Friday, June 20, 2014

Englishness - an identity acknowledgment

Picture of Chinese premier taken at Mansion House

I am invited to China's youthful Premier Li Keqiang keynote speech in Mansion House.

At a point in his talk, in the coded language of diplomacy, the premier is piqued, gently mocking a very British, even English trait.  

He says, I know you Think Tanks like to deal in abstracts. We (Chinese) deal with facts. Previous sentiment from the premier's office have been less guarded.

A day later, there's a need to reflect on Englishness further.

One of my Master's student Li Yang had completed her online assignment in the nick of time to be awarded a merit, but it was the last few passages of her essay that stood out like white peaks of the Andes.
"I always admired the English, but now I know you are shallow minded, are not interested in learning about anything, are lazy and have no interest in anyone else".

For that brief moment, I carried the weight of Englishness in determining whether I should address this off-piste topic, or ignore it.  I did the former.

She's not been alone. Almost every year, Chinese students, buoyed by tales of England before they arrive are somewhat crestfallen by the year's end. 

The first steps towards correcting alcoholism is to acknowledge you are an alcoholic, according to Alcoholics Anonymous. Yes, the English get drunk on their own sense of superiority, but they have ever reason to: the Magna Carta- the crucible of democracy. Never mind that it was foisted upon the populace. 

Its success in wars and meeting aggressors head-on. The English creators or co-creators (according to different narratives) of the beautiful game, gentlemen's game and summer post-coital game (Brideshead) ; Football, Rugby, and Cricket in that order.

The English are wont to feel full of themselves. But is that not what other nations radiate in their national identities? The Italians, Milan and cuisne; the French for their language of rhetoric and comprehending beauty; the Chinese for their work ethic and nay say can't and America for all things "Transformer" size and that psyche that the lines between a porter and president is within reach.

The English, though possess a dissonantly unique trait. Acknowledging their problems, discussing at length its remedies, but painfully not seeing them through.

Its borne out in recommendations in education policy. In the row over schools in Birmingham becoming Trojan horses for Islamic extremism, Ofsted's Sir Michael Wilshaw says he told the education secretary that if you want to conduct a fair assessment of a school it's better not to inform the institution when you intend to visit. Michael Gove MP, apparently ignored this sensible advice. 

The Metropolitan Police force have been informed by several bodies and a major enquiry  they are institutionally racist. But their current commissioner Bernard Hogan Howe's television interview rejects this.  "I hope not. I don't think it's for me to judge", he told ITV News.

The media can see no wrong, even when hacking a missing girl's phone that provided the impression she was still alive, and was seen as repulsive. Leveson's recommendations for change to protect the privacy of individuals has seemingly neither been helpful to press and media barons in the wake of such actions.

In all the last three cases, education, law and order,  and media, symptoms of the alcoholic disease is evident, denial of a real problem. For the period these events become newsworthy, they are discussed with the intensity of a grandmaster Chess player's crunch match.

Discuss, deject, damaged (DDD) could be an appropriate slogan. In spite of the realms of discourse, an inevitable dispiriting mist descends on the debate when no action is taken, and in time the damage becomes inevitable.

However, no where is the trenchant genre behaviour observed at a national event, more so, than in the united theme of sport, and in particular the game of football.

And if there is one arena where a drunken man wanders into his first AA to declare he is unfit, listened to, told what to do, but returns drunk again 4 years later to go through the same cycle, as if collective amnesia has gripped the AA meeting, it is the World Cup.

No matter what happens at consecutive World Cups, the formula stays in tact; the result is the same, the cycle of behaviour is unswerving. Cynically you could blame it on the media; they have to, after all, sell newspapers and television spots for advertisers and share holders. 

\lim_{x\to 0^+} \frac{1}{x} = \infin .

But truthfully, it is that singularity identified by Li Yang.  If x = feelings of superiority, then no matter how much it is diminished towards reaching zero, it forever is portrayed as infinity - an infinity of self-belief.  This by the way is the formula for resolving infinity.

Today, like previous years the over inebriated soul is spoken to: we have too many internationals in our domestic game, we can't cohere as a team; the rot starts from the playgrounds of 8 years olds hoofing and a roughing the game as Dad Terry stands on the sideline screaming "C'mon ma son ge stuck in there".

Football pundit Garth Crooks on Newsnight said this is not a night for hysteria, rather calm reflection. Whilst the other inteviewee the gorgeous ( er not my phraseology) David Ginola clearly had stronger issues to vent, but restrained himself on live TV. 

Notwithstanding the clever selection of pundits for Newsnight, the dichotomous views rather sums up why the English fail to address being 'drunk' on the pitch.

