Sunday, July 31, 2011

Reflections in Integrated Multimedia Videojournaiism before the storm

The pictures above represent a few of the highs in a profession over two decades in the media. Just a few.
  • Presenting at SXSW - a historicity in video.
  • Presenting at The ONA (Online News Association) in New York, with Naka Nathaniel and Andrew Devigal, the multimedia Editor at the New York Times.
  • Concepts in design for PCs in 2005, how we might access articles. No, I hadn't thought of the IPad either, though a similar device I came across in 2002 presented some ideas.
  • Training journalists from State TV in Cairo over the last three years, which I have folded into my thesis, gives me much to chew on.
  • And - a series I'm still proud of made in 1997 when working with a CNN executive we took videojournalism to Ghana state TV and South Africa. In a months time, I have been invited to Nigeria to talk about and share ideas.

So why all this? Somehow I feel I'm re finding my feet, or different feet, something more discursive, more evaluative, more dialectic, less sophist...  In the past few weeks I have been delivering a lecture to students entitled Illogical Rationalism. It includes or attempts to justify certain aesthetics.

Take this for instance. The 5D Mk II is great, but why will it soon come to represent something ordinary?  Because history has shown us, business has demonstrated to us.

 At some point innovation becomes comodified. Ouch! Artists have shown us that all great artists work against the norm. Go look yourself. And finally then when we can all show great pictures, it''ll become a game of spot the emperors clothes. Form and content will come back with a vengeance. Invest in a super 8mm now (LOL).

However I digress. For the meantime I'm giving my head a rest from blogging, before I assess the wonderful work our masters students have been doing. Then it's back to Husserl. Happy blog-break  :)

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

A movement beyond classic journalism

A horrific scene...

Superlatives fail to somehow induce a comprehension towards the events in the last few weeks.  Some things are just so big, in awe and shock, that we struggle to convey meaning.

The scale of famine in Somalia, the struggles of those eking a living in Haiti, the murderous act and deaths in Norway.

Pictures do the job. They try, often post - event within the structural narrative of broadcast reportage. Professionals convince survivors of their contribution for recounting events. Find a survivor.  Perversely, given the trauma and shock, their account is of value only if it can articulate - they are reluctant narrators.

The aftermath yields scars of immanence - forever seared on the mind; the hungry, the young, the blanketed youngsters seeking solace from breaching the cold to escape death. That often these events  happened outside real-time scrutiny e.g. cameras means our imaginations conjure up attempts to fill in blanks and seek rational answers.

On BBC Radio a presenter somewhat skillfully, gave to parallelism interviewing a Norwegian videojournalist, whom have previously been embedded in Afghanistan, segued with affairs in Norway. The form of narrative exposition can sometimes itself feel elasticated, in spite of the good intent.

At least there has been, or appears to be from the media humility and some dignity. Lessons learned. Virginia Tech Shooting I blogged about set a disgraceful example. Mark Hinojosa, Director of Interactive Media at the Detroit News and I spent time discussing journalism, its limitations and strengths in unimaginable scenes like this.

My thoughts turned to Turner Prize winner Jeremy Deller, whose work Baghdad 5 to illustrate the conditions in Baghdad resulted in him touring the US with a bombed out car lifted from the region. Visceral, disturbing, a confronting of reality knowing lives were lost in that vehicle.

This was not a normal exhibition, but then Deller, whom I have on occasion the chance to speak with (We are both Southbank artists in residence) is no ordinary artist.

Just in case I am misconstrued. I am neither advocating such for the atrocity this past few days, neither  do I seek to in any way shape or form to enter into a discourse over such an event for the sake of art. That would be heinous enough.

In speaking to Hinojosa, we stopped and pondered what it must have been like to be shot at for 90 minutes, with the amount of rounds the Gun man let off, when five minutes must have been an eternity.

Or what is it like to go without food for so long.

In the frenetic lives we lead, thess thoughts become fleeting. We imagine, ponder, then the door bell rings. It's the postman or something. Tomorrow, the next week, unfortunately those events will have moved from the temporal screen ( TV), but findable online

For the circumstances surrounding these, there are causalities.

The rich nations in 2009 spoke of a commitment to address drought and another pending apocoplyse. They did not hand over the money. In Norway, the police arriving 40 minutes after this unspeakable act is a taxing debating point. Why? Does the country lack an emergency response strategy?

What is it like to be shot at? I have been privy to a barrage of gun fire before, in downtown Johannesburg on the country's road to democracy back in 1994. Everybody and anybody walking the streets, and there were many, scrambled to the sides or ran across roads hunch-backed to avoid being sighted, or risk injury.  The shots though were not close range, at least as I recall a 100 metres away, but the anxiety around us was raw.

Dellers mission was to make us, the viewer, attempt to understand some more what war and carnage is.

Within the swathe of responsible reportage and post analysis, trying to convey an hour and a half of fear, human suffering and "being there" is something journalism in its present form attempts, partially succeeds (to degrees) and also struggles to convey. Within the boundaries of realism and journalism of probity it claims rightly so to make sense. But that is a matter of semiotics and narrative.

We know more now that we would a decade ago, but the formalised story telling form has constraints, constraints which as a well known sociologist Stuart Hall said are molded around conventions, handed down from one group to another. Reporters can't show emotion, so the matter-of-fact delivery reveals, often for me a strange haecceity.

Art practice, ( I don't like the use of the word "Art") can be unfairly judged on occasion, skewing facts in a regard for "impressionism", or its lack of deference to the reality of the event.  Yet in he right hands it answers questions that appear far-reachable.

In Alfred Cramerotti's Aesthetic Journalism: How to inform without informing, Cramerotti skilfully navigates toward a germane area, though perhaps greatly unexplored for journalists, where artists seek meaning through journalism-practice.

What can we do to raise more than the temporal interest in these monstrosities? Journalism under its current guise seeks to do its job, report. Yet ask yourself in the absence of the word "journalism" for something else "accountable story telling" ( and I'm aware the word "accountable" needs unpackaging, what would you do?

As a foot note, and an example, remember impartiality, balance, measure etc were cultivated into the profession in the 1900s to thwart propaganda and bias (Yellow Journalism).

Today, you might easily tell the difference between propaganda. Times, knowledge, meaning, audiencing, has changed. The argument would be we need structure, rules, otherwise its anarchy.

Conversely it might perhaps take something along the lines of an art form to gather collective thoughts for a future memorial to commemorate the young lives of those slain last week, or to bring to the world's attention Haiti still bleeds, Somalia is dying.

It may take art-journalism a middling ground between the science of recording events as they happen and the impressions of those to convey greater meaning to issues which sometimes leave more questions than answers

One and a half hours of shooting. Really!

David Dunkley Gyimah - above a pictorial account of videojournalism praxis - presenting at SXSW, the Online News Association ( New York).
His ideas on design concepts, training videojournalists in Cairo, and his critical videojournalism series made by Africans in Africa in 1997.
Click here for more and see his latest blog for a distillation of media.
David is a practical and theoritican in videojournalism. He has been teaching and practicing videojournalism since 1994 and a journalist since 1987. He has an insight into design and videojournalism which is the basis of his Phd Thesis at SMARTlab, University College Dublin

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

The Designer - If it hasn't been done it's waiting to be done.

Something that hasn't been done is waiting to be done.

At age 9 holding my art book I recall having desires to be an artist.  I'd draw planes and rockets, still life and human figures and then gaze through the window - imagination running amok.

By 16 in boarding school any notion of humanities had been panel-beating into a a career in Applied Chemistry replete with substitute nucleophilic reactions and matrix mathematics.

Science, its empiricism taught experimentation with measurable results, yet Art allowed me to make sense of abstraction e.g. benzene shapes, mental training and visualisation.

But unfortunately there was no creative life for the scientists as broadcast journalism that would immediately follow.

Yet there was a collorary. Such innate inquistiveness led me to think about programmes, stories, visuals as substrates. How did that work? Why did it work? And could it be done differently?

Listening to BBC Radio 4 Midweek I caught Douglas Edwards, one of the first employees of Google speaking about his book: The Confessions of Google Employee number 59  which is an insider guide to Google's space.

Backtracking to the Wall Street Journal, Edwards explains the interview method used by Google co-founder Sergey.
Finally, he leaned forward and fired his best shot, what he came to call "the hard question."I'm going to give you five minutes," he told me. "When I come back, I want you to explain to me something complicated that I don't already know." 
The WallStreet Journal Saturday Essay, July 16th 2011 

Knowledge, a precious sometimes ethereal commodity, we often take for granted, is being traded. So I thought what would you have said?

