Saturday, December 10, 2022

Google’s News Innovation Winners 2022 and Being One of the Assessors.

47winners from Google News Initiative’s 2022 Innovation challenge will now be in their stride with funding up to €150,000 for their project. The official announcement is here.

I was honoured to be one of the external assessors invited to join Google’s team. Big shout to Sarah, Ludo, Danielle, Kristen, and Ben for making me feel so welcome.

I’ve been a juror across top flight media, such as The Royal Television Society which picks the UK’s top news journalists and network, amongst others, and have won international awards for my work.

Hence, I could bring this experience to the initiative that attracted 605 applicants from 38 countries. The cache of applications was truly impressive and were eclectic across a spectrum of motivations.

Eligibility for funding fell into the following areas:

  • that the project was innovative for applicant and users
  • the impact it would have on society and news ecosystem
  • the feasibility of the project
  • how inspiring it was and where owners could “show [a]willingness to share knowledge and to contribute to the improvement of the ecosystem overall”
  • being able to demonstrate a commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion.

I’ve sampled four successful applicants here.

Les Jours

Imagine being able to establish the connection between say a journalist writing a story and the subjects of the article being written with the aid of a visual map.

Such connections between, not only journalists, but important people featured in a story will give news consumers an insight into how power and influence manifest itself in journalism.

This is what Les Jours intend on building — an interactive easy-to-use playful influence map.

Airwars

One of the difficulties of identifying perpetrators of attacks in wars, based on the munitions used, is producing forensic evidence from the scene of attack using blast debris and crater images.

Airwars is creating a centralised portal providing open-source identification of arms and munitions that can be matched with on the ground pre and post-blasts evidence. The site will be freely open to use by Human rights practitioners, individuals e.g. journalists and groups.

Afrolis

Afropolis in Portugal, is led by a team Portuguese women ( Black and Roma journalists) seeking to create an EU social network of members, and act as a funnel for Portuguese and EU diversity in newsroom.

Their news narratives will envelop nuanced social, economic, and political issues within diverse communities embracing themes seen in the range of mainstream news, but from their agency and perspective. Their mode of delivery will be via podcasts and articles from writers.

L’Humanit√©

L’Humanit√© are looking to a model of news which targets a younger audience by the creation of DAO, tokens, and NFTs which feed into web 3. A challenge for all news outfits is engaging with Gen Z+ with stories and agency for the audience to be involved in the selection of topics and its coverage.

You can learn more about the current winners and the application process here on Google’s site.

Aside to the creative and intellectual challenge assessing applications, what was hugely enjoyable and rewarding was witnessing the depth and broad the range of thinking by practitioners across Europe, in either addressing immediate challenges or those peering into the future.

In some ways it took me back to an era of Dotcom I, and the unbridled creativity for the web as a new medium. And it made me recall my own work over the years in innovation in journalism -from working in Soho for a number of start-ups, (including being the editor for Justgiving.com) and then Re-active creating Channel 4 finalists interactive docs, and online web promos for the likes of heavyweight boxing champ Lennox Lewis.

Later, this would merge into work creating Innovative Journalism, profiled by several tech including Apple and more recently using Art, Tech, Journalism and storytelling to help MA students create their own start ups.

If you’re one of the winners of the Google Initiative, Good luck. If you’re looking for an assessor on your project with experience in the aforementioned and diversity, drop me a line Gyimahd [at]Cardiff [dot]ac [dot]uk

About me: I’ve thirty years in the media industry working on top journalism platforms e.g. BBC, media startups and dotcoms, and today balance external work across my main role as an academic. More here

How a film about Dahomey Women Warriors stands to be a game changer — The Woman King (2022).

 News shapes our views of the world; Cinema does too, but also in a cultural shock way. Jaws left beaches deserted; Super Sized Me shifted eating habits; Lawrence of Arabia mythologised British Intelligence Officer, Thomas Edward Lawrence.

The Woman King (2022) is set to be a game changing movie that will have a global historical and commercial impact in many ways, not least storytelling.

That’s not merely hyperbole because for the first time in Gen Z’s time a historical movie, with Black and brown people at the helm is getting the Hollywood treatment. The director is Gina Prince-Bythewood behind Love & Basketball (2000), Disappearing Acts (2000), The Secret Life of Bees (2008), Beyond the Lights (2014), and The Old Guard (2020).

There have been previous Blockbuster films this side of the millennium, such as Black Panther that produced more than a $1billion for the studio. But this is different. The reason is it’s based on a true story and possesses a historical DNA which for centuries, particularly post 17th century, has been erased or maligned.

Take the history of The Congo. Belgium’s King Leopold II’s narrative dominates. He strafed the country — its land and people. In King Leopold’s Ghost by Adam Hochschild the reader is introduced to Nzinga Mbemes Alfonso.

He was a provincial chief whom in 1491 in his early thirties, with his country’s dealings with the Portuguese, steered his people and their interactions with Europeans. He is portrayed as a sophisticated man an abolitionist, learned — he learned to speak Portuguese. And yet his prominence is often overlooked, instead for narratives around the conquering Portuguese and then Belgium.

This is reality untold which in a post-Floyd era is as much about diversity, inclusion and correcting skewed narratives.

The evidence ( was in not always the case) now is there’s an audience that buys into revised ‘real histories’ version of events; helped by images (e.g. Instagram) and films that emphasise Black and brown people’s agency and outlook. This is happening increasingly in decolonising narratives and historical books such as David Olusoga’s Black and British and Peter Frankopan’s A New History of the World. Recently I posted on an African philosopher to rival the canons of enlightenment philosophers

With regard to film, exposing new narratives, furthermore, a globally young audience seeking self identity carries on its heart a purchasing power that even as combined long tail, must be recognised.

Black stars don’t sell

It wasn’t long ago that studios claimed, as relayed in an interview by Denzel Washington, that a Black lead meant they lost sales abroad. Shamefully, Boyega’s Fin character was minimised in the poster in China. Read: Hollywood’s irrational allergy to ‘black’ films by Roland Martin, CNN Contributor.

Historical Black heroic characters from Africa haven’t been given the Hollywood platform. Africa as a source of film for Hollywood has played into usual tropes, Out of Africa (1985), The African Queen (1951), The Legend of Tarzan (2016), Zulu (1964)— take your pick really.

The emphasis in this post is about historical based Hollywood films today, because there have been films from Africa, made by Africans. Nigerians have wowed audiences with films like The Wedding Party (2016).

Generally, historical narratives that undo the stereotypical view of Africa can be found in in books such as Hochschild King Leopold’s Ghost and Stamped From the Beginning by American historian Ibram X. Kendi.

In these books we learn how warped narratives from Africa were shaped. Particularly, from the 17th Century. Travel writers such as John Rowlands AKA Henry Stanley Morton, Richard Hakluyt etc. constructed racists myths for their audiences in which the Europeans were the civilisers.

Africans had no culture. It was a dark place, e.g. Conrad’s Heart of Darkness. Britain’s colonial legacy ownership by PM Boris Johnson veers to this when he said of Africa “the problem is not that we were once in charge, but that we are not in charge any more’”.

Real Stories

Based on a true events of the Dahomey women warriors, The Woman King (2022) opens an important window, supported by a digital generation to bypass old tropes. As I write this I’m thinking of the many others cultures e.g. Ashantis, Fantis (Ghana), ManiKongo (Kongo), Dogons in Mali etc with rich histories who fended off Westerners, built complex governing systems and the rest.

As a note of caution, and this is speculative, because of limited knowledge of the film at present ( though it is everything I hoped it would be when I watch it), I imagine a vigorous debate in academia and some press will commence after The Woman King (2022) about inaccuracies and aspects of the Dahomey which might either be minimised, or absent. That includes insights into their religious ceremonies and their own involvement in the slave trade.

This exchange of knowledge can only be beneficial in context and the comparative numbers of participants in the trade. Be mindful too that with “based on true story” genre films they’re not documentaries and hence their expositions can be narrow, focus on singular events and the license for storytelling tread pass fact.

The title itself, an interesting semantic pairing, and draws reflection. I lived in Ghana for almost a decade and attended the King’s college, that is Prempeh College In the Ashanti region of Ghana.

Here, the heroic tales of the Warrior Queen Mother is legendary. Yaa Asantewaa embodies an amazing story fighting off the British and restoring pride, whilst equally feared by her enemies. Her story deserves the Hollywood blockbuster.

In many ways the remarkable nature of the The Woman King (2022) isn’t the story per se, and that’s not to take for granted the filmmakers. The filmmakers take great credit in breaking Hollywood money and pioneering onto the screen a film that sticks a knife into empire stories. The fact is there are many Woman King stories that are part of folklore that would make great features.

Take this that we’re seeking finance to make, The Kings Men. It’s the story of how the King of the Ashanti people built a school with the help of a British reverend that is revered internationally. The college won the World Robotics Championship in 2020. How it came to be in the 1950s as the country stared at independence is the intrigue.

If The Woman King (2022) is to make a cultural impact by creating a window for historical African stories, the question of others films emerging to sustain this, is worth asking. From Cinema to Documentary, here the work of Channel 4 News’ in the Black to Front season where they investigate British looting of Benin Bronze and films by Historian David Olusoga are part of the Tent pole. Similarly, if If you’re a teacher of Black history this film is about to offer you the tesseract for your students.

The Woman King (2022) stars Viola Davis, NaniscaHero Fiennes Tiffin, Jimmy OdukoyaSanto FerreiraJohn Boyega, King GhezoJordan BolgerMakgotso MLashana LynchJayme LawsonThuso Mbedu, NawiSheila Atim, AmenzaAdrienne WarrenMasali BaduzaOdeIniyaFumbe. It’ directed by Gina Prince-Bythewood

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If you liked the above story, you may like this — The Kings Men, a film in which the King of the Ashanti people Nana Prempeh people created a school which has had a huge legacy on Ghana and globally. Yaa Asantewaa has a direct connection to the school.