Both pundits agreed England lacks a national identity buttressed against the 3-million population of Uruguay who clearly know there's or the Vorsprung Durch Technik of the Germans.  But an equally fallable Achilles is reaching a consensus how to address this malaise running several generations.

My own two bit: groom a selection of strikers to reduce their odds at not fluffing the ball when the goal scoring chance is inevitable and find something which enables English footballers to handle pressure. 

Never mind I tweeted after the match.

With shades of the Oracle's advice to Neo in mind... You don't believe in all this crap. Have a cookie and when you walk away from this you'll feel bright at ray.

So back to the drawing board. Perhaps in reading the Times with its headline featured piece: 'Reforms are crushing creativity and turning children into robots', this is at centre of England's woes.

Based on fact,  the Brits and Englanders are good at creativity e.g. Olympics. Maybe then its management stifling advances. Move over the FA. Or maybe, as an outsider looking in suggests, we're just not good enough anymore.

All grist to my mill. I'm about to present a paper from my doctorate thesis on how to reform television news. It's not as if no one knows the media is broken and others have tended ideas year after year. But broadcasting for the last 50 years has more or less remained the same. 

England. We like our traditions. And we like a real pint of beer as well and getting hammered on the weekends.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

A framework for students to conceptualise future news e.g. WVU J-School Brainstorms an Experimental News Venture

University of Westminster MA International Student

It was a worthwhile exercise and brought back memories of work, as well as yielded thoughts about the future.

PBS Media shift's headline ran: 
How do you produce the future of news as an educator, similar to WVU J-School Brainstorms an Experimental News Venture. More here 
It continued... 
You have infinite resources, no obstacles, a talented startup staff and brilliant students: Now build an experimental venture from scratch. (With a caveat: You can’t replicate any existing models — you have to invent one.) 

Having undertaken approaches similar to Seward I thought of sharing this response. I;m an educator and in 2004 put together a team from the University of Westminster to tell the BBC about the future of News.
Whilst brainstorming is a tried and tested method for generating ideas, the cognitive ability to do so is limited by the individual's own experience or the Wisdom of the Crowd. That does not negate the benefits or efficacy of artistic thought, and perhaps has a 'cause effect' somewhere in the chain of ideas.
Put another way, if we consider this period as a renaissance, and look at previous 'bursts of thinking' in the 17th century, to conceive of flight at that time would have been a far-fetched idea.
However artist,Leonardo Da Vinci thought and conceptualised flying, yet it would take a couple more centuries before it was realised with the Wright Brothers.
The incidents of artists thinking up the future before the artefact materialises or catches up with societies' perceived 'natural form thinking' is legion.
Artistic thought by the way amongst journalist is not taught. Journalists tend to be rational and logical and as educators, we look out for this. These broadly two, but often overlapping themes, profoundly affect the way we think up new things.
I've been on the Net since 1996 and it's no small wonder that designers, technologists drive its future, but even then for the web to be commercial, it required logical sign posting for larger swathes of society to understand its worth.
So, amongst students/people etc. it can be challenging to reinvent the wheel because of our naturalised conditioning, and if we do invent something way off, it has the ring of art/science fiction about it.
Closer to conceptualising the future aligning with realism is to trend extrapolate. If Facebook does this now, and we as a society are like that in 2025 what will Quartz Mk V be like in 10 years time when it overtakes Facebook?
That feat involves comprehending, via analysis the rhetoric, history and mechanics of Facebook.
Of course that has its difficulties too. Technology and human thought are not always predictive.
Yet, even Facebook emerges from a linearity in thinking at the time. e.g. Friends United, MySpace... And both of these were products of Web 2.0 and Dotcoms.
This segues into my last point. Again, something I engage with my MA students.
Within the rational logical approach, as opposed to artistic, to look behind the wall, it is expedient to know what was there before and why.
This is the substance of media philosophy - arguably everything is philosophy, but a critical explication. Why is it called News and how was it framed news ( paper, TV, Online) at the time when one considers interconnecting matrices e.g. culture, tech, society?
Why do doors open the way they do? Why don't we pursue artistic skills in the same way we do literary and maths when growing up.
Research, research, research - not necessarily in Mass Comms, but in areas that promulgate discursive thinking.
That requires a different type of approach: reflective thinking, and some, around the acquisition of deeper levels of knowledge.
As educators we can help move these processes along by providing the framework to let different modes of conceptualising flourish. However, I'm rather taken by this which explores a common impediment.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Video For Digital Platforms: What’s Working? Online News Association The report at the BBC - OMG it's 2005 again

The session was labelled Video For Digital Platforms: What’s Working? Online News Association. Actually, it reminded me of  2005 all over again, when I presented at the ONA summit in New York, as I'll explain. 

