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. 

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Stimulating Media Minds with a University of Collapsible Media

How do you stimulate minds of the future?

The question was asked on the UK's leading morning news and current affairs radio show, The Today programme, edited in a one-off by by Sir Paul Nurse, a Nobel prize recipient for his genetic work.

The simple answer was to experiment.

In the studio, children from London's Argyle primary school set about doing just that.

Water was placed in a glass and by stroking the rim a sound emerged, but why was the sound being produced asked their brilliantly effervescent teacher? The answer was enthusiastically provided,

Such lines of querying yield a number of thoughts, some even conflicting, which cut right to the heart of this post.

How do you stimulate journalism minds of the future?

Art and Journalism

German-born scholar Rudolph Arnheim in his watershed book of the 1950s Visual Thinking lamented the depletion of creativity in Art teaching.

Children learn to experiment by placing their hands in paint and creating hand prints, but by the time they reach adolescence the curriculum has either become prescriptive and modular or doesn't exist at all.

Art is relegated to an after thought. It must be taught a certain way. In the UK Art's importance is honored by severe cuts to its funding, and the truth, science fares no better.

In between Art and Science, and for a deeper magical exploration of their relationship I recommend you read Art and Physics by Leonard Shlain, are disciplines of modularisation and processing.

And there you'll find journalism, modular in all its wider significance, enticing generation upon generation into a process, which is now so corrupted its called Churnilism.

It shouldn't be like this, but the conditioning over the last thirty years has been endemic enough to marry our own individual habits.

Thus the minute we're asked to think, and think outside of modularity's framework, we panic. Instead we seek immediate gratification through tick boxed answers or the new template of how its done.

Apollo artistic scientific thinking

Creative Commons - Wikipedia
One of the most graphic illustration's of this is Apollo 13.

Faced with a deepening crisis, NASA's team showed the strength of modular knowledge, but also highlighted its limitations and how artistic thinking would get them out of a hole.

Wiki writes:
Considerable ingenuity under extreme pressure was required from the crew, flight controllers, and support personnel for the safe return. The developing drama was shown on television.

If it wasn't in the rules book, it could not be evoked. Their success in these high stakes rested with already brilliant minds, but of the need to overcome technical rationality.

The term 'technical rationality' is used by the extraordinary US social scientist Donald Schon to explain how rational thinking to technical problems can be limiting.

It is systemic in our thinking until something goes wrong and we require something artistic rationality.

You likely contribute to its meaning. When the computer ceases to work, you get angry, phone up support and offload. You very rarely ask yourself, what could have gone wrong and is this something I can fix. Restarting your computer can sometimes solve the situation.

Trouble is few of us either understand artistic rationality or how to see beyond modular tasks of accomplishing goals.

Steve jobs did in this article: top ten lessons Steve Jobs taught us.

Modularisation and Processing

In the margins is where the Internet facilitated a new kind of journalism
Forming boxes of learning is something we do all too well, so much so that we call the boxes, 'modules'.

A history of education shows they took off in the 1970s, a reorientation from the globalised Paris riots, which made universities remodel themselves as commercial enterprises.

Publishing educational books became a necessity and packaging packets of learning were de rigeur. Methods by which universities taught would be standardised.

It was a brilliant idea, as brilliant as Ford's concept of building the motor car back in the early 1900s. Everyone did their bit: the engine, the panels, the painting and passed it on down the line.

No department mixed its practice. That would be inefficient. To be a jack of all trades and master of none was frowned upon.

Having travelled around the world, either lecturing, presenting or making a film, as part of my longitudinal PhD,  I have seen this way of teaching.

Each territory has its nuances, some are taught that knowledge are tablets of stone delivered by an unquestioned scion, other students believe being adversarial to the system is more beneficial.

By and large modularity is a phenomenon associated with modernism, whether its Chicago, Cairo or China, journalism like the legal practice from where it learned many of its rules is fixed and bound by seemingly incontestable principles.

Learning by Example

In Ghana where I went to high school (I'm 2nd from the left 3rd row up)  it is particularly pronounced.

Prempeh College has given Ghana many public servants. It is arguably one of the best high schools in Ghana and in that school we worshiped modularity, so much spawned the commonly known practice called 'baba'.

It means learning by rote and we were so good at it we could recite whole books without ever knowing why they mattered or what it could lead to.

