Sunday, April 27, 2014

New Narratives in videojournalism

On Wednesday I present New Narratives in Videojournalism at the International Journalism Festival. This morning I completed the promo which I made to accompany the talk.

It's taken me 6 years to research it and I believe it offers a comprehensive degree to what's happening to the way we tell stories around the world.

The arrows signify the areas I travelled to; the larger the arrow, the greater the region. So in Europe there were several countries I researched.

The actual 360 page thesis is my PhD submission and so there are a number of findings that build upon what you might know or are new.

After the talk I'll post some more details

Saturday, April 05, 2014

Videojournalism, past, present and the future, and now the real news... (My 2000th post). The president of the....

This is my 2000th post since I started blogging properly since 2005 - a milestone of sorts, and so I wanted to share a wrap.

In television jargon a wrap is a story that extracts a point from the beginning to emphasis an overall point. It can also signal the end of a show.

Last week, in bringing the Masters in Journalism online module to a close, I took my students  to Channel 4 News, one of the most seminal newsrooms you'll find anywhere.

I worked for almost five years as a freelance producer and videojournalists at Channel 4, at times producing the indefatigable Jon Snow.

Jon to a US audience would be the equivalent of a Peter Jennings. Smooth, unruffled, old skool and new mixed together, and much admired (and disliked by some, ah well). 

Jennings is someone I have met too when he toured the ABC Newsroom in South Africa. He was much taller than I imagined.

I was a producer for ABC News during South Africa's epoch first all-race elections.  

All this paints a picture of sorts of the journey I have had in news. In spite of the number of natural and artificial barriers, journalism morphs from being an occupation into a lifestyle. You live news, you see news.

I was like any other producer in news- the people who make it happen, but whose credits lay under the radar.

When television news adopted cinema positions in the 1950s, the producer role was one too that was adopted. However the reality has been that it does not have the same visibility as producers in cinema - a small point, which has no consequence to this post.

News according to Richard Sandbrook is one of those versatile disciplines which provides knowledge for other careers. What it teaches you I add quickens the mind,  elevates the power of judgement and gives you a window on the spectrum of human conditions e.g. grief, malice, sloth etc.

Conversely, traditional news also sets up a picket fence adjudging what is acceptable  and what is not. To the students of Westminster University, Snow's conversation with them may resonate for a while. They are within a golden age of news,  he said, a rebirth, bringing to mind Neo and his matrix-pod moment.

I could not agree more, but what is this rebirth  and how does that translate into anything meaningful?

Data journalism, social networking, coding, software compliance across AE, Indesign and the lot. And videojournalism.

They all matter in this golden age of share. But to share, you need something to share, and videojournalism is proving to be a much sought after commodity.  Read Peter Preston's piece on the challenges the Telegraph is facing with its web strategy and its 'US' editor being at the helm of a British institution, and the schisms in journalism become evident.

Incidently, if you're a Telegraph reader, you're likely to have £100,000 tucked away in the bank, so it's small wonder , the web is not their buzfeed. 

But there's something profoundly at fault with the present model of videojournalism and its custodians, the power brokers, who framed what journalism was, or is.

And herein lies my wrap. The something that is happening in journalism ignores a fundamental theme to characterise its approach and what it offers.

We hold the belief, that journalism is bound by set values, framed by unyielding parameters, practiced by a professional class with their codes.

That's true, and was during its inception, but journalism is a construct. I repeat journalism is a construct. Its values, its legacy comes from men and women, often self-appointed, who debate and share, at that moment and time common understandings, until they're threatened by another professional class. 

Note I said professional class.  This new age of journalism seeks to adhere to rules, many of which need a reboot, but their legacy is so entrenched, we believe them to be immutable laws.

One of those journalism tools is videojournalism. A practice I have come to know and love for what it does. Videojournalism was supposed to be one of the disruptors, to break open a new dawn, to revolutionise the manner in which we create journalism.

But it's rarely happened. The idea that you can shoot and report your own film, is not videojournalism or a radical departure from news. Ask any self shooting camera man or woman who operated in the 1980s.