David Dunkley Gyimah presenting at the ONA

It was more a statement than a question posed to probe a kink in today's presentation.

If it were a question, it would go something like this.

When was the last time you attended a conference to do with all things digital, in which the panel were traditional media and you implemented their strategy and now you have a successful business?

If you have, you’re one of the rare entrepreneurs.

The Online News Association gathering at the BBC this evening had the scent of ONA at the BBC in 2008 (see video below), and the world of digital in 2005.

The speakers today were from the BBC , The Telegraph and AP, united by being traditional media and the universal message that 'online is not television'.

Actually, that's not entirely correct. Online is anything you want it to be...television and some; many more somes.

US film professor Robert Stam sums it up in Film Theory- an Introduction when he says, the possibilities of digital resemble 1920s when anything was possible, and before Mass Communication asserted there was a right and wrong way of doing things.

Almost ten years ago, since I presented at the ONA session and a chasm between online and TV emerged, today's event had the distinct feeling of 2005.

Back then the world of media was much polarised. It really was them and us.  If you ever want to see a Jeff Jarvis in fine form cursing the traditional media luddites, I have the video.

In 2005, YouTube had just come online. Online was lean forward, not like television

In New York on the tail end of winning one of the US' most prestigious digital media awards, the Knight Batten I was invited to give a presentation at the ONA Summit in New York. 

The event was streamed in Time Square...

At ONA, and across several sectors, traditional television was wrestling with unfamiliar themes. What made ONA unique was that a forum was being made available to bridge a space between different groups united by 'being online'.

Conference after conference and through the interaction of institutions, like the BBC, with Silicon Valley where they hired the likes of Eric Huggers new theoretical knowledge emerged within traditional media e.g. The Telegraph's hub that the BBC would adopt. 

Media viewing became less defined by class, but of new parameters of digital this, or digital that.

Between 2008 and 2012 came the quantum knowledge leap for traditional media. The gap was closing. In 2014, we've reached a new plateau, much elevated than before, but a new plateau none the less in theoretical enquiries or practised-based media illustrating radically new ideas.

So, online is not Television. But actually if you're the Telegraph, or Financial times, good sturdy TV style is just the ticket for your constituents - as I found out training FT and Telegraph Journalists.

The Theory, Practise thing!
Though today's ONA event was low on theory as to why somethings work and others don’t the presentations revealed different strategies between the broadcaster, agency, and newspaper turned videomaker.

And rightly so.  In the internet age of everything, where journalism is exposed to everyone, culture, society and audiences demonstrate how truly important they are in the media matrix. 

Journalism was never a one size-fits all. For decades, the illusion was kept that way. That is, it had to be done in a certain way. Now, anything goes which in traditional media is usually framed as “experimenting’.

But a word of caution, traditional media can experiment because of the 'give and take' in their resources. A malfunctioning idea can quickly be jettisoned. Chances are you’ll never read or hear about it. Really! But if you’re a digital entrepreneur this assumptional premise to copy the traditional media can be costly.

For similar corporate entities, that's a different matter. It's not for nothing that traditional media continually monitor each other during daily broadcasts and for intelligence into innovation.

However, I hazard a guess that a fair few attendants at the ONA meeting today were students, indies or start-ups.

Therefore, whilst traditional media serves as a framework, one of the first question digital entrepreneurs ought to be asking is, is your audience my audience, and do I possess the requisite style to gain traction into your consumers. 

Vice and Buzzfeed and the Huff clearly have their answer.

Video presentation
The BBC’s Ben Benvington , an experienced journalists made salient points, but they require qualifying.

Hook the audience from the start, he said. But how? What with? Engaging media ! In cinema it's called the 'initiating incident'. A point of tension/drama that plays backwards to satisfies your craving.

But you don't always need an incident. The vibrancy and texture of the cinematic as proved by several films e.g.  Mediastorm Agency or I am Joseph Kony indicate how strong visualisation draws in audiences. 

Benvington categorised three different styles of video in the BBC’s in-tray: the standard package, viral and photomontage.

In practise these are styles at the genre level known as forms, and within each form lay overlapping multiple styles.

For instance, the photomontage, which became the hallmark of multimedia packaging can mix styles to incorporate Ken Burns animated effect. Imagine that Burn's The Civil War made in 1990 used photos for documentary, way before multimedia producers could claim the style to be their own.

Similarly, viral has different genres e.g. the shocking, comedic are but two.  In TV, there exists the broadcast package. Outside its walls are variations e.g. cinema verite, the essay, the spatial documentary and so on.

