Friday, February 25, 2011

Getting Smarter - Knowledge Code-Breaking

In my BBC job board the interviewer asked a question about  the current RPI and Britain's budget deficit and what was likely to happen to it.

I was caught; I simply didn't know, but added I knew a way to find out babbling acronym after acronym: NIER, MPCM and so on.

Implicit in the question for any would-be journalist was not that I should know the answer; though there are some questions that you should.

I was once told by a BBC editor that during the height of Margaret Thatcher's reign as Prime Minister, 10 percent of the population were clueless. Yes really! But anyway going back to the economic question... 

It's all about building knowledge.

I was reminded of this today as I went about knowledge-brokering. Sounds fancy enough, but that oldest and most rewarding of methods saw me doing an in-depth interview with an ex-colleague.  It's part of a lengthy process which will build upon my existing knowledge in video and communications.

Very practical !

Give me knowledge
We're so blase to the notion of acquiring knowledge, that even putting it this way seems weird. You might seek many things e.g. a meal, tickets to the cinema, but knowledge??

About the only group which frames it this way are academics, but it shouldn't be the case. Meanwhile, we've all but become googlised.  That is unless something you want is in google, it doesn't exist.

Google has been the defacto repository of knowledge, and after they the British government close down all the UK's libraries ( What you didn't know?) Google's reign will almost be unqualified.

But wait a minute. Here's a couple of thoughts. Firstly google only indexes a fraction of the web, so if it's not in google, doesn't mean it doesn't exist and secondly the web itself is but a fraction of knowledge captured in books, which is why google's digitalisation of books is still ongoing.

This fallacy in knowledge online being a marker of ones knowledge is so widespread that even people, professionals and respected ones at that who should know better, fall for this trap.

I once had a respected visualist  challenge something I'd said about cinema and journalism, claiming he'd been saying it all before. The trouble is I mentioned this in magazines in the 90s and early 2000s; they're not online.

Also to make assumptions about what you know verses someone else is redolent of playschool games of my dad's car is bigger than yours.

Generation Knowledge 
The acquisition of knowledge still has defined routes for generations preferring the tertiary education pathway: lectures and tutorials which beget that incisive method of asking questions.

However even this has its flaws, as while as a lecturer I might claim I know a lot; an ambiguous term, the rigid frame work of a lecture can only be strengthened by asking questions.

And, and, the most overlooked underrated method trawling in the library. Note I said trawling because the default method for researching is often to target a book and at all costs find that information otherwise nothing else will do.

The converse is, as I discovered, simply to go and browse the shelves for anything that could be interesting, which is why the closure of libraries is such a calamity. It reduces the haphastance of making a find.

Second to that is the in-depth questions. To date, for the research I'm undertaking I've been mining a range of questions, that date back even before the research started itself. For the Press Association's programme that I ran, I have interviewed on tape hundreds of people.

And what does this all mean. Simply that the more you ask, the more you know, the more then confusing things become as you attempt to filter, then the more richer you become. In effect you become a repository for a range of views coupled with your own.

So back to the BBC interview, did I get the job?


But it doesn't stop me from from believing knowing how to fish for knowledge has its merits than simply being handed the answer on a plate.

David subsequently got his first TV job in 1990 with the BBC's Newsnight

Twitterbuzz Data Visualisation takes top UK Award

CNN's Twitter Buzz

A first for social network apps, yesterday at one of the UK TV calender's most illustrious events, twitter beat the best of TV News.

Well not exactly twitter, but its engine combined with the programming might of CNN's 2010 world cup presentation.

Tis the season of awards and sandwiched on a table between Channel 4's Dep Ed Martin Fewell and Mark Stephen's (Julian Assange's laywer) I mulled over whether one of my strong selections two months earlier would materialise.

That is did was satisfying given the strong field.

The category, News Innovation, featured the best UK broadcasters ( BBC, Sky, Reuters, ITN etc.), so CNN working Twitter to take primacy truly was something.

