Saturday, March 30, 2013

Understanding changes to 21st century media, journalism and videojournalism

How artistic practice played a role in BBC executive interview Peter Horrocks for a Vlog Butterfly

You're a student journalist, a traditionalist, pragmatist, entrepreneur, or media dean of a university. Everyone tells you journalism is changing - even your three year - old niece.

Listen out for the upcoming series on News on BBC Radio 4 next tuesday.

Largely, and I haven't heard the contents of the BBC programme, but gurus of the media attribute changes in news to digital, some to social, others to a generation of news consumers having different brains, or even blaming climate change - who knows?

Their reasons aren't necessarily without some truth, but as a former broadcast professional, still practising video journalist/ designer/encoder and filmmaker, an educator/trainer and consultant, I have wrestled with the question.

The question: how the journalist is changing and her impact on pedagogy? By that I mean how the rhetoric of her argument is grounded in academic rigour and research as well as pragmatism.

But the question is itself vacuous and irrelevant were it not for its prompter. That prompter says how do you know what you know?  How do you become knowledgable and deliver information that is truly relevant to others when:
  • There is a sea of information you could drown in. So how do you access the appropriate bits?  
  • Public bodies and private companies conceal information that is highly relevant to citizens and if we could find these it would enable us to make meaningful decisions.
If the people of Cyprus knew of the EU's raid on their banks beforehand, would they have acted differently?  Did Rumney's view of the electorate, made evident from a secret recording, contribute to image as a potential partisan president? Does this article provide any intent so far about how relevant it could be?

Conflict of ideas
But first the conflict. The one experienced by mediast and parties in this field of enquiry, which is a perennial one. If you're a lecturer,  student or journalist look away now.

Practitioners, the argument goes, with years of experience in the industry will give you a real world account of the media and in the process pour scorn on the codswallop of the theoreticians.

Meanwhile, the statement you've also encountered is that the theorists who have been engaged in deep joined-up thinking develop sound knowledge of the media ecology and thumb their nose at those practiced-based luddites.

The divide between the two is so defined in academia they occupy different departments. I claim no special status in this debate, but I do make a claim to understanding both sides. As with most things in life, a little bit of the other would not be a bad thing.

The changes I express, as both a practitioner and theorist, is presented as a many-media presentation on  It's been a joy putting it together and given its organic nature it will grow and in the process overwrite most of the articles on my site. Here goe's then.

The image as it appears on will be accompanied by the html text, making it easier to read and is an edited version from the one found on


1. 50


Mainstream news storytelling uses 50 year-old values and processes  to produce its content. And whilst you may think you've seen changes,  a 6-year PhD study conducted across the world shows the biggest change is on its way.

Also, how pivotal artistic practice is to communicators and business.


If you think you're creating news, then today you're thinking the wrong way. The reason is the definition of news is so immutable as to discard many things that have value. A documentary can be news. A tweet can be news.

So, you're creating stories, particular meaningful types of stories, that are actionable and have a high value for the end user.

And those stories framed under journalism are, says Michael Schudson, a cultural construct, dependent on societal changes and literary traditions.

When one of those variables changes e.g. culture, the story form re-adjusts to these changes. It changes.


The story of the first 100 Days of US President Barack Obama, told as a series of powerful stills to a live orchestral score, written and conducted by composer Shirley Thompson.

The film was produced overnight, with the kind assistance of White House photographer Peter Souza who directed me to the pics and my friend former Washington Post Video Editor, Tom Kennedy, who provided the contact. It was screened at the Royal Festival Hall, London.

Influenced by Chris Marker's La Jetée, "Obama's 100 Days" plays on art historian Ernst Gombrich's aphorism that all art [media] forms are variations of the past.

Innovative story forms trade on this ethos, so the Sound slide that blazed across the net was nothing new as I explained presenting at SXSW, Austin Texas and Apple Store in London.


Digital as a phenomenon is the physical manifestation. Ones and zeros replace analogue in data transmission. Yet, there is an underlying causality that comes from innovators wanting to do something different.

Take film directors, Ang Lee and James Cameron, both created new technologies that assisted them in creating their dreams. Technology then becomes the enabler re-feading change.

