Saturday, January 28, 2012

Intimate film/ video making - what it means!

Intimate interviewing and filming -a former apartheid government head of a hit squad reveals all in this intimate interview

The British newspaper remarked: "This is one of the most explosive articles you'll ever read".
I have interviewed many VIPs, newsworthy people and intimate subjects in my time, and used any number of cameras, as the picture below illustrates.

That is Dirk Coetzee and within a matter of minutes meeting him, he was telling me how his team murdered an activist and burnt his body and how they were all having a barbeque nearby.

When I asked if he was carrying a gun, he took it out and showed me his custom-made Glock explaining how he went to the bathroom with it, because he was fearful of reprisals.

I gulped inside, but continued to press engaged by what he was saying, but never losing focus that this was contrived conversation ( an interview). He wasn't my friend, but we'd connected in some inexplicable way.

From using the Digibeta 700, the VX1000, Super 8mm, Pd150s and even Super VHS,  I would say I have almost always managed the level of intimacy I wanted, so there's a conundrum.

How is it that a doc film maker or videojournalist is able to film a subject, yet irrespective of the size of the camera comes away with something intimate?

I know good videojournailsts who use beta cameras and film "intimate"; similarly, the glut of consumer cameras allow for many to film intimacy.

So there's something else going on. It's not the camera per se, but the individual, though this rationalisation is not reducible to an either/ or.

Yet an individual aware of her filmic space, and presence can use a smaller sized camera to a new effect of abstraction.

However at large, the art of intimacy is captured in the Ashanti phrase, which states:

Me ne wo yE honam baako. 

It literally means we live in the same skin, but its interpretation in Twi is how you become one and the same with someone. There is a deeper understanding between you and the subject which in the absence of the camera, as artifact, goes beyond intimacy, and is not sexual.

Twi, spoken by the Ashantis of Ghana, has a very rich linguistic vernacular. The medical condition Kwashiokor - the malnutrition of children with distended bellies is a Ghanaian word.

Think of " honam baako",  as footsteps in the sand, where two people are walking: the film maker and the subject, but you see only one set of prints

To me that's what's been taking place within the matrix of filming, permission space, intimacy and getting something which gets ever closer to the reality of the subject sans film equipment.

I can't find the lyrical equivalent in English, though I suspect very much it exists. Perhaps though those perceived richer lyrical languages: French, Spanish, and Native American Indians e.g. Navajo
may possess similar tropes.

With regards to how you get it, there's no magic pill, but the chemistry between you and subject can be strengthened by honesty e.g. physical eye contact; trust, sympathetic, etc.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Hell and Back Again- Up for an Oscar

News that Hell and Back Again, the incredible story told by one man outfit Danfung Dennis has been nominated for an Oscar, so I have pulled out this piece I did seeing him at the Sheffield Doc Festival.

Danfung Dennis in conversation with Beadie Finzi @SheffieldDocFest

Why do you wanna be a soldier?
Because I wanna kill people.

This and other mind-gnawing exchanges emerge from  Hell and Back Again (2011)   one of many memorable days at the 2011 Sheffield Documentary Festival. Thus far the film has punched through the independent cinema festival circuit garnering accolades and awe, as well as awards.

The World Cinema Documentary Grand Jury Award and World Cinema Cinematography could just be middle-layer, because you suspect the topping could be the Big- O, though Hollywood's predilection to narrative -issue NIMBYISM, doesn't bode well.

Twenty-five year old Sergeant Harris says in the film the army's recruiting team said that was the best answer they'd ever had.

(Fade to black - Sheffield Documentary Festival Day four closes )

Hell and Back Again clip
  Danfung Dennis on Vimeo.

Off limits
There is a conversation that resists being shared when going into conflict. Individually, it weighs on your mind, but you don't speak about it. In any case, skill, experience, maturity and providence are meant do their job.
Reporting from Ghana on US Forces training ECOWAS forces for Liberia campaign 97 and South Africa reportage from Townships in 1992
I believe I know this because I grew up in a country which was shaken by military coups: Ghana, in the 1970s and 80s and that much later I would re-locate to South Africa, reporting at the time of its taut transition from Apartheid to democracy.

