How to invigorate the digital mind and see into the soul of stories

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Globally, media generally and journalism continue to flounder, caused by the visible eruption of disinformation, social media’s depth manipulation via psychogeography and the use of neuroscience in targeting audiences. And then there is its Achilles of its own making — a stasis in journalism education.

Each country, its societies, has its own cultural values that journalism bumps up against.Celebrated theorist and critic James Carey[5] said “Journalism is another name for democracy or, better, you cannot have journalism without democracy”. Unequivocally, a robust journalism is required to expose wrong doings and hold power in check. That has always been challenged; the perception or reality is it’s happening alarmingly.

Journalism is not binary. In addition to its check and balance role it serves, or so we might wish to provide indelible storytelling that bolsters knowledge and engenders shared humanitarian values in the face of several crisis e.g. climate.

Carey continues in his writings about journalism education in the early to mid 1900s

The natural academic home of journalism is among the humanities and the humanistic social sciences. Journalism naturally belongs with political theory, which nurtures an understanding of democratic life and institutions; with literature, from which it derives a heightened awareness of language and expression and an understanding of narrative form; with philosophy, from which it can clarify its own moral foundations; with art, which enriches its capacity to imagine the unity of the visual world; with history, which forms the underlying stratum of its consciousness. [6]

Language, expression, an understanding of narrative form, literature… shape journalism storytelling but, it has done so generally from a Western canon of conditioning. From a capitalism point of view it makes sense. Teach your market to speak your language, accept your values, so they become receptive to your product.

Celebrated writer Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s “The danger of a single story”[7] was a critique on storytelling which privileges the Western viewpoint and culture. Growing up with characters that drank Ginger beer and opined about the weather presented interesting story themes, but Ngozi Adichie eventually realised it didn’t speak to her. It’s generally always sunny in Nigeria.

The author exposed something else — the singular author advancing Western literature from 17th century onwards. Before then it was natural to have multiple narrators in the same space and place. It’s easy to take that for granted, just as once gathering around a tv was the norm, before personalisation with mobile phones. The 17th century language equivalent of the mobile phone was equitone — a streamlined POV language.

This nurtured an amazing array of storytelling forms, but also had side effect. Those multiple voices with no hierarchy were waylaid. Writers had to be consciously empathetic to address this. Without empathy the power of the sole author diminishes ‘others’. A richness in countries and continents’ storytelling e.g. Africa and its cultural DNA went untapped. If you believe in a singular narrative you see, it’s easy to see, but not see.

Take this story. Africa’s greatest singer songwriter Fela Kuti gave rise to one of the most dynamic song forms to come out of Africa, Afro-beat. Yes? It’s common knowledge it had a purpose. Yes? But when I interviewed the architect Fela Kuti, as you can hear[8] he challenged that myth. Afro beat was none other than a singular story.

Another myth which has stood the test of time, the hero Cowboy. He was a tassel-haired gun slinging hero, romanticised in Hollywood films as John Wayne and replicants. But the Cowboy was a black mam. That’s why he was derogatively called “boy” (rather than Cowman or Cow rancher) according to writer Walter Mosley.

Journalism that we hold a candle to second to the good book suffers greatly from this eye condition. The model of factual storytelling exhibited under the name “journalism” emerges largely from the intellectual roots of philosophers and world scholars whose names will be familiar: Kant, Descarte, Locke, Hume. Each promulgated profound thoughts, but also whilst they had overt issues with race, the translations of their thoughts disrupted processes in other cultures.

Take Descarte’s exposition of self and I — a gift to every human in realising their existence and individualism at a time when God and the Church “owned” people. Amidst this a philosopher would emerge who has largely gone unrecognised.

Anton Wilhem Amo (1703–c. 1759) was a Ghanaian multi-linguist (Latin, Greek, Hebrew, French, German, and Dutch), a lawyer and professor at Halle, and Jen University in Germany. He recognised a flaw in the celebrated philosopher Descarte’s “I think therefore I am” from his own language, expression and narrative form.

The renowned philosopher Professor Kwesi Wiredu supplies context. In Akan ( also known as Twi, which I speak), such a phrase would likely elicit ,“You are what? Where?”. Professor Wiredu continues:

‘‘Wo ho” is the Akan rendition of ‘‘exist”. Without the ‘‘ho”, which means ‘‘there”, in other words, ‘‘some place”, all meaning is lost. ‘‘Wo”, standing alone, does not in any way correspond to the existential sense of the verb ‘‘to be”, which has no place in Akan syntax or semantics[9].

In the Akan language as anywhere else today where individualism is earned, the expression “I” is often substituted for “we”. Wo ho te sɛn? means how are you. The response “Me ho yɛ ” ( I am fine) will often be substituted for “Ye ho yɛ” ( “we are fine”).

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The Akan people, like many cultures in Africa, are communal and collective and would have been even more so in the 18th century centuries before globalisation flattened or eroded values. This diminution in the collective as an accepted trait is in part the Achilles within information production and journalism’s own power structure.

A decade ago, whilst interviewing a range of international students, I asked what if you could change one thing? The response from the Ghanaian journalist [10] (see YouTube link) is instructive. The journalist berates Western media’s approach to problem solving.

A vision of a new journalism across global territories could be aesthetically re-engineered and culturally and linguistically reformed by re-examining language. To that end, mobile technology which promotes personalisation, is the selfish gene rewiring the world. It requires strategic intervention to delineate information around a more holistic collective of “we”.

