Saturday, March 26, 2011

The photojournalists' Photojournalist-The Bang Bang Club

BangBang Club - a must see film

South Africa 1994. Elizabeth Ohene, the South African correspondent for the BBC World Service's Africa division is recounting a story to me in the BBC's bureau. She's just come back from covering Tokoza, a township in South Africa.

A BBC Producer had a gun pointed at his head and the assailant looked ready to pull the trigger. "What would she have told his mother?", she tells me of her friend and much loved journalist.
I presented a programme for BBC Radio in London called "Black Londoner" hence the play on the title from a harrowing but life-defining assignment in South Africa in 1993

Below, after 15 years, last year I returned to South Africa to train African Journalists at Rhodes University, working with Miami University and had a couple of hours to visit where I used to live and produced this videojournalism - meta report.

I knew of the aforementioned demo; it could make my next report and earn me some money, but I decided not to go instead. But I also remember that day for another reason. Ken Oosterbroek, one of the members of the famed Bang Bang Club was shot and killed.

I didn't know Ken personally, but I had friends who I would visit at the Star newspaper where he worked. My landlady, Lyndsey who also edited Living Magazines, would take phone calls late in the night for two hours at a time from one of her commissioned photojournalists.

His name was Kevin Carter. Kevin had just returned from a haunting assignment in Sudan. The picture is now legendary, but it was Lindsaye's retelling of Kevin's story and how he came to take the shot which kept both of us talking to the small hours of the night.

Some months later Kevin committed suicide. His picture had won him the greatest honour in photojournalism, but Lindsaye told me he found it difficult to square that with the plight of the young child in this picture.

When I became a videojournalist a couple of months later in 1994, this picture adorned my cubby hole. It was one of the few pictures that inspired me to apply to the UK to become a dedicated videojournalist.
Kevin Carter's award winning photo/Corbis Sygma.. The film Bang Bang Club retelling the true story of Kevin et al will soon be on general release

There are countless aphorisms about photojournalism. Soon The Bang Bang Club, long revered amongst photojournalism aficionados may well turn out to acquire wide common use.

The story of a band of brothers who attained rock star like status from covering  South Africa's trenchant apartheid-induced killings, is as inspiring as it is tragic.  Joao Silva, one of the four, incurred severe injuries in 2010  from a landmine in Kandahar.  Greg Marinovich blog can be found here  He co-authored with Greg the book, The Bang Bang Club

Alongside them another name a synonym for exceptional photojournalism can be found, James Natchway

In itself this film will bring much reflection and awe at a professional set who often dare to go, where those considered fearless would. Look at Danfung Dennis today, whom I had the pleasure of inviting to share his life for a PhD study and then there's Yannis Kontos who I have worked with on a number of projects.

Bang Bang needed to be told. For me as a freelance journalist reporting the townships the film will bring back  personal memories of reportage and my next phase into videojournalism.

More on

Three other incredible films that inspired me into journalism

The Year of Living Dangerously


Frankie's House

Click here for insight into major new findings on 

What is videojournalism on the web, in multimedia and offline - a major study and film - and why it matters

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Top ten tips for video making and videojournalism

Our penchant for lists, for formulaes often reduces the extent to which we might seek to uncover fresh approaches.

Arguably you could question whether there is anything in the world of video/ film to unravel anew.  We simulate the work of others and adopt their signatures.

Name a visual narrator who built a career in isolation of the industry. Everyone borrows from someone. We crib books, comb blogs, analyse video.

We listen to presentations. Sometimes we marvel at the work that confronts us. Then we stop and think. How did they do it?

I'm reminded by a presentation I gave a while back in Berlin on videojournalism.

Good film makers know how to copy others without you noticing the tracing paper,  really good visualists know when to break free of their idols, without the need for tracing paper

The list works to an extent, but then fails because it's no longer enough. It's too prescriptive.

Sometimes we'll just give a nod to a style which transfixed us:  Turner Prize Winner Steve McQueen was influenced by Buster Keaton films and then Renaissance paintings to achieve the look in his critically acclaimed film on Bobby Sands.

