Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Videojournalism Eye -hommage to Dziga Vertov

To cineaist and documentary makers, Vertov is synonymous with Shakespeare for film.

His Kino-eye Man with a Movie Camera (1929) is an epochal piece of work,  a ten commandments with Vertov pre-empting Chartlon Heston many years in advance.

Except Vertov's grandisoseness exists behind the lens, than in front of it.

We know much of what Vertov has done for film and docs, but what about videojournalism or meta-video? I'm increasingly substituting meta-video for videojournalism, which is disappearing into tautology.

Why? Because everything in video delivering factivity can inherit videojournalism as a category. What started off as a nouvelle language for some has been subsumed into the fold of video-everything.

This isn't a criticism, but an observation that elides videojournalism a grand theory approach - a conversation for another time perhaps.

Vertov today
So back to Vertov. The film starts with the bold title, this is an experiment and the statement it will be free of the use of inter titles, which held cinema together in the soundless days, adopted by photography later as captions in photo essays.

The film is many things, but for me it's an Encyclopedia in the language of (meda-video) videojournalism revealing a number of processes.
  • Filming technique
  • Film language
  • Position of the cameraman, Vertov's brother, whilst shooting. 
  • Effects
  • A compendium for modern films.
In Man with a Movie Camera, there are the obvious motifs, scene settings lifted by other films, such as
  • 24
  • The Matrix
  • King Kong
  • Mr Fox
  • Gladiator 
  • And any film with a train
Though free of narrative, it's possible to construct one, but really that's no bother. The films shows up somewhat embarrassingly for our videojouralism times what was achieved in 1929.

Claymation effects, Freeze-frame film as photos; symbolism in video making as a merry go round and wall of death rider interchange shots.

The inter cut between mechanisation, against the ordinariness of daily life (shaving and washing) a baby pushing out from his mothers; and a fair smattering of nudity - soft flesh -Vertov knew what sells.

Vertov knew what was going to sell: films of social purpose. In those days the expense of it all meant docs were reserved for big themed subjects. Housing Problems - Griersonian docs came 6 years later.

The cascading score (not the one playing but the notes he left for composers) set against a game of football is mesmerizing. We get the obligatory behind-the-lines shots, though much cleaner than today's in-the-heavens depiction, and then some tantalising images on the pitch.

Why can't videojournalism's be allowed to film on the field of play whilst Manchester United play Arsenal? Yes it's an absurd thought you might ask, but then why not fix the ref with a head cam, which gives the viewer access to the pitch.

Vertov videojournalism next
That's what Vertov's film is begging us to think.

Then there is the pure poetry of the athletes, high jumping; hurdling, hammer throwing. Women in full grace, men exuding brute strength.

The shots have been slowed down in superslowmo. 1000 frames a second, who knows, but its genius to watch.

Vertov or Kaufman tags his shots ala 24; he hollywoodises his language: shot/reverse/shot.

He hangs off a moving train, and captures the belly of a fast-moving one. You see the mound Kaufman builds to provide the shot. All the while having to handcrank the camera, which in those days lacked electronic motors and was barely entertaining spring-based wound up mechanisms.

Its superb because if you follow the timeline of what he achieved back then working under strenuous conditions (Directors thought him pretentious etc) it deserves to be shown to all vjs, with the caveat - now what would you do?

A favourite repetitive scene for me is watching Kaufman lug his camera and sticks around. The weight of that camera and tripod, hardly mobile, must have been something.

This zoo- approach to film making, which often unveils the artifacts of film making, with the cameraman, soundman in shot, is much used today. Back then he would have been further criticised for dispelling the illusion of film making, much as  News makers continue that three-card trick today.

BTW I was watching an entertaining film on billionaire Donald Trump on BBC two days ago, where the director went Vertov - showing a full three-person crew in shot with Trump. One camera at play with no director would have caused its own visual fuss.

Man with a Movie Camera continues its relevance, but for a new generation.

Perhaps it's not so much aping the compendium of his shot list, but providing a new lingua-aesthetic. One in which the psychology of shot juxtaposition, rather than sequence - which often gets lost in translation - is given priority -  if not in affective experimental film but also visual narrative driven videojournalism (meta-video) essays.

