Sunday, November 18, 2012

How broadcast journalism taught its audience to be savvy and how the audience went one step further

David, as a panelist at NewsXchange

Every lecturer knows and acknowledges their standing. You lecture students to be better than you. The student in the back row sitting meekly staring at her screen is the editor of CNN in 5-10 years.

I have ongoing proof.  You know stories like this. One of my favourites is Tamer Almisshal. He was hard working and conscientious. 

Tamer Almisshal
"Mr David I have something to tell you", he proffered in the lecture room. "I'm now the BBC's Gaza Correspondent". He was 24 at the time beating people twice his age to the job. I remember my words to him: "Now teacher, it's time for me to learn from you".

Tamer has since moved to Al Jazeera.

Today the professional classes in journalism have come to the same realisation except the consequences are far more dramatic.

As a lecturer, my grey matter requires constant reboots and updates of knowledge from an impending PhD, engagement with experiential learning, various seminars and presentations, and the acquisition of independent sources of knowledge, with the intention to share, and to make a living too.

Two weeks ago, I presented to Denmark's senior journalist on dramatic changes in story form from my PhD. A month before that I was sharing ideas with the Institute of War and Peace in Tunisia. In December I return to Egypt where I made my film that explores memories and subconscious.

____________________ Denmark _________________

Hi David, Just want to say thank you for your performance at VP. The VP-thing was better than we hoped it to be, and all the reactions were more than positive. Danish jouranlists go to a lot of conferences, so they arenot just being polite, and they - and Søren and I - were overly happy with your performance. Hope you have time to come again when we do it again this summer?! Kind regards,
Martin Ramsgård 
Rebooting Journalism
For the professional journalist, competitive advantage is a prerequisite and an editor might be damned to think the student walking in could truly do her job in a couple of years. 

Remember that interview question that asks what you want to do in five years that gives the panel a snigger when the candidate says they want to do your job.

As the professional you're so busy putting the shows together you almost have no time to take in twitter's endless paraphernalia in research e.g. twinangulate, twitscoop and twirl, let alone understand comprehensively that our collective attention to narrativity is irrevocably evolving.

And as LiveStream's presentation at NewsXchange 2012 illustrated the next generation of journalists will also need a head for F1 type real-time analytical data.

The conundrum facing broadcasters is an ineluctable paradox. They've been so good at what they do that they've done themselves out of their once elite jobs, almost.

For having taught their audiences, by dint of showing their news for the past 50-odd years, the prosumer audience now believes they can do it themselves.

Philosopher Roland Barthes' would have loved the rich irony. Not only does the prosumer know how to negotiate codes within news, now they see fit to create their own.

All the senior news personnel in my study, such as Stuart Purvis, state news production, in spite of its briliance, is creaking.

He said: For many years we perpetuated a myth that television could only be done by the professionals, Channel One TV (videojournalists) proved otherwise.

At NewsXChange in Spain one of the more profound tweets focused on Chris Crammer a former senior executive at CNN and the BBC. Melissa Fleming the Chief Communications and spokesperson at UNHCR tweeted the following:

Chris Cramer "We used to think we led and they followed... We have to dispel our distain for citizen journalists, bloggers."  
Chris Cramer- "shock value news insults our viewers.. our job to let know why they should care, why they should give a damn" 

How journalism is changing
We train ourselves to understand narrative
It makes perfect sense. As David Bordwell, one of the leading film cognitivists notes, film makers teach the audience to understand and makes sense of film narrative. 

Once the audience becomes savvy, filmmakers need to be aware, you either have to be clever with the next film or be even more resourceful in how you use existing semiotic codes.

And that's been the Broadcasters' Achilles. 

As I mentioned on the panel on alternative broadcasting, if you accept Columbia Professor Michael Schudson's definition of journalism, that it is a cultural construct, bound by literary conventions and social practices over time, a number of things make sense.

Firstly, the object of journalism must indeed splinter in line with postmodernist and post structuralist thinkers such as Henry Jenkins. It becomes many things to different people. 

The way the West informed the East, South and North of news production now smacks of cultural snobbery. Yes there may still be truisms and certain standard, but if videojournalists filming attrocities in Syria preface their shoot with "God is Great", what says you?

Secondly, a number of previous journalism parameters, such as objectivity, that so defined traditional journalism, come under threat.  

As a practising videojournalist, can I be subjective and still tell the truth? This was the exchange on the day with the amazing keynote speaker Pulitzer prize winner Sonia Nazario.

 ‏@viewmagazinenxsocial Grrr twitter froze during sessions, so heres catch up. Sonia Nazario epic journalism  which changed society... 
 nxsocial I spoke to Sonia afterwards. Few can do what she did by riding the train of death, Mexico. This is literary journalism.... 
nxsocial similar to Sonia in textual and immersive prose is my fav. Luis Alberto Urrea - the Devil's Highway. Perils crossing into USA... 
viewmagazine  Thanks for the shout-out. I also agree "Under the Volcano" a must-read. 
nxsocial I said to Sonia she's doing cinema. She agreed. Worth reading Malcolm Lowry "Under the Volcano" (1947) for literature as cinema

The new thinking that is required is not by any means a precedent. So fights for the structural and epistemological compass of 21st Century journalism, needs to vigorously contested.

Modern journalism evolved from pre 17th century Addison and Steele, to their use of equitone and uni vocal narrative, to the 19th century when objectivism, informed by the social sciences and positivism planted its stake in the ground. 

And, Flaubert's Madam Bovery drove a new narrative away from equitone to multiple voices.  I trust I will not have demeaned Sonia when I say her journalism pays homage to the literature of Flaubert, or that as she agreed its cinema transcends denotative journalism on par with Luis Alberti Urrea's The Devil's Highway.

That rich textured journalism is plaintively cinema, not the fictional form from modern usage, but the transcendental which so scared journalism executives or their minions when they were building its form seventy years ago. 

Its events such as Newsxchange and its dialogue in and outside its conference walls that provide industry thinking on how to address 21st Century now that the lid on journalism practise has been forced open.

The tail wagging the dog's tail wagging other dogs is such we're finding out some old lost habits and new goodies that may end up shaping its future. 


My thanks to Amy Selwyn and Takehiko Kusaba  for the opportunity to appear at NewsXchange
Amy Selwyn MD of NewsXchange preps the floor before the main events

19 October 2012 09:42 David Dunkley Gyimah is a senior lecturer at the University of Westminster. He started his career with the BBC in 1987 in radio and TV e.g. Newsnight and later Channel 4 News. He is a recipient of the prestigious Knight Batten Award in the US and a juror for the RTS Broadcast Innovation. You can find out more of his work from