Start From Zero — Journalism’s Innovation When its Back is Against the Wall.
The reporter sent from Apple enquired further. “Well with my Mac and software I can see how in a decade or so we’ll be streaming from homes into public spaces”, I said. “Then you rework journalism as artistic videojournalism or cinema journalism”.
The article, placed on Apple’s Pro site, made an impact and I would be invited to share my crazy, “think different” ideas at the tech giant’s flagship London store three times.
It would take 15 years and a breakdown in convention which the acclaimed writer Yuval Noah Harari calls as an acceleration of the future, when years of activity are compressed into months for one part of this to be realised.
Truthfully, no one could have predicted what’s happening today where network news are transmitting from kitchens and living rooms. Yet in 2004 based on trend extrapolation and predictions a decade ahead, software and hardware advances, it would have been feasible. But why would you?
Zoom, the much loved platform at the moment, was released in 2013. LiveU a streaming paying platform preceded it. Uploads for downloads using YouTube, Vimeo, Metacafe, Brightcove had become the acceptable norms allowing a generation to do it themselves.
In 2004, using the Flash engine, something YouTube’s founders would successfully adopt alongside programming, I and many others, at the likes of the annual Flash on the Beach creative event, would speak loftily of the future. I collapsed different styles into one form. I precociously grew up on American GQ and loved the magazine, listened to BBC World Service Radio in “Outlook” and worked on the BBC’s equivalent of Vice.com. Could these be squeezed onto an iPad to a super one. And could the content target black people and people of colour?
To broadcasters the tech bit just wasn’t credible. What, with the low-fi quality and loss of control over aesthetics. “Sorry! We still can’t see you. Would you mind shifting your camera?” has become a frequent refrain for our times. Truth too all that office real estate with its tinted glasses that make studios look like Kirk’s Enterprise. It’s the ̶E̶c̶o̶n̶o̶m̶y Aesthetics stoopid! That’s what separates the pros from the amateurs. That’s too good to give up.
By 2000 the magic download rate to mimic television of 8 mb/sec and concomitant broadband pipes were already in place. What was not was the industry will.
I’d already worked for a slew of international broadcasters filing and producing from hotspots: South Africa, Ghana etc.
In the UK in the early 90s I jumped at the chance at being bi-media, when it was a high sin to work across platforms.
Then came videojournalism and multimedia — a job that involved technical expertise as much as innovatory content production.
During the Ebola outbreak in West Africa I spoke to an entrepreneur about public facing televisuals which could be placed in communities and pop up mobile studios, which could be used to deliver information swiftly.
A colleague and I had earlier illustrated how community and estates across London could benefit from public space television, I came to refer as the Outernet. I like that said a Telegraph newspaper chief, when he was showing me and a team from the Press Association around their practices. Broadcasting out, is one thing, receiving it on digital community boards, is quite the other.
But as I said earlier that was but one part of the equation. “Start from zero”, I said to a friend. Journalism regularly comes in for a bashing. The Covid-19 briefings in the UK is the latest. How do you hold the government to account? That’s not to deny there hasn’t been exemplary reporting, but how does a storytelling system meet the challenges it’s facing in cutting through to viewers about misinformation, disinformation.
“The most damaging phrase in the language is we’ve always done it that way” said Rear Admiral Grace Brewster Murray Hopper a computer pioneer whose work underpinned new computing approaches, after the second world war.
The power of Broadcast Journalism stems from the belief of what it should be, devised in the 1950s and how it’s always done that way. It needed to be around a minute or two so it didn’t bore its audience. Its visual storytelling was limited to a fixed langue of General Vision or B-roll. That it’s still called this should tell you something. Establishing shot, two shots, reporter-dominated and cutaways follow. Its literal and deflects nuances. What happens in the news, generally occurs between daylight. How families are getting through difficult nights is the stuff of photojournalism and current affairs programmes.
In contrast, examine Public Relations and their influences in business that expands on Edward Bernays (father of PR) from Freudian psychology to behavioural science practices in nudge theory, OCEAN personality programmes, gaming outcomes, nuanced psychologies, complex modelling data and alternative realities, such as the art of the dead cats.
In Art, its traditions sharded from the broad renaissance art of defined rules and proportional representation, to various different movements that enveloped impressionism, art deco to neurotic realism. In literature, models of writing would evolve from third person, futurism, complex woven but beautiful biographies to exemplars Marlon James’ A Brief History of Seven Killings written entirely in Jamaican patois, winner of the Man Booker prize.
In Tinkertoys a handbook for creative thinking techniques, its author Michael Michalko, a former US army officer posits the idea that aligns with the notion of “ start from zero”. Whatever you’re thinking reverse the assumptions for the present.
If journalism was being birthed in 2020, what would you want from it? That is serves a civic purpose says CUNY professor Jeff Jarvis, putting the concerns of citizens first; that it assuages the afflicted and afflict the powerful which is Menckenesque, and it differentiates itself from non actors who peddled malignant information.
Here’s my three. That its storytelling is memorable? That you have someway of verifying its truthfulness and accuracy? And that it genuinely moves people to react. Strong storytelling does this. By applying Assumption Reversal, we arrive at something that broadly resembles cinema.
I’ve spoken at length about Cinema Journalism at venues like the Front Line Club Here are ten things about her:
- 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.