Stop practicing this thing you call journalism and start making cinema journalism.
Thirty years ago this statement was put to the test. It was way too early, but over the years the conversation has changed.
In a world of streaming, intense competition, and a future of human tech hybridisation, journalism circa 2030 will not be as is. The green shoots to a cinema journalism are already significant and I’ve been documenting pioneers for the last 15 years.
This time last year I presented the keynote address about the future to one of Denmark’s most successful subscription-based stations. It was called inspiring by TV2 station chief.
The bifurcation between TV journalism and cinema circa 1950s was in many ways an artificial one — drawn by capitalism financing a new medium and needs. TV was the new contender and its makers needed it to be different.
I once had a fascinating conversation with Robert Drew, the pioneering figurehead whom, with friends, created Cinema Verite or Direct Cinema in the 1960s. His style was actually created for TV, but TV execs “took my equipment, but passed on his techniques”, he told me.
To get a wider sense of change Professor Tetlock’s labelling of people as Foxes Vs Hedgehogs is worth revising. Creative problem-solving skills, a Fox trait, is seen as a future work requirement and it’s at the heart of a cinema journalism.
Classical TV journalism hued in the 1960s has tended to follow procedural approaches in the dissemination of info. That’s not to lessen or critique its role. Its form has sufficed until a new social crisis appears.
If you map journalism’s development, it stubbornly responds to a crisis, and often it takes an outsider’s influence to demo what it could be rather than what it is.
Drew in the 60s is a good example, as is the multimedia era. There’s a theme before each directional change that journalism’s existing hammer is sufficient to handle general events as nails. Consider journalism like its sibling democracy to be an ongoing work in process.
There’s just this perceptible shift, much similar to literature or art evolving into different forms over the last 300 years.
Cinema journalism’s first pick up from my work/posts was 2004 with the Knight Batten Awards and then in 2006 training the UK’s regional journalists to adopt it which was captured in the UK Press Gazette.
“Citing examples such as Black Hawk Down as the sort of film we should seek inspiration from, Dunkley Gyimah threw concepts such as mis-en-scene into the mix. At some points, when he blew us away with the art-tastic productions that fellow VJs on the global scene had produced, it seemed difficult how we could get our work to fit into that model. This was inspiring stuff, but we students looked at each other slightly bemused. Imagine our editors’ faces when we turn up with packages that look more like a Hungarian art-house movie than a traditional news report”.
This thing of broadcast journalism in news had its reasons for primacy and surviving. But in the digital age the viewing public have consistently voted with their remote controls and keyboard mouse.
Cinema journalism, however is no low hanging fruit, something an audience implicitly appreciates from a well crafted story. It requires a psychological and cultural understanding of story form beyond what’s normally taught in grad schools and industry. It’s cognitively dissonant reliant on several summations and it is this fluidity that renders it challenging to teach. It’s akin to asking what is art?
This from one of several global presentations. This 27 second clip following my presentation is from one of the largest creative gathering SXSW
Audiences can tell you what it is. And it is not a uniform form. I look back on my days on BBC television and Reportage (1991) as the beginning of the disruption. Decades on…
Dr David Dunkley Gyimah was one of the editorial advisors for the British Library’s 500 years of Journalism exhibition currently open, and writes about Language in their exhibition book. More on his background here, working for Newsnight, Channel 4 News, and ABC News in the 1990s and the international awards he’s garnered.