In a musty warehouse in South London decked out with photographic gear we gathered. I hadn’t much information about why, other than my agent at the time Jacquie Evans telling me the Evening Standard was producing a special edition for their magazine.
I counted about eight people. Why so little, I thought. I knew two of them fairly well, the writers and brothers Dotun and Diran Adebayo, and recognised one other whose star was rising phenomenally.
Zadie Smith, a 23-year-old writer was due to publish her first fictional book, White Teeth. There was volcanic interest from fans such as Salman Rushdie, the publishing fee and her backstory. She started writing White Teeth after being praised for a short story during her final year at Cambridge. An editor asked if she had a book in the pipeline. Yes, she fibbed.
Two other well known faces who were shot separately for the spread were actors Peter de Jersey( The Bill) and Sophie Okonedo (The Governor, most recently Chimera).
And then there was me in the room gradually taking to my coat of self-doubt and imposter syndrome. I exchanged pleasantries with a barrister, DJ, and a fashion designer. A couple of directed shuffles in the line-up, with a journalist asking questions, and within thirty minutes that was it.
ES Magazine hit the stands just about twenty years from me writing today.
The methodology for choosing those in the line-up remains unclear. There were and are scores of young people pursuing their dreams, and being featured in a newspaper too is not necessarily an accurate sign of one’s real, as opposed, to presumed status.
In extolling our achievements, the Standard was de facto nodding at our appointments as role models; young black people pursuing their dreams. Equally, with the millennium drawing in, it was apt content, albeit “about-time too” content, as well. That said and without sounding haughty was it just another day in newspaper publishing? We move on.
By now, within popular culture you know what’s become of Zadie, Sophie, Dotun etc. and I mean no slight to the others for not including them. I think there’s a broader piece about where they are? Did we continue in this semiotic perception, or did we continue to plough a course for our own self actualisation, irrespective of press interest?
Next month, I’m due to speak at the British Council’s Future of News event, in which 100 carefully selected young would-be journalists from around the world will gather in London to hear from experts. There is much to talk about.
In the same month, I’ll be chairing an hour-long conversation at the Centre for Investigative Journalism conference with Olivier Van Beeman’s who’s written about “Heineken in Africa”. I’ve recently moved to the Cardiff School of Journalism where I’ll be running the MA Foreign News Reporting module, working in data, and innovation in a research programme with the BBC et al. Independently too there’s my own research programme in A.I. News, where working with a specialist I present an image of 2030. I have form in innovation.
So what’s happened? Twenty years is a generation. I had another couple of years of exclusive broadcasting before turning to academia. It’s been interesting. My yearning has been to learn about anything I come into contact. In the past this has been seen as a weakness — lack of a specialism. But I can confidently say this, as I do to students and the many I’ve trained, pursue what pleases your passion.
An interest in cameras and editing as a videojournalist has led to strong technical skills, coding and scripting has had me sharing web app design, storytelling combining the historicity, behavioural psychology and neuroscience has been wrapped together. It’s taken me on independent reporting projects to Egypt, the Syrian border( trailer above), Russia, China and India to name a few. In 2005 I was the first Brit to win the Knight Batten Awards for Innovation in Journalism, various other international awards and got to speaking on the international circuit e.g. SXSW . Then I completed a doctorate at UCD.
If I wasn’t sure back then, I am now. Knowledge and spotlights mean nothing if they can’t be shared. If ethics, a deep knowledge of diversity and inclusion, and the art of meaning making isn’t passed on, what is the point?
Changes in society, driven in part by technology, yet underscored through historical events is a crucial legacy for this and future generations. The Chinese have a proverb, “If you want to know what water is, don’t ask the fish”.
Take the manner in which Generation Z absorbs media compared to Millennials. How influencers garnered around self promotion are gradually losing traction, how news is valued according to a growing communal understanding of the world and the skill sets that can be learned, how reputation and respect is earned rather than given, and that recent neuroscience tells us that the decision making part of the brain, the prefrontal cortex, does not stop growing until around 25-years of age. There’s biological reason for risk taking.
It’s pressing time, more than ever, to give back and for that I have never been more comfortable and grateful for the interactions. Whether it’s the opportunity to share my knowledge with the RTS as a juror for the UK’s Television Awards which I have been performing over the years, or otherwise in the lecture room with students, and supervising one-on-ones, the value of accruing a diverse array of interests and sharing has never seemed more pertinent.
That photoshoot twenty years ago serves as a time stamp for who we, or at least I was perceived to be, as opposed to what I believe I am. For that I’m grateful to the many who’ve allowed me to share their space anew or continue to strengthen our relationships.
Dr David Dunkley Gyimah is an Asper Visiting Professor of Journalism 2018 at University of British Columbia, and a former artist in residence at the Southbank Centre. He is at the Cardiff School of Journalism. David has been a journalist for almost thirty years working for the likes of Newsnight, Channel 4 where he was Jon Snow’s producer (click here for Jon Snow testimony) and ABC News in South Africa. His future ambition is to head up a global think and practise tank of Quantum interdisciplinary storytellers.