David reporting from the troubled townships of South Africa. A freelance report broadcast on the BBC World Service circa 1992.

Yet, comparisons to Danfung's Hell and Back Again, though relative, are diametrically starkly different.

At the Sheffield doc fest, in conversation with Beadie Finzi of C4s BritDoc Foundation Danfung is peeling back layers of the "how" and "what" for Hell and Back Again and the result gives rise to liminal thoughts about "this conversation".

The audience learns how Danfung, a photojournalist already embedded with the US army is looking to be dropped with Echo Company going the farthest into Taliban territory.

The soldiers were destined to be there "for a long time", and the intel and hollowing emerging from later  arms exchanges suggested they had little idea of the Taliban's strength. Electricity and water would either be absent or hard to come by. Danfung with all this knowledge is set on going.  Beadie's pensive look and sharp intake of breath could be an acknowledgement to "this conversation".

Just before boarding the Chinook Danfung's tells us his camera button jams. His inner voice poses the question, what is the point of me going, if I can't shoot anything. Weaker minds would have capitulated.

However the malfunctioning button is resolved by the same ingenuity and tenacity that's become Danfung's trademark in either his camera set-up, the rig, or Condition One - the new immersive viewing screen he's pioneering. This time it was his finger nail digging out the dirt to set him back in course.

Inside the Kill Zone
There is a scene in one of my most absorbing war movies: We Were Soldiers (2002), starring Mel Gibson as Lt. Col Hal Moore in which a young photojournalist Joe Galloway boards a chopper to the LZ zone - the kill zone.

The soldiers have been been stirred by their Colonel. All of you will be coming back, but not all of you alive. Joe Galloway played by Barry Pepper witnesses a deeply horrific mind-numbing assault on the unit by the People's Army of Vietnam.

The morning after, pool photographers and TV camera crew are flown into a sanitised kill zone. As a gaggle, they search for motifs to relay this bloody battle and then come across Galloway.

That conversation now!  Galloway has become the story doing something the rest of his colleagues could either not do or would prefer not to. Forty six years on, Danfung has become Galloway.

When the audience applauds, I find myself doing so not just because of his film which is shot with the hand of Malick, the eye of Lelouch and coruscating brutality of Lu Chuan (City of Death 2011), but that he also had the kwai to tread into the unknown - the kill zone.

That is the conversation. Invariably it's one FOCs (Foreign Correspondents) talk about when the beers are flowing, when they might also light-heartily joke about near-misses. It's all about trust, says Danfung in relation to the unit he was with, which was reciprocated by Sergeant Nathan Harris et al - who would become his main character.

Self belief and trust can be endemically unwavering. In 2002 when I was assigned to be Lennox Lewis' videojournalist, I entered camp with a a hint of doubt. What if Tyson actually won. I was chastened not to think that away. Two weeks in camp I was a convert. There was no way I now thought Lennox was every going to lose his heavy-weight crown to this bruiser.

The Art of War
At the Southbank Centre, where I am an Artist in Residence, last year about this time I'm spell bound by a clip online called Battle For Hearts and Mind*, later changed to Hell and Back Again. I email the photojournalist and he promptly replies.

For two and a bit hours given the bent of my research  my questions to Danfung have a specific line of enquiry. His answers are illuminating and in my guise as artist, journalist and academic, I'm continually digging and documenting precious responses.

Then Charlotte Cook, one of the most erudite, social media practitioners I know, who is part of that august outfit, the Front Line Club emails to request whether I wouldn't mind being part of Sheffield Doc Fests debate on Cinema Journalism.

She's looking to Danfung as one of the panelist. She's hardly finished the sentence and needs no convincing before I nonetheless weigh in: "You gotta get Danfung, You gota get Danfung".

The Cinematic discussion
Restrepo (2010), by the the brilliant Tim Hetherington, whose life was cut dramatically short showed war as the new breed of photojournalists would realise it. The Bang Bang Club (Carter et al) painted South Africa behind the news headlines in 1990s. Yannis Kontos I have had the privilege of working, a World Press Photographer Award Winner and some 18 other international prizes, continually delivers on the immanence of the image.

