Storytelling of a New Kind

In the beginning there was cinema circa 1900. Then TV News around 1948 came along.

TV needed to win over an audience and to do so meant not replicating cinema. So execs stole some of cinema’s clothes e.g. framing, looked to Newsreels, but its practitioners wanted something distinct from cinema.

They truncated cinema’s language, making it fit for 13 inch TV screens at the time. Movement where possible was to be avoided instead of static shots.

Furthermore, since radio stations were footing the bill for TV News stations, they funded their new ventures on a shoe string. Whilst cinema could afford multiple cameras, TV News could only afford one per reporter. Hence contributing to the cutaway and some.

The news package came to fruition in the 1960s attributed to a news station in LA. Its formula was in part driven by economics. Execs discovered advertisers wanted to sell their clients’ products to a growing news audience. Thirty minute newscasts with ad breaks brought in more revenue, instead of 15 minutes as they were before.

Some experts argued earlier on that TV News was becoming prescriptive. Robert Drew the father of Cinema Verite had news figured out, but TV News people didn’t want to know.

They took my equipment but not my techniques, he would tell me. That equipment included newly-sized mobile cameras.

By the 70s and 80s Electronic news gathering and the idea of collapsing the sound and camera person became feasible. In the 90s, the size of the cameras became so small that one person could now film, operate sound and edit.

By the late 90s the one wo/man band was becoming the norm, except for network news. They felt the division of labour and suitcase-sized camera, amongst other attributes, was a requisite for professionalism. Also, generally network news had signed long term deals with broadcast news equipment manufacturers so were bound by long terms licenses.

In 2004, mobile news was on the cards. I led a research team showing the BBC the future of news captured here by Journalism.co.uk. The Nokia was all the rage and at various breakthrough ONA meetings groups of us from academia and broadcasting e.g. Reuters would seek to understand its future.

By 2008 Apple were making serious in roads with their touch screens. Mobile Journalism using a phone was the next big thing.

The wonderment was you could film on a mobile phone fit for broadcast. That’s now standard. Yet whilst the gear has changed since the 1940s the style of the news package hasn’t.

This is Deborah Turness, one of the most powerful news exec in the UK. At the time of this interview more than a decade ago for my PhD, she was editor of ITN. She then joined NBC as their president and now is the CEO of ITN

The reporter , in the news package, is centre stage followed by the conventions of filming laid down in the 1940s. Then a problem arose. It reared its head in the 90s where you can chart the decline in viewership of TV News. It’s continued with Gen Z etc. Young people are not watching the news.

The reasons are many, but one profound one was in research it did not excite them. The quality of the broadcasts focused on the reporter ‘hailing’ and stories that were “the same old story” or lacked something. The “Same old Story” by the way was the headline from New’s report by Ian Hargreaves, featured in Broadcast news’s trade magazine.

Some innovative professionals questioned the way stories could be told. Could you tell compelling, watchable stories in the guise of journalism and news, just as photojournalists turned around the style of photography from conventional photography?

Those professionals reworked storytelling taking cues from multiple sources and arrived at a form, that documentary had embraced big time in the 90s. In the early 2000s, and it’s often attributed to Michael Moore ( Bowling for Columbine (2002)) the documentary format was revived. Moore steered it towards Cinema.

In Moore’s 13 rules of documentary he says

“The first rule of documentaries is: Don’t make a documentary — make a MOVIE”.

What then if journalism and news could use cinema — the very thing eschewed by the execs in 1940s? But what do you mean by cinema? I have a whole spectrum of posts on my Medium platform that explains.

However, watch a Netflix doc and you begin to get the idea. There’s a world of cinema already and we can use that language to better tell stories to viewers.

Last year one of the BBC’s most revered journalists made a film on a COVID-19 ward. When I showed the film to Gen Z, they could distinguish between that film and one similar.

They called it cinema. When I spoke to the journalist, he used references like we were shooting it like a David Lean film. As an expert in the genre, when I saw it it was a magnificent version of Cinema Journalism.

It is the future. This year Danish TV, India, Russia and UK participants are getting in on the form having asked me to present to them. Next year will be even busier. If you’d like to know more drop me a line.

End

Dr David Dunkley Gyimah has been working in the media for more than thirty years and is a former foreign correspondent in South Africa during Apartheid. He’s an RTS juror ( equivalent of US Emmy Awards) and one of the advisors for the British Library’s 500 year history of News in 2022. He was the chair of the organising committee for Cardiff University’s Future of News summit 2021.

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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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Dr. David Dunkley Gyimah

Dr. David Dunkley Gyimah

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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