We stood up. About ten metres in front of us through a sea of bodies a path was opening. People on my table begun to neck-crane; others started to whisper and then there he was. He was heading straight to us and before I knew it my hand moved towards his grasp as he asked:
‘How are you?’
‘I’m fine Mr Mandela’, I said.
Our handshake lasted, perhaps a couple of seconds, but in some Deleuzian fantasy it seemed to go on forever. I nodded at the photographer, hoping to get a shot; one my mother would indeed treasure.
No film left answered the photographer.
I had just met President Nelson Mandela. Never mind that I had months earlier interviewed him as part of the press pack at a news conference, this was personal.
This was the Foreign Correspondent’s dinner, In Sandton. South Africa circa 1997.
Yesterday those memories came flooding back listening to one of the BBC’s most respected and nicest journalists, George Alagiah, receive his Charles Wheeler Award for Contribution to British Journalism.
Alagiah was one of a number of journalists who provided inspiration for me to become a reporter in the late 1980s when there were very few black or Asian journalists on television. My stint in South Africa would end with a broadcast on the BBC World Service for President Mandela’s inaguration
Alagiah’s story is a heartfelt one from speaking to his sister. The family were forced to move from Sri Lanka to Ghana at a time when the country needed engineers. After a while the siblings, (sisters and George) moved to London. Success didn’t come easy but I’ll save this story for another time.
He recounted a story about President Mandela when he met the international press.
“You are privileged. You observe from near but judge from afar”, Mandela said. Alagiah added in his speech that the President was perhaps suggesting journalists get closer to the story, become more empathetic, less detached, more involved.
Broadcast journalism is a broad church supported by a number of tenants e.g. presumed objectivity, but emotions isn’t one of them. Modern technology, Alagiah added, has sped up journalism’s distribution, connected us more, but the engine has pretty much remained the same through its own framed approach to great storytelling.
I have been having a rewarding time, working alone and with my MA students, playing with the art of storytelling, aided by the science and art of the form and its association with technology.
There is, I believe, a domain of journalism, which is new, a tad feisty and evolving that connects more explicitly with emotion, but still upholds journalism’s varied principles.
Over twenty plus years, the last six through a doctorate degree, I have come to describe this as cinema journalism. It’s platform agnostic and incorporates the best of tech: mobile, drones, VR etc. It stems from the art of videojournalism and is a way of storytelling that maps the memory of different styles to the raw events we mould into stories.
I look forward to sharing some more and hearing your feedback in the weeks to come.