Honourable Lords, Ladies, Gentlemen, Friends and your good selves across the globe reading this. Thank you for giving me your precious time. Last year I addressed an august group in London, courtesy of its Master Lee Robertson, as well as the UN in France.
Today I wish to do something unusual but not without precedent, based on the production of knowledge in trend extrapolating, or approaches like the Delphi Method.
What would I say today that builds on my speeches last year, were I given a platform to address change makers? It would be a talk that focused on communications and storytelling, a consideration of infowar fares and defenestrating marketing from factual information referred to as journalism. In modern times the two have blurred boundaries as to subvert their cause for a generation.
It would adumbrate opinions with the imminence of the next revolution around 5G, A.I. and Machine language in what is seen as the 4thIRL (Fourth Internet Revolution) and it would acknowledge knowledge as both the spear point and blunt tool which presents us with a crisis. Today, we’re all experts and thus when we elevate our positions yet fail to reconcile knowledge isn’t finite that we’re still students, hubris becomes our friend and that closes minds. It is but one reason in a systems thinking approach that makes audiences come to deride experts.
The path, and there are many, to exchanging knowledge must engender humility and that ideas can be a work-in-progress and become refined over time. What might be fixed in one culture may not be necessarily so in another. Words and thus meaning change. Understanding why is important. Principles, the contours of what’s required may be the common factor; mathematicians refer their working out a problem as First Principles. It is something to borrow.
But I digress somewhat now. My focus today is what lies ahead and the rear view mirror, thank you McLuhan, of seeing how the past has shaped the future we’re transfixed by.
Industrial revolutions are not unmitigated successes. The industrial revolution writes E.H. Gombrich, author of the six million sold The Story of Art and one of the most honoured scholars in the UK, was a threat to artisans, architecture and craft skill.
Styles were invariably reduced to corporate commerce denominators for mass international appeal, rather than aesthetic creativity towards artistic expression. What we’ve come to honour in the creative field in art, literature and music etc. was the fervent dogged fight of individuals against forced collective norms and monotonous sameness.
Cezanne was 53-years-old before his first real exhibition in Impressionism, an art form that challenged the Euclidean status quo. “An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge” in 1890 by Ambrose Bierce challenged linearity, time and fixed point of view narrative 100 plus years before Chris Nolan’s Inception (2010). Du Bois articulated how consciousness could be seen beyond the corporeal individual, black people in particular, who were being corporatised and maligned into social groups. In all of these and much, much, more there were corporate bodies intoning how things should be done. It’s happening in Trump’s America and Post May’s British politics now in profound ways.
In journalism scores of publications were strafed from the 18th century onwards to the 19th/20th century before re-worked under the publication arm of a few. The onset of the Net revolution welcomed blogs and podcast as a disruption to the status quo. That very word “disruption” makes the point of breaking away from corporate norms, yet new writers and producers initially have had to negotiate spaces within SEO-accepted forms and templated styles. Remember how the Podcast “Serial” blew your mind — navigating away from radio’s conventions of journalism.
In journalism using video, it’s been almost anything but the convention in part because of the might of the industry and its provenance. Journalism, the scions of television news tell all must be done this way. Television shapes our lives, passes on modus operandi to other fields, frames our realities.
The 4th industrial revolution promises much of the same with standardised approaches facilitated by A.I and Machine learning. Creativity in storytelling, rather than innovation, needs an injection, a Bierce. Creativity as an experiment to scratch an itch which eventually aligns with a social necessity. Curie, Boyl, Cerf and many more scratched their itches.
In video and mobile journalism a language awaits. But meanwhile what creative good is substituting a bigger camera for a smaller one if all it’s doing is replicating past style norms? And less you mention “intimacy”, whilst that was uncovered years ago, a number of variables were found to contribute overall to intimacy beyond the camera itself.
Hopelessly waning memories, a disrespect for history, and nonchalance at the titanic achievements of pioneers is increasingly societies’ achilles. Television’s journalism passed onto others repeats the mistakes of the past. According to the latest Reuters Institute Digital News Report, around 35 per cent of Brits turn away from the news, citing boredom over Brexit; in the past in Broadcast Magazine boredom over the issues and the news product were the reasons. However young people will pay to see a fictional cinema film.
In the 1960s, a youngish American journalist created mobile journalism, a new intimacy and a grammar for television news predicated on cinema. He called it Direct Cinema to Hitchcock’s Pure Cinema. Drew was emulating Cezanne, Bierce and Du Bois et al. His was the infusion of Cinema and Journalism — a thinnish overlap which needed expanding.
