Sunday, December 27, 2020

Revolutionising Journalism Education in International News Reporting Via Zoom


Wefaced a crisis in cracking teaching online. Two-hour straight lectures were not going to work, particularly staring straight down the tube.

 But first a flashback. Two main problems need solving to capture this extraordinary event in the photo above. How do I convey what this experience is like and how do I preserve it?

I’m near the Syrian border teaching a group of young Syrian journalists Cinema Journalism. It’s a style of news making that makes use of cultural, social and literary forms in storytelling pulled from different cultures, which more often fictional cinema makers deploy.

I interview the storytellers after my training session and then organise them into a photo-shoot. Below is the completed product which drapes across video. When I begin this story, I have attendants attempt a mental image of the scene by describing a cinematic narrative.


Imagine this I say:


Fast forward to 2020. COVID-19 lockdown has pushed all lectures online. It can be difficult enough teaching how to be an international reporter in-person, because the methodology involves sitting in sanitised surroundings.

A former senior BBC executive refers to this as air condition journalism. Quite how you impart emotion on the necessity of a risk assessment, should a missile come your way, is challenging.

One day VR of the kind, such as “Carne y Arena,” by Alejandro González Iñárritu will be common place. The experience puts the viewer in the moment. In this case the desert as Latin American immigrants find themselves under assault. Imagine being a reporter in this situation?

But until then, what?

In 2006, a decade from now I tell Apple Inc, in a presentation that yielded a profile on their front page, we will be streaming from our homes into businesses. You have become the brand.

Television has already given us the tools for this feat ahead. We’ll gladly watch hours of TV. What if online lectures became a personalised TV programme. This is what the Open University attempted did in the 1970s and perfected in the 90s and to date I still watch Bob Ross’ Joy of Painting on BBC Four. I watched it yesterday!

In lockdown can you provide a comparable experience for the next generation of journalists? I see fault lines, particularly in the pipeline. Zoom has become the default, but I can see a number of new features to make this process a better experience. Three key words here are:

  • Experience
  • Memory
  • Storytelling


This is what I did liasioning with our course director.

  1. First build a pop up studio using a three camera set up
  2. Break the lecture programme into a virtual travel-to- zones. Each week we’ll visit a different country where students would in advance have to find news and provide a briefing.
  3. To simulate this as real, we set up a news agency with directions for cohorts: know where you’re going and get together with your colleagues to plan the news. This encouraged early group collaboration, sharing and debate. Sometimes I’d spring a surprise a couple of days before lectures, by changing the team or designated country we’re visiting.
  4. Amongst the student cohort where there would be a producer from each group and super producer at our morning news room meeting who would have to devise a programme news agenda.
  5. Through multiple pitching, using online videos, students refine their techniques.
  6. Each week, on average, two guests (senior news reporters) from that region would speak to the class for on average 25 minutes explaining the news ecosystem, and how each reporter got into journalism. This has proved popular. I would add that’s also because the students are already mentally attuned to that country. Psychologists refer to this as a desirable difficulty.
  7. The best bits have been the questions the journalists-in-waiting have asked the guests.
  8. By using short burst lectures, less than 20 minutes, I’d provide theoretical knowledge around their practices and news offerings.
  9. We’d finish with a debriefing of the guests and day.I would then stay on 30–45 mins on average after lectures for informal conversation, the longest duration was an hour and half.
  10. We were guided by a Programme content wheel I devised. We’d start with a quiz. Two reasons. Firstly it loosened up the class. Secondly, it involved knowledge transfer. The key is repetition, memory, and each week referencing prior framing. (below Journalist Afua Hirsch on craft skill)

Latest stop over Russia

We’ve several countries to go: India, Romania etc. Our latest guests were Oksana Silanteva, one of Russia’s first multimedia journalists and Daria Dergacheva, a former agency journalist in Russia, now completing her PhD.

I’d spent the morning with a group of Russian journalists organised by Oksana presenting creative storytelling. One of the the attendants wrote this, which after translating I thought I better not show my other half. In the UK you might get a ‘He’s alright. Seen better!”, but this…?


Анастасия Пахорукова Я влюбилась! Он просто потрясающий!