As a juror for this year's Royal Television Society Awards ( RTS) and for the past three years, the playing field for innovation certainly has changed.

From Newsnight's 10 Days to War ( I interviewed its creator, Peter Barron, now a senior executive at Googleto today's concept from CNN, this was simple but ingenious.

Using a spatial matrix similar to Maramushi, here filters plumbed to twitter feeds would influence the size of the visual data. The more popular a subject e.g. England's disallowed goal, the bigger the matrix.

Twitterbuzz as CNN calls it married the echo effect of Social Networks back into the news chamber, allowing presenters to talk about the relevant subject on a live show.

This is what I wrote about it when I combed through the judges pack in December 2010.

"For me this use of a tool currently part of the digital media zeitgeist has found a worthy home in the broadcast world. The manner in which it was used exhibiting a global conversation in real time has huge added value. Reminds me of Maramushi – a site that tracked google and presented the news spatially.
Ben Wyatt talking about the archive option providing historicism of the debate and the calendar option was a good touch.  This has statistical analysis for broadcasters in understanding their users via looking at trending, archive and following up with targeted programmes. A simple app expanded past its baseline use. Next to be used in Politics and culture?" 

CNN didn't exactly have it their own way. In contention was the BBC's Live Page which combined expert analysis, comments, video and user feedback during the Chilean Miners' rescue and ITN's Instant Polling which you would have seen during last year's UK election, with their live tracker giving instant feedback to viewers' reactions to the leadership contest.

Away from the awards, more recently a piquant use of Twitter mashup, which is playing a role in today's Irish election, though how much is questionable, is this popularity gauge in the Journal.

The work of Professor Barry Smyth and team from UCD, twitters imbrication with main stream media appears to have found a cosy bed.


David Dunkley Gyimah is a Knight Batten Innovation in News winner. He is a senior lecturer at the University of Westminster and PhD candidate at the SMARTlab at UCD. He's been an RTS juror for the last three years. His videojournalism work with a new generation of Egyptian journalists from its state TV over the last three years can be seen on

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Videojournalism: Experience-based techniques for problem solving and learning Video

David presents his emerging philosophy on video and videojournalism at the SMARTlab

In this post David gives a brief account of his workings with video and ideas about an emerging philosophy using Videojournalism

SMARTlab - a multi-disciplnary research lab and PhD programme has moved into one of the most respected research institutions in academia - University College Dublin.  

For the outfit's February on-campus week, the physical change in environment was the more obvious sign of change. Barely into the week and UCD's heritage as a research centre also became evident.

Some thirty cohorts that range from music and dance experts to NASA researchers and virtual world specialists and then me - a videojournalist- have made the transition from the University of East London to Dublin.

Now into my third year of a part-time doctorate programme, I delivered my latest research into video, videojournalism and communications.

The methodology - a favourite word for researchers describes and examines the route and rules taken to produce knowledge. In my case it draws on heuristics, experiential learning and my interpretation of the landscape using interviews and film I've been collating since 1994.

Heruristics in its simplest term refers to how a problem or solution is obtained by using experience-based techniques. The principle is the more you've worked in a given area, the more you're likely to find a solution. This works for tennis players, chefs to those in the media.

I call it the bicycle syndrome. Learning to ride a bike involves going through a process of trial and error - something that can be forgotten in training students. In acting or the creative arts, you provide the framework and allow students to make things up.

At some point on a bike, you're most likely fall off, but then you get back on. This scenario continues until the day when probably cycling down hill you learn to keep your balance.

Interpretations- there's no such thing as objectivity
My interpretation of events are rooted in this italicised statement below - one of my presentation slides. Here's what I said about my world of video at the Batten Awards, the national press club in 2005. Ideas are cultural as well as temporal so they change over time.
Viewmagazine in 2005
"My work as practice-based PhD will take everything on, relevant and will be housed on a site called Including work with the SouthBank, Apple, experience as a broadcaster and videojournalist over 24 years with training in China, Cairo, Chicago. The training of 300 journalists over five years from the Press Association, and my lecturing work".