I chose McQueen because he proves another point about cross-creativity: when in doubt go to the Masters of the genre and deconstruct.

For those learning the art of film making this can often be testing. The magic pill is extraordinarily alluring. But  I would caution. Look, learn and leave it.

Better still there is no pill. The swan syndrome disguises the hard graft many of the people we admire put in. 

Interrogate the form, ask questions: lots of questions and then leave the top ten tips to those who want to proficiency over originality.

Good stories have a habit once they've been stumbled upon of finding good story tellers who do it justice - eventually. Though I accept you're now counting the many that got away.

But each story has its own internal dynamic; a metronome, a dream-like quality where those top tips may help and also constrain.

Oh my top ten tips:
  • Be passionate
  • Seek knowledge - far and wide
  • Feel involved with the work
  • Find good characters
  • uncover a story line that is strong; it wows you
  • Find the narrative- remember stories untold are messy
  • Use strong pictures
  • Be reflexive - review, review, review
  • Fail quickly, so you fail less often
We'll talk about the last one when we go for drinks.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

WebVideojournalists defining a future trail

Capturing the zeitgeist
In 2002 or thereabouts Futurure Publishing behind one of the most successful creative magazine's Computer Arts launched a magazine around video. 

 It lasted about 6 issues before it folded. I was so taken  I rang and spoke to its editor who lamented  the economics of it were unsustainable.

There are other specialists mags around today e.g. VideoMaker, but online is where you can get really excited. For videojournalism there are several blogs and mags offering a wealth of info; I started to mark them up and realised I'd be here all day.

The latest and an emerging behemoth from within the UK capturing the zeitgeist is the videojournalismweb blog: Online Videojournalism blog put together by eight Masters students from City University.

Its range of profiles and studied material across the breadth of video is a welcome addition to the genre. I hope they managed t sustain it after their degree.

Last week I was interviewed by one of their contributors Will Teddy - for what turned out to be a two hour chat, though admittedly a good percentage of that was me on subject.  Mention video and I'm off.

Will I learnt has a good knowledge of French film's - part of his grad degree  -which affords him the added heuristics to deconstruct film language from a nation that redefined European film in the 60s.

And since film language imbricates videojournalism of sorts, that's good knowledge.

Will's question's covered how much the web has changed videojournalism, what it is and where it's going. My response broadly took up the philosophy of videojournalism and a constructivist/ intepretism approach to story telling.

That means, given the term videojournalism cannot be approached as a metanarrative,  that is a grand theory which covers everything (Really!)  its difficult to be understood via orthodoxies.

It is part of the reason your notion of videojournalism might be fundamentally different from others.

On I wrote some time back:

"Videojournalism is an advance on television news production - a shift away from the predictable approach television has stuck to doggedly since its inception".

This definition is fairly easy to comprehend and as videojournalism matures, it'll require deeper definitions

Take storytelling, simple to some, but a messy practice to truly master. I mean to the point that it taps into the psyche. But when we do tell stories, they're invariably linear and uniperspectival.  The news you watch about Libya comes from a correspondent. And why not. The correspondent may consider all sides, if they can access those, and give a considered view. Two things are at issue here.

First you get a a view reduced to simplify the story; it's a craft, but the pre-editing of data could leave you seriously questioning the reporter if you know what they knew. Second, the idea of realism of the story takes a hit.

Realism today is sculptured with respect to dominant parties - at least on television. It's as if Coubert, the founding father of modern realism has been erased from history, though yes we are influenced by the filming of ordinary folk.

But take the story of the Libyan crisis, we see UN governments, Libya's political apparatus, Gaddafi, but little of how people e.g. Libya's are living, or the views of the French whose government has taken the lead

We accept these limitations because that's the way we do things; they are problematised indeed. Tradition and convention are powerful shapers of how we are fixed to systems that mean we blithely unknowingly refuse to question any other way of doing what it is we do.

