Saturday, January 11, 2014

Safeguard teaching videojournalism from online journalism's unsubstantiated knowledge to generations online

How important is Videojournalism to Online Journalism?

When we look at the New York Times's SnowFall, which pushes online journalism [HTML5/CSS3] to new limits, or data journalism in building statistical logic you could say very little.

On the other hand, since You Tube and the availability of cheap cameras deconstructed video production, so anyone could become a publisher online, you could equally argue videojournalism is integral to online journalism.

Andy Bull's Multimedia Journalism  and The Online Journalism Handbook by Liisa Rohumaa and Paul Bradshaw both feature video and videojournalism.

Both are presented in a lively manner in different ways. @paulbradshaw whose work I have known since 2006ish, from my interactions with US data journalist Adrian Holavaty, is an exemplar in the field of algebraic data journalism and scraping, among other things.

A new book "Online Journalism - The Essential Guide" also features videojournalism and like the former books covers the vast and expanding Hawkinsian space of online journalism.

Publishing a book is no easy feat. so if like me you've never published and are either contemplating it, or imagine what it involves the authors demand our respect.

Because it is a solitary, isolating pursuit putting together words on a page and digging into deep knowledge to share with others.

I know that little from my PhD I have been finalising. I have neglected my own health in attempts to write-correct-rewrite.

So anyone who publishes, in reviewing their work we should put their efforts into perspective. It is a herculean task after all.

 If a book contains 20 chapters and one of those is critiqued, and interpreted to be found wanting, this should not colour the whole book, should it?

Does it matter if one chapter on videojournalism needed greater scrutiny regarding its history or those that practise it and what that means in creating videojournalism?

Probably not!  Historicity is not essential for understanding, in this case, videojournalism, but some context of is history, perhaps is required.

But here's the issue. Books, unlike blogs, and like photos have a certain immanence. That is, the printed word sticks with you and is easier to find and reference than say a blog or a newspaper article.

An educational book sets up a thread and when the book is deemed "excellent",  it perpetuates an unrelenting cycle for providing great information for the reader or a next generations of authors looking to build on the source of the knowledge. This comes from referencing.

David in San Antonio
Dan Gillmor's book WeMedia is one such book and there is nothing wrong with the book. Quite the contrary.

When I read it soon after it was published and then interviewed Gilmor at a conference Restoring Journalism Trust I was invited to in 2005 in San Antonio, I was thrilled to interview him, to gain his knowledge. Here's my story of that event

Online journalism

Online Journalism doesn't state it is a definitive guide, or is a book about videojournalism. It is an "Essential Guide", so there is some wiggle room from an academic perspective, but it's likely the reader, you,  may not make such a distinction.

But, here's the rub, in the world of videojournalism, so many published books have thus far got so many things wrong on the subject. Specifically, within the UK perspective.

Does it matter where, say, videojournalism started or that the source of information could be deeper? From a practical point of view, you could argue probably not. Who cares where videojournalism started in the UK!

What you would like to know is how to shoot a videojournalism film that grabs the attention of your audience. How you create meaning from complex ideas in a matter of minutes? How to create narratives that mostly everyone is ignoring. The "what is videojournalism" and how it differs from say documentary.

But what if I told you the source of videojournalism defines the form and delivery of videojournalism that can become the status quo. Put another way by recognising the BBC as the source of videojournalism, this may persuade you into reading more and studying the BBC's videojournalism.

There's nothing wrong in studying BBC videojournalism except the videojournalism practiced by the BBC was a fundamentally different form of videojournalism to that which the architects of the scheme envisaged.

Another point, the BBC did not start videojournalism in the UK. The official source as recorded by the National Union of Journalists was Channel One TV in 1994.

a videojournalist from 1994 with her betacamera

Does this matter? Theoretically, probably not, until I tell you that the videojournalism practiced at Channel One was different types of story form that most probably you would have liked  to have learned, and probably still would.

How it came together on analysis, involved different phases, some ad hoc, some engineered, and from interviews with Rosenblum, the VJs and just over a hundred other important figures. Then, we come to a place where the landscape is a clearer.

Channel One's videojournalism is an integral contribution of the UK's style of  a new global videojournalism style which radicalises and fundamentally transforms video in journalism. Six years ago I uploaded this to my You Tube site. It involved the beginnings of the manifesto after thinking and practicing videojournalism in 2008 for 14 years.