This method of learning is not something we question. Yet in age of discursivity, postmodernism text, of fusion of ideas, it needs to be challenged.

We do it already. Bill Gentile's video journalism programme of taking groups on excursions into Mexico to understand film making as it should breaks from modularity.

In Cairo working with journalists I too have them on the streets in something akin to pyschogeography. As the conditions change on the street, so does your cognitive behaviour.

Film making is collapsed around cognitive behaviour, and that embraces the Net's lack of hard wiring conventions. I'm going back to Cairo for a presentation in February about this.

The core conceptual framework for was for an imbricating or collapsible media. But this was tacit knowledge then, how do you de-modularise media?

Working in Egypt

On the streets teaching how we see in video

The answer lies in recapitulating a strategy for the circular flow of knowledge and shared ideas.

 More of what that means coming soon.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

The power of thought - an ever evolving video frontier

This Christmas present was bought for a friend who is a a keen gardener, worms and I'm about to eat this one. Yum!

Fancy one?

No, I'm not pinning for a spot in "I'm a celebrity get me out of here", where all sorts of grubs are consumed with creased faces. This action perhaps captures the eloquence of that mystifying subject, semiotics.

Here's the box the worms came in.

The image is of worms, which is the mental image - the signified. Worms. YUK! But look closely and its chocolate made to look like worms.

Through out art and cinema this play of the mental image and the image proper has been the crux of creativity on the one hand and in the hands of the despot, demagoguery.

With respected film makers we value its use. In fictional films, a light extinguishing with youngsters walking in an empty house evokes fear and imminent danger. With image makers whose lack of film knowledge is questionable, we are left unsure of any use of motifs, and their thinking.

Why is that?

You probably have a few good reasons yourself. But one of the more compelling is whether the film maker understands the implications and intentionality of the use of the image.

The worm-chocolate image is in fact quite literal as an example.

More complex events that are wrapped in cultural schema require more complex and dialectically subtle interpretations for the filmmaker to put them on the screen for you and I to negotiate.

As the viewers we then make our own independent connections. But if the video maker has done her homework, we veer closer to her intentions.  However the power of thought is as much  a socio-cultural phenomena.

What works in India may not necessarily carry in the US and even within a region there will be differences.

Appreciating our differences is at the very heart of great image making, but paradoxically acknowledging that strong critique is welcome in most places is another.

And in critiquing, there exists a state of objectivity where we steer away from the personal to the intelligible. The power of thought is indeed powerful, but great image making attempts to understand the effect of these thoughts upon us.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

A New Present of Video Storytelling & Videojournalism

David Dunkley Gyimah with CNN Anchor Becky Anderson at CNN party in Barcelona 

We're 12 individuals - academics and professionals - like CNN's Becky Anderson who annually sift through the most innovative UK broadcast news programmes to crown the  RTS (Royal Television Society) winner.

This unique behind-the-scenes insight has also proven to be useful in other ways. It's one of several features I have used to build up a theory of video storytelling and videojournalism.

PhD Thesis first draft examines the future of the storytelling 
The practice-based theory being completed at  University College Dublin runs to 85,000 words.

It has taken five and a half years to complete, but really covers 25 years of my career and goes back much further still.

And, it has driven me mad more times than I care to remember. It's my new present, which I'm hoping to share with anyone interested - soon.

Along the way some 200 people (experts and clever people who understand media) have helped shape its outcomes from their contributions.

It is a story about storytelling: video storytelling and videojournalism.

The story about the story
This relentless research covers processes before they take shape and the "inbetween". The space between what defines something and the next form, which is often disregarded.

In his book Mike Conway, through exhaustive research, showed how America's broadcast industry came by its present form. A passage of the book read as follows:

"Well before a technology is accepted or medium becomes mass, the key players, the people and industries that could win or lose depending on the direction and purpose, negotiate a specific role for the new invention. Focusing attention only after people start relying on a medium misses the critical era in its development. By the time an audience has gathered around a source, many of the negotiations over purpose and mission are complete. Routines have already been developed. Limits have already been set. A “hard pattern” of processes and purposes might already be guiding the product. These negotiations not only provide an important view into how and why a medium developed in a certain direction, they can also give us a glimpse of the roads taken".

We tend to care less about the inbetweens because the present forms provide us with what we want.