Video as a creative medium
There have been various critical transitions within video and or film as a medium for communications and these matter a lot if you're looking to posit new ideas.

The 90s saw the beginning of the DVCam revolution. At the time I was working in news e.g. Channel 4 News and for independent A/V - audio visual outfits and commercial outfits e.g. John Staton Productions - ex head of TV at Saatchis.

It was also the era for a burgeoning web professionals and creatives, where designers such as 
Razorfish showed the potential of the web and the Attik - the duo from Huddersfield, who have also since built a global agency.

The  Attik's Noise series: philosophies of design which I still refer to is a must to understand an emerging visual aesthetic. e.g. NoiseFour.

For the first time, these creatives made me aware that an individual or group could do everything. I mean everything: Design: encode: brand: film: news: sell.

This is a notion news has great difficulty resolving still, more so in the analogue world - pre-digital when the artifact of making news was distinguished by that great specialised cooperate labour: the Ford System.

News involves technical and creative solutions. However, there's a strict division of labour, which is a legacy of practicalities and unquestioning adoption of media forms from the 1930s. In the 1950s during TV news' conception, the equipment was big and unwieldy and the influence of the unions gave rise to a conveyor belt system.
To television, the very idea of a polymath was heresay, absurbed as that may sound. You did news and news alone. If you dared to anything you were labelled multi-skilled.

The closest I saw this at work in network broadcasting was in 1991 when Jerry Timmins - now head of the Africa service at the BBC World Service - was working at BBC Newsnight. It was my first TV research job and Timmins wooed everyone with his ability to produce, direct, and report on the BBC's flagship news analysis programme.

Video as a creative medium in the 80s
The 80s signalled the change ahead in video. Super VHS and hi-8 were creeping onto the market, but super 8mm film and 16mm had a strong presence.

New languages within a cacophony of media were being strengthened; new ideas spilled over from the 60s that had become a feature of the 70s were being challenged as new political systems e.g. Thatcherism, were shaping up. 

Video as a creative medium in 2000s
The winds of change that have radicalised many features today e.g. working habits, distribution, media forms have DNA's with strands that go way back.

Again this matters because it affects the quality of debates, and helps others to interrogate alternative sources of innovation.

Take Abel Glance - a polymath film maker, whose original Napoleon (1927) could easily have been the template for multiple award winning series 24's frame system. Catherine Spaeth's blog provides an insight into the effect of
Glance's framed system referred to as trytich

Tryptich framing from 1927-2000
The significance of this as with a plethora of media issues is reconfiguring them to suit a new semiotic - media language  - and some of the most exciting media thinkers tell us for instance spatial forms will become the dominant ideology of film in the 21st century.

It's these collisions of the old and new that are exciting; they are interdisciplinary: design meets video, and seek to decompose old orders such as the division of labour.

What methods of research based on our past, backed by in depth reading facilitate is a comprehension of trends and how knowledge of a subject is produced.

The practice is often supported by an emerging theory; the theory made to fit to cystalise what we have as evidence. A crucial theme thus becomes how media as it is seen, or taught today is in need of a variable shake-ups.

Ultimately, that is the goal, that besides producing areas of interest, inspiration or debate, that these leads to new areas of teaching.

That's what I believe the SMARTlab is about, as much as any research, which I'll share some more over the lifespan of this blog.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

SMARTlab in Dublin- where I am

I'm in Dublin.

The digital media group I'm part of where I'm taking my PhD has transfered to University College Dublin.

I'm midway into my research, which is producing fruits I would have never have come across were it not for this journey I embarked upon.

That's part of the joy really: being made privy to a number of theorists whose work was relevant then and is so much now e.g. Lacan, Derrida, Lyotard, Deleuze, Foucault - the list goes on.

There was a time when I used to rail against verbosity; I still do. But I have since been humbled into understanding why words that might seemingly come across as pedantic are needed, like surgery to make incisive points.

Typically some of the great philosophers too preferred the noun of a word as grounding, than its verb equivalent e.g. " This text signifies" or that "the text provides a signification".

