Saturday, March 18, 2023

You desperately want to make it in journalism. My first piece that framed my career, with advice on Diversity and Inclusion.


his is it, I thought clutching my tape recorder about to board a plane to a country that by all television and radio news’ accounts was gripped by a civil war. Soweto, the country’s symbolic centre for racial justice was a place of rebellion and lawlessness — an enclave of South Africa which was a no-go zone.

It’s the winter of 92, I’m broken. I’ve sent various letters to media employers. Nothing! I’ve just finished a stint on the BBC’s flagship programme Newsnight, and am now freelance presenting/ producing on the BBC’s London radio. That seems to stand for nothing. ‘Second jobs are always the toughest’ a senior exec says to me. There’s another short term contract in the offing Def II BBC Reportage. But as I ponder my future, I know there’s no way I can survive this.

I started to become interested in the media years back, and in the late 80s as an Applied Chemistry undergrad started to freelance at BBC Radio Leicester. It boasted talent like Charlotte Smith (Now Farming Today), Ian Pannel (now ABC News senior correspondent) , Iain Carter (BBC Golf Correspondent) and Julian Worricker (BBC Presenter).

South Africa had interested me then. Five years on weary of any prospects in the UK I’m going on my own adventure. What I know of South Africa through the media is grim, but I believe that I can add my voice. My perspectives, lived experience (I schooled in Ghana witnessing first hand Rawlings’ coup), my interests should have some currency.

The last twenty minutes of the flight to Johannesburg the pilot welcomes me into the cockpit to record a running commentary. I see no explosions or fires from the air and when I land I’m greeted by someone I’ve never met but spoken to from weeks of letter writing. There is no Internet in 1992. How did people survive? They did. Alan Swerdlow will turn out to be an extraordinary human being.

And then over a period of two months exposed to different communities, people, the ongoings outside the BBC, CNN, ABC News et al news agenda, I feel I need to stay, But first return to the UK, complete my last short contract and head back.

Below is that account of my first assignment; my first ever feature piece and one that would appear in the BBC’s magazine Arial. It would bring me lots of attention, some welcome, some not.

But there was so much I wanted to write about: Soweto, and the fact it sits in the bosom of Johannesburg. The remnants of Apartheid dismantling, the wealth in the township glimpsing my first 850i BMW. How people are coping with high unemployment and the pending end of Apartheid. And then young people, graduates, like me whose thoughts were rarely given air time.

South Africa has a majority Black population and yet few networks had any reporting staff who were Black on the ground. It will get worse with the elections in two years time. The intersectionality of stories between Blacks and Whites had little interest for outside networks unless tension to the point of violence was a headliner, or that Mandela was seeking accords with leaders.

It made me aware of the hegemonic story in news; professionalism as a gold standard indeed but who tells the story matters; their everything does. But journalism I will soon learn is about power. As a freelancer I would brush against several scrapes, be treated in different ways if I opened my mouth, or spoke one of my Ghanaian languages. Otherwise my physical features threw up conundrums. I would months ahead report how Afrikaaner farmers got angry with me accusing me, a Brit, of being responsible for concentration camps in South Africa, after they dropped their scepticism that there were Black people in the UK.

Sometimes it’s just that, the calling. Journalism is what you want to do. You believe your voice matters and you’re prepared to take the journey. Twenty years into the future as an academic (still in love with storytelling) , I will find myself on the Syrian border, Ufa in Russia, Chongqing, Beirut and many more countries training, video-making and writing on social-political issues, and in many of those places what I see on the news has barely shaft of bearing on the complexities on the ground.

I recognise that my advice to young journalists wanting to climb up journalism by finding a hot spot needs to be tempered; but the zeal to drive deeper connections with editors who pledge to diversity and inclusion, whilst doing your own thing must not wane. Back in the 90s there was no diversity and inclusion. It was all in the gift of editors; still is by what we see.