PIXELS WITHOUT BORDERS from david dunkley gyimah on Vimeo.
Yannis Kontos Promo I produced for his 2006 World Photojournalism Award. For more go here

Yet, Danfung, many affirm, has done something quite different, so different.

 Hell and Back Again and the small team that shaped it: Roast Beef Production Producers Mike Lerner and Martin Herring; the editor Fiona Otway whose Felliniesque intercut and parrallel editing weaves silk through the film. In addition, Sabotage films, Thought Engine and the Britdoc foundation are contributing to Gombrich's schema plus correction model for narrative-art film making.

The cinematography is lush, the characterisation indelible, its narrative reflexively beautiful, the finished product - a must see.

Academics, and I am one of them in film will reflect on the frenzy. We're not being priggish. In wars gone by (WWII) many photojournalists and cinematographers assigned to the US Army's photographic unit shot with small Bell and Howells.

In contemporary history, Vaughn Smith of the Front Line Club covered wars with his Hi-8 in the 1980s; Inigo Gilmore a one-man-band whose work I deeply respect, also a panelist has too covered conflicts; Veteran film maker Bill Gentile, now of Washington State who is pioneering Backpack journalism has the eye of Odin.

So what's changed? The reconstitution of cinematography and full-feature narrative (parrallel storytelling) designed for the cinematic space.

A profession whose technical and creative efficacy would traditionally have tapped many skills and which points to an uncompromising epistemology of non-fiction movie-making is problematic to emulate.

For Hollywood et al to approve of Hell and Back Again, as it did giving a nod to Restrepo is to acknowledge finally the world is no longer flat; civilisations of DSLR technology exists beyond the horizon and they're coming. Oh Yes they're £$££@@% coning. And they debunk the Fordisation structure for professional film making.  Woops!

Danfung, in his calm and collected way refers to it as Immersive film-making. Immersive for the viewer in its aestheticism, yet the embodiment of its filmmaker in hostile territory to get the story is overwhelmingly impressive. That conversation!

+++ END

* thanks to Saeed Taji Farouky for pointing out

Coming Soon: What camera to use where and visual hallucinations on film

Tahrir Memento from david dunkley gyimah on Vimeo.

David Dunkley Gyimah was a contrributing panelists to Cinema Journalism at the Sheffield DocFest. He's been a journalist since 1987 freelancing for BBC, ABC News, and C4 and has covered conflicts. As a dedicated one man band videojournalist since 1994, he now teaches videojournalism and cinejournalism to clients such as the FT, PA, in  the UK and around the world. His film Tahrir Momento - about Cairos revolution was previewed at Sheffield. He is an Artist in Residence at the Southbank Centre and is completing his PhD in film and news. He publishes

P.S to comprehend more on cinematography study Turner 

The Era of Newspaper and Magazine Journalism Degrees and the AJ ( Academic-Journalist)

Instyle Editor talks to Masters in Journalism students about the need to hire the new generation.

It was bound to happen. The relationship between academia and publishers has been long standing. In the 1970s their relationship manifest itself in a publishing boom.

Where else might it explore? Academia publishing their own books, and publishers offering their own degrees? To one of the party plan A would remain too distant a concept.  

But the centrifugal forces of the dissociative economy are turning those pipe dreams now into concrete channels.

Super brand Vogue magazine's announcement it would start its own journalism degree at the Conde Nast College of Fashion and Design laid the foundation. Competitors, you'd imagine, might either have been falling to the floor with laughter at morning editorials while the more sanguine were trying to crunch the numbers.

Across town Academia was faring in a different way with mutterings: "They're having a laugh, it'll never work! "

Oh but it will ! The writing's been, well, er, slowly taking shape literally on the IPad.

Now in the UK an unspecified number of newspapers are looking to announce their own degrees. At the moment it's Chatham House rules, the equivalent of a super injunction.

Welcome to one future of journalism - brought on by the cause and effect of the Internet / Outernet

Future Watch 

The Internet out of its net- The Outernet from david dunkley gyimah on Vimeo.

But then many outfits have already been offering some form of pedagogy in the shape of higher national certificates. The Press Associations has been one of the major participants with links with skillset or recognisable accrediting bodies.