In 1997 when CNN’s head of Africa, Edward Boateng and I made the United States of Africa[11], starting off with a co-production between Ghana’s public service broadcaster GBC and the South African Broadcasting Corporation, it was a bilateral set of programmes to share common themes between the two countries.

Ghana and South Africa have a deep shared history. Ghana is where several members of the outlawed ANC would find solace growing up under apartheid. South Africa is where, at the tail of Apartheid, many Ghanaian professionals flocked to work.

Our programmes investigated the economy, lifestyle, business and would lead to one of South Africa’s first Black led ad agencies, The Herd Buoys, being invited by the Ghanaian government to share knowledge on advertising black to black.

Where this collectivism also manifests itself, is within a broader storytelling form, which in its philosophy and delivery still captivates and brings people together. Two aspects of this form hidden in plain sight round of this review.

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Firstly, the use of digital hubs, not to emulate practices and solutions in the West, but a new epistemology. Four years ago, exhausted by the stasis of journalism and its grandee’s proclamation of what it is ( sigh!), I led a team to launch a digital storytelling LAB[12].

Just as engineers could hack at engineering problems, we hacked at stories across several platforms, via a range of philosophies, cognitivism and neuroscientific practices. The success of the LAB lies in its engagement with industry[13], working alongside one of London’s leading entrepreneurial outfits the Guild of Entrepreneurs who lend support to The London Business School on their MBA programme.

The LAB approach brought together a scientific approach to problem solving modelled on science ( I’m an applied chemist grad) , and an artistic bent from my period as one of the UK’s selected artists in residence at the Southbank Centre. The LAB mentality, I’m glad to say, is being replicated at my new home in Cardiff University, with new formidable stakeholders involved.

Secondly, I suggest a new form of journalism that offers solutions, puts at the heart of its function memorability, and is naturally attuned to interact with different cultures. This journalism goes by the name of “cinema journalism” — a rebooted form of videojournalism.

Devised by this author, from international work across China, Russia, Tunisia, Egypt, US, Lebanon and the Syrian border, it borrows heavily from the philosophies of global cinemas, such as Cinema Novo in Brazil, Robert Drew’s cinéma verité, Neorealism and the Hollywood model of the hero’s journey.

As I write this you may have seen Waad Al Kateab’s multiple award winning “For Sama,” that I choose as yet another example of cinema journalism.

Before that, you have Citizen Four, and the Imposter to name a few. I was on the Syrian border working with filmmakers who were part of the revolutionary students documenting the war and who Al Kateab knew. We would subsequently present our model to the International Festival of Journalism at Perugia.

Cinema journalism is referenced in a number of academic books and key notes online[14] has a deep place in African storytelling. It’s time to re-engineer media.

In part II I look at what AI is doing in this space.

End

[1] DW, 2019 IMF World Economic Outlook puts Ghana in the lead. Available at

https://www.dw.com/en/imf-world-economic-outlook-puts-ghana-in-the-lead/a-48356052 Accessed: 2 Nov. 2019.

[2] Jiyoung Kim, Aid and state transition in Ghana and South Korea, Third World Quarterly 10.1080/01436597.2015.1038339, 36, 7, (1333–1348), (2015).

[3] B. S. Coulibaly(ed) (2019). Brookings Institute. Forsight Africa. Top priorities for the Continent in 2019. Available at: https://www.brookings.edu/wp-content/uploads/2019/01/BLS18234_BRO_book_007_WEB.pdf Accessed: 2 Nov. 2019.

[4]Asemota, V ( 2018) CNN.’Ghana is the future of Africa’: Why Google built an AI lab in Accra. Available at: https://edition.cnn.com/2018/07/14/africa/google-ghana-ai/index.html Accessed: 2 Nov. 2019.

[5] Carey, J. (1996, April). Where journalism education went wrong. In Siegenthaler Conference on Journalism Education, the First Amendment Imperative, and the Changing Media Marketplace, at Middle Tennessee State University.

[6] ibid

[7] TED Global 2009, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s “The danger of a single story Available at: https://www.ted.com/talks/chimamanda_adichie_the_danger_of_a_single_story?language=en#t-1101141 Accessed 2nd Nov. 2019.

[8]Dunkley Gyimah, D. Sound (1992). Soundcloud. Fela Kuti Available at https://soundcloud.com/david-dg/fela-kuti-bbc-interview Accessed: 2nd November 2019.

[9] Gordon, L. R. (2008). An introduction to Africana philosophy. Cambridge University Press. Pp 39

[10] Dunkley Gyimah, D. (2010) If [Video]. Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rgykHu3Hi_I Accessed: 2nd November 2019.

[11]Dunkley Gyimah, D. (2019) Africa Broadcasting [YouTube] Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ybZqfZspZlM Accessed: 2nd November 2019.

[12] University of Westminster (2018) Westminster’s David Dunkley Gyimah delivers speech at the Guild of Entrepreneurs’ Summer Banquet Available at: https://www.westminster.ac.uk/news/westminsters-david-dunkley-gyimah-delivers-speech-at-the-guild-of-entrepreneurs-summer-banquet Accessed: 2nd November 2019.

[13] University of Westminster (2018) Westminster’s disLAB commended by Nick Pollard, former head of Sky News https://www.westminster.ac.uk/news/westminsters-dislab-commended-by-nick-pollard-former-head-of-sky-news Accessed: 2nd November 2019.

[14] Dunkley Gyimah, D. (2017). “Reputation: what industry says about Dr. David Dunkley Gyimah”. Available at: https://medium.com/@viewmagazine/reputation-4e227673fdf7 Accessed: 2nd November 2019.

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

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