How a global award in innovation in journalism helps craft a framework for problem-solving in diversity.

The caller at the end of the line asked “Would you be available next week? We’d like to fly you to Washington DC…You’ll be speaking at the National Press club”.

I’m not one for awards. I’ve personally only ever entered three in my career. One of them requested finalists contact their supporters for votes. Not to put to a finer point on it, I couldn’t be asked. I notified no one. I lost.

The Knight Batten Awards was different. It was a coming together of a jury from commercial media and academia; names recognised by their peers, headed by a Pulitzer prize winner, Jan Schaffer.

At the turn of the multimedia revolution 2000ish, it asked the question of applicants, what would be a game changer and be replicable in the future? Unusually too for this award, anyone could enter, if you paid your fee.

In 2004, the average net speed was about 34 kbps. Video was yet to make it onto the web as streamable; photographs were the size of thumbnail; and relatively few people compared to today had a platform, let alone could build one. The phrase content is king was born.

For about a year I’d been seriously at work in our spare room coding, designing and testing. I’d recently left Channel 4 News and a media past that included being a freelance correspondent in South Africa in the early 90s. I built my first website in 1999. I’d entered the world of start-ups.

What would be the next game changer? Platforms that streamed video. The videojournalist becoming ubiquitous. Filming on mobile phones. Video that hyperlinked to each other. The Outernet — Internet that connected to external displays. Stories that were driven by cinema narratives. Stories that emerged from diverse backgrounds.

All of this seems like antiquity now, but in my spare room thinking it kept me sane. Necessity isn’t the only mother of invention, frustration is.

What hasn’t been done in waiting to be done, I would tell myself. In the early 90s I co-presented a BBC radio show called Black London. Later working with the head of CNN for Africa we launched a current affairs programme between Ghana TV and South Africa. As a previous Maths grad coding was like first principles. In 2004, http://www.viewmagazine (it’s changed since) emerged. And much, much to my surprise it took first place at the Batten Awards.

How a global award in innovation in journalism helps craft a framework for problem-solving sounds line an oxymoron. Awards are invariably a direct consequence of innovative problem-solving. Some awards, however, exhibit a direct trajectory towards future change making, on the basis the nexus of the idea behind the award is about continuous innovation. But is it replicable?

Awards are a symbol of the achievements of the here and now which quickly become the past. But what they can symbolise is the synthesis of methodologies to be progressively disruptive going forward.

They are no guarantee of future success. If you win an Oscar it becomes a life long monocle. Winning an Oscar sent Hale Barry’s fee from the hundreds of thousand dollars to millions. Mahershala Ali said his Oscar allowed his voice to heard in shaping films around him.

Nestled in between book cabinets or bathroom door stoppers, they are a fleeting moment of feel good, to be replaced quickly by how you pay the rent.

What lurked behind it would be innovation, super-collaborations and stories. It’s all in the story-telling, says the incredible filmmaker Ava DuVernay, because as I’d come to see stories, they weren’t just about narratives they were mind shapers. From philosophers Aristotle, Kant, Hume, and present day politics if you want to change the world, tell a cracking story.

That’s an enduring legacy of the award that has yielded other ventures since.

Diversity a complex system (oh really!) is often reduced to binary solutions. From moral sense to business sense; yes diversity increases profit margins, its inertia is unfathomable human behaviour — an enduring onslaught of a legacy which many, many people over the years have sought to put right.

As the years churn, small progress is eroded by new anti-black strategies and somewhere in that is an irrationalism that occupies a space. How does one address irrationalism? What’s the panacea for talking to irrational people. This is the domain of behavioural psychologists, game theorists, creative thinkers and community builders. An army of disciplines fitting together prepared at each turn to try and make sense logically of irrationalists.

I’ll write more about this in my next post.



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Dr. David Dunkley Gyimah

Dr. David Dunkley Gyimah

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