Next year will be thirty years since South Africa’s momentous change. There’s so much to discuss, but will it be a predominately White male lens ? My reporting, listened to by Chatham House executives would earn me an invitation to join the institute - thirty years on I’m still a member.

This then below is my account. It would shape me thereafter. Make me realise how storytelling is not neutral. It would lead to some extraordinary breaks in unexpected areas: BBC Radio Four commissioning a documentary of first time voters that I would research and present, various reports for BBC African Service and World Service features. Meeting Mandela and reporting live on his inauguration for the Caribbean service, but above all that the next person I meet, I’ll tell them if I could do it, so absolutely can you.

After South Africa I would become one of the UK’s first NUJ videojournalists. There will be more break throughs and trouble ahead but that’s not a next time.

Full text below transcribed below.

Transcribed Audio here

Full text below here

xcitement and a flash of nervousness with me as we coast along the road from Johannesburg to Soweto. Twenty minutes later, the excitement will be replaced by fear.

Easing into Soweto police flag our car down twice. We pull over, but both times the car speeds off.

A wrong turning by Zosha, my friend and driver, brings us to a dead-end. While she is reversing and armoured personnel carrier used by the police, known as a Caspir, comes into view with a mob of youngsters in its wake.

No news footage or articles can prepare you for the menacing presence and overbearing size of these vehicles. On our way again a second Caspir edges in front of us creeping along at 20 mph. One of the occupants mumbles into his mouthpiece, whilst the other clutching a machine gun exchanges steely glasses with me.

His curiosity, I discover later, is pardonable. Zosha who is white and middle-aged, has the expression of a lost tourist and I, Black and wearing a military-style jacket am whispering into a half-concealed lapel mike.

Had I followed my instincts we would have turned back and I would have missed out on making some of the most interesting and rewarding friendships in Soweto, and for that matter South Africa.

It is my first trip to South Africa brought about by my interest in the country and triggered by what I learned working on Black London at BBC GLR. I am here to record a radio documentary for a program that examines the ‘successor generation’ — South Africans Black and white, between the ages of 18 and 35, who overnight are the beneficiaries of the ‘new South Africa’.

A country freed from its past emerging from the effects of isolation with new clothes, a new act and presumably receptive world audience .

My contact, Alan Swerdlow, who has now become a good friend works at the South African broadcasting Corporation — ‘not a good place to forge relationships’, friends in London had cautioned. But with him, my microphone became an extension on more than 70 lips, each telling different intriguing stories which all shared a similar theme: the new South Africa? We’re hoping for the best (democracy) and fearing the worst (civil war)

Thembakezi, who lives in Soweto and is a PhD chemistry student at Johannesburg Witwatersrand university is hopeful that being black will not deny have a good job.

A young Afrikaner and a practice in attorney in Cape Town was having none of it: ‘The new South Africa, what-ever that is, spells trouble.’

Hopping between the major cities, I find people warm and receptive. They in turn use me as a barometer for world opinion. ‘So what do you think about our country?’ is the standard question. ‘Interesting’, is my loaded response. Pushed further, ‘The weather is wonderful and the people have been nice to me’.

Pushed even further, ‘The more I learn, the more I understand, the more I understand, the more complex things become’.

It is also point of hilarity for some who discover, not only can I not speak any local languages, but I’m not American, and, although a radio journalist, do not work for the World Service.

What I find difficult to rationalise as many others do, is the violence on the streets. I spend a day in Durban with a field worker and researcher for the Human Rights Commission in Natal.

She discloses disturbing facts about what she comes across while investigating human rights abuses. The most telling is how easy it is to buy guns — an AK-47 for as little as R40 (£8) on the black market — and how teenagers ,as young as thirteen, are taking guns to school and in some cases threatening teachers.

The previous owner of her home he died in a bomb blast. The device had been delivered to the doorstep as a computer. Somehow, even with the iron bars barricading the windows — they are called burglar bars — are little comfort to me as I try to sleep.

