Thursday, August 19, 2010

What makes a good journalist.. videojournalist?

This video you might watch came about from this post below. After it was retweeted, I created this title intro for a fictitious Retweet show to thank those who pinged this to their friends.

any students have now graduated, some have found jobs, others will join an unofficial club reeling of letters and CVs.

Having struggled myself initially to get into the media, I still have all my BBC rejection letters, and regularly now find myself in positions to recommend others for broadcasters and newspapers,  I'd like to share some of my thoughts.

The first thing that is apparent is the digital age has changed the job market in the way we conduct a different type of journalism. This in turn has affected, or should, attitudes to hiring from potential employers.

That at least is what senior execs will tell you, but the converse is that traditional values in this fuzzy world have never required reinforcing like they do now.  Values such as objectivity, impartiality, truth, ethics, fairness, learning how to cope with failure - these are personable qualities that universities or lengthy training regimes help you broach.

Take the modules where I lecture in at my University, the University of Westminster, or training programmes in Egypt where I have been helping to create all-round videojournalists ( see the concept is to teach, then load students with real-life obstacles.

Invariably, these test a number of skills: creative, technical, personable, knowledge-building and provide invaluable feedback.

Understanding social networks and how they impact user behaviour is crucial, but so is developing your critical analysis. On the top of Egypt's state broadcaster, Nile TV, its 27th floor my colleague pointed to an economically deprived area of downtown Cairo. I took this picture. What does it show?

Downtown Cairo

The next day I spent time walking around the cafes and eateries, and there in the corner was TV with any number of people watching. Social Media may have played a role as some sort of secondary catalyst in the unrest in Cairo, but pushing the chemistry analogy, the substrate appears to me to be good old fashion television - the bastion of social media.

If you are going on to some form of tertiary education, the amazing skills you'll likely to learn during your most fertile period may not necessarily be required within the traditional market place e.g. learning how to use twitter as a marketing tool, unless that is the company you are working for envelopes these into their working practice. Believe me not all do.

Also be aware, most job interviews will tap you for new knowledge and your potential thus as the next generation to take the organisation through the digital sluice gates, but you may well end up not using such skills immediately.

So it pays to develop your own online presence as both a reputation management guide and to offload some of the angst you may encounter in traditional media companies who take the ford system of division of labour.

And before you ask, there's nothing wrong with the Ford system, its all about horses for the right course.

What makes a good journalist.. videojournalist? ( Reduxed - since writing this yesterday)

1. Personable: good social skills in handling different scenarios and a matured responsible manner. Being able to illustrate you're a story teller, by telling a story... and that includes job interviews. You have no idea how bored interviewers get when one candidate after another subjects them to monosyllabic answers.

A friend of mine walking up to the panel tripped on her stilettos, fell down and then held her broken heel aloft. "I've made a right heel of this without even starting", she said. She got the job after recounting other witty stories in her answers. But don't do what politicians do... " Earlier I asked this (fictional) lady called Margaret about her ...." NO!

Also learn how to be firm without being cocky; the best journalists to work with, and would-be-journalists are those who are generous; they display a voracious appetite to know and demonstrate they care. Listening is a skill. Learn to listen, because ultimately the story is in the listening, as much as the probing. If you care about the story, you'll know what to ask, because it becomes a quasi-conversation.

2. Judicious use of words and being relaxed. Knowing how to talk to people. Please don't be verbose. Use words in a manner befitting of you a potential reporter: intelligent without over doing it. If you have a propensity to say er, a lot, it may either signify lack of confidence or knowledge.

If you can switch from speaking to 5 year olds, without being condescending to non-native speakers of your language and then to a high powered official, that social chameleon skill will get you far.

If your vocabulary is found wanting or 9/11 is a channel, you might want to have some strong words with yourself. Last year at a media event, one 3rd year media student asked me. What's 9/11?

3. An inquisitive and enquiring mind: a nosy bastard. If you're someone who asks "why" a lot, often quietly in your head, then you're the bothered type. On radio some years back, a guest told me something really amusing. During a studio interview she excused herself for a bathroom break, after the other speaker had been talking.

It was only after the show that she admitted, she was so bothered with the other interviewee using the word "peripatetic", that she had to find out what it meant, so she went off to find a dictionary. She never used the word during her interview, she just needed to know.
Journalism is an irrational appetite to know things. In effect you're a wordsmith or visual detective.

There's a test I usually run on my masters students, the first time I'm supposed to meet them. I send a  not to the lecture hall apologizing I'll be late, but have the room strewn with newspapers and mags, some with marked headlines. It's fascinating to note those who picked up the newspapers before I turn up and those who felt they'd use the time talking to friends on the phone.

Short film I made of former MAJI student who today are successful in their fields answering "If". If they could change one thing, what would that be? This is an edited version.

4. Capable of sacrificing your time and efforts for a good cause - illustrate this. This is a personal quality. Stop being the Narcissistic Ego; you know, the "know it all". The me-society, which has its green shoots in Consumerism of the 80s (You could argue also the 60s) and is congealed now, means its all about you. I find this space-sharing tested when asking student journalists to collaborate on projects. Some excel, others still believe they should be guarded.

If you're sitting next to someone struggling because they don't know what button to push to post their wordpress blog, and you've just posted your 10th, why would you tell them to email the lecturer???  Please don't misunderstand me, this is not about lecturers or mentors abrogating their roles, it's about the we media and wisdom of crowds. You'll win far more accolades playing alongside others together. Yes you got the interview, we know!

