Sunday, July 20, 2014

The fog of television and truth - the Daily Show

It is seen as the harbinger of truth, the deliverer of objective and impartiality news, illustrated by innumerable research. 

The most recent UK survey shows television news to be the most trusted; 75% of those surveyed rely on television for their news, compared with other media.

In the US television's trust quotient also runs high.

Any news transmitted across television screens invariably reaches a sizeable percentage of the population, and forces its content to be  taken seriously, to be believed, irrespective of the territory.

It is the reason why in the event of military coups, agents head straight for the television station, and why influential figures with media interests want to own one.

America's television news comes under scrutiny in US satirist Jon Stewart's Daily Show. Stewart lampoons, amongst other things, but mainly, the current reporting of the Israel-Hamas-Palestinian people story.

Stewart prods the coverage finding satire in an incendiary situation. The modus operandi mirrors what the alternative comedy scene started in the UK in the 1980s, with Tony Allen and Alexi Sayle, leading to shows such as Spitting Image.

I digress, however.

Looking to post on Stewart, I couldn't find a clean feed of the show at the time of writing, but did come across liberal viewer's  (LV) take on the show, which has amassed more than 700,00 views.

Now, this post isn't about LV per se. It seeks to provide necesssary context behind that thorny issue of impartiality.  In part, as you'll see it's a conflict between television, as an organ of truth and ownership by private individuals.

Using Stewart's Daily Show, LV also compares Fox News' coverage questioning a Palestnian legal advisor and an Israeli government official as a motif for impartial reportage. 

But there's a layer of explanation that should precede this, which is often absent from debates.

By dint of anything being shown on the television, the audience is inclined to believe what they see and hear. It is after all television, but it was crystallised by the regulators in the US (Federal Communications Commission) and the 1935 Selsdon Committee on behalf of Ramsay MacDonald's UK Labour governement.

Television was new. In her autobiography, Britain's pioneer of Television at the BBC Grace Wyndham Goldie writes of this new medium,

"The governed, in their millions could, at a single moment, see and judge the governors; the governors could appear to millions of individuals simultaneously and sway their emotion not only by their voices but by whatever personal magnetism and visual authority theiy possessed".

The BBC imported its doctrines of fairness and impartiality from radio to this new medium.  Its charter and licence was designed so that the 'BBC should not broadcast its own opinions in the matter of public policy'.

In the UK the 'impartiality rule' holds for UK broadcasters at the BBC, and Independent Television via the regulatory body OFCOM.

As explained by a former BBC senior executive, now Professor of Journalism at Cardiff University, Richard Sambrook notes,
'Impartiality means acting fairly because you are not personally involved or have to put to one side of your personal views or feelings. The elimination of bias'.

In effect, notwithstanding the regulations, impartiality it is an aspired to quality, as in reality impartiality as a utopian ideal is impossible. 

It lies in the eye of the beholder. But the regulatory framework in the UK exists, to hold the BBC and ITV to account, when concerns are raised by viewers, politicians and academics.

Today, in the US, no such regulation exist that prescribes broadcasters, such as Fox, ABC or NBC that they must adhere to the principles of impartiality.

A year after Fox was launched in 1987, the FCC ruled that its fairness doctrine, created in 1949, should be dropped.

There is no legally-binding obligation for Fox or otherwise to be fair or unbiased. Like a newspaper that can show its political affiliation, US networks are free to show their colours too.

Fox, that LV analyses, is merely producing the sort of television news it is free to do.

The issue appears to be the misconception that US networks, and Fox in particular should be impartial because the audience defers back to the issue of televsision as a truth, fairness and balance organ.

They have to do no such thing. Comparing Fox TV's output then with a standard for impartiality isn't necessary.

Friday, July 18, 2014

The fog of conflict Israel-Hamas and Palestine 18th July 2014

If you wake up to the news, like me, and it has the propensity to colour your day, like me sometimes, then today was surely one of those grim days.