It complies with narrative conventions we are familiar with and above all trust. But the inbetweens do something else, they move us away from stagnation and formulate fresh conceptual ideas.

And these actions are not achieved by whims or banal strategies. Sometimes, the audience exhibits traits that suggest they are ready for innovation.

Dimitri Doganis, arguably one of the most innovative storytellers in the UK, knows this all too well. You will know him by such productions as: Banged up Abroad, National Geo's Jungle Gold, and The Imposter.

The Imposter is one of those extraordinary stories, so tantalisling, that it borders on fiction. A teenager returns to his parents, having been abducted as a child, but all is not as it seems.

Like Doganis' production slates factual programmes take on a filmic schema creating hybrid forms. They look too good to be true.

 But how did Doganis come by this way of thinking? To the left is Doganis in 1994 as one of the youngest reporters working for a new venture in the UK, where I used to work and to the right my recent interview with Doganis.

I'll post a trailer of this investigation in due course.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Poetics of video story telling

It goes by the working title of Vanguard on the front page of 

It's a short film that previews a film I'm making that has taken five years. That's the duration it's taken for an 80,000 word thesis which investigates new knowledge in video story making.

How can some people produce stories that have us transfixed when the content is not the determining factor?

I used the expression with academic colleagues of a poetics of video story form. This has very little to do with the telling of poetry, but how the elements in a story hit a sweet spot or sweet spots.

The artifacts of narrative are so immersive that it's not the sheen per se associated with the film, the 5D look that is the clincher, though understandably subconsciously we are wedded to this. However to debunk that idea spare a thought for all the auters who shot on 16mm.

The underlying style is one which reaches a metronomic state. It's not definitive and certainly not unitary. But it's the beginning of the architecture for a schemata which also is not out and out prescriptive. You simply don't just pick up the results and apply them to your camera.

Sometimes we wish life was that deductive.

In the states of learning, a poeticism is without convention. It is the something else beyond the explicit, which is why some people see what we can't see. And then even those who can see have a respect for others who are transcendental. Think Gladwell's Blink.

If you're in a university, studying news and factual film forms,  or an aspiring film maker, or dare I save have some experience, it may have some interest for you.

I mentioned some of the themes in a discussion as a panelist at Europe's biggest newsgathering, NewsXchange (400 media people from more than 60 different countries, which the managing director Amy responded with this kind missive below.

You delivered an outstanding session on alternative storytelling techniques being adopted by traditional (mainstream) broadcasters. Our delegates were VERY interested in your observation on what is working and what isn't working and, in particular, in what the new world order might be.

That new world order, the title of an article I wrote in 2001, can be better understood in this post herre: New Minds for a new form of university.

Below are some frame grabs from the short film that I have annotated.

Opening shot
In semiotics, this is what's known as a motivational shot. The image does not adhere to the conventions of framing. The effect on the viewer forces them to make sense of the visual narrative. 

The result will my make you dismissive of the filmmaker  or help you appreciate its stylised effect. Again, the tension in the sweet spot is understanding how the shot works without being style for styles sake. Which paradoxically has its allure as well.

Scopopholia is one of the secrets of film making. We are drawn to moments of intimacy, beautiful people or character faces. This is a shot of me in the shower reflecting on ideas. Did you know that research indicates that the shower, running/walking, and moving in a car are some of the most fruitful places for generating ideas?

Compositional framing in which the background is the focal point that is deep focus, which in the antithesis of the in-vogue shallow depth of field. The scene has a draw from a combination of its lighting and the ambiguity of the scene. 

Movement is one of the keys in visual narrative, otherwise the illusion of movement is a requirement in a poetics of story telling.


Video as with art has the power of suggestion. These two shots have presumably nothing to do with the primary narrative, but they attempt to mimic the notion of thought. Freud's psychoanalysis and implicit meaning are strong attractors here

Thought or realism

Mark Cousins

As part of the feature, I invited five respected film maker to evaluate my work. I also interviewed three of the most revered film makers, who pioneered film form fifty years ago.

special forces
 In one of the plots in the film, a group of journalist are in the hot zone filming
on stage

Sharing a stage with Kenji Kohno, Deputy Director of NHK's international division

If you have time I'd suggest you peak the promo from where I grabbed these frames. It's on I'll dump it on youtube in due course.

