Why Mentoring Matters, and How Storytellers worked with the best

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Dr David Dunkley Gyimah, with the Guild of Entrepreneurs

It would culminate in a Shark Tank/ Dragons Den filmed presentation, but more on that later. Firstly, something was missing. Universities can be likened to sea barnacles. Steadfast and hard to shift course even when flagellated by giant seaweed and changing tides.

In our rapidly changing world, of tech, information transfers and behaviour, in the part majorly responsible for how you think and and run your life, journalism, plus ça change.

At its core, it’s about gathering, producing and disseminating information — an industry that hoovers up words and images and trades it just like a frenetic stock floor. Its output shapes your worldview. But this grand image of becoming a scribe and producing video news has its achilles for you as much as the practitioners and it’s about to go through unimaginable upheaval.

The Warden of Goldsmith College, Pat Loughrey, formerly Director of BBC Nations and Regions, would capture the problem.

A style of television news of how we made television journalism when I was a child in the 1950s cannot today be the answer.

In the office, I’m leading a team as brightly coloured pen marks adorn the wall. We’re taking an ice pick to journalism’s modular training slab. If journalism’s authentic modus operandi today is supposed to be a conversation, is able to recognise its flaws e.g. biases, and set out to address pressing issues, how might that approach of discovery and refluxing ideas be achieved in its training?

For starters we pulled our lens back much wider to accommodate the frequent use of the word, “storytellers”. Then we’d collapse a number of disciplines together. That can be tricky, as each discipline could fill a whole year in itself.

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David finishing off gym

One morning having finished a body pumping class and yoga my mind drifts to dah la! — what seems obvious.

In my career I’ve been involved in several start ups from the first ever videojournalists in the UK, to several in the crazy days of Dotcom mania one, like Justgiving.com — which is now stratospheric.

What if the course could be run as an agency? What does that mean? It means its multiple project orientated, it’s lean, is an ideas hub and rather than lectures formulated as tablets of stones, deep information is parsed by applied lectures or sprints.

We’d foster a lab mentality where learning and building is heightened, providing a safety net for expected flaws. We rehearse, iterate and fail fast under deadlines, before any necessary pivots. We’d be agnostic to the two majorly differing philosophies of learning experienced in the East and West; the former rewards copying before innovating (see History of Chinese clockmaking), the latter continually seeks to be original. Each has their pluses and cons. I have a keen interest in China, having visited Chongqing on an academic tour.

But then the next major breakthrough. How do you bring a perspective to student cohorts to greatly accelerate their knowledge, confidence and output? A friend was part of an organisation called the Guild of Entrepreneurs. We would meet at their home just near the Bank of England and over the course of several meetings brokered one of the most memorable programs I’ve known.

A call went out to its entrepreneurs (expressed on their website) and six became mentors for our students. Their wide and varied knowledge in running top flight digital businesses were exactly what I wanted for storytellers to grasp the new world that seamlessly collapses tech, storytelling and business.

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Guild of Entrepreneurs join the programme
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Mentors meeting their mentees for the first time. After that meeting, they would organise meetings off campus

We needed to shift the barnacles from the beech and we did. The lecturing team and I would pose questions and we’d hack away with cohorts (we tried not to call them students). Then the mentors would bring a new and completely illuminating interaction of problem-finding and solutions. The scheme was a huge success, culminating in a filmed agency-style pitch, blogs like in which Sara gets the opportunity to make a film for the amazing Rachel Wang of Chocolate Films, photojournalism essays, and this from Eliska below.

There are two broad strands to innovation, the organic approach, or the forced build. If you have the luxury and time, then the former works and is the model in Silicon Valley. But we’re running out of time. The onset of AI and its unimaginable impact on professions and lives, and the disrupting politics of our time call on approaches that bootstrap eclectic thinking.

This year, I’m running a new lab, with a colleague JT, at the University of Cardiff where I’m now based and the intelligence gathered specifically from the last five years is being leveraged to embrace AI and more. The disruptive-progression approach has been refined. We’ve created a remote mentoring scheme with some of our previous mentors, whilst I’m delighted to invite new ones.

With weeks of rehearsals, we’ll end with our Dragons Den, we call Angel’s Table — professionally filmed presentations purposeful for broadcast. It’s the equivalent of a live CV, showing presentation skills, problem solving and marrying storytelling with Tech.

Mentoring isn’t about giving. Its rewards says Stephen Wheatley who participated in our programme are reciprocal. “You learn from your mentee too”. I thought I’d take it a step further. What could storytelling mentees gift their mentors. The answer lied in the relationship of 20th century painters who would gift their benefactors with artefacts and portraits. A year on and some of the mentor-mentee relationships are still going, with Farhana creating this promo for Stephen. That’s Why Mentoring Matters, and that’s how Storytellers got to work with the bests

Dr David Dunkley Gyimah is a creative technologist, amongst other things. He is a co-investigator for Creative Clwstwr — UK wide scheme empowering creatives in screen based industry and sits on the advisory board for the British Library’s major news exhibition. You can contact him here gyimahd@cardiff.ac.uk

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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