What you learn from being a juror at the UK’s highest TV Journalism Awards

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The Day after the awards…

In an era of digital and second screens the assumed narrative is that television news is losing ground. Some people don’t watch it, some of us have conducted research into its changes (c.f. my PhD thesis).

Yet, the evidence presented by OFCOM’s Nick Pollard, former head of Sky News and a previous chair of the RTS awards, speaking at the University of Westminster (where I teach) the following day, provided contrary evidence.

Viewing figures for terrestrial TV News have more or less held since 2009.

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BBC 6 O’clock is up from 4.3m to 5.2m. Pollard reported viewers still gravitated to television on the big stories.

Television is still pulling in sizeable ad revenue, with Sky’s total revenue around 10 billion UK pounds this year. The BBC’s around 3.7 billion from the licence fee, national newspapers at 1 billion and Digital ( inc Google at 7.2billion pounds.

Small wonder perhaps that Vice, the darling of independent online video, plans it next major step for expansion, by, wait for it, going to TV.

The day before…..

And the winner for the RTS Award is… That moment when three finalists look up, their mouths dry and their hearts pulsating so loud you could hit them with noise abatement orders. Time stands still and then, then, the room explodes into whoopees and cheers.

This is the coveted awards UK television journalists and now businesses creating online video content for a UK audience want to get their hands on.

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Dinner before the awards 2016

Winning ‘News Channel of the Year’ today goes beyond bragging rights amongst colleagues. Now a strap line expressively tops and tail the victor’s news programmes. It’s a hail to viewers about the brand,‘ Hey, how do you like them apples’. To competitors and rivals, a gentle reminder that: ‘Nah nah nah nah nah, we won!”. Time to up the game next year.

I have been a juror for the News Technology panel for a number of years; something for which I’m very grateful to the RTS. A TV crew on the night asked me what it was like. ‘Stimulating’, I replied. You get a sense of the historicity of news and technology and how television is not only competing within itself, but externally responding to millennial journalism (me, 40 secs in).

Back in 1994, when I was one of those ‘upstart’ videojournalists for Channel One TV the industry at large could afford to ignore us. Not anymore. UK broadcasters have become adept at being swift integrationists but also producers of their own white labels, such as the iPlayer and this year’s winner, Care Calculator. Last year I introduced Touchcast (bottom para) to a friend at the BBC. Within a week the two had become bedfellows.

Broadcasting and technology have always been co-joined. From television’s early breakthrough at Alexandra Palace to geo-satellite technology, but the knowledge largely emerged from within the ecology of the broadcast fraternity. Snap chat, TouchCast, Periscope and whatever’s next came from the flank under the cover of social or some other Mad Men’s metonym.

The three finalists in this year’s News Technology revealed the breadth of innovation that accompanies the RTS, from workflows incorporating IP and multiple streamed broadcasts (Sky); a hackathon of technologists, social researchers and journalists joining forces to create a social calculator (BBC); and the production of an interactive factual to re-present media online (Channel 4). The judging process and what’s said at the jury gathering weeks ago is private, obviously, but some of my own general thoughts follow.

Channel 4’s Two Billion Miles — a reference to the collective miles undertaken by migrants says the broadcaster. At face value it reminds me of the award winning interactive factual by Honkytonk Films’ 2008 Journey To The End Of Coal

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Both work a game theory POV narrative in which the user is given choices. Journey of Coal, hampered by download speeds almost ten years ago relied on strong photography, soundscape and looped video for its audio and visual schema.

Two Billion Miles achieves a double whammy in showcasing Channel 4’s exemplary and award-winning reportage, thus acting as a repository for its archive, but also examines how POV reportage could work with the user prompted by a series of questions. The future of this form is where American academic Henry Jenkins sees interactive factuals

David Dunkley Gyimah presenting at SXSW

(see 1.08 in video) opening the form to media that is dynamic and where codecs can pull in up-to-the-minute data. This isn’t a criticism of Channel 4, as no RTS broadcaster has attempted this thus far. But interactive factuals are proving a huge growth area, as illustrated by the i-Docs Festival in Bristol in March.

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Sky News’ election broadcast showed scale and replicability. The problem they had to solve was how to film in 150 marginals — key political ground to last year’s general election. Ordinarily, satellites would fill the void. 150 satellite trucks though is pushing it, so Sky relied on IP (Internet protocol) and cloud server technology.

The broadcaster assigned 138 IPs to the problem. Some of the marginals shared camera coverage. Firstly, one of their hurdles would be the latency, Internet stability and plumbing for pulling in that many video feeds.

Secondly, both a bold and rewarding feat for the participants, 138 students were employed to shoot film at the marginals on DV Cams. All students showed. The versatility of this project provides an alternative to satellite tech, and yes plumbing in the likes of periscope, when its protocol feed can be directed to any end-receiver point, as well as twitter.

The Care Calculator which took the RTS prize this year was a industrial task of technology engineering involving not only data scrapping, but creating the variables and analytical formula which would make the calculator viable.

What it achieves by entering data into the data fields is to calculate how much it will cost for the state to look after you in care. In ageing populations with politicians cutting back on the social budget, this knowledge allows for degrees of planning and minimising surprises.

My three takeaways from the awards then:

  1. Television news innovates to stay relevant to audiences, embracing millennial technology and ideas.
  2. The conventions of television news remain robust in story form and reportage. Something for students entering the profession to consider alongside tech skills.
  3. One man bands are becoming more prevalent. Some years back, Channel 4’s Inigo Gilmore won an RTS for his film from Haiti. That trend of acknowledging solo filmmakers was evident with Benjamin Zand.
  4. Watch out for next year with 360, VR and 8K
  5. Good to hear diversity as an issue at the top of the RTS agenda.
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David Dunkley Gyimah is a senior lecturer at the University of Westminster in Journalism, Docs and Online Interactive Entrepreneurs . His career in broadcasting started in 1988 with BBC Radio Leicester as a student-freelancer. His worked for BBC Reportage, Newsnight, ABC News (South Africa), Radio 4 Docs and Channel 4 News. He is the recipient of a number of international awards, such as the Knight Batten for Innovation in Journalism (US). His doctorate from University College Dublin explores the integration of different media disciplines and a new style of video journalism, called Cinema Journalism. He’s next speaking at i-Docs in March and is a juror at One World Media Awards. More from his websites here. @viewmagazine

Written by

Top Writer & Creative Technologist, Int. Award Winner. Cinemajournalist. Cardiff Uni @jomec. PhD (Dublin). Visiting Prof UBC, Ex BBC/C4News. Apple profiled.

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