Many philosophers, including Shakespeare, when I learnt more of him, made up words. Yes Shakespeare - that learned soul; if a word could not be found, hey presto, he'd invent one.

Kant wanted to both posit and distinguish the word aesthetics, which frankly we've all used at some point - if you're in film. But then I was taken by how Barbara Kennedy described it as not necessarily a psychological phenomenon in the way one is affected, but a biological effect.

Journalism is full of words that are in effect blunt instruments; tabloid papers live of them: "scuppered", "police hunt man", "Gunman on loose"...

When ever someone talks about journalism and new innovations, it has me wondering why few mention language.

It's the one thing that binds us, and the thing, living by the way, which commits us to new experiences e.g. The IPad - and a writing style that's fit for speed reading. No three syllabi words please.

I've resisted that old chestnut of language, signs and the tiff between structuralist and post structuralist: one group that believed signs and expressions to define images were modelled around a structure, which one could learn.  Anyone who's watched a Hitchcock film could take a scene and deconstruct it.
The post lot had different views.

Seven years ago, marking The Economists essay, the strength of language was all that distinguished one competitor from another. The Economist simply asked: What is nature?  The samples were eclectic.  But those that could argue to a granular level certainly got my vote.

Language eh!

Tuesday, February 08, 2011

Sanctum-inspired Videojournalism adventure-Gallipoli

Jame's Cameron's 3D underwater extravaganza should be watched purely for the entertainment of a distaster movie where you could almost predict the outcome, if not the plot.

It's popcorn entertainment and thus need not be sniffy critiqued against some of the in-contention Oscar dramas. For me though it yielded a poignancy that extended past seat 5 row h of the cinema.

Some years back, I was rung up out of the blue by a team setting off to the demilitarised zones around Turkey - war grave waters hiding secrets from World War I.

David in Gallipoli

Excited? I couldn't contain myself. 10 days out to sea, with a professional dive crew and sonar to locate a number of ships. On board was one of the descendents of the commander in chief of that war,  Sir Ian Hamilton.

The risks were known, but on board the boat these were far removed. Until that is on the third day; my second dive with 20 mins left on my oxygen tank, I decided to go wandering.

Not a smart move, I was about to find out.

They carry various names, one of them being ribbon currents. A stream of water, unlike its adjacent waters running at furious speeds and before I knew it, I'd got caught full on.

It ripped me away from my buddy diver. By the time he noticed I was at least twenty metres away - helpless.

I finned like crazy, but all my efforts were in vain; the current was too strong. It was like one of the Olympic training pools where you're swimming at a stand still.

I remember thinking" oh ***t because I could see myself slamming onto the bow of this wrecked ship strewn with unexploded shells.  We'd been warned by the dive master before the descent to be careful; they could go off.

Then it happened; I hit the bow and fell onto a basket of them. Here's the shot below. The current was still forceful and I was running out of options.

To get out of trouble I had two routes, go further into the ship; by now I was at my limits of oxygen diving 50m, or I could release some oxygen into my tank and shoot up - risking the bends.

I went down; it seemed like eternity. Then my dive partner appeared. I tried to breath normally, finned some more and got out of immediate trouble.

However I was now faced with a second pressing problem. I motioned I needed to go up, looked at my oxygen level and noticed my hyperventilating put me down with roughly 7 minutes air, yet it would take me five minutes to get anywhere near my deco spot where I had to wait for about ten minutes for my blood to defizz.

At 15 metres, there was little option; I had to buddy breath. Fortunately it wasn't full mask and my partner was reasonably experienced.  I do recall however getting to the surface and grabbing my DV camera for a piece to camera - which is somewhere.
Bow of the wreeck - feeling my way back up

The piece I would eventually make for the BBC World Service aired without that controversy. Watching Sanctum brought it all back.

