Great films aren’t all conceived from fiction. We know this from the resurgence of docs recrafting cinema techniques in the 1990s. However they prey on the schema we’ve become familiar within fiction narrative.
Documentary maker Michael Moore goes so far as to say stop thinking about docs and make a movie. However, we’ve been sceptical or outright dismissive about cinema’s application to journalism.
And in case you’re wondering, before TV News, there was factual cinema.
Cinema is the most popular medium above other moving image forms. We pay good money for its fictional sibling sitting in a darkened auditorium to watch 2-hours plus of it. Its unfolding plots kidnap our minds, captivates our senses, and shapes our world.
Imagine now me telling you the way we produce journalism ands news in this era has flaws. They’re not inherent per se. Journalism at best has moved with the times, as society has become more discerning. The TV package is, and remains, one of the feats of storytelling engineering, but something else is going on.
Imagine capturing life, or telling journalism stories that used the fulsome and appropriate array of cinemas’ techniques as well as myriad styles to capture the human experience to tell stories. No not staging! Things like helicopter shots, which may be too expensive, but wait you can obtain equivalent images with a drone now. It wouldn’t be the first time, but in this era, audiences have developed highly attuned sense-making modes towards the appreciation of well made films.
Video, sound and imagery is a complex medium. It’s ripe with symbolism, metaphor and allegories. It’s culturally and socially driven and invites an array of interpretations. Television news tried to neuter this when it competed to become an industry in itself. At the time its architects may have meant well.
A bit like Zuckerburg trying to connect the world and then us realising our data was being harvested, television execs saw news’ language as a way of straightforwardly relaying events as news, unaware that it was socially engineering audiences into accepting its conventions. Then audiences became tele-literate they could see flaws. Amongst that audience too were politicians and PR operators who had developed an awareness to game TV News.
Take this simple, inevitable truth. TV News is a construct. An event occurs and then it’s knitted together via a negotiation of means, language and resources.
There’s a reason why politicians game television news. They know how it works. Employing the wider spectrum of cinema langue envelops an art which challenges conventional wisdom.
I’m David. I have been a journalist (and early adopter) of varying kinds of media for more than 30 years, worked in many countries and picked up many awards. I was a bi-media radio & tv journo in 1991 and have worked in front and back of camera, online, in video journalism, drone, mobile, VR, interactive docs, promos, writing, for some of the world’s leading brands, such as the BBC, Channel 4 New and ABC News.
I begun to question conventional methods of journalism storytelling more than 20 years ago as one of the UK’s first video journalists. I would win a global videojournalism award and acclaim for my work. In the last decade, I completed a PhD at University College Dublin ( James Joyce’s alma mater) investigating the phenomenon of storytelling through multiple moving image sources. What was going on in our minds, I wanted to know?
My investigations took me all around the world e.g. China, India, Africa, Europe, Russia, to festivals, deep interviewing award-winning journalists practising these new forms, newspaper videojournalists, current senior television experts and those from the birth of TV News, to an array of literature across TV, docs, art, photography, cinema and philosophy and then I ran several psychological experiments.
I‘ve loved sharing over the years and as a university lecturer have passed on knowledge to generations, as well as several media as a consultant. This year following an appointment as the Asper visiting professor of Journalism at University of British Columbia — a post held previously by Diane Nottle Editor, The New York Times and Peter Klein Producer, 60 Minutes and CBS News — I feel it’s more than overdue to share to wider constituents what I have found out. I’ll be doing this in a new series of posts, but for the meantime…
- Cinema journalism (CJ) or artistic videojournalism as it’s also known is concerned with the interpretation, or otherwise capturing of events and real-life for audiences. Research data shows that when MSM moved in on videojournalism claiming parity, bespoke VJs reestablished their original motives with a camera and hence CJ emerged.
- It uses the expanding medium of world cinema; its different styles and techniques to produce highly watchable films.
- It isn’t tied down to any technology. Just as a good director uses a slew of cameras, cinema journalists develop an eye for dynamic lens language — light to tell stories, using mobiles, drones, to a vast number of pro cameras.
- Cinema journalism is not new. In the 1960s Cinéma vérité was a form of cinema journalism. In Russia in the 1930s factual film makers documented by experts such as Jay Ledya used cinema techniques. Modern cinema journalism builds on changing styles throughout the years.
- Television news borrowed its language from cinema, but it limited its adoption for a number of reasons, not least it needed to be distinct to sell itself and TV sets to viewers.
- Courses that teach only television journalism ignore how PR and marketeers make a mockery of its predictive form. Its practitioners are truthful and align with frameworks similar to Kovach and Rosenstiel.
- Cinema journalism takes a closer interest in neuroscience and the psychology of storytelling.
- The voice is one of the hidden underused assets in cinema journalism.
- The work of this author is documented in several trade and academic books such as Reimagining Journalism in a Post-Truth World How Late-Night Comedians, Internet Trolls, and Savvy Reporters Are Transforming News by Ed Madison and Ben DeJarnette, as well as several sites such as Apple, Media shift, and SXSW.
- Some cinema experts have likened it to the 19th century impressionism movement moving away from classical forms and it does not replace traditional TV journalism, just as Impressionism has not replaced classical art. Neither have I said to Cinema Journalism is better. It’s different in many ways.
Resources: If you’d like to know more please visit the following sites:
a) david dunkley gyimah medium site — where I regularly post e.g. How to become a reality director, a wow cinema journalist
b) Videojournalism.co.uk — a magazine site with eight articles e.g. How Art changed news and was dismissed
d) Mrdot.co.uk — site from the 2006 about one vj film
e) viewmag.blogspot.com — blog from 2005 e.g. Rewiring story telling — `journalism’s Minority Report
f) Tweeter @viewmagazine