In 2005 it successfully launched and sustained an accredited videojournalism programme for it's regional press. I worked with their head of training, Tony Johnston,  devising the inaugural programme.

BBC Camerawoman and film maker Christina Fox took the helm bringing in her rich knowledge for its six years while I played an integral part captured in this Press Gazette report.  Close to some two hundreds journos were trained.

The Daily Telegraph, working with the Press Association,  offers an accredited training regime to 12 young very fortunate journalists, whereby psychometric testing is one of the selection criteria.

Many have gone on to do extremely well. Unsurprisingly they got the integrated form of videojouralism I advocate very quickly.

But a degree, Masters or even, say, a PhD, well that's another matter?  We've an inkling how we've got here; finance, sales and projections, and how seemingly one piece of technology provides hope on the Net.

As the Wall Street Journal commented
...with the iPad they (Magaziine Publishers) feel they have a technology that best marries the splashy look and size of a full-page print ad with the cool interactive features of a digital ad—and the ability to count how many people saw it.

The IPad Movement
The IPad has become the Tabula rasa of the web. In my lectures it's my interactive interface between working new ideas from the student enclose and projecting those ideas on the screen.

With the IPad, I can control the screen, and the raised platform barrier of the them and us - lecturer/ student

And the tech-fest, rights of social networking have never made the link with savvy young journalists more clear.

Last year, I accompanied a group of students (see top) to one of the UK's most successful womens' titles, Instyle.  Its editor, Emily Dean, stressed the importance of the new generation of journalists needed who can see this new future of journalism.

One enterprising students, a diligent blogger, duly pulled her CV from her inner coat and snuck it over to Ms Dean's and won some invaluable work time.

The idea of bespoke universities, and no one has a monopoly on knowledge, seems tangible. If you wanted to play for Manchester United one of your routes as the golden boys of Giggs, Beckham, Scholes et al  proved was to get trained young by attending their academy

Likewise tennis has its grooming for professional status at a tender age. So why not a journalistic output with a degree to boot.

Of course it raise interesting questions:
  • What is it worth ?
  • What happens if you leave the publisher before you've finished ?
  • What would a publication do that journalism schools aren't doing already ?
A lot I might say, but this is the beginning and in spawning a refined area of entrepreneurial journalism, those questions will get worked through.

Significantly though, this won't necessarily spell the end of tertiary institutions, though if this publishers make the figures work, it'll be interesting to see how the adoption of generic journalism degrees do against the bespoke, which might offer generic subject, plus a deeper understanding of the clients workings.

But the winners in this scenario are not just the publishers, or even applicants, but forward thinking institutions who will be offering support in the myriad areas professional learning calls on.

And then, as is slowly emerging, the new AJ ( Academic Journalist) whom balances practical knowledge and heuristics with classic and contemporary theory of journalism.  For the moment though all eyes are on which publishers gets off the blocks.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

How to become a foreign correspondent

Well put together, I have written about this on this blog and will pull up a link soon

How to pass a Master in Journalism programme well

David featured in Times Square, New York, as one of the presenters at the Online News Association
Time to think how well to pass that Masters and get ahead of the job queue. It's the second semester. It could even be the first, you're prepping for the months ahead - your Masters in Journalism programme.

If you've come from industry you possess certain skills, all of a sudden the volume of writing has become encyclopedic.

If you're straight from graduate school, the sudden change in independence can be daunting.

There exists scores of books in how to pass your PhD but comparatively few in depth ones for Masters, so here I offer you ten inside tips, insider things, you might not have considered pursuing your Masters degree.

1. If a degree is akin to independence, escapism from home life and dependency, a post graduate signifies interdependency. It's how you build relations, work in teams, and demonstrate leadership. Eschewing the meism of graduate programmes is necessary to help you and make the programme a success for you. It really is a wisdom of crowds.

2. A Masters programme may seem like a year, when in practice it's about six months of active learning; three months is for final projects and the summer months for polishing up unfinished work. Plan your time ahead. If like me you were a DJ during your Masters and that's interfering with your studies, drop it. You can go back to Djing after you've got through the programme.