David Dunkley Gyimah is completing a longitudinal Doctoral study in alternative video making and journalism. He is a juror for the Royal Television Society's Broadcast in Innovation Awards, which rewards UK and International broadcasters for their creativity in news story telling. He recently presented a three hour performance lecture to Senior Danish Journalists in Denmark. 

Friday, December 07, 2012

The Tragedy of an Australian Radio Phone Hoax

A family mourns, two children are now without their mother, and a nurse, who was said to be inconsolable is now dead.

Earlier this week the nurse had taken a prank call from two Australian radio DJs.  They posed as the Queen and Prince and in a faked voice asked the nurse to be put though to the Duchess of Cambridge.

She did and the second nurse also taken in revealed confidential medical notes about their patient, a royal patient.

Anyone reading the story in the press is entitled to feel deeply saddened and angry.  Saddened because the Jacintha Saldanha, 46 years of age, an experienced nurse, it's reported in the press took her own life.

An inquest will attempt to explain the cause of this tragedy,  but it appears obviously connected to the events of the past two days.

Angry because two DJs who, given they were the only DJs who tried this, must themselves be in reflective mood.

How can a radio programme, the other side of the world, be responsible for a family being orphaned in the most public way?

The pair Michael Christian and Mel Greig, who have since deleted their twitter accounts from the weight of public abuse, must be ruing their prank.

It's not an unusual prank in that scores of radio stations do this "candid camera" or "gotcha", but few would have dared to imitate the Queen in a situation deemed highly personal. Remember the Queen's daughter-in-law was in hospital receiving treatment for an early pregnancy.

This was a prank preying on the misfortune of someone else like kicking away the walking stick of a an old lady as she hobbled across a road.

These variables come together to provide a powerful cocktail that should have warned of many, as it did, except one.

But the two presumably would have not been given carte blanche; they would have had a producer for the show, or an editor, who in monitoring the show's output could have pulled the plug at any point.

Then there's the radio's management. In the UK she or he is called the programme organiser, who constantly listens to the output and will use the hot-phone to the studio when they deem something is not what it should be.

The pair of DJs say sniggering in their broadcast if they get through this would be one of the easiest calls. Obviously they've done this before.

The question becomes what is acceptable as limits? Every broadcaster has a limit on taste and decency, or should do.

Angry too because of the invasion of privacy, irrespective of who it was. Angry too because as I listened to it I couldn't help think the following.

A royal VIP has been admitted to the hospital. It's unexpected, and its big news, so its conceivable that a memo or gathering of all staff is called to brie or remind everyone of procedures. In any media scenario for crisis management that would have been page 1.

1. Will the Queen or any member of Royal Staff be making any phone calls themselves?
2. Is there a liaison person to handle those calls, presumably the press officer?
3. If any other call comes through, whom should it be sent to?

Obviously we don't know whether a call to arms or address was made, but you would have hoped it was, given the currency of the situation.

But the outcome on the news was an excruciating one. The nurse was utterly taken in, and if the accounts reported elsewhere are anything to go by, she was distraught, inconsolable, but was being helped by the hospital.

It was not enough. Will prank calls stop? No. Will Djs and broadcasters need to be more thoughtful that this powerful tool and medium they work in has the capability to undermine the public at its sharpest end? You would hope so.

Which ever way you look at this, its tragic all around.

In the Facebook age of wearing your emoticons on your sleeve, and the idea that everyone should have their say, the pair took to the air to explain their actions.

In PR terms, and from accounts they received media training,  it would have been designed for them to answer to their actions, but also to restore the public's faith in the radio station 2Day FM. After all 2Day FM is a business which has temporarily lost its sponsors.

The station will not be unhappy with the results. A majority of Australian's polled do not blame the pair. And perversely, given their innocence, they really should not.

You hire young people to be risque and to come up with ideas, which is shared in editorial meetings. More sage, experienced producers and management should have been the counterpoint.

A couple of things, that the reportage has now turned to the idea of a British witch hunt is not helpful, particularly to the Saldanha's dignified family.

The press conference held by the Austereo CEO Rhys Holleran left a main defense still unanswered.

Did the station get permission to broadcast the prank phone call. No!
Did they try to? Apparently five times Mr Holleran says.
But, and this is the important bit, the fact that he tried and couldn't get through doesn't make the recordings any more broadcastable.

David Dunkley Gyimah used to be a radio presenter for BBC Greater London Radio