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.