Are you kidding me? Cue: howls of belly-ache laughter followed by the sort of ribbing you could do without. It’s the 70s and ITN journalist John Suchet is decked out as a one-man band.
The image was in fact spoofed by his sound man Ken Mellor and sent to broadcast union heads with the note John was breaking the rules by attempting to report, shoot and do sound at the same time. Back then not only was it forbidden by the unions, it appeared nigh on impossible. ITN journalists were however visionaries in more union-accepted ways. They were the first to refine the story-style you see on British television today.
Look around you. It’s more than likely whatever field you work in you can point to someone who’s the avant-garde, an outlier, an artist at their craft whom you and a few others admire. They are the visionaries whose work unbeknown to many, will only in hindsight signal that they heralded the future.
Television producer and art critic Robert Hughes sought to frame the work of this artist by saying “The essence of the avant-garde myth is that the artist is a precursor; the truly significant work of art is the one that prepares the future”.
They somehow see the future, yet for Hughes the rest of us are hemmed in by existing paradigms, when he says ‘The transitional focus of culture, on the other hand, tends to treat the present as the culmination of the past”.
All too often we look to an immediate past to make sense of the world we live in. Innovation in small leaps can find its trace elements in its 6'O clock shadow.
For the outlier, their innovation is unsighted. It happened with the Realists painters in the 18th century when they wanted to capture a broader tapestry of culture — ordinary life basically. One art critic compared Realist artist Gustav Courbet to manure, mucus and farts. Impressionism hence upended classic art. In literature, the first modern novel Madam Bovary by French writer Gustave Flaubert wasn’t just ridiculed but attacked by public prosecutors for its obscenities.
You don’t have to look back all the way back in history either. Rap music and Queen Latifah, a woman breaking the mould. The founders of Black Lives Matter. Sure some people would have rolled their eyes when they heard they were looking to build a social movement. Whose rolling it now? Then there are the innovator — journalists.
LOOK INTO THE FUTURE
If you’re one of the new journalists filming on a mobile phone, congratulations and welcome, but the outliers, the avant-garde shaping the future are miles ahead of you, I tell an audience at one of London’s leading journalism venues The FrontLine Club.
How do you square being the artists in journalism, the future shaper today, whilst appealing to its tenants? For that a side bar is needed.
It’s 1905 one of the greatest scientists that ever lived has an idea to describe the properties and behaviour of light. For 200 years and if you remember your secondary or high school physics, light was a wave form. Einstein believed it could be a particle as well — tiny beaded particles, photons, moving together.
Surely it couldn’t be. That daring consideration would attempt to fuse two opposing variations. Yet we’re in the era 200 years advanced from how the world was, in Newton’s mechanical physics, to Einstein’s Quantum.
In experimental tests that would follow, this duality plagued scientists. And then in 1926 one brilliant Danish physicist Niels Bohr published his theory the Principle of complementarity. Light could be both. Thus resolving this dual conundrum. Wave type phenomenon data that appeared when its particle form was sought, and vice versa, could be chosen to suit intended experiments.
This was both the innate bombshell which would yield the enduring narrative for many a futurists in their professions. Bombshell because science’s carefully crafted persona of being objective had been de-robed. Author and scholar Leonard Shlain wrote:
Thus subjectivity the anathema of all science ( and the creative well spring of all art) had to be admitted into the carefully defended citadel of classical physics.
Yes, you might still prove empirical findings, as I once did as a trainee chemist, the inviolability of change for a chemical substrate like 2-Acetoxybenzoic acid (Aspirin) here and in Japan, but make no mistake a boundary had been crossed a hundred years ago. A connection in natural science between choice and interpretation, between what Bohr’s student John Wheeler explained was the conscious mind and reality out there.
Back to the main argument then, because if science could dally with this dissonance, and journalism purports to align itself with science’s empirical paradigms then somewhere, somehow a complementarity can be assumed, by artists (artists-journalists).
And that’s precisely what they’ve done. A fusion of subjectivity and attainment for objectivity. To want to be impartial, but knowing that’s impossible. Yet at the same time not wanting to be dispassionate which undergirds normative journalism. I want you to feel how I feel is the refrain from the artist-quantum journalists. This is 2021 after all.
Cold bare face journalism, wave form, engaged in an isomeric relationship with emotions in art/cinema (photons). I first came across this phenomena back in 1994 and it would be just over 20 years later in which I explored it as a PhD gathering evidence. And even then post-PhD there was still work to be done.
As a science graduate, I had the opportunity of becoming a journalist reporting on major assignments around the world and would become one of the one-wo/man band journalists in 1994. The unions by then had relented. And then I became an artist.
It wasn’t the discipline called videojournalism and its sibling mobile journalism that led to the artist and their new artistry, but the gateway did provide room for those wanting to seek another way.
TELEVISION NEWS’ BRILLIANCE
Some brief context. The introduction of the form of television news journalism you see today was a brilliant piece of engineering when it was created in the late 40s, and refined in the 1960s. It truncated one-hour documentary forms and news reels into new two-minute digests.
But here’s where you need to take a leap of faith.
All other forms of making that involve peering at truth and reality have undergone alterations pressed by changes in societies e.g. literature, law, music, culture etc. What would make you think TV News journalism is an exception?
Television news’ dominance mirroring Hollywood films entry into Europe during the world wars was a in part down to its early uptake and being exported to the four corners of the globe.
But its integrity in its current state is faltering in ways it tries to interpret the complexities of the modern world. It‘s continually tested by PR’s dirty tricks in dead cats, politician’s disinformation and audience’s apathy ( young people in particular). Its structure and form bestowed by pioneers for the many reasons it was fit back in the 60s-90s appears stretched in areas.
Remember you, your parents and friends grew up on the model of TV News. It showed you the world whilst teaching you to interpret it its way as the only way.
How do you spot the artist-quantum journalists? Look carefully. Over the years my investigations have become more pointed. There are clues. They have a habit of winning awards. People come to love what they do, but can’t seem to explain why, let alone replicate it, because in deconstructing what they see they look for answers in journalism’s existing field.
Next week Wednesday is the Royal Television Society’s Journalism Awards in which I served as one of its judges. If my hypothesis further tested is right, underneath this text, I’ll provide the research around how viewers interpret news film they prefer as cinema.
In the meantime if you want to know more about the artist-journalist in what I refer to as the cinema journalist, this could be your next read.