Here’s what Oksana wrote about the project on her FB post. If you’d like to get involved, or believe you can help innovating on top of this please email me Gyimahd(at)Cardiff (dot)ac (dot)UK




Forethought — Looks to the future and reflects through past…







How Digital Storytelling revives journalism of the 21st century


You know you see what they want you to see. The terrorism in New Zealand; 50 dead, and the manner in which some newspapers and broadcasters reported the event reached a deeply depressing low.

Britain’s Daily Mail’s heavily condemned headline posing its angelic tag of the terrorist demonstrated a leaning to hybrid interference, virtuous signalling and morally questionable standards.

Hybrid interference, or wedging is a strategy writes Mikeal Wiegell adopted by external agents in a society to drive distorting concepts of truth and hence heighten divisions. It’s now no stranger to journalism in liberal societies.

Yet, so far it matters not a jot — at least to the proprietors. Newspapers are privately owned and any public standards to which they might be upheld were strafed by a UK government concealing itself behind press freedom, democracy and self-regulation. You need laws? Levenson 2 (UK press enquiry) was about cleaning up the boil after it had been lanced. The sore has been left open.

The crisis a populace faces in seeing journalism as truth telling has some comparisons with a cultures pre-renaissance when truth and falsehood could mesh. Stories were embellished and accepted.

Gilgamesh, a Sumerian King is characterised by documenters as slaying lions with his bare hands. The ubiquitous heroe’s journey told by Joseph Campbell demonstrates a predilection to myths. Daniel Defoe (1659–1731) is said to be one of the first to practise evidence-based journalism, but it didn’t catch on universally. Today, too in spite of his horrendous actions, terrorism in New Zealand can still, it appears, be re-spun.

The difference now as a generally more enlightened society than our ancestors is we’ve been led to believe newspapers are organs of factual realism truth, when some have grown into ideological frankenstein machines — working against tolerance and liberalism.

Papers with News
The history of populists papers requires context. The Daily Mail (1896), Daily Mirror (1903), and Daily Express (1900) were set up by gentry ideologically aligned with the Conservative Party with the alt view of squashing working class pesky newspapers like the Northern star, whilst filling the void with their own brand of stories, which could be sensationalist.

If you had deep pockets and friends in high places, you effectively stood to control millions of British people, by shaping what they read, and feeding their views, however extreme, to others. By the 1930s, Freud’s psychoanalysis had popularised that people were governed by an irrationality that far outdid rational thought. Gustav Le Bon ‘s The Crowd had shown similar findings in the 19th Century. People would behave en mass and were thus prone to group-think and be susceptible to fear talk that hosted a lie , rather than question it.

As a newspaper baron you could tell your version of reality and hand general elections back to governments-in-waiting, whilst earning free airtime publicity from broadcasters e.g. BBC and What The Papers Say.

Clear impunity.

And for all the twitter storms, flagging dog whistles, outright race batting or stirring divisions, it’s no stretch to believe there’s no such thing as bad criticism. Not being talked about is far worse says Roger Stone. The rest? Who cares. Hence they’ll be another storm of opprobrium soon, and another and another.

How do you manage accountability? Does hitting the papers in the pockets mean anything? According to academic and author Chris Horrie who’s written one of the defining books about tabloids e.g. Stick It Up Your Punter! the Sun newspaper’s owners News International have lost £15m a month (in 1989 prices) since their damning Hillsborough coverage and liverpudlians boycotted the paper. Yet the Sun survives.

Such mass boycott action is rarely successful and the Internet today gives newspapers a wider reach from ad spend to boost profits. The Mail in particular, has shown itself to be innovative. Today, it’s the leading UK online paper — a feat it managed devising unusually lengthy front page scrolls which gamed SEO algorithms and slating click-bait titles with articles psychologically shaped to fuel interest.

Sleight of hand
There’s a game you may have played with a toddler in which you present both hands. One supposedly conceals a ball. The toddler makes a choice. You then open your hand without the red ball, feigning surprise. The toddler puzzled looks disbelieving at the hand again and then behind you, by which time you’ve disposed of the ball. This curiosity, falling for the same trick all the time is a bit like the illusionary presence of Father Christmas. But at some point the illusion cracks.

Somehow in today’s journalism, generally the audience can still be viewed as a toddler, not necessarily in the telling of stories, though this happens, but in the illusion of presenting the “entirety” of an event. What’s not happening in the frame, behind your back hides much needed information.

