Storytelling, deceit and the need for defying fourth walls.

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Photo by Pat Kay on Unsplash

ou know you see what they want you to see. The terrorism in New Zealand; 50 dead, and the manner in which some newspapers and broadcasters reported the event reached a deeply depressing low.

Britain’s Daily Mail’s heavily condemned headline posing its angelic tag of the terrorist demonstrated a clear semiotics to hybrid interference, and morally questionable standards.

Hybrid interference, or wedging is a strategy writes Mikeal Wiegell adopted by external agents in a society to drive distorting concepts of truth and hence heighten divisions. It’s now no stranger to journalism in liberal societies.

Yet, so far it matters not a jot — at least to the proprietors. Newspapers are privately owned and any public standards to which they might be upheld were strafed by a UK government concealing itself behind free speech, democracy and self- regulation. You need laws. Levenson 2 (press enquiry) was about cleaning up the boil after it had been lanced. The sore has been left open.

The history of populists papers requires context. The Daily Mail (1896), Daily Mirror (1903), and Daily Express (1900) were organs set up by gentry ideologically aligned with the Conservative Party with the alt view of squashing working class newspapers like the Northern star, whilst filling the void with their own brand of stories, which could be sensationalist.

If you had deep pockets and friends in high places, you effectively stood to control millions of British people, by shaping what they read, and feeding their views, however extreme, to others. By the 1930s, Freud’s psychoanalysis had popularised that people were governed by an irrationality that far outdid rational thought. Gustav Le Bon ‘s The Crowd had shown similar findings in the 19th Century. People would behave en mass and thus prone to group-think and sooner believe a lie than question it. As a newspaper baron you could hand general elections back to governments-in-waiting and obtain free publicity from broadcasters e.g. BBC in morning reviews and What The Papers Say.

Clear impunity.

And for all the twitter storms flagging dog whistles, outright race batting or stirring divisions, it’s no stretch to believe there’s no such thing as bad criticism. Not being talked about is far worse says Roger Stone. The rest? Who cares. Hence they’ll be another storm of opprobrium soon, and another and another.

How do you manage accountability? Does hitting the papers in the pockets mean anything? According to academic and author Chris Horrie who’s written one of the defining books about tabloids e.g. Stick It Up Your Punter! The Sun newspaper’s owners News International have lost £15m a month (in 1989 prices) since their damning Hillsborough coverage and liverpudlians boycotted the paper. Yet the Sun survives.

Such mass boycott action is rarely successful and the Internet today gives newspapers a wider reach for ad spend to boost profits. The Mail in particular, has shown itself to be innovative. Today, it’s the leading UK online paper. A feat it managed devising unusually lengthy front page scroll which gamed SEO algorithms and slating click-bait titles with articles psychologically shaped to fuel interest.

There’s a game you may have played with a toddler in which you present both hands. One supposedly conceals a ball. The toddler makes a choice. You then open your hand without the red ball, feigning surprise. The toddler looking puzzled looks disbelieving at the hand again and then behind you, by which time you’ve disposed of the ball. This curiosity, falling for the same trick all the time is a bit like the illusionary presence of Father Christmas. But at some point the illusion cracks.

Somehow in today’s journalism, generally the audience is still a toddler, not necessarily in the telling of stories, though this happens, but in the illusion of presenting the “entirety” of an event. What’s not happening in the frame, behind your back hides much needed information

Should we continue to call them newspapers, the free press , or impartial broadcasters at all? As we hurtle towards G5 and its latency consequences, A.I. and deeper work in neuroscience, how might societies tackle wedging?

Showing only that which furthers political aims is no way new. Pre-renaissance, written stories, its claimed by scholars, had no compunction to tell the truth. Gilgamesh, a Sumerian King around 2500 BC is characterised by documenters as slaying lions with his bare hands. The ubiquitous heroes journey told by Joseph Campbell demonstrates a predilection today to myths. In spite of his horrendous actions, the events in New Zealand can still be re-spun.