3. A Masters programme is designed to challenge you in instruction- taking, turn taking and professionalism in time keeping and project work. In my experience professors and lecturers who lead Masters programmes possess rich histories in industry and experiential learning that they want to pass on, so if they ask you to do something there is a strong reason why you should, particularly assessment-based work.

Rania 2005 MAJI - a brilliant editor in Egypt

4. Theoretical knowledge found in books is not to be confused with practical industry experience. There are methods and systems which no literature could match. Masters programmes are dynamic learning programmes, but you often will be given assignments that involve research which is not online based. Researching in the library is a journey of discovery. They know that, they've been there. They're trying to pass it on.

5. Lecturers like to be respectfully involved in exchanges of knowledge. Yes they're still learning, but it's a different sort. It's about reading students and evaluating how and what the student can assimilate. That's how you the Masters students gain the most. Plus, lecturers also love hearing new ideas from students.

6. The lecturer-student relationship is a professional one and should remain so, and that professionalism should not be confused with "buddyism". After graudation, and with large amounts of discretion after lectures e.g. pub, that's different. But just as the lecturer should be deferential to the student in addressing them, students should be aware of that relationship. Calling a lecturer: hey, yo, hi with abbreviated name in correspondence is is inappropriate, unless both parties have agreed upon this. This is often a cultural issue, but should not negate discussion from both parties. With employment letters on your horizon formalities should be norm.

MAJI students 2006 - all doing well including Al Jazeera's Palestinian Correspondent Tamer ( R)
7.  The Rabbit Hole. Professional lecturing delivers all the necessary requirements to prepare you for industry. The module handbook will stipulate those requirements! But there is such a thing as the rabbit hole which lives in the grey area of post masters programme and Phd programme's and beyond. It shouldn't surprise you. Your lecturer has years of experience and what she talks about to Goldman Sachs, or the BBC about may not be appropriate for a Masters - but then it could.

 Lectures call the Rabbit Hole various things.  These involve personal quests from both parties and involve Chatham house rule activities and may only surface after a level of confidence. If you build a personal rapport with your lecturer asks about the rabbit hole.

8. The easiest way not to pass a masters is not to submit work. There's also a standard the university at large adheres to, so in effect, attending a Masters programme is not a guarantee you will pass. Institutions take the view that your presence and the programme delivered is a bond and one that is designed to make you pass. Otherwise what's the point of attending the programme. Many lecturers will pursue repetition within exercises and mocks to ensure students pass. I do this regularly. If you adhere by what you've been given, even templates, there's no reason you should not pass with even flying colours

9. Most lecturers are dedicated to their work, but they also have extracurricular activities, so their interaction with students is formost through the students work and contact hours. Because of that, the only way they evaluate work is by what they've been presented to the guidelines agreed. I'm yet to meet students who fill their downtime thinking about lecturers and vice versa. In my case I have got a PhD to finish, another blog to write, a talk coming up and a film to make.

10. Sometimes, not always, students are beset with personal problems and either forget to mention these to student services, or refrain for other reasons from doing so. Don't do this. If you're in trouble, have personal issues, talk to your lecturer whom in confidence will refer you to the appropriate service. But they can't take unilateral decisions by themselves. It's inter-agency, so if you don't turn up to classes, are continually late or don't hand in work but expect the lecturing team to understand your predicament on the eve of assessments, the outcome might not suit you.

Master programmes are about planning, planning, planning. You're a couple of months from entering the industry. Here's where you practice not making those mistakes. The industry is already way tough as it is.  To all those who may have heeded this and are doing well in the industry, good on you :)

The views here are my own and not of any institution. They come from my years of lecturing on numerous programmes, and from my experience on a soon-to-completed doctorate. I did my Masters in 1989, having freelanced for the BBC while completing my degree in Applied Chemistry.  In the ensuing years I have worked for all the UK's major broadcasters.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

How New Journalism should provide grounded traditional techniques

The colossal creativity unleashed on the web, and the successes we've witnessed pose an interesting question for any profession.

In journalism it's had us believe unequivocally that creativity is the key index for journalism and its future. We acknowledge that by the weight of sites and conferences espousing "the future of journalism"that stop us in our surfing track.

