How do I close this report? You pretend you’re used to it, but it’s still terrifying when you’re faced with writer’s block and the studio is demanding you back at the office.
Let’s do it! (Please play this 31second clip below).
I’m about to speak at a conference — the last speaker of the day and I’m shaping my ten minutes. I will open with this for several reasons. You don’t know me, but the event of someone (me) running from the camera, pursued by a bayonetting British soldier may cause some mirth.
It’s 1994. Thinking up that ending took a couple of minutes. The temerity of me deciding how it should end might have insulted the sensibility of several editors. “No! you do the sign off David. You’re the reporter. That’s what you get paid for”. That I shot everything back then would have had you scratch your head. But that’s not the point why I’m showing this.
Something’s just happened to you. As an individual, looking at this, your reactions could go either way. Within a gathering of people, I’m more confident because I’m relying on research from Emily Phelps, Gustov Le Bon and the comedian’s safety net. Phelps in an experiment on the human mind wrote that by placing swear words between a series of abstract words, people’s mind were aroused. Hence, subjects were far more attentive and would remember the same words leavened with, say, “fuck you”, than when it wasn’t there. Gustov supplies that rationale for what becomes irrational behaviour. When one person laughs, it triggers you to laugh as well. It’s like yawning. That was the beauty of the theatre — group thinking.
It’s broken. The development of broadcast news has reached an impasse. Truth has called its job into question — the one thing we the audience need them to get right. And I’m not talking about fake news. I’m referring to the construct. When was the last time you saw a politician give an interview without their power suit and irradiant day light illuminating their features. That staged shot again. And then if the camera pulled back either way, it reveals a threadbare set, but the camera can’t show that because it undoes the modelling, the aesthetics of the shot, and breaks a handshake rule between the news and client.
Meanwhile, technology has reduced craftsmanship to conventions and rules. The poetry of language has been stifled into a mouthful of characters. To be first and the primary source is the goal. The technology revolution offers more choice and the establishment is now torn between providing what they believe they do best and that ungrateful audience. A high ranking friend within the BBC would tell me how programme makers were apoplectic from audience feedback. Bloody twitter!
If any of this resonates with your understanding of the status quo, then you’ve no reason to be alarmed. We’ve been here before, many times. Many times. What you might be alarmed by is what comes next?
Here I should offer a caveat, I’m not saying all broadcasting is broken beyond repair. I’m a juror for the UK’s highest award for broadcast news, the RTS and many broadcasters are upping their game. To be a juror too, I’m set parameters, guidelines, which as a professional I use to make my judgement. But I approach the issue about broadcasting based on years of experience and lately doctorate research. The latter, I really didn’t need, but it forced me to do something I might never have done by myself.
What if there was another way to getting to the truth? What if there was another way that affected the audience’s interpretive schema in which events lodged indelibly in your memory? What if there was a new language-like form that was waiting to be tapped into. What if, the conventions 50 years old, some not fit for purpose, were done away with?
In the 1860s, the establishment faced a similar fundamental problem. Further back still, the 1700s. Then the 1300s and you could find mini-disruptions sliced within these periods.
Marshall McLuhan captures the essence of the revolution, and a warning to the establishment, when he says the following:
McLuhan further asks or “would they begin a careful translation of the new art forms into social navigation?” He concludes, he is curious.
The revolution of now is mimicked in the 1860s in the world of Art. Back then, the establishment had a vice like grip on the way truth was paraded, how the public saw reality, and who was allowed to break into the public psyche. They were the men of Academy de Baux and they determined which artists would annually be invited to show their wares at the Salon. To exhibit at the Salon meant you were steeped in the antiquity of painting, of conventions and determining that only the powerful were worthy of public utility.
Then this happened. A group of painters defied the laws and conventions set by the establishment. Their paintings disrupted accepted forms. Perspective was played with, subjects were plucked from society. Nudes no longer were painted as beauty par excellence looking like Venus. Content moved out of modelling in the studios to nature.
This new form was rejected, derided, mocked, for it abrogated the way we thought. To suggest there was an alternative to Renaissance painting, is the equivalent of saying there’s another way to telling stories created by classical news. You likely know the story hereon, but for the sake of brevity, I’ll truncate what is a fascinating narrative and reiterate what several books document. The nouveau group labelled The Impressionists, turned art and our way of interpreting the world upside down. Classical painting survives, but the most exciting and exhilarating form that would capture audience’s attention exist today as a symbol of our progressive times.
Like the technology of mobile phones, the impressionists were helped by other shrunken technologies, such as the zinc tube. The arrival of the tube liberated artists from working in the studio. As Renoir would say: “Without colors (sic) in tubes, there would be no Cézanne, no Monet, no Pissarro, and no Impressionism’. Note however that whilst Zinc tubes were integral, the style, the thought process, the movement at getting to new truths was the predicate.
Here’s where I invite humility in what I next document. In 2011 I had a wish granted. It went like this. If you could invite anyone in the world to spend a week with who would it be?
I chose an award-winning filmmaker, Edinburgh festival director, a seasoned BBC Television film critic and journalist, and author of a love affair with film, called The Story of Film. We spent days together. I absorbing more, than what I could have given, but on the day of his departure I interviewed him. My question was an open one. “What did you think of your time here?”
This was his response.
But that’s not the whole point of this article, to subject you to some vainglorious narcissistic view of myself. No!
For six years I travelled round the world looking for self-shooters, interacting with groups, to find Impressionists and expresssionists, and to admire their craftsmanship. I found many and they all carried the torment of looking for the new and situating themselves at a crossroad that redefines journalism. Through a series of experiments and questions, the journey led to a moving image form of the impressionists, which I have come to call cinema journalism. Their approach to their work was phenomenological. Like me tools e.g. mobile, drones, go pros were vital but they were agnostic.
Cinema. Not as it’s popularly known. Not as its fictional form; Russian cinema in the 1930s was factual, but as an art form in which the sole aim with all the tools available to the practitioner boils down to this. How do I affect the understanding of the audience to see the world in a different way? How do I use the language-like medium of video to get to other truths? How do I leave a memory with you? It’s not eliminative. It is complex and simple. It does not replace broadcast journalism, but it gives an alternative to the rhetoric of broadcast journalism. History, may not repeat itself, but events like this have happened fat too often not to take it seriously.
[NB: This trailer looks at young Syrians and our exploration of cinema journalism.] Yes there’s a typo! But I have left it in.
Dr David Dunkley Gyimah, an applied chemistry grad, former artist in residence at London’s Southbank Centre, and long standing member of Chatham House, fuses art, news contemporary affairs, tech and culture into journalism and storytelling. He publishes viewmagazine.tv.
He is the director of the Digital Interactive Storytelling LAB at the University of Westminster, which investigates and delivers meta journalism in cinema journalism, meta photojournalism by Dr Massimiliano Fusari, and meta interactivity from Dr Sandra Gaudenzi for next generation storytellers.
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