Tuesday, January 03, 2017

Designing your future in 2017 plus








The future isn’t what it used to be. It lives in the minds of dreamers, idealists, and artists who see its long shadows. We only bear witness once a moment in time has decomposed, when our minds play an affirmative truism game. It was always meant to be, we end up saying. Coincidence takes on the veneer of determinism. Can we tell what we’ll be saying a year from now?
As 2017 rolls out its carpet we walk its path. In ‘The future isn’t what it used to be’, a speech delivered by Steve Jobs at a 1983 design conference, Apple’s co-founder extolled simplicity. Our approach, he said in Walter Isaacson’s profile: Steve Jobs: The Exclusive Biography will be:
Very Simple, and we’re really shooting for Museum of Modern Art quality. The way we’re running the company, the product design, the advertising, it all comes down to this: Let’s make it simple.
Job’s concept of the modern world was lifted from his fascination with Bauhaus, a design philosophy originating in 1920s Germany that affected architecture, furniture, craftsmanship, art and society.

New York, overlooking UN

It was a ‘thoroughgoing romantic yearning for unity and harmony in autonomous shared work’, which was ‘dedicated to art and faith’. ‘Less is More’, ‘form follows function’ and ‘God is in the detail’, said its scions Walter Gropius and Ludwig Mies van de Rohe.

Though this aesthetic has spearheaded Apple, invigorating its many disciples; in 1999 I travelled purposefully to the US to buy my first powerbook then boarded the next plane home, 2017 could hardly be more pressing for an upgrade of, among others, Bauhaus’ principles.

Those other movements, speaking at Apple store London, include Impressionism, a faithful attempt at the recalibration of then 19th century rule-governed reality. The most powerful controllers of content, the French Academy who were the MSMs of their day designed what audience could see. Paintings needed to be life-like in form, empowering VIPs, and on message. Then these proto — Star War’s rebellions (impressionists) came along. A radically different presentation of truth and realism would gradually ( Impressionists were ridiculed and ostracised first) too hold of society.

Bauhaus, like Impressionism, less a movement, more way of life, is prone to a characterisation of the application of clean lines and haptic functionality, and art that captures fleeting light and small gestures, respectively.

But Bauhaus original was a reaction to political and economic elitism, militarism that had absorbed art and craft for industrialisation (WWI), and the iniquities of demagogue elected officials. ‘Form follows function’ and ‘less is more’, are invariably wield out by experts as universal truths, but they were reactions to what Bauhaus aficionados saw as unpalatable ostentatious, elitist practices at that time.

Design assumes an approach to fulfil a motive, to create solutions and invariably ask questions. I like to talk about designing news, documentaries, mobile and cinema journalism in the vein of impressionism, or a Bauhausian way. These aren’t fixed aesthetics, but a reaction to the status quo, yet enveloping recognisable design principles. 


It sound absurd, but the production of these forms involve design processes, in which innovative artists open themselves to lifting ideas from one discipline to another. Impressionism emerged from Japanese Woodblock painting.

Dr David Dunkley Gyimah speaking at Apple Store, London

If Bauhaus inception sounds like 2017, French poet and essayist Paul Valéry’s 1937 essay recycles the future, with his, the future isn’t what it used to be, stating:
The future, like everything else, is no longer quite what it used to be. … We used to consider the unknown future as a simple combination of already known things, and the new was analyzed according to its unoriginal elements. But that is ended. …[T]he rules of the game are changed at every throw. No calculation of probabilities is possible. … Why? Because the … modern world is assuming the shape of man’s mind. Man has sought in nature all the means and powers that are necessary to make the things around him as unstable, volatile, and mobile as himself, as admirable, as absurd, as disconcerting and prodigious as his own mind. … If … we imprint the form of our mind on the human world, the world becomes all the more unforeseeable and assumes the mind’s [own] disorder.
Art and Innovation in some context then becomes that which happens when history comes around again, and affected generations have no memory of its original presence. It thus masquerades as original. Within innovation, new invention is what gives that reality a new spike.
In 2017, as MSM continue to talk to their own, recycling Fake News debates, helming information that control the status quo or rubbish Social Media, politics and economics once again come full circle.

