Thursday, August 29, 2013

The Theory of Videojournalism Practice - from

How Cinema is coming back to your TV and computer

By David Dunkley Gyimah. Connect with him on Google 

Google "video journalism" and there's a slim chance or, two sites I created may appear on the front page.

Its SEO rankings is not the result of link baiting, or a successful optimisation campaign, but that the sites reflect the discipline of videojournalism at a time when there was little knowledge on the Internet about videojournalism.

There are two main periods, 2005, 2006 when and were built, and then an earlier period in 1994 in the UK, when I learned the craft and there were around 100 people in the world who could count themselves as videojournalists.  This clip below comes from 1994. The full documentary will be published online at some point.

Birth of a station - Video Journalism revolution from david dunkley gyimah on Vimeo.

In 2005 won the Knight Batten Awards in the US for merging videojournalism with a new approach then to online publishing in layout, css, and Flash.  It used magazine layout and embedded video. That is you clicked the video or picture on the web page.

It might be difficult to understand this as a revolutionary concept when it's so commonplace today, but in 2005-2007 it didn't exist. This is a meeting I attended at the BBC in 2007 when they were trying the idea of embedded video. You'll notice the video does not have any play buttons because at the time, Flash's play button was not as common, and for aesthetic reasons I wanted the videos to be free of the buttons.

This is a feature on an Online News Association gathering at  Reuters who were pioneering the use of mobile camera filming.

There were two main concepts that guided
  • the articles needed to reflect new ideas in journalism, and written according to the rules of Jakob Nielsen. By new ideas that meant expanding the repertoire of journalism stories and secondly writing them in a hip way- something like a Wired Magazine piece 
  • and the imagery and video used a standard idea today of embedded video, where in some case the videos had hyperlinks.
The Batten Awards described as follows:
“This interactive magazine foreshadows the future with its use of hip new story forms and highly video-centric Web tools.”
-2005 Batten Advisory Board Judges

It might be difficult to understand what this meant at the time, because YouTube had yet to launch. In fact the idea of shared video was frowned upon. When you visited a website the idea was to keep the reader in your site at all costs.

Here's an example of viewmagazine's pages in 2005:

menu page - where all the pictures are moving

The menu page include Jay-Z meeting Prince Charles and an exclusive photo show with Bob Marley

David in the US

In 2005 filming with your camera was still rare. This shot comes from Times Square, where I sat one evening to watch what people were doing

Can you Trust the Media
One of the results from winning a couple of awards that year was the number of conferences I was invited to speak at, which also gave me the opportunity to meet and interview some of the leading theorists at the time e.g.  Dan Gillmor and Craig NewMark (video report here).

You can find this report on the Restoring the Trust website. What was unique about this gathering, was that the overall documentation by the conference providers gives a clear indication about what was happening in 2005.

Digital Cinema
Computers, broadband and affordable cameras had as much an impact on videojournalism as digital cinema and the first edition was able to document this. The result of this was an invitation to speak to the BFI, the British Film Industry and to share ideas on videojournalism

Nato war Games
Probably one of the more extraordinary reports, because the effects of 2005/2006 affected the reporting of an industry, which appeared immune from digital, War.  In a two week period, working with an international team we looked at how reportage was being affected in the digital age.

In this report above we explored how mobile phones in 2005 would change reporting

Videojournalism revisited.

International Videoournalism Awards Berlin from david dunkley gyimah on Vimeo.
8 Days (2005) on the site reflected the birth of videojournalism amongst regional newspapers in the UK. It won the International videojournalism Awards in Berlin. The story is about the first regional newpapers in the UK attempting to understand videojournalism. Yet the sub plot is about the theoretical work of their training - which was how I trained them. Below is a trailer of 8 days.

8 days: VideoJournalism from david dunkley gyimah on Vimeo.

2005 and 2006 therefore are crucial periods in videojournalism and digital history. Firstly, there was hardly any theory in any textbook in English about videojournalism. Facebook was something that existed only in university colleges, as this extract from speaking to an American academic referring to 2006 illustrates, and average broadband speeds in the UK were 2mbs.

So what informed the theory of those that would write about videojournalism? Appropriately, a wealth of material is derived from  interviewing other videojournalists, but there's a catch, which I share in a detail in my research.

In 2009 in an hour presentation at SXSW in Austin, Texas, I talked about how the framing of videojournalism could produce skewed results if not executed properly. In this clip from presenting at SXSW I'm talking about how videojournalism is being used in a multimedia capacity, however this was not its primary aim.

David presenting at SXSW on IM Videojournalism from david dunkley gyimah on Vimeo.

Many scholars and practitioners will state their understanding of videojournalism. The predominate discourse is that it is a derivative of television journalism, which has resulted in many practitioners from television speaking knowledgeably about the form, otherwise the polar opposite is a documentary Cinéma Vérité approach.

This theory is further supported by research of videojournalists.  To understand videojournalism is to seek out the practice of videojournalists, but the question is where did those videojournalists learn videojournalism, and how do they define it?

That narrative we know today begins to creak, when you come to realise that what you might have thought of the source of videojournalism may be incorrect. Today, videojournalism resides, or so we're made to think in the institutions and corridors of the web.

There are two issues to contend with, firstly broadcasters, publishers, imported the form from elsewhere, but where, is the question. Whilst the web has proved enormously fertile, the form that comes across through research is often too diffusive and sometimes lacks the appropriate provenance to create credibility around the form.