Videojournalism is another example. It arrived before the digital explosion, but the group who pioneered it already had grand plans. How do I know?  I was fortunate to be part of that wave.


Channel One circa 1994, 24 people chosen from 3000 to pioneer something called video journalism. So, what was it about those 24 that enabled them to take on one of the most challenging, but innovative jobs in the media?

The Internet wasn't public yet, but we were all made aware of what lay ahead. Videojournalism back then was different in many ways to the one you probably know today. To understand this, is to dwell into something the French philosopher Foucalt referred to as 'discursive formations'. I'll be presenting this to Denmark's national union of Journalists again in June 2013.

There are different points of invaluable contact in any data interpretation. Broadly, just before something has begun [the nascent] which means focusing on the surrounding environment, after its started [inception],  and then years after its matured [growth].

Most things need time to mature before its possible to frame a more meaningful longer trend analysis and that's what's happened here. Now those cues begin to yield amazing data from once unsighted DNA, which is extrapolated to map new digital trends and future story forms.

Today, from the former Channel One group, you'll find award winning authors, A BAFTA winner, an MBE, several stars of the BBC, and er, me!

Want to see what Channel One looked like? Click viewmagazine and goto page 5.

Whether its interviewing CEOs and VIPs, such as R. James Woolsey, Director of the CIA (93-95).

Working with the Heavy weight boxer Lennox Lewis at his filmmaker, designer and writer, fighting the likes of Mike Tyson.

Or collaborating with World Press Photographer winner Yannis Kontos on his ceremony acceptance film. The approach to these and varying projects is underlined by a particular philosophy

Artistic Practice
It may see obvious to call this dancer an artist, but she had to learn to use her body to communicate, to tell a story. 

This short film I made demonstrated how various groups of young people abandoned 'technical competency' within their disciplines to go further, deeper into uncharted collaborations. This understanding elides with what Heiddeger calls phenomenology.  

Others may euphemistically state you must be able to "think outside the box", but anyone who is familiar with Johari's window, of known knows, and unknown unknowns made famous by Rumsfeld, will know you can't think outside the box, if you don't know what the box is in the first place.

Artistic practice describes the overarching method of enquiry and interrogation deployed by the individual who assimilates varying number of interests to build knowledge and enhance their practice.

If you still think that defines journalism, the major difference is the lack of a conventional approach or what I would called 'traditionally framed' approach that's required without breaking any laws. There is no specified routine, or  definable route to problem solving, but many that undertake different perspectives.

It is not a quick fix panacea, and artistic practice is difficult to define, otherwise there would be many more Truffaut's, Picasso, Spanish football teams, Ed Murrows, and Darcey Bussel.

The Spaniards afford one of the best examples. Everyone in the beautiful game will tell you how you ought to position your line up: 4:4:2, 4:3:3 then the Spanish football team came along reworking a new style called tiki taka.

Now instead of playing in a rigid traditional formation, the Spaniards were playing as if they had 10 forwards, 10 midfielders, or 10 backs.

Artistic without the Art

Masters Students reacting to artistic practice in learning to self critique

You do not have to be an artist to be engaged in artistic practice. But it's interesting, how many journalists when asked avoid the term art for its presumed pretentiousness. Furthermore, artistic practice is not taught as a core subject in journalism schools.

If anything the value of artist thinking is so minimised that its arrested before we enter secondary or high school.

Artistic practice too is so individualistic, though you can teach people the skill to begin to understand their own artistic temperament, that you cannot separate the practitioner from their art.

I regularly engage in the practice when I'm lecturing Masters students, often saying to them it is not the marks and artefact, but the problem-solving state, the art of self-critique, and meaning-making by looking to other disciplines. 

So, I'm a creator of videos, either earmarked as news, promos or documentary, a designer, a journalist who's reported conflicts and interviewed CEOs and executives e.g fmr CIA boss R. James Woolsey and I have created creating multinational projects, a deeply embedded artistic practice is core.