It’s the 1920s again. History tells the future, art and innovation is ripe for its next revolution. What will be saying in 2018?


Dr David Dunkley Gyimah from the Digital and Interactive Storytelling LAB, at the University of Westminster, will be speaking at the DroneHack. His postdoctoral research work explores language and structure around ‘journalistic’ content, and how innovation is used to propel,enhance, and sometimes obfuscate meaning. He is behind the Cinema Journalism movement — a group of video journalist who are platform agnostic absorbing tech to create factual cinema. (see 2 minute promo below)



Saturday, December 03, 2016

Rewiring story telling - `journalism's Minority Report



Hello! We’ve not met. I hope we can after this. Because what I have to say works better in person. I’ve met a fair few people on my journey in the media, including some tech giants like Apple who wrote this flattering article about my work a decade ago when we were trying to figure out multimedia.



Then I spent six intense years completing a doctorate (PhD) — a global analysis that took me around the world, examining story form, people and identifying an emergent group of award-winning newsmakers. 

What it is, I asked, that draws our attention in stories? How do these award-winning newsmakers go about producing their work, and why are we drawn to them? What was the strategy behind their craft? And what influence did tech play in their work? 

These were just some of the questions in which I searched for answers. Madly, I video documented the journey, as well as producing a range of short films. 

I used multiple approaches:
  • Deep interviews with experts (100 +).
  • Tracking down and evaluating the work of the UK’s first videojournalists in the 1990s. [You can see a clip of the film I made on them here.]
  • Deep interviews from tracking down 14 of the world’s new generation of newsmakers — known for their world expertise in something called videojournalism ( which might be different from what you know). They’re global award winners.
  • Putting myself for scrutiny on the basis I’d won international awards and have been practising videojournalism over 23-years. Some of the experts who critiqued me were Mark Cousins, a critic, award-winning filmmaker and author the very popular, The Story of Film.
  • And then a diachronic examination of film, art, video and photography and memory studies.


Those travels included: China, Cairo, the Turkey-Syrian border, Lebanon, India, Chicago, South Africa etc. And before then working with people like Lennox Lewis as his filmmaker fighting Tyson, Danny Glover in South Africa, filming Moby in France, and diving to examine WWI ships in Gallipoli for the BBC World Service. Each one of them yielded their own fascinating stories.
What I found out was both exciting and alarming.
Scene 1
Take this structure below. You’ve seen this before. In fact many times. You’re so familiar with it that you pay it no critical attention. Every news outlet is shaped around this, with variations. It is the universal model for news story form. The problem is millennials are non-plussed by it. Actually so was Generation X, from 1994 onwards in UK studies.
This is how it manifests itself on screen from one of my reports for ITV News.
 

Broadcast journalism outfits around the world use this formula, but why? To understand this, we need to go back to the time when the ‘news package’ as it’s called was conceived
The BreakThrough
When ITV, NBC and CBS refined the news package in the 1960s, it was a brilliant piece of story form engineering. But it came with conditions. It had to be short around 2 mins. News execs were terrified people would switch off. It had to revolve around a reporter. And, it would be framed by execs’ fab four framework: objectivity, impartial, balance and fairness.
But then in the liberating 60s new ideas arrived and pioneers such as Robert Drew, whose film Primary(1960) was picked by the Library of Congress for preservation at the United States National Film Registry because of its cultural, historical and aesthetic significance.