The only time we tend to see other methods it's because technology e.g. Twitter,  and or new social values smack against the old order or that sometimes methods adopted for one system are transfered to another. Ford Motor Car's system of divisional work which Hollywood adopted with the formation of specialists, adopted by broadcast networks. A system transferred to another.

The 3min or whatever report adopted from television is so (linear et al), because, why that's the way it is - at least by western influences. When I was in Chongqing I had a great discussion with a Chinese scholar who spoke to me about multi perspective Eastern art. Many stories in one plane staring right at you.

In other words, in Chinese art it's not uncommon to have multiple perspectives, rather than one - which is the Cartesian model here - which fits with the idea of single perspectives in photography, art and video.

A prevailing question at the moment suggests videojournalism is actually bankrupt of ideas. That's not to say all the noticeable films you see online aren't by universal standards great, but that the notion that videojournalism, as a mode of news film teleology would end up reworking news practices hasn't really happened.

There are many questions still to be asked, and those answers lie in a multiplicity of disciplines e.g.
experiential learning from our own individual journeys, and of course the work of new researchers and writers.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Future of Journalism ~ when does journalism intervene ?

A little boy lies cowered in the snow, destitute, cold without visible means that might help him survive the day.

Along comes a man wearing a coat; tucked in his pocket a number of energy bars. He talks to the boy, even takes some pictures before moving on. We don’t know what happened to the boy.

This may seem improbable that anyone could be so callous to abandon a child in need, but on TV screens, this is an exigent default act.

On  BBC's radio Media Show which analyses media events, Television News officials were questioned over the number of reporters and presenters sent to Japan to cover what one TV reporter described apocalyptically as a visit from three of the four horsemen.

Executives defended their positions. Yet there's something else lurking as the big question.

It's a philosophical statement whose time requires a rethink.  To what extent should the man described above be morally responsible to help the child?

Contemporary philosophy
On a macro level, today scores of reporters tread the scared streets of Japan doing what they’ve been trained to do; find and communicate a story.

There are more than enough. The mood is itself all the more difficult to comprehend - a show of the Japanese temperament to a Western society of how orderliness, respect can still be exercised at a time of deep crisis.

But do the media have a moral obligation to do what they can to help a desperate people? No, if an aged and mummified tenant of journalism is anything to go by.

Back in the 1960s, ITN reporter Alan Hart reporting from Nigeria’s Biafra war filed a piece, which for his bosses exemplified ITN’s prowess, however hart was angry.

Their feedback while laden with praise exalted Hart not to show any emotion next time, that is not to cry. Hart says he’s eyes welled up during his piece to camera.

The 60s and the shaping of media would have made such distinctions between reportage ( its role)  and media participation in extenuating affairs. The lines were divisible and stark.

Impartiality, objectivity, truth, realism, fairness – these were held to be unequivocal in framing the profession against the scourge of propaganda.

You could argue rightly so for a media finding its feet then this was not to be breached. The media like a wild-life camera person observed life, abject of any participation.

But what about now in an era of the world village, inter connected societies, shared experiences - the prevalence causality of the butterfly theory?

Can we be so sure that common sense overrides at all costs tradition?  ITN's Tom Brady (he clinched the William and Kate royal interview) speaking to students recently shared his concerns over journalists and photographers determined to get a picture of an injured Prince Diana,  rather than attend to her wounds.

Questions of Journalism
The question needs to be revisited. To what point in human suffering should the media seek to do more than its intended role of reportage.

This is not to say those who provide a special window on events in the world down their tools-of-the-trade to become rescuers, but to consider that the power they possess in exposing events brings collective consciousness together- at particular times, specific instances.

Again, the obvious response to this Luddite and ill-conceived thought of mine is: "That's what we do, we are journalists. We remain impartial in executing our work".

But could we fault any of the world media broadcasting with visible on air links to donate funds, or provide an accommodation so journalists reports are re-packaged to assist acts of charity. Does there lie a mechanism that facilitates a call to action?

Again the natural response is that's not the job of journalism. However look hard and there are signs editors and journalists are already complicit - albeit in limits.

