Wednesday, August 18, 2010

The death of the multiskilled journalist - sans corporeal experience

When the Guardian Newspaper placed its half page ad in its newspaper looking for videojournalist, anyone would have thought they'd be inundated with applications.

The Guardian stands as an iconic newspapers in the print world; its award winning Berliner design, double page photojournalism spreads, and of course Guardian Journalism - a synonym for excellence.

When the applications came pouring in, they totaled around 200; of which around a dozen met the requirements stipulated in the advert. Four got jobs.

Back in 1994, the Guardian was the chosen newspaper to host the advert for associated newspapers plans to recruit videojournalists to launch the UK's first and only videojournalism station.

Over a month lead period, around 1000 applications were received; some from broadcasters who are top names on BBC TV today. 100 applicants were seen over two staggered half hour rigorous interviews and then whittled down to 24 successful applicants.

Talking to one of Channel One's former employees, who went on to carve a career in ITN, she tells me, as many others have iterated ..." There was something unique about the group; we were all different, actually all mavericks in some way".

And that perhaps is it. A point also echoed by my interview with a former senior Guardian editor who says in their job interview he was willing his applicants to be attitudinal, relaxed, composed, edgy, expansive and knowledgeable about their subject.

Why? Because the job, you're about to enter, which will require quick turnaround will also be measured by high, veering towards exceptional standards. And that says the editor is rare.

Martin Adler, an award winning videojournalist epitomised the new digital journalist. He was shot in 2006 in Mogadishu. Kevin Sites, is another. There are countless more, but these two will forever be associated with the art of the new journalist.

Says Newsnight's Paul Mason of Martin Adler

"Martin's approach to video journalism is the opposite to the way most mainstream media works: you go there, get the footage using little battered video cameras, you don't shoot "sequences" - you shoot the truth. He went on and on at me in the edit about the film director Lars von Trier and his philopsophy of Dogma.."

The social self and stories
If you're reading this it's a fair chance you're into multiskilling; invariably that's one of the themes that runs through these posts. You may or may not be a practicing journalist or content aggregator, but you know your way around a Mac - that's multiskilling plenty.

Then close your eyes and imagine: your diary you've discussed with your editor includes:
  • reports from Afghanistan with Bravo company
  • interviewing Angelina Jolie at a film premiere
  • interview with a CEO over the potential economy collapsing
  • Death Knock
Four different jobs, requiring more or less the same apparatus, yet requiring fundamentally different experiences from you.

And that whether by way of perception or otherwise is one of the problems we face in the digital-body age.

All the above are executable as derived from experience, if not actual, the perception of what those might entail from proxy experiences.

Going to Afghanistan by yourself: logistics. Filming in a high stressed area: discipline. Getting the story from soldiers: association. On the other end of the spectrum, talking to Angelina Jolie will require some suppression of emotions, if you're a fan. Yet respect, for who she is.

The CEO requires an embodied patience. The art of doing nothing but looking busy, knowing you're bored out of your wits, but you MUST not show it, as his secretary tells you he'll be out in a minute, and then when he arrives you seamlessly set up your equipment, while engaging the pre-interview space ( the idle, but necessary chat before you start).

And how is your authority in challenging his point of view?

Then there is the death knock. Perhaps the most confusing, emotionally sapping, and delicate of tasks. A story must be told, but it requires you to breach the privacy of the bereaved.

Now, multisklilled journalism ceases to become primarily concerned with technical competence, but increasingly of the sort of paradigms expounded by philosopher Merleau Ponty.

Not an exhaustive list of formulas for what a modern journalist ought to be, but an understanding of our embodied selves. Your experience shape you, and you won't find those extraction skills from lists on twitter or a blog or facing a terminal.

GET OUT! travel, experience others. GO NATIVE!

The job interview that says: "must be sociable" scratches at personal attributes. Sociable to whom- a virtual online community, whom you' re unlikely to meet face to face, or the ability to switch facades corporeally ?

These are new spaces I believe that are creating new, yet virtually ignored areas of debate and will affect what and how we come to perform the function of journalist and storytellers in the future.

As I was writing this a former student of mine ( anonymity guaranteed) sent me her covering letter to a potential employer. I'll talk about the art of writing to an editor later on.