Saturday, September 18, 2010

Participatory social videojournalism - a guide to

If you were one of the many millions who watched "Live 8" you would have witnessed a a very powerful psychological theme at play: using video for participatory social media.

An act would come on to woo a jubilant audience, followed by a film which would reduce you to tears, and then a presenter who would extol you the viewer to do something, that is donate money.

Yesterday, cutting a film I made on one of the UK's most talented directors for his generation, Rob Chiu I was reminded when Rob mentioned the brief for his film.

It was to bring the audience, young people, into a baleful despairing emotional state and then the organisation "I Care Revolution" could act on this - give them options how to feel better.

Live8". Again, the audience, a group of people, feels compelled to participate.

Rob Chiu's - The Making of Fear/Love

What is participatory media?
Often when reading about participatory media, I'm drawn to that well known saying by Justice Potter Stewart on pornography, "I know it when I see it".

Oh My News & fellow Knight Batten Award Winners Global Voices are often quoted as great examples of project alpha in participatory media, usurping the monastery pyramidal structure of news' one - to many, rather than many - to - many undertaken by non-professionals ( the whole basis of the Net ( Information routing Groups)

There have been a great many blogs e.g. Paul Bradshaws, Howard Rheingold and Alfred Hermida, et al. But I wanted to take this post to concentrate on film and videojournalism.

Three fundamentals of Social, Participatory video-media
There are, for me, three fundamental levels of participatory which are at play.

1. The first and more obvious emerges from the distribution of the end product- the video, via any number of platforms and the ability to share that product.

ie You Tube, Twitter, Delicious, Facebook, and any number of social-distributive platforms facilitating the sharing process

2. The second involves the making of the product e.g. video, in which many participate towards the eventuality - if as a finite product, for this argument we call it that. Eric Whitacre's Virtual Choir - 'Lux Aurumque' is a robust example of a story, that's formed from the coming together of many.

Here Eric composes a score whose contributors he never meets - at least on the recording of the score.

3. The third aspect of a participatory form of storytelling and perhaps the one I have spent more time pondering occurs at a phenomenological level, that the structure and composition of the story has built in nodes for participation.

Live8 a model for greater participation
Lets go back to the Live 8 example, where built into the film is a cue or cues for the audience to do something, more explicit perhaps than implicit. The most powerful being to give money.

Actually the film never asks you to do that. Watch an Oxfam or Christian Aid ad on TV and it's explicit to the point, that it suffocates the film's narrative.

Often by default a powerful report induces the audience to act. Whenever the BBC is dealing with a controversial issue within one of its soaps or a documentary on a medical condition, it's aware of the repercussions enough to conclude with an end title saying: If you've been affected by this programme, please call our helpline".

That is participatory, and necessary, but still based on top down 20th model.

The very idea of building reportage that acts as a catalyst for participation, undoes the narrative we've become used to in news. Firstly news reporting inherently seeks closure and is driven by often unimodal narratives.

Also by its very nature in which it was set up, it reports without acting on after wards.

Take this video I shot in 2005 from then Masters students and third along listen to what Daniel Kofi, from Ghana has to say, in that the media should be responsible for not just reporting but changing attitudes.

I'm pretty certain that if this was shown to you around that time, you'd think Daniel was highly naive, but now?

A New Narrative
Breaking into that narrative has its challenges in the modernistic presumed free flow of the article, though the use of hyperlinks circumvents that - and we've got used to breaking out of the text.

Video, not so yet I would argue at a mainstream news level.

Structurally there are actions we could undertake and the introduction of videohyperlinking (see the Economist article which mentioned my work on video hyperlinking) will be a game-changer of participation and narrative exposition when it finally breaks.

But for the meantime, thinking through participation structurally within the report calls on a re-orientation of narrative closure and the question remains whether it would work for all reportage, though why not is my answer.

The Pope's visit presented a number of participatory nodal points from the BBC's reportage with Alan Little. One such example, a woman complaining there were no giant sized screens to watch the pope. Cue: geostat message where they can be found.

At a pedagogical level it requires a new methodology and even work flow within the gathering and dissemination of new, particularly online, which I alluded to in previous posts about Trans media and cuts to the very heart of a debate explaining what is news.

More of this in the coming weeks.

I'll finish though with a reminder of this tussle between new modes of reporting as embodied in the debate between public ( Citizen participatory journalism) and professional programme makers.

Famed Poet and literary critic T.S. Elliot giving evidence to the Pilkington Committee on the Future of Broadcasting (1962) said:
"Those who aim to give the public what the public wants begin by underestimating the public taste, they end by debauching it"
That in response to a widespread view from the 1930s from the likes of literary and social conservative critic F.R Leavis who saw standards being maintained only by the actions of an elite minority.

Yesterday I was reminded again by a modern editor how broadcasting and the media is conservative in its nature.


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