But you also don't have to have a fixed discipline; it's the approach and the real problem identified is that its not a method that is taught or encouraged when we go also nothing of the above. I'm not a videojournalist per se, but artistic practice provides the room to do things innovatively

David Dunkley Gyimah completes his PhD this year examining the corpus of story form. His research has taken him to the following countries where he has taught and gathered data
  • China
  • Sheffield Doc Fest
  • BBC/ BFI executive meeting
  • Presenting at SXSW
  • Training in Tunisia
  • Training in Lebanon
  • Presenting and training at Chicago SunTimes

Next post - understanding the unnews
How artistic practice is crucial for journalism and businesses.

Sunday, March 03, 2013

The Human Cyborg, Videojournalism, and laissez-faire

David in Tahrir Square February 2013

I'm often amazed at the number of videojournalism courses or documentary courses I come across, which attempt to neatly package these various media forms. 

Often they're littered with dogma, offering quick and easy solutions to a dialectic language that is anything but simple. When I helped set up the Press Association's videojournalism programme that would train legions of regional journalists from 2005 onwards, this was a primary concern.

There is a fundamental reason for the lies of a quick fix. It mirrors film making at its inception when the camera's scientific purpose, its ability to capture an image was paramount for Lumiere and co, and furthermore the commercialisation of the process trumped any aesthetic representation.

To make money from the process charlatans learned to deliver an intoxicating ikea- assembly formula, which appealed to its recipients.  After all how could they make a living.

This, however, obscured the wider point. Telling you how to do something as the only mode of comprehending film making obfuscates the discourse of this fantastical medium and its ability to invent language.

In essence teaching videojournalism, documentary or film making is not a formal process, but an artistic one. It resides in the power of thought, in the lecturers' ability to stimulate how you think and for the students rationale at refluxing those thoughts, returning them with interest.

Behind every great director of filmmaker you've ever known lies a student once who pursued the craft with an intense curiosity.

In Detachment (2011) Brody's character,  a supply teacher to problematic children sums it up when he says, If I give you the images, where is your power of thought.  He adds you need to be constantly assimilating knowledge.

Dampening our senses

That's problematised because we've entered the era of the cyborg, the human cyborg, not a computational being of prometheus power, but one which requires an ecology of byte-size command signs. Here, quick fixes, gibberish and physical tasks mimick heroine's quick hit as the norm.

The power of thought is reflexive and in generations to come, 140 words, a singular manipulated image, and a point-and-shoot camera will probably give room for nothing else. It's not your fault, that's technological progress of sorts.

But if those that teach negate to tell their charges the other world, the one which offers an alternative deep richness that require meditative attention, then we have wronged a society. Bordwell captured this as the implicit (hidden) meaning lauding Hitchcock as the master of thought-film.

In Cairo, while addressing the Arab league summit, this was my message. Film communicates to us in a way that the signification of verbal language cannot and vice versa. When the conversation tipped to the acquisition of knowledge, western knowledge, I was firm in pointing out that the answers to cinema journalism in Cairo rests in their own literature and the likes of Naguib Mahfouz.

David speaking at the Arab league Summit in Cairo

Meanwhile to talk of digital now as the new collapsible economy, blurring of boundaries, and multiple disciplines, wholly ignores the golden period of the early 90s which Tom Gunning refers to a Cinema of Attractions.

Cinema journalism, that I practice and teach, is itself a well worn path, but we can certainly tease out strands that have a specificity about them in the millennium. That's the power of thought.  And that power , as witnessed by Malick's "To the Wonder (2012)" can become so intricate that in the end  words, the signifiers, will not do.

In Malick's world we're invited to think within thought, a philosophical quest that pushes the language of film to its extreme, careering towards Sigmund Freud's  psychoanalysis. Confusing, perhaps, but it's the one thing we must nurture through debate, discourse and trial.

On I'm about to post a trailer from Tahrir, as a follow up, to Tahrir Memento. It features no dialogue, but as Dirk Bogarde would tell us, the camera's ability to portray thought.

It's the thing that we cannot afford to let go.

David Dunkley Gyimah is completing his PhD into the documentary making process. He has been a journalist and filmmaker since 1987 working for the BBC, Channel 4 News, ABC News and WTN. He is the recipient of the US Knight Batten Award for Innovation in Journalism, and an International Award winning videojournalist from the Berlin festival. lectures at the University of Westminster.