You know you see what they want you to see. The terrorism in New Zealand; 50 dead, and the manner in which some newspapers and broadcasters reported the event reached a deeply depressing low.
Britain’s Daily Mail’s heavily condemned headline posing its angelic tag of the terrorist demonstrated a leaning to hybrid interference, virtuous signalling and morally questionable standards.
Hybrid interference, or wedging is a strategy writes Mikeal Wiegell adopted by external agents in a society to drive distorting concepts of truth and hence heighten divisions. It’s now no stranger to journalism in liberal societies.
Yet, so far it matters not a jot — at least to the proprietors. Newspapers are privately owned and any public standards to which they might be upheld were strafed by a UK government concealing itself behind press freedom, democracy and self-regulation. You need laws? Levenson 2 (UK press enquiry) was about cleaning up the boil after it had been lanced. The sore has been left open.
The crisis a populace faces in seeing journalism as truth telling has some comparisons with a cultures pre-renaissance when truth and falsehood could mesh. Stories were embellished and accepted.
Gilgamesh, a Sumerian King is characterised by documenters as slaying lions with his bare hands. The ubiquitous heroe’s journey told by Joseph Campbell demonstrates a predilection to myths. Daniel Defoe (1659–1731) is said to be one of the first to practise evidence-based journalism, but it didn’t catch on universally. Today, too in spite of his horrendous actions, terrorism in New Zealand can still, it appears, be re-spun.
The difference now as a generally more enlightened society than our ancestors is we’ve been led to believe newspapers are organs of factual realism truth, when some have grown into ideological frankenstein machines — working against tolerance and liberalism.
Papers with News
The history of populists papers requires context. The Daily Mail (1896), Daily Mirror (1903), and Daily Express (1900) were set up by gentry ideologically aligned with the Conservative Party with the alt view of squashing working class pesky newspapers like the Northern star, whilst filling the void with their own brand of stories, which could be sensationalist.
If you had deep pockets and friends in high places, you effectively stood to control millions of British people, by shaping what they read, and feeding their views, however extreme, to others. By the 1930s, Freud’s psychoanalysis had popularised that people were governed by an irrationality that far outdid rational thought. Gustav Le Bon ‘s The Crowd had shown similar findings in the 19th Century. People would behave en mass and were thus prone to group-think and be susceptible to fear talk that hosted a lie , rather than question it.
As a newspaper baron you could tell your version of reality and hand general elections back to governments-in-waiting, whilst earning free airtime publicity from broadcasters e.g. BBC and What The Papers Say.
And for all the twitter storms, flagging dog whistles, outright race batting or stirring divisions, it’s no stretch to believe there’s no such thing as bad criticism. Not being talked about is far worse says Roger Stone. The rest? Who cares. Hence they’ll be another storm of opprobrium soon, and another and another.
How do you manage accountability? Does hitting the papers in the pockets mean anything? According to academic and author Chris Horrie who’s written one of the defining books about tabloids e.g. Stick It Up Your Punter! the Sun newspaper’s owners News International have lost £15m a month (in 1989 prices) since their damning Hillsborough coverage and liverpudlians boycotted the paper. Yet the Sun survives.
Such mass boycott action is rarely successful and the Internet today gives newspapers a wider reach from ad spend to boost profits. The Mail in particular, has shown itself to be innovative. Today, it’s the leading UK online paper — a feat it managed devising unusually lengthy front page scrolls which gamed SEO algorithms and slating click-bait titles with articles psychologically shaped to fuel interest.
Sleight of hand
There’s a game you may have played with a toddler in which you present both hands. One supposedly conceals a ball. The toddler makes a choice. You then open your hand without the red ball, feigning surprise. The toddler puