Monday, November 22, 2021

The Stories That Shape US


Bent over the kitchen sink washing dishes (the washing machine has packed up) my mind drifts. Curse shingles. I now have a renewed healthy respect for work-life balance. Just how does one make a change?

I also dwell on that question. What did happen post the aftermath of last year’s BLM moment? Just how were the incredible array of stories that surfaced to address racial issues curated so they become everlasting epistemologies for future generations?

And then glaring through the floor as if I have Superman X-ray eyes, I think back to the tapes in my garage that have gathered dust for thirty years? Could I finally muster the energy to do something with them? And if so what purpose would they serve?

I’m a university lecturer, a job I love and for several years have swapped ideas and methods with Masters students. In between lectures, I’ve pursued my interests that blend conceptual storytelling in cinema journalism (my practice) with Tech and Diversity creating events like the Leader’s List — an exhibition film of the UK’s leading TV producers of colour.

The art of collapsing cinema and journalism which builds on Cinema Verite is still unfolding and I get goose bumps every time I think of the kind interactions and interviews with the doyens of Cinema Verite and Cinema like Robert Drew, and Mark Cousins who helped me get here.

About a year and a half ago, a senior personnel from the British Library contacted me. Would I be interested in becoming an advisory board member for their exhibition of three hundred years of news — planned to open in 2022 because of the pandemic. Sure. That’s some canvas I thought. Imagine a film that would cover that period? In this case, a book accompanying the event is to be published and I feel indebted to the British Library that I could contribute a piece on language and BLM.

The thing with storytelling at an institutional level is it’s like a virus in that it never leaves you. Since I formally left the broadcast industry working on programmes like Channel 4 News, I like anyone in the do-it-yourself YouTube Gen., continue to tell stories on YouTube and my own platforms.

But there’s something enticing, alluring and intoxicating about presenting to a live audience, or on a big stage. The last two big-staged films were made whilst I was an artist in residence at the Southbank in 2011.

Re: Sounding Motion saw exceptionally gifted young people with music or dance skills being provided with exemplar levels of training and putting on a show at the South Bank Centre. The other was Obama’s 100 Days with the classical composer and conductor Shirley Thompson OBE.

These kinds of works have the habit of pushing beyond self-imposed boundaries with one eye focused on the intended audience that will judge your work. There’s the propagation of critical ideas which consciously marry thoughts accumulated over one’s journey. There’s also equally, in seeking commissions (broadcast or public), the oft intimidating round of interviews to generate interest accompanied by the “Thanks, Sorry !”

When I started in the early 90s I remember how painful they were. I would find my own soul-sating stories by relocating to South Africa where I could roll together all my interests. Today the impact of “Thanks Sorry” (TS) is no less but the years teach you to understand everyone (nearly) gets TS’s. Frankly if creating art was that easy what would that mean? The pain and struggle of creation is a part of the gain, isn’t it?

Afriend offered to help with the selection in my garage. Firstly what if we presented it to the yearly contest that is FIAT/ IFA — a global body that seeks to preserve important archive. Against eight global finalists, the pitch about the archive’s contents was made online and three months later we were informed we’d won.

Jose as archivist producer drove the conversation to digitise the batch; some 800 hours plus of tapes, audio and video, small by comparison of archive found tapes, but no less valuable.

And that’s the point. These 90s tapes are personal but also mark a socially detailed aspect of that time. There is the interview with Nigerian Superstar Fella Kuti that I turned into a story for the Journal Representology — a joint venture between my uni (Cardiff) and the Sir Lenny Henry Centre at Birmingham City University.

There’s the interview with the director of the touring show This Old Minstrel Magic derived from the Black and White Minstrel Show (Black face) who tries to convince us no harm is being done in reviving a show “everyone loves”, he says. There’s the film collectives of the 90s and Melvin Van Peeble’s telling me about the revival in black filmmaking and his own film Sweet Bad Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss. And this, in the depth of South Africa’s belly of turmoil I ride the night with peace activists in Katlehong, designated murder capital of the world.

The archive selection include a ‘documentary lit’ interview with one Reverend Pearson whom in the 1940s would befriend the King of the Ashantis. Their friendship would result in a school attended by boys who would become presidents and Ghana’s political class. The short promo I cut a decade plus ago was narrated by Channel 4’s Jon Snow.

