Some media sleight of hand deserves applause, if nothing else for its chutzpah in the way it treats the audience. This week, Britain’s Prime Minister David Cameron could probably not contain his glee.
In delivering a speech to build new homes, his ‘national crusade’ would be re-iterated by mainstream media. Such an elegant shorthand soundbite. Job done!
The symbiotic, often lazy parasitic relationship between mainstream media and government PR means the use of the word ‘crusade’ would not be questioned. Even where the argument is, ‘it’s a metaphor stoopid’, some words don’t travel well.
The last time I looked, its definition was:
Any of the military expeditions undertaken by European Christians in the 11th, 12th, and 13th centuries to recover control of the Holy Land from the Muslims.
Keep it simple with televsion
But traditional television news makers have delivered a more unrelenting ideological loaded product to consumers for years, written about in an earlier Medium post.
In universities and video training courses, we teach how to shoot, frame a shot and write voice-over, but ignore how each image and words presented to the reader is loaded with meaning.
It’s madness, but it’s not television’s fault, really. From television news’ inception this elephant in the room had to be conveniently avoided.
Firstly, television journalists were never equipped to facilitate the semiotics of their news filmmaking. They may have been privy to its exegesis, but the instruction was to be unambiguous. Keep it simple. The nation deserved to be given it straight.
You try telling a television journalist that their ‘cut away’, a shot inserted innocuously to mask an edit, gives the impression the interviewee is guilt-ridden from the way they’re writhing their hands.
Or that the lack of pathos in their voice provides diminishing points for an audience to feel empathy with the subject. TV people don’t do feelings. But that’s fine, so long as television understands it’s not the definitive in truth bearing. In the net age, the wider consultation, nay conversation, with prosumers is showing alternatives.
Television was an imperfect medium for distillation. It’s news. It is what it is — a breathtaking statement that assumes news exists in the ether. No, news is a construct. We make it and teach codes for its framing, which are mutable.
Secondly, the audience marvelling over what the father of Cinema Verite Robert Drew called a ‘theatre in your living room’ were only to glad to see the day’s news. They consumed it without question and the comparatively few that did had limited outlets to be heard and make their voice stick.
Don’t misunderstand me. Television news was a strikingly original creation for its time and continues in pockets to deliver excellence. However, generally whatever the broad argument about its evolution in style, content and politics, since the swinging sixties its deeper structure is a case of plus ça change.
Traditional media’s vows to some arcane methods is one of the reasons the construct of television news can strike 18–35 year olds in particular as dull. Your framing must be rule of thirds and don’t cross the line. If you’re interviewing an academic have books behind them. You can’t use music. Why? Because these shorthand guidelines, rather than rules for creating news, standardised its methods as omnipresent truths.
In Botswana, as much as Boston, England or Eritrea, Television had been crafted as a universal form. Its exporters, generally Western executives have not done badly from its sales.
Throughout my career in television I have worked for outfits that have challenged the staid conventions of television — from BBC Reportage, a hip current affairs programme ( see video circa 1992) to Channel 4 News.
TV deigned that anything that involved creativity was not news, but current affairs — hence Reportage could only be taken seriously to a point.
Before TV and After TV
The alternative now is growing and deeper, which one BBC senior executive confessed was leading them to review their practices. I hinted at its emergence talking at CUNY’s @jeffjarvis Reinventing TV and Video News, just over a year ago.
Research amongst pioneering news makers and Ngeners is showing us its future lies, you might think curiously in a form we’ve tended to codify as only appropriate for design projects or delivering a fictitious product.
The latter is a medium so replete with metaphoric shards, you’re immersed in the exemplar’s storytelling, unpicking layer upon layer. Thus critics might chuckle at the prognosis in the video at the head of this post and below.
We still do simple, but a generation now doesn’t require ‘Simon says..’ Is video news coming of age? Actually, it’s reverting to type, but towards a match for the times and a more sophisticated viewer. Have you ever thought how stories were told before television news? Quite!
Dr David Dunkley Gyimah lectures Masters students in a range of innovative methods in journalism. He is behind AIRS — the Academy for Innovative Reportage and Story form and is an international award winning practitioner in innovation and journalism