It is undoubtedly a necessary ingredient, however prototypes of this new horizon are fewer than we often think.  We might mash up, become inter discipline, develop apps, but truthfully the cognitive techniques developed by Defoe who wrote Robinson Crusoe, or Vertov's in "Man with a Movie Camera" are still robust.

These and many others are the exemplars recycled to present iterations.

Yes, you could reel through those bookmarks of the 20 apps you need that separate you from the luddites. But invariably those apps facilitate, add to, push forward concepts you might already have dreamed off or conceptualised, otherwise you're not using them now because they have no relevance.

Sad news this week of Kodak locking itself in the dark room in perpetuity after a hundred plus years is not necessarily an indictment of new journalism over old,  but off a complacency of process over product.

Great photography still employs fundamentally the same techniques whether its analogue or digital.

David Hockney's new London exhibition which shows paintings made on an IPad does not disguise that great painting still rests on composition, mis en scene, lighting and fundamentally problem-solving.

Writing great copy is still a cognitive process of conflicting styles, grammar and rules of punctuation.

The future of journalism then is curiously formalised techniques for writing for blogs, the mobility of journalism through the IPad, the social networking of you and your audience, but it's far from being a zero-sum game.

Journalism is still "a hunger for human awareness" and how hardwired we are to storytelling so brilliantly captured in Bill Kovach's and Tom Rosenstiel's The Elements of Journalism.

So what does this all mean for even a self-confessed quasi-techno like you and me?

Search for the exemplars, the original forms that have influenced contemporary leanings - that so often blight our outlook we think them new.

Interrogate those methods against the emerging to discover where new lesions may arise for you to work. Storytelling is fundamental, but is influenced by culture, social and technology. If you're a student spend time asking your lecturer about those classics - exemplars.

Google is without doubt an exemplar for its age, but google itself grounded its techniques on our cognitive understanding of how people search and reference. The art of referencing emerged in the 1950s, which itself looked to the art of taxonomy.

But if you don't know how to search efficiently what good is google?  The story of baffled kids watching Harry Porter visit a library, when he might easily have used google, shows how in the last decade alone technology can seemingly blunt the way we think.

New journalism is brilliant but don't make it an island cut off from its many archipelagos.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Innovation in Journalism - what next?

Page from David's submission of viewmagazine, so what made it innovative -see below
A previous knight Batten Winner for Innovation in Journalism and currently a juror for Britain's leading forum for the Television Community, The RTS, David talks Innovation and our ceaseless search for creativity.

Fifth floor, a couple of hundred metres from one of London's main landmarks, the High Court, thirteen of us have gathered to adjudicate.

The subjects in this case, UK media organisations, about to be judged for their innovation. The prize, industry cred., courtesy of the RTS.

Around two and half hours we debate, posit ideas, occasionally question each other in an attempt to reach a consensus, or not. The victor, from a short list, will be announced at the industry's black tie event at the Grosvenor House.

But a general point struck me which I suppose has interest wider afield in our quest for innovative journalism. Innovative journalism at the time of writing generates 36m google entries. It's big business.

A discussion in innovation could fill an evening's round of beers, but its practice; how media goes about being innovative can resemble  Supreme Court Judge Potter Stewart's famous phrase of porn, "I know it when I see it".

Obvious innovation  can be rare. There are only a limited number of devices which mimic Twitter, Facebook etc. and in any case their innovation within media is retrospective, and they tend to initially exist outside mainstream media's norms.

A more common approach is the adoption of a technology and its application. Last year CNN's Twitter football won  by combining football punditry with a twitter feed spatial map. The more the conversation, the greater the panel site.  It got my vote judging last year.

Adopting a technology can sometimes be like fishing for Tuna. You rarely get a big catch, and often throwing the line is trial and error.

But there are ways to grapple with innovation, though its not full proof, through reverse engineering the exploits of others.

The Stream - innovative programming

The Stream made by Al Jazeera is a good example to critique because it poses more questions too. The issue references back-story as a variable contextualising innovation.

The programme, a 4-day interactive current affairs show is built around the mesh of social networks. Its prominence should be the holy grail, a  template for broadcasters and media ventures as social, has and will, continue to develop.