Listening back to them has been a journey down memories, which is all well and good for me, but what interest might they have beyond my garage doors? I’ve been struck by many of the issues which are current today and have their voice in the stories from the 90s. That shouldn’t be surprising. Frankly you could go back further to the 60s and further back still if the archive existed to help viewers and listeners understand current affairs.

Back then there seemed little appetite to log or archive ‘Black’ stories. Some of the stories were broadcast whilst presenting Black London on the BBC. Another presenter and I were paid the princely some of £30 pounds for presenting the weekly programme.

And this. What happens when two of Africa’s respected broadcasters: Ghana and South Africa come together to explore each other? The programme, a six parter, was the United States of Africa. It wasn’t just unique in how the Ghanaians reported on South Africa (newly liberated from Apartheid) but that in 1996 they were using videojournalists and digital cameras way before the BBC or CNN was.

The question is what to do next? A sound installation? A programme that feeds off the archive? A monologue interspersed with archive that gives an account of London circa 1990. One thing I’m certain of is the value it will have for my Masters students; I’m inclined to think the value may extend beyond them. Who knows? If you’re a commissioner/publisher and this interest you, please drop me a line @viewmagazine or

About Me:

I’m a writer, academic, storyteller and creative technologist with thirty years experience working across broadcasting, advertising, and academia. I have recently completed being Chair of the Organising Committee for Cardiff University’s global Future of Journalism event ( keynote included Gary Younge) and advising for the British Library, and am due to relaunch the Leaders’ List. More on me here.

Wednesday, November 17, 2021

Inspiring Solutions with Great Stories

Dr. David Dunkley Gyimah

Dr. David Dunkley Gyimah  

10 min read
When journalists decided journalism alone wasn’t enough, it was time build physical solutions, then story them.

“Congratulations, funding for the StoryLab/ Innovation hub has been approved”, said the email from the Research Innovation Fund.

For the last year messages of support and appreciation for a program that bridges storytelling with problem-solving leading to physical solutions have been coming into our inbox.

“Thanks ! Was an amazing experience and would highly recommend the module to anyone coming through”.

“It was an incredible experience from beginning to end. The course is packed with opportunities to develop hard and soft skills on multiple areas and to build a valuable network. Lucky to have been a part of it!

“Most definitely the best course of my academic career…”

It’s not journalism’s job to save the world, but supposedly report what it believes is important to its audience. That‘s what the profession has carried with it from its 18th century when notable figures like Daniel Defoe wrote the first formative modern account of journalism — the great Storm that battered Britain, before penning his fictional Opus Dei, Robinson Crusoe.

Yet media has no natural borders, particularly evident in the digital era-and- beyond renaissance. If media seems like it’s fixed that’s because the stakeholders and controlling parties like to make it so.

“For many years, people like me perpetuated the myth that unless you were part of the television establishment, you couldn’t make television. Channel One Challenged that”, Stuart Purvis said to me. Purvis, a former CEO of ITN, the UK’s biggest commercial news and factual broadcaster is today one of the UK’s most respected media figures.

Channel One was a platform and a UK social experiment in the 90s which demonstrated command-and-control media production was a sleight of hand. Despite its staff being ridiculed as Robo reporters, and bad imitations of Max Headroom, thirty youngsters became the first Brit professional one-person-television-crews bursting the myth.

A decade later, Screen Gen content producers, remixing, refluxing and fixing in their personal spaces unequivocally tore to shred the myth.

Hence it’s conceivable that if you were to launch Channel One today its new prosumers (call them “Oners”) would be enveloped in innovative work mixing disciplines, using AI, creating new platforms, new business solutions. In fact some of its alumni already have.


Jonny, 21-years of age, is atypical of the Screen Gen as documented in Grown Up digital by Don Tapscott. I’ve watched him up close. He’s my son. At five years of age he first beat me at EA Rugby. Ouch! By his mid-teens he’d amassed a spectrum of platform and Apps.

He’s into Black Panther. That’s his first rig above, and today is ranked high playing Rocket league. His twitch, visual acuity and spatial skills is common place across Screen Gens, the new ONERS. And analogous with a 2004 study of young laparoscopic surgeons , The Impact of Video Games on Training Surgeons in the 21st Century he’s developed a set of unique skills different to his parents. Video gaming is good for your mind says creative expert Steven Johnson. For Jonny it’s his passion.