You may know Robert Drew as a pioneer of documentary practice, but Drew set out to change journalism. However, the journalism industry firstly didn’t understand him and then secondly arrogantly disregarded his views. “They’ve taken my equipment and my techniques but applied them in ways that don’t work…”, he said of journalism in the interview below. The French gave Drew sanctuary for his iminicable talents.
Drew’s accomplishment? With $1m from Life Magazine, he minaturaised standard news cameras to become mobile and for the first time ever brought together sound to synch with film visuals. But the other coup was realising a creative filmmaking language used to great effect on the documentary Primary featuring a soon-to-be 35th president of the United States, J.F. Kennedy.
It may present some inertia in what I say next because like the air we breath, perhaps we’ve never known anything different. The Chinese make a reference between a fish in water. The fish is not aware of its surroundings. For that reason the use of word “cinema” in television news journalism is problematic. But the latter emerged from the former. Here goes. Journalism filmmaking, as undoubtedly a brilliant piece of narrative engineering when it was conceived for television in the 1950s also hid the greatest something. That something, analogous to the Fordisation (Industrial revolution) of the automobile industry was that there was only one formal accepted way of journalism storytelling. It worked because the two main architects in the UK and US borrowed heavily from one another. They then exported their model to the rest of the world.
Drew saw this and exposed it, but he was an outsider and the industry’s concept of journalism wrapped up as news, (a conceptual form based around Western values), had become a golden goose. Businessmen and women were not about to kill the goose laying them eggs, lots of golden ones said advertisers.
Now as I continue my exposition. I’m not claiming News people were wrong or that Drew’s form is better. At a time and place, there are many reasons to act accordingly. Hindsight gives us greater vision. But we should be wary of dismissing ideas, particularly when their roots have given green shoots.
That the news industry would take Drew’s ideas, but never fully credit him under scores the fight of the artisan. Television journalism’s construct model, creaking away, is the reason it’s invariably gamed by hucksters, spin doctors and dead cat. A president of the US knows in his bones how television journalism works, because of its predictability, and thus gets his own. Critical Information package entirely as entertainment. Television’s practitioners have a predilection for shiny things. Notice the Star Trek studio, a facade of cinematic proportions, but the voyage to go where none are going is a philosophical and psychological one — in our heads.
In the 1990s I worked as one of the first videojournalists in the UK and one of the few hundred in the world. Working with other videojournalists we began to observe something. Videojournalists, with no reference to Robert Drew, started to make their films feel like cinema. The viewers loved it. They the viewers described it as such. Management didn’t much mind either, for a while. Then, corporate journalism got hold of videojournalism and motonised its approach.
In the mid 2000s I would come across several international names using cinema and over a five year PhD gathered more evidence enough to write two volumes of a book looking into the history, cognition, psychology and neuroscience of story form.
Speaking to one of the most powerful women in the world of journalism, now at NBC, Deborah Turness says she’s looking for the next holy grail. And that wouldn’t it be something if all journalists had their own satellites? The latter is about to become evident in 5G networks and reduced latency. The former is out there to be grasped.
The 4thIRL is about to inadvertently endorse a Cinema Journalism, in part because of the revolt against sameness. History too has shown what emerges with revolutions to corporatise ideas. You’ve seen it in all other creative industries. My assessment too from the impact of a UK-wide research programme with various agents will, I suspect, yield critical and challenging points, as we do first principles on journalism. Interestingly, this approach will finally address the elephant we ignore; how freudian analysis and cognition in marketing, politics and PR has proved persuasive, and in our age of dead cats and squirrels has often left factual storytelling, call it journalism if you will, found wanting.
Television’s invention was deemed not quite the right medium to discuss critical indepth issues. Keep it simple. But you can be simple and still perform transitive logic and reasoning , whilst capturing audiences with highly watchable visual and narrative schemas. That wall is scalable.
I am a cinema journalist. It’s not a discipline per se, but an interpretive mindset for narrative. I am not bound by tools I use; I am agnostic to it and platforms. They aid my problem solving to articulate an idea, much as a fictional film director goes about her business. In schools and public, we owe something that indicates how as cultures and society morph based on events, language and systems once innovatory become blunt. We need to sharpen our approach. That you’ll agree must be the ultimate first principle. Stop trying to sell news and tell stories.
Dr David Dunkley Gyimah @viewmagazine has thirty years journalism experience and has occupied a spectrum of positions in front and behind the camera and won various international awards for innovative journalism.He was one of twenty experts invited to Jeff Jarvis the future of news symposium. This year he’s been invited to address 100 students chosen from 3000 globally for the future of news conference staged at Reuters HQ. More on him here