In effect there's never not a grim day around the world, but for the items of 'news interest' that find a broadcast outlet, it was difficult not to feel psychologically under siege and let your empathy run amok.

Jemima Kiss, head of technology at the Guardian newspaper captured it piquantly.

My day started with a flit around social media and looking at RSS feeds. Israel's forces ground invasion of Gaza was the expected big news today. Another grim cycle of deaths. 

It is impracticable and impossible not to write about the subject, without incurring the wrath of either an intellectual, whose view differs, but they can not contain their emotion, or a troglodyte without the etiqutte or understanding of rationale and rhetoric.

Civil argument gets lost, personal invectives get traded. 

Today, as only a cynical PR spokemsan might think, the downing of a civilian aircraft Malaysia Airline flight MH17, knocked the Israel-Hamas-Palestinian state story of the lead.  298 people murdered.

The opprobium was needed, the ourtage, barely enough to assuage the thought: 'What the **** is going on?'

Politicians and leaders are then called upon to say something poignant for the news; something matching the profoundness that resonates with: 'She was the people's princess', she was and that was different.

For now, I care less what PM David Cameron and the likes have to say. It has been the leader's collective insouciance that has contributed to this grim day.

Our thoughts go out to the families. News has started to build its narrative matching faces to circumstances and nationality. The senseless of it all and the human cost gnaws at you. Sorrow, anger, frustration.

Then this... confusion, but in a different guise. It is a piece entitled

Whose Palestine?

It contains passages like this.

"For a moment in early June, it seemed to many Palestinians that their political leadership was on the verge of making a historic shift".


"The resulting crackdown on Hamas by Israeli forces working in coordination with Palestinian security forces 
and this...

"But in early June, to the great surprise of Fatah, Egypt, Israel, and the US, Hamas agreed to renounce responsibility for administering Gaza..."

Thrall's piece had clearly caught attention, as the tweet attracted quite some activity.

The day is far from over, and no doubt the grimness of the news stands to get worse. Thrall's piece though sheds some background knowledge on a situation so fuzzy from the fog of confusion.

Read Thrall's piece here.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Digital Storytelling and future videojournalism

Call it neo-videojournalism, Cinematic (doesn't do it justice) or videojournalism-as-cinema.

The revolution is ongoing, but it's below the radar now. The big peaks were YouTube, Twiter, Vine, but innovation is not technology dependent. Next up, Oculas, Touchcast e.g.

If we search long and hard enough, we'll find something... cracks...nuggets of new wisdom.

But we have a fundamental problem. We often don't know where to search, or we don't know where else to look, other than the debris created when a new app hits the market.

Truth is the answer to fundamentals of our questions lay in the past. Historians recognise the circularity of life. Archeologists rely on history, linguists too, media is no different. McLuhan knew this too.

Since the dawn of time, we've told linear stories, and spatial ones ( Caves). We have yet to detour to a new world of imaginary lines, what mathematicians refer to as the -i plane.  e.g  what is the sqaure root of -4 ? Exactly!

We made do one day, but it requires a cognitive leap in understanding that it may not happen in this lifetime. In China, a cinema mimics the conditions on the screen e.g. Snow, blizzards, a skateboarder riding across rough ground as your seat simulates the bumps.

But this is small fry. When we're physically in the film and its narrative adapts to your thinking that's another world entirely. Imagine the algorithms for that? 

The past provides some degree of cognitivism. Understand the person, you get to know their motives. trades on this understanding and I share some brief rational concepts from my Phd thesis examining the future.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Recalibration of videojournalism.

Publishing today.. the recalibration of videojournalism...

Friday, June 20, 2014

Englishness - an identity acknowledgment

Picture of Chinese premier taken at Mansion House

I am invited to China's youthful Premier Li Keqiang keynote speech in Mansion House.

At a point in his talk, in the coded language of diplomacy, the premier is piqued, gently mocking a very British, even English trait.  

He says, I know you Think Tanks like to deal in abstracts. We (Chinese) deal with facts. Previous sentiment from the premier's office have been less guarded.

A day later, there's a need to reflect on Englishness further.

