It looks like a scene from No Country for Old Men, the Coen brothers’ adaptation of Cormac McCarthy’s stark darkly- evil plot. This is a forgotten place, the southern borders of the US where the land is cleaved by a wall between two countries. Hope is what people cling onto literally breaching the walls as others look to thwart them.
On BBC Television news viewers will watch the dramas unfold. Some eight months later the scenes will be amongst iconic ones trailing the Royal Television Society (RTS) Awards — think of it as the Oscars for television journalism in the UK, though Emmys would be more accurate. Yes television journalism.
The bleakness of the terrain is indicative of our times. This year’s ceremony, like several others, appears more solace than celebration from the great loss of lives on a scale once read in history books in another century. For television journalism and editorial teams at large covering a COVID pandemic, as well as a spectrum of other stories, this is television’s much needed public service at its best.
To Wednesday evening and awards day. Sombre settings within homes and vacated studios provide added poignancy. As a memory stamp, amid other trying times, we’ll look back on this period when reality was too much to bear; when family relationships and loving etiquettes were sorely tested, because of a virus.
For those of us too with an eye on television’s mechanics, we’ll look back on this year’s RTS as a geological shift — a change offered in a style in news making. It appears imperceptible, but it’s there.
There’s much to be said about the many who won awards and the timely reminder of those who passed away; the beginning of the RTS customarily starts with a roll call and minutes of silence. At home, I too stand. My focus turns to a subject I write about endlessly on this platform. The winners of two of the awards saying more than the attainment of gongs, I think.
The Best Camera Operator of the Year was the BBC’s David McIlveen and the winner for Best Television Journalist, the erudite Clive Myrie, who also picked up Television News Presenter of the Year.
The astute amongst news watchers, outside of journalism’s fraternity, may or may not know that the epochal news broadcasts of the Royal London Hospital COVID-19 stories and Clive touring the southern borders of the US during their indelible election season was a pairing that brought something new.
Last May watching the news one evening I was stunned by the BBC’s Royal London Hospital story that stretched over a week. Like many the accolades were plentiful and generous. There was something though about the broadcasts and as I chewed my finger I wondered how I might get hold of Clive to ask questions, lots of questions.
I‘d met him at previous award ceremonies. He’s a gentleman. No airs, no graces and whilst doing a selfie I mentioned how I first bumped into him on a murder story near putney fields one evening when I was a reporter for Channel One circa 1995. Clive then with trench coat ( it was cold) you could tell was going places.
We’d exchanged emails. A work colleague Tim reminded me he’d previously invited Clive to speak to students at Cardiff University, but I had in mind something else. The indefatigable Marcus Ryder MBE also put a word in following a piece he wrote on Black Reporters and the value they bring in reportage. I was one of very few black reporters in South Africa in the early 90s.
On a June afternoon, with my Masters students in attendance over Zoom, I got to ask Clive a series of questions about the hospital films. The back and side stories were gold, everything I wanted. The students too left fulfilled.
Some months later, with the data from our interview I posed an experiment to new Masters cohorts I met for the first time about Clive and David’s film. The results that came back, presenting from a pop-up studio I’d devised at home, did not surprise me, but they were revolutionary all the same.
Then with student assessment stacking up, Christmas in sight and lockdown becoming the default, an invitation from the RTS that I gladly grabbed with both hands — to be a jury member on the Camera Operator of the Year.
Who wouldn’t want to be engaged in work relishing an opportunity to see those at the top of their game? And goodness they were good. All of them. This was going to be a tough call.
The judging follows a process whereby after deliberations no one knows who the victor is, and no one too is going to speculate.
Yesterday, glued to the RTS site and their live stream I cracked a Samuel Jackson broad smile when firstly Clive won his first award and Michelle Hussein announced the category I was judging. “And the winner is David McIlveen”.
From his BBC profile report, Morwen Williams, BBC News Head of UK Operations, would say David’s award was ‘richly deserved”. He “demonstrated a mastery of composition and lighting” said the judges. David tweeted he was “absolutely delighted and amazed”.