Find out what the reverential Mark Cousins, writing partner with Kevin Macdonald (Touching the Void Director) Author of  Imagining Reality says about digital film and David's work on www.viewmagazine.tv, which starts with a trailer with intelligence chiefs talking about closed and open secrets.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Social Network and the law - Everyone's a journalist now!

Did you know you contravene broadcast laws if you film a subject and don't get their consent?
Post script:
 After writing this piece I was drawn to an article from the Guardian some days later, which is appropriate to this piece and chilling. I have posted the link at the bottom of this post.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Social Media - Alterity Meme of Breaking News

How to become an instinctive thinker covering breaking news when you're mobile
A couple of days ago working with International Masters students we simulated a breaking news event and drew up a methodology how Social Media with Traditional Media, coupled with user-behaviour enabled us to understand the dynamics of the story. You might want to have a look at that BREAKING NEWS after this present post.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Trainee Journalist's integrity - Royal Marriage

Prince William and Kate Middleton are to marry.

The news media has gone into a tail spin. Nothing like a royal event - that\s blockbuster news -ratings.

Spare a trought however for one of our Masters joournalism students who says she knew about this news two weeks ago.

Yesterday her conscious niggled her, so she asked the question.

Should she tweet and blog, without revealing her source? But what if her source comes across the copy? What damage would it wreak on their friendship?

She saw it fitting Not to  tweet or blog the story, not wanting to ruin the relationship with her contact. Journalists integrity trumps story.

Question is what would you have done?

Monday, November 15, 2010

The Alterity of Breaking News

How to become an instinctive thinker covering breaking news when you're mobile
In the term "breaking news"it would not be anomalous to imagine a giant surf set breaking - rolling out a life of its own.

The UK Press Gazette recently reported a group of surfers uncovering a 50ft wave in England, yet refusing to give its exact location. This contested spirit is much the same for the news surfers seeking to break news.

Yet, somehow in our meta data-mined digiworld, breaking news is becoming an irrelevance - at least in the way TV once had the monopoly and practiced its wares.

Not any more - anyone now can break news.

CNN, London, I'm told by a lecturer-colleague no longer invests in the act of "breaking news" being its raison detre.

Breaking News Broken
Baudrillard, the late contemporary philosopher might have proclaimed the media's incestuous naval gazing has now seen some sense.

He might add what TV inevitably saw as a form of electronic corporeal voyeurism, the need to get to the scene and flaunt oneself first whilst attempting to ride the wave exclusively is diminishing. Merci Dieu.

Today as part of a Masters lecture over a couple of hours trainee journalists sought to deconstruct this modernistic news parlance.

In 1963 the term would evince a chilling turn,  but in the hands of the television supremo Cronkite the most gut-wrenching of news is delivered in a matter-of-fact, unflappered manner.

Contrast this with the many excitable presentations of today, some crassly riddled with bon mots.

Breaking News in the Lecture Room
The lecture room does not do its justice.

Breaking News is truly realised under the intense gaze of the controlled frenzy of the newsroom, where old friendships can be lost in seconds, and where everyone is calling for order in disorder.

Here then is what we devised. A collaborative meme, which I have since added to and hopefully our MAs can modify as well. That I published it gives us all a moment to evaluate its purpose: the lecture gave it much more context.

But when the news doth break, what is one to do? When you're working for an outfit with limited resources how do rise above your station? Also when you break and its an exclusive, how do you manage, control, stay with the story?

Today app-determinism e.g twitter answers some of those questions. But it needs to be buttressed with the old and new . Those old fashion acts include the relentless act of "phone-bashing."

Remember time is the premium commodity. Every second gone, reduces your real-time prowess in driving the story. Like a trader, one minute the stocks up; the next it's down and now you failed to bring it in.

So instinct is crucial. Instinct however is practice learnt.

That means arriving at the point where when the big story happens you get all the elements in a Madhatter row and publish with all the prudence it deserves.

The hacks hacka
ABC Associate Producer David Dunkley Gyimah in the midst of a breaking news story in Johannesburg

David reporting live on the BBC World Service wrapping up Breaking News of the above bomb blast

To the hack in anyone, the breaking news story is or was the supreme Adrenalin rush. My first at a live station, BBC Radio Leicester was in 1991 - the assassination of Rajiv Ghandi.

When the news broke, I was shifting on the Asian network about to go home for the day, with only four other members of staff around to subsequently run a rolling news programme.

I'd had four previous years of radio to give me the confidence of what to do.

Today, within Breaking News the pubic demand more: participatory, explanatory, localisation - features explained in news' generic terms in Stuart Allan's News Culture,  but apply to the breaking format.

Being on air recounting information you reeled of seconds ago only wears the news down - a symptom of 24 hours news. We watch perhaps because of our insatiable appetite and curiosity, goaded by the announcer.."More news soon, meanwhile let's go to our correspondent". 

This, and how we now address breaking news in the digi-age  is food for this generation, compounded by a myriad of ethical and professional concerns.

Breaking News? More like Constructive for the post-TV age.

How to become an instinctive thinker covering breaking news

1. top zone is white heat hot - an abstraction from Mcluhan. The news is breaking fast
2. The lower zone - the temperature is more tempered. The news gets cycled into the lower zone for the creation of the news feature, whilst attention is still given to the top zone

  • The blue zones are web-enabled activities towards coverage of breaking news
  • The grey circles are customary traditional news practices
  • The reds are routes that may often not yield swift responses
  • The black will be hard pressed for an immediate response
The one we did not discuss in detail that we'll look at next week will be your reputation. In the event that a news story breaks and you're competing with others, how do you ensure a response from a potential participatory body may depend on the presentation of your reputation.

David Dunkley Gyimah, a senior lecturer at the University of Westminster, and PhD Candidate at SMARTlab University College Dublin is a member of Microbes Mind - a gathering set up by Nasa researcher Zann Gill, which provides provocative questions and answers to scenarios.

Post Script.
Spare a through for a Masters student who knew about the Royal Wedding announcement before its official announcement, but did not break the story for all sorts of ethical reasons, not least though if you break the story, how do you go about managing it.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Attempting Videojournalism's Learning Process

Screen writer Sir Ronald Harwood's lecture on the British Academy of Film and Television Arts - a must watch

I'm always eternally grateful for the gifts given by many; words, filmic ideas,  which capture how I might have wanted to make a point, but said much better.

I have been watching  Sir Ronald Harwood's captivating lecture on the British Academy of Film and Television Arts site as he reflects on his own craft. It produced many "aha" moments for me.

I ask you to take a look for I'm sure it will have currency for you as well.

I was struck by several things, but these few have left an indelible impression and catalysed me to start scribbling reflexive thoughts in videojournalism - the art of oneness (my pet subject)

Creative Videojournalism Thought (1)

Firstly,  made plaintively clear by Sir Ronald that the only way to become a writer is to write.

This is a seemingly torturous mantra to Masters students who I recite to endlessly. WRITE!

Sir Ronald says writing is the equivalent of muscle training for the athlete. The more your write, the more you train yourself.

This act is one that covers many disciplines, such as videojournalism.  Cue the only way to become a videojournalist is to shoot. Viewmagazine.tv is my exhibit B for this.

No matter what's done in the classroom, its only in the field where those creative impulses can manifest into a tangible or intangible product to be critiqued.

Creative Videojournalism Thought (2)
Secondly,  a statement which Sir Ronald qualifies in his lecture as it could be misunderstood - that is he's not sure screen writing can be taught, but it can be learnt.

There is an element of the philosopher Descartes in this: "I think therefore I am". A statement that hides a deeper truth.

You cannot be taught, but you can learn, but then from whom or what. If you learn from a teacher he or she teaches (you're being taught) - contradicting Sir Ronald's statement.

I am a lecturer and I understand the mechanics and limitations of my teaching. There are rules to guide, which can and should be broken.

Sir Ronald, for instance, takes issue with those creatives talking about the three act movie.

He tells us the 3-Act long perished becoming the 2-Act post 60s or otherwise the classical 5-Act driven by Shakespeare is an alternative option. The formula is but a guide.

In effect Sir Ronald I believe is saying the act of being taught is not a traditional classroom-based event. It involves a performance, an apprenticeship, a journey to make the learning process work, or even more memorable.

