Leicester, that now famous frontier. Its modern moniker — ‘the slayer of football giants’ after its presumed innocuous army of nondescripts lifted the 2016 premier league’s mighty trophy.
This week’s tour de force are a different sort: 100s of non-natives descending on this midland city with laptops and 7000-word thesis. Their mission, to stir intellectualism, challenge the status quo and at a coruscating time for #Brexit isolationism show an international ‘knowledge transfer’ united front.
Granted, this show of force was earmarked before June the 23rd, but it will play into that narrative nonetheless at a time when expert opinion has been marred as soporific.
I hadn’t previously thought of attending but I have come to think there’s been a dip in excitable rigorous discussion this year within a number of commercial conferences. It’s as if that oft-repeated tag #thefutureofnews #futureofjournalism has hit skid row and the future, at least framed around theory and knowledge, is, or was, yesterday.
So here I am at the International Association for Media Communication Research. If you’re missing colleagues from your research department, this week this is where they are likely to be. My paper: Journalism, Diversity and Memory — heightening our reception to stories proposes a contemporary journalism storytelling form beyond multimedia, video journalism and mobile and how minority groups e.g. BAME could benefit from its means of productions.
I road tested the idea as a commercial proposition way back in 2005 and it garnered a degree of attention e.g. J-lab’s 2005 Knight Batten Award for Innovation in Journalism. Since then, I have shared my findings at key gatherings, such as the BFI Media Summit, CUNY following an invitation from Professor Jeff Jarvis, and the financial times, to name a few.
The syllogism is this. Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic stories rarely find themselves onto a traditional news running order, unless it plays to conventional collective memory. What you remember helps you shape your world. If you’re African American and under 8 years-old in the US becoming the president is not beyond your realms of thinking. Television news and online video journalism has a choice in its content, which to cite a former BBC executive Pat Loughrey is invariably not memorable.
What if, given the paucity of eclectic stories around BAMEs, the content and manner of production made these stories memorable and that they were configured also to build on the mission to explain. Creating memories that help us understand issues would become as commonplace as reportage reflecting the divisions, loathing and suspicion amongst groups portrayed on the news.
My story starts with me in an audience listening to the BBC’s inveterate journalist George Alagiah receiving a major journalism award, The Charles Wheeler Award for Outstanding Broadcast Journalism. Alagiah’s acceptance speech expertly explores journalism’s new clothes. One part particularly gets my attention. Alagiah, deferentially cites the great Nelson Mandela, adding ‘if you’re going to name drop then make sure it’s a big one’. He recounts how meeting Mandela, the president made a point wagging his index finger. Here’s what he says.
During South Africa’s final quest for democracy I too was in South Africa reporting, freelancing for the BBC World Service, Radio 4 Docs and working for ABC News. I was possibly one of a handful of Black British broadcasters reporting from the region in the heavily contested strata of stringers and foreign correspondents. I sometimes had a strange edge: I’m black, but in the Cape was seen as coloured. I speak with a British accent making me an Englishman to Afrikaners but I also speak a couple of African languages and when it was required could go native. I suspect sometimes I was not welcome. I was told bluntly by a BBC figure I was not welcome at their bureau, where I filed my reports to the BBC World Service.
Alagiah’s story prompted my own, which I share in my paper. How I had to sign a death warrant to accompany peace keepers in what was then dubbed the murder capital of the world, Katlehong. I tell a graphic story of a man with an RPG taking aim in our direction and the peace keepers critical advice that if we’re fired upon by snipers DO NOT RUN. Days earlier journalists and feudal factions did come under sniper fire and several people died.
The story then performs the literary equivalent of a flashback in media res. I’m at a foreign correspondent dinner and President Mandela heads to our table and, then, as time slows down shakes my hand, also admonishing how careful we reporters must be in conveying news to the outside world.
By featuring my own story, I’m attempting to prove a style of writing but also allude to what professor David Bordwell refers to as ‘feelingful qualities’. Sometimes content, by dint of what it is evokes emotion.
However, what then if a form of videojournalism could deploy the tropes and cues of the literary essay, art and cinema to tell stories? The paper goes on to explore brain functions and the psychology of filmic schema before focusing on the relationship between prosthetic memory and autobiography intimating that despite TV news’ attempt to suggest it reflects the world, news is a construct. Someone reconstructs events as they see it based on their learnt perceptions, which derive from — memory systems.
This new approach to journalism does not purport to be better than traditional approaches, but takes into account the sophistication of the audience and achilles of news that attempts to be impervious, or only appropriately examined by cognitive and semiotic theories.
And that’s a problem because as a more scholarly worthy figure than me professor Robert Stam draws for his readers’ attention in his book Film Theory, neither cognitivism or semiotics take into account, for instance, the optics of ethnicity and culture.
Yes, your background really does matter.
Cinejournalism or cinema journalism is a complex system abridging journalism — one major field — with cinema. To journalists it sounds absurd but this mix has been executed successfully before: Robert Drew and Associates with Direct Cinema (here for my interview with Robert Drew) and before them, Vertov.
You could even post a start point before the physical presence of film, which is why cinema is as equally an existential phenomenon as it is a physical medium. Tarkovsky and Ken Loach are amongst many cineists who capture this quality.
Within the paper are several experiments that provide strong evidence to the audience interpreting what they like and what makes factual and fictional film memorable, which I use to illustrate how cinema journalism can be used.
I present on the 29th but will be in Leicester at the start of this week for a series of pre-conference meetings, before flying to India on Friday to participate in an international conference on re-wiring critical reportage.
Below, my thesis captured in a 2 minute promo.