Wednesday, April 02, 2008

What Al Jazeera teaches us about modern day media

It was bound to happen, could be the refrain.

Discontentment within the ranks of Al Jazeera forcing mass resignations.

This week the UK's Guardian newspaper added to the raft of reportage, many have done so thus far via so blogs, quiet conversations, and a site that hangs out AJs dirty linen.

In essence you could argue that the set up and architecture of AJ was ripe to go pear shape at some point, though that would be an easy hit - a cop out: all companies go through the antithesis of a purple patch.

But has AJ's come too soon?

Personally, I can't think of any other business ingredient to sour a company than to have two outfits of the same ilk occupy different hierarchies. AJ international Versus AJ domestic - sibling rivals, one born at home, the other, African dialect would refer as a "been to" ie Been to US/UK etc.

In my first ever radio job working at the BBC, the station came close tot this: Asians and Blacks located to the rear, their programmes literally in one corner- sharing metaphorically paper cups, while the other side of the newsroom had Earl Grey.

But this post isn't so much about a them and us, rather firstly my own experience with AJ and secondly, whether AJ's punt for a new of type of news journalism was a PR stroke too far?

You've got Friends
I have got some good friends at AJ, including the man said to be responsible for helping set it up, Riz Khan. One day on a visit to another friend, I found myself being interviewed for a post in Africa.

How would I do this and how would I do that was the closed line of questioning?

Frankly, I was a little put out by what I was led to be an informal chat, with some big name types, about their new venture, but I thought of playing along nonetheless.

They the team of Brits looked mostly resigned, when I mentioned videojournalism. Their heads cocked to one side, you could read their bubble thought: "here we go another chancer".

Never mind, I'm comfortable with what I believe I know I heard myself thinking

However I was mesmerized by the loose chat that followed in which they talked about their eye of the prize - the new approach to reportage et al.

I don't doubt probably the bosses are extremely pleased with what they've achieved thus far, but I felt the lack of Videojournalism as added reportage skills and the lack of innovation on the web meant something would give.

For all the technological gizmos in broadcasting and now digital reportage, the one aspect of reportage that is consistently overlooked is the style and approach.

If you're an exec, look away now, because the chances of you revolutionising news reportage after being handed shed loads of money go like this:

  • 1. Invest in high tech graphic suite and equipment
  • 2. Look around for the best personnel in the market
  • 3. Get that swirly logo punchy theme tune going

    We're wedded to an idea of news that is beyond rigid. It's a igneous in structure.

    News' Frankenstein
    The original arbiters of news reportage have a lot to answer for as nothing else beyond a woman/ man and a desk appears to brook any currency. Form and structure in news are untouchable.

    We've tinkered with solo presenters, double headers, red lights:hushed backgrounds, to zoo tv where there's a whole army of people working in the news ecosystem, but the DNA of news and its gathering remains the same.

    And any sign, reported in the press of a new dawn in TV invariably involves a rehash of a new theme, and, AND a roll out of the same old usual suspects.

    Nothing wrong with that, experience is the bedrock of what we do.

    But when the well's dry, it's time to inject new blood, outside blood: new disciplines, personalities et al.

    Last night the BBC did what it's supremely confident at: a feature on the sub prime lending market presented and written by its Economic Editor Robert Preston.

    It was marvelous, fabulous. Granted it took an army the size of the Persians at Thermopylae in 480BC, but it was sublime.

    You can't beat quality programmes: the film mixed genres of Hollywood film making, with pathos. It was erudite, creative and supremely impressive.

    The new discourse for news and features should be more of this. It stands the test of time, deserves to be revisited, and reworked - the web allows that. Hear this again. You don't have to abandon a programme idea because you did it once in a year. The web allows you do so much more with rigid TV schedules.

    If Britain's race politics reportage seems so distant to be non existent it's because the commissioners sacrosanct believe only one programme on race will suffice in a year. BROAD B*****Y BAND - WAKE UP!

    Al Jazeera's back lash ultimately isn't just about discontentment it's about a missed opportunity, none more so evident than in its web site, which is brochure ware par excellence.

    So while we wallow in a partial sea of mediocrity, news masquerading as infotainment and the rest, we do a generation a massive disservice.

    In 20 years time, if the then news and programme makers look back on this era, they may well scoff in disdain. What were they doing back then? They had a broadcast outlet - the last of its kind before we went super broadband and IPTV, and they wasted an opportunity.


    But you know what?

    The exec sitting in his office has litte to worry about. They're a couple of years shy of their retirement. Keep the ship steady till then, then hand over the problem to some young turk. "What do I care - I still get my bonus and healthy pension".

    What will AJ look like then? If present trends are anything to go by, very badly.

    AJ is a lesson in not how to launch a media company, even if you have lots of money.

    Cliff said...

    So while we wallow in a partial sea of mediocrity, news masquerading as infotainment and the rest, we do a generation a massive disservice.

    That one statement speaks volumes mate. The same thing is occurring in my home town. Lackluster tv news reporting, wannabe a major news market in a semi-medium market, newspaper hasn't got a clue how to truly implement vj'ism. Layoffs abound in the major tv news markets due to a lack of viewership and major profit losses. And the PHB's wonder Whisky Tango Foxtrot!?

    The demarcation line as I see it working as a freelance solo video journalist is how to make IM6 Solo VJ's profitable from a business standpoint, and how do we as those of the new VJ paradigm make a living wage from doing this - and where is the balance point for both of these to take shape.

    Ahh the joys and uncomfortability of change in the tearing down of the old and the building of the new...

    Cliff Etzel - Solo Video Journalist

    Dr David Dunkley Gyimah said...

    What's happening now Cliff is no different to changes in comms over the centuries.

    I don't want to get academic about this, but pity the poor souls, who between 400BC and 400 AD thereabout were told you can't write/read any longer. The church says so...

    The Renaissance then led to an awakening.

    More contemporary events occur around the advent of TV itself and the spleen-venting attitude of newspapers becrying how this new medium would lead to mass iliteracy and the rest.

    But TV was not a one hit wonder and baby boomers gave it the oomph it deserved.

    The net, videojournalism is challenging those same hoary chestnuts, but it'll bed down.

    That's not optimism, but Darwinism.

    In order for new comms paradigms to succeed, others must fail. I supose that's the whole premise of paradigm.

    The only trouble first adopters have is how long, they, us, we, you stay in the cyclone, before being unleashed.

    stay doing what you do.

    In 1994 we thought the industry would catch up with us. 14 years later it's moved. In the last three years it's moved almost the equivalent of the past devade plus.

    Stay doing what you do.

    They're about to cath up with you


    p.s what would make a good VJ package is to construct a story about the lay offs and without forcing the agenda let the [actors] ie those involved tell the story of change.

    That would be both educational and prove inherently sociological. What do you think??