Drew argued for different ways of news making, but the networks took little notice. They took my equipment he would say in this interview below, but not my ideas.
 Long story short. Execs loved the news package, and so did the public for a while but as generations became more tele-literate, they sought something else. Problem is, TV didn’t and hasn’t been able to find an alternative. Before NBC broke the glass ceiling appointing its first President of News Deborah Turness, I spoke to Turness about the news package. Her answer — she’s trying to find the holy grail — the next story form.
 Around the world, the original fab four framework and the lattice of the package has become so porous from sustained assaults by public relation firms, businesses and politicians that you could drive a Boeing 747 through its idea of integrity. In fact if I were devising a new journalism course for the 21st century, I’d teach how the mind works from psychoanalysis and cultural anthropology.
News makers haven’t helped themselves either. Take false equivalence as an example. Television news will interview 99 people who will tell you climate change is real, but if one person says it isn’t, exec feels compelled to give equal weighting to both views on air — shooting to bits the idea of fairness and impartiality.
The Last Leg
On the border of Syria, one of my last assignments, the data and patterns confirmed something, that whilst tech e.g. Snapchat, Facebook Vine etc. any social media seemingly frames new behaviours, the way we think, how our visual cortex works, how memory shapes us, is based around age-old philosophies, and aesthetics far more than were made to believe. I posted a trailer of that assignment yesterday to a warm response.
 


Where we are now

Unlike the sciences where new findings are eliminative, journalism is palimpsestic — it’s a strength and a weakness. Largely, given the costs and resources that goes into traditional journalism, rather than radically changing, it retains behaviours and workflows — some of which turn viewers off. And as a legacy this may well continue. We also have a problem explaining journalism as if it’s a unitary form, which I address here. [ And #Epicfail in Journalism and ways to fix it].
And what of all the new areas of journalism, such as Data, Drone, Mobile, Social? There are an amazing array of articles and authors that cover these a in illuminating ways. Paul Bradshaw @paulbradsha on data, Glen Mulcahy @GlenBMulcahy for Mobile, and Sue Llewellyn @suellewellyn on Social.
However, my focus while respectful of sci-tech (I’m a maths/chem grad) mines areas we tend to ignore, cognitivism and meaning making.
 Hence, whilst video below is made on a mobile phone, for a £500K project, it’s not the mobile that excites me, but our ingrained, as well as changing perception to aesthetics to stories, news, docs and otherwise.

Not the end
Dr David Dunkley Gyimah has been a journalist for more than 25 years working for some of the biggest brands in journalism e.g. Newsnight, Channel 4 News. He is the recipient of a number of international awards including the (US) Knight Batten for Innovation in Journalism. He currently leads the Digital Interactive Story LAB at the University of Westminster and is a juror for the Royal Television Society Awards. You can contact David ( ff @viewmagazine)at David@viewmagazine.tv or through his site www.viewmagazine.tv
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Sunday, November 27, 2016

An #EpicFail in Journalism and what ways can we fix it.