Journalism’s so called higher level of proof is now its biggest hand trick, exposed to be woefully inadequate. Because thus far, so long as you can cite others who supported your POV, or frame a point to massage people’s behaviour largely deemed irrational (War is good at all costs and repatriating Black brits (Windrush) will bring back a semblance of Great Britain), it’s OK. So long too that you have circulation you can pretty much say whatever you want. And so long also that you meet the minimum threshold of what a news story might look and sound like, you’re quids in.

But perhaps like the toddler seeing through the hand trick, audiences should have the opportunity to see into the fourth wall to gauge the iniquities of hybrid interference. How so?

@ledbyDonkeys describe themselves as four friends minded by the level of hypocrisy in British politician’s rolling back, even denying comments they made. So, they took to first plastering billboards with politicians’ quotes about what they previously said, and now crowd source for funds. They’ve been successful.

But even so, this attempt at exposing duplicitous narratives can only travel so far. And this form too, billboards, good as it is in exposing duplicity, is limiting.

What journalism, the public, and journalism studies requires is a visibility of event’s fourth wall. This is not a semiotic exercise in alternative meanings, but a way of revealing the outer often discarded rims of events.

This can be achieved by craft work in the manner of Luigi Pirandello, a Nobel Prize author and dramatist. In Pirandello’s innovative theatre, the audience is given access to the thinking in conceiving the play. They become active participants.

It’s the equivalent to showing the guts of television and its operations at work to convince you, as I’m thinking about in this visual essay talking about the difference between traditional journalism and cinema journalism.

It’s not uncommon for many a journalists to go out to a story, only to observe it’s not the one the editor wants. All background material, dissent, self critique, out-of-the- ordinary is junked for the spectacle of the performance.

On the rare occasion the fourth wall becomes obvious story, as when a Trump supporter attacked a camera crew at a Trump raleigh. But watch how quickly the camera adopts the conventionalised reality of journalism again in the clip

Below, an independent camera catches out-of-the-conventional-frame- material, but the larger spectacle of the 4th wall is also ignored, which includes glimpses of the absurdity of the press operators tightly penned in together — Trump’s target for his charade.

In effect it would be difficult, though not impossible for organisations to reveal their own fourth walls — as all this would be is a continuum of their own agendas.

But what if just like @ledbyDonkeys, a crowd sourced network deconstructed what main hybrid interferers were doing? In Latvia, a prime time show Melu Teorija is dedicated to revealing spins and untruths made up by Russian active measure operators. In the Ukraine their show is Stop Fa̶k̶e̶ News

And this is Lithuania’s attempt to fight Russian Active Measures operators by launching a collaboration between Lithuania’s Military Strategic Communications (STRATCOM) and Elves — the equivalent of trolls.

But what if the distortion is inside, and how much more could you deconstruct a fourth wall to expose what’s going on? In effect, in UK institutions, 4th wall journalism hasn’t much started, and the public and a new generation of journalists are walking into ever complex wedgings.

Furthermore how can you guarantee people will watch what you’ve made?This combines a combination of innovation in identifying investigative tools, but also in the production of the stories, and perhaps takes us out of the ecosystem that grandees frame so trenchantly as “journalism” into the realms of Occured Events Digital Storytelling (OEDS), a term coined to delineate from the multi-verse of digital storytelling.

which I’ll explain further in the next post.

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Dr David Dunkley Gyimah is an international award winning innovator, and videojournalist. He’s a leading writer in Journalism on @Medium and has worked in the media for thirty years with some of the top brands in the BBC and Channel 4. He’s based at the Cardiff School of Journalism.

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Top Writer & Creative Technologist, Int. Award Winner. Cinemajournalist. Cardiff Uni @jomec. PhD (Dublin). Visiting Prof UBC, Ex BBC/C4News. Apple profiled.

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