Presented by the charismatic Harvard educated Derrick @ashong, it punches above its weight on issues broadcasters might skirt around.

In journalism folklore public figures - senators, members of parliament - loathe being interviewed by non professionals because they break protocol. They ask questions, which journalists might consider off-limits.

Famously, Britain's PM Margaret Thatchers gotcha by a house wife is the example. Thatcher would avoid any situation like this thereafter.

The Stream gives the impression that its on-screen team, as slick as they look, are non pros. People like you and me, asking the questions we'd all like to know. They don't postulate or grandstand.

But as a critique, whilst the content and excursion around its social apps is admirable, it's yet to find the groove which characterises how TV shows will look in the future.

Admittedly this may not be its remit, but if not it's one to consider.

Innovation can be a harsh word. In critiquing innovation or anything media-related for that matter, we search for analogies or the exceptional for comparison. We examines schemas - how the show works and with what - as one example.

We look for the descriptive and analytical to contextualise and then justify its innovation by rhetoric.

To that end, The Stream stumbles upon a perennial problem faced by broadcasters. Note, this is not to say the show isn't valued by its many followers, this is an analysis which looks to mark out its implicit and explicit forms of innovation and how you might replicate it.

What's explicit is obvious- the show, its presenters and content. There's nothing like it on Al Jazeera and nothing quite like it on other genre broadcasters. Comparing genres is an invaluable source in critiquing.

BBC's Logo for its Def II Reportage and Rough Guides - innovative programming

The implicit is how you move past television's face-value semiotic of the chat show. Cut back twenty years ago on British Television and a show I worked for called BBC Reportage (see report) - made by the youth for the youth and upwards -  broke nearly every rule in the book.

It tracked down mercenaries and their relationship with city financiers, it uncovered the first instances of school children swapping floppy disks with unsavoury material. And it went deep into Palestine- Israel's Intafada.

Had Reportage been around today, you'd want to know how they'd turn TV inside out and what it would look like in the 21st century. And that's the challenge for  a programme like The Stream, replicable you.

Its low-fi and slightly out of the convention of TV, but not nearly enough because you suspect the people behind it are TV execs. And herein is a back story that innovation begs.

Innovation, now a feature of my doctorate begs who and what's behind it.  Facebook is mightily innovative but it garnered a new sheen when we realised it was one person.

We place store in knowing who's behind a product and the skill set employed, organisational or technical, to bring something to fruition.

It doesn't negate whole teams being innovative, but there's something about the individual. So there's extra kudos to be combed from The Stream's production team.

Remember classical TV's false economy has always been to acknowledge the front of screen talent, while ignoring or tacitly endearing the production team.

This is wrong. New model shows should take the time to credit all talent. Youth TV did try it with the zoo format, so a precedent exists.


The Knight Batten Awards for Innovation in Journalism; from david dunkley gyimah on Vimeo.

Innovation therefore has come to look like that pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. Ellusive, but it can be fostered by working formats outside of their paradigm, or bringing professionals into fresh situations.

Take coders in journalism, designers in sound crafting,  or journalists becoming visual, rather than literary.

My own Knight Batten story from 2005 made use of theses semantic associations. The vision back then was to pull videojournalism and online design together. But the design had an aesthetic which ensured it did not fall of the page. It did not scroll.

In the future I believed web pages would be viewed on screens e.g. TV and mobile. Cue the IPad later. Clever? Not at all. Most of the devices we use have been around at some point before they break through.

Marshall McLuhan called it rearviewmirrow. Looking for something new by searching the past. So historical analysis of media is a sure fire way of thinking what next.

The great Art historian EH Gombrich saw all art/ creations as reversions. Our influences are so strong if you were going to make a new TV Show, you'd base it so close to what TV is already.

Media innovation therefore is essentially a mash up of  tech, practice and the psychology of behaviour.  It's also time-bound. When someone's at it and it becomes de rigeur - everyone follows.  True innovation is a maverick tendency. It's out there.

If you're a student or industry practitioner it's whether you're bloody minded to go against the grain, but trust your instincts.


Related articles

What comes next in Social Network of News?

