Sunday, November 02, 2014

The Art of a New International VideoJournalism - A Brit, US Social Scientist, and Syrian Talent

By 3 O'clock in the afternoon, it dawned on me the magnitude of the story. We're holed up in a hotel near the Turkish-Syrian border. That's me standing on the bed.
Young Syrian journalists in the room, fifteen in all, have taken huge risks to cross over. Their stories are powerful, yet untold, and international businesses regularly lift or take parts of their report with no remuneration.
We're trying something called videojournalism-as-cinema - an artistic form of news making. The story really starts here, almost thirty years ago... Five minutes of the film can be viewed below...

Nineteen eight-seven
Looking across the auditorium at some of the US’ most respected educators, Donald Schön presented a simple yet powerful tale he had recounted several times.
Its impact was no less emphatic for professionals who were not educators, such as designers, health workers, and for that matter journalists.
You’re riding a bike and you begin to fall to the left. How do you quickly regain your composure?
Turn Right
Turn Left
I don’t know
It’s an irrelevant question
The answer, the MIT social scientist said was to turn into the left. It has to do with the bike, which acts like a gyroscope, re-finding its centre of gravity. Racing car drivers braking around a bend at 200kph know this. But what about those who might say turn the other way? In practice, Schön continued you don’t fall off so what’s going on.
Often, we might know what to do, without necessarily being able to put this into words. This phenomenon Schön called reflection-in-action.
Doctors will sometimes detect an illness, not based on a clinical diagnosis but a hunch. Designers make use of reflection-in-action to ponder a new design, like the Stata Center in MIT, Cambridge, Massachusetts, when the concept appears impossible, and journalism?
Well, swathes of journalists have creatively thought through the process of compiling a report against a deadline when the odds have been stacked against them — but there’s a catch.
Schön’s address poked at education on the one hand and the professions on the other. There is an enslavement to the packaging of knowledge in academia he said, and the rigid modular form students are taught does not give rise to what he called reflection-in-action, or reflection-on-action. One is an ongoing process, the other occurs over time.
Here, students should have the artistic freedom to experiment, to develop new forms, to ‘make it up’ within a framework and assess their work thereafter. The idea caught on with many US educators doubling as action researchers who incorporated Schön’s teaching into their classes.
But arguably and generally television journalism has been in stasis.
A case in point, students undertaking television journalism or documentary will often work through how to create news and documentaries based on a rationale of the way things ARE done.
Not by what could be done, which is in stark contrast to visual or graphic designers who employ wide discursive methods to reach their goal.
News, we’re told, requires the use of one camera. You can’t use music, and the narrative has to be ‘he said, she said’ assuming total knowledge from the journalist. Often, it’s worth asking the lecturer or practitioner why?
Schön called this condition technical rationality. In one of several books,The Reflective Practitioner, published four years earlier from his 1987 AGM talk to the American Educational Research Association, Schön elaborated.
Technical rationality confines many professions to be rooted in a scientific norm of practice, what’s called positivism where data is derived from logical and mathematical reasoning.
It leaves little room for much needed artistry in experiments that would expand knowledge in ways that are unpredictable. A popular way to look at the two systems, postivism and reflection-in-action based on artistic methods, is the Apollo 13 near disaster.
If it was logic that got the crew nearly to the moon, it was lengthy periods of reflection-in-action, tearing up the rule book, shown in the film by Gary Sinese’s character that got them safely back to earth.
Gary Sinise in Apollo 13 Copyright: © 1995 Universal Pictures