The philosophy of this new journalism form was the ability to undo the binary simplification of television journalism. In TV if its not black it;s white - one of the most dangerous premises for judging. The texture of this new journalism reportage revealed something far more discursive and challenging.

Oh and by the way, reporters actually with their gear did try this. This image of ITN John Suchet in the 1980s epitomises the videojournalist ( from my PhD research) and don't be fooled by the big camera. 

 In the 1970s Ken Richter produced the smallest 16mm camera that a journalist could shoot with

So what is videojournalism ( not in an academic way) and why is it so deeply relevant that you know what it is and how it functions?

Gina Deeming tweeted this recently

I responded that the conscientious teacher points you to look, but resists telling you what to see.

That's been my mantra with our Masters cohorts and is the subject of my presentation at the International Festival of Journalism opening up a new, overlooked, ignored journalism that is 21st century.

I presented a weakened argument at SXSW in comparison to my present performance lecture. The reviews were largely favourable from  global patriot technology tell and austin bits and atom.

In the lecture room of tomorrow, the sharing zone for future masters students, new fundamentally different pedagogy should align with new social journalism practices.

The ... And now the news, is not just about reform in the way we look at the creation and outcome of stories, but how our cultures, our individualism plays a bigger role.

It couldn't before because journalism as western model, was practiced by a homogeneously same culture, and colour set. 

Remember when news practised parachute journalism, or that the attitude to journalists who were not of the same cultural pool was akin to Farage shouting "bloody foreigners"

In the West in the 1960s/70s, the UK was predominately white. In the Ghana of the 1960s, Ghanaians were influenced by their own values of what made them Ghana, in spite of a legacy of British influence.

The views of say a Ghanaian therefore play little role in the understanding of journalism in another culture. 

It's a related reason why, often on the tech circuit of high flyers the speakers tend to emerge from a particular cultural milleu. Does this matter? 

When we speak of social news and its impact, in the West we're only now coming around to a different idea of news. But as a baffled Ghanaian student of mine, Daniel Kofi, from 8 years ago recounts, news should be something else, than what it is at present- social news.

Well founded sociological research tools, such as semiotics or even cognitivism make no allowance for the culture, race and beliefs of the storyteller. How could they ? 

Both purport to be scientific models to evaluate research, so beliefs and thoughts are not permitted to be part of the person's story form.

News companies that seek to simplify stories are intellectually ill- equipped with the tools to understand  that a take on a story may be influenced by the fact I grew up in Ghana. but can still be truthful.

That wonderful moment when the late BBC journo Komlu takes his shirt of to decree his Ghanaianesss is an example of this.

Only now, through social news are we beginning to understand that who you are, where you're from, your likes, dislikes can be collated to give meaning to readers about you.

We've come a long way from  the traditional journalism that was apt for its time, but in the transition to a new technological flattened culture, we're still perpetuating beliefs that ill-suit the potential of story telling.

That's what I will be sharing in Perugia at the journalism festival. Hope to see you there.

Tuesday, April 01, 2014

The reality of London Live - how to launch a station in London

And then it came to pass. London's newest TV station was launched writes former Newsnight and Channel 4 Producer David Dunkley Gyimah.

Here's the catch 22. If you're launching a station you have to big it up. You need eyeballs on your product to make advertisers open their purses.  

Trouble is in that traditionally English sporting tradition of "knock- the- TV- of- its- peg", you run the risk of creating expectations so high that unless you're shooting stardust from the TV it's not going to cut it.

It's a delicate win-win.

Success of a kind though can be measured by the fact the station launched. I watched the opening and it reminded me of youth show BBC Reportage and the Mirror's Live TV.

That's not a criticism but a semiotic reflection of the product, as seen by a critic who watches and analyses television. I chair the jury for the RTS News Innovation awards this year and I used to work on Reportage.

Julian Raesmith commenting on BBC Radio 4 about LondonLive compared it with Network 7 with its cool speak and talking at the audience, er somewhat patronisingly. 

