Qu. How did you do it — all of you get better?
An. It was a small outfit that had the main stream broadcast fraternity either mad, resentful, or not wishing us well. Sometimes there were actual physical confrontations. At a press conference, cameramen sabotaged our mic feeds, some heckled us for destroying the industry.
Me, I just wanted to work. It was difficult enough finding it. Before this job, I’d worked at the BBC’s flagship Newsnight, ABC News in South Africa and the BBC World Service. That I thought was as good as it got. Until years later.
Today, it all seems like yesterday. The web was being birthed, there was no way to show your wares, main stream media (MSM) reigned and a 24-hour cable news show — a precursor of web video sites — would attract the attention of prime ministers, politicians, CEOs, and MSM.
Meanwhile, some 30-twenty somethings were reshaping the UK media, and having an impact around the world. Really! NHK, BBC, the French, Americans, CNN, CEOs and CFOs would stream through the company for intelligence gathering.
How did these solo journalists work? Was it possible to employ auditory and visual skills simultaneously? What’s the ethics behind having one person decide the direction of a news story? And the web, what was this? Many of the journalists could strip a camera and put it together again. We were trained like photojournalists and drawn to a quasi literary cinematic plot construct. Twenty years later, Dimitri featured above, and not unlike many of the now grown-up twenty somethings, would win prizes and acclaim for his work. Among them, BAFTAS, RTS and an Oscar nod.
And, more than 25% of the station’s onscreen talent were BAMEs — a blue print if there ever was one.
We knew it was here to stay and had copped what the press were doing in this broadcast below, I’m presenting. Circa 1995, 30,000 users on a website was considered mind-blowing. For us, this was it. The new democracy that would allow us the opportunity to have our voices heard. And we practiced until sometimes physically collapsing from exhaustion.
The dream wold eventually die. Cash flows and lack of advertising. What’s new? In four years, the company had burned through 50 million squid.
Two years later, I launched my first website unitedproductions.co.uk, then MrDot.co.uk. That same year I met President Nelson Mandela, created, within 18-hours, a commercial for the Nigerian government aired on CNN International, and produced and directed the first co-production between Ghana and South Africa state broadcaster, which explored mutual cooperation, and difficulties.
In 2001, I flew to the US to buy my first Mac laptop. It was cheaper, even with the air fair, and then afterwards entered Soho’s frenzy world of Dot.coms. My last shift at Channel 4 News and working with the ebullient Jon Snow left me with some of my most treasured memories. As I was heading out of the door with my camera and laptop into the depths of unemployment. Jon pointed to my camera and beckoned me into the newsroom.
The years of experience in broadcasting, creating content as a solo journalist and in teams, coupled with the possibilities of the web, were profound. They still are. In 2005 it would culminate in a web site viewmagazine.tv which won accolades from influencers like Jeff Jarvis, Brian Storm and Peter Barron (Google). It also won a major US Award, followed by other gongs in film making.
What followed were a blur of events, invitations, presentations. A new web and with new players. In 2010, at SXSW I mused with a keynoter about Twitter — ambient awareness! Clever. How to monetise the attention deficit economy. Create. Create. Create was the mantra. I pursued a PhD in cognitivism and delving into an art form that mixed cinema with journalism which took me to the Southbank Centre as an artist-in-residence.
It’s never about the technology. That’s just an enabler. Intuition, knowledge, innovation is what we explored ever deeper.
Robert Stam in his book Film Theory says it’s like the 1920s again. Everything is possible. For me it’s the 1990s. Voices then, figuring what they could add in a period where citadels had carved up attention.
Today the web’s meritocracy can feel like a plutocracy. To be heard, a personal media rather than mainstream media, requires culling a combination of factors: trust, brilliance, perseverance, social networking, resilience, collaboration and an atmosphere for self promotion.
2017 and viewmagazine.tv is being revived. I’ve been down to the Syria-Turkey border, Russia, China, India, Lebanon training others or putting into practise cinema journalism.
Now, at the University of Westminster I’m involved with an MA which bridges cognitivism and content — a digital and interactive storytelling LAB — whose methods will depart from the generalised tone of teaching journalism cum storytelling in the country.
In London and elsewhere, rich in diversity of ideas and talent, diverse digital developments is a renewed focus enveloping mobile, bots, data, cinema journalism and visualisation. The ethos, that feeling in the 1990s when we set out on our sojourn, is a tingling feeling again. One of the flaws from the 90s was a lack of co-independence and sustained collaboration. Hence, we’re looking to mentor, creates conferences here and abroad, (D3) with your involvement and soon-to-launch Friday Social Club.
The human condition as social beings, markedly irrational in behaviour, driven by emotional desires, sated by stories, is not new. Digital has just short-circuited that realisation and laid the tracks for greater transparency. A new vigilance requires rewiring so diverse ideas, people, societies re-ignite, excavate, collaborate, rediscover what we remember we took for granted, and are now regaining sight of. I would so love to make your acquaintance. Please do share, if you can. DisLAB @viewmagazine
Dr David Dunkley Gyimah was recently named one of Medium’s top writers in Journalism. He’s worked in the media since 1988, and in Higher Education from 2002 where he runs a number of modules.