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What if Stephen Soderbergh did journalism?

If the evidence of his previous films is anything to by, it would be memorable, entertaining, and above all cinematic.

Sodebergh was the executive producer for Oscar awarded documentary Citizen Four — a film described by its director Laura Poitras as cinema journalism.

With 300 hours of video being uploaded to Youtube every minute, there’s good reason today do cinema with video. Shooting a film on a video camera or mobile is now common practice. According to one of the UK’s most dynamic producers of factual programmes what matters now if you’re going to gain an audience is how you stand out.

Raw TV’s Dimitri Doganis produces critical acclaimed programmes such as Gold Rush, Discovery’s highest rated television series of all time, and Oscar nominated documentaries like The Imposter.

We started our careers as videojournalists together in the mid 1990s at the UK’s first videojournalist station, Channel One

Ask groups of young people, as I have done through academic research, about any piece of video/film they remember and invariably they’ll name a fictional film.

There’s something about cinema. French film theorist Christian Metz, noted we remember movies, even the bad ones.

Journalists coil with opprobrium at the thought of cinema and journalism, otherwise double bend laughing. At the least it’s naive — cinema is fiction and once we fictionalise journalism we’re in Alice in Wonderland territory.

At best, the two are immiscible. Good heavens is this a real journalist writing this gumf? Otherwise, all journalism is cinematic. The latter carries some weight. But the evidence is that not all video journalism is memorable or proficiently uses the techniques of cinema.

Recently the New York Times reported a different slant to this issue with at article ‘News Companies See Movies as Opportunity for Growth’.

NYT’s Micheal Cieply says:

In the last several years, BuzzFeed Media, Vice Media, CNN, Condé Nast and Newsweek have all built units or alliances aimed in part at creating long-form narrative or documentary films that will be seen in theaters.

The article touches on a wider issue. When television was conceived, CBS President William Paley simply saw it as cinema and hence it was labelled television-as-cinema.

The pan, the tilt, the shot- all derived from cinema. But as television took shape, its execs eschewed frameworks that would mimic cinema’s metiers.

The two were in competition for audiences. In texts written by BBC founders of television, such as . Grace Wyndham Goldie, cinema was to be avoided at all costs.

There would be no such things as plots, the subjective voice of cinema voice-overs was jettisoned, the camera was made to move in a way that defined the product as television news.

I have been in the industry since 1988, in 1990 working for BBC Newsnight, then freelancing for several BBC outlets from South Africa and working for television e.g. ABC News. Back in the UK I have worked for Channel One, Channel 4, WTN, BBC Breakfast. There is a method in the way television news operates.

Videojournalism — a term many purport to understand, but are at pains to describe it, or where it came from and what it’s principles are, picks up on the artefacts of cinema. It’s natural really. Art, music, literature have all undergone transformations tp elide with the times when the individual has the tools and the outlet to be expressive. Videojournalists have re-discovered theirs.

At Apple, where I spoke, I pushed this gumf out with a supertanker. The populist, most recent manifestation of cinematic journalism is Vice.com. But I spoke about the legacy that goes back years — neutered by the power of news institutions’ semiotics.

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I showed my interview with the great Robert Drew, inserts from BBC Reportage — where I worked, and the work of exemplary videojournalists ( there are more) who are redefining the form.

Problem is cinema is highly mutable, so the aforementioned only frame this vast powerful canvas; like Art it has many distinguishable and liquid properties.

The New World of Media — a short film by Dunkley Gyimah showing at Apple.

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So, Vice will joined by many others — lining up in new academies and the corridors of Youtube readying themselves for online dominance. It’s a warning to traditional broadcasters. [read How Vice became the voice of a generation].

Existing, somewhat dated, theories around journalism are feeling the squeeze as a pragmatism in digital that’s shaping new provisional theories soars.

Cinema journalism, eschewed by the news industry had purpose. A new industry to benefit from television’s birth was required. Its whole shtick was to be different. That much is well documented. Anyone in the analogue days questioning its form was a heretic.

The web changed all that. Journalism still berates this pretentious cinematic form, but it’s the audience, er, stoopid!

That doesn’t necessarily mean the audience is right, even if they’re dragging the advertisers with them, but academic research shows they’re onto something — particularly from a creative movement within videojournalism.

If you made it down to Apple, I hope you weren’t disappointed. The central proposition now is to learn to be distinctive. I gave a pecha kucha version at Dublin’s mobile conference gathering over the weekend.

Channel 4 News’ Jon Snow on David.

David Dunkley Gyimah was one of the UK’s first official videojournalists. His career started in 1987 as an undergraduate studying maths and chemistry. He’s worked for the BBC e.g. Newsnight and Channel 4 News. He’s a recipient of several international awards. His PhD, doctorate, a six year global study covers the impact of cinematic/ artistic journalism. He has spoken as SXSW, and the International Journalism Festival and advised several international clients around the world. He is a filmmaker/coder&designer/ and media writer. He is currently a senior lecturer. You can find out more about his talk here and his site www.viewmagazine.tv

Written by

Top Writer & Creative Technologist, Int. Award Winner. Cinemajournalist. Cardiff Uni @jomec. PhD (Dublin). Visiting Prof UBC, Ex BBC/C4News. Apple profiled.

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