The first time I saw a necklace, I couldn’t sleep for days. The accused was a common thief, but they set him alight anyway. Then there was the bomb that exploded, shuddering the house I lived in. In minutes we were at the scene. I was live on the BBC World Service as they pressed me whether the elections would go ahead.
I shook President Mandela’s hand, interviewed a former head of the CIA about their new recruitment policy, and then nearly lost it — when I ran out of air 40m below the Dardanelles diving with the Turkish/ Ex British Navy searching for a WWI wreck — broadcast on the BBC.
In 2005 I thought how an individual could collapse all disciplines into one, decode, code, and create. I made friends with some powerful brands e.g. FT.com. In the US the Batten Awards handed me a prize for Innovation in Journalism. CNN et al didn’t make the cut. Thirty years on reflecting, this is the normal thread of a news practitioner, isn’t it?
I know I’m privileged in, a weird way. Not the presumption of a leg up, or doing something extraordinary, but having had the experience that contours my views of events and news.
A stack of memories, a matrix of diverse knowledge, and a hunger to share ideas. The latter itch is constantly scratched from teaching MAs over the last 15 years in journalism and now heading up the digital and interactive storytelling.
Even the bad times bring colour. In one of my memorable years, back in the UK, having worked internationally for a while, my total lot for freelancing came to around $1500. Do I take flight again I thought thinking I couldn’t cope with another year like that. Then lady luck struck. I got to work for one of the best news outfits I can imagine. I know that sounds like hyperbole, but Channel 4 News was the Nike of News — Just do it!
News! It frames us, has usurped religion as truth, defines outcomes and after the defense industry and cinema has, I read, the most money poured into it. In our political economy, news whatever its construct which I’ll come to, is keenly about power. Those who work it, exercise it, ensure you hear what you hear, wield power — but not everyone abuses this.
Keeping a news operation afloat costs money, then there’s the spectrum of innovations we feel compelled to adopt: voice activated this, AI that, Apps, programmatic video, social, and then inexorable scream for diversity that the news industry ignores and tech has blithely adopted.
“I film news therefore I am? ” One of my most admired historical figures is Paul Cézanne — a 19th century French artist and Post-Impressionist painter. Cézanne had several qualities to which I‘m drawn. He was odd, insecure at times, fastidious, different, yet would become one of the most revered painters amongst the digital equivalent wrapping around Europe. He, with easel and brush, was not of this world compared to the traditional discourse of thinking.
He was a philosopher whom understood, with a small band of others that the application of his paint on a canvas was an emotional act. He had a unique quality painting, often capturing the highlights of an object first before painting it. He saw beyond the explicit. A politician he teaches us today is not a politician, but a professional who requires study beyond what is shown.
For all the gadgets and tech in the world, and believe me when I say I’m a techie — I’m currently looking to programmatic hyper video in non-linear news storytelling — ‘I am’ evokes the very essence of innovation shelfs sweeping across academia and industry.
Michael Schudson, a US Professor summed it up as this. News is a social construct influenced by cultural and literary theory. If you believe this, then news is not a universal standard like Pi.
The best we can ask for is something made by sentients whom do so based on the complexities of who they are. And that attempts to build upon this thing we call news calls on changing qualities greater than tech.
I’m not in the Nietzschen camp of there being no truths, but opinions, but I do believe you reach deeper into the human psyche, you expose the unseen to the uninitiated, you strengthen your position by having different people to yourself inside you camp.
And in an age of post truths understanding this is more imperative, as we set about thinking up new ways of structuring news.