The Digital Pub Test- How to make it in the media.
John’s just got up to get the last round. What will you have? “Ruddles, no make that a Becks”.
“You sure”, I’m asked.
“Nah on second thoughts I’ll have a southern comfort and lime”.
Either John’s fine with that or he’s quietly bemused. Not to worry thought-reading isn’t the norm at the moment.
The drinks are taking a while and fair play you didn’t pay for this round, but whatever happens you’re doing the next. Yep, guess what? Five other mates of mates have joined the table.
Reminds me of a story by Director Paul Greengrass when he was being considered for the Bourne films and whilst Damon’s ordering food he’s thinking I’ve only got $20 or is it $10 in his wallet. Please don’t order the steak, he’s thinking.
As John goes off to get the drinks, you’re now face-on with the editor. A breezy banter starts up and by the time you know it, your work ethic is being dissected and relayed back to you.
This is it. This is the pub test. I first came across it in the early 1990s working for BBC Newsnight. Like a children’s storybook, there’s an editor, a producer and you. The producer goes to get a drink. What happens next? Does the editor stare into his vacant pint, whilst you make a b-line for the bathroom, or can you actually hold a conversation.
Talking about you is good, because like the digital world, people don’t generally share grim posts, with friends, as much they share funny ones. Your news is good news.
My teenage years were spent in Ghana. Pubs? What’s that? At Uni I was a steward marshalling students at the local pubs/ bars and ensuring the peace was kept on Saturdays when chundering was a sport usually followed by an uncordinated swing of the arm at someone who dared glance at your girlfriend or boyfriend.
But generally I never went to pubs. No reason other than I wasn’t a drinker. That perfunctionary thought missed a point in my social cultural upbringing. We’re not going to the pub to drink, a friend say, but to have a social. The beer’s just a lubricator.
The pub was and is the omnipresent storytelling platform. It exists in many countries, but there’s something quintessentially British about the “Hare and Lettuce”. It’s simulacrum has gone digital. But before we get to that, a round robin of the pub.
It’s where Begbie psychos off in Train Spotting; jar in hand, then out as he “Jeremy Hunts” his way through his story.
In Landis’ An American Werewolf In London (1981) it’s a den of unfriendlies as backpackers upset the community’s intimacy. Cousin of mine once took me to a similar pub on the outskirts of Nottingham (middle UK). He flings the door open and the place comes to standstill. George, a cockney rhymer and geeza, walks to the bar and orders a Ruddles. We’re still being looked at, then he turns around after a mouthfuls of gulps and bellows: “Cor Blimey! Anyone would think there’s a black man in here or sum’it?”
Place breaks down into echoes of laughter and we spend the rest of the evening being everyone’s guest. Stranger things. The pub is the mixer. It’s where you could meet a celeb or swap stories with News presenter Jon Snow inside the Toriano ( Kentish Town), where they’ve named a beer after him. One of my students did her feature on this.
If you’re in the media, the pub is everyone’s green room after a show. And if you don’t do pubs ( Wine bar person?) then you’ve missed not only the next contract floating about the office, but the office dynamics.
The lockdown has yielded versions of the pub through zoom meetings, but even before then the web and social media have increasingly come to reflect one’s “real” social groupings. I still wrestle with the general thought that social media is a single entity just as much as the media is, and thus all media can be blamed for the ills of a journalist at a Covid briefing asking whether 45 will pardon Tiger King’s Joe Exotic, currently serving 22 years in prison.
First sight of the web in 1995
When the web first reared its head it was to believed to be the great leveller. Nowhere would be off limits. Jobs for the boys would be open access. Digital would provide a world where inequality would be eroded. Presenting the news about the web in 1995 was like a Nirvana-in-waiting.
Five years later, by 1999 and My Space and Friends Reunited, the web was mirroring social stratas in the real world. By 2015, digital situatedness had become reified. Never mind if you didn’t cross lanes in the real world, online where you could reach out was increasingly apping the analogue world.
In Marcus Ryder’s enlightening post about diversity, jobs and social moorings, the web reflects, for me, a template of social connections in the real world. Remeber that wasn’t necessarily the case at the beginning. Your digital online identity is less your avatar anymore.
What therefore looks like innocuous posts can be rounded up into sentiment pools likely to provide context about you. IBM’s pubnub is a good starting place for introspection. Innocent questions and games revealing your social DNA can unknowingly become more than a laugh. This is not to suggest we should all be guarded.
Uploading a teenage group picture becomes a semiotic footprint clawing back the past to the present and inprinting search engines. In the future, some recruitment bot will ask the question, “please map out your potential recruits closests friends and provide me a sentiment analysis of what they’re like”. diversity and what makes you different, in some ways fashioned by Epstein in his acclaimed book Range, can still be viewed as a weight rathe than a feather.
If our online personna defines you? Who cares if you’re the writers behind “Meet the Adebanjos”, a British African sitcom which started as a web series in 2011. Was it too culturally down for BBC or ITV to grab the series? It’s become Netflix’s gain. But these are rare gains.
The question around equity and diversity was uppermost in the mind of diversity champions this new century’ Covid’s furloughing period refocuses the debate. Web 1, and 2, may have failed the Turin test for letting people express something for how they’d like to be considered and build solid cross lane networks, but for the next gen, there’s a window.
Algorithmic matching means by measuring your own sentiment analysis and gauging your posts you can structure the output you desire. Of course some people are doing that already (gaming the system). But we’re entering a realm of online where cultural awareness will be even more important as preparedness (e.g. posting).
It doesn’t guarantee the job out of your immediate social circle is yours, but may bring you closer to the chatter of how to get it. That is making you aware how you’re being recieved and where you pitch your social flag. Somewhere in a digital space is someone talking about the job you want.
What’s it going to be ?
Sorry can I have a Becks and the creative directors job looks inviting.
Dr David Dunkley Gyimah is a Creative Technologist, Cinema journalist and Senior Lecturer at Cardiff University in Emerging Journalism and AI and Foreign News Reporting. He’s a Visiting Prof at UBC, (Canada). He is one of the top writers in journalism on Medium for his blog “Forethought”.