5. A good understanding of technology and applications. You work in TV and don't know what DTT means?? An appreciation of a technology will suffice. Blog? Ah yes, isn't that when you write on the Internet. There will be 20-somethings appearing on journalism courses this year, who will not know what a blog is, let alone have written in one. Why?

It is inevitable ( I sound like a borg) but digital journalism today embraces a fundamental understanding of basic tech. If you're railing against computers because you hate them, two things. Firstly, you won't be able to avoid them and some of the tools/software they come with. Secondly, you're doing yourself no favours.

With limited spaces available working for an outfit, even if you're not going to use online skills, don't pass them over.

6. The usual suspects: law, admin, politics - Yeah. Somethings you just need to know, but some of you will quietly and methodically push the envelope some more. My Masters students will know me for the saying: "You can work and pass this exam, or you can work and excel in industry. If you choose the latter, you're assured to pass your exams and get a job. If you choose the former, you'll pass, hopefully, but that job won't have your name on it".

Why? simple. There are in the UK on average I'm told by a human resources manager 100 applicants for every job advertised. So, you need to be special, and want it. You can, but it costs.

7. Persistence and heightened sense of keenness. I see this in the MAJI students when they're doing online. Those that are committed will reap what they sow. One of my former students had a persistent knack of keeping me on campus until 9pm.

He wanted to know, but not in an asymmetric relationship, he'd push me as well. Most managers like nothing more than someone who can in a respectful way push them. But if you're going to turn up to a class or newsroom know that before you ask that questions, er what's 911, you've at least googled it or asked a friend. Yes someone did ask about 911.

8. Respect. You may have a double first, but humility is key. Your job is to extract info. Older people or those deemed "alien" may seem worthless but they possess huge reservoirs of experiential learning. If your inclination after a week on the work placement is to think your editor is a W*****er, then time will become your foe in years to come, when you're no longer young and OH yes it will happen. The expression be nice on your way up, because you will come down and meet the same people, is TRUE.

9 Independent mind - an opinion. Personally I'd rather have a student in front of me talking about how she/he got out of a ruck in Borneo, than someone telling me she/he has 3,000,000 twitter followers. A senior figure at the think tank Chatham House, was my mentor, but on the occasion he would ask I speak to a relative of his considering journalism, my advice was back then and now: " Go and make yourself interesting". Travel... experience new things.. broaden you social horizons.

10. Think on your feet. Be bothered by mediocre, second best and go-slows. When it all goes horribly wrong, will you be the one in the newsroom to pull it altogether and not lose it? I'd like to end here with a tribute to another former student who showed how "self belief" in the constant face of uncertainty and how risk taking does pay off.

11. Wanting it. At the end of each module I conduct a lecture on "Wanting it". Simply it's a quasi- army talk on the lengths you can or will go if you want something. For there is no right or wrong route to this trade called journalism.

As part of my PhD research I recently interviewed an old colleague of mine. When we worked as videojournalists in 1994, he was first a researcher, then talked his way into becoming a videojournalist. Today he has a 10 million pound turn over company. In Touching the Void, a climber who could not face death crawled back to camp. In 127 hours, the same fighting spirit. As I write this now, there are Master students who are blurring night and day.

Online classes, with CSS and the likes, fold into video doc projects. They're probably calling me all sorts of names ( LOL); I also get the most delightful emails after the course, but I know now they're finding out about themselves: in group dynamics, in their own desires, in finding solutions, in sacrificing one year of their lives to work their socks off.

As a chemistry undergrad, a good friend became my mentor: "David", he would say,"forget the nightlife and the socialising, get the degree. The rest will be here when you finish".  Later on during my Postgrad, my lecturer asked me to make a choice. I was making 150UKP a week as a DJ, but my studies were suffering.

The choice of abandoning that pay check, helped me into my first TV job in 1990 at the BBC's flagship news analysis prog Newsnight. It's high time, I thought then and do now of paying that favour back. For without that timeline, it's very likely I wouldn't be doing half of the things today e.g. a juror for the UK equivalent of the EMMY's , The RTS Awards and of course lecturing.

Discretion prevents me from divulging so much as to embarrass her and break my own position as a confident, but after a chat, we made a report for her reel. She managed to blag (persuade) the publicists of the premier Dreamgirls ( she's interviewing Danny Glover) and 007 Casino Royale to be part of the TV crews. Nine months later she was selected as Sky's Entertainment Correspondent in LA.

How bad do you want it?

Your thoughts??

p.s And please don't so what one student did when at a journalism gathering I introduced her to a respected ITN reporter. After talking to him for ten minutes, she said she had to go, gave him her card and said: "call me sometime". Our mouths dropped in shock!

David is a director of the Broadcast Journalism Training Council, a senior lecturer at the University of Westminster, PhD Candidate researching future journalism at te SMARTlab, University College Dublin and publisher of and consultant for a number of news organisations. He has worked for some of the biggest news orgs. These views are his own. They are not in anyway shape or form connected to the policies of his university

Here for more on David's background and to talk to him

David interview the former head of the CIA in Washington, James Woolsey and below working as a director-camera film maker in West with the US Special Forces.

David Dunkley Gyimah joins UK industry experts to decide who'll be the Royal Television Society winner for innovative media for the last three years: 2010 and 2009.

Follow up with these.

1. Where next for technical videojournalism news?

2. Do you speak a video, Yes You!