Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Westworld’s future sees beyond VR and 360 — a lesson for journalism

Artists have a way of reading the future. Da Vinci on air travel, Poet William Blake prefiguring Einstein’s space-time continuum. Here, a set of uber Hollywood moguls side step our current fixation for VR and 360 degree films for the future’s heir.
The future isn’t virtual, it’s real — in a way that our senses deal with objects in this perspectival ecosystem. No goggles, no perceived hyper-real. No, the future is advanced AI animatronic kinaesthetically programmed to be cognisant of their surroundings to please their guests.
This isn’t a new idea. J.J Abrams, and husband and wife team Lisa Joy and Jonathan Nolan (brother of Inception creator Chris Nolan) have rebooted a franchise. The original #Westworld was directed by sci-fi exemplar Michael Crichton in 1973 staring a moody Yul Brynner.
Its theme, as now, re-presents wealthy guests paying to be immersed in a world contrived along the lines of Jason and the Argonauts(1963), where human engineers play gods looking down on their creations and tourists indulge themselves by sleeping with prostitutes and murdering the hosts — human’s greatest flaw and fantasised pleasure become the ultimate theme parks offerings.
Technology to foresee the future infects many of us. Jules Verne may be ordained as conceiving science fi-action but you only need to look at 14th Century Dante’s inferno to realise the artists’ mind at work back then, and further back still with homo sapien’s opus dei of all technologies, the alphabet.
Westworld trades of another asset, the greatest underrated technology of them all, memories. By its repetitive return to the origins of a scene, we witness our own freudian expositions. That moment in your sleep when you keep returning to the same location, again, and again, and again. This phenomenological experience is one of the least understood, but one of the most explosive.
Everything we do is instantiated by memory. Even knowledge must play second fiddle. Without memory you are a tabula rasa. Memory shapes our being, whether direct or prosthetic (derived from television). The artist through intuition, a break in conventional knowns, is able to hot wire their synaptic pathways to glimpse worlds beyond what could have been recollected.
The future is often always skewed. In Westworld, as with Star Trek, black people are a deficit in mnemonics. The future sees them still as an under represented people — that is a shame even if Tandie Newton’s character is impressive.
Slide into Netflix and Sense8 is truly global and feasts on diversity and multiculturism. Each diverse character brings inordinate strengths, some physical as Van Damme (a black guy) often harnesses the power of his Chinese martial arts sense 8.
Journalism’s obsession
Author playing with drones and the concept of simulation theory
The future fascinates journalism, or should I say its new scions. It’s as if journalism is missing a spare unknown limb or that Einstein’s 4th dimension has finally awoken the journalism fraternity and they’re on the hunt for it.
I’ve been involved in that excursion but am cautious, paradoxically that as a technologist the future of journalism is so bound by hardware that race and culture appear benign at best, inconsequential at worst but that’s exactly where we should be focusing our efforts.
‘What will help journalism?’ is a perennial mantra. However, we can’t bare to remove ourselves from the idea that a traditional way of seeing the world is in decay. You may disagree with movements such as #Blacklivesmatter but the lens in which they see the world has long been ignored. Isn’t one of journalism’s feats to understand and explain?
Journalism, a construct, has 300 years plus form, and in those years has changed, sometimes imperceptibly, sometimes with great strides. Yet often we forget that one of its main tributaries, news, is conceptual. Yes that’s right unlike the square root of four, which is fixed, news isn’t.
Events occur, which we deign as news and then detach a group of professionals equipped with 20th century thinking processes to make sense of the world. We equip them with a skill set and tools, but rarely do we explore ourselves — the Descartian ‘I’.