Mark Lawson was complimentary in sections for his piece in the Guardian, praising the diversity of the panel: three women and no white metropolis male.

Ellen E Jones of the Independent gave LondonLive a resounding thumbs up. However, the Independent is also owned by Evgeny Lebedev, who also owns LondonLive. Jones says: 

Londoners often wistfully observe that even with so much culture on the doorstep, they never seem to find time to be a part of it. Well now, with London Live delivering all the good stuff direct to your living rooms, there really is no excuse

The ghost of Network 7
picture Saj Idranizovic

Network 7 in the 1980s was an influential programme for a generation of youth. It launched the careers of several uber slick TV people, at a time when, do you remember Davina McCall's late night dating show "God's Gift" and cooking show "Get Stuffed"?

Honestly, I used to stay up to watch this after a night in the student union  (Leicester) watching Terrence Trent D'arby and some red haired bloke daftly calling himself Simply Red.

After the launch party
The dynamics at LondonLive look interesting. Having been involved in the first 24-hour station, 20 years ago, here's what's going on behind the glam.

You've launched. Whehey!

The reality is now, keep going. However, having worked up to the launch with rehearsals upon rehearsals you mentally begin to feel tired.  You don't have a BBC staff quota so it's still all hands on deck.

Management are in celebratory mood. Nothing has fallen of air. Pitches will be devised for new advertisers and sponsors and the metrics from viewing habits will be combed over.

The approach to the 18-30 year olds needs to work. However because LondonLive is new and they have a mixed constituency: experienced managers, youthful staff, and the suits, at some point conflicts arise. 

As one manager said of Channel One's videojournalists, we created prima donnas. It's natural. Londonlive is still finding its way and is experimenting. But as soon as the younger staff become confident, what works with 18-35 year olds - their target audience - begins to rub against what a late 40-something manager says.

This is the time to hold your nerve and build alliances. When it's not working, it's usually because the audience are getting used to the grammar. All TV station's go through this e.g. BBC. 

If you want to create new TV, don't employ TV people who've come through the system is the radical thought. This thinking is more prevalent in cinema. Tarantino, Soderburgh, Lee, Fincher came at cinema from the side with a vengeance. They were not industry bods.

London's special TV
London  is such a diverse community, that it almost requires a different metric to measure audiences. 24-hour TV is what is known in the industry as a "dip-in service".

Audiences will rarely stay for a long sitting. For the networks, strategic devices like tent-pole programming come into effect.

This is where you create an exemplary programme e.g. The Voice and you dovetail it with two lesser well known programmes. The effect is a spill over from the tent pole programme before a portion of the audience leaves.

In the mid 2000s when Al Jazeera launched, its lead creative designer used my site to create their website. Last week one of the cleverest former BBC's techs Erik Huggers, now the president of Oncue spoke about the primacy of the web to develop programming. I agree.

What's the next generation of web that will pull in the upwardly mobile? Because the perennial problem of 18-35s sitting down to watch TV will not go away.

So far, with flat design all the trend, Londonlive is yet to use the net as a strategic portal.

But it's very early days. Television is a bummer. News drains resources and just when you get better, other networks are breathing over you e.g. Vice - a network rather than a London-based network. 

London's new station will provide lots of intelligence for how to launch a station, but don't expect to read about anything negative in the press. Jeremy Hunt who launched the local TV programming will be watching with interest. If it works, it debunks all the intel that local TV in the UK can't replicate the US model. Let's wait and see.


Post script added September 2014. 
As I write this additional texts, London Live is struggling financially and from a lack of viewers. Its appeal to the commission to change its status, so it could ditch its London content was rejected. In all likelihood, the station will either down size or fold within three years. The group brought this upon themself. Rather than solicit advice from executives behind Channel One which launched London's first 24 hour station in 1994, they chose to go it alone believing they knew something many TV executives do not.

David will be presenting at the international journalism festival (april 30th 2014) on producing a radically different approach to 21st century news story forms from his 6-year-PhD research. (See what Apple say)