Monday, December 30, 2013

Young people, You and young black 15-30s doing social in journalism - redux Chapter 3

It's proved a highly topical subject. It started off this Christmas after I saw something Q, a go-getter filmmaker had written on his Facebook about support for filmmakers. Q and I have been meaning to touch base since a couple of years. We share common interests as filmmakers.

And then we started to talk and we've been talking ever since.  I posted about young people and black folk doing journalism, but not as we know it.   Q,  taking his skills as an entrepreneur, filmmaker and social media artist  crafted a response of sorts -- more a self standing piece. 

To say his article has caught fire is an understatement. It speaks with an authorship that is personal and relays direct experiences. Anyone who is able to put together a feature film, create a book, physically do something that others may take enjoyment from deserves to acknowledged.  Q has done those things and his narrative spurned one reader to leave a message.

Here's a clip of what Q asks before a reader The New Black contributes...It started on Twitter.

TOP DOG AGENCY @topdogagency

@viewmagazine @digidickinson @DSLRinformer my basic question is: "What is news?" no I am being totally serious. "What is news?" because its vital 2 me 2 understanding journalism. if we don't value whatever the system, universities, journalists claim to be news. What is news?


..... Later Q adds

In my book Deadmeat, I talked about the commodification of the digital youth. However, young 15-30 year old black people are learning how to make money from their own online commodities and keeping the digital income, because they have their audiences.


Thoroughly enjoyed reading this innovative response from Q and have to add to the topic. 

The business model for news organisations is crumbling because social media has created a digital ecosystem model that has changed the way to do journalism. 

News organisations not only struggle with public perception of journalism, but also to find the right balance between quality and quantity for their brand value. The key to building a healthy digital ecosystem is to create value for everyone involved. 

Simply, the journalism brand is broken. 

The young people understand the value of digital technology and use this to seek out opportunities for implementing it with a view to make an impact... this is known as The New Wave! 

A few weeks ago, a well known recording artist dropped her new album using this strategy and shocked everyone. 

Journalists now want to be navigators in this realm. Rule #1: To navigate, one has to operate ‘light years ahead’ of the traffic in the super highway. 

What is digital ecosystem? Click link to watch the short animated film


That then led me to think of several things related to the New Black's  comments. It's a bit long, but I hope you enjoy it for digging back experiences,  reflecting as an educator ( I lecture at a the University of Westminster) and as a videojournalist ( DIY cinema news maker) and drawing on my experience as me - and everything that represents.

So first I'd like to introduce myself.


David Dunkley Gyimah at Aggrey House Prempeh College

This is me above....Prempeh College, Ghana -- one of the best colleges in Ghana. We have a name for ourselves" Amanfoo. It translates as: "one of us".

We believe in the motto: Suban ni nimdie. "Character and knowledge". When we tracked down the headmaster who built this school he stated I wanted something that the boys would be aspirational about. Good word that! aspirational. It is life's fuel.

Trailer - Prempeh College from david dunkley gyimah on Vimeo.

He wanted us to do things for our country and others, not the other way around. That motto is important then as it is now. It is Social!

This is me again. 1992 I tried to find work in the UK having graduated from Uni and worked for Newsnight. For two years I emigrated to South Africa. I worked for ABC News and one of the people I produced was Danny Glover.

In 1997, having had a brilliant stint at working back in the UK, I returned to South Africa to make a programme for Ghana  and South African TV called the United States of Africa. Back in 1997 before You Tube was born, the Ghanaians were using videojournalist. Wow ! Very few people know that ! I have film of us working.

I was in Soweto in a bar and then a friend said to me look who that is and it was Quincy Jones, so I went over to him and we had a short Q and A. On this trip  I also met Nelson Mandela. This was the age of analogue photography so sadly I never got a pic of us shaking hands to send to mum :(.

In  2001 I took on one of life's memorable assignments, as team  Lennox Lewis videojournalist fighting Tyson. We went from the Pocono mountains to Las Vegas. It was mad good. On fight night, no one slept as we partied all night and wrote copy about the fight.

As a creative and journalist your sense of belonging never escapes you. I too have fought battles, but as a filmmaker you also seek to be recognised by your peers whatever their colour, so I have done what you could say is 'hard core' media.

