Wednesday, July 30, 2014

London Live - lives a little less - how to launch a station, not!

There is no joy in crowing about this misfortune. London is poorer for it. Given its depths at creativity and its imprimatur status at exporting media, this needed to work.

London's heartbeat ought to be pulsating to the contribution of the new kid. It isn't. Instead an atrophy of sorts is enveloping the station according to news reported by the Guardian.

The story is, a couple of months ago, London Live, a new entertainment/news station, which was part of the local license government initiative, launched. It was a vaudeville fan fare, made possible firstly by Jeremy Hunt MP. Critics said from the outset local TV would never work.

About the only thing the station was not going to do was invent TV, because its PR hail was it intended to reinvent it.

A salutatory lesson, if you intend to find the Higgs Boson of television. Don't talk about it, until you've truly found it and its verified by your peers.

Alas, today London Live is discovering some hard truths about launching a London station, particularly on a smallish budget of £14million a year. Yes that is change to a network.

And if you're going to reinvent TV, don't put it in the hands of dye-in-the-wool TV. A strange paradoxical statement, because if people in TV already had the answers, why were they not evident before hand? If you want to know the temperature of the water don't ask the fish!

Also, it would help if you don't try and rewrite television history. Claiming to be the first 24-hour station in London is, er, porkies.

Twenty years ago a station called Channel One launched its own London station. The press were by and large kinder. I happened to be one of the recruits. 

The general and misleading narrative is that Channel One was an unmitigated disaster.  This year, I completed a history of Channel One as part of my PhD submission which looks at a future of news form and storytelling.

The thesis is a critical account supported by evidence from its key players and its critics and so whilst it shows Channel One's flaws, it also corrects some myths such as the station's output.

This hero gram from industry figures gives some idea of the nature of its output.

Chris Cramer, then BBC head who went on to CNN praises Channel One.

Jane Root who would become a BBC Controller does too.

Mustn't get too carried away though because Channel One also had deep furrows running through it, which surfaced during my research. Partly this was down to creative tension, but paradoxically it also contributed to the creative zeal of individuals and the station at large.

So based on this week's news, here are just a few things London Live, from the outside appear to have not perfected.

1. Know that you need time. A few months in petitioning OFCOM that you want to change your brief to mainly abandoned local programming  suggests little knowledge of TV making. It's a long game. At Channel One there were not too dissimilar causes for concern in direction; but the first major one came after a couple of years.

2. Critically understand your audience.
At my own interview for Channel One I recall saying there was no need pitching at Telegraph loyalists, or the BBC audience. The BBC has vast resources. On the other hand if you're going after the youth audience, as London Live did, you're going to have to be radical and hold your nerve. And that also means being more radical than what you're doing at the moment.

3. Take advantage of the technology boon. Launching a station on cable/ satellite gives access to the living room audience, but the increasing trend is mobile and away from appointment-based TV.

Channel One's technology leg-up was videojournalism and a juke box that automatically played all the videotapes. Hence the station was never actually live and thus mitigated on air mistakes.

Surely London Live was made for the iPad generation, mixing print ( magazine articles) with rich video. p.s Endless discos ( short for discussions) doesn't make for exciting TV unless you have The Word in mind and you're planning something O.T.T. p.s.s If you don't know what The Word is and you're into British Youth TV, a quick lesson on wiki is in order.

4. Get ready for the brand fall out. That is be cautious about talking yourself up, because if it doesn't meet the audience's requirement, it's a long fall which could hurt the brand.
Channel One, also puffed its chest, but it had the innovation of an untried videojournalism practice to match.

5. Be flexible, find the gains and exploit them. Because you're local, get into and establish a rapport with community groups.  Channel One had more than 30 videojournalists whom at times stayed put in communities and built up a rapport, London Live has around ten.

Part 1 of 2/

Sunday, July 20, 2014

The fog of television and truth - the Daily Show

It is seen as the harbinger of truth, the deliverer of objective and impartiality news, illustrated by innumerable research. 

The most recent UK survey shows television news to be the most trusted; 75% of those surveyed rely on television for their news, compared with other media.

In the US television's trust quotient also runs high.

Any news transmitted across television screens invariably reaches a sizeable percentage of the population, and forces its content to be  taken seriously, to be believed, irrespective of the territory.

It is the reason why in the event of military coups, agents head straight for the television station, and why influential figures with media interests want to own one.

America's television news comes under scrutiny in US satirist Jon Stewart's Daily Show. Stewart lampoons, amongst other things, but mainly, the current reporting of the Israel-Hamas-Palestinian people story.

Stewart prods the coverage finding satire in an incendiary situation. The modus operandi mirrors what the alternative comedy scene started in the UK in the 1980s, with Tony Allen and Alexi Sayle, leading to shows such as Spitting Image.

I digress, however.

Looking to post on Stewart, I couldn't find a clean feed of the show at the time of writing, but did come across liberal viewer's  (LV) take on the show, which has amassed more than 700,00 views.

Now, this post isn't about LV per se. It seeks to provide necesssary context behind that thorny issue of impartiality.  In part, as you'll see it's a conflict between television, as an organ of truth and ownership by private individuals.

Using Stewart's Daily Show, LV also compares Fox News' coverage questioning a Palestnian legal advisor and an Israeli government official as a motif for impartial reportage. 

But there's a layer of explanation that should precede this, which is often absent from debates.

By dint of anything being shown on the television, the audience is inclined to believe what they see and hear. It is after all television, but it was crystallised by the regulators in the US (Federal Communications Commission) and the 1935 Selsdon Committee on behalf of Ramsay MacDonald's UK Labour governement.