I might then (late 90s)  I thought have spoken about MrDot - fixed but still fledging videojournalism and design, hence its name, though at the time I had not yet made the film on the site. website - design, coding and film making
To many Google may have seemed unorthodox, but there was an artistic methodology at play. Something that hasn't been done is waiting to be done - an old mantra of mine. A colleague of mine is currently completing her PhD around their creative methods.

To its pioneers if it had already been done, it wasn't worth entertaining.  This elides into a secondary theme I have been working closely with.

For the second of my lectures, tomorrow to students from Beijng University, I'll examine how convention, conscious and auterism play with each other.

And somewhere in there I'll show some of the extraordinary aspects of videojournalism and how its polysemic nature presents remediated ideas.

For one thing, I look at visual data: whether its website design or videojournalism as design-driven and whilst I can't go into it here post modernism - an infuriating word which essentially bridges cultural, societal understanding of things after the 1960s has a lot to offer.

The lecture starts with Apple and how Job's ideas ( auterism) became convention, yet also derived satisfaction from how hardwired we are to things, such as coming across an Apple and wanting to eat it.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

THE CORPORATION REPORT - intentions in seeing and making

Now showing on we, you we're all corporations now.

Whether you're the BBC, IBM, Mediastorm, or Liang Zhao from the Chinese Communications University (who's just joined Twitter) we continually tell stories.

And this narrative whether visual, audio or text increases, by default, the awareness of ourselves, our self-identity, our work.

Globalisation a key to a corporation's brand expansion and symbolic experience, tangible or otherwise, we can now achieve through twitter, social neural works, websites and blogs.

I once told CNN's Christiana Amanpour at the Front Line Club what I felt about her brand quotient, and she expressed surprise. But you don't need to be Amanpour or IBM today.

To qualify what I mean by brand, in my lectures I distinguish between the brand as the classic corporation e.g. BBC,  the celebrity brand e.g. David Beckham and the new meta (beyond)  brand.

On BBC's The Apprentice, the young turk calling himself the brand had a point, though hubris and the idea he saw himself as a classic brand confused his message.

This id promotion may commence low level, but its trajectory is steep and uses much of the pedagogy of classic branding, but there are new areas to discover. There is much fantastic work for brand evangelists to deliver when considering this simple yet powerful statement.

But branding is but one of the feelers in the quest for meta connections.

This deduction links into a more rigorous, fun, performative presentation I have been delivering to Corporations, big "C" such as BBC World Service executives and small "c"  individuals (young people, organisations), which I have underpinned with this aphorism.

The statement seems simple enough, but it embodies cognition, the subconcious, and how we think (conscious)  in various disciplines. It's not a grand theory, and I do my best to hide away any overt philosophical discourse to keep it entertaining.

But is asks the question, how do you know what you know within  a context of design, visual e.g. videojournalism and film making, textual narrative, cinematic space and a host of pop philosophy theories?

For instance, when you see this next picture, most likely you'll smile. Why? Because you're hardwired, but when I show you the next one, your reaction may differ depending on your culture (convention). and your own individualism. This is nothing new.

Image is Copyrighted, from a good friend 

What is is the increasing array of hybrid theories to interpret events.

Incidentally this is Xun Zhou -  a talented award winning actress, singer whom I liked in the moral fantasy tale Painted Skin.

However the requirement of most creators is to ensure convention becomes hardwired, a desire becomes a need, a story hits certain points in ones psyche - the sub conscious. You may not have encountered those events before, but you're affected.

Increasingly I have become less interested in process, referring instead to an illogical rationalism, whereby convention is recognised but reworked.

Take these two images above from the same lecture. Which one appeals to you?  Possibly, the second. Many text books will deconstruct this within the rule of thirds. It's a convention which appears to arise from empirical studies from paintings.

However, it's become a construct which is consistently broken in films or distorted to achieve the effect of making you uncomfortable, as in Rob's film.

image from Rob's film on Youth angst. Notice the breaking of the third rule

Also, and equally interesting is the these conventions emerged from the dominance of western paintings and revelations of perspective. Some work in China showed me how early Chinese art disregarded one perspective in favour of multiple points of view.  For me this is quite profound.

And it's just one of many areas that I concentrate on in my lecture, derived from notes in my thesis, which I'll feed into More to follow.

 Liang Zhao 


Saturday, July 02, 2011

IM Videojournalism - videojournalism and site build methodology

Anyone involved in research, particularly Masters and Doctorate will recognise a deductive-inductive methodology illustration.  Methodology is one of those scary words for non-academics and is often confused with method and has core values in videojournalism.

