Thursday, August 02, 2012

All I wanted to do is become a journalist - so what's the problem?

David in Soweto 1992 freelancing for the BBC.

The letter that arrived, posted to me at the BBC was from the president of my graduate school's student union. It was to congratulate me on realising my dreams, with something along the lines of .. "you always said you wanted to become a journalist so well done..

It was a gracious and humbling letter. In 1992 to become a journalist, working on television, for some of the best programmes e.g. BBC Reportage was herculean.

Not me being herculean, but the effort to get there and even stay was a combination of making your own luck and believing you could make a difference.

There were hurdles to surmount: I had a chemistry degree, which may not seem a big deal, but cast a net across the newsroom and the significant major is English, Literature, History and the Social Sciences.

I understand now, like I didn't before. If you've undertaken literary critiquing as part of your discipline, you are in a strong position to analyse programmes semiotically.

There were other issue that dare not speak its name; the matter of difference from being sighted. I'm black. Now whilst that may make you raise a quizzical eyebrow, back in 1992 in the UK it was a significant deal.

So big that there was scheme after scheme to ensure ethnic minorities, women and those with disabilities got a chance to become journalists because they may have had what it took, but were held back for being different.

Twenty years on I am also wiser. Journalism, like most creative industries is incredibly competitive and is codified by ideologies and codes.

Not because it's a western model should it eschew examining the work of non-indigenous westerns, I'm British, but that the custodians of a journalism or creative genre will invariably pick examples of interests from their own ecosystems and backgrounds.

But that it is a western model, and a hegemonic one, has undoubtedly influenced journalism's global model brand?

So pick up any journalism list, blog and attempt a qualitative analysis and the results are remarkably the same as I recall from 1992.

It shouldn't be. We're global and the next generation of journalists, particularly the Masters students I lecture should be able to be compared by their merits and not where they are from. But again an understanding of semantic fields suggest why this is.

We possess a strong prediction to box things together cognitively and subconsciously.

I bumped into an editor who was asking about my work and what made it particular useful. I parried the question. Talking about myself can be self-deluding, but I said you'd have to try and figure out why the Knight Batten offered me an award.

Knight Batten, "What's that?" he asked.

Winning an award does not make one an exemplar, Oh no.. but in the Internet age, working in journalism, if you don't know what the Knight Batten represents, then  that says something.

Living in England can make you blinded by what's happening in the US and vice versa.

In Beirut, Egypt and more recently Tunisia I stress the point, journalism is a construct - a western model and there are issues with it that are now unsustainable. Truth doesn't vary, but how we get there doesn't have to be bound by ideological codes of others.

Next time you hear a broadcaster say this is "the news" write them an email informing them it's "their news".

If we're going to understand one another a little more, a little less on the hegemonic values and more on diversity and pluralism would help.

The super blogger I met in Tunisia, who managed to tweet while being put in jail, who has suffered jail time from writing copy, whose work is inspiring for how he puts his life on the line, but who is Lebanese, perhaps not like you,  should be at the top of any list on journalism or blogs.

The brilliant film scholar Mark Cousins knew that much in the power of plurality and diversity. His epic 15- part documentary on the history of film featured Ousmane Sembene (read this article please) , Youssef Chahine et al in  World view of cinema.

The Internet shouldn't make us more insular and perhaps we should be more avaricious trying to find out about those outside of our comfort circles trying to make a difference.