In Westworld’s conceived realities, if they ever introduced a reporter into the plot their metrics would be made visible on the screen — a matter of public record. Who you vote for, your upbringing, your likes likes and dislikes are forged by mnemonics. You’ve never taken an interest to report on some issues because they’re not integral to your memory system to make you care about them.
What’s made journalism so removed from the everyday is the many practitioners don’t reside in the everyday of others.
This thing called journalism seeks to construct a compressed delineation of events over space and time into 2.20 seconds. It has been brilliant. When CBS and NBC conceived of its form, followed by the BBC, it would upend documentary. Now, there was a way of telling people ‘summaries’.
Its brilliance was also its predictability. This is where Westworld’s engineers trip up in the series. Everything appears right at a time and place until society moves on, or glitches become malfunctions. In Westworld bad things are about to happen. In real world they already have time and time again, with the construct attempting sate our appetite for human endeavour but offering quite often little intrinsic insight into problem-solving.
Art, architecture, design, medicine, engineering have all sought alternative addresses towards comprehending a world that evolves, driven by the white heat of technology. Mainstream video journalism, even with its technology remains epistemologically rooted in its traditions. You’re inclined to think, Journalism, the art of understanding the world is far too important to be left to traditional journalism. We have been made to view one reality.
No one has a claim on the our perceptions, yet in the 1990s when 29 young journalists and I picked up a camera and were told to go and shoot news, without the support of a producer, reporter or director, we bored into journalism’s construct to find its inadequacies.
We found that, not all events command the same formula. We found out that because that formula was well known, PR and liars had a way of goading journalists, of forcing their hands to adopt their points of view. Whatever journalism’s ideals were, it became enslaved to the dark forces. Journalism’s reboot may require technology but it is also a philosophical calibration.
Cut to ten years later and that innovation makes more sense now than it did back then. What was creative then has purpose now. Journalism, the art of attempting to represent events that invariably have happened, got its reboot but from an unlikely source — the impressionists and expressionists.
If the impressionists want to bring you their interpretation of the world as seen through their critical eye, the expressionists also discarded the conventions fixed by grey men, in order to shock our senses. Journalism, to a group of videojournalists, became a substrate and a canvas for its audience to see events that needed to be memorable and expressive while they unpicked the thread of a forced realism of causality.
Just because that event happens doesn’t automatically mean that one over there is affected. We humans tie them together to form our narrative. Back in the 1940s, with all due respect to that generation, broadcasters having found their elixir deemed us (the audience) too stupid to understand its complex methods. BY the way that’s factual — a statement by the BBC Director General — , so matters had to be simplified.
Realistic painting post renaissance became the line to hang a fresh way of seeing things. The world as seen in scientific perspective replicated by Jean ingress’ photo-realism art e.g. The Valpinçon Bathert in 1808 testifies to a brilliance which was becoming passe.
When Monet presented “Le dejeuner sur l’herbe in 1863, he was scorned by the experts, His approach abrogated every tenant of classical painting, such as perspective and form. It would take 30–40 years for impressionism to be truly appreciated by the populace and to understand how it inflected our senses
Westworld provides us with food for thought for the next gen, whilst memories, impressionism, and expressionism provide a window to seeing a new order of the day but we won’t take it!