“What if we decided to use everything we know about game design to fix what’s wrong with reality”, writes Jane McConigal in Reality is Broken. At the UK’s Defence Academy in Shrivenham, Swindon, this is put into practice. Artemis, a $40 game, is used to assess army personnel and MBE elites says Major Tom Mouat MBE to me and the business group I’ve been invited to join.

It’s not gaming and the physical play per se. This can yield strategic thinking that governs prioritising, decision making, etc. but it’s also about de-centralising learning outside technical expertise.

Jonny wants to be a storyteller, combining photography, design, his history, video making, gaming and writing. Our conversations revolve making his passion integral to work. He’s now completing his degree in VFX — an industry with demonstrable creative fluidity in its boundaries.


The ONERS collapsed disciplines questions are cultivated that address real life dramas needing attention: climate change, reeling racism, gaping financial inequality, food security, social turmoils and dogma politics. How can ONERS make an impact in institutional settings? How? By playing a greater role in working collaboratively with their curriculum design and being assisted in engineering THEIR ideas.

Of course journalism is important. Yet, more of the same journalism isn’t the solution says former BBC senior executive Pat Loughrey. I’ve just recently organised one of the journalism’s major calendar events: The Future of Journalism, which brings together more than 200 global scholars and featured Gary Younge as one of our keynotes speaker.

In my lecture series I’ve been interviewing some of the world’s leading international journalists.

The next generation of journalist will have to do better than the current lot and “kick Ass” Sky News Alex Crawford tells me.

But tapping into the ONERS natural skills: connecting, customising and collaborating, just as the real world problems are interdisciplinary and multi-faceted, this at least should be the default for a different storytelling- problem solving in institutional and media entities.

The idea of connecting different disciplines seems anathema or overstretch, yet it wasn’t too long ago in the 1970s when universities upped the industrial production of subject specialisms.

Prof Carolyn Marvin writing in When Old Technologies were New says: “Discussions of electrical and other new forms of communications in the late 19th century begin from specific cultural and class assumptions about what communications ought to be like amongst particular groups of people”.

“These assumptions informed the policies of nineteenth century observers at what these new ideas were supposed to do and legislated the boundaries of intimacy and strangeness of the closing different world they presented to the audiences”.

In the late 90s Human Centred Design Thinking became a feature of Design schools taking a different disciplined approach to their work.

Then consider Finland’s education system, already considered one of the best in the world. It’s switching from subject teaching to what it calls “phenomenon” teaching, that is by topic. Interviewed in the Independent newspaper, Helsinki’s municipal development manager Pasi Silander says “What we need now is a different kind of education to prepare people for working life.”


Six years ago in a TV studio in East London amongst some of the UK’s leading entrepreneurs the idea of a new approach embracing multiple inter-disciplines was being put to the test.

Could you build a program that fused several fields, where MA students engaged in some form of 3-dimensional chess? Each time you made a move, alternative problems present themselves and often they emerge from outside the core practice.

Finding a solution is one thing, seeing several different ways to frame a problem with different solutions is another. In my undergrad Applied (Maths) Chemistry days creating different molecular structures whilst testing its purity and yield continuously invited these question.

For our MA students, the TV studio dubbed the “Angels Table” was their months of work come good. With their mentors they were being prepped on presenting. For the last year they’d been through a cycle of turning ideas into prototypes — each stretching them beyond their limits. Each bringing in various experts to work alongside them.

Institutions look to build critical awareness and creativity amongst its cohorts, but how truly progressive is that if the subjects, as varied as they might be, are still siloed?

I have worked for some of the best branded media in the world e.g. BBC, ABC News, Channel 4 News and loved it. Yet there’s a reason why journalism can often find itself moored to conventions or class and cultural thinking.

One is relatively few institutions teach budding journalists the skillset of psychological warfare and their nemesis awaiting them — the dark side of PR and propaganda e.g. The Mohawk Valley formula. Or how to weaponise words. Otherwise, few popular texts reflect on journalism being dependent on class, culture or that invented word race. Journalism being colour blind is unacceptable.