In Washington this interview with the former head of the CIA. Yes one of the world's renowned intelligence gathering agencies is a favourite.

Last September I undertook an assignment that will stay with me forever. I was invited to  near the Turkey-Syrian border to work with some young Syrian Videojournalists. Was I scared? Flying out yes! Because all Americans had been ordered to leave the place, I was going to, by the US government.

So by now there's kind of two reactions I get. I'm crazy. You have to be a bit. And he might know a thing or two. I'm cautious and I don't believe in hierachies. If anyone is reading this who I have taught, knowledge is power to be shared. I get angry at those who believe knowledge gives them a particular pedestal. This is why social-- a word that has been around for a long time, but has become popularised recently -- means a lot to me.

Many of my former students are now very good friends and they too have shown how Social works for them, like Don Omope of African Screens.

And Dionne Clarke who became an LA correspondent and now is an editor for one of the UK's top entertainment magazine. She and Don filmed Dream Girls the red carpet that we put on

I did do one thing that was a bit crazy ( oh another, oh yes and another). In 2000 I dived down 35m to a wreck in Turkish waters with their army to find  a World War I  ship and nearly had my last gulp of air. I panicked under water after a giant under water ribbon current slammed me against some bomb shells that could have gone off. It's funny how you start thinking of wierd things in these circumstances. I kept thinking have I put the rubbish out!

A couple of years ago I was in China. That was good - even learned some Mandarin. Funny, but no one in the city paid any notice to me as a black man in a sea of Chinese. Only one eight year old thought I was Will Smith. LOL

And then another cool thing was walking down Time Square after a presentation and seeing me being beamed onto some giant screens.

That was followed by Apple giving me the shout to speak about digital.


So here's my response that picks up on themes from the New Black and perhaps spells out a few myths about the media.

Thanks "The New Black", I'm sure Q will come back on this. Everything you say is valid, but if I can add some footnotes to this. The business model for news was always a precarious one built on cultural commercial interests. In the 1930s newspapers complained against radio. In the 1960s newspapers lobbied against TV. In the 1990s mainstream complained against cable and satellite. In the noughties it was the Internet.

The issue with journalism is that it was never a one size fits all i.e there's Jet Magazine, Ebony, The Voice, Caribbean Times, Jewish Chronicle etc, so I believe we're talking about mainstream media in say, the UK, sometimes dubbed "white media".  

Professor Hall - Wikipedia
News and journalism has always struggled with perceptions way before the Net, which is why it is one of the most researched areas in academic studies.  1000s of books have been written about why it's broken, with some great ones from Professor Stuart Hall

News audiences at the BBC started to drop off from 1994 - just as cable kicked in and provided wider choice. The idea of 'broad' in broadcasting could not be sustained, because people now had cable and satellite to choose from. MTV recorded some of its highest penetration figures in the 90s, particularly after screening Thriller -- first time MTV would screen the video of a solo black artist.

You're right that "The key to building a healthy digital ecosystem is to create value for everyone involved". Newspapers/ broadcasters  have attempted to do this by talking to constituents who make a great share of the audience.  Audiences = business, and these audiences fall into strict class and market groups.

One of the first things the Net did, particularly during the Dotcom boom of 2000 was to show that those market structures didn't work online. You could pick other systems like early and late adopters or Digital Natives or Non Native. However, the legacy power of certain media has proved strong enough to resist changing to new metric's altogether.

In any case, black people's economic firepower has continually been questioned by marketeers advising their brands, so commercial stations rarely feature black content only output. Witness Capital's take over of Choice FM. The bottom line was money in changing the playlist to "urban". For right or wrong  reasons (many DJs remain h***ed off by this).

And newspaper after newspaper targeted at black people have folded e.g. Black Britain, though the reason are far more nuanced. (see Ethnic media)

A friend of mine Charles Amponsah wrote an article back in the day called: "Black people eat Cornflakes too", which somehow found its way into the Face magazine penned, more or less, by a different author.

