Tuesday, July 26, 2011

A movement beyond classic journalism

A horrific scene...

Superlatives fail to somehow induce a comprehension towards the events in the last few weeks.  Some things are just so big, in awe and shock, that we struggle to convey meaning.

The scale of famine in Somalia, the struggles of those eking a living in Haiti, the murderous act and deaths in Norway.

Pictures do the job. They try, often post - event within the structural narrative of broadcast reportage. Professionals convince survivors of their contribution for recounting events. Find a survivor.  Perversely, given the trauma and shock, their account is of value only if it can articulate - they are reluctant narrators.

The aftermath yields scars of immanence - forever seared on the mind; the hungry, the young, the blanketed youngsters seeking solace from breaching the cold to escape death. That often these events  happened outside real-time scrutiny e.g. cameras means our imaginations conjure up attempts to fill in blanks and seek rational answers.

On BBC Radio a presenter somewhat skillfully, gave to parallelism interviewing a Norwegian videojournalist, whom have previously been embedded in Afghanistan, segued with affairs in Norway. The form of narrative exposition can sometimes itself feel elasticated, in spite of the good intent.

At least there has been, or appears to be from the media humility and some dignity. Lessons learned. Virginia Tech Shooting I blogged about set a disgraceful example. Mark Hinojosa, Director of Interactive Media at the Detroit News and I spent time discussing journalism, its limitations and strengths in unimaginable scenes like this.

My thoughts turned to Turner Prize winner Jeremy Deller, whose work Baghdad 5 to illustrate the conditions in Baghdad resulted in him touring the US with a bombed out car lifted from the region. Visceral, disturbing, a confronting of reality knowing lives were lost in that vehicle.

This was not a normal exhibition, but then Deller, whom I have on occasion the chance to speak with (We are both Southbank artists in residence) is no ordinary artist.

Just in case I am misconstrued. I am neither advocating such for the atrocity this past few days, neither  do I seek to in any way shape or form to enter into a discourse over such an event for the sake of art. That would be heinous enough.

In speaking to Hinojosa, we stopped and pondered what it must have been like to be shot at for 90 minutes, with the amount of rounds the Gun man let off, when five minutes must have been an eternity.

Or what is it like to go without food for so long.

In the frenetic lives we lead, thess thoughts become fleeting. We imagine, ponder, then the door bell rings. It's the postman or something. Tomorrow, the next week, unfortunately those events will have moved from the temporal screen ( TV), but findable online

For the circumstances surrounding these, there are causalities.

The rich nations in 2009 spoke of a commitment to address drought and another pending apocoplyse. They did not hand over the money. In Norway, the police arriving 40 minutes after this unspeakable act is a taxing debating point. Why? Does the country lack an emergency response strategy?

What is it like to be shot at? I have been privy to a barrage of gun fire before, in downtown Johannesburg on the country's road to democracy back in 1994. Everybody and anybody walking the streets, and there were many, scrambled to the sides or ran across roads hunch-backed to avoid being sighted, or risk injury.  The shots though were not close range, at least as I recall a 100 metres away, but the anxiety around us was raw.

Dellers mission was to make us, the viewer, attempt to understand some more what war and carnage is.

Within the swathe of responsible reportage and post analysis, trying to convey an hour and a half of fear, human suffering and "being there" is something journalism in its present form attempts, partially succeeds (to degrees) and also struggles to convey. Within the boundaries of realism and journalism of probity it claims rightly so to make sense. But that is a matter of semiotics and narrative.

We know more now that we would a decade ago, but the formalised story telling form has constraints, constraints which as a well known sociologist Stuart Hall said are molded around conventions, handed down from one group to another. Reporters can't show emotion, so the matter-of-fact delivery reveals, often for me a strange haecceity.

Art practice, ( I don't like the use of the word "Art") can be unfairly judged on occasion, skewing facts in a regard for "impressionism", or its lack of deference to the reality of the event.  Yet in he right hands it answers questions that appear far-reachable.

In Alfred Cramerotti's Aesthetic Journalism: How to inform without informing, Cramerotti skilfully navigates toward a germane area, though perhaps greatly unexplored for journalists, where artists seek meaning through journalism-practice.

What can we do to raise more than the temporal interest in these monstrosities? Journalism under its current guise seeks to do its job, report. Yet ask yourself in the absence of the word "journalism" for something else "accountable story telling" ( and I'm aware the word "accountable" needs unpackaging, what would you do?

As a foot note, and an example, remember impartiality, balance, measure etc were cultivated into the profession in the 1900s to thwart propaganda and bias (Yellow Journalism).

Today, you might easily tell the difference between propaganda. Times, knowledge, meaning, audiencing, has changed. The argument would be we need structure, rules, otherwise its anarchy.

Conversely it might perhaps take something along the lines of an art form to gather collective thoughts for a future memorial to commemorate the young lives of those slain last week, or to bring to the world's attention Haiti still bleeds, Somalia is dying.

It may take art-journalism a middling ground between the science of recording events as they happen and the impressions of those to convey greater meaning to issues which sometimes leave more questions than answers

One and a half hours of shooting. Really!

David Dunkley Gyimah - above a pictorial account of videojournalism praxis - presenting at SXSW, the Online News Association ( New York).
His ideas on design concepts, training videojournalists in Cairo, and his critical videojournalism series made by Africans in Africa in 1997.
Click here for more and see his latest blog for a distillation of media.
David is a practical and theoritican in videojournalism. He has been teaching and practicing videojournalism since 1994 and a journalist since 1987. He has an insight into design and videojournalism which is the basis of his Phd Thesis at SMARTlab, University College Dublin