Simply a methodology is a workflow consisting of many methods of doing something, Remember Apollo 13 the film, when they're trying from ground control to get the disabled space crew back to earth and there's nothing in the manual.

They make up a methodology, which consist of sub routines of various methods, turning things off in sequence and trying until they get the right amps to get them safely back home.

However, the world of philosophical thinking seeks to contain methodologies broadly under scientific or non-scientific (social science) routes and each yields different pathways. Understanding this allows you to devise a methodology realising its strengths and weakness ( all methodologies have flaws)

I have changed some things in the above illustration to reflect the practice of IM Videojournalism, which is the making for a film and the site build combined, which bleeds into the contested cinema-journalism.

Each sector involves further branches and there are some things, such as Literature Review, or in film terms an artistic-content review, that you can't cut corners over.

For instance, the idea of providing a POV of a horse racing, which a number of modern videojournalists might have executed, was first performed by Abel Gance in the early 1900s.

Similarly narrow, or short depths of field as it has previously been referred to is evident in early Japanese films around the mid 20th century.

A good work-flow is one that can withstand various tests. If you've worked for a media organisation e.g. the BBC, ITN, ABC and WTN TV, Channel One TV, several independents in journalism, design, advertising and the web, as I have each possesses a unique workflow to accomplish a task.

The award winning BBC 2 series Reportage, which David worked on featured on his website Thus far no other programme has been able to catch the zeitgeist of MTV style reportage with strong journalism

Now if you combine that with say my background working for BBC Radio, domestic and International, they too possess defined workflows. Now what if you could take from that and build your own methodology for a new constituent.

Effectively you become a walking library cataloging tried and tested methods that can be passed on, which facilitates, if you're that way inclined, creative thinking.

Creating thinking also has methodologies, which my PhD colleague Alison is researching which defines how and the best places to come up with those innocent excited finds.

For example why do companies place the water hole, or should, away from the desk configuration, because the act of walking, specifically movement creates liminal thinking. How many times have you left your desk for the cooler only to rush back saying "aha got it".

David interviews James Woolsey - fmr Director of the CIA
Take this interview I conducted as videojournalist a decade ago. I return to it, because the interview unveils a methodology to interviewing executives, which I use in training programmes and my Artist in Residence programme. You can see the interview on

Depending on the reception of the interviewee when we first meet; here its more about visual clues, I can determine how long I have and how what I want from the interview can be richer.

Here's a simple method I used in this case, I asked questions that reversed the chronology on events.

It's a simple technique used by psychologists when interviewing. If you ask questions in sequential order interviewees will often resort to automotive answers. If you ask questions that reverse time sequences, the interviewer has to work harder and you should produce a much more in-depth interview.

Incidentally the technique is widely used to catch criminals who are telling lies and good talk show hosts. Try it next on a friend. Let them invent a lie and attempt to unravel it.

Exploding myths through experiential learning
Take this simple observation of the double-headed presenter in news, pioneered by US TV, which is now a staple of TV across the world. But why two?  In the UK, the solo presenter reigned in the 60s until that is the nature of newscasts became complicated.

There were so many things that could go wrong, the idea of having another hand nearby, who was presenter material, but could sort out glitches before the next item, drove ITN to have another presenter. These are the words of Geoffrey Cox, one of ITN's most illustrious editors. How did I know that?
  1. Experience - from once working at ITN where someone told me that story
  2. Confirming it through research 
And going back to Apollo 13, the fact that the third earth-bound astronaut was so experienced, helped him to become creative to devise a new methodology to save his friends and crew.

One of the main planks in turning around practice into theory into practice and sometimes vice versa are added constraints I place on the process.
  1. It, website or film, should be at a reduced cost
  2. It should have an impact
  3. It should be made quickly
Anyone who has shot on 16 mm film on one spool of film and worked for a major organisation will spot 2) and 3). 100 ft, a mag, works out at about 3 minutes of film time, which many news people were taught to shoot in or were shown the door.

As  a film maker first and now a researcher, I have been able to rework and adapt various methods for clients and corporates I work for.

I'll explain more of this over the next few weeks. This week I'm off to Dublin to meet with my PhD cohorts at the SMARTlab on campus at University College Dublin. Here's the Dean of the school explaining SMARTlab and this link goes to my page on SMARTlab talking about the experience

p.s btw, I'm using a specific technique, which should be invisible in writing this post  - a method that feeds into the total sum of site buidling.