In  2005 I won one of the US’ most coveted prizes for innovation in journalism, The Knight Batten Award, deeply respected by American J-schools and established international newspapers and broadcasters alike. A year later it was followed by the International Videojournalism Award — the Emmys for one-man bands.
 To say I was a nobody is not to denigrate myself but to say I did not have any special privileges, contacts or circumstances that I could depend upon. My parents, Ghanaians, worked in various factories when we lived in the UK. I’m British and in my teens was sent back to school in Ghana. Challenging!
With the Batten Awards I was that proverbial one man and his dog, except I didn’t own a canine. I did however work tirelessly for months to perfect an idea. How could I get my content and those of my exemplars on the Net in ways that it could be enjoyed in different ways?
I’d built my first web site in 1998 but websites at that time were turgid to say the least. A magazine, rather than a blog, was the answer. I read glossies like US GQ growing up in Ghana and admired their layout, articles and striking photos. But in the Net age, I had a larger ambition, videos would be the killer app.
The rub? YouTube had not yet been born, so relying on software called Flash and mark up language in HTML/CSS, I conceived a site, viewmagazine.tv
The video stories had to be exceptional, I told myself. Again, the one-man band ethos would be my blanket. Video production cost was a small fortune then as the industry believed in a division of labour: directors, camera operators, producers and the rest to make a video.
A waste of resources, I thought. Moreover, I’d been schooled in the art of videojournalism ( a misunderstood term) in the 90s. That would do. It did and the judges quote attest to this.
But, here’s what’s bothering me today the day after the biggest shock to US politics in a while. Across America, and several territories, the question is being asked about journalism’s epic failure in not seeing the greatest presidential upset ever, Trump’s victory.
The same question was asked in the UK with #Brexit. Journalism and the pollsters did not see it coming. So what seems to be the problem? In the meantime, a short detour in journalism’s other failings in context.
History forgotten
Trump’s shock win as the only tremor in political history deserves context. In 1948, the election of America’s 41st president Harry Truman was truly seismic. Truman was not supposed to win against the populist Republican Thomas Dewey.
At 5.6 ft, Truman had what critics referred to as a small-size man complex. His negotiating style was testy. On a number of occasions on foreign policy negotiations he threatened to drop the big one (nukes) on his adversaries. He did on Japan.
Astutely connecting to rural communities akin to today’s Trump play, Truman was in contrast to Trump a feisty liberal who supported African American rights.
However, three year’s earlier in one of the biggest u-turns in the Democrats, the party dropped a liberal and widely-loved politician by grass root members called Henry Wallace to make Truman President Roosevelt’s running mate.
Yesterday, history was reclaiming its clothes. The democrats machinery coming into sharp focus with shades of “Bernie would have won this”. But at least it was the Democrats then that triumphed.
#EpicFail
As a journalist and more so a social scientist there are many reasons you could attribute to the failure of traditional media.
  • Treating Trump as entertainment.
  • Journalists being misdirected and as such concentrating on values that were about character, rather than issues relating to jobs and the economy.
  • Print journalism has been in decline and so it was inevitable that journalists couldn’t cover wider issues in depth.
  • Data analyst and pollsters got it wrong. If you’re an ethnographer, you’ll have lots to say here. I have a double whammy, I grew up on data completing a degree in Chemistry and Mathematics.
Rachel Oldroyd from the Bureau of Investigation poignantly covers a number of reasons in an expansive article. This morning, as I was writing this post listening to BBC radio’s Today programme, one of the UK’s most respected journalists Harry Evans captured piquantly what I too believe.Journalists needed to connect with people in the rural heartlands, they needed to physically speak to the disenfranchised, rather than the politicos.
Here’s my take which in my framing focuses on broader thoughts. I’m certain you’ll have your own that encompass a spectrum of ideas from the FBI, DNC, PR driven news, to deeper diversity than discussed here. (Please see comments for the deep feedback writers have made).
I believe one of the reasons I won the Knight Batten was because of the diversity of stories I covered and that the source of those came from someone who knew their constituents whom are rarely seen or heard.
When was the last time you saw Billy Joe in a studio, or expressing his thoughts beyond the 10 second soundbite?
In reading into this, I’m not saying journalism failed because it did not hire more black journalists. Trump supporters, it’s becoming clear, spanned different ages, incomes and demographics. What I am saying is that journalists who come from, have resided in, demonstrated an empathy for, or understanding of people of diverse background are invaluable.
J.D. Vance, author of the New York Times best seller Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis exemplifies this too. Vance, white, grew up poor in a rust belt. Through unimaginable struggles he made it as a Marine and then Yale to study law but as his book demonstrates Vance understands the blue collar and dust bowl environment he grew up in.
Diversity is often seen as a nod or wink to a growing chorus of liberals demanding change because of inequalities. In the 90s, in a bid to become a reporter you were made to feel broadcasters were doing you a favour. To paraphrase the hit comedy Little Britain, you were the only black in the parish. I speak from experience.
In 2000, diversity garnered attention as overtly political with the perception change was PC and needed to be resisted, to some too it had developed into a industry (ceo + friends) to exploit.
Then, strategic reasons in a multitude of professions emerged. When I interviewed a former head of the CIA, James Woolsey, he was matter of fact about it. In essence, he said, we need people of diverse backgrounds (anything you could think of) to work, infiltrate the networks that we anglo-saxon protestants can’t.

