We faced a crisis in cracking teaching online. Two-hour straight lectures were not going to work, particularly staring straight down the tube.
But first a flashback. Two main problems need solving to capture this extraordinary event in the photo above. How do I convey what this experience is like and how do I preserve it? I’m near the Syrian border teaching a group of young Syrian journalists Cinema Journalism.
It’s a style of news making that makes use of cultural, social and literary forms in storytelling pulled from different cultures, which more often fictional cinema makers deploy.
I interview the storytellers after my training session and then organise them into a photo-shoot. Below is the completed product which drapes across video.
When I begin this story, I have attendants attempt a mental image of the scene by describing a cinematic narrative.
Imagine this I say:
The US has ordered US nationals to vacate Syria and Southern Turkey as they consider bombing Syria to sanction Assad. A number of journalists are travelling to meet us. Many are on some wanted list. They carry no passports. The night is quiet, a slight warm breeze blows. It smells of sweet musk. It’s eerie and then one by one they arrive at our hotel exhausted and with stories to tell…
Fast forward to 2020. COVID-19 lockdown has pushed all lectures online. It can be difficult enough teaching how to be an international reporter in-person, because the methodology involves sitting in sanitised surroundings.
A former senior BBC executive refers to this as air condition journalism. Quite how you impart emotion on the necessity of a risk assessment, should a missile come your way, is challenging.
One day VR of the kind, such as “Carne y Arena,” by Alejandro González Iñárritu will be common place. The experience puts the viewer in the moment. In this case the desert as Latin American immigrants find themselves under assault. Imagine being a reporter in this situation?
But until then, what?
In 2006, a decade from now I tell Apple Inc, in a presentation that yielded a profile on their front page, we will be streaming from our homes into businesses. You have become the brand.
Television has already given us the tools for this feat ahead. We’ll gladly watch hours of TV. What if online lectures became a personalised TV programme. This is what the Open University attempted did in the 1970s and perfected in the 90s and to date I still watch Bob Ross’ Joy of Painting on BBC Four. I watched it yesterday!
In lockdown can you provide a comparable experience for the next generation of journalists? I see fault lines, particularly in the pipeline. Zoom has become the default, but I can see a number of new features to make this process a better experience. Three key words here are:
This is what I did liasioning with our course director.
- First build a pop up studio using a three camera set up
- Break the lecture programme into a virtual travel-to- zones. Each week we’ll visit a different country where students would in advance have to find news and provide a briefing.
- To simulate this as real, we set up a news agency with directions for cohorts: know where you’re going and get together with your colleagues to plan the news. This encouraged early group collaboration, sharing and debate. Sometimes I’d spring a surprise a couple of days before lectures, by changing the team or designated country we’re visiting.
- Amongst the student cohort where there would be a producer from each group and super producer at our morning news room meeting who would have to devise a programme news agenda.
- Through multiple pitching, using online videos, students refine their techniques.
- Each week, on average, two guests (senior news reporters) from that region would speak to the class for on average 25 minutes explaining the news ecosystem, and how each reporter got into journalism. This has proved popular. I would add that’s also because the students are already mentally attuned to that country. Psychologists refer to this as a desirable difficulty.
- The best bits have been the questions the journalists-in-waiting have asked the guests.
- By using short burst lectures, less than 20 minutes, I’d provide theoretical knowledge around their practices and news offerings.
- We’d finish with a debriefing of the guests and day.I would then stay on 30–45 mins on average after lectures for informal conversation, the longest duration was an hour and half.
- We were guided by a Programme content wheel I devised. We’d start with a quiz. Two reasons. Firstly it loosened up the class. Secondly, it involved knowledge transfer. The key is repetition, memory, and each week referencing prior framing.
Programme Content — The Wheel
The whole process is predicated on a TV programme using skills in television production. But the real value has come from out guests:
Latest stop over Russia
We’ve several countries to go: India, Romania etc. Our latest guests were Oksana Silanteva, one of Russia’s first multimedia journalists and Daria Dergacheva, a former agency journalist in Russia, now completing her PhD.
I’d spent the morning with a group of Russian journalists organised by Oksana presenting creative storytelling. One of the the attendants wrote this, which after translating I thought I better not show my other half. In the UK you might get a ‘He’s alright. Seen better!”, but this…?
Анастасия Пахорукова Я влюбилась! Он просто потрясающий!
Here’s what Oksana wrote about the project on her FB post. If you’d like to get involved, or believe you can help innovating on top of this please email me Gyimahd(at)Cardiff (dot)ac (dot)UK
Today I had a day of Russian-British friendship. In the morning,
gave a lecture at Silmedia Club about rethinking visual storytelling and templates of television journalist’s work.
And in the evening,
and I met with students of Cardiff University, whom David leads a course in international journalism, shared his feelings and thoughts about what is happening and where it all goes)))
David designed a completely amazing structure for his course. Every week students dive into some country. They study sources, look for stories, meet people, try to write about what is now relevant to the country. It could be India, South Africa, Brazil, China, Russia.
We train fast switching and diving skills into material. I think it’s a crazy scheme.
Considering that we have different regions sometimes more different than some countries to, it would be fun to do something like this inside the country, between different regions.
Although of course, David and I dream of joint projects of Russian and British students. While ′′ looking in the direction of dreams “, it’s getting old.
You can learn more about my background and work here