P.S Not a lot of people know this, but did you know Al Jazeera's website was modelled on the site, I built. Al Jazeera's first head of design was a friend of a friend, Riz Khan. I met with him as AJ was being formed in London and he took my website and sourced it out to a number of agencies requesting they model AJs close to, but improving upon

Monday, January 09, 2012

Capturing intelligence – the I-reality journalist

Capturing “intelligence” – the I-reality journalist
Journalism seeks the tenants ascribed to the hard sciences, a legitimacy via objectivity and truth. We remain cautious at calling ourselves artists in the creative sense.

Interviews, events, even the recounting of stories by protagonists is transmuted into materiality. A camera points and records: “Congressman, what were you thinking?” Factivity in journalism necessitates we use material world footage or otherwise the congressman remains in vision. 

In “A movement beyond classical Journalism” I write how classical news fails too often to convey the phenomenological awe and shock of events, because of its imposed constraints.
For instance, the scale of famine in Somalia or the murderous acts of an extremist Norwegian gunman shooting for 90 minutes. That’s 5400 seconds- start counting! 

News requires pictures or traces of an event.  Metonyms as metaphors e.g. a soldier’s helmet on the beach; cross reference “The Longest Day (1962)”, is the closest news embraces immateriality.

Hollywood has successfully captured thoughts via flashbacks and clever manipulation of the story diegesis courtesy of Russian formalist Vladimir Propp’s story form, the syuzhet.  

Movies of the mind
Inception (2010) takes hold of this and plays with mind and memory. Minority Report (2002) taps thoughts conjured by Pre-cogs in a futuristic world of “dreamlike investigative-reality flutter cuts”. Such investigative work is a simulacrum for mind story-teling. Cue the I-reality journalist.

Like astronauts seeking new frontiers, I-reality journalists wonder how to represent thought beyond the obvious material experience.

Filming Egypt’s uprising, Tahrir Momento (2011), I shot an elliptical syuzhet, attempting to capture sub-conscious recollections. Figures in the film speak. I paint my interpretation of their thoughts as I, a would-be sentient, pre-cog with plentiful handicaps, capture a past that I reflexively create for others. 

But I’m aware this sort of journalism thus far is riddled with problems. 

Perhaps because  these depictions are not objective, and we have yet to rupture the paradigm of digital in which its language development engenders a digital-trust quotient, where I can exercise art within journalism. 

Award winning film maker Mark Cousin calls this work impressionist. In the noetic world of digital gestures and glances addled with implicit messages, symbolic meaning transmutes.

The Outernet which works outside of the semiotics of classical journalism, bridging innovative concepts of new news story forms, created within the net influencing systems outside – The Outernet – may be one such cue. 

Our thoughts are a zone for deeper filmic exploration.

More recently MIT scientists showed how the brain/ mind empties itself to gather new information. 

If a consumer camera is soon mass produced that captures brains’ electrical signals, thoughts as seen here, and cameras reading data such as pupil dilation, will be closer to looking inside a person’s mental state. 

Then “Congressman what were you thinking?” will be a question we don’t even need to ask. Capturing intel from thought will become the next I-reality.

Saturday, January 07, 2012

Theorising a strand of journalism knowledge

I have begun to process the qualitative data of my doctorate research. Fascinating.

I liken the process to panning for gold, where the findings are nuanced, rhetorical, fine-grained based on the date processed.

That has become an important point to realise, and why perhaps unlike science theorising which supplants one for the other, it's problematic within journalism.

Essentially, if as many scholars have done treating journalism as literary text, rather than science, we're in the realm of literary critique.

The only you thing you can do is to argue a point against a detractor using rhetorical powers of debate.

Empiricism also serves broadly two purposes. The research we conduct now to comprehend where we are in this topsy media turvy world which registers its moment in time. Then moving away from the scene of examination for reflection. The further we're removed from the event, those small tears begin to look like gaping holes.

The 1990s now seems an era away, the 1960s for the baby boomers almost a lifetime. But as a caveat I note their importance.

We're only begin to realise, or at least the screen generation born into a digital world, will when we help contextualise change not for nostalgia, but to curate systematised change

This week that quality will be put into practice judging the RTS, and then next week providing a heuristics of journalism knowledge lecturing at Uni.

Interesting times ahead :)