Friday, March 09, 2012

Kony 2012 - Invisible Children, new trends in Facebook Doc. - Be afraid and excited.



If you're a news outfit, be afraid, though in principal you should not have anything to worry about. If you're a corpororate hold your breath, and if you're a PR group get your note book out.

Not since Green Peace's Brent Spar Oil Platform campaign in 1995 has a video strategy come to signify an exemplar, though Obama's campaign comes close.

The fundamental difference back in 95 was most of what Shell did was obscured from public view, Green Peace didn't go gonzo, didn't have an outlet e.g. the web,  so relied on broadcasters taking its footage. Today we're connected.

Let me explain, I'm an academic and film maker/videojournalist and have an interest in International Affairs, and have won a few awards. Here I am below interviewing the former head of the CIA, covering the US special forces in Africa, Presenting at Apple Store London and on television and meeting Prince Charles.

For the last four years I have been undertaking a doctorate study in new journalism and the Outernet illustrated on Apple's site. and have worked for some major networks e,g, ABC News, BBC etc.

Today I feel like a Botanist discovering a new species.  I have just watched Kony 2012 and am baffled and excited.

Baffled because for all the blogs condemning Kony 2012's journalism, a crucial point's being missed. Kony 2012 is no more about journalism than Jay-Z is a stand up comedian.

Kony 2012 is a brilliant piece of advocacy story telling and from what I've observed in the film doesn't claim to be impartial journalism. But there's a caveat and danger in this explained later.

In many respects it's within the same gene pool as Peace One Day, where Jeremy Giller had a grand idea to stop war around the world, was told he was off his head, yet has since made some important wins on the way.  In 2007 - 9, warring factions in Afghanistan downed their weapons.

His film The Day After Peace shows a truce for one day resulting in his claim that 4.5 million children were able to receive vaccinations.

And how could you not mention advocacy wrapped within video and Social Networks and not see the comparisons for the election of Pres. Barack Obama backed by celebrity quotes n' all. If you're a PR, lobby group hire the Kony 2012 team.

Then there's the daddy of advocacy campaigns, Live Aid. What Bob Geldoff would have done to have commanded the same attention, except in his days as he set about advocating, and was equally slated as naive, Social Network's were Thomas Hobbs, the father of socials wet dream.

In Kony 2012, yes the director Jason Russell makes some bold claims, which has attracted criticism for being naive: We will affect every generation to come, and, the better world we want is coming. But that's advocacy for you. You believe in something even against the odds.

Friends go to Africa, get upset with what they see and like so many other travellers want to do something about it. Whilst many don't and and are never heard of,  Jason with a touch for social network advocacy achieves his goal and in so doing has just thrown a *^%$ big spanner into the field of news and charitable causes which won't go away.

That's not to say I agree with all of his presentation. It's flawed in ways when you look at it through the lens of News, and as David Weinberger notes in determining ethical standards through transparency, the team throw us a wobbly when you look at who they are. [Please note a belated inserted point. You must watch Charlie Brookers video on his analysis on the group behind 2012 - to make your mind up]

I lived in Ghana for eight years, my parents are Ghanaians. I reported from  South Africa for almost two years and have had a fair dose of tourists who meant well, yet sounded illogical in their quest to exact change.

Facebook Journalism
But I'm excited, because what we're seeing is a model for what might be labelled the The Facebook  documentary, Or Social Network Documentary. Et Voila. And before you scream, documentary according to the the highly respectable scholar Bill Nichols is not a one size fits all and neither does it need to be objective.

The FaceBook Documentary is Gonzo, performative, uses key PR drama strategies such as featuring celebs, and knows how to sell a story using the latest, affordable digital kit - right down to the CSS coding for the web site.

But I'm concerned too and if you're a News outfit be afraid because in my profession as educator and film maker, there are many young journalists who see this as journalism, supported by actionable causes.

Daniel Kofi - Facebook Gen Journalist
When a Master student of mine Daniel Kofi in 2005 ( 6th person in the video) expressed frustration that news covers an event without instituting tangible changes, I raised an eye brow, but he was only articulating a change in the notion of news making and documentarians post-Michael Moore for a new generation.

It'll be up to educators to mark the differences in journalism and advocacy to their charges.

In his seminal book Convergence Culture, Henry Jenkins covers this fluidity in collapsing different semiotics and styles into one. While philosopher Lyotard told us pretty soon we'll be fighting each other in an  information war: old versus new, analogue versus digital. networked versus traditionalists.

So what are some of the qualities of a Facebook Doc?

1. Naturally Social Network is at the core both in its distribution but as explicit and codifed messages through out. Direct references to Facebook, the use of "we", symbols of people sharing, images of the world etc. This coheres into new myths, not the fable kind, but cultural codes shared by groupings. See   Roland Barthe's mythologies.

2. The use of his son Gavin makes a direct empathatic statement and narrative engine to the social caring generation and responsibilty of the shared network. Aaah cute! He is both the extempore and implicit metonym for innocence and don't we just adore such innocence. Remember Charlie bit me - below. There's also a number of Youtubish viral (funny) moments in the film.

3. An indelible narrative. If you're posting a Youtube video heed this. If you can pull on archive footage, you have shot it gives the film gravitas. Documentarians have been doing it for years e.g. The Seven Up Series.

4. The resolution of a young boy Jacob, now a grown young man. Geldoff's coup was bringing Brhan Woldu, the forlorn girl featured in the earlier Live Aid on stage.

5. Pulling on the levers of power. There was support from some influential people in the film.

6. Celebs. Yes that chestnut. Works all the time. If you have a campaign you want news mileage from find an A star celeb.  Peace One Day had Angelina Jolie and Jude Law on board. Obama's counting on his stars power pull.

7. Using coded net styles. If you've ever watched any of the "Did you Know" seen on Youtube 15 million times, you'll be familiar with the style of motion graphics. It speaks contemporary, youth, now!

8. Strong aesthetic and resolution workflow. Complete the film, go to the slickly filmic - designed website.

9. Remember the Jamal Edwards Ad for Chrome. Spot the similarities that tell you this is web savvy stuff

10. Featuring students as mass participants as well as visiting campuses which give legitimacy. Remember Al Gore's film An Inconvenient Truth.

The problem with Invisible Children is in going about its business, it's stepping on some big toes in areas people have made their careers. If they weren't so popular no one would much mind. That they are gives succuor to the emerging generation. The games changing fast. Hail the Facebook Doc, or not.

Note - this piece was written before their recent er, PR problem - walking starkers through the streets. If you're not over 12 - you shouldn't click this link, it'll shatter your purity

David Dunkley Gyimah is a US Knight Batten Award Winner and International Videojournalism recipient (Berlin). He lectures in brands, semiotics, online and videojournalism/docs and publishes