Dr David Dunkley Gyimah heads up the interfactual lab at the University of Westminster exploring new forms of digital stories. He combines his background as an applied chemistry, with 27 years of working in top flight journalism and interactivity, with post doctorate research into memory, behaviour and story forms

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

I’m talking to you but you’re not listening  - from Chicago, Cairo to China with Stories

The queue (or line) was six people deep. It was a hot day stepping into a store, somewhere south of Austin Texas.
Can I have some water please?
What?, says the sale assistant.
Water! Can I have some water please?
What ?, she jerks her head back perhaps wondering “What the hell is ‘water’?”
Then a man pushes from the back of the queue towards the cashier. ‘For Christ sake give the man some water!’, except water emerges as ‘waarler’ to supposedly my pronunciation, ‘worter’ which presumably sounds like a wild pig. And yes what would a wild pig be doing in a convenience store?
There must be nothing more disconcerting than to have a black man speak English, sounding like he works for the BBC World Service in the 1990s. I know. Back in 1992 a couple of South African farmers I was interviewing thought my accent highly amusing, before they turned on me stating I was responsible for concentration camps in the South African (Boer) war.
However this isn’t about accents. In India, I’d been walked to my hotel room. It was nothing I’d ever seen; sumptuous, dripping in the recreation of 18th or is that 19th century stately opulence. My accomplice had noted my starry eyed look and so went for the complimentary-feedback comment.
So how do you like your room sir?
Without a heart beat between his ‘Sir” and my response, I replied.
I hadn’t noticed but a day later I was told he was crestfallen and had reported to the hotel management that I was mortified. It would take several evenings and the help of others to explain that Brits have a habit of being deprecating saying the opposite of what they generally mean. Yes, it’s baffling to many people too.
My Chinese host in Chongqing was clear, even though, er, I don’t drink. We will have Sake this evening followed by singing (karaoke) but first my manager will extend his hospitality by us visiting a foot masseur. He will give you his card. Please study it.
I did. For roughly I minute I held the card between the pincers of both thumbs and index finger making observations about the typeface and my host’s name before placing it delicately in my wallet. I then gave him mine. He did the same.
Very good said my translator later. The evening was a success too. Except for the bit when I screamed with laughter because I felt the masseur was tickling me. Muppet! In singing, with alcohol in you, the true nature of a person is often revealed via Dutch courage and the feeling of being uninhibited.
Call these mannerisms, cultural exchanges, societal foibles, national characteristics, each one of these experiences and I’m sure you have your own constitute scenes, incidences, that build into narratives and stories.
The number of Chinese king fu films I watched growing up where the hero drinks Sake. Imagine Sherlock Holmes having a cup of tea every time he’s spoiling for a fight? Come to think if it. Or like you I marvel at Woody Allen’s piquant lens examination of Manhattan — its cultural references and romanticism. And for the aficionados of comedy, Benny Hill huh!
‘Hey I love Benny Hill’, he said. That was in Lebanon and a few other countries. ‘Yes’, I muffled a response, ‘he’s funny’, with a mock smile knowing I wouldn’t have the time to talk about how out-of-date his slapstick is but, yes, Hill was a national hero until a different form of comedy bereft of bikini-clad women emerged.
Jeez what would it be like if we were all the same? By observation alone, when I scour my in-medium list, if the post is not generally related to America — usually a nod or reference in the title, and of course written to a high standard of storytelling, medium staff appear to give their recommendations a wide berth. By the way, just asking, but are their Medium staff in other countries curating feeds?
Like you, I love stories — a somewhat naive comment as whether I like them or not story telling is at the heart of our very existence. We talk, share, advise, fall in and out of love, stop and start wars because of stories — and, AND how we interpret them. France’s Trollope’s coruscating pen exploited the schisms and mannerism of American through her cornea in her populist 19th century novel Domestic Manners of the Americans. Today, Brit John Oliver is doing the same, with a wit which puts the barmy brigade in his cross fire.
Some people though have a gift for storytelling — a mathematical, mellifluous and artistic way of shaping words and images that resonate with large groups of people. How do they do it?

Stories, from Chicago, Cairo to Chongqing and Syrian border.