Last Christmas I joined a climbing club and caved nearby; now that is frightening, but I'll save that story till next time

You can find a trailer on

Friday, February 04, 2011

The flaneurist Mediaist - Videojournalism and photojournalism

The flaneurist mediaist - PhotoVideojournalism in China. David roams the streets looking for material to film.

From Wikipedia
The term flâneur comes from the French masculine noun flâneur—which has the basic meanings of "stroller", "lounger", "saunterer", "loafer"—which itself comes from the French verb flâner, which means "to stroll". Charles Baudelaire developed a derived meaning of flâneur—that of "a person who walks the city in order to experience it.

Inspired by two separate but connected incidents today I set about an experiment of sorts.  The first catalyst was my PhD supervisor noting my latest submission.

Sometimes I wonder whether it's possible to abandon critical theory in unveiling the molecularity of a subject, and instead opt for a historical account,  as many have that reveals and connects events previously unnoticed.

The second was Adam Westbrook's dissection of The Sartorialist. Adam does a wonderful job in deconstructing, which led to a couple of things catching my attention.

Firstly the movement of the camera and subject which created a poetic distanciation. Secondly, the close ups - the affective shot; and lastly when Scott Schuman says he just does "it". "It" being the creative process, what does he mean?

It is a given, if that process could be revealed as a formulae, it would be prized.  It is the "it" that I am at pains to do justice to, as a process to decipher.

The Creative It
In essence the "it" is beyond common sense and reasoning, Your subjectivity extends beyond the norms of 1st degree sensations. It is not external but becomes internalised; you feel it. You become lost in the process as the viewer watching "it".

This is pure cinematic, as opposed to cinema. And sometimes the sensation is so grand, so cosmic, you're in awe.  This is not my extempore, but those convened from Metz, Kant, Deleuze.

For the likes of Schuman and anyone else who has spent long enough pondering or working their craft. "It" is their DNA. It cannot be transferred. It's you voice, the conscious becoming the unconscious.

Right, so back to the inspiration. In and up to the edge of the 20th century, the photojournalist, photographer ruled when it came to the profoundness of the image, as opposed to the cineist who excelled in the moving image.

The invention of the word Videojournalism, and its deconstruction, which we've  set about doing as a body working with David Hayward BBC journalism College, and Paul Egglestone from UCLAN, leaves open several experiments.

The first, could the moving image decompose the still image? Could one day on your IPad or device yet to be invented, the moving image become a dominant thing, usurping the still image?

Now at this moment in time, there are scores of photojournalists who might shout never. Nothing beats the still image. Its immanence; the fact it is still capturing that singular moment defies any other logic for a contender.

Paintings vs Photography
But history tells us otherwise. We only need to look at painting and the revelation of perspective and Brunelleschi's, work in the 15th century. So for at least five centuries from that point, nothing could challenge the dominance of the still image as executed by painters.

Curiously our swiftness to be dismissive is redolent of that age old saying from Plato that in effect our knowledge is only as good as that we are conscious about.

At one point everyone, intelligent men and women believed the world was flat. Elsewhere social theorist Clay Shirky reveals how change takes place over years and not months and weeks, which we fight each other about.

So change is practicable, and the framework that often defines that nestles in trend extrapolation, new philosophies and the unknown. Yes and there are the obvious quack ideas.

So back to the idea. Today, I set about as the PhotoVideojournalist out to capture events. A sort of realism, where people at work would just by being reveal a bit of themselves.

That in itself may have little consequence, other than how people react to different systems: video and Photos. A photographer takes a single image, so the subject is attentive for that moment; in video, there lies a different behaviour, and the series of images are rendered obstinate without sequences or filmic meaning. Oh dear!

Lucy - stall holder

Miles - Street Performer
Guy- Tax advisor

Next I plan to see, utilising Vertov's notion of the loop, which we used in some award winning work in the 1990s, to see if I can affect a classification near to the affect of the image. By coding it in Flash using Action Scripting 3 I can sustain the loop, so the image revolves slowly enough - a liquid image- before the user changes the scene.

The next step which I'm talking to Jude Kelly at the Southbank should complete the process. :) I hope to return to talk about that.

