Radical Journalism in the Age of the 4th Industrial Revolution.
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 denominators for mass international appeal, rather than aesthetic creativity of 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 who was being corporatised 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 calculated faux provenance. Journalism, the scions of television news tell all must be done this way.
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, has never been under more threat. In video and mobile journalism what creative good is substituting a bigger camera for a smaller one if all it’s doing is replicating past style norms?
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.
In the 1960s, a youngish American journalist created mobile journalism, a new intimacy and a grammar for television news predicated on cinema. Drew was emulating Cezanne, Bierce and Du Bois et al. His was the infusion of Cinema and Journalism.
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 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.
His accomplishment? With $1m from Life Magazine, Drew minaturaised standard news cameras to become mobile and for the first time ever brought together sound to synch with film visuals. But the coup was realising a creative filmmaking stream used to great effect on the documentary Primary featuring a soon-to-be 35th president of the United States, J.F. Kennedy.
It’s difficult to get what I’m about to say here because like the air you breath, perhaps you’ve never known anything different. But 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 conceit. That conceit, 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 the conceit 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.
That the news industry would take Drew’s ideas, but never fully credit him under scores the fight of the artisan.
In the 1990s I worked as one of the first videojournalists in the UK and a couple 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. Management didn’t much mind either, for a while. Then, corporate journalism got hold of videojournalism and changed its approach.
In the mid 2000s I would come across several international names using cinema and over a six 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 would it be something if all journalists had their own satellites; hence the Mobile III Man poster above. Mobile III journalism, Drew’s legacy, Cinema journalism incarnate is coming to us in the form of G5 networks and reduced latency.
The 4th Industrial Revolution is about to inadvertently endorse a Cinema Journalism, in part because of the revolt against sameness and the impact of a UK-wide research programme in which the various agents involved are revisiting crucial points in the period of journalism. I’ll tell you more soon.
I am a cinema journalist. It’s an interpretive mindset for narrative. It is a factual storytelling process which is agnostic of tools and platforms. I use equipment e.g. mobile, drones, DLR in the same way a fictional film director uses her tools.
Follow Dr David Dunkley Gyimah at @viewmagazine He 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.