Did I tell you I like stories, and teach it, the video kind, the one we call news? I spent a good many years telling it directly or indirectly on television and radio. I’d think, amongst other things, why does the news all seem the same? Why’s my editor telling me how to produce this, when on the ground I know better? And why, for instance, does one group search out a particular narrative about another - that moment in Fergusson when a protestor confronts Geraldo about Fox News coverage of Baltimore. And why is News generally now so decrepit.
That’s not to say there aren’t a great many orators and artists-as-reporters telling news stories, such as the crew from 60 minutes, Channel 4 News, and within the BBC but it’s to say the construct of news making is looking tired.
Why else would there be a panoply of video styles within the last ten years pulling viewers away from traditional news networks. And just so you know, the decline in news viewership in the UK started in the mid 1990s before the Net took hold. We, the audience were becoming a little weary then.
We’ve been doing that over the years since film begun. We started with short clips, then in an Edwin Porter’s Life of an American Fireman (1903) the audience would be introduced to a scene shot from two different angles running consecutively. They soon tired and inter cutting or parallel cutting between two scenes became the norm. As each generation became more adept at film grammar, they spoke through box office receipts what worked and what didn’t.
Then TV News came along; broke, clumsy, trying to find itself. It asked how do we tell what’s happened, when it’s already happened? And who’s doing the telling? What’s their background? They toiled and laboured, really, before the gave birth to Television New. An elite squad (people from the same schools, with almost the same politics) got hold of a machine, which could teleport people and their views into your living room. To many, politicians and advertisers, that was enough.
News became a new religion; anchors our priests, and we the dutiful congregation sucked up the sermons. Events were relayed as inevitable, indubitable truths, when all stories are constructs. We literally make them up, build them from memory and myths, but with the caveat they’re our truths.
There’s a moment in the past when TV News from NBC, CBS and overseas the BBC and then ITV comes together. They figure it out. They invent guidelines and so called ‘rules’. and set out to paradoxically ‘give the audience what they want’. Except they know better. Social networks, before Net social networks are formed.
Does where you’re from influence the way you tell stories. US Professor, Michael Schudson captures it eloquently. Journalism is cultural construct fashioned by societal and literary frameworks. You might as well be talking about another story form, Cinema because journalism practice purports to be different but really tries to homogenise its methods, strafe any cultural idiosyncrasies, deny there are alternatives. It’s the reason why all newscasts whether its China or Chicago look the same, though commerce of curmudgeon governments can alter news’ reality.
But what if there was no such thing as television news, or better still, given the audiences’ penchant for change where would video storytelling go next? Having travelled across the globe — from Chicago, Cairo to China asking that question, what did I find.
To a place where stories are unencumbered, where myths and cultures, and difference are respected and often expected.
My Chinese host told me a story. When a group of Chinese students had completed a one week trip to the US, they were asked of a memorable event to take back. A student replied, the Americans have odd looking eyes.
To stories where we marvel but do not feel threatened, but even then. To a language purportedly hidden in our junk DNA, where dreams and collective memories fashion choruses in our heads as monomyths. That as Leonard Shlain writes in Art and Physics stories imbued with allegorical meaning giving rise to different levels of interpretation. There is a dawn breaking silently and slowly in this realm and a group I have come to know engaged in it call it cinema journalism.
Strange huh. Now then can I have some water?

Branded content then (1930) and now - How brands are telling stories

When it was first shown, critics exhorted it as a new form of cinema. Ordinary working class people were for the first time talking to the screen expressing their disgust at their rat-infested slum living conditions.
Housing Problems made in the UK in 1935 today persists as a seminal film — a must watch — in the evolving problematic story form that would be called documentary but it also heralded an early identifiable class of what we know today as branded content.
Its progenitor the great John Grierson relied on funds from the British Commercial Gas Association (BCGA) which would have come as a surprise to the funders that there was not an interview or a shot of BCGA member in sight.
Segue today to branded content about a DNA Journey as men and women in a talking heads format face the prospect of where they’re really form. This populist film reveals its backers only at the end when the credits sayMomondo:
Vimeo award winning filmmaker Elliot Rausch’s tear-jerking uplifting Star Bucks-backed film includes interviews from the brand but the stars are the people and the filmmaking. The brand’s presence is measured.
The fuzzy blurred line between advertising, propaganda, documentary, news and branded content is a deep seated one. In the 1990s as a reporter for London’s ITV News reporting on Virgin’s move into hosting concerts, one of my interviewers was clear from his research, young people know when they’re being fed advertising gumf.
It was true then and is true now. Note however that in this news piece, the overall style of production is that we readily identify now as news. John Grierson’s innovative form of the 1930s would have elements lifted into news journalism. Today, however, films, including documentary veer towards a cinema (expressively performative) when talking to audiences.