After 40 hours recording and travelling 4000 km across the country my impression is that there is a long haul ahead. But I prefer to focus on the positive: more black people appear to be in positions of power across a range of industries; black and white performers and artists are committed to working together publicly — unheard of three years ago; and there’s generally a sense of expectation from South Africans that 1993 will be a good year.

Christmas day finds me once more in Soweto. We kick off with church, and again I am overwhelmed by feeling of exhilaration mixed with unease. Twenty minutes on, the thrill of staying in Soweto for a week, ‘shebeen crawling’ ( the Sowetan equivalent of pub crawling), gives way to anxiety. I cannot sing any hymns; they are in Zulu. A little girl observing my out-of-sync lip movements, breaks into a huge grin.

From Videojournalism, Cinema Journalism to AI Applied Storytelling: Everything, everywhere - each of us is many.

There are multiple versions of you, living multiple lives. Each one of those defines you. Some are recognised, some not! They have to wait the turn. But sometimes you can’t wait.

Kung-Fu, metaverse-jumping, laundry-owning mother sorting out her taxes and winning an Oscar appears to signal a change in viewing habits from the global arbiters of film excellence.

Oscar winner “Everything, everywhere all at once” has its mitochondria in ‘Inception’, ‘Scott Pilgrim vs. the World’, and Shaolin King Fu flicks of the 70s. But how on the metaverse earth does it impact factual storytelling and news?

News and factual videos passing as news-worthy is atrophying. By 2033 it’s highly unlikely what you’re seeing on your screens will be what you’re used to now.

Firstly, it’s the discrediting; the mask dropped last week from Fox News — Dominion case when it emerged Fox anchors and their boss Rupert Murdoch knowingly said one thing on air supporting the President whilst mocking and venemously slating him in private.

News is an entertainment set, a conduit to rile constituents to keep filling the slot machines for doubled-down alternative reality.

The much loved BBC and its impartiality debacle with its highest paid sports presenters Gary Lineker courted enough controversy for the news to damaging. In a decades time we might still be talking about that moment. Today, the BBC continues to look the other way with a Chairman who is a Tory donor and supporter.

Secondly, analyse carefully over a stretch of time style of news making and something subtle is happening. News is a social construct of its time. It looks, feels and behaves in accord with its era and whilst its storytelling form hasn’t changed much, its style is.

Based on global research I led across Europe and several countries like Russia, Syria and India this style leans towards, something the audience interprets as like cinema. This isn’t to deride news output as fictionalised, as the pioneer Robert Drew used Direct Cinema to bring meaning to audiences. This new approach using cinema frameworks, cinematography and essayistic voice expressions appears to build on Drew’s form which was shunted from news.

Research over six years and different practitioners, from solo video, mobile journalists to broadcast journalism teams reveals how several are using a form, at the lab and viewmagazine’s platform we refer to as cinema journalism.

The methodology for achieving this data has been replicated in different countries e.g. Russia, Norway etc and was recently part of a Facebook accelerator programme in India and keynote address shared with Danish Broadcaster TV2 — a summit of its staff. TV2 Editor-in-Chief Marie-Louise von Holstein called the talk “Exciting and Inspiring”.

The trend forward and super forecasting places video storytelling in a new state in which Cinema as an expression of shot, framing, voicing, sequencing, lighting etc are being purposely deployed to derive deeper sense-making. Thus there are ways of telling stories you can call immersive that doesn’t require a headset.

Thirdly, last summer whilst working/ consulting for Google on their innovation fund it provided me the most extraordinary evidence of innovation across Europe’s brightest companies and the future.

One that had caught my attention from my own previous work was the revelation of social connections between journalists and their subjects using AI, which could help understand motives between a journalist and their source. One we’re working on, involves ensuring fact-checking isn’t compromised.

Applied Storytelling

These findings have led to developments in new disciplines such as Applied Storytelling which is an interdisciplinary methodology collapsing specialist subjects in storytelling into one system, amplified by the delivery of artefacts e.g. apps and AI.