Television was new. In her autobiography, Britain's pioneer of Television at the BBC Grace Wyndham Goldie writes of this new medium,

"The governed, in their millions could, at a single moment, see and judge the governors; the governors could appear to millions of individuals simultaneously and sway their emotion not only by their voices but by whatever personal magnetism and visual authority theiy possessed".

The BBC imported its doctrines of fairness and impartiality from radio to this new medium.  Its charter and licence was designed so that the 'BBC should not broadcast its own opinions in the matter of public policy'.

In the UK the 'impartiality rule' holds for UK broadcasters at the BBC, and Independent Television via the regulatory body OFCOM.

As explained by a former BBC senior executive, now Professor of Journalism at Cardiff University, Richard Sambrook notes,
'Impartiality means acting fairly because you are not personally involved or have to put to one side of your personal views or feelings. The elimination of bias'.

In effect, notwithstanding the regulations, impartiality it is an aspired to quality, as in reality impartiality as a utopian ideal is impossible. 

It lies in the eye of the beholder. But the regulatory framework in the UK exists, to hold the BBC and ITV to account, when concerns are raised by viewers, politicians and academics.

Today, in the US, no such regulation exist that prescribes broadcasters, such as Fox, ABC or NBC that they must adhere to the principles of impartiality.

A year after Fox was launched in 1987, the FCC ruled that its fairness doctrine, created in 1949, should be dropped.

There is no legally-binding obligation for Fox or otherwise to be fair or unbiased. Like a newspaper that can show its political affiliation, US networks are free to show their colours too.

Fox, that LV analyses, is merely producing the sort of television news it is free to do.

The issue appears to be the misconception that US networks, and Fox in particular should be impartial because the audience defers back to the issue of televsision as a truth, fairness and balance organ.

They have to do no such thing. Comparing Fox TV's output then with a standard for impartiality isn't necessary.

Friday, July 18, 2014

The fog of conflict Israel-Hamas and Palestine 18th July 2014

If you wake up to the news, like me, and it has the propensity to colour your day, like me sometimes, then today was surely one of those grim days.

In effect there's never not a grim day around the world, but for the items of 'news interest' that find a broadcast outlet, it was difficult not to feel psychologically under siege and let your empathy run amok.

Jemima Kiss, head of technology at the Guardian newspaper captured it piquantly.

My day started with a flit around social media and looking at RSS feeds. Israel's forces ground invasion of Gaza was the expected big news today. Another grim cycle of deaths. 

It is impracticable and impossible not to write about the subject, without incurring the wrath of either an intellectual, whose view differs, but they can not contain their emotion, or a troglodyte without the etiqutte or understanding of rationale and rhetoric.

Civil argument gets lost, personal invectives get traded. 

Today, as only a cynical PR spokemsan might think, the downing of a civilian aircraft Malaysia Airline flight MH17, knocked the Israel-Hamas-Palestinian state story of the lead.  298 people murdered.

The opprobium was needed, the ourtage, barely enough to assuage the thought: 'What the **** is going on?'

Politicians and leaders are then called upon to say something poignant for the news; something matching the profoundness that resonates with: 'She was the people's princess', she was and that was different.

For now, I care less what PM David Cameron and the likes have to say. It has been the leader's collective insouciance that has contributed to this grim day.

Our thoughts go out to the families. News has started to build its narrative matching faces to circumstances and nationality. The senseless of it all and the human cost gnaws at you. Sorrow, anger, frustration.

Then this... confusion, but in a different guise. It is a piece entitled

Whose Palestine?

It contains passages like this.

"For a moment in early June, it seemed to many Palestinians that their political leadership was on the verge of making a historic shift".


"The resulting crackdown on Hamas by Israeli forces working in coordination with Palestinian security forces 
and this...

"But in early June, to the great surprise of Fatah, Egypt, Israel, and the US, Hamas agreed to renounce responsibility for administering Gaza..."

Thrall's piece had clearly caught attention, as the tweet attracted quite some activity.

The day is far from over, and no doubt the grimness of the news stands to get worse. Thrall's piece though sheds some background knowledge on a situation so fuzzy from the fog of confusion.

Read Thrall's piece here.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Digital Storytelling and future videojournalism

Call it neo-videojournalism, Cinematic (doesn't do it justice) or videojournalism-as-cinema.

The revolution is ongoing, but it's below the radar now. The big peaks were YouTube, Twiter, Vine, but innovation is not technology dependent. Next up, Oculas, Touchcast e.g.

If we search long and hard enough, we'll find something... cracks...nuggets of new wisdom.

But we have a fundamental problem. We often don't know where to search, or we don't know where else to look, other than the debris created when a new app hits the market.

Truth is the answer to fundamentals of our questions lay in the past. Historians recognise the circularity of life. Archeologists rely on history, linguists too, media is no different. McLuhan knew this too.

Since the dawn of time, we've told linear stories, and spatial ones ( Caves). We have yet to detour to a new world of imaginary lines, what mathematicians refer to as the -i plane.  e.g  what is the sqaure root of -4 ? Exactly!

We made do one day, but it requires a cognitive leap in understanding that it may not happen in this lifetime. In China, a cinema mimics the conditions on the screen e.g. Snow, blizzards, a skateboarder riding across rough ground as your seat simulates the bumps.

But this is small fry. When we're physically in the film and its narrative adapts to your thinking that's another world entirely. Imagine the algorithms for that? 

The past provides some degree of cognitivism. Understand the person, you get to know their motives. trades on this understanding and I share some brief rational concepts from my Phd thesis examining the future.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Recalibration of videojournalism.

Publishing today.. the recalibration of videojournalism...