From Libya yesterday, BBC Correspondent Ian Pannel gave a platform to an interviewee on a mobile phone awaiting the fearful arrival of Gaddafi's forces in Benghazi :"If you could speak to the international community what would you say?"

In the changing dynamics of journalism within social networks is there a new responsibility that renders traditional journalism's position arcane?

A former Masters student of mine from Ghana was adamant this was so: the media should not just report on issues, he said, but seek a way to instigate change.

It was, I remember thinking, a naive thought at the time.  But coming from Ghana, his experience were different, that is different to me - and I have lived and worked for the media in Ghana.

Fifteen years ago, in a ground breaking videojournalism co-production, Ghana TV sent reporters to South Africa to share, report on issues, common for each state.

Fresh look at journalism
Consider this within traditional journalism philosophy; how the act of  ITN's  Michael Nicholson a veteran journalist touched by a young girl in Sarajevo's war resulting in him adopting her.

Such deeds are to be eschewed. Why? Simply because journalism provides a voice but not a face that may in the minds of those that hold its divinity undermine what it stands for.

In a new age, a new era, I suggest we look further, that to start the news extolling independence followed by an announcement that if viewers want to help in anyway they can a link - which hold in perpetuity on screen is one that can be done.

In the long term, the profession requires Baroness Warnock figures, a fresh look at journalism, in a completely, radically different age from whence it came.

NB This author is not a broadcast journalist. He spent a fair few years in the profession and is now an academic. Yah! what does he know!

Tuesday, March 08, 2011

Future Journalism - trainee journalists go beyond the blog

Designed Journalism- Image Valeria Testagrossa

It's the holy grail of the future of journalism.

The pub talk is it's less about another app, but a generation with different needs and social wants from their previous lot. What's more they're working to an evermore info-literate populace.

At a recent Westminster University PR event: "Have PR and spin undermined trust in politics?" former No. 10 communications man Lance Price made that point.

Today, the audience knows what's duff, spin and good media, he more or less said.

The pen might be mightier than a sharp nudge to the kidneys, but today if you're looking to a career in the factual-story telling business you'd do well to consider options that scale the blog.

Pathways which strictly defined whether you were print or broadcast have overlapped. Words morph into images - graphically. Does Sassurean's signifier and signified mean anything today?

It's no longer a contentious point; the future is screen based, but the disappearance of classical media such as Time Magazine points out might be exaggerated.

New Journalists

Yet on the one hand it's still a listing trade; BBC et al cutting back on jobs. Then on the other side as shown with a new phenomenological group of journalists e.g. Alex Wood and Adam Westbrook playing online makes for a longer, even richer play.

To that evolving troupe, new cohorts, new journalists armed with their CSS, xhtmls, SEO continue to emerge.

It seems an eternity now since Anthony Moor, board of directors of the influential Online News Association, spoke for a generation on the OJR: "Go to the Web, young journalist.

Now its go beyond the web, enveloping jobs online once reserved for the techie heads.

Here then is the  the work of Masters students 2011. Share your thoughts.

Saturday, March 05, 2011

Media Storm, Ilicco Elia, Death Marches - taming online for future journalism

Reuters Ilicco Elia drops by lectures to critique work and present
Read this: Masters web sites front pages- Go beyond the blog

One day in the Masters in Journalism Online module and student teams are now counting the seconds to go live.

Three teams of eight have been "death marching" to hit the publishing deadline after 6 weeks studying how to build and comprehend online communications. It's not over yet too.

The term "death march" has its contemporary roots in software development but came to prominence  in the late 1990s whilst working for a number of dotcoms. The verge of web 2.0 and funding to launch meant no one slept.

It's a death march because you go with little sleep or food over a fixed period to get the job done. Edward Youdon's Death March  is worth a read.

So far the present crop of Masters cohorts have taken in CSS, XHTML, Flash, Pshop and of their own volition Jquery and Java Script and more. That's the software bits, but there are development formalities that arise evaluated within  a real-time workflow.

The module is given the alternative name, "the rabbit hole" for a number of reasons related to Alice In Wonderland: night and day blur with an array of madhatter problems and solutions thrown the students' way.

