to articulate meaning within the frame and the story at large. For instance, that drone shot for that establisher, data display as in The Big Short, or The Kingdom’s opening to relay facts, mobile phones if you’re searching for a certain intimacy, powerful photography embracing cinematographer and design principles for the mise en scène and the unfolding narrative. And the approach? You may have recognised the science procedures earlier and its identical framework to design thinking, which has become de rigeur in hackathons and design approaches. 

As an expression of the science/ DNA influence on me, a couple of years ago, working with a team I headed back into the lab, a storytelling one where, just like like digital start ups, agility, fluidity, entrepreneurial and creative skills is the emphasis. is the norm with an onus on . Learning to understand failure and reframe questions (see no. 4 above) is all part of the mix. 

Failure isn’t a necessary evil. In fact, it isn’t evil at all. It is a necessary consequence of doing something new // if you’re not experiencing failure, then you are making a far worse mistake: You are being driven by the desire to avoid it, says Ed Catmull, President of Pixar. 

The extension of the LAB approach places an emphasis on enterprise, working collaboratively with industry, third parties and competing commercially. It’s Science meets Art meets storytelling. And from it we can provide in-depth research to practical and creative ideas on in problem solving within society. Heavens knows we face a few, but if you’re a co-creator or collaborator, I would love to hear from you. All because of that single strand of DNA.

Saturday, February 16, 2019

The Netflix of television journalism how it lived, failed and its ideas live on.Pt III




The frenzy during its launch both excited and terrified the media. A bunch of twenty somethings were about to be unleashed and they possessed something of the dark arts of television.
They could do just about everything that needed done by specialist in news gathering. Today, no question they would be data genies, SM specialists and television-journo-scientists.
It wasn’t about what journalism was as whatever they required outside of it to give it a boost, both in the storytelling and blurring the lines of disciplines.
Backed by tens of millions of pounds and one of the UK’s most respected media moguls, Sir David English, who adopted a hands off approach, every mogul from around the world worth their salt would visit the station to see them, and the equipment at work.
Before YouTube was conceptualised, the station ran a programing schedule controlled from a PC which automatically cued the news like a Juke box. IThey were also the first in Europe to transmit live on the web.
This is the story, you’ve never heard. It’s not alone, as you may be able to recount innovations you know of that should be heard, but this is one of them — Innovation at its zeitgeist. And how the idea lived, died with the closure of the station, and its legacy lives on. That legacy has a currency for television today and the role universities could play.
I’m David. I was one of the group (2nd row, 1st left picture) — chosen with thirty journalists from three thousand candidates. Before that I worked on one of the BBC’s most innovative current affairs programmes, BBC Reportage,in Apartheid South Africa eventually reporting Mandela’s inauguration and then working for Channel 4 News and Jon Snow.
In 2005 I became the first Brit to win the coveted Knight Batten Award for Innovation in Journalism, and have lectured (as a visiting professor) and taught innovation around the world e.g. Russia, China, and Africa and presented at places like Apple.
In my last post, I spoke about how television journalism generally rarely led in innovations in tech, which was exploited outside. It was very good at adapting external ideas — from cameras, studio settings, satellite transmissions and latterly in online and its use of video players alongside social media. These usually occurred after lengthy considerations. Yet in 1994 — a group of executives stuck their neck out and did something.
Unlike any other news outlet in British television you can mention today, out of the stations thirty journalists, those from Black, Asian or ethnic backgrounds, or that were women was above the average of any mainstream outfit then and today. The stories came from their communities and viewers. It wasn’t uncommon to be walking down the road and have a van driver shout “Oya Channel One”.
They innovated within the story, the way they told the story, and the range the range of stories. Its journalists abandoned the industry’s style by mixing up genres to cinema — the very thing 40 years ago that was abandoned ( see Pt II).
Dimitri Doganis (2nd back row, 2nd from right above photo) was one of the youngest journalists. Today, he’s an Oscar nominated, BAFTA winning filmmaker who founded RAW TV and talks about innovation at Channel One.