One of my Master's student Li Yang had completed her online assignment in the nick of time to be awarded a merit, but it was the last few passages of her essay that stood out like white peaks of the Andes.
"I always admired the English, but now I know you are shallow minded, are not interested in learning about anything, are lazy and have no interest in anyone else".

For that brief moment, I carried the weight of Englishness in determining whether I should address this off-piste topic, or ignore it.  I did the former.

She's not been alone. Almost every year, Chinese students, buoyed by tales of England before they arrive are somewhat crestfallen by the year's end. 

The first steps towards correcting alcoholism is to acknowledge you are an alcoholic, according to Alcoholics Anonymous. Yes, the English get drunk on their own sense of superiority, but they have ever reason to: the Magna Carta- the crucible of democracy. Never mind that it was foisted upon the populace. 

Its success in wars and meeting aggressors head-on. The English creators or co-creators (according to different narratives) of the beautiful game, gentlemen's game and summer post-coital game (Brideshead) ; Football, Rugby, and Cricket in that order.

The English are wont to feel full of themselves. But is that not what other nations radiate in their national identities? The Italians, Milan and cuisne; the French for their language of rhetoric and comprehending beauty; the Chinese for their work ethic and nay say can't and America for all things "Transformer" size and that psyche that the lines between a porter and president is within reach.

The English, though possess a dissonantly unique trait. Acknowledging their problems, discussing at length its remedies, but painfully not seeing them through.

Its borne out in recommendations in education policy. In the row over schools in Birmingham becoming Trojan horses for Islamic extremism, Ofsted's Sir Michael Wilshaw says he told the education secretary that if you want to conduct a fair assessment of a school it's better not to inform the institution when you intend to visit. Michael Gove MP, apparently ignored this sensible advice. 

The Metropolitan Police force have been informed by several bodies and a major enquiry  they are institutionally racist. But their current commissioner Bernard Hogan Howe's television interview rejects this.  "I hope not. I don't think it's for me to judge", he told ITV News.

The media can see no wrong, even when hacking a missing girl's phone that provided the impression she was still alive, and was seen as repulsive. Leveson's recommendations for change to protect the privacy of individuals has seemingly neither been helpful to press and media barons in the wake of such actions.

In all the last three cases, education, law and order,  and media, symptoms of the alcoholic disease is evident, denial of a real problem. For the period these events become newsworthy, they are discussed with the intensity of a grandmaster Chess player's crunch match.

Discuss, deject, damaged (DDD) could be an appropriate slogan. In spite of the realms of discourse, an inevitable dispiriting mist descends on the debate when no action is taken, and in time the damage becomes inevitable.

However, no where is the trenchant genre behaviour observed at a national event, more so, than in the united theme of sport, and in particular the game of football.

And if there is one arena where a drunken man wanders into his first AA to declare he is unfit, listened to, told what to do, but returns drunk again 4 years later to go through the same cycle, as if collective amnesia has gripped the AA meeting, it is the World Cup.

No matter what happens at consecutive World Cups, the formula stays in tact; the result is the same, the cycle of behaviour is unswerving. Cynically you could blame it on the media; they have to, after all, sell newspapers and television spots for advertisers and share holders. 

\lim_{x\to 0^+} \frac{1}{x} = \infin .

But truthfully, it is that singularity identified by Li Yang.  If x = feelings of superiority, then no matter how much it is diminished towards reaching zero, it forever is portrayed as infinity - an infinity of self-belief.  This by the way is the formula for resolving infinity.

Today, like previous years the over inebriated soul is spoken to: we have too many internationals in our domestic game, we can't cohere as a team; the rot starts from the playgrounds of 8 years olds hoofing and a roughing the game as Dad Terry stands on the sideline screaming "C'mon ma son ge stuck in there".

Football pundit Garth Crooks on Newsnight said this is not a night for hysteria, rather calm reflection. Whilst the other inteviewee the gorgeous ( er not my phraseology) David Ginola clearly had stronger issues to vent, but restrained himself on live TV. 