And do you remember C4's Black on Black or BBC's Black London, which I worked on as a presenter producer. We had meagre resources. In fact that's where I first met Q in 1992. We were all looking to make our mark. Ozwald Boateng the designer, and the brilliant Fella Kuti expanding his UK audiences. BTW he came into the studio with a giant spliff  and no shoes and I had to beg him to not smoke, otherwise I'd get the sack. 

Various studies have also shown that young people don't watch TV. In the 90s I worked on one of the UK's cutting edge shows back then called Reportage. It averaged about 700,000 viewers. The Word and Normski's prog did marginally better. It was much more cool to Listen to Horizon on pirate, or Kiss before it became commercial. All those acid and warehouse parties :)

Broadcasting and main stream journalism could keep its secret of how poor they were doing in the analogue age because there was no (digital) Internet to challenge them. And when it did, they did what most business do by appropriating the bits that suit them for the audience, whilst still not acknowledging other constituents.

The Daily Mail ( I know, I know, but I'm making a point) gets a 134 million unique readers a month ( july). As long as that's paying the bills, Social may not mean nothing. If it ain't broke, as some say, why fix it.

Black people, Asians, and in particular the young have always created their own social networks - and yes the term social networks has been around for a long time.

Anywhere there's a minority against the power of the status quo people have gathered, have socialised, have looked for solutions.  B92 a young person's station during the Bosnia war, which carried non-propaganda news was one example.

Selling mix-tapes from the back of a car and at parties has been another model of pre-internet social. Kurtis Blow's ( 1st commercially successul rapper) We are the breaks got leverage from this. OMG I learned all the words to this when it came out.

But yes the idea of social networks has caught fire now, in the same way videojournalism that I practice can be traced back to the 60s, but has only now become popular because of the Net, social media which You Tube is one of the primary media outlets.

But back in the days, your Ozwald Boateng (we used to club together- where he would sell the idea of a suit to a celeb), Tribe called Quest, Qs used their talent and business acumen to build audiences -- their own networks.

The social bit is really interesting, particularly when you come across some bloke called Hobbs who in the 17th century stated people must come together and share. Obviously he didn't have the net, but what if eh?

The game changer has been the Net - firstly as a distribution mechanism with near zero costs. Pure commerce! But, secondly in nurturing what sociologists called the long tail of users.  and he low costs for programme making. 

Revolution is not videojournalism from david dunkley gyimah on Vimeo.

I'll use myself as an example. In 2002 I was freelancing at Channel 4 News. I'd previously gone to South Africa to live and find work. In 2004 I had an idea for a website which would use video. Everyone laughed, because in 2004 there was no such thing as You Tube, but I' d found a way to do it. Here's the original. It looks fairly puny from where we are now, but 2004 was a different world to today.

When the site was launched it gathered little attention in the UK, but its long tail  (aggregate of smaller groups coming together) in the US and elsewhere grew resulting in it winning one of the most prestigious awards in the US. The Internet became the game changer for others to see little pieces of work we made in our bedrooms.

Young people, whether it's the swinging 60s have always been beyond the status quo. Young people fashion the changes in cultures we see, whether its baggy-slinging thigh jeans, laceless Nikes or bellbottoms or stomping down to  the Cat in the Hat in the 80s/.90s, Legends near Saville Row or Dingwalls in Camden where Jazz spats where in vogue. 

The new wave that Social Media see, to others is remembered as the New Wave for the new style of filmmaking in the 60s that broke rank from conventional forms. The New Wave also became a term for the music scene of the 70s.

The New Wave strikes again

The Bourne supremacy's edgy style of filming comes from the 60s New Wave.  All artists want to do their stuff unmediated. Beyonce follows in a long line who want artistic integrity. James Brown and his King label. Fiddy, Q, Spike Lee, even little ol me.

In the 90s, I made a film from South Africa about the countries new black grads going places. I negotiated with a network, who liked the film. I satellited it to the UK, only to find out when it went out it was recut and re-voiced. I was furious. 

It took 6 months for an apology. So when I launched my site and made films from Ghana, Lebanon and what not, now I had control. Whatever direction it would take would not be predicated exclusively on some other person's point of view, particulary when I would be risking my safety.