I reserve the greatest sense of innovation for the fact this little known outfit Channel One pioneered videojournalism, selfies, multiple storytelling and reality programming.
A decade later that experience and craft skill would lead to me winning the Knight Batten Award for Innovation in Journalism, International Videojournalism Award and other labels.
Many of the gang of thirty continue to make an impact on the industry in one shape or another: Marcel Theroux (back row, 3rd right) makes exemplary documentaries (as does his brother Louis); Rav Vadgama @TVRav ( not in the picture) is the videojournalist/ cameraman/ producer/ director who brings stories with correspondents to Good Morning Britain, Sacha Van Straten @svanstraten to my right is doing amazing things in technology with education, and Rachel Ellison (front row, Left kneeling) is an MBE, having worked in Afghanistan.

That experience combined with my background too as an Applied Chemist, a passion for art (I was an artist in residence at the London Southbank Centre) and deep interest in culture and politics, led to the creation of a media lab, where we (students myself and colleagues) could interrogate media in ways it rarely does.
Generally making sense of media in education and media largely revolves around cognitivism and semiotics — a culturalised system. One is about common sense, the other learned values. But it’s missing something that we introduced into the lab. An insight into what’s happening in our brain during storytelling.
How do words and images shape our behaviour at a cellular level and why are teenagers less interested in say news? Combining cognitivism, behavioural theory, parts of neuroscience, entrepreneurialism and psychology, we enter a new approach to media and one that I believe every training and teaching centre should adopt, and how educating the public could insulate them from “dead cats and squirrels” and spin.
Did you know that even before social media arrived, youngsters would feel restless or watch television for hours, whilst doing their homework, and that as a parent you’d tell them umpeenth times about making up their room?
Generally their lack of interest to character driven films above plots is also a symptom. In her book Inventing Ourselves Professor Sarah-Jayne Blakemore provides some answers. New knowledge in neuroscience shows the prefrontal cortex — the front part of the brain where decision and executive functions take place is still growing — up until around 25 years.
Professor Paul J. Zak’s work includes hacking Oxytocin — a hormone associated with social bonding. He’s been working to understand how stories motivate and says:
...by developing tension during the narrative. If the story is able to create that tension then it is likely that attentive viewers/listeners will come to share the emotions of the characters in it, and after it ends, likely to continue mimicking the feelings and behaviors of those characters.
Whilst a paper I delivered on Memory which included talking to a former colleague of mine Professor Catherine Loveday narrative she says:
A news story is a shorter piece of information. It may be something that doesn’t engage you as much and so you don’t pay too much attention to it. More importantly it hasn’t necessarily got a narrative that runs through it. So you don’t invest in the story psychologically or immerse yourself the same way you would a film in which you’re relating to the characters integrating it with your own knowledge base and experience.
It’s perhaps early days for factual storytellers and news, but fictional storytellers have been aware of the psychology and neuroscience for a while. Perhaps it’s about time all journalism students should as well.
You can read here part I and II



Author Dr David Dunkley Gyimah is a winner of the Knight Batten Award for Innovation in Journalism, and National Union of Students Teaching Award. He’s a former BBC Newsnight, Channel 4 News and BBC World Service Journalist, whose work is featured in several academic books

Thursday, August 16, 2018

Mobile Journalism Futurism. Where do we go from here?

It absolutely blew them away. As the man who would be President of the United States of America made his way through a throng of people towards the stage, mainstream media (MSM) faced a searing problem they did not know.
They waited outside, cameras fixed to their tripod, but when John F. Kennedy started to walk through his adulators no one could follow him, except one person. Albert Maysles. Maysles was part of the new Cinéma vérité band of brothers, who were revolutionising filmmaking and what it meant to be mobile, swift, immersive, intimate and creative.  
Whatever you read about in mobile phone storytelling today can’t be told without these guys, and whatever you think you’re doing new in film making language in mobile, forget it, it’s already been done. Countless filmmakers like Ridley Scott were influenced by, particularly, Robert Drew, the father of Cinéma vérité.
Problem is we have short memories. The 60s might as well be a time tunnel, and even when we do know, we choose intentionally to ignore, otherwise we can’t make that claim of being the first, in say mobile, or immersive, or intimate journalism.
Robert Drew, his camera friend Albert Maysles, D.A Pennebaker and Robert Leacock changed the world in the 1960s. There’s a fine BBC film which backs this up too. I’m a philosopher, journalist, entrepreneur and educator and whilst undertaking my doctorate exploring the history, cognitivism and psychology of film through journalism, cinema, photography and video, I made it my point to track down these 60s heroes and try and understand through a new lens of multimedia, mobile and videojournalism what we might be missing today, and how we might benefit from their deep wisdom.
At the point that Maysles speaking at the Sheffield doc festival held his camera aloft, snugly tucking himself into Kennedy’s slip stream, in one unbroken 20 plus second shot, he nails it (see video below).
Soon after, in a hall of cheering fans, the shot fixates on the next @fotus’ hands fidgeting. Perfect. How could anyone wish for anything more? The explicit and the allegorical diametrically morphed into one sequence.
Like a 12-pound new born baby, mobile journalism had arrived with aplomb.
This is Primary (1960) and this is my interview with Robert Drew, which I played at Apple store in London. Primary is part of the National Film Registry in the Library of Congress.