From Indian to Brazil with Love

July, 8th. I’d just arrived back from India from contributing to a conference/project that featured Gerald Ryle (Panama Papers), Nick Davies and Raju Narisetti of News Corp when a colleague asked if I wanted to head to Brazil, Olympic City and Ginga football epicentre, to participate in an event on branded video organised by Fernanda Menegotto of Vbrand — one of the country’s innovative agencies.
The visit would include space sharing with Andre Barrence, the Head of Google Campus SP, as well as Brazil’s entrepreneurial community to look at the importance of video towards their businesses.
I couldn’t go. Prior commitments.
The recommendation, however from our university’s head of International Student Affairs Geoffrey Davies was well received. I have had enjoyable exchanges with Brazilian videojournalists over the years and as cinema journalism styles go, there’s an exciting timeline between Grierson’s documentaries, Cinema Novo and New Brazilian Cinema that feed into branded content.
In the 1930s Brazilian born filmmaker Alberto Cavalcanti became an integral part of Grierson’s team bringing innovative sound and editing skills to the group. His influences include Coal Face (1935) and Night Mail (1936).
Looking back on these films it’s easy to deride their style but their innovation then is mirrored by the blend of international cinema style and social cultural cinema, that is language and myths, that excite audiences’ collective and prosthetic memories today.
In India it’s films like Sholay (1975); In Brazil favourites include: Filhos de Francisco (Two Sons of Francisco, 2005) and to an international audience Cidade de Deus (City of God, 2002).
The significant evolutionary changes to storytelling (I document in a forthcoming book) specifically in the last ten years have been the number and nature of constituents telling their stories. YouTube has spawned millions of millennial stations and new stars, and commercial businesses and NGOs e.g. Greenpeace no longer need to rely on their video press release and the largesse of television news for oxygen.
A related development has been the myriad production tools and platforms now available, from the once populist Flash and its pioneers Brendan Dawes, Yugo Nakumura, Eric Natzke, Hillman Curtis (R.I.P) and the Holo group; HTML 5/ Java scripting; Klynt for interactive factuals and Unity for VR.
Yet the growth of video continues unabated, buoyed by increasing mobile phone usage and its indefatigable association with social media platforms, and to cite the seminal Did You Know video circa 2008 there are applications that will include video that have not yet been invented.
There’s a sound argument to equate the creativity of modern video with the birth of film in 1900s. Back in the 1900s cats boxing, and a train arriving at a station amount to today’s viral one-scene videos. Back then as now, the craving for narrative from the audience extended the vocabulary of film.
That’s happening now with some caveats. This decade has seen a crystalisation of a new market place for creatives. For instance:
  1. The nimble adaptive agencies to help brands tell stories such as my friend’s Sabba Quao’s Newsroom.
  2. The exciting directors, such as the brilliant the Rob Chiu and Elliot Rausch
  3. Existing agencies setting up responsive media production wings to help brands tell stories. In the late 1990s, Jon Staton, a former head of TV at Saatchis, set up Re-active, which a colleague and I headed. We created a number of stories for the brands such as Channel 4 and Lennox Lewis
Despite these, client-focused work can still seem choppy. In part because CEOs and FCOs can be wedded to legacy practices of story telling that use:
a) traditional account management — agency-producer-client relationships.
b) production techniques for brands derived from TV production tropes.
b) traditional pricing structures.

Sunday, July 24, 2016

The multimedia production pathway

When I stared at my pc to build my first site in 96, the debate raging then amongst a burgeoning community of onliners was what constituted interactity.

It hasn't gone away. Twenty years ago at my organic lecture class, my lecturer had excited me with boolean algebra to build a flux condensor to purify some organic compound. Computer science circa 1987 was akin to Dr Doolitle on acid. What the heck is going on? But there for me were the early signs of building loop functions ie interact-cause and effect - ivity.

Interactity is part logic part dysfunctionality. That's because we're taught over the years through language and comprehension to become so logical as to leave no room for expression, deliberately making things wrong. It's what acturists might refrer to conflct management accountacy. What happens when this goes wrong. Our answer is it won't or shouldn't but that misses the point. We're so hung up trying to resolve questions or issues, even before we've tested those limits, while making assumptions of a baseline of our audience's knowledge.

The refinement of this behaviour is what makes a good TV reporter. Seek clarity, keep it simple and tell the story. If you're a regional journalist opinon is eschewed, if you're a correspondent intergrated thinking as described in a recent article in the Harvard Business Review as seeing many sides and charting a new course, then differences of opinion is to be encouraged. BUT still your editor will expect a close of business in your reportage.

"Hey David can you give us a 3 min feature using the following interviews, perhaps, one of the editors I worked to would tell me".

The best interactive producers are 4-7 year old who ask why at every level and break conversations into constituents. Beyond that I'll profer to maths and trignometry majors, where Sin, Cos and Tan offer myriad ways of approaching a problem.

Clicking on a link is not interactive just as clicking a red button isn't, compounded further by the insult from broadcasters that you're tunning into video on demand. (VOD) 12 channel pipes continously broadcasting can only be afforded by a few, which is why cable/broadband will rule eventually.

Active interactivity is an egagement giving you and your audience a wide girth of independence to fill in blanks. Take Brendan Dawes Saul Bass "Psycho" or even the simplistic now, but elegantly sophsticated "9 months" - both favourites from the turn of the millennium. 9 months wowed you with nodel points along the cycle of a woman's pregnancy. It was point and click, but its imagination was your intrinsic desire to unravel the 9 months - via stunning photography and music. It could have been infinity show and still we'd watch.

Saul bass let you reconstruct the psycho shower scene. I think that's what clinched our BBC consultancy when a colleague and I sold an idea of a virtual newsroom to the BBC's Vin Ray heading up the the corporation's journalism college.

And while pondering the founders around 2000: True is True, Precinct, Submethod, Design is Kinky all added in their own way, devising rules born of superior technical and creative knowledge to the graphic and hence also multimedia well.

Interactivty is more than divying up a linear feature bereft of crucial nodes to ellicit further reaction. It works at an intuitive level if you're one of those people who thinks interstially, otherwise elements of game theory or even predictive human behaviour is required.

what happens when I press A. Will I be rewarded. And will that in turn make me want to press B. And how immersive can I be before I realise I'm drilling deeper and deeper.

The real landgrab at the moment is the sophisticant of multimedia- the aesthetics and language of video tossed with the architecture of interacticity. It begs new a structural form in its conceptualisation.

Whilst its as old as ARPRANET, it's vocalisation has been as an antecedent to the hegemony of unitary media and voices. It might just as well have been sir xxxx answer to democracy in the net age.

Those questions at the 10.00 morning meeting become the basis of a platform to engage further dialogue. It's a pain, because you'd rather seek closure but more is better.

In 2001 a colleague and I had a eureka moment. Rosalind Miller, a brilliant designer who now teachers at St Martin sought a new aesthetic style to engage viewers, which in itself was a derivative of early russian film makers such as Vertov
and the loop. Oh yes everything we want to know has its groove from some broken record years old.

The loop however wasn't enough. We needed a strong story; adversity verus the odds, good from bad, triumph in the face of disaster emodied of course in the art of puglism e.g. young boxer looking for an out. Channel 4's Late commissioning producer had expressed an interest in the documentary I was making with the help of a couple of friends, Jon Mac the photographers photographer and Claudio Von Planta - who is the director-cameraman of directors, presently on a motorbike travelling the world filming.

The deal fell through, so in a rare moment of clarity we thought of turning it into an interactive documentary. There were huge limitations. The first being the story. It might have worked linearly but needed more work. We spent four different shoots with the boxing outfit in Islington before the Mime (mind map) structure revealed itself worthy of more questions than answers. Then there was bandwith. How do you fit all this into a 28 , max 56k modem?