I momentarily remembered what Clive had said in his interview several months back. ‘He shoots like a dream’…”’if he doesn’t get garlanded with awards…”
But the shift I allude to in storytelling became even more clear when they mentioned Clive as Television Journalist of the Year. In separate categories their work had impressed judges to clinch their respected divisions.
This the best of the best, in which clips show Sky’s Alex Crawford emerging from under water in Lake Victoria clasping plastic dirty debris: the required lengths journalism takes to bring the story, huh! In the US, perhaps presciently cueing up things to come with their storming of the Capitol expose, Robert Moore fearlessly broached militia armed to the teeth, looking like they were spoiling for more than a conversation.
Clive’s video accepting the award underscored the classic esquire he is. The touch about getting hammered at home was funny and the acceptance list of those who helped him get to the summit, generous and gentlemanly.
Listen back to the aforementioned clip and Clive talks about his camera operator’s cinematography eliciting comparisons with David Lean’s film Lawrence of Arabia. It may sound hyperbolic, but that sentiment of cinema and cinematography carried across students, professionals and the viewers.
Yet to dye-in-the-wool television execs it’s such a thing to think, let alone accept, that is Cinema and Journalism can cohabitate — what gives? More often than not too when TV news types cite cinema or cinematic they feel the need to apologise, as purportedly both medium are incompatible.
Not so. From my studies that reach back to cinema’s conception, newsreels, there are TV types like Slim Hewitt that exemplify this form, and then this interview I conduct with newsmaker Robert Drew who was behind Direct Cinema (Cinema Verite). The clue’s in the title.
BBC Reportage, which I worked on as a reporter had directors lifting direct film scenes. Elsewhere there’s Channel One TV in the mid 90s, BBC Cameraman DC (called picture journalists) working with BBC Middle East Editor Jeremy Bowen, and then there are a slew of videojournalists.
In 2014, returning from the Syrian border to present at the International Festival of Journalism, Journalism. co.uk captured my thoughts in which I compared two films. One was by a network and the other by the multiple award-winning videojournalist for the Washington Post Travis Fox. Cinema journalism par excellence. And then there’s the phenomenal Raul Gallego Abellan, one of many practitioners in my doctorate study, now a good friend.
Yes there is a problem bringing together the two forms theoretically. Cinema is a metaverse and no one has ever nailed what it means, let alone the many disparate forms of cinema. But the inception of TV journalism reveals rare clues of its deviation from aping the form, around its own restrictions which I write about here.
Seventy odd years later with a Social Media generation of visual literates, the boundaries between forms are either more diffused or palimpsests. And whilst there’s cinema in camera work eking purposeful meaning from every frame ( no GVs here), it’s possible to have a voice or texts that can be described as cinema. Exhibit A is Malcolm Lowry’s 1947 Novel Under the Volcano or through the lens of Michel Chion. Exhibit B is Clive.
So why I am convinced of its impact? Critical mass. As with previous forms, the news package et al, it’s only when mainstream purposefully adopts it that it goes from a supposition to a paradigm. Several years ago, I asked Deborah Turness, then Editor of ITN about the future of storytelling. Several years on, my assumptions are concretising.
At a time when often TV news looks to improve its output, when TV news stations are launching, just how do you distinguish yourself? This rare sight of pathos and passion and transformative effect of a new type of journalism fusing artistry from Cinema and journalism is it.
If you’d like to know more about the innovations in journalism that include cinema journalism, here are a few links:
- By 2027 we’re all doing cinema journalism
- Mastering New Forms.
- How Vice became the voice of a Generation
Dr David Dunkley Gyimah is a driving force behind Cinema Journalism and has given presentations at SXSW, BBC leadership forums NewsXChange and to groups around the world in Russia and India more recently, alongside Facebook. He’s one of the top 20 writers in Journalism on Medium. More on him here