Saturday, December 03, 2016

Rewiring story telling - `journalism's Minority Report

Hello! We’ve not met. I hope we can after this. Because what I have to say works better in person. I’ve met a fair few people on my journey in the media, including some tech giants like Apple who wrote this flattering article about my work a decade ago when we were trying to figure out multimedia.

Then I spent six intense years completing a doctorate (PhD) — a global analysis that took me around the world, examining story form, people and identifying an emergent group of award-winning newsmakers. 

What it is, I asked, that draws our attention in stories? How do these award-winning newsmakers go about producing their work, and why are we drawn to them? What was the strategy behind their craft? And what influence did tech play in their work? 

These were just some of the questions in which I searched for answers. Madly, I video documented the journey, as well as producing a range of short films. 

I used multiple approaches:
  • Deep interviews with experts (100 +).
  • Tracking down and evaluating the work of the UK’s first videojournalists in the 1990s. [You can see a clip of the film I made on them here.]
  • Deep interviews from tracking down 14 of the world’s new generation of newsmakers — known for their world expertise in something called videojournalism ( which might be different from what you know). They’re global award winners.
  • Putting myself for scrutiny on the basis I’d won international awards and have been practising videojournalism over 23-years. Some of the experts who critiqued me were Mark Cousins, a critic, award-winning filmmaker and author the very popular, The Story of Film.
  • And then a diachronic examination of film, art, video and photography and memory studies.

Those travels included: China, Cairo, the Turkey-Syrian border, Lebanon, India, Chicago, South Africa etc. And before then working with people like Lennox Lewis as his filmmaker fighting Tyson, Danny Glover in South Africa, filming Moby in France, and diving to examine WWI ships in Gallipoli for the BBC World Service. Each one of them yielded their own fascinating stories.
What I found out was both exciting and alarming.
Scene 1
Take this structure below. You’ve seen this before. In fact many times. You’re so familiar with it that you pay it no critical attention. Every news outlet is shaped around this, with variations. It is the universal model for news story form. The problem is millennials are non-plussed by it. Actually so was Generation X, from 1994 onwards in UK studies.
This is how it manifests itself on screen from one of my reports for ITV News.

Broadcast journalism outfits around the world use this formula, but why? To understand this, we need to go back to the time when the ‘news package’ as it’s called was conceived
The BreakThrough
When ITV, NBC and CBS refined the news package in the 1960s, it was a brilliant piece of story form engineering. But it came with conditions. It had to be short around 2 mins. News execs were terrified people would switch off. It had to revolve around a reporter. And, it would be framed by execs’ fab four framework: objectivity, impartial, balance and fairness.
But then in the liberating 60s new ideas arrived and pioneers such as Robert Drew, whose film Primary(1960) was picked by the Library of Congress for preservation at the United States National Film Registry because of its cultural, historical and aesthetic significance.

Drew argued for different ways of news making, but the networks took little notice. They took my equipment he would say in this interview below, but not my ideas.
 Long story short. Execs loved the news package, and so did the public for a while but as generations became more tele-literate, they sought something else. Problem is, TV didn’t and hasn’t been able to find an alternative. Before NBC broke the glass ceiling appointing its first President of News Deborah Turness, I spoke to Turness about the news package. Her answer — she’s trying to find the holy grail — the next story form.
 Around the world, the original fab four framework and the lattice of the package has become so porous from sustained assaults by public relation firms, businesses and politicians that you could drive a Boeing 747 through its idea of integrity. In fact if I were devising a new journalism course for the 21st century, I’d teach how the mind works from psychoanalysis and cultural anthropology.
News makers haven’t helped themselves either. Take false equivalence as an example. Television news will interview 99 people who will tell you climate change is real, but if one person says it isn’t, exec feels compelled to give equal weighting to both views on air — shooting to bits the idea of fairness and impartiality.
The Last Leg
On the border of Syria, one of my last assignments, the data and patterns confirmed something, that whilst tech e.g. Snapchat, Facebook Vine etc. any social media seemingly frames new behaviours, the way we think, how our visual cortex works, how memory shapes us, is based around age-old philosophies, and aesthetics far more than were made to believe. I posted a trailer of that assignment yesterday to a warm response.

Where we are now

Unlike the sciences where new findings are eliminative, journalism is palimpsestic — it’s a strength and a weakness. Largely, given the costs and resources that goes into traditional journalism, rather than radically changing, it retains behaviours and workflows — some of which turn viewers off. And as a legacy this may well continue. We also have a problem explaining journalism as if it’s a unitary form, which I address here. [ And #Epicfail in Journalism and ways to fix it].
And what of all the new areas of journalism, such as Data, Drone, Mobile, Social? There are an amazing array of articles and authors that cover these a in illuminating ways. Paul Bradshaw @paulbradsha on data, Glen Mulcahy @GlenBMulcahy for Mobile, and Sue Llewellyn @suellewellyn on Social.
However, my focus while respectful of sci-tech (I’m a maths/chem grad) mines areas we tend to ignore, cognitivism and meaning making.
 Hence, whilst video below is made on a mobile phone, for a £500K project, it’s not the mobile that excites me, but our ingrained, as well as changing perception to aesthetics to stories, news, docs and otherwise.

Not the end
Dr David Dunkley Gyimah has been a journalist for more than 25 years working for some of the biggest brands in journalism e.g. Newsnight, Channel 4 News. He is the recipient of a number of international awards including the (US) Knight Batten for Innovation in Journalism. He currently leads the Digital Interactive Story LAB at the University of Westminster and is a juror for the Royal Television Society Awards. You can contact David ( ff @viewmagazine)at or through his site
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