Notwithstanding the clever selection of pundits for Newsnight, the dichotomous views rather sums up why the English fail to address being 'drunk' on the pitch.

Both pundits agreed England lacks a national identity buttressed against the 3-million population of Uruguay who clearly know there's or the Vorsprung Durch Technik of the Germans.  But an equally fallable Achilles is reaching a consensus how to address this malaise running several generations.

My own two bit: groom a selection of strikers to reduce their odds at not fluffing the ball when the goal scoring chance is inevitable and find something which enables English footballers to handle pressure. 

Never mind I tweeted after the match.

With shades of the Oracle's advice to Neo in mind... You don't believe in all this crap. Have a cookie and when you walk away from this you'll feel bright at ray.

So back to the drawing board. Perhaps in reading the Times with its headline featured piece: 'Reforms are crushing creativity and turning children into robots', this is at centre of England's woes.

Based on fact,  the Brits and Englanders are good at creativity e.g. Olympics. Maybe then its management stifling advances. Move over the FA. Or maybe, as an outsider looking in suggests, we're just not good enough anymore.

All grist to my mill. I'm about to present a paper from my doctorate thesis on how to reform television news. It's not as if no one knows the media is broken and others have tended ideas year after year. But broadcasting for the last 50 years has more or less remained the same. 

England. We like our traditions. And we like a real pint of beer as well and getting hammered on the weekends.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

A framework for students to conceptualise future news e.g. WVU J-School Brainstorms an Experimental News Venture

University of Westminster MA International Student

It was a worthwhile exercise and brought back memories of work, as well as yielded thoughts about the future.

PBS Media shift's headline ran: 
How do you produce the future of news as an educator, similar to WVU J-School Brainstorms an Experimental News Venture. More here 
It continued... 
You have infinite resources, no obstacles, a talented startup staff and brilliant students: Now build an experimental venture from scratch. (With a caveat: You can’t replicate any existing models — you have to invent one.) 

Having undertaken approaches similar to Seward I thought of sharing this response. I;m an educator and in 2004 put together a team from the University of Westminster to tell the BBC about the future of News.
Whilst brainstorming is a tried and tested method for generating ideas, the cognitive ability to do so is limited by the individual's own experience or the Wisdom of the Crowd. That does not negate the benefits or efficacy of artistic thought, and perhaps has a 'cause effect' somewhere in the chain of ideas.
Put another way, if we consider this period as a renaissance, and look at previous 'bursts of thinking' in the 17th century, to conceive of flight at that time would have been a far-fetched idea.
However artist,Leonardo Da Vinci thought and conceptualised flying, yet it would take a couple more centuries before it was realised with the Wright Brothers.
The incidents of artists thinking up the future before the artefact materialises or catches up with societies' perceived 'natural form thinking' is legion.
Artistic thought by the way amongst journalist is not taught. Journalists tend to be rational and logical and as educators, we look out for this. These broadly two, but often overlapping themes, profoundly affect the way we think up new things.
I've been on the Net since 1996 and it's no small wonder that designers, technologists drive its future, but even then for the web to be commercial, it required logical sign posting for larger swathes of society to understand its worth.
So, amongst students/people etc. it can be challenging to reinvent the wheel because of our naturalised conditioning, and if we do invent something way off, it has the ring of art/science fiction about it.
Closer to conceptualising the future aligning with realism is to trend extrapolate. If Facebook does this now, and we as a society are like that in 2025 what will Quartz Mk V be like in 10 years time when it overtakes Facebook?
That feat involves comprehending, via analysis the rhetoric, history and mechanics of Facebook.
Of course that has its difficulties too. Technology and human thought are not always predictive.
Yet, even Facebook emerges from a linearity in thinking at the time. e.g. Friends United, MySpace... And both of these were products of Web 2.0 and Dotcoms.
This segues into my last point. Again, something I engage with my MA students.
Within the rational logical approach, as opposed to artistic, to look behind the wall, it is expedient to know what was there before and why.
This is the substance of media philosophy - arguably everything is philosophy, but a critical explication. Why is it called News and how was it framed news ( paper, TV, Online) at the time when one considers interconnecting matrices e.g. culture, tech, society?
Why do doors open the way they do? Why don't we pursue artistic skills in the same way we do literary and maths when growing up.
Research, research, research - not necessarily in Mass Comms, but in areas that promulgate discursive thinking.
That requires a different type of approach: reflective thinking, and some, around the acquisition of deeper levels of knowledge.
As educators we can help move these processes along by providing the framework to let different modes of conceptualising flourish. However, I'm rather taken by this which explores a common impediment.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Video For Digital Platforms: What’s Working? Online News Association The report at the BBC - OMG it's 2005 again