From his (screen writing) example of Elle editor Jean-Dominique Bauby’s true story The Diving Bell And The Butterfly (2007) directed by Julian Schnabel,  Sir Ronald illustrates how he was influenced by a film made thirty years ago. 

The film Lady in the Lake directed by Robert Montgomery works off the central character's POV perspective.


Videojournalism Thought (3)
This segues nicely into the final truism I take from Sir Rowland's lecture, and I'll paraphrase it in my own way.

"I know nothing about videojournalism. I did not witness its inception".

But what I do know, (this phraseology lifted from Sir Ronald's lecture)  is how I see my videojournalism. How I define "my" videojournalism that has come through experience and learning, through pedagogy and the refinement over time through open discussions and trial and error.

Like the writer we all have a uniqueness for the way we permutate letters, syntax and grammar. T'is the same with video as a language. ( I have come by philosophers who discount the idea that film is a language).

Like any creative journey there's years of getting it wrong, and then occasionally right and then more rights than wrong hopefully. The creative learning process then is the permission to experiment.

And even when you get it wrong ( as some of my students might note ( see below), I will often shriek with delight, because that is a profound learning curve. You're inclined not to repeat it.

Though I admit I would rather after a few wrongs you begin to get it right.

And here in my videojournalism world I have in recent years come to believe another process: that videojournalism whilst a solo affair should not necessarily be enacted as a solo affair.

That incongruously whilst seeking an autership, video as a creative medium works as a collaboration - whether with your subject, or more so with another creative.

The Common Wealth of Video

Memories from david dunkley gyimah on Vimeo.
David's Radio 4 and Channel 4 feature from South Africa in the 90s

The common wealth of video is one of the our contemporary break throughs in language-evolution.

Previous ventures involved writing e.g.  pamphlets, then essays, books and literary scores, before at some point arriving at the stage of the screen writer.

The Screen writer is a curious being: a cinematographer without a camera. He or she prods at a page as if it would animate.

The director is, more often than not, an actor without a physical presence with the mis-en-scene thrown in for good measure. Then there's the talent, actors et al. Sir Ronald explains the collaborative nature of film making.

Videojournalism is just as curious (and that won't be the first time I'm saying this). We start from a different position of being self-expressive and then like the creative writer, at some point seek company. Doesn't always have to happen, as with artists, but it most certainly bolsters the creative process.

Which is why I'm so keen on an association to bring videojournalists together to match make at the Southbank Centre, to encourage a professional sharing and learning process that gives room for journalism and art to rework themselves.

And to think this reflection emerged from a tweet from Bafta :) A ripple in a pond. Now I'm off to watch the rest of the lectures.

David, a senior lecturer and artist in residence at the Southbank Centre is a juror at the RTS for the third year running on the panel for innovative journalism 

Monday, November 08, 2010

Kelvin McKenzie speaks to Stewart Purvis

Please note there's a bit of swearing in this video.

In a City University conference on Local TV generously packed with experts, Kelvin McKenzie did not disappoint.

Mckenzie as the interviewer Stewart Purvis notes is well placed to provide punditry on a subject the conservatives have got the bit between their teeth.

The former Sun editor ran the Mirror's cable station Live TV  in the 90s famous for the new bunny.

Yes, that's right a fluffy human-sized bunny that reported the news, and if that sounded like an eye raiser, there was also topless darts.

This interview, a mix if humor and Mckenzie's acerbic wit, sheds light on his opinion why Local TV won't work.

Tuesday, November 02, 2010

The Times Newspaper sets out the future in its paywall

On BBC Radio 4 this morning, the Today programme, an interview with the Times newspaper's James Harding  defending its paywall strategy.

So it might, for a google of Times Newspaper and paywall reveals a spate of negative press and comments. It won't work, it's pointless, the cost damages the Times' growth are the vein of the criticisms.

But this interview, which is worth  listening with Editor  revealed some interesting figures.

It also aired a logic that argues the conversation has yet to break out of collateral damage blame.  It's to early to call this action said Harding, which I agree.

A look at trends and decision which go against the status quo tend to reveal widespread antiviews.