So how does Channel One contribute to this global knowledge?  As a product of Channel One, here's one hint of many, where I use myself as an example. In this video from 2005, the jury head is reading their citation of a videojournalism award in Berlin.

International Videojournalism Awards Berlin (Bauhaus/ ZDF) from david dunkley gyimah on Vimeo.

Here's another. What does this video too say about videojournalism and does this matter? Mark Cousins used to run the Edinburgh Film Festival.

He wrote the book - A Story of Film and then made the 15 part documentary series. He has won awards at Cannes and in the 90s had a series on BBC in which he interviewed all the major directors around the world.

So he is considered something of an expert.

In several academic books thus far, the BBC is cited as the source of videojournalism in the UK. This is not true. As part of my PhD I tracked down the senior BBC executive who was responsible for bringing videojournalism to the BBC. His name is Pat Loughrey. The picture below Pat is  Stewart Purvis who was the CEO of ITN in the 1990s. He too used  videojournalism at ITN - but says it was a different form of videojournalism.

Loughrey, former head of Nations and Regions at the BBC, now a Vice Chancellor

Purvis former CEO of ITN

Loughrey says Channel One was ten years before its time, while Purvis says Channel One deconstructed video news making to have one person film, produce and present their video on the day.

This video below is from 1995, one of many different submissions for my PhD. The point I make here is that this is an example of a story made in a day in which one person had control. There was no editorial input into this story. I researched, told my editor, shot it, produced it and here we are. Remember this is 1995.

The web is not knowledge

There is a video online about videojournalism, which is hosted by the BBC Journalism College. It is a conference that was put together by David Hayward at the BBC, myself and the University of Central Lancashire.

It is a worthy video, but it is not the repository of videojournalism. It features one of my former students called David Heathfield, who I invited to the event. David is brilliant. He works for Nato. Nato is an intimidating title, so I can see why on that video David becomes the videojournalism spokesman.

Now, here's where I have to be careful that the points I am trying to make do not come across as some academically elite bumf, brought on by red mist, or that I am spitting hairs. And that they amount to nothing other than my own ego.

In 2006 Nato asked my university if we would like to be involved in an incredible project. Help train their military by participating in their war games.

I was the editor for the programme. David was a graduate of the scheme two years later, before he joined Nato as an employee.

Nato practices a videojournalism that is aligned with BBC journalism's form and David as much as anyone's view of videojournalism needs to be contextualised.

Steve Punter, a brilliant videojournalist and editor was also featured in the Online Journalism book. Punter is a rare animal. He was one of the UK's first videojournalists, a great thinker and one of the editors helping the BBC understand videojournalism at two of its regional stations.

But as brilliant as Steve's quote is from the video online, it cannot begin to tell you about videojournalism. That requires research.

That's why we invited 25 of the most appropriate practitioners and managers to the event. In my PhD I interview 20 of the original 30 Channel One videojournalists so the reader is provided with a more rounded view of the form.

What does this all mean? Perhaps nothing, but the danger is that we come to believe that everything we see online is the be all and end all. The web is not the source of all knowledge. Not yet, anyway.

Videojournalism is the most adroit form of video making in journalism that came to the fore some twenty years ago in the UK. This year we'll celebrate its anniversary. In a couple of weeks I submit my thesis and then I can share its contents with you. There are more than a few surprises in it.

But even with that, it is only one part of a landscape of an expanding plain of videojournalism in online journalism. Hopefully, it will be one that places videojournalism where it should be and enable us as a community to argue and discuss more forcefully what is is and how it can help us.

David Dunkley Gyimah was this year's Chair of Television Innovative  News at the RTS.
He is the founder of, a senior lecturer and artist in residence at the Southbank Centre. he submits his PhD in two months time. He's been in the media for 26 amd has worked for BBC Newsnight, Channel 4 News and ABC News years and now lectures and trains [ he launched PA's videojournalism training programme] around the world.

Coming up : They say the Black British talent is coming. It's been here for as long as. In this from the Evening Standard, I was lined up with some of the breakthrough talents of the millennium e.g. Zadie Smith. In my next post I reflect on why and how black British talent is probably now getting a hearing.