Friday, October 21, 2011

Aftter Libya's Media Flow, What Next? 10 points to keep the flow going

Gaddafi's capture shot on a mobile camera
Libya ! Job done.

Not the death per se of its former leader Gaddafi which seals a profound chapter in itself, but that news would say we stayed the course. They got the money shots.

Just as the 1993 felling of a Sadam Hussein statue in Baghdad was caught, or some could argue, staged for television, followed much later by the gruesome phone hanging footage, television got its prize in Libya.

The similarities in iconography are quite startling and if that's anything to go by, Libya is about to join the forlorn hopeful looking to the world to further document their plight.

That doesn't bode well at all. Already a schism is opening in terms of accountability. Jon Snow on Channel 4 posed the question whether Gaddafi's death was an extrajudicial killing.

Foreign news editor Lindsey Hilsum in Libya weighed up public sentiment saying Libyan's aren't thinking that; they're just happy he is no more. Today, Libya's interim rulers the National Transitional Council were quick to dispel he was executed. He died in cross-fire, from his injuries before he reached a hospital.

The phone footage shown on television leaves many journalists and agencies with an unresolved story. Conflicting versions of the truth can't be helpful in a burgeoning democracy - where Press conferences often yield to the protocol: "we're looking into it".

But the pertinent question remains: how long till broadcasters abandon Libya for the next conflict?  This issue raised its head in a debate around war reporting at the Frontline Club, prompting videojournalist Inigo Gilmore to talk about the pornography of war pictures that drive broadcasters.

What happens he said when the Viagra, as it now will do, wears off?

News' Achilles
On the eve of South Africa's historic elections, Right wing factions detonate a bomb in downtown Johannesburg. It was two miles from where I lived. Within minutes I'm on the scene and follow up with a live report with the BBC World Service
This isn't a new topic. I witnessed it most starkly in South Africa in 1994. I was working as a freelancer and contractor for the BBC World Service and ABC News respectively. I'd been in the country for 18 months building up my experience on the ground.

The word in journalist banter and amongst publishing authors was that South Africa would implode. Afrikaaner right wing factions had promised a bloody end; uncompromising black factions declared "one settler, one bullet".  This was an impending war, but it never happened.

Just after Mandela was appointed president , the media upped sticks and headed north: Rwanda. South Africa, despite its huge problems was no longer paramount on the agenda. The same could be said about many news items which fall into the "grand narrative".

Television, many practitioners have claimed in the past, echoed by Frontline panelist Jon Williams, a BBC World News Editor, is a poor medium for telling complex stories. It's also a visual medium, so struggles at times in the absence of what Gilmore called "viagra" pictures to ameliorate the understanding of the viewer.

Its poor mediumness however may have held strong in the old order of media, but what about now?

The ROI (return of investment) of television news makers has set up an interesting dynamic in news production. The viewers are, its believed by editors, locked into a Vulcan mind meld. "We", editors will argue unapologetically, "give the view what they want", which amounts to a popular recipe of news. To evoke that old news maxim, its what punters will be talking about in the pub.

But that's complicated now by the fragmentation of the viewer exposed in our globalised suburbs and widely different taste and views. The popularism plaque also does nothing to eradicate a belief and the newsmakers' responsibility by default that, if it's not in the news it's not important anymore.

Step forward: Japan, Haiti, Burma, Congo and other stricken areas. And therein lies the fault line for news. Too many areas of interest and so little time to cover them. Each is lucky if it gets its fill once a month. "Ok your turn now!" 

In the old order pre-net, wars and calamity could be tenuously treated soon after intense coverage as diminishing areas of interest. Firstly there were fewer media outlets, and the arbiters of opinion were unequivocally the media  - who were deigned to know better.

Even where academics took umbrage, notwithstanding academic publications, they were reliant on the media to get their point across.

Secondly, what could the viewer humanely do post news? Nothing much in comparison to now. Today, we respond in various ways we can, aided by sophisticated aid agencies, social networks and blogs.

Information in an Internet age, doesn't just become about representation of events and its ephemerality, but the lasting effects, the indexicality of news, googled into our bookmarks, seared into our sub conscious enabling multiple forms of responses, beyond the old order of letter writing to the editor.