Here, Harding says he is encouraged by its figure of 100,000 readers, which Steve Hewlitt, a media expert agreed had merit. Depends how you look at added Hewlitt

The Net's echo chamber ensured that while their copy was behind a paywall, they were still being talked about.   The 100,000 figure appears to pan out at 20m UKP in advertising, compared with the Guardian's 40m UKP for its open access.

However, just as the FT has claimed, and reiterated by the Times, the IPad and Kindle is revolutionising the printed word.

We created a grave error admitted Harding when we gave our copy away for free. Will others follow behind the paywall asked the BBC presenter, Evan Davies.

Hewlitt was unsure, but the IPad/ Kindle offered an intriging future. I wrote earlier in a post. This is a waiting game of deeper pockets versus the possibility of a turn around in the logic journalism is free.

That does not undo my firm acknowledgement of the Net's free and open access approach, but that a new type of journalism in apps and need-to-know info may redeem the printed word's perceptive premium: some things cost.

Cine-videojournalism, small screens and futurescoping

At the RTS reception. In shot Peter Barron formelt BBC Newsnight Editor, now a senior executive at Google UK

This evening a key figure from the RTS jury panel emailed me to say he'd put me down to be a juror.

The RTS is the UK equivalent of the EMMYs - the gong much sought after by television news makers.

After being involved for a couple of years I'm much looking forward this time around as with the British election behind us, there's an expectancy towards this year's entries.

Two years ago, the victor was a bold concept traversing the line between fiction-fact and news making.

The BBC's 10 Day to War a dramaturgical series about the Gulf War attracted universal praise, as well from our secret ballot.

Some of the shows were directed by uber talent Bruce Goodison whom I worked with at BBC Reportage in 1992.

The programme followed in the footsteps of an earlier innovative BBC concept programme called "If".

What separated the two was one a dramatization of what had already happened.

The other was yet to with the theme of probability. What if, say, something catastrophic happened in the UK how would the country cope?

Cinematic DNA
Giant programmes shot for the small screen with cinematic DNA, which transposed into the web did not trully invite justice. I watched it via a DVD. Size matters.

What knits the aforementioned together was a much respected BBC figure who was Editor of BBC Newsnight.

Peter Barron is now Google’s Director of Communications and Public Affairs for North and Central Europe.

A fortnight ago I had a chance to visit and speak to Peter who I have known since I was a researcher on Newsnight in 1990, and he shed some light on 10 Days to War.

Alongside a compelling presentation on how google sees the future, he reflected on 10 Days casting a degree of caution for mixing fact and fiction for news type programmes.

Interestingly, 10 Days stoked an earlier venture I'd been involved in with Nato.

Here a cooperative of videojournalists illustrated how future TV makers could negate the expense of dramatic film, by actually being on the scene.

In 2008 Danfung Dennis, a photojournalist turned film maker showed this in its cinematic terms with Battle for Hearts and Minds.
David, as editor of a global videojournalism team embeded in War Games reportage with Nato
Today, fictionalised news, redolent of Newsreels contemporised is seeking a revival buttressed against real life.

Small Screens and a future
And here's where it gets even more interesting.

I have been meeting with a BBC execs where we're looking to convene a collective of Videojournalists/ film makers.

The  prospect exist of having their films shot and made for the big screen down at the Southbank.

I have wanted this for a while, videojournalism made for panoramic screens, before being downsized to the Net.

The relationship is different, the vista altered, the camera technology often the digital preserve of the Red Camera

And coming full circle one of the ideas that is being explored as a cinematic videojournalism project is with NASA practitioner and a PhD colleague of mine, Zann Gill

I'm at City University conference as a participant on hyperlocal and local television this Friday.  If you're there be good to chat.