History can’t be erased. ‘Mobile’, ‘intimate’, ‘immersive’, ‘cinematic’ — scratch the surface of film knowledge and authors such as: P.J. O’Connell, Peter Wintonick, Jill Drew, and Brian Winston lay out the case. We’ve been here before. ‘I don’t think much has changed since the 1960s in styles say Professor Winston, an Emmy winner and prodigious author of books. ‘…but I could be wrong’, he adds hesitantly.
Recently in a room of avid filmmakers wanting to learn the art of 21st century journalism on a mobile, we put on an experiment and hands-on practice to test various recently claimed theories. I show the delegates a 2 min of six videos and ask if they could categorically pick out the films that were shot on mobile. I’ve listed the videos and links at the end of this post.
Some get one or two, but the consensus is a degree of uncertainty. Thus far, I make the assumption, there is no universal or general lingua franca that the mobile phone, as a convenient camera, has spawned. However, there are pockets of cleverness, born of the use of using a small camera, which distinctly shows up. In a granular deconstruction of Philip Bromwell’s film by delegates, one picks out the coffee bean shot at 1.23. Bromwell places his camera in a pot, with Elvis, his subject, pouring coffee beans on top. Few cameras e.g. Go Pro Sony W800, could capture the same aesthetic.
They also pick out an aesthetic quality. Bromwell’s use of what in the business is known as extreme close up. In 1928 Carl Theodor Dreyer’ s Joan of Arcpublicly got there first. But perhaps by using the wide shot sparingly and more close ups we could be moving into a new framing ontology. And for trainers swearing by the mobile phone’s exclusive intimacy. Er, caution! In Salesman, a hard hitting seminal doc about Bible salesman in the US, by David and Albery Maysles there are several scenes that will have you likely describe as intimate. As the late Roger Ebert expressed:
The newer technology dovetailed with Direct Cinema’s philosophy of caring more about intimacy and immediacy than classical storytelling and slickness.
The verdict? Mobile phone journalism today as a movement that attempts to furrow an indelible stylistic path, different from predecessors, is still wide open — still in its infancy. In Moscow, working alongside Oksana, the Lynda.com of the region, she uses her mobile attached to a selfie stick to invade personal spaces, where the presence of the filmmaker would make things awkward. The camera is thrown around as the selfie stick gives rise to a crane-like effect.
How an innocent small piece of tech could perform near the thresh hold of a professional cameras put us all in awe — all of which make today’s mobile journalism a viable, low cost option to filmmaking. That is its USP. Editing, post production, sharing to social media is something Robert Drew and friends could not do. There’s an economic imperative, but it mustn’t be confused with an excellence in film language. There is a reason why given a larger budget award winning mobile filmmakers opt for different equipment like the Arri or Red.
All this is not to say journalism using a mobile phone has had little to offer. What has been marvellous has been its equivalence — it‘s ’like having an army swiss knife to crack open a high security building. The true frontier often ignored is the skill set of the trainer or journalist. It’s a philosophy of filmmaking that enables one of the world’s most respected filmmakers Steven Soderbergh to produce a film on mobile called Unsane.
And here what we should be studying above all in reaching new audiences is narratives which get to the psyche of audiences. This ladies and gentlemen is Cinema and if you’re interested I invite you to read this article, The Information Illusion, I posted not long ago.
These films below, for a university, hotel and a corporate event in Jaipur were shot on mobiles.


Shot on mobile below