Monday, June 15, 2009

Cultural shifts - the emerging video journalism picture

An Iranian woman struggles to exit a wagon in Tehran's Metro.
Image by Yannis Kontos at

The world is turning on its axis and in reference to Bushism's legacy, axis needs to reclaim its more appropriate usage.

Bluster-diplomacy is giving way to the more refined process of language nuances. Is there a cultural-socio shift really in the offing?

Obama's Cairo speech, Netanyahu's response, Iran's supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei's announced probe into Iran's recent elections. On the lighter side, Buckingham Palace planting it's own vegs in a new allotment??

These in retrospect may be the normal on goings as the world turns on its, yes, axis; night follows day, weeks to months and a new bout of things to deal with.

Yet if there is change a foot, we still haven't cracked the one which gives journalism sleepless nights: the deteriorating health of newspapers, with no cash injection life support to keep it going. Conversations are being held.

Hell, some as high up in Government, but it follows that all too familiar sound of the few discussing what's percieved good for the many.

It may not be the right subject bed fellow, but when the conversation started against Facebook's ownership of your material, it went nuclear, driven by you and I, then change happened. Actually a revert to common sense ground.

Perhaps, this pay-as-you-surf is not in our best interests.

But this thought was not what got me writing today. Though there is a relation. I've been clearing out my study; magazines and articles that date back to the early 90s, some in pristine condition.

The 1990s
The late 90s came flooding back with a series or re finds and there in lay a lesson.

Does anyone remember First 9 months?

In 1999/2000 an amazing piece of work by a graphic designer doodling around with Flash 3/4 hit the web. It documented the journey of his first child - from conception to the final image of himself and wife.

First 9 Months was simply a stunning piece of work.

It had not been done before. Flash had not been used to the best of my knowledge in a way that brought together journalism, Graphics and motion graphics.

And what about Hillman Curtis's multimedia promos and in particular his story, as I recall about a journey, not his, across Afghanistan ( I think!).

What made it so mesmerizing was the use of typography in telling a story. There was no Flash involved, but you kept reading. This was the era of the wild west, legendary Saul Bass's reincarnation through the work of graphic designer Brendan Dawes.

What was, did not exist before. There was no standard. It was fresh exciting, anarchic , banksyish, sometimes, but above all it dared to do it.

Do what?


That's all changed somewhat, though you can still find clusters of "the thinkers". The serial idea brokers, who play the numbers game releasing as many great ideas that see the light and many perhaps that slow burned away.

What happens behind the scenes offers value, which we sometimes give scant regard to. When we get the headline idea, the news, that's it.

It's milked, before the cow runs dry and then is slaughtered. Innovation yields to commercialisation. One source of news and that even might do.

Behind the scene
Obama's Cairo speech, Netanyahu's response, Iran's supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei's probe into Iran's elections are fantastic stories, but what lies either side of them provides the sort of needed context to understand the complexities of these crucial items.

No it's not about the big story per se, but watching Rageh Omar's brilliant Iran feature, interviewing ordinary ( small "O") people gave some idea of how the schism in a state reported for its overall control, could happen.

It's the "either side" of the dominant news that provides us with both context and revealing content, which is why White House photographer Pete D Souza's pictures are so compelling.

Rageh is a highly skilled programme maker, but his pleading with an Iranian music star for an interview gave the feature that of-the-cuff videojournalism moment and pathos of the film wanting to be everything that TV doc features aren't in being too rehearsed.

For that moment I even had a heart chuckle remembering the Rageh I bumped into time and time again as we were both attempting to launch our careers with the BBC African Service in 1992.

These small cameras we have access to are something much bigger than often I find from the value given them.

Yes, they have multiple functions indeed for the big story, and even the obscure ones, but above all, they should allow for stories, a bolder approach to producing, not performed in that metronomic way of news, but perhaps more reflective of the whys?

And that's an axis worth looking at in greater detail.