Monday, November 01, 2010

City University London on Local Television

City University London conference on Local Television
Friday November 5 2010 (0930-1530) at The Performance Space, College Building, City University London, St John’s Street, EC1V 4PB.
0900-0930 Registration and coffee
Introduction and Welcome by Professor George Brock, Head of the Journalism Department at City University and former Managing Editor of the Times.
Session One (0935 -1000)
Local media, communities and citizenship –the big picture.
A panel of Jon Zeff (Director of Media, DCMS), Prof Roy Greenslade (City University and media commentator), Peter Williams (United for Local TV) and Prof Natalie Fenton (lead author of ‘Meeting the news needs of local communities’) discuss how the state of the UK’s local media fits into the wider debates about local democracy and the future of public service broadcasting.
Moderator George Brock
Session Two (1000-1030)
Is Local Television a threat, an opportunity or an  irrelevance to other local media?
John Fry (CEO of Johnston Press) and David Roddick (Commercial Director, Northcliffe Media) and Matt Payton (Radiocentre) talk with Roy Greenslade.
Session Three (1030-1100)
Local Television-the story so far
A conversation with conference attendees who’ve worked in local TV, past and present.
These include Philip Graf (formerly Chief Executive of Trinity plc, operators of Channel One Liverpool, then CEO of Trinity Mirror, now Deputy Chair of Ofcom) David Dunkley Gyimah (ex-Channel One London) Mark Dodson (ex-Channel M Manchester), Helen Philpot (Channel 7 Lincolnshire), David Lowen (ex-Local Broadcasting Group), and Daniel Cass (SixTV).
Moderator Stewart Purvis (City University, formerly CEO of ITN and Ofcom Partner for Content and Standards)
COFFEE BREAK 1100-1115
Session Four  -1115-1135
The Shott Team’s Interim Report
One of Nicholas Shott’s Steering Group, Claire Enders of Enders Analysis, is interviewed by Steve Hewlett (writer and broadcaster)
Session Five 1135-1200
The Shott Team’s Issues –part one
Steve Hewlett questions expert witnesses on the commercial possibilities for local TV :
1.     Where and how might local TV work? Mark Oliver (Oliver and Ohlbaum) 
2.     Where and how might commercial revenue be raised? Sue Unerman (Mediacom)
Session Six 1200-1220
Kelvin McKenzie gives Stewart Purvis his views on Local Television based on his experience in local newspapers, local radio and local TV.
Session Seven 1220-1245
The Shott team’s issues-part two
Steve Hewlett questions the broadcasters about whether they can help Local Television.
1.Who will ‘host’ local TV?  David Holdsworth, Head of BBC English regions and Magnus Brooke, Director of Policy, ITVplc.
2.Does the EPG have a role to play? David Wheeldon, Director of Policy, BSkyB
Session Eight 1245-1315
A tale of two Birminghams-a case study
Why the comparison between the UK and USA is not quite what it seems including the story of Birmingham UK’s first local TV channel.
Stewart Purvis talks to Marc Reeves (ex-Editor Birmingham Post and now the businessdesk.com), Phil Ryley (Orion Media, owners of BRMB radio) and Nick Booth (owner of podnosh, a Birmingham-based consultancy on ‘social media for social good)’,
LUNCH 1315-1345
Session Nine 1345-1415
Thinking outside the conventional box: are their new, different and better ways of making and funding programmes? 
Alex Connock   Ten Alps
Jaqui Devereux   Community Media Association
John Furlong   Channel M Digital multiplex
Roger Parry    Author of 2009 report on local media for the Conservative Party.
Moderator Lis Howell (City University Director of Broadcasting , formerly Border TV Head of News , Sky News Managing Editor and Programme Controller GMTV)
Session Ten 1415-1445
Local TV via DTT versus Local IPTV via Broadband –the debate
George Brock chairs and Lord Wills (formerly Labour MP for Swindon North and a former Director of Juniper Productions) leads off a debate about the best way forward for local content and civic activism.
Session Eleven 1445-1515
Where does the Local Television debate leave news and current affairs in the Nations and Regions ?
Rob Woodward –CEO of STV
Richard Hooper – Chairman of DCMS IFNC panel
Dave Rushton –Institute of Local TV
Glyn Mathias- Welsh member of the DCMS IFNC panel
Mary McAnally- President of the National Consumer Federation and formerly MD of Meridian Broadcasting.
Moderator Stewart Purvis
Session Twelve 1515-1530
The last word
Claire Enders talks with Lis Howell

P.S If you're going, hope to see you there and chat. I'll be sharing my experience in the 10.30 - 11.00 session