Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Searching for the definitive in new journalism


Bit of a change for me here, but I thought of writing something in the first person. It's more of a reflexive diary entry - a sort of brain dump, but if any of it chimes with you, do as always plse ping me.

Yesterday I spent the whole day in the British library. At one point I looked up from the six books surrounding me and thought, what a way to be spending your time - when I'd sooner be out in the open air making a film or something.

But the Library - and I have been surprised myself has become a monastery. The reading rooms are something out of a Potter movie egging you on with imaginary hog what evers lurking around. Anyway enough of my soporific nonsense.

I did however come away with evidence I needed to build into my ongoing research and my PhD thesis about future media. PhDs are for me the pedagogical equivalent of waterboarding where you feel you're drowning in a mass of data and you just can't breath. Nothing is so quite psychologically mind pounding.

But when you do catch your breath and think through, you start to see glimmers of things that seem to make sense.

Take this statement that often platforms very rarely serve the purpose for which they were designed. The early adopters find a means, and then through the years and "misuse", often serendipity we get to that place.

You can trace this in, art, photography, and film which was first designed for science value, or that in the 50s cinema moguls thinking they wanted to be different from television introduced cinevision ie widescreen. There was no functional reason or clearly thought out aesthetic as you look at your latest movie shot in 1080i HD.

More closer to home, the net from 1996 when I first started on it, is way different from to today. For Berners-Lee it was his way to remember data. That's old hat. Now, if you haven't seen the news video from 1995 which shows the UK newspapers talking about the web, please do here.

David presenting at the annual Media Development gathering - Around 200 companies from around the world who publish in difficult environments.

But we haven't yet still cracked this thing of new journalism on the web. Through experimentation, we've made gains, but academics, and broadcasters continue as we, they, must ponder big questions for knowledge, power and economic value.

So, as a new cohort of trainee journalists are set to start this year, I think what it might look like in 2020?

In the meantime, we go to conferences, we listen to scions, people co-translating their experiences, some sharing pilot studies....We're constantly, rightly so, searching for the definitive in new journalism.

This statement crystallised my thoughts. In fact I must have coughed so loud in the library I might have been in danger of being kicked out.

"A new medium is not born fully formed with a clear mission and purpose. Instead the first people involved have to struggle with various formats to find what programming and information fit the medium’s particular strengths and weaknesses"

“...new practices do not so much flow directly from technologies that inspire them as they are improvised out of old practices that no longer work in new settings".

The attributes of the medium according to the author, Carolyn Marvis, come about through a negotiation of technologies. Now, this is a bit of a wow statement, because it gives some legitimacy to postulate with academic constraints, what might be?

Imagine in 2020, the generation working on the web looking at what we were doing now thinking OMG what Luddites. When I showed some students my Uher- a radio recorder - and explained this was the universal tool of choice in the 90s, laugh they nearly died. That it's a lethal weapon and in my 8 years of use I never injured anyone is a miracle.

So first let's think about the net as it exists now, the web and its unique qualities, where with a bit of trend extrapolation and modeling we might be able to kick to touch the crystal ball.

Here I pay tribute to Dr Latham, cuz I used to loath this stuff during my degree in maths and chemistry.. modelling.. but hey, 26 years later, here I am dusting it off. So what would the web look like, but more importantly what sort of journalism, the trading and exchange and sharing and asymmetrical flows of data will exist?

This is the stuff, yep I'm guilty, that I play through in performance lectures in conferences, though increasingly these Petcha Kucha 20 minutes need a different approach.

What you want is to be in an area provoking (nicely) people, them provoking you into thought -a sort of creative fight club where you draw threads and attempt new synapses from fresh and old understandings. Take our penchant now for blogging and expression, no different in the macro sense from the pamphleteers of the 16th 17th century.

In 2020 will we be paying for the web? Likely I said in this post here on Murdoch, though the argument's being made on economic grounds which is hard to swallow. It needs re-orientating - if you remember the exploits of the digital boffins of the 90s where download this version and pay for the upgrade was the norm, few objected.

I'm finishing off some work in Cairo, where I have identified for the participants 9 clear streams for videojournalism. If you think how only 10 years ago, the BBC playing with bi media thought working two media was radical, the idea today that a videojournalist does everything is heretical.

Actually we can push it further. The expression sticks in the craw, but integrated multimedia videojournalism (IMVJ), leaves little to the imagination at being a 21st century television studio. And it's far from solitary, but interdependent and collaborative.

Truthfully, videojournalism - as we know now - is no more radical than the kid - and I remember Paul Hardcastle's 19 (1985) as my yard stick - sitting in his bedroom working on a synth. The question thus to address which will unfold is one of aesthetics, weighed against purpose and a dirty word in journalism - art.

At some point, the art of the media and its practitioners emerges from the flock. Think Murrow et al ( the art of radio); Cronkite, Robin Day ( the art of the interview); Alan Hart (ITN) Michael Nicholson ( the art of television Reporter) . Sorry I have only mentioned UK and US - my ignorance.

This aesthetic involve a sort of rotation of themes and genre - contemporary versions of Noir, Dogma, or Russian two-step and flutter cuts mixewd with the unknown.

Data journalism become more hyperlinked. It's voice-driven and negates the use of a telephone (Will the telephone companies give way cuz I have already seen it) which finds a way to usurp the main news agenda. Multimedia, writing in 2007 will still adhere to these functionalities, but there are now new variables afoot.

But of huge importance beyond the innovations and the processes, is the individual. The most interesting thing will be, well, put it bluntly "You".

Someone asked but I have not empirical data to uphold this whether those entering or in any modal forms of journalism today are on average, more aware than those 20 years ago. Apropo what about the next ten years?

The tools will be ubiquitous, but what will the journalist require beyond the "press here and fly button" - knowledge and context? Why, if they can access that instantaneously on a mobile device. (I'm not here supporting this idea, just enamoured by it). Here's my trekkie moment

More guile and creativity to access stories. How do you access the truth as it happened, when organisations will be happy enough with the efforts of their own media telling their story. BA is a good example of this. This post fleshes this out.

And what about training and learning. The convention today is to take a glut of subjects. In this post and a link to a video by a former vice chancellor , we should start to train the workforce of tomorrow e.g. journalists, very differently.

It all adds up to some grand theory, except we've been here before. We've always been, and through the thoughts, books knowledge of others we've found our way. Except this time the none geographic nature of the web, places an interesting premium on paradoxically geographic centres of learning.

Ten years ago the impact of knowledge or journalism from Australia or China registered comparatively smaller with today, but today where you can spot excellence, we all gravitate to that company, that region, which becomes the new hub.

We've seen this Silicon valley, and as a new digital company drawing in users and knowledge exchange Media storm is a good example, often on the lips of many BBC execs talking about future media.

Interesting that Newsweek reported recently that Xinhua news agency may well be the dominant news in the future. If the little I know from my work in China tells me, technologically, the boundaries are porous, and now the country is placing a high quotient on information and data.

It all adds up to some interesting scenarios ahead.

So there are a few thoughts I thought of getting of my chest before I hit the Mac again to get some other work done :)

Normal service begins tomorrow. BFN