In 2000, working in Dotcoms in Soho, start-ups such as Justgiving and Re-active it showed just how much cross-knowledge was required to float an idea. Worldwide, the digital renaissance forced new thinking, though this was largely extended to tech and business-based approaches.

Therein were the seeds of 2014’s Digital Story hub. But before I get to that, a fresh experiment was put in place. In 2003 we introduced MA journalism students, much to their chagrin, to HTML/ CSS and design as core module credits.

For one day a week in six weeks of a full term students would build platforms that were as varied and impressive rivalling professional ones. They made it to top spots in SEOs and drew wide praise from industry figures in the BBC and Google to name a few.


In The End of College Kevin Carey writes

[students] are highly sensitive to expectations and organisational culture if you give them a lot of work and commensurate support. If you give them free time and an elaborate social infrastructure centred on alcohol exemption they’ll react accordingly.

The operative word was “support”. But if building platforms from web 1.0 forms into dynamic xml mobile sites became the norm, could media students dive into interdisciplinary problem solving and build real world prototype solutions enveloping any number of media, tech and Art — VR, Smart Speakers, Apps, Data and AI?

Moreover, given the size of that task could they also refine a different form of journalism storytelling that would hold audiences attention, whilst also perfecting the pitch and marketing and branding plan? It seemed a tall order, but fortunately some key developments would prove invaluable and prove, yes! It would involve Apple, the Movies, and University curriculum.

If you work in a Uni, you’ve likely noticed a perennial problem. Even when you’ve made the point several times few students read the handbook. Why would they, one student candidly told me, “It’s boring”.

When I asked journalism students if they’d watched the news, few had. But when it came to a movie like The Diving Bell and the Butterfly (2007), 127 hours (2010), Wild (2014) and The 33 (2015), many raised their hands. What these films all had in common was that they were based on true stories, some were even newsworthy.

Yet 16–24 year olds don’t watch the news. Ofcom, the UK’s media regulator, says news consumption amongst this age group at best amounts to 2 mins and rarely on television. What’s wrong?

There’s research that says covering the same old stories is a turn off, and wider choice compete for ONERS eyeballs, but research that has largely escaped the media industry reveals a major inhibitor is the style, form and and manner in which it’s made.

What if journalists used cinema as a trojan horse? Actually what if journalists relearned cinema’s impact in storytelling.

This hypothesis was presented at Apple, SXSW etc., the world videojournalism awards in Berlin. It became my doctorate — a complex interdisciplinary field — in which I came across a select number of international award winning journalists, such as New York Time’s Travis Fox, who used cinema to tell great stories. I made this video.

The third interest to launching the programme was diversity, which in 1990s went by a different name, equal opportunities. In 1999 despite continuing efforts for greater media representation, the media penny finally dropped. Diversity was as much about navigating self-interest, as it was power when it came to expressing agency.

These ideas underpinned the design of an interactive student handbook, a prototype to show students problem-solving. It was hugely popular with faculty and amongst the school secretaries because it was inclusive. It featured success stories from previous cohorts and external links advancing their curiosities. I’m partly credited with unintentionally playing cupid to two students, now friends, whose wedding we attended in Germany.

The whatever-you-want-program was launched supported by industry professionals like Lee Robertson and Stephen Wheatley consistently offering their expertise.

The three pronged approach was to:

  • Address real-world problems and build solutions, cognisant of diversity and inclusion.
  • Perfect how you sell it to multiple varied audiences,
  • Experiment with fresh Story telling formats on various platforms in an array of media.

Nasma turned her Journey, from Syria into an animated game, and getting a taste of being a creative director working with with an agency. Five years on from her TV studio presentation before experts, and her mentor, her project idea is finding new air from research funds .

This brings us to the present. In 2019, I moved to Cardiff University and working with my co-colleague JT we launched Emerging Journalism AKA Story LAB, and forged a relationship with one of Wales’ most progressive companies Tramshed Tech and new tech mentors, Iain, Robin, Chantal, Toby and Oliver.

The ambition is to roll the idea out regionally and then partner with interested universities. The funding is a small step. But then it’s a giant leap to showcase widely what can be achieved.

The LAB is run by Dr David Dunkley Gyimah and Creative Technologist JT.

To find out more how we run the current Lab click below.