So traditional news, damned if it does and damned if it doesn't has inadvertently hollywoodised itself. The accountants started it off in the 70s.  If it's not a blockbuster, ( if its doesn't bleed....)  what's the point and any chance of presenting something cerebral misses the point. Here now, you're almost begging for different tiers, where you can make choices to continue building your knowledge.

I think as newsmakers, academics and viewers we could do better to overcome the pre-net sociology of news making, because the opportunities and infra structure are there.

In 2007 writing for Broadband's capacity offers scintillating innovation, it would be a shame to waste it,- my word - recylcing of old news and a constrained news bill.

There are answers:

1. Television news, and presentations on the web, could begin to feature media trails (on air signets) informing viewers where they can continue to find responsible coverage - even outside their own wall gardens.  This logistic of branded news by proxy i.e. ensuring efficacy when re-routing viewers can be worked out.

2. Using the Net to present tiered structures of news. Former BBC Editor Vin Ray said at the Frontline club a public service the BBC could have offered during the Bosnian conflict was to show viewers a five minute film of how and why the war started.

3. Re-investing in videojournalism. The saddest aspect for me as a videojournalist has been the misappropriation of the form's greatest strength. Videojournalism is not just an artifact of technological determinism. That is if you have a small camera and a laptop that's it, but also importantly a discipline to pragmatically delineate a fresh sociology of news.
Reflections on Egypt's Revolution - a short firm by David Dunkley Gyimah

For instance I use an aspect of videojournalism as a form of psychoanalyses, though hopefully its not detectable. Tahrir Momento is an example of where the subjects in the film will tell you, they told their stories yet I kept gently haranguing them for something else.

Instead of offering the narrative often given to the camera; the public face, they retreated into personal matters. Egypt's uprising became more than a nation's outpouring. It was happening to them at home. When Sarah says, she snuck away from home and her mum rang her mobile to express despair that she knew where her daughter was going,  it's micro rebellion manifesting itself on a wider scale.

When Sarah ends her story taking in a deep breath saying her parents now solicit her advice on family matters, it's a moment to savour. On Radio 4 when the The veteran Egyptian feminist  and novelist Dr Nawal El-Saadawi said let the young people run Egypt, the point is alluded to in Tahrir Memento.

Michael Rosenblum's own story of shooting in Gaza in the 80s is informative. Something that wasn't on the news agenda made it on, because he could shoot and was a former CBS staffer so knew what was required by the broadcaster.

4. Support the new wave of storytellers, who are looking to redefine news making,  providing fresh context and an aesthetic to reify your interest. There are so many, but I mention these now seasoned independents of foreign and war coverage as great examples: Brian Storm's MediaStorm,  Inigo Gilmore; Bill Gentile, Travis Fox.. 

5. Create technologies that enable viewers to drill into related news. The obvious is video hyper linking which I have spoken about on my PhD programme and was picked up by The Economist and Film Council. This helps the viewer to access material at their will

6. Create new schools of journalism in Libya et al; journalism which comprehends the past and correlates with the future and is set up to understand how to feed into traditional and newer media. For the last four years I have been working with young people in Egypt's state broadcaster, as well as a prominent newspaper in Beirut and the results have been astounding.
You can read more about this here.

Wider support for internet infrastructure and online schooling. See Rosenblum TV, BBC Journalism, MediaStorm
Training young videojournalists at Egypt's state broadcaster from 2007-2010

7. Create Outernets. This was one of my biggest challenges. On Apple's site here's how I envisage news breaking free from its appointment viewing into a town/village walk-by-access affair.
Outernet sites - created as part of my doctoral thesis in addressing news' prevalance

8. Greater access points for media and public to engage. We know about blogs, public forums and over-priced conferences, but what else? Here I devised a vlog butterfly which could now be produced dynamically. 

A Vlog butterfly in which a senior BBC News exec put himself forward to answer vlog questions from around the world. I produced, coded the project and curated the answers.

9. Stop using the Net as only a repository for Television news. Enormous work has been done here with newspapers and broadcasters, but I believe there's more to be done. On line Story telling devices should be made available

10. Greater interaction between academia and the media. Again some excellent work here, but its no surprise a new generation of journalists veer towards mimicing their predecessors. What should be encouraged is new ways of the two groups working together and looking at solutions. Here I'm harking back to project between the University of Westminster and the BBC in 2004 co-organised by Asha Oberoi, now a senior ITN executive and myself.

More of David Dunkley Gyimah's work on