There was a moment in a BBC political interview programme called On the Record, circa 1990s presented by John Humphrys, when the camera moves away from the a face shot to below the table where you can see the politician desperately wringing his hands. His veil had dropped.

Should we continue to call them newspapers, the free press, or impartial broadcasters at all? A wider debate, but as we head towards 5G and the consequences of ultra low latency, deeper relay remote control, A.I. and what Professor Mischa Dohler from Kings College describes as the coming of the Internet of Skills how might journalism and societies tackle wedging?

Perhaps, as this draft moving image of me presenting news superimposed with data arrays illustrates, we need greater co-creating between multi-disciplines e.g. engineering, neuroscientists to reveal the underlying, which I’ll refer to as the fourth wall. Stats at your fingerprints to debunk human perception, and if you haven’t watched Akala’s surgical delineation of knife crimes in London here, in which the media perceive as a black on black problem, do.

Journalism’s so called higher level of proof is under assault and its response has been exposed as woefully inadequate. Because thus far, so long as you can cite others who support your POV, or persuasively frame a point to massage people’s irrational behaviour (War is good at all costs and repatriating Black brits (Windrush) will bring back a semblances of Great Britain), it’s OK. So long too that you have circulation you can pretty much say whatever you want. And so long also that you meet the minimum threshold of what a news story might look and sound like, you’re quids in.

But perhaps like the toddler seeing through the hand trick, audiences should have the opportunity to see into the fourth wall to gauge the iniquities of hybrid interference. How so?

@ledbyDonkeys describe themselves as four friends minded by the level of hypocrisy in British politician’s rolling back, even denying comments they made. So, they took to first plastering billboards with politicians’ quotes about what they previously said, and now crowd source funds to paste their ripostes. They’ve been successful.

This is activism journalism. It should be obvious journalism. @ledbyDonkeys attempt at exposing duplicitous narratives can only travel so far. And this form too, billboards, good as it is in exposing duplicity, is limiting.

What journalism, the public, and journalism studies requires is a visibility of event’s fourth wall. This is not a semiotic exercise in alternative meanings, but a way of revealing, bringing into the foreground, the outer often discarded rims of events.

This is craft work. Take Luigi Pirandello, a Nobel Prize author and dramatist. In Pirandello’s innovative theatre, the audience is given access to the thinking in the conceiving of the play. They become active participants.

It’s the equivalent of showing the guts of television and its operations at work, the type of transparency demanded in academia. How did you get there? Jeff Jarvis sees greater transparency and accountability within various solutions and social journalism. In 2014, as one of twenty global experts invited to CUNY by Jeff to share a vision of television of the future, I explained a new model of journalism through digital storytelling and cinema journalism. “I like your idea”, Jeff said afterwards, “it’s unusual”.

It’s not uncommon for many a journalists to go out to an event, only to observe it’s not the story the editor wants. All background material, dissent, self critique, out-of-the- ordinary is junked for the spectacle of the performance in mind.

On the rare occasion the fourth wall becomes the obvious story, as when a Trump supporter attacked a camera crew at a Trump raleigh. But watch how quickly the camera adopts the conventionalised reality of journalism again in the clip.

Below, an independent camera catches out-of-the-conventional-frame- material, but the larger spectacle of the 4th wall is also ignored, which includes glimpses of the absurdity of the press operators tightly penned in together — Trump’s target for his charade.

In effect it would be difficult, though not impossible for organisations to reveal their own fourth walls — as all this would be is a continuum of their own agendas.

But what if just like @ledbyDonkeys, a crowd sourced network deconstructed what main hybrid interferers were doing? In Latvia, a prime time show Melu Teorija is dedicated to revealing spins and untruths made up by Russian active measure operators. In the Ukraine their show is Stop Fa̶k̶e̶ News

And this is Lithuania’s attempt to fight Russian Active Measures operators by launching a collaboration between Lithuania’s Military Strategic Communications (STRATCOM) and Elves — the equivalent of trolls.

But what if the distortion is inside, and how much more could you deconstruct a fourth wall to expose what’s going on? In effect, in UK institutions, 4th wall journalism hasn’t much started, and the public and a new generation of journalists are walking into ever complex wedgings.

Furthermore how can you guarantee people will watch/read what you’ve made? Not unusually too that logical argument you’ve constructed may fail to convince those acting irrationally. Perhaps, a friend said, a new form of A.I for irrational arguments needs building. Emotional Intelligence and engagement also is key.

