Reality wasn’t merely broken, it’s just that people started to look for theirs through literally a different lens. The time when a group of professionals concocted a rigid format to inform its public had passed. That part of reality had become decrepit, broken into a million shards.
Of course it had to — all forms atrophy. All forms. Except custodians tend always to be in denial. This is how news is made, they repeatedly told us. Except that thing. That thing called news was itself a construct and viewers signalled they were weary about being told any longer.
What people craved was drama and new drama. They wanted stories, new stories, otherwise reversioned ones that aligned with their autobiographical memory.
The evidence from 2011 onwards was compelling. Firstly their own industry castigated them for their predilection to telling the same old story. Really! Here’s the page from Broadcast magazine.
Secondly, diverse stories made by those who dared were lapped up by audiences. That’s at least what Variety Magazine was telling us about Hollywood.
Those stories I told a leading city law firm, with David Lammy MP as one of its hosts remain untapped. This schematic, below, supported by a narrative suggested how to bridge new stories from established sources. From this I was invited to pen a 5000 word opinion piece for the European Human Rights Law Review.
Even Marvel DC got in on the act with a storyline that put America’s white icon Captain America in the dock for physical murder and moral decay, as a black man, Falcon, came to the rescue. Falcon (gasp!) becomes the new Captain America delivering a missionary speech to senators on governance and responsibility.
Audiences simply got tired of the same-o-same-o. That’s what made them flock to Netflix, JustWatch (came out in 2027), Prime, Disney+, Apple and cinema. They turned away from television’s video news journalism. Their reality was to be sated by information that was relational and representative of themselves. And they could not find that in an aged format, now hitting its 90th birthday.
This is a letter to myself. It’s 2030. Sixty and a bit years ago, a group of professionals finally perfected a story form that honed a half hour documentary into a two-minute information snack. It was a wondrous bit of engineering and so successful it became a major export around the world, netting millions for its executives.
For the first time, a story could now be told in two minutes, devoid of complex developed characters, mise-en-scène, story arcs that developed over a period of time and a pathos in narration. It was so generic, they even named their footage GVs (General vision).
Before TV news making there WAS immersive media. But the bosses weren’t interested in that. Their idea was simple. Cram as many snackable mini-stories, no more than two minutes, into a half-hour programme and if a few catch crabs, so what? In the end advertisers loved it. Audiences loved it. Executives loved it. Until, they didn’t.
Remarkably it worked. Television news’ stroke of genius was devising a form, and like religion convincing its followers it was sacrosanct. Like the Gideons Bible tucked in draws of five star to off-road motels everyone would come to revel in this good word. But just as the party started, their invention was already slowly atrophying. Viewers just needed to catch up. By the 90s they did.
The cruel blow was building a multibillion industry and convincing everyone it was infallible. Then like planes sitting on a tarmac, realising because of external forces, they’re unable to fly, the news industry hit the wall. What did it? What nailed it? Many things.
And that, I tell myself reading this letter in 2030 was avoidable. Avoidable because each time the prospect of change emerged from some brilliant television practitioners, the industry blithely failed to understand what they were seeing. In 2021 I conducted a test with Masters students, Russian journalists and Indian journalist part of Facebook Accelerator programme. They all saw it.
Our reality shifted. Drama was sought and those that could realise fact could be more tangible than fiction prevailed. It’s because we need new stories that a group began to look literally outside that box. And they didn’t have far to look.
Can you see it? Can you see it! I asked a colleague. No! Oh yeah, yeah! I can now. Great piece of television news, he said. Except it wasn’t. Some people like to inform us about what they know, rather than what they see. Sometimes too they don’t want to make the jump outside their comfortable domains.
For them, she is always spinning clockwise. News journalism killed itself. Their viewers warned them, but they kept trying to feed the audience the same diet, the same style, the same grits. I like grits by the way.
And just like the revolt of filmmaking in the early century when films like Life of an American Fireman stultified audiences because the same scene shot from a different angle would then bolt onto the previous same scene, movie audiences signalled their intent.
In the 1800s audiences did it too with the impressionist painters. The bosses that ran the show in Paris, the eye of the art world, thought they too had the style under control. Their idea of reality from pristine, saturated colour pigments, in-studio portraits, Ingres-type paintings as the norm was about to be unceremoniously rejected. History has a sense of humour. Just depends what side of history you’re on.
What sealed it, was a combination of several things: politicians had learned that traditional journalists, try as hard as they could, couldn’t lay a glove on them. Lying was so common, communication consultants were actively teaching their fledgling political clients that truth didn’t matter anymore. “Lie and smile” became an in-house meme; another was ‘The Truth Ruth’ — be ruthless in the face of the truth. Psychologist framed it where it belonged, the the peak-end rule. Audiences only remember the end of the experience.
It’s why whatever the British government did under a PM called Boris Johnston; whatever opprobrium was laid at №10, it didn’t stick. The roll our vaccination was the peak end rule.
Your aim, consultants preached, was to gain power by, wait for it, “any means necessary”. AI too had strafed the journalism industry. Those that held out for a communion of homo sapiens and machine were disappointed. Models like Knowhere News showed how it could be done sans journalist. It was the ultimate honey pot. Why on earth pay a journalist for a news copy when a piece of algorithm could do it for you.
And then gloriously, a group of youngsters would emerge; not unlike those in 2000 post-figuring video via TikTok, or those pioneers (photo above) prefiguring in the 90s, or those in the 60s who saw cinema truths, Vérité, as a solution.
Stories weren’t just stories to be consumed for leisure, they were integral to the time and space travel human undertake frequently when their imaginations fire up. Stories weren’t just stories, they became vehicles to problems that required solving. Like calculus, integration finally came into its own. On one side was the art of story; the other the science and maths of its crafting.
The most powerful medium gifted to the world was cinema. Its ambitious cousins, documentary and news journalism, were close by. Each had benefits and flaws. And then over time a group found out how to engineer the two as one.
In the overlap between normative journalism and cinema realism viewers gasped when they witnessed politicians lying. In that tiny slither of overlap lay a fresh way to communicate. And it was powerful and memorable. It left indelible imprints on viewers around climate altered states, capitalism’s dark relenting consequences, and a world where ageing populations were nomads, disabused by society, as corporations fed on their meagre worldly possessions.
Yes it changed. Reality was reclaimed. Drama was restored. And that’s how it happened. And that’s how I came to write this letter to myself, looking back ten years from now. It’s March 30th 2030 and this letter is being reopened. The last paragraph says:
Dr. David Dunkley Gyimah has been in news and journalism for more than thirty years. A Maths and Chemistry grad, and former artist-in-residence at London’s Southbank, he combines tech, art and media in training and teaching. More on him here.