Wednesday, February 02, 2011

Egypt's protest down to good ol fashion 1st gen social media - Television

David training videojournalists in Cairo on a 3 year programme

As a journademic - an academic and professional onliner/ videojournalist I shouldn't be so hasty, but as I write this, hundreds of academic papers are about to be set in train.

The subject matter- prescribing Web 2.0 and social media as the agent for change in Egypt. It's time to be cautious.

For the last three years I have been in and out of Cairo;  last year also taking in Beirut training professional journalists in videojournalism and an understanding of online media.

The latter has spawned a citadel of an industry and while there's no denying the impact blogs, FB, Youtube and Twitter have had, yet often we fail to realise perception like belief is interpretive and selective. This is an Aristolean notion.

David speaking to the Deputy Dean of Communications at Cairo University about the impact of social media
The way we see the world is formulated through our own framework of perception. Empirical studies might tell us otherwise, but collecting that data is often difficult to come by.

But this set of stats did catch my attention. Its January figures revealing the Middle East becoming an engine for social media and twitter.

It requires rigorous examination before SM advocates attach cause and effect towards the recent demonstrations.

The protests that emerged in Egypt, a very likely catalyst from Tunisia and the ousting of Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali after 23 years in power, I would suggest were the result of that old first generation of social media - Television.

What's my hypothesis.  Firstly and less we forget television is still a dominant media and social glue, certainly in particular territories around the world.

It's not uncommon to pass by a diner in Cairo and find swathes of people, mainly men, gathered around the television in the corner, discussing politics and football.

This shot here is of one my trainee videojournalists shooting in an eaterie which has a television and no doubt would have been on to show the Tunisia's events.
Videojourmnalists shooting in the streets

More pertinent, as this picture below illustrates, television is as common place as the homes they're attached to. This shot was taken from the 27th floor of Nile TV - state Television.

It's a restricted floor, but on my last training assignment we were given access. What amazed me as one of the journalists outlined, was the level of sat dishes in areas, including the deprived zones in down town Cairo.
Sat TV City in urban deprived areas of Cairo

Social Media Mk1
International Networks such as Al Jazeera and a host of others are the viewing staple, at least from my observations. This coupled with the mobile phone makes for a powerful social media.

And social it is, for it's around the campfire of the television and mobile phones (temporary immobile) where big society is discussed.  The Net I contend is the echo chamber, at least for the web savvy.

So my hunch from the twitter stats earlier is not that SMers were gearing up for a mass online campaign, but that that more and more users (young or savvy) are discovering Social Media ( a tipping point)  at a rate faster than in territories such as Europe.

That's not surprising as the latter territories reach saturation.

For young people I have come across at the American and Cairo university, yes social media has its currency, but it doesn't appear to possess the same dependencies with other groups as might be the case in advanced net democracies - where you can say what you want.

That's not to say Egypt doesn't have some of the most savvy social networkers around and mobile phone photography is not embedded, but, that if you were a social media trainer, you'd find attentive ears educating outside of the student classes.

David teaching social media to programme makers and graduate producers  at Nile TV

Curiously then in shutting down the net, the authorities had failed to realise TV had done most of the initial work. Postings to the web took the campaign past the geo-locations of Egypt into advanced user bases, where Net content is aggressively shared and played back on television as seen on Sky, CNN, Aljazeera and BBC  TV.

Google and Twitter's voice to text strategy at making the web a linchpin is an interesting case of social media reacting quickly to integrate events but in reality, again it's mainly the student/urban classes.

Here's an interesting question then. If you're a TV network exec and you know this, how do you  maintain the level of interest in television at a time when apple and google are looking to get in on sat platforms with net videos et al.

Because there's still strong evidence that television's narrative of informing, rather than YouTube's pick and mix is still a big draw, particularly for those who find wading through videos for something appropriate a bind.

Is there a future therefore for social media and videojournalism in what I might call fixed and opt in programming? One that can work just as well on the television set as it does online?

More on that in my next post.