Sunday, December 30, 2012

Wanted - Applicants for a University of Collapsible Media - Inspiring ex-student stories

Sign up for the University of Collapsible Media

There is no better feeling than to play a part in the success of others.

It is not a feeling of personal triumphalism, but one you share by association. Often you quietly smile and go on your way. Sometimes the source of this inspiration has the capacity to bring joy to others.

When Mo Farah won his double and Jessica Ennis clinched her event, millions of us joyously wept and even though we may not know them personally, our sentiment would have been "it could not happen to a nicer person'. 

That feeling of satisfaction spurns the next child to take to the tracks. They become the next Farah and Ennis.

Person of the year- You!
It's the same feeling in education. We exist to help others become better than what we have achieved. 

We have made a silent oath to ensure all students emerge from our mentoring to do things they thought they couldn't do - to find that job, to re-engineer media codes, to pass it on.

Some students resist this. Curiously, they quietly contend they know better. A critique of their work is seen by them as an attack. Your willing them on to search and discover is viewed as negligence. 

Your years of experience of what works, the awards you might have won, the cracks you ask them to explore are regarded as nonsense.

I can get you to the water, but you have to decide you want to drink. They will, the determined ones find success on their terms. We must wish them well without reservation.

But within the student makeup are those who would make Steve Jobs smile (read this), let alone us lesser mortals.

They reach planes of success because they are driven and understand personal sacrifices. No successful person got to where they did because it was easy, otherwise we would all be David Beckhams. We effectively become nudgers. A gentle nudge here, a smaller one there.

They inspire us further to want to do better.

They negotiate life's hurdles and where we are permitted invite us to the transient role of advisor, but more importantly as a friend, such as Yixiang, now based in Hong Kong.

Alternative Pathways
Former student Yixiang who is an inspiration talking to MA Students in 2011
Here's a related story. You're going for an interview. You're aware you'll be asked a number of questions, but depending on the interview and the position, I might tell you how to circumvent the process and drive the interview process.

A panel of interviewers, having sat through 20 applicants would like nothing more than someone who has initiative and who stands out from the others. How do I know this? I once went for an editor's job at a BBC regional station.

The interview should have lasted half an hour; it went on for 50 mins. I did not get the job. I was told I didn't know enough about the region's politics, but they found me engaging and were torn. They considered me for the position but a better candidate came along.

Our former students reach their goals and we cheer on their behalf. One went from learner to tutor in one day. He went for an interview and got a top international correspondent's 

post."From now on I will be learning from you", I told him.

Five years on in August, whilst working in Tunisia, a client wanted a senior journalist to drive a project for them. Only one name came to mind. The client rang me a month later to say, "wow" about the journalist. I said "wow" about him back. 

These are individuals who engage in that mystical Hogwartsian university, which one day I'd like to physically bring to life. It is a University of Collapsible Media.

This story I am about to tell please do not confuse with the need to caress my ego. 

Apple Inc Innovation profile did that pretty well enough :)  Some years earlier I was plastered on the Evening Standard magazine alongside Zadie Smith and others as happening blacks in London.

David 4th from right in ES Magazine
My role as an artist in residence at the Southbank Centre is to challenge how we think and what we do. When I present to BBC World Service executives ( see here)  
I take all these experiences and fold them into my lecturing. This doesn't make me right or in what I do, but I take from what Dorothy Byrne the head of Channel 4 said to me, when I asked her about newspaper videojournalism.

She said, they could do worse than consult us. After all, we've been doing this longer than they have.

So, here is a story. I could tell you quite a few more of these going back to 1994, but I won't because they are private and I'm a firm believer in Chatham House rules (being a member n' all). But when I got sent an email two days ago. 

I asked her if she wouldn't mind sharing her experience for all those undertaking Masters in Journalism courses - the next generation - and in particular those at the University of Westminster.

It is how a student studying as a print journalist dipped her toe into online/multimedia and got involved in video. 