In 2015 we launched the Dislab that I led at the university of Westminster, and subsequently the Story Lab at Cardiff University we’re leading the training of Applied Storytellers. These are cohorts we develop as multi-hyphenates delivering artefacts, based on applied sciences.

The history of interdisciplinary work dates back far beyond the renaissance with individuals being named polymaths. Divisions of labour however in the 20th century became the norm, as did specialisms. As early as 1990s, whilst general reporting encouraged cross thinking, cross discipline, such as bi-media, were shunned. It took the BBC until 2000 to recognise solo videojournalists. Anything beyond that has been a bridge too far for one person and hived off back into disciplines, though the BBC’s labs under Robert Mckenzie encouraged ‘thinking across the way’.

Over the years our approach and research has yield research several results about future media. From 2004 working with the BBC heading up a team of researchers we proposed how mobile video would become ubiquitous. This video captured the beginnings of the mobile revolution amongst broadcasters.

In 2007 featured on Apple’s site we forecast how broadband would enable people to self broadcast into public spaces, whilst launching the first programmes for UK print journalists to become videojournalists. One of my first keynotes in Norway examined programme making on the web, and how broadcasters could use it as a second screen.

Videojournalism by David Dunkley Gyimah

And from 2015 onwards deploying an integrated approach in storytelling we examined how culture and inclusivity is integral to story form, which in tech VR applications could be used to confront unpredictable scenarios.

Podcasts’ popularity captured below principally at 2007 on iTunes to comparisons with radio and documentaries years back has shown up trends to be able to forecast the future.

From our soundscape-podcast design 180991 featuring unique archive there’s every likelihood that podcasts will enter more visual and meta (VR) platforms. The history of media tends to favour deeping engagement with media by inviting greater multi-sensory touch points. Also that branded podcasts will coalesce curatorialy around each other creating unique points for innovation and collaboration.

This year we’re on the cusp of launching a unique global project and I’m looking forward to sharing ideas with independent international group of journalists looking to blend Applied Storytelling with Journalism.

Perhaps the most striking innovations to emerge with the pace of tech stea, rolling ahead will be a social recognition: of all the identities you believe you are how they might all be recognised.

Wednesday, January 11, 2023

Get busy making a difference, or be part of change? Driving deeper diversity.


Friends with organiser Prof Wlilson, a change maker

They appear to be similar, and are interchangeably used. Make a difference proposes a disequilibrium to the status quo. Change is ensuring that difference remains.

The phone call from a wonderful man from the British Library was welcomed, but I was anxious. I had previously been given a brief to write about journalism and its challenging space in 4000 words, but was now being asked whether I could drop that idea to write about Black Lives Matter.

Yes, is it because I am Black surfaced; I might have even articulated it with a half smile. I needed time to think about it. I am versatile; I’ve been a journalist/ producer and artist/creative for thirty years. As a writer I seek to explore new challenges. After some thinking, and a framework being agreed, I said yes.

The journey of BLM is perhaps well known, but deep inside their psyche, I would learn, were the proponents of change from history — principally Malcolm X and Dr Martin Luther King.

The two are often pitted as a ying and yang, but there’s was a common goal, being sought from different sides. It was about change. Thus they welcomed into their fold many different groups, people etc. There was no boundary to be observed.

Life, is a supply chain of challenges and interactions to accomplish a goal. Against the rub it’s easy to become insular. Each to their own issues. A renewed push on Diversity Inc however begs that supply-side canvas is attended to — big time.

I’ve explained in the past how Diversity and inclusion was introduced into the fold in the US in “How a Million Pound Racial Discrimination case created a Diversity and Inclusion Industry built on Sand”. All was not well.