That does not mean there are not some brilliantly original videojournalists around, but you have to dig deep to find them out.

In my research I have come across three organisations who started from a blank canvas and wrote the guidelines. That is from the ground upwards they devised a set of theories and practice and my research shows how these were fundamentally different to what is known today.

French philosopher Michel Foucalt had a name for this phenomenon. He called it discursive formation (search discursive formation inside the book) and scholar Paddy Scannell provides an easily digestible description that essentially says how institutions perform a discursive formation by changing something to suit their own systems.

Amongst the nearly 100 interviewees for this publication include senior managers who were responsible for bringing videojournalism to the major broadcasters, and those on the ground with first hand experience of trying to forge something new, such as Brian Storm of the brilliant Mediastorm and Michael Rosenblum, who remains a legend.

Click here for article about the UK's first videojournalism station, Channel One TV

Brian Storm from Mediastorm

Michael Rosenblum
Can we look to operate a different form of journalism in the 21st century? Not only do we have to, but if we don't the industry will atrophy. The reason is simple. Videojournalism is a language, and like any language if it fails to add to its lexicon it become irrelevant.

Cultures and society are also dynamic and as they change we need systems that change to meet their needs. Imagine having a mobile phone from 1990 as your operational phone now. Yep I know what you're thinking.

So devising a way to communicate with dynamic societies as twitter and Facebook have shown are not just coincidences, but a form of natural selection.

Can videojournalism entertain values akin to emotional journalism, whatever that may mean? I have been visiting Cairo since 2006 and on one session after presenting a delegate said something that I'd like you to listen to. Is she right?

What is Video Journalism? from david dunkley gyimah on Vimeo.

What is a videojournalist has become a tested and vexed questions and the reply is predicated on who you ask. To define it as someone who films and reports is correct, as I do too, but it is inadequate. To believe it is about a person who can film and report their own becomes flawed at some point. It's like saying  The judges at the International awards defined videojournalism, or at least my entry by different criteria.

Why is videojournalism described by a person filming their own report insufficient, because the practice of filming and reporting your own reports has already been done. What videojournalism is becomes an academic exercise of little importance, if the theory that underpins it is not unique.

That word "uniqiue" is not to be used lightly, but there are fundamental characteristics that distinguishes videojournalism from any other form. The evidence stems not from 2005 alone, but in the UK 1994 and over those years there has been two opposing stories that have emerged.

The Future of Videojournalism from david dunkley gyimah on Vimeo.

The first I have already mentioned i.e. holding a camera. The second, chances are you know very little about but from my research emerges a universal narrative that has been lost, subsumed into this generic, or television narrative.

That's a shame, because it is by far the most exciting and far-reaching development yet and is in danger of being written out of history. For instance in 1997 we (myself working with CNN International took the traditional form of videojournalism to Ghana and South Africa for this ground breaking series on the continent.

african videojournalism - USA from david dunkley gyimah on Vimeo.

Article from Communications Africa 1997
But then whilst I'm not comparing those videojournalists to the likes of Vertov, Vertov's Man with a Movie (1929) camera was dismissed by his contemporaries as mischief making.

I don't believe we can wait for a revisionist history to set the story right.  My involvement in videojournalism stems from the three periods: 1994 with Channel One TV, the first videojournalism station in the UK; Being invited to share ideas with the BBC's videojournalism scheme in 2001 and working with the UK Press Association in 2005 to help launch their programme.

There as also various articles in the late 90s and early 2000s that I write for specialist magazines, such as:

But if I was able to be excited, beyond the various trainings that I have given in the US, China (see below), Tunisia, Egypt, Serbia, then it has been the 100,000 words that form the thesis that painstakingly provides a rhetoric of what and how videojournalism works as discipline that is different in every conceivable way to television journalism and the increasing trend for documentary  Cinéma Vérité.

In investigating the latter, I had the rare opportunity of interviewing some of the architects of Cinéma Vérité who were responsible for its birth e.g. Albert Maysles and Robert Drew.

David with Albert Maysles at the Sheffield Documentary Festival
The methodology I submit to make such a claim stems from what social scientists call an autoethnographic approach. I have worked in videojournalism, television news as a reporter, and producer, for the BBC, Channel 4 News, ABC News and ITV, so I have a perspective of videojournalism from working in the field. In this package below, is the classic television news reportage for London Tonight in 1997.

Reportage ITV's London Tonight from david dunkley gyimah on Vimeo.

A strong autoethnographic statement is also predicated on how trustworthy the writer is. That is do I have any credibility when talking about news and videojournalism. Jon Snow is perhaps one of the best known news presenters in the UK who provides this in support the statement of credibility

jon snow on david from david dunkley gyimah on Vimeo.

Yet videojournaism's representation to use that horrible word, "postmodernism" is a postmodernist variation of television. This is a clip, a  music break as part of a bigger videojournalism story in China. Notice how one of the young women in offering me food addresses me (David) behind the camera.

EAT from david dunkley gyimah on Vimeo.

The thesis examines the practice with a historical eye and a look to it future and I should make it available within a couple of months.

David Dunkley Gyimah is going through the final edits of his 100,000 word thesis which examines the future of news in videojournalism. He currently works for the University of Westminster and s a consulatant for several companies including Soho Theatre as their knowledge transfer associate. You can find more about his work from