The default is to test cohorts to unconsciously make mistakes and deconstruct afterwards thus making less mistakes thereon. The value of making mistakes is a symptom of creativity, and thus should be welcomed, particularly in the hypemedia landscape - where no semiotic is fixed.

From design, brief, team management, workflow, creativity, and server technical support - if its part of the real-world it goes under the microscope.

To say online is not for the meek is putting it mildly as the course is designed to not only test new skills, but behaviour and group dynamics  - often employing the wisdom of crowds.

The new journalist
This coupled with the documentary module, which uses one aspect of my videojournalism praxis provides a thorough grounding in creating a new modality of journalist.

If docs is about affectivity, then hypermedia, where we are now, is about delineating the nature and notions of how to deploy affectivity.  That is how and what do you do to alter the state of something to become more tangible.

Similarly, the move forward in online is about interrogating classical and contemporary spaces and their role in a post-post structural society.

Post structural here refers to dissociative position given to deconstructing language. The world we now inhabit can no longer be interpreted by an exclusive fixation on semiotics or psychoanalysis but more fluid visual methodologies.

For instances in News you're told you can't do a jump cut ( classical); but you can in post structural because the language now is meshed - a disruption accelerated by Youtube et al

Industry giants
So what better way to rattle the cage of journalism and communications further than to bring in two industry giants thus far and a third and fourth looming.

Firstly one of the Guardian newspaper's top 100 influential media people Ilicco Elia, who came in on a lecture and roughed up ( in a very nice way) the students and their work.

The way Ilicco works is so naturally unnatural. Within a minute he had the students at ease critiquing their work with comments such as: "I really like that", and "your information architecture is the pointing the wrong away from your work".

Ilicco's cameras
Ilicco's passion as one of the UK's leading mobile technologists, knitting content and audiences, is pushing mobile content. No surprise then when he emptied his bag. This is what fell out: 7 mobile phones, not counting his Ipad, pc etc.

His lecture on a Reuter's mobile capabilities and how audiences  benefit from real-time transmission of pics (during the World Cup, the system he helped develop meant he received a photo of an England goal within 15 seconds) underlines his philosophy of

Incidentally if anyone from Canon, Sony et al are reading this, I agree with Ilicco's thinking that it's high time pro cameras were fitted with wireless relaying devices to push pictures to consumers.

Student listening to Brian

Later in the afternoon the founder of one of the world's leading multimedia agency's MediaStorm's Brian Storm, skyped into lectures giving students around an hour of Q and A.  Questions ranged from his unique methodology, his background, how he started and how interns could join his outfit.

Brian was equally superb: what does it take to be the best? Passion, passion, passion, he answered. You don't do journalism to get rich was his payoff.

I want to pull out one story he told that illustrates a candidness and doggedness exemplifying a schema everyone should adopt. Conversely this story also highlights what goes on beneath his highly finished products - a rare insight behind the scenes.

Brian Storm, Mediastorm founder talked about the making of this story
The story relates to abortion of female sexes in areas of India. An intern with local knowledge and the appropriate sex ( something that may not figure in the editorial meeting in Western societies) was instrumental in securing interviews.

The production then wove Walter Astrada's (photographer) narrative and that of the story itself into a seamless production. It was in the post where things got interesting.  Brian said they had to rework the female-voiced narratives a couple of times, with user experience feedback before it truly gelled.

Brian mentioned they have a number of projects in the works, not least their publication, and various workshops where the MediaStorm brand has fast become a working methodology.

You can find an interview with Brian which I conducted in Miami, where we first met and a feature on Ilicco hosting a mobile phone gathering of experts at Reuter's London HQ here.

Meanwhile here are some some shots from the lecture and online newsroom caught by Masters student Valeria  - an accomplished photographer in her own right.

 To find out more about the sites being launched go here:

Read this: Masters web sites front pages- Go beyond the blog

To find out more about Masters in Journalism programmes at the University of Westminster go here.
To find out more about this author's work in new journalism go here to
The views here are my own and do not reflect policy of the University of Westminster.