For her final project she got into the gates of No.10 Downing street to do her stand-up for a story. She speaks five languages. She got her break with CNN and by the time she'd finished a three month attachment, coupled with her final project, she'd built up the most exquisite portfolio and was then hired to work for a dynamic station in her native country.

This is her story.

Her Story

I want to share something with you. I have just come back from Africa, where I was the first Romanian journalist in the history of the Marine to go to a conflict zone with the Romanian frigate.  It was...amazing.

I had the best time in my life. I filmed part of the reportage, we spent 18 days with them in the Indian Ocean and it was kind of the beginning of my childhood's dream, to be a war reporter and work with the army. 

I guess somehow things arrange themselves as life wants them too. 

Life, I believe, it’s always about a mixture of making the right decisions, working too hard and having that bit of necessary luck. Decisions like attending the Masters at the University of Westminster. And luck, for instance, of meeting people that change your life. Like David Dunkley Gyimah.

I am a kid from Romania who always wanted to be a journalist, before she understood what that meant. So I read a lot, I learned many languages and never listened to the many people who said: you will never make it. 

Or it’s not worth it being a journalist in a country where the meaning of this notion is decades behind what Western countries understand it is, and where people do not trust you or what you represent - the media -  after half a century of communism and fake journalism.

Denisa in action
So I went on learning some more, trying to make the most of the chances to study abroad. I went to Belgium and Prague to do that. And then I was accepted at the Masters in International Journalism, at the Westminster University. 

And I learned to think big and believe nothing is impossible, if you want it and work hard for it. I learned to report, to film, to edit, to have an interest in what happens around the whole world. It was the meeting with David that made me change my perspective. 

I guess his incapability of stopping for a minute, his never-ending energy, his curiousity and eagerness to learn more and discover more have “intoxicated” me, too. 

To give you an example? I am now on holiday, after six months of no free day at all, not weekends, not anything, making plans for the stories I will cover next year. And I got that from him. To never waste time, that’s the first lesson learned.

Second is not to be afraid - for international students, especially - to go back to their home countries, instead of trying forever to make it in the big world. I decided to come back to Romania to work for a TV show which broadcasts reportages. And in two years I travelled across Europe, USA and Africa to film them. 

I have been nominated for national and international awards and I have become the first journalist in the history to cover a conflict with the Romanian Navy on a frigate sent in the middle of the Indian Ocean to fight the pirates. 

Sometimes, going back to your small country means you being one head above the others - for your international education and way of thinking - and also receiving opportunities at a very early age that people would never give you in the big world. This doesn’t make you smaller.

Third lesson: think big, make plans, break rules and never let people convince you that you can’t. Of course you can. And try to implement the rules of international journalism you learned, in your own country/newsroom, as difficult as it would seem at first.

Fourth lesson: continuously learn, read, watch documentaries, improve your work as much as you can and be one step before the others. I’ve started learning my eighth language. The ninth and tenth are coming soon. There’s too much out there to find out and learn, that it would be such a pity not to and waste time instead.

Fifth lesson: work hard, be willing to give up on your life or friends for some time, in order to work and learn and be good at what you do. It doesn’t matter I spend more than 100 hours a week at work. It is worth it now, for sure. Everything you learn and do will help you. And soon.

But all this, if you just love this job. Cause if you do, you’ll make it. And it’s too lovable, I believe. So really enjoy it.

Here's my reportage (it takes a bit of patience, it starts at minute 4 of the timeline: 

Senior lecturer and digital specialists David Dunkley Gyimah sharing a panel on alternative broadcasting styles with:

  • Pavlina Kvapilova, Director, New Media Division, Czech Television
  • Caco Barcellos, presenter and director of "Profession Reporter" Globo TV
  • Kenji Kohno, Deputy Director, International News Division, NHK.
David a judge, for the UK's highest Television News Awards, the RTS, publishes and is close to completing his PhD which partly examines alternative broadcasting styles. He has 25 years experience in media.