For the last seven years, David, a senior lecturer and filmmaker/journalist and artist at one of the UK’s leading media universities, the University of Westminster, travelled across the globe to understand journalism storytelling in the 21st century for his PhD. A former BBC, ABC News and Channel 4 News journalist, David is the recipient of several international awards, and artist-in-residency at the South Bank Centre Centre. He’s been a juror for the RTS Awards.
[Above, a photo-shoot with young Syrian journalists from following a project to help them use artistic and cinema tropes to tell their incredible stories.]
21.17 GMT 5th April 2005
So, I could re-iterate that meme how to create the basic video language for a story. Remember this, Moscow: Medium, over-the-shoulder, close-up, and wide-shot. But you can find these from any number of sources. No, I hope you’re here for something else? I have a hunch…
Ten years later, I’ll be at Apple store in London, talking about what I have uncovered on a global scale — linking China to young Syrians I meet near the Syrian border and practitioners in Chicago, Miami and New York. It needs sharing. This is how we get there…
[ Above, Presenting at Apple, filming the US Special Forces in West Africa, interviewing Quincy Jones in Soweto, shooting a Porsche promo.]
For all that self-film making is heralded as groundbreaking, whether that’s mobile phones, camcorders or video journalism, it generally hasn’t revolutionised the style of news making we’ve become accustomed to seeing on television. You couldn’t distinguish a story made on a mobile phone from one made on a professional camera, and you might argue why should you.
The television news industry periodically attracts varying degrees of criticism from industry magazines like Broadcast. But it’s highly resilient and has often responded by innovating, or integrating new technologies within its framework of news presentation.
TV’s form of news storytelling was born in the 1950s from a particular wide set of cultural, technical and social circumstances [read this]. Its style has changed to reflect modern TV News, but the structural story form has not changed much. Paradoxically, television news first outing has taught us the viewer what is acceptable as television news, as explained in this popular posting on why news is what it is.
Several of the world’s most powerful news execs would like to reform news, like Deborah Turness. Turness is the President of NBC News. I interview her just before her appointment.
The next holy grail…? What could that be? What textual and visual language could win over audiences and create a powerful impression upon them? I asked several experts with backgrounds at the BBC, ITN, SKY and CBS, as well as some of the world’s pioneers in story constructs.
It’s 2005, the year of YouTube’s launch, and the ignominious 7/7…
Mid 2000, one of the UK’s most foremost news agencies The Press Association (PA) asks if I could train the UK’s first regional newspaper journalists to become videojournalists.
I’m made aware of the importance of this project. Reputations are at stake. PA need this to be a success, because firstly it gives them the assets to take on the BBC’s stated inroads into hyper-local broadcasting. Secondly, it’s a new stream of revenue for the organisation in an environment where diversifying is a necessary media strategy. It‘s a position I gladly accept.
One of the major assignments involved shooting a story where the fictional film Brideshead Revisited was made. Zoe Smith, a seasoned print journalist on the course [far left in the photo] writes in the UK Press Gazette:
At some points, when he [David] blew us away with the art-tastic productions that fellow VJs on the global scene had produced, it seemed difficult how we could get our work to fit into that model. This was inspiring stuff…
Some ideas never leave you: Thor will wipe the board with Superman (Phrew) any day. Art is escapism, and why, I used to ask, are some ideas so fixed they resist change. In his US best seller, Where Good Ideas Come From, Tech author Steve Johnson proposes a theory.
These ideas may appear strange because they don’t follow a linear logic of progression. The idea is not adjacent to your solution. They’re not an ‘adjacent possibility’. A camera in your phone? No! Until you abandon the deep-seated idea of the viability of a stand-alone camera.
To an entrepreneur, an idea that’s never been tried is one waiting to be done as Jim Janard, the owner of uber cool sunglasses Oakley, and a film novice, found out when he set out in 2011 to create the Red Camera.
So, what if you could explicitly combine new design aesthetics; Art, literature, code, and styles refined by fictional films into a contemporary form of journalism using video? Why? And what would that look like?
Firstly, each of these forms have undergone significant changes to address our contemporary needs and concerns. Significantly, amongst those exploiting social media, there’s been a shift along the axis of personal and public space and emotional engagement and detachment ( masqueraded as obejectivity). Why shouldn’t a video journalism form reflect this in a way that connects with audiences in a emotionally intelligent way.
And what if you were transparent about how your background and culture played a part in creating these stories — because in reality they do. Part of the answer lies in going back to the beginning of television news and other forms of communications looking at the psychology underpinning their forms.
In working with the newspaper journalists I create a film about them making a film about a murder case. I call it 8 Days. It’s a real time story over one day, which is completed within an hour of return. It goes on to win the International Videojournalism Award in Berlin (for an international entry) and showed at selected events, like Denmark.
The international judges, at the award call the film ‘artistic’.