In many fields of work change is still gradual but in journalism, and education, specifically university tenures, it’s snail pace. These two industries which I know well, and I acknowledge there are others, are still generally perceived as the preserve of a liberal elite class.
There are signs of encouragement. In Leicester, Channel 4’s Head of News Dorothy Byrne launched a Channel 4 News investigative 1-year Masters programme. Byrne chose Leicester because of its diversity and has been a champion of change for many years. At Westminster, we’ve demonstrated various strategies e.g. Fiona McDiarmid Fund. But across many universities and journalism organisations too little is being done.
Within journalism storytelling, diversity of people and views makes a difference. Here, whilst I’m focusing on an aspect, it doesn’t negate the wider understanding of diversity. I can tell you stories of palpable concerns driving in a hired sports car, wired for video and sound as we tested police stop and search laws, or reporting from the borders of Syria where the need to blend in was crucial.
When I once interviewed one of South Africa’s most infamous state assassins (below), there was a sense that me, who I am as a black man, British, and at the time freelancing for the BBC, generated the most extraordinary answers.
British viewers might recall the uncomfortable but compelling viewing when black journalist Trevor Phillips interviewed Norman Tebbit, asking whether the Conservative MP would mind if he, a son of immigrants, lived next door to Tebbit.
We may learn to do all these things tech, but how we think and who you are matters in the interpretation of events. I demonstrate this in my lectures between the Anglo-saxon’s view of the past and the Chinese and African’s relationship with time. Myth, culture and non-verbal language underpin social semiotics.
To my journalism students as I unpack philosophers Descartes, Berkley, Hume and Kant, I remind them that there’s a lot in the craft of journalism I’ll share but that their existential self (who they are) frames how they’ll interpret events and the world.
Our cognitive process and memories shape us. They provide us with a framework and recognition of what it feels to be us. And if inclusivity is truly a matrix for democracy, then I trust my MA students get more than an understanding of journalism through my hybrid western upbringing. Here’s a short vid of them after a coding course and me taking them to Google.
 As a story teller I fleetingly move from one spectrum of my identity to the other side of my acquired persona through my upbringing. Personality ( a usb stick of memory, environment, thought, dreams) matters as one my attendants at a videojournalism conference in Egypt recognised.
It’s not enough too to wear the notion of diversity on your arm — a believer when your own staff are bereft of diverse backgrounds. Last year, the Royal Television Society’s judging committee made a strong affirmant to this in appointing more diverse jurors to their panels.
Trump and Brexit’s presence demands the need for a greater understanding of people who feel forgotten, white and black. It urges those in power to also challenge crass perceptions. When British blacks are asked to go back home - post #Brexit, it is ignorance of a cataclysmically scale from the journalism class to cite Windrush in 1960s as the index for black’s longstanding presence in the UK, when Black people have had a large presence in the UK since the 1600s.
The lesson for journalism is to move out of a developing recycled era of air-conditioned journalism where copy has never tasted the dry speckled air and where ethnographic writers are met by the forcefulness of raw dialect and ideas. Hint: if you’re in J-school and you haven’t spent an evening in a village talking to strangers demand you do.
We must seek to eliminate parachute journalism, where scribes busk out on local knowledge and fail to understand the very people, from different walks of life, they’re reporting on. If anything, journalism could learn a thing or two from critical methodologies deployed in PhD practises in which ethnographer’s mine qualitative data and unveil patterns of rich, meaningful, nuanced contextual text.
As I look to my colleagues launching the Digital Interactive Storytelling LAB at the University of Westminster, a fresh way of sharing and interacting with students in storytelling, it’s my hope I can play a part in addressing how journalism could benefit from the wide experience of diversity.
There’s nothing inordinately mysterious about journalism, as Citizen Journalists would reveal. In all walks of life there’s a spectrum of the brilliant and poor, of good and bad writers but journalism sees itself as privileged when what truly matters is you and the difference you bring to reportage. Your identity shaped by memory, upbringing, knowledge and diversity greatly impact your interpretation of events and for the audience.
FF me on Twitter @viewmagazine for similar stories.