The session was labelled Video For Digital Platforms: What’s Working? Online News Association. Actually, it reminded me of  2005 all over again, when I presented at the ONA summit in New York, as I'll explain. 

David Dunkley Gyimah presenting at the ONA

It was more a statement than a question posed to probe a kink in today's presentation.

If it were a question, it would go something like this.

When was the last time you attended a conference to do with all things digital, in which the panel were traditional media and you implemented their strategy and now you have a successful business?

If you have, you’re one of the rare entrepreneurs.

The Online News Association gathering at the BBC this evening had the scent of ONA at the BBC in 2008 (see video below), and the world of digital in 2005.

The speakers today were from the BBC , The Telegraph and AP, united by being traditional media and the universal message that 'online is not television'.

Actually, that's not entirely correct. Online is anything you want it to be...television and some; many more somes.

US film professor Robert Stam sums it up in Film Theory- an Introduction when he says, the possibilities of digital resemble 1920s when anything was possible, and before Mass Communication asserted there was a right and wrong way of doing things.

Almost ten years ago, since I presented at the ONA session and a chasm between online and TV emerged, today's event had the distinct feeling of 2005.

Back then the world of media was much polarised. It really was them and us.  If you ever want to see a Jeff Jarvis in fine form cursing the traditional media luddites, I have the video.

In 2005, YouTube had just come online. Online was lean forward, not like television

In New York on the tail end of winning one of the US' most prestigious digital media awards, the Knight Batten I was invited to give a presentation at the ONA Summit in New York. 

The event was streamed in Time Square...

At ONA, and across several sectors, traditional television was wrestling with unfamiliar themes. What made ONA unique was that a forum was being made available to bridge a space between different groups united by 'being online'.

Conference after conference and through the interaction of institutions, like the BBC, with Silicon Valley where they hired the likes of Eric Huggers new theoretical knowledge emerged within traditional media e.g. The Telegraph's hub that the BBC would adopt. 

Media viewing became less defined by class, but of new parameters of digital this, or digital that.

Between 2008 and 2012 came the quantum knowledge leap for traditional media. The gap was closing. In 2014, we've reached a new plateau, much elevated than before, but a new plateau none the less in theoretical enquiries or practised-based media illustrating radically new ideas.

So, online is not Television. But actually if you're the Telegraph, or Financial times, good sturdy TV style is just the ticket for your constituents - as I found out training FT and Telegraph Journalists.

The Theory, Practise thing!
Though today's ONA event was low on theory as to why somethings work and others don’t the presentations revealed different strategies between the broadcaster, agency, and newspaper turned videomaker.

And rightly so.  In the internet age of everything, where journalism is exposed to everyone, culture, society and audiences demonstrate how truly important they are in the media matrix. 

Journalism was never a one size-fits all. For decades, the illusion was kept that way. That is, it had to be done in a certain way. Now, anything goes which in traditional media is usually framed as “experimenting’.

But a word of caution, traditional media can experiment because of the 'give and take' in their resources. A malfunctioning idea can quickly be jettisoned. Chances are you’ll never read or hear about it. Really! But if you’re a digital entrepreneur this assumptional premise to copy the traditional media can be costly.

For similar corporate entities, that's a different matter. It's not for nothing that traditional media continually monitor each other during daily broadcasts and for intelligence into innovation.

