The secret history of a media revolution being exposed at~ Dublin MojoCon? and presentation at Apple Store, Lnd.
The first on-screen selfie; reporters as authors who would shoot and report in digital; a digital workflow from filming to editing that would ultimately eliminate analogue tape, the first live stream on the web — all of these took place 20 years ago. But you’ve never heard or read about it, let alone some of the more radical epistemologies.
Smack in the middle of central London — occupying the UK’s fourth terrestrial channel — C4's old home off Tottenham Court road — Channel One TV was as radical as it was misunderstood. Its legacy has largely been ignored through, perhaps, ignorance more than anything else.
Twenty years ago, the hegemony of traditional media, broadcast and newspapers, was steadfast; what they said was journalism, was so. Remember the BBC Radio 4 story on Good News is No News with BBC execs threatening one of their own news presenters in garroting tones. Presenter Martyn Lewis dared suggest the news network’s run more positive stories to balance the news agenda.
Channel One was the MTV of new media and old journalism, bankrolled via the astuteness of a knighted editor, Sir David English; it’s videojournalism was designed by videojournalism godfather, Michael Rosenblum; managed by industry stalwarts e.g. Nick Pollard; executed by bolshy twenty-somethings.
They had to be. The journalism industry either sneered at them and their endeavours, or as many videojournalists recall were darn right hostile.
The implications of those yesteryears at London’s first 24 hour News cable station in London, are as profound as perhaps, if you’ll excuse what appears as hyperbole, YouTube being launched. As a new media global study and new film shows, the past exhibits the futuristic DNA of the present.
For without Channel One and its videojournalism, the BBC would not legitimise the practice; they would officially adopt videojournalism six years on. Camera manufacturers also had reason to accelerate the delivery of different forms, as several international networks considered self-shooters.
The station wasn’t free from its own internal struggle, however the cinders of video disruption were gaining heat.
Many TV executives from around the world visited Channel One, to see the VJs in action . Its executives were feted at IBC and tech conferences.
1994, the year of the US sitcom Friends, Czech model Eva Herzigova’s poster-busting ‘Hello Boys’ ad — voted one of the most iconic ads of all times; and Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction seems a world away today.
Yet, it couldn’t be more significant. Arguably, as Marc Andreessen et al were building a gateway for the web with Netscape, in a world of video and journalism, Channel One were unwittingly building the possibilities of tomorrow.
If videojournalism back then represented a rocket on course for Mars, a couple of years after take-off the missile’s GPS system was hacked by big media. It’s new path? ‘Return safely to home to base’.
What the mission was gradually uncovering was just as ‘dangerous’ as Lewis’ ideas of ‘good news’. So videojournalism was genetically modified to be broadly acceptable to traditionalists. Videojournalism’s myth, as all fables tend to go, has been maintained by the victorious; those dominating the field; still standing.
It is axiomatic of technological and social changes that cultural movements invariably sprout and upend the status quo. The populace tired with existing structures find new ways of expression.
In painting, circa 1900, impressionism usurps realism. David Hockney notes on Imagine this was aided in no small measure by paints becoming available in small tubes.
in the 1960s, a smaller more mobile camera, the Auricon and Eclair which were still the size of a small suitcase yielded two documentary movements, Direct Cinema and Cinema Verite.
The late Direct Cinema founding father, Robert Drew, who was interviewed for this film and book sheds light on the future. Meanwhile, also in the 1960s, the moog did a number on classical music spawning the beginnings of the movement of electronic music.
Fast forward to 1994 and cinema’s latest uber Danish directors Lars von Trier and Thomas Vinterberg reboot the filmic style of Carl Theodore Dreyer, armed with a smaller digital Vx1000 camera and a new philosophy. Dogme was born.
And journalism and news? This is where you can hear the needle scratch across the record. At Channel One, technology and social catalysed a new journalism movement — albeit, brief, yet profound.
Tech influences philosophies
The timeline below illustrates the use of different cameras from the digi-beta, vx1000, mobile iPhone and Google glass.
In 2004, working with the BBC we presented news futures detailing how we believed the mobile phone would revolutionise news, as this image below illustrates. The story was captured by Jemima Kiss, who would go on to become the Guardian’s Technology Editor.
The corollary of a new journalism movement is supported by several outcomes in the film:
Videojournalism in the UK wasn’t started by a broadcaster, but by a newspaper, Associated Newspapers, who modelled it on the broader range of newspaper journalism, and something else they weren’t quite sure of.
They launched on cable, that allowed some flexibility from the stringent codes of television — effectively cable was a hybrid of television and the web.
Rosenblum advocated an intimate approach to journalism. The form mixed with the sensibilities of the Brits style to create something innovatory
The VJs, largely, did not have TV journalism backgrounds, so like the story of MTV that didn’t employ television execs when they launched they were not hemmed into a TV structure.
But the biggest findings from the movement concerns an all altogether different schema of journalism styles. Some, like the brilliant and late videojournalist emeritus Steve Punter likened it to art; Rosenblum acknowledged it as an art form.
What kind of art form?
This revelation, one that I adhere to, flies in face of conventional wisdom of traditional media. And it’s only now his philosophy is surfacing gradually on the web.
In his highly readable book The News — A Users Manual, Alain de Botton points to the stupefying distancing journalism adopts in sacrificing what it sees as subjectivity for the objective accurate truth. The lack of emotional investment, a neutrality that is as cold as an English aristocrat, Notwithstanding the benefits of intellectual currency, this yields a detached conversation.
‘Art’, De Botton says, ‘may be most usefully defined as the discipline devoted to trying to get concepts powerfully into people’s heads’.
Traditionalists, he recognises, as others have done before him, that this yields an impure rendition of journalism to some people, but those cultural frameworks of the 1940s have changed.
What should be the singular point with journalism, other than to inform you in serious or entertaining ways that which will help you make decisions. But news devised a language which abrogated that because in the eyes of executives, knowing about something, tacitly or otherwise, was good enough plenty. Their excuse? That’s not our responsibility. That may have been almost right then, but hardly instills confidence now.
Today, as technology fosters new ideas, as social change demonstrates, the audience seeks a more personalised, emotive engagement with discourse we call journalism, what Channel One hit upon, is more compelling now than ever. And the evidence lies in the next generation of videojournalists in the film.
That’s what I’ll be demonstrating, talking at Apple store in London next month and MojoCon? in Dublin.
This article will migrate to www.viewmagazine.tv with the accompanying trailer for the film. Follow David @viewmagazine
David has recently completely his PhD — a global examination of filmic forms and communications, from the 1900s to the present, using the works of several groups and his own.