Message matters most. Mechanics is secondary

One thing is certain, if not many in 2016. We will be accosted with a cacophony of new instruments, tools and tech gizmos to shine a torch into the darkened areas of information that should be made transparent.

Often this goes by the monocle of journalism. But in 2016, ten years on from 2006, when the world of traditional journalism was being eviscerated, there was a brief hiatus — a moment of pause.

Would we turn to the evidential and explore the gaps of journalism or would we look to the implicit e.g. psychoanalysis to understand how the audience imbibes and makes sense of information? It’s not just about subjectivism and requires specific training. Journalism continued in its conventions of command and control. It would not risk any jolts to its multi-billion business. And generally new journalism did not collectively see the benefits.

We’ve explored the earth, journeyed into space, but as the authors of this epithet decry about how little we know about the secrets of our vast oceans. The analogy is fitting for journalism. We know the landscape, the what’s apparent. We seek a higher plane and the gratifying responses tech gives us, but we’re deficient in understanding what’s inside us — below the depth of the surface. We probably don’t know that there’s a sever water crisis in Pakistan, and if we did, so what?

Face it! You probably have a yearning for pre-2000 when the scarcity of info made it a premium, and if not you’re one of the new media who managed to find an audience and you’re still trying to hang on to it.

This isn’t a criticism of punditry and experts delineating news, but a general lack of understanding how to use video/ film in journalism to mine thought.

An ocean of understanding lay in wait, though it’s been the preserve of public relations, industrialists and governments to exploit its depths — to understand how you and I think to ensure they eke out results they need.

Small wonder PR consistently had journalism over a barrel, as it feels constrained to fight back. Google ‘dead cat on the table’ for a good example or click this previous post.

Take an evident myth in journalism that the filming of an event adds nothing to its meaning. It’s what’s in the frame, the content being captured that matters. At a basic level journalism filmmaking tries to be neutral, but it can’t because even what’s in or outside the frame is about choice.

A politician decorates two feet either way of his campaign background with flags. The press duplicitously tighten their frame to concentrate the audience’s reading of events to signify power. Some politicians will normally only allow photographic access to them when they’re wearing hard hats and high viz suits.

Journalism is often a record of transpired events and so its reliant on accounts of what people say. The skilled narrator delimits what they want to say, without recourse to truisms. It’s what matters to the audience that’s at stake. Gustave Le Bon understood this in the days pre-television, when in 1895 his groundbreaking research unearthed the following:

When, however, it is proposed to imbue the mind of a crowd with ideas and beliefs — with modern social theories, for instance — the leaders have recourse to different expedients. The principle of them are three in number and clearly defined — affirmation, repetition, and contagion. The action is somewhat slow, but its effect once produced are very lasting.

Often broadcast journalism has shown its lack of understanding to use its medium and its unique grammar to counter the abstruse meaning of events. The world is not black and white, even though broadcasters and PR practitioners are taught simple stories work better on audiences.

The tools to make new journalism are all good, but we’re forfeiting developing or at least understanding the most fundamental, powerful tech of all: cognitivism, our brains and how we think.

It gets worse, today’s emerging journalists have to grapple with new levels of verification and attribution.

Tech gives us access to info to make us more knowledgable, but if we can’t interpret that info in a manner that is beneficial, and conducive to depleting ignorance, is there any point?

As Lynton Crosbie, Britain’s conservative party election strategist maintains ‘Message matters most. Mechanics is secondary’.

david dunkley gyimah

Written by

Cardiff School of Journalism. PhD (Dublin). Fmr Visiting Prof of Journalism at UBC, (Canada. )Launched disLAB. Videojournalist, Ex BBC/C4News. Apple profiled.