In the meantime, a combination of innovation in identifying new (digital/ investigative) tools, and also in the production of the stories is merited. Story constructs that takes elide within and out of the ecosystem that guardians frame so tightly as “journalism”, taking us into wider realms of Factual Storytelling or Occured Events Digital Storytelling (OEDS), a term coined to delineate from the multi-verse of digital storytelling.

I’ll explain further in the next post. Other observed trends can be gauged from this short video. 

Dr David Dunkley Gyimah is an international award winning innovator.



Monday, June 29, 2020

In closed humidity, amid summerish heat of 32 degrees, and a cornucopia of distant sounds, the sun finally turns its golden yellow and begins to surrender for the day. In its diminishing glow hidden in a cul de sac, a convoy waits. 

We have arrived early and are obliged to patiently stay motionless for an hour or so on the outskirts of a village, Asokore, near Ghana’s hinterland city, Kumasi. We wait because it is forbidden to come forth in daylight with one of the village’s returning sons — a respected man from a lineage of popular figures in the days, some of whom were chiefs. 

We wait some more, before the sun disappears over the horizon and the convoy and lead car purr their engines and slowly make their way snaking on the potholed roads. We are here. Onlookers crane their necks and whisper. Written from the perspective of a British journalist, this ritual seems endearing, if perhaps amusingly bewildering. 

What might anyone, with a lack of knowledge of customs and the culture, transported to this spot, have made off all of this?  This is a funeral about to begin its run of three days. The returning son is my father, born in Asokore, who became a police officer, and then sought a new destiny with my mother in the UK. 

Several years later, he has returned home. Sankofa , a well known Twi maxim means “go back and retrieve”. It is almost a fitting prose for what we are to experience. Everything about my father’s home coming had been a system of processes — several business ends in the UK ensuring his safe passage. 

But it is also a metaphor, alongside others, for sonorous journalism. Let me explain. Now in Ghana, rituals that have lasted many years — some extruded to accompany Ghanaian’s penchant for lavish funerals, have now taken hold. It’s said of Ghanaians that it’s at funerals where you’ll find your future husband or wife. 

Three days affords you some time within the solemnity of the occasion. This is so far removed from the clashing of cymbals and gyration of hips to some genre of music in a night club in London, Croydon — where you rendezvous to find your future soul mate. During the three days my family and I will perform many rituals and sermons. I have to brush up on my Twi — the language of the Akans — which is rich in metaphor. Death is described as literally turning your head to face the wall. 

I remember saying this and drawing nods of appreciation. “He’s done well” said one elder afterwards. And then this which has forever stuck with me. On the final day fifteen clothed elders gathered in a room. It is time, a relative tells me, to take gifts to thank them for their time, for their support, and for the appreciation of one of their own through his children. 

For brief moments I lose my guard as a family member, and become a storyteller, a journalist. How might this feature be relayed so it’s less a curio from someone not knowing local customs? I have flashbacks to being in Soweto with white journalists friends who’s parachuted into South Africa’s election from the UK and saw men toying with clubs. 

They looked fearsome, but you’ve nothing to be afraid off. I think back to SUS law arrests in the 80s/90s in which police accosting a black man, would interpret his actions as “shifty”, were he failed to look an officer in the eyes, whilst shifting his weight, head titled.

Were white police officers aware that there were generations of men whose idea of respect was not to “eye ball” their fathers, officials or elders? “Don’t be eye-balling me son” was not an uncommon refrain in some households I knew. Or that further back in time these fathers’ fathers did similar. Under their publishing company X-Press Dotun Adebayo and Steve Pope would release a book Yardie that the met police implored its officer should read. Fiction and non fiction merged to unveil a culture unknown to Police. 

This was the 1990s. Standing in front of the Ghanaian elders, they asked the seminal question. How much did all this cost, the flight, the laying on of food, the gifts to other members and Dad’s resting bed, a patterned gasket. There was murmuring and darted expressions when we told them. Translated into English, with the customery ooms and aams, the eldest of the elders spoke. 

He thanked us for doing one of their own right and thanked some more, and then told us, you in the West are crazy. You’re crazy to spend all this money on the dead, when the living are suffering. Look what we do he said drawing attention to his faith. We wrap our loved ones in a shoal and then commit them to the ground the very next day or after. 

Instead he continued, you’ve given rise to a business — a thriving one for those who are pass on. There’s a passage in Around the world in a trillion dollars a day, where senior financiers from South East Asia assail the Americans who attempt to sell a new package of debt swaps. No more packages, they say. 

In modern parlance, the world has discovered and developed and intricate set of business ends that bamboozle, bind people even as they take their last journey. “We need in this kingdom only priests and school teachers, and no merchandise, unless its wine and flour for the Mas”, said King Alfonso I in a letter to the King of Lisbon in 1526. Alfonso, elaborately portrayed in Hochschild’s King Leopold Ghosts is lamenting the business of human slave trade taking place at alarming rate in his Kongo (spelt Kongo). 

He is tired of merchants. Hochschild tells us what makes stories of the Kongo gripping is that for history, journalism first draft of accounts, whites exploiting the land are not the only authors. Their white narrative sees the native Kongolese as savages, but for once there is a historical account of that era from a black man, learned and understanding of customs. 

The centuries ahead, greater emphasis placed on commerce and business becomes a measure of a nation’s status, its place in the world, as opposed to greater recognition of its priests, school teachers and medical personnel; architects, artisans and artists. Centuries ahead too, the Western world would invent a story form called journalism through which events are comparatively largely recorded through the eyes of those visiting, unaccustomed to customs and rituals. 

They interpret events as curios. They can’t be mindful of the gravitas of events if they lack in its experience. Yet the world is told through their eyes. If learning is about being liberated, then vast swathes of knowledge are entombed through ignorance or otherwise complicity. Alfonso’s letter was met by Belgium’s king with a rebuke. 

The king’s emissaries, he said, tell him Kongo is a vast place and there are many potential slaves, such that the trade will not run dry. One Kongo king’s version against another, the King of Belgium. One version of events against another. One who understands his culture against a King, Leopold who never once set foot in Kongo, but raped its riches and people, brutally. Of all the definitions and frameworks put together to sow together a divine model of journalism — few ever cite how culture is integral. 

That at the heart of our exchanges is in an attempt to make sense of cultures; super, supra, boardroom and community et al. Storytelling of a kind called journalism represses the super, between people, profoundly, whilst cinema saw stories through the eyes of the beholder who knew their apples, and could offer nuanced interpretation. Cinema! Reportage‘s stories are more muted. 

Why? Because, perhaps to those who offer its craft at the highest pedagogical level, from circa 1700s there was no other culture, but the one worthy of note. Rebooted in the 1980s by a Prime Minister it became there’s no such thing as society. It’s as if you’d asked a fish the temperature of its water. 

How would the fish know? It’s only occupied one realm. In the 1700s onwards, culture was one, mono, undifferentiated. There were other people from different places e.g. Gold Coast, but their numbers were insignificant, though not unimportant to contest there existed varying cultures, and as such an expressiveness in contemporary storytelling. Who lives, who dies, who tells your story appears in Hamilton the musical. 

Victors tell the stories, journalism is about power, and the power to shape narrative. Hamilton is pure juju for reworking the agents of American’s founding fathers performed by a significant black cast. Andrew Marr’s My Trade a well written book on a short history of British Journalism underscores this mono narrative. It doesn’t purport to be a history of journalism, for it reflects events of white Anglo-Saxon heritage. EH Gombrich, one of the highest authorities on Art, behind the knowledge expanding Story of Art did not see why he should features black or women artists, believing they were not important. 

You can’t begin to understand how the world shaped by television and opinions hewn by news, reduces customs and culture to generalisations. It’s obvious through not only the lack of diversity in programmes, but of different people, from different cultures, being on the tables that decide what we eat. Culture matters. It matter a lot. Yet comparatively few intellectuals acknowledge its profound impact in storytelling alongside objectivity, impartiality etc. 

Prof Michael Schudson speaks of journalism as the following: Journalism practice is a cultural construct, dependent on societal changes and literary traditions. To story tell requires understanding those cultures. My father’s burial, as much as how Covid-19 is blighting black communities are stratas of culture — that require exegesis in play. 

The sun is appearing on the 4th day ending our ritual. In the future across the world we see the prospect of a new dawn. I carry forward my father’s legacy and new knowledge for new ideas and co-creations as cultures meet. Journalism Storytelling Ghana Culture BlackLivesMatter