That same year I create, and encode for 6 weeks to produce viewmagazine.tv — a platform where I can host ideas about new design and cine-aesthetic. If you can hyperlink texts, why can’t you hyperlink video, I ask? I do and the Economist writes about viewmagazine and Apple feature it on their main website.
Meanwhile, in the US, one of their coveted academic-industry awards, The Knight Batten Award for innovation in journalism, awards viewmagazine.tv first place beating the likes of CNN, Newsweek BBC and the New York Times. The judges say:
This interactive magazine foreshadows the future with its use of hip new story forms and highly video-centric Web tools.
The Past informing the Present
So what exactly is cinema journalism? It doesn’t mean journalism in a cinema for one thing. My background working through traditional journalism for about 25 years gives me the confidence to know what it is and isn’t.
For example, I have worked for the BBC World Service (reporting the inauguration of President Nelson Mandela in 1994), Newsnight, Channel 4 News, stints at ABC News in South Africa and BBC Reportage — a precursor to MTV style journalism.
I was one of the producers of Channel 4's John Snow.
Mark Cousins, author and producer of The Story of Film and an award-winning filmmaker described what he saw me produce as impressionism.
The judges, Snow and Cousins refer to this conscious style of journalism I’m using as ‘original’, ‘artistic’ or ‘cinematic’.
Jude Kelly OBE, [profile video] the artistic director of the South Bank Centre invited me to become one of the South Bank’s Artists-in-Residence, from seeing the potential of journalism’s mix of art and cinema. One of the films I made, which was shown at the Festival Hall, was this short, created for the music interval of the young dancers and musicians performing live on stage.
In 2008, I asked the question. Anyone can purport to identify a form, but to test it requires peers and critiques to review it. I started a doctorate thesis (Phd). It would be global research (see film below) that involved examining the past, present and future of media forms and scaffolding why new visual forms in journalism, like cinema, will be on the rise. And guess what, I also discover cinema has had several encounters with journalism.
Robert Drew and Associates, like David Maysles (below) who made Salesman (1960) were the team that would give birth to Cinema Verite. I interviewed them.
I revisited the UK’s first videojournalists from the 1990s, who worked for a small cable outlet, Channel One. I interviewed executives and trainers like Michael Rosenblum. I was one of the videojournalists at Channel One too (left, penultimate row), but it took looking at some of the talent to recognise some seeds of cinema and journalism at play.
Several of Channel One’s graduates are well known in the media. e.g. Dimitri Doganis (penultimate row, second from the right) heads up his own company, Raw TV.
Doganis recently produced The BAFTA winner and Oscar-nominated ‘The Imposter’. This is cinema.
Then I went searching around the world for modern day practitioners e.g. US, China, Europe and and found them — journalists whose work is influenced by cinema’s philosophy and methods.
It’s al in this book, soon to be published.
Cinema journalism does not have a fixed form; it’s about producing great original content on any device honed over the years from the language-like schema of cinema. It’s predicated on the content, the style of the filmmaker and the cultural location.
In fact Vice practice an iteration of Cinema journalism as I describe in this post: How Vice magazine came to represent a generation in news.
Then there’s the YouTubers
There are questions to answer that, given the space here, I won’t be able to get through. For instance: how do you train or teach a cinema journalism? What does cinema journalism do that documentary or news doesn’t? Isn’t cinema about fiction? And where can I find more information?
Today, I lecture Masters students. The form is growing and I recognise its DNA in a number of factual stories I see on and offline, but just like journalism, it’s a social construct. It relies on your/our understanding of how art, design, culture impacts us in the way that’s explicitly different from television and the past. It looks to a form that is more innovative, immersive and transparent than traditional forms.
If you’re a broadcaster, publisher, an outfit, or an individual who shares my passion, get in touch. You can find more about cinema journalism and my work here on Medium, Viewmagazine.tv and videojournalism.co.uk .
[Below short on short made visiting near the Syrian border to train young Syrian jornos but I couldn’t resists filming ]
Meanwhile, here’s a short part of the film, I shared at Apple, which features the late great Robert Drew talking about his form of cinema journalism in the 1960s.
Contact David Dunkley Gyimah at: firstname.lastname@example.org or on twitter @viewmagazine
Read more on cinema journalism @medium/viewmagazine
David’s milestones include filmmaker for Heavyweight boxer Lennox Lewis’ fight with Mike Tyson; producing and directing a seven-part country-to-country production between Ghana and South Africa; creating a series of shorts on intelligence by interviewing the former head of the CIA James Woolsey; being made editor of NATO’s global war games; a series of expedition dives to find WWI wrecks in Gallipoli; being introduced to Nelson Mandela; being made artist-in-residence at the South Bank; and launching various platforms and working with various groups around the world, such as Egypt, Syrian border and Lebanon. More from his website www.viewmagazine.tv below.