However, I hazard a guess that a fair few attendants at the ONA meeting today were students, indies or start-ups.

Therefore, whilst traditional media serves as a framework, one of the first question digital entrepreneurs ought to be asking is, is your audience my audience, and do I possess the requisite style to gain traction into your consumers. 

Vice and Buzzfeed and the Huff clearly have their answer.

Video presentation
The BBC’s Ben Benvington , an experienced journalists made salient points, but they require qualifying.

Hook the audience from the start, he said. But how? What with? Engaging media ! In cinema it's called the 'initiating incident'. A point of tension/drama that plays backwards to satisfies your craving.

But you don't always need an incident. The vibrancy and texture of the cinematic as proved by several films e.g.  Mediastorm Agency or I am Joseph Kony indicate how strong visualisation draws in audiences. 

Benvington categorised three different styles of video in the BBC’s in-tray: the standard package, viral and photomontage.

In practise these are styles at the genre level known as forms, and within each form lay overlapping multiple styles.

For instance, the photomontage, which became the hallmark of multimedia packaging can mix styles to incorporate Ken Burns animated effect. Imagine that Burn's The Civil War made in 1990 used photos for documentary, way before multimedia producers could claim the style to be their own.

Similarly, viral has different genres e.g. the shocking, comedic are but two.  In TV, there exists the broadcast package. Outside its walls are variations e.g. cinema verite, the essay, the spatial documentary and so on.

Benvington's description of video that moved from one subject to another failed to describe why the need arises to do so.  They were different scenes with different energy – summed up, somewhat.

These are literary tropes e.g. the page turner, or a genre called cyber realism consciously side stepped by TV of Ore because it muddled directness. And TV news in particularly requires an ideological directness -" just tell me the story".

Each of these styles beg different reasons to be used e.g. skills of video maker and style of content. There are a myriad factors which I'll blog another time.

Sue Brooks, a veteran in the News industry and well respected too, was emphatic:

But AP's brand of video will do little for the start up or graduate looking to figure out what works in the discursive post-cable and digital age.

AP is an agency, so its raison detre is to shoot video that others can repurpose, so AP will largely eschew stylistic approaches, though there are exceptions in figures like the brilliant award winning videojournalist Raul Gallego Abellan.

And the claim don't try and reinvent the wheel, while broadcasters have been doing this for years, their TV trope requires examination. These are not my words, but a host of broadcast professionals I came across during my research.

Generally, TV news doesn’t like hearing this and clearly the chair at the ONA thought my views off message too - actually did I go on? I had emailed the ONA earlier to make this point. Reach out for diversity, both in the knowledge and cultural make-up. The net is the amazon forest of media making and there's some unique stuff from the cut-off tribes. 

The ONA-US is making a point about this. In its September gathering in Chicago, executive director Jane McDonnell says their event is looking to 50% diversity in race and gender.

Fancy that, and about time; panels driven solely by women and people of colour.

The Telegraph, for similar reasons to the NYT keeps to particular styles. If it strays too far from its core constituents it risks alienating them. Thanks to my online students who showed me what the Telegraph see as their natural online consumer. 

Apparently they have funds exceeding £100,000 tucked away for a rainy day. That's a 100,000 reason to keep closer to their main audience.

Here's  a shot clip I filmed attending the ONA at the BBC in 2008; the BBC is experimenting with embedded video, having established how different it can be to broadcast TV.

So while traditional media remains respectable, trusted etc, they still to a large extent rely on their brand and the need to be cautious themselves - like 2008. 

My own PhD research in Dublin reveals some interesting data, such as: 

The what works and doesn't in a digital long-tail age is still up for grabs.

David Dunkley Gyimah is a senior lecturer at the University of Westminster. He recently submitted his 6-years-in-the-making research looking at the future of video. He is an artist-in-residence at the Southbank Centre and a Chair of jurors at the RTS Awards for Innovative News. He's behind  He is the recipient of a number of awards as can be seen from this video made in 2006