The word “supply chain” was perfectly articulated by Dr Carlton Brown PhD,MBA,PGDiP in a conversation we were having. Brown is behind one of the UK’s most tantalising entrepreneur conferences bringing together empowering speakers of colour focusing on creative business and ideas. His last guest line-up featuring the Black Farmer was the talk on the circuit for weeks.

Change needs accelerating

Inthe 1960s change was achieved in various ways from Malcolm X and Dr King, but change required vigilance, constant care, otherwise memories atrophied, and you start all over again. That grand vision towards equality and inclusion — that muscle memory to be built upon is what BLM exposed in the British Library research and book. BLM would harness the ideas of the change makers of the 1960s.

In 2020, precipitated by a number of horrendous acts of violence, a platform for everyone to participate, share their thoughts surfaced. The renewed Diversity Inc was the injustices and solution-inclusive; Malcolm X and Dr King. Times had moved on. The conversations around inclusion and change have become more sophisticated. Yes means No, language use is more subtle, more easily manipulated. I lived in Apartheid South Africa. There, under a discredited system you knew where you stood.

The new figures behind BLM added something in the supply chain in which diversity was, should be a constant, but it’s muted. The widening space and tools to story tell. Not the act of simply telling stories, which in itself is powerful, but the psychology and strategic workflow involved that makes them land. Powerful narratives that ooze from multi-hyphenated change makers linked together and pulling in person after person.

As Meghan Markle, Duchess of Sussex, would echo, “Does it make more sense to hear the story from us”

In weeks ahead I’m going to be chairing a panel, around driving deeper diversity. Sarah is the deal maker. It’s how as a framework there’s a large network effect to be adopted, and that positioned in your network are different disciples of change, and as a group or organisation, it acts as Jude Kelly CBE would refer to, as viruses. Good virus. Infect people with your ideas, she told us; I was one of her artists in residence at the Southbank Centre.

In practice that means on the supply chain, there’s a strategic conveyer belt to connect with all towards goal-orientated purposes. Take this as an example, I said to a friend, if you want to revolutionise conferences, they’d be minutes of inspiration followed up with audience members receiving knowledge about how to implement those inspiring moments.

On that supply chain, connect with purpose, network across a facilitated floor to create, be bold with a vision, make an impact, tell the multiple stories and then draw further people in.

If you look towards the Sir Lenny Henry Centre for Media Diversity, just three years old, its multiple approach and research, nourished by years of innovation activism by its founders, Prof Diane Kemp, Marcus Ryder, and Sir Lenny Henry, embodies a viral approach to change.

They publish a journal, Representology, which I was a part of the co-founding trio. It’s storytelling. It’s bold. Three years earlier a friend and I brought 57 of the leading UK TV makers together for an exhibition and book, seen here by Marcus Ryder MBE and Baroness Lawrence at the Mayor’s building. Different idea, but same marquee-asset on the supply chain belt.

It brought a spotlight on achievers and its currency meant this year at Creative Clwstwr in Wales it surfaced. I’m looking to loan it out through discussion.

Making a difference is difficult, enacting change is sustainably more challenging. From presenting Black London in the early 90s, working with Jon Snow in the late 90s, to cofounding a journal Representology with Sir Lenny Henry’s Centre for Diversity, et al, I, like you see differences I’ve been involved in.

As a father of two creative sons, one a character rigger, the other a dancer who was the winner of the collaboration award at the BBC’s Young Dancers 2022, I’m full of praise for their ability to connect and push ideas forward fearlessly, to traverse this landscape of diversity with selflessness which appears indicative of the Gen Z, millennium Gen.

But it isn’t lost on me and others as parents, guardians, mentors and supporters, there’s many things us the “squeezed middle” can offer, knowledge, wisdom, strategies, the memories of how it was once done, but would no longer be effective.

We can do it alone, and many of us do. Otherwise like BLM there’s an embrace to a network that exists beyond them walls which eventually coalesce into larger ideas, and a movement, and that’s what drives greater change.

Being invited to share stories at Regents Univerity with Prof Wilson