Thursday, February 23, 2012

RTS winner Al Jazzera's The Stream raises the game on social innovative programming

 Derrick @ashong presents The Stream
James Wright, the the executive producer of the RTS Award winning The Stream looked mildly shocked. He said as much on the podium receiving the award. 

At that moment and hereon, a programme made by social networkers to address politics, social and matters important to its viewers could proclaim to be making an impact.

RTS Awards night, London
For the programme's litany of viewers that's a moot point; they require no validation, however there's always room to celebrate when your peers take note.

I was one of the jurors in the Innovation category, in which The Stream was being nominated in January and wrote about it then.

It would still perhaps be intemperate of me to reveal what goes on behind the scene, but there was no denying win or not, the programme was and is onto something.

The Arab springs and youth uprisings might have been responsible for generating some of the most captivating news items in the last years, and in eras gone by such as "1968". But in interpreting those events, there can often be a disconnect.

Invariably, it's the "grey suit" commentators interpreting events on behalf of the viewer. Intrinsically there's nothing wrong in that, but the audience codifies presentations far differently when being addressed by their age group.

Janet Street Porter knew this when she launched the BBC's radical youth show, BBC Reportage (see report) , which I worked on in 1991.

That training was instrumental in launching a programme in 1997 called The United States of Africa made by African videojournalists. Co-produced by Ghana and South Africa, it's reach was based on the make up of its constituent producers: young, indigenous, who could interpret issues their way.

Al Jazeera's Mark
It was a good day for Al Jazeera overall at the RTS Awards and a brief exchange with James illustrates they have plans for the show in the future.

Could they win it again next year? Awards mean validation, help increased branding, bring in more sponsorship, and the brand's message spreads even further.

Why not? But they've just blazed a trail, which is about to become highly competitive as other networks and new players skilled in social network broadcasting get into the field.

The Doctorate study I am completing at the SMARTlab University College Dublin includes investigating innovation and audiences, hence my evoking Reportage.

Stronger brand awareness across other media, myth as a way of reminding others you are an exemplar and innovation will be key. There's also a good deal of timing, what semioticians refer to as period and style relativism.

Sky News a couple of years ago launched The WhiteHouse - a house in Miami which was turned into a social media broadcast experiment; Politics and live music combined.

I judged that as well. It was a slick enterprise and for a generation had the zeitgeist about it; it also appeared to mimic Channel 4's the Big Breakfast from the 1980s. Different times often call on different productions.  EH Gombrich, the art historian would label it: Schema plus variation. Change it or examine those who have been successful by changing something.

The Stream a 4-day interactive current affairs presented by Harvard grad Derrick @ashong, might have to hold its nerve. It's most likely as I speak being deconstructed and reworked by others to find the new alternative.

David Dunkley Gyimah was a juror for the RTS. He has been working online since 1994 and is behind the international award winning site which features his work in China, Lebanon, Egypt, USA, South Africa, Ghana et al