The real breakthrough which you can see at work any day; we worked on ours further, was the revelation of how the inverted pyramid structure of news writing feeds into modularity coding. Simply pick up the next paper by your side. After the first paragraph notice how any jump to subsequent paras of the story retains the integrity of the story when we web back and forth through the paras.

Importantly also the dynamic of video compostion meant you could be certain where people's eye would travel. This was something we discovered after. In documentary form by itself, the film maker has a strong often subliminal hold on you by employing a number of techniques, principally movement. Note Polanski's China Town and the bedroom phone scene where almost all the audience sways to attempt to capture the full frame of the subject.

After much work. In 2000 you try working a film doc into a 28k modem, our efforts were rewarded. Channel 4's digital departments gave it the thumbs up at their digital awards final. It was a finalist. Blue Print magazine, the blue chip magazine of design covered it over four pages, and Lennox Lewis would request I join his team.

By now post-dot come blues had set in and our interactive agency had gone the way of many soho outfits. But a fire had been lit. Multimedia is the rebellion sibling of broadcasting, a disruption to linear conversations. On a political level it's not so much about a multitude of media, but voices and opinions seamlessly transcribed into an entity.

Its strength, should be its purpose to provide schisms for new debates and particularly in a western media where the oppposing view is suffocated, diversity of voices, ethnic and minoritiy views are placed outside the sphere of influence, give succour to new discourse.

That will eventually entail multimedia engines with xml/asp/htm imput-output. We're nearing there.

But our concers in these very early tentative steps of multi faceted media conversations should be relying on cues from traditionalist communicators. When ITV new says it wants your news because it is engaging this new church of online democracy, it has little idea that it should be having a broader conversation, not just in context but control - JUST LET GO ( Fightclub) if its can afford it.

When Christian Metz asks what is cinema evocatively deconstructing semiotics and its linguistics; we might ask what is multimedia in its capacity to cull the power of illusion, to integrate or not art and narrative, to experiment with grammar by itself and incorporate where necessary the viscerality of video.

Geographers refer to it as the equilibrium profile which results in the riverbed and water yielding new patterns and complex behaviour. We're there and then not quite yet

This week. If you can't experiment or innovate is there any point in media courses or joining Brit TV, who's last creative 160 IQ rests in the 90s.

Monday, May 30, 2016

I’ve just read Jeff Jarvis (pictured) Mass Media’s Death… and felt inspired to write this.

I have just finished reading “Death to the Mass. Media must rebuild its business around relevance and value, not volume”, by the indefatigable Jeff Jarvis — a modern eclectic media philosopher.
Jarvis straddles the analogue and digital world of journalism with a firm prognosis of its woes. I first came across him at Dale Peskin @dalepeskin and Andrew Nachison @anachison WeMedia conference at the BBC and Reuters in London, in 2006.
Those were effervescent days, as trad. media experts tried to hold onto their halcyon memories. The bruising between journalists and bloggers was gargantuan. ‘You’re not a real journalist’ were the experts’ riposte. Jarvis in his trademark wit was carving up naysayers.
I had been invited by Wemedia to share a podium on the future of news. I was rubbish! I behaved too meekly; the usual hyper me had deserted, stuck in the bathroom. Afterwards I made a line for Jarvis for a swift interview.
Here’s the exchange below. Years later, in fact 2014, Jarvis invited me to CUNY as part of a group of people talking about the future of news. I continued to talk ‘rubbish’ with the following.
If video was going to be the next big thing on the web before YouTube struck, I said, which got me my Knight Batten award in 2006, cinema journalism — self expression and some — will in the future separate the wheat from the chaff.
Jarvis might not remember this, but his words afterwards were something to the effect I liked your idea cuz it’s mad.
I was reminded in his article about an interview I did with my MA students in 2006 called ‘If’. If you could change one thing, I asked, what would that be? Fears of Islamophobia crop up and listen to what Daniel Kofi (pictured) says at 1.13".
Daniel chides the media for reporting events with no recourse to wanting to getting involved in the issues for social public good. It’s an absurd idea by any standards. Journalists report, and like wildlife photographers don’t get involved in nature’s fights.
Jarvis writes in his article.
Rather than continuing to try to maintain our content factory, whose real business is selling eyeballs by the ton, imagine instead if news were a service whose aim is to help people improve their lives and communities by connecting them not only to information, but also to each other, with a commercial model built on value over volume
Daniel’s feeling this. I’m a Brit-Ghanaian. I get this too. I went to school in the former British colony and remember its television output. But at some point, the relentless mass export of the Western TV model hit Ghana too. That style of news’ attrition, ‘ he said, she said’ popularised by Jay Rosen, and ‘if it bleeds it leads’ carpeted any semblance of what TV as a social glue could achieve. In this post looking back on the BBC I explain why.
The history of innovation has often been the transmogrification of ideas, or a tool, modified, sometimes lifted wholesale from one culture or discipline to another.
Kofi’s idea of media that existed in Ghana not so long ago could have currency in today’s journalism, but the experts no doubt would mock its approach. Further back, take the impressionism movement in France in the mid 1800s. They owe a debt of gratitude to Commodore Matthew Perry who would bring back from Japan wood block prints that the French would covet.
Facebook’s notion of connecting people as content, amplified from Locke, Searls, Weinberger and Levine’s The Cluetrain Manifesto is predicated on the ideas of what communities were once, neighbourly, homely places where every one shared, spoke over the garden wall, mimicking civic journalism (circa 1990).