It was great to see Beyonce stick her fingers up to the establishment and thus endorsing the DIY approach.  Remember when Prince wanted to release a batch of records and his label said no, so he changed his name. He too would later to the Net, but the coagulations of social networks had not fully taken shape. 

However,  other indies have used the Net to connect with their friends and fans too e.g. Linken Park, but you're right in where you're going. Beyonce's status gives the process a certain oomph. A global icon who has sashayed past the machinery of the music industry. Ouch ! ouch F****ing ouch!

Journalism, as I said, is not universal and it's always had its problems. Social Media theory comes on the back of other theories that have worked in practice, such as User Generated theory.  But Social Media too is not a one size fits all either.

Everyone has the potential to create their own social media network by talking to their new followers as friends, but Greenpeace's social network is different to Linkin Park's social network is different to your and mine, unless we share certain key values.

When I'm thinking about the film I could make of young blacks entering university and the struggles they face, there is a social media group whom I could connect with. However that same social group may not necessarily follow when I talk about the data scrapping, unless that is I make myself the narrative.

You're right too that. Rule #1: To navigate, one has to operate ‘light years ahead’ of the traffic in the super highway. That is innovation at its best.

Mainstream journalism is a huge juggernaut and does not innovate any time soon. It serves its audiences at the point of a critical need to change, but even then it will not, never, be able to match the nimbleness of individuals creating their own media -- only when that media serves their purpose.

Wide studies show that digital ecosystem is a platform, language, philosophy and ideology. The nice thing about the book featured above is it brings together a wide number of experts who shed light on various angles.

Digital has many stake holders and the brilliance is we can all make of it as we should, because for once the link, as you have proved between you dropping this message here and my decision to respond is without any mediating power. Your actions and successes become part of the digital narrative.

What digital is, is a pastiche of ideas, which aren't in themselves fixed. Your animated film is right, but so is TED, so is Q, so is ???? Knowledge as theory should be also tempered by practical knowledge of what works.

Twitter was supposed to be about ambient knowledge when it first launched. It'e become a successful tool for broadcasters to publicise their shows. 

It was the end bit of the animation that asked those crucial questions, having built a sound argument. That argument is necessary cuz we respond, but we are now freer to hear alternative points of view to build our own arguments. Digital frees us from the tyranny of corporatedom telling us what works, before they themselves e.g. Facebook become corporate and then digital users begin to find new cool things.

There's some interesting stuff ahead. For instance I can, in my lectures show, how 21st journalism can become cinema. The original word "cinema" was about seeing things and filming them and making them into narrative, but guess what happened, Hollywood changed its meaning to fictional film.

Social media is creating elite social mediast who theorise, but don't do. The US still wants to pursue net neutrality and break up the Net into fixed super highways. All good stuff for thought.

Thanks for your contribution, because ideas beget ideas. I have written this without any assumptions that I am preaching to the choir or that your views are not highly valid. They are and many of the things here you might hold the same views or disagree. That's all good. Debate brings about renewed meaning. In my case this post  gave me a window to write about stuff I know.

The new black is turning Kenya's tech industry upside down, is leading to new infrastructure and wealth generators from what George Ayittey (@ayittey) on Twitter calls Cheetahs. The new black returns with vigour to a scenario in the 1960s when Ghana's GDP was greater than North Korea, and the Chinese visited Ghana to understand how to drive business.

The Internet, supra media, social networks, cheetahs gives everyone the means and how. 

Anyone who's had to struggle to create and then finally do it share a common social network. Q; Ismahil who produced Bang Bang in Da Manor;  Henry Bonsu who was dropped by the BBC and now is director of the Colourful Radio;  TV presenter Trish Adudu;  you; the DJ connecting with new friends, and me and many others like the brilliant Thabo and Real Deal being managed by my bro Kienda, are also doing social in their ways. 

The real beauty with the concept of a 21st century social is it does not, as a media, turn off and embraces wider social behaviour. This blog has been writing about aspects of it since 2005 e.g. here

Q tell em how we were up till 2 a.m in the morning fixing something :)

Take care New Black.


Senior University Lecturer 
Alumni Prempeh College, Ghana.  (OH yes I wear the badge of my Ghanaian)