Benvington's description of video that moved from one subject to another failed to describe why the need arises to do so.  They were different scenes with different energy – summed up, somewhat.

These are literary tropes e.g. the page turner, or a genre called cyber realism consciously side stepped by TV of Ore because it muddled directness. And TV news in particularly requires an ideological directness -" just tell me the story".

Each of these styles beg different reasons to be used e.g. skills of video maker and style of content. There are a myriad factors which I'll blog another time.

Sue Brooks, a veteran in the News industry and well respected too, was emphatic:

But AP's brand of video will do little for the start up or graduate looking to figure out what works in the discursive post-cable and digital age.

AP is an agency, so its raison detre is to shoot video that others can repurpose, so AP will largely eschew stylistic approaches, though there are exceptions in figures like the brilliant award winning videojournalist Raul Gallego Abellan.

And the claim don't try and reinvent the wheel, while broadcasters have been doing this for years, their TV trope requires examination. These are not my words, but a host of broadcast professionals I came across during my research.

Generally, TV news doesn’t like hearing this and clearly the chair at the ONA thought my views off message too - actually did I go on? I had emailed the ONA earlier to make this point. Reach out for diversity, both in the knowledge and cultural make-up. The net is the amazon forest of media making and there's some unique stuff from the cut-off tribes. 

The ONA-US is making a point about this. In its September gathering in Chicago, executive director Jane McDonnell says their event is looking to 50% diversity in race and gender.

Fancy that, and about time; panels driven solely by women and people of colour.

The Telegraph, for similar reasons to the NYT keeps to particular styles. If it strays too far from its core constituents it risks alienating them. Thanks to my online students who showed me what the Telegraph see as their natural online consumer. 

Apparently they have funds exceeding £100,000 tucked away for a rainy day. That's a 100,000 reason to keep closer to their main audience.

Here's  a shot clip I filmed attending the ONA at the BBC in 2008; the BBC is experimenting with embedded video, having established how different it can be to broadcast TV.

So while traditional media remains respectable, trusted etc, they still to a large extent rely on their brand and the need to be cautious themselves - like 2008. 

My own PhD research in Dublin reveals some interesting data, such as: 

The what works and doesn't in a digital long-tail age is still up for grabs.

David Dunkley Gyimah is a senior lecturer at the University of Westminster. He recently submitted his 6-years-in-the-making research looking at the future of video. He is an artist-in-residence at the Southbank Centre and a Chair of jurors at the RTS Awards for Innovative News. He's behind  He is the recipient of a number of awards as can be seen from this video made in 2006

Sunday, June 08, 2014

Robert Peston: 'BBC follows the Daily Mail’s lead too much' . But why is that? former Newsnight researcher reports

Reports on newspapers adopting the web in 1995

The Guardian headline ran:

"Robert Peston: BBC follows the Daily Mail's lead too much".  It went on "Corporations editors have a 'safety first' attitude and are obsessed with newspapers' agendas, says economics editor".

Peston was speaking at an event organised by British Journalism Review and the University of Westminster, where I teach, and his observations seem to have caught the wind in its sails.

Peston's remarks and reasons are salient, but some crucial points are missed in the Guardian piece that explains not only why the BBC relies on newspapers, such as The Daily Mail, but why broadcast journalism relies on newspapers.

I was a researcher on the BBC's flagship news programme back in 1991 when the then editor Tim Gardam asked his editorial team to look further than the political village of westminster for its stories. 

To do this he requested the programme search through provincial newspapers for its news.The advice had purpose. One of the biggest child abuse scandals in Frank Beck from Leicester was running.

I had just joined Newsnight from working at BBC Radio Leicester and the Frank Beck case was a regular feature of Leicester's newspaper, The Leicester Mercury.

I was struck by what Gardam said. I wasn't that naive; at BBC Radio Leicester newspaper cuttings were one of the main sources for news.

In 1991, three years before the net would become commercial and even when it did, up to 1998, if you wanted to research your news, you'd walk up to a designated room called "newspaper cuttings" to order a folder of newspaper stories on the subject you were producing.

It seems antiquated now, but there was no other way of collating material: a group of researcher sat in a room and scoured the newspapers cataloging the stories.

However, the reliance of broadcasting on newspapers is a relationship that goes back much further than 1998 to the structural formation of broadcast news in the 1950s.

Firstly, BBC Journalism was founded on hiring personnel from the newspapers, but secondly, equally if not more important, broadcast journalism makes no provision for its journalists to replicate the 'beat' format of print journalism.

Whilst print journalists cultivate contacts, sometimes disappearing into communities (their beat) to gather and produce news, broadcasting could ill-afford this.