Outside journalism’s big tent, technology has become its defibrillator. InWhen Old Technologies Where New, author Carolyn Marvin brings some cautious thinking to this perennial tech-fest in news. One by the way which has been created in no small measure by businesses and marketeers seeking to create new revenue streams, but it’s also served a purpose breaking up TV and traditional journalism’s monopoly.
Take mobile journalism, a word coined in the 1960s by the late Robert Drew, but found new marketing fame as a paradigm shift in the swift flow of information in this millennium . So far so good. But in its dominant incarnate its architects seek to homogenise its form and style towards traditional broadcasting’s achilles. And the idea that it’s the cure all also repeats analogue journalism’s mistake. Source and pick the best tool for the job and let no one tell you differently.
Marvin’s book shows that the frenzy surrounding present tech isn’t new. We’re wowed by technology. It can often break leaving editorial thinking in its wake. We’re left to suss it out through what Professor Brian Winston calls a supervening necessity. That is, once we find a social purpose for the tech it kicks into action. But who prescribes that social framing? The victors write history. Have you ever thought why, say, given all the art-painting movements in the world, you’d struggle to come up with a handful from Africa. Meanwhile, more tech doesn’t necessarily alter the way the tone and message travels within reportage.
We gather around technology and create deterministic and causal meaning based on a hegemonic modes of thinking, but societies aren’t static. Their tastes and needs change, notwithstanding their irrational concerns too.
Once again, these instincts are more redolent in different cultures, or eras, than the ones we might recognise in our own. Today, journalism often resembles what a senior BBC exec calls ‘air conditioned’ journalism as brilliantly illustrated in this piece by a BBC journalist.

Professor Michael Schudson, author several books, such as The Power of News describes journalism as a cultural product shaped by literary and social conventions. It’s something we’ve tended to forget, because of this dominant thesis that surrounds the form, which jettisons cultural and social references.
Which brings me neatly to my conclusion. If you could tell stories, aided by technology to be nuanced with story form’s language, providing insights into primary and sub conscious meaning ( heaven’s knows we need it), where you could break the rules because PR and marketeers have you over a barrel (churnalism), what form of journalism would that be?
Working with Jarvis is another person, I’m a fan of. Travis Fox, now a lecturer at CUNY has a way of storytelling that plays on cultural nuances. There’s no cacophony of tech, but someone behind the lens who is a humanist wanting to tell stories that, as the video below illustrates, resembles, cinema.