The Reflective Practitioner 
has since become one of the most cited and talked about books for researchers talking about their practice.
Whilst journalism is not included in Schön’s book, the similarities are clear. The way television journalism is, and delivered by experts, has been fixed for the last fifty years. It’s based on a positivism, so issues such as objectivity, balance, trust are thrust before student journalists by professionals as absolutes.
New Journalism
In 2001 when Bill Kovach and Tom Rosenstiel published Elements of Journalism, a book synthesised from several industry meetings from conversations started at the Harvard Faculty club in 1997, issues such as objectivity were finally being jettisoned.
Kovach and Rosenstiel listed ten essentials of journalism, writing that:
Some readers may think items are missing here. Where is fairness? Where is balance? As we researched journalism’s past and looked to its future, it became clear that a number of famililar abd even useful ideas associated with news were to vague to rise to the level of essential principles of journalism. Fairness, for instance, is subjective a concept that it offered little guidance in how to operate.
While Schön is not, and neither am I, criticising the many hard-working educators and journalists who ply their craft, Schön’s reflection-in-action advocates change, not as cosmetic procedure, but to advance our knowledge, and profession . He states:
Our systems need to maintain their identity, and their ability to support the self-identity of those who belong to them, but they must at the same time be capable of transforming themselves.
Television news is a Porche, often presented in a Skoda body. It embraces a language system that is so vast, so rich in expression, but has confined itself to a scientific norm of practices.
The camera needs to be placed here — inevitably leading to the rule of thirds. The reporter’s job is to voice-over bits of the film where an interviewee isn’t speaking, and a report needs to be 1.20’.
All of these have specific reasons for how and why they were brilliant at the time and why they would work when NBC news pioneer Frank Reuven popularised the news package.
If reportage is the skill and knowledge of articulating complex issues to an audience, then even in these video-utopian times there is still a vast terrain that videojournalism is reluctant to enter.
The artistry derived from experimenting and peeling back from technical rationality lies within a journalism that embraces Schön’s reflection-in-action. Sadly, such artistry is not taught.
Call it an artistic form of videojournalism or even a hybrid form of cinema — which this author has spoken about at the International Festival of Journalism in Perugia, Apple stores in London, and CUNYs Reinvent TV in New York, in which Jeff Jarvis and Hal Straus convened a gathering of twenty professionals to examine the future of TV.
That Syrian film mentioned earlier...

Young British Artists
In the UK an attempt at a new journalism happened twenty years ago to this day with the UK’s first officially recognised videojournalists.
Thirty British youngsters, many of whom were picked because they had never worked in television, were trained by the father of videojournalism Michael Rosenblum in an intensive three month regime.
The group made a serious stab at reworking television journalism though as yet there’s little evidence of their reflection-in-action being adopted by UK journalism.
I was one of them and over the years have become more familiar with reflective practice. But here’s the catch mentioned earlier. You can reflect, but you can’t affect change unless
a) You’re willing to step out of the conventions that so powerfully hold you

b) You are in possession or are seeking to find this non conventional solution.
In my case I have looked to cinema and art for these, which would lead to incredible journey’s, such as becoming an artist-in-resident at the UK’s illustrious Southbank Centre, or travelling to near the Syrian border to make a film.
Channel One folded after four years but its legacy amongst the founding staff lives on. The history of Channel One and its practitioners is due for publication next year from my PhD.

The company folded after four years but its legacy amongst the founding staff lives on. The history of Channel One and its practitioners is due for publication next year from my PhD.
Today, social networks and the impact of the Net have finally forced institutional journalism to rethink its practices. They’ve been dragged here screaming.
But the field, at least in video, is still wide open. When Adam Westbrook, part of a new generation of videojournalists and writers enquires about new artistic forms on the Net, he invokes a spirit of journalism, a reflection-in-action, that I believe became conscious amongst audiences 20 years ago and is now, finally heading to critical exposure.
David is a Knight Batten Winner in Innovation in Journalism and an international award-winning videojournalist. His journalism career spans 27 years working for outfits such as Channel 4 News, ABC News and Newsnight. His PhD looks at the future of videojournalism.

Friday, October 17, 2014

#Student.You - Cinema Journalism psycholgical film in University

This is my personal project yet. A psychological film about Masters students wrestling with the ideas and concepts that shape knowledge.

I was their supervisor and enjoyed working with them. And I hope they enjoyed the experience too.

#Student.You from david dunkley gyimah on Vimeo.

Friday, October 10, 2014

Great Interview. Publish I could die. Ethics in digital

Sabeen al-Nuaim ( not her real name) was at ease speaking on camera. She smoked a cigarette in between the pauses describing her filming days in Syria. 

She had recently recorded a young woman torn by shrapnel hurriedly being placed in a battered car which sped off to a makeshift hospital 20 minutes away.

Sabeen, reminiscing about the event and the horrors of videoing in one of the world’s dangerous spots, questioned her work exposing atrocities that often put her life in danger in Aleppo.
Yet, she said, she was compelled to record because these stories needed telling.
We wrapped the interview in Adana, four hours drive from the Syrian border.
A week later in production, we received an email from Sabeen in broken English explaining she could not be profiled in our documentary. The risk was too great to her and her family’s safety.
In spite of a release form and that she was an eloquent speaker with a clutch of amazing stories to tell which made our documentary, we dropped her contribution.
In an age where discretion seems an unwieldy sentiment against fame-seeking and that privacy or secrecy seems arcane when the fruits could be twitter fame, some codes of conduct should remain.