Economics plays a part. Broadcast news was made with five personnel crew. The same costs could be used to hire several specialist newspaper journalists who could rotate on a page to provide a continuous stream of news over week.

The structure of broadcast news is so time-sensitive compared with newspapers, that there was little time to research original stories on the day. Before the broadcast news team left the office, the news they were looking for had to be already 'packaged'. Newspapers provided them with that comfort.

In 1994,  a revolutionary cable station that I worked for, employing videojournalists broke this convention. For the first three months or so, 30 videojournalists were tasked with finding their own stories.

Many still used newspapers, magazines, the wires etc, but equally contacts in the community (the beat). But there was a problem? As the station's appetite for news increased, the flow of news could not, unless there was a repository of news ideas to pre-plan the next day's news. 

Channel One reverted to the tried and tested method of relying on newspaper cuttings. Interestingly, Channel One was owned by the Daily Mail and so the idea that the cable station could set its own agenda was a real prospect, if the station could get access to the Mail's news agenda.

Not a chance! The Evening Standard and Daily Mail scorned its sister broadcast outfit according to Channel One Managing Editor Julian Aston.

If anything this new relationship in broadcast outfits setting the news could be realised at the new London station, London Live, which works closer with its sister outfit The London Evening Standard that changed owners in 2009.

However a more realistic model is that the newspapers, now with their own Net broadcast strategies, not only set the agenda in print, but drive a web-news format as well. 

But as Peston notes too there is a proverbial catch 22. The BBC is damned if it breaks too free of the news agenda promulgated by those who get there first - the newspapers. It shoots itself too in the foot when it becomes too aligned to the newspaper agenda.

Peston's link between newspapers and the BBC seems ideological, but to a large extent it's also structural.

If the broadcast format changes, or broadcasters begin to recruit from a different pool and more reporters, you may see a difference.

Friday, June 06, 2014

True Video Life : a millennium factual film language

We are fond of neologism in the Video-film world e.g. the Narrative Clip, Mobile film making, Videoblog. 

Often they are tied to specific technologies such as the iPhone  and help the innovative or/and commercially minded sell an idea. If you're lucky, you might even have a film style named after you, guaranteeing you immortality e.g. the Burns effect.

Many film scholars and film makers, such as Brian Winston, author several books on film, will tell you much of what we see today can be traced to the pioneers of the 1960s, 1930s and 1900s. 

Take the Russian film maker Dziga Vertov. In his early 20s in the Soviet Union, he found a job as an editor of news material. In the ensuing years, Vertov devised a way to film people unawares.   It was called Zhin Vrasplokh.

By flash mobbing his subjects or concealing his camera, he could film people without the perennial accusation that the moment people know you are filming them, they change their behaviour.

Today, this technique emerges as the narrative clip. Vertov however constructed stories out of his honed style.

My own neologism today is True Video Life. It emerges from several sources.

  • Cahier du cinema - French film makers and scholar's attempt to start a new 'true' film dialogue in the 1960s.
  • True Detective and True Blood - for their successful attempts to fold multiple plots into a narrative.
  • Videojournalism - from our modern penchant to validate all that we see with video in a sort of Truman existence.

True Video Life is a way to tell bold passionate stories underpinned by deep engagement with film, whilst trying to inspire the audience.  Its followed with a new site revolutionising  These aren't easy asks to accomplish.  

But the last couple of years of filmmaking, talking on the circuit and doing a doctorate study on film has proved very useful. True Video Life, is not a process.

The process that makes this form work likes in an innovative film schema called videojournalism-as-cinema.

In film's stylistic characteristics, it's the innovative production of factual material, but stems from collapsing multiple film styles.

Arguably, we could say we already do that. Yes, but often we're constrained by what we don't know from the Masters of film communications.

We're told of rules and laws, which at most may guide us, but if we know why these rules were made, you'll find many of them antiquated.

Imagine if you could take the innovative technologies of motor manufacturing to produce a car fit for the 21st century. That's how I see True Video Life. But unlike the 20th century, there isn't just one model car, but many to suit the appropriate circumstance.

Here's a though, literally. Could you tell a news story in which rather than the subjects speak, you decipher their thoughts and bod language to tell the story? This may be a more extreme form, but it opens up the possibilities of building on film's grammar.

Which by the way, exists not because it has a fixed language, but because clever filmmakers have done something that resonates with viewers and hence becomes part of video/ film's lexicon.

In the coming weeks I'll expand more on the emergent styles. The next post looks at the the relationship between the size of camera and intimacy and poses the question.

What's so profoundly different in film style for the iPhone?