How to create a different type of Storytelling, Journalism and TV News in the 21st Century
You’ve likely been drawn to exemplary storytelling from journalists in Ukraine. In some cases reports have seared themselves into your memory.
In others, there have been complete failings of human interest cultural stories. The plight of Black and brown people almost went unnoticed. Why? I’ll come back to this.
Last year I presented to journos and academics online in Russia, and almost 5 years to today toured Moscow and Ufa in Siberia training some of Russia’s leading multimedia journalists in a new type of journalism called Cinema Journalism. Here’s what some of them said about it.
I would further present at, amongst others, Moscow’s Nekrasov public library to a full house and to two leading unis:
- Higher School of economics, department of communications, media and design.
- Medialoft of the Moscow school of social and economic sciences
In 2021, when I presented online, I’m told by organisers it was the most watched presentation of theirs across Russia in some years. It attracted 2150 in a short amount of time ( two weeks, see below) which included 7 NGO activists, 25 Teachers and professors 2 Copywriters 11 Journalists 8 Bloggers. I also keynoted to Denmark TV2 staff in their two day festival as they prepared to set up their streaming platform.
There are some journalists who’ve pushed past the conventions of TV news making. They’re a small but burgeoning group and they do so by combining cinema into their journalism.
Now before you think, what nonsense, a small trip down history’s lane. Before TV there was cinema. In fact TV took some of cinema’s clothes and its language, such as what a producer or director does. TV came up with its own labels, such as Visualisers, but soon dropped them.
When it came to the language of shooting film, News directly lifted cinema’s language in framing and instead of cover shots opted for GVs or B-roll.
To some of the Soviet’s (Ukranian) greatest moving image storytellers, such as Dziga Vertov, Cinema did NOT mean fiction. It was a cultural specific way of telling stories. Though, yes in the likes of Tarkovsky, Eisenstein and Pudovkin , its fictional form was pushed to new limits in creativity and cultural grounding.
Vertov’s Man in the Movie Camera invariably voted one of the greatest documentary/ essay pieces ever in 2014 by Sight and Sound emerged from Vertov’s sense of news journalism.
In the 1960s the great Robert Drew made Primary (1960), featuring John F. Kennedy and Hubert H. Humphrey vying to become presidential front runners. Drew thought the same about cinema infecting news. Cinema had a place in journalism. He and colleagues came up with the term Direct Cinema for making factual news programmes. He was shunned by news people by the way, so stuck to docs. I got to speak to him about this here
From News to Cinema
Over my career working at the BBC, Channel 4 News, Channel One and others, I’ve been fascinated by expert storytellers and what they do. In 2005 working with the Press Association (PA), I made a film about training the UK’s first newspaper journos going online with video.
I taught them Cinema Journalism and a film I made about them won an International award in Berlin. The judges called it “a kind of Cinema”, “artistic video journalism”.
Fascinated further, I began to track down and speak to exemplary journalists, news makers and to audiences around the world ( in their 100s). This became part of my PhD.
Some journalists working in news were using specific forms of storytelling located in cultures and with a degree of creativity that audiences were drawn to, and would label as “like cinema”.
It’s the way the journalist used their voice, cadence, their style of narration, the story’s structure, the shot composition, sequencing and cultural empathy with subjects — these blurred cinema and journalism but did NOT interfere with the truthfulness of their reporting.
I’m one of the judges for the UK’s leading TV awards, The Royal Television Society (RTS) Awards and last year I was drawn to some journos. When I later showed their films to students and audiences around the world, again references were made to their work as “like cinema”. When I spoke to the journos they too made references to cinema styles in their work. One of those journos was Clive Myrie.
There’s a screen grab from a Russian website about my presentation showing how Russian attendants voted when I showed the two films around the same subject. Overwhelmingly, they chose the story made by Clive Myrie: 237 to 57
Yes Myrie makes great television, but something else was going on. As a form of storytelling cinema is culture-specific. There are different types of cinema around the world and the exemplars have a way of tapping into cognitive thinking from an area.
Unlike TV News that believes there’s just one model, a Western one, that should be adhered to to reveal truths, cinema can be more nuanced. Incidentally, the term cinema I note is contentious not necessarily because of its fictional connotation, but how you define it.
For instance a cinematic shallow depth of field shot is no more cinematic than a deep depth of field. And often nature presents material that is cinematic, that merely capturing the shot is transformative.
TV News too has a major blind spot. It’s a legacy from its inception and those doyens of news. Those whose work dominated academic and journalism were white and mostly male. If you look back therefore on frameworks of journalism, culture and race, is hardly if at all mentioned. It needs re-examining.
Cinema journalism embraces the tenants that frame traditional news, but in its philosophy and construct facilitates a greater sense of creativity, cultural awareness and empathy. Listen to Clive here when I interviewed him.
Understanding this form of journalism should enable news execs, training and educational centres in universities see culture in news storytelling. It’s difficult to master but the evidence shows audiences are drawn to it.
And that’s what makes Cinema journalist a model for the 21st Century.