It’s journalistic ethics, but more so it should be about common decency — understanding that your actions could result in someone’s death.
The rise in social media though threatens this basic action. More recently, a well known British television journalist spoke to a group of out Masters students revealing aspects about his work which could imperil his safety, so we had the student’s adhere to Chatham House rules.
The rule states, in a bid for open discussion, that:
When a meeting, or part thereof, is held under the Chatham House Rule, participants are free to use the information received, but neither the identity nor the affiliation of the speaker(s), nor that of any other participant, may be revealed.
While links such as The BBC’s Twitter users guide to the law underline the growing concerns in social media, the idea that personal privacy is seen as a thing of the past poses a problem.
Snapchat, instagram — the ability to take a picture of anyone in public does not come without risk.
Many Christmases ago I was filming homeless people receiving a warm meal from a local charity. My camera lingered on a man. Minutes later, while still filming, I heard mumbled to me: ‘Do you like hospital food?’
It took a while for his message to sink in, but what he was saying was he had rights too.
Probity and integrity — hall marks of old fashion journalism have more currency today than ever and with cameras aplenty.
For the sake of a picture or story how many of us would betray the confidentiality of a source, or shrug our shoulders at our interviewee’s concerns?

Monday, October 06, 2014


I'm in the midst of redesigning viewmagazine. tv, with what I hope are some exciting new links. Here's the front page.

The University of You -Digital's impact on you

It’s no revelation we all want to be like someone. Caravaggio really wanted to be Leonardo Da Vinci. Popes wanted to be monarchs. Ronaldo would like to be Pele and Britain’s Prime minister fancies himself as Margaret Thatcher.
Young boys imprint on their fathers, daughters on their mothers — generally. And you, you want to be like the the person with the best twitter feed, or Linkedin ranking.
On the web, populist articles spout how to get the best social media feed, how to be the best instragramer, how to be this and how to that!
It’s not enough to be you anymore, you have to be her or him — with the nom de plume. Same face different mask.
I’m just as guilty. In my lectures I ask Masters students to look for the exemplar in the field and study their methods. But I add at some point break away; become you — again.
When I started as a broadcaster, I imprinted upon Sir Trevor Macdonald. Clear diction and enunciation and an inflexion that emphasised the power of speech.
I interviewed security chiefs e.g. ex-head of the CIA, created 'Obama's 100 Days' video with a live orchestra at the South Bank Centre, coded and built websites, and recently shot a film on training young Syrian journalists near the Turkey-Syria border -- not enough.
But if our idols where once our guides, today they manifest as nicotine craves. We would no sooner slay those we could admire, because frankly we see ourselves as better than them.
Deference has given way to a maniacal streak of impersonation. What ever happened to you? The English poet and painter William Blake said 'The greatest obstacle to discovery is not ignorance—it is the illusion of knowledge.'
We simply cannot get enough, and the more we acquire, the more humble we should become. Often, we don't.
You with the imperfections, you who gradually and methodically got to where you did. You who knew you could do better, but had values.
On twitter we all want to be heard, we chirp noisily across the canopy. We’re incessant twitchers — looking at our feeds. Our attention spans wane after 5 mins. Video is 6 seconds, and news 140 characters.
The X-factor popularises public humiliation and a gladiatorial baying of blood. Intolerance, unBritishness, is now packaged as de rigueur --for the sake of TV ratings.
Strange constructs become a cultural norm. Where in the human evolution of speech did 140 characters define how to converse? There’s no power in diversity. To be different is to be isolated. I’m black, you’re white, it doesn’t matter — salute Michael Jackson. But it’s also what makes us different.
All these phenomenon are people-made. The Tories bash the poor; Labour sneers at the well-off. In a land of common sense, common sense has become a commodity; reflection, an anathema, foresight and wisdom — a daft concept.
But we can still recover lost ground. An empathy of understanding, a recognition that imperfection exists, if not welcomed, and that time is a friend, we should handle deftly.
Stop, look, listen. Be You! Become the university of you. Become the person in an era of opportunity to be that unique voice — YOU.
David next speaks at an International Business Summit in London. His PhD examines a future immersive emergent story form.

Friday, September 26, 2014

A day in New York - David Dunkley Gyimah in New York

I was in NY for 3 days presenting at CUNY's Reinvent TV. Armed with a go pro, googleglass and my D5 I took these pictures. 
I have annotated them with film themes, to give them connotative  meaning. I wonder which one you think works?

David @viewmagazine 


A film in which Gary Stones, an Internet Engineer has five hours to find a hacker, otherwise his account and anyone connected with him will be wiped clean. He's tracked the hacker to a building opposite him.


A young actress must steady her nerves to deliver a presentation to the UN amid threats from trolls they'll release personal pictures of her on the Net.


Jenny moves to New York to find fame and fortune, but the inevitable pace of the big apple induces a crisis, which can only be solved by finding herself literally - as she is bipolar.

7.49 am
Stanley's faustian pact is not going to plan. A year ago, he was given $10,000 on the proviso he would stand in the road for 20 seconds at exactly 7.49 am.


This is where it all happened in the 1970s. Leroy, a successful music producer traces the seeds of a track by Spanky Wilson, that defined an era.


Today Jimmy Fallow will make the biggest spread bet on the exchange. Thousands of miles away it will start a chain reaction in a property crash. Then Jimmy develops a conscious.


Maria plans a social experiment to show he has more diverse friends in the real world than the virtual - even though she is a virtually made up.

Manhattan overnight disappears. Where have all the residents gone?


A traffic cop seeks a career in Westerns, but has to prove to movie bosses she can draw her side arm in record time


When the phones go down, the Internet goes down, how do people meet up with each other, when they've never met before.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Journalists - tell your stories in amazing captivating ways. LET GO OF THE PAST!

She was singing near the town square in what was a beautiful day. The smell of fresh garlic from outdoor cooking suffused the air. 

Behind her a few boys gathered as is their want on street corners, probably discussing football and Ronaldo's form.

Her eyes widened to the lens with her infectious smile she is prompted to sing. It's a song about freedom -  a catchy melody, whose words you don't need to master.

Seven, eight...11 seconds later. Without a hint of what to expect, the implausible happens. A menace is visited upon the 13-year-old girl and surrounding people.

I have told you enough thus far to ruin your intake of the film, five minutes of which I show at the end of this post. I am aware it's  a spoiler. Normally I wouldn't but I am making a point.

with old acquaintance Travis Fox
Yesterday presenting at CUNY's #ReinventTV - gathering of innovators and journalists to discuss how to reinvent TV, I had a precious five minutes to make this point, But without a film.

Reinventing TV
I am a journalist, and a senior lecturer. I study film form and cognitive behaviour. I do this to understand how to tell a story so the effect is immanent - lasting.

As a TV journalist, I could have shown you the scene I have discussed to take you into the film. As a skilled TV reporter I could have said: 'what happens next is not for the faint hearted'.

But I have still ruined the moment for how you should perceive the film. The discovery must be your own.

In the 1960s television conceived amazing way to tell complex stories. Just before the 60s, the reporters job was to ask questions in the field and hand the film over to a commentator and scriptwriter. 

The reporter played no other role. Thank goodness for common sense. In the 60s heavyweight US media figures like Frank Reuven popularised the 'Integrated package'.

It was transformative. Within two minutes your could tell literally any story. Television invented an art form, which today still takes some time to master. It's not to be sniffed at.

Except today, the frame that penned the package to a structure has come under strain. 

Why does every report have to be under two minutes? Why does every report require a reporter? Why does every report suffocate me with facts, such that a minutes after the reporter, I'd be hard pressed to tell you what it was about. Why don't I care about what I have heard?

The package like any art-form needs a reboot.

However, within television firstly no one has the answer to what that may be. Secondly, any digression from the package is seen as breaking a fundamental tenant of journalism.

It is as if, journalism cannot grow, cannot mature, is not  bold enough to take risks, cannot figure out how to tell you the audience what's happening in a way that you care.

Why? Because, the juggernaut that drives to TV is managed by those wedded to its legacy. But I want to tell you a story! I am still a journalist ! But I want you to care.

So I tell stories in the richest vein possible, bound by the professionalism of the craft, and deliver 11.30 seconds into the video.

At 11.30 seconds in Stephen Soderberg, arguably one of the finest story tellers around tells you how I see story telling. I knew this before Soderberg's talk, but he explains it in a way that gives it cred.

If photojournalism is the art of telling a story with pictures, videojournalism is the art of telling stories through cinema.

It's not a fudge. It may be your inability to understand the art of factual storytelling, that differs according to the story, the content, and my approach. It is not adhoc. It is saying I would like you to see this and be affected.

Is that not the job of journalism?

Sunday, September 07, 2014

Re-making television in the new age

I know what you're thinking.

Old picture, huh!

Some of you might know the figure. It's Kennedy.

To some that may not mean a whole lot. It's an old picture.

We live in a world where old is antique. A decade is a century. A year, an eternity. The moment is now.

Don't worry. It's a generational thing. In the seminal 1950s film Rebel without a Cause showing the rise of youth angst, the antipathy to things old, like parents is visibly on display.

So here's what I was thinking when I chose this image. One of the people, the producers, who created this film featuring a future president...imagine that, today trying to film Obama before he became president... was Robert Drew.

Robert Drew was a former pilot, before he became a journalist. Then in the 1960s around the age of 40, he invented a new film language, and a new camera, and a film that fundamentally shaped the world you and I occupy.

Yep, an old picture...

Last month, the great Robert Drew died aged 90. He was a generous person with his time and I was lucky to interview him a couple of years ago, tapping that huge mind, mining history.

So what has Robert Drew got to do with Reinventing TV?

I could tell you that to invent the future, you need to understand the past. It's true but a bit glib.

But listen to this story. It's what I gleaned from listening to Drew.

I'm seated now with my mac, my googleglass, peering out of the window looking at squirrels scurry around playfully. Oh and my cupa tea.

Imagine it's 1960. Some fifty years ago. Television is a rare thing. Drew has an idea. A decade earlier, only a handful of people had television sets.

It was too expensive and nothing of note was on. But gradually people started to buy this box and place it squarely in their room. The habit of huddling around the radio listening to radio shows was transferred to TV.

It's fair to say, at the start of TV, executives were fairly innocent. At CBS, a few twenty-something year olds tasked with developing the medium couldn't believe the freedom they had.

All the grey men in suits would leave them alone. Television was a bit like the Xbox -  a plaything.

Then one day CBS's young turks have a fright. The boss joined their morning meeting. Advertisers too were willing to pay big bucks, because they'd realised something.

By stealth, a new medium had wormed its way into the heart of people's lives, in the middle of their social space - the living room.

It's like placing a fox in a pen of chickens. 

Powerful people and bodies realised they could speak directly to their electorate and influence hearts and minds.

Forces set up to regulate television would soon give way to the powerful.

In 1960s, Drew, an innovator, pioneer and all around American, got a chance to play a part in the new television. He would summarily be passed off.

What and how?

The forces behind TV had come to recognise its social and political importance.  And they were not going to cede control to anyone, even someone who wanted to make TV better.

Instead as Drew told me, they took his equipment and made off to reinforce their ideas.

Today second to the Defense industry in the US, television, as part of the news and entertainment industry is a multi-billion pound industry.

How do you reform it?

The Internet!

Somewhat! But so far no! 

This is not about tech, it's political. It's about competing for a space in your living room, in your home, in your comfort zone.

How do you reform television?

Jeff Jarvis, an inveterate innovative media speaker and professor at CUNY university in New York has invited 20 people to look at this.  I am honoured to be one of them. 

If you're in New York or want to tune into find out, I look forward to it. Here's the full list:

Joe Alicata, Vox; Jim Brady, Stomping Ground; Mark Briggs, KING 5;
Scott Cohen, Steve Alperin, Vocativ; Adam Davidson, NPR; Adam Ellick, New York TImes;
Adriano Farano, watchup; Fred Graver, Twitter; David Dunkley Gyimah, viewmagazine;
Jenni Hogan, Tagboard; Jeff Jarvis, CUNY; Tom Keene, Bloomberg; Robert King, ESPN;
Sean Mills, NowThisNews; Riyaad Minty, al Jazeera; 
Matt Mrozinski, TV News Storytellers, WTHR; Mark Piesanen, TouchCast; Tim Pool, @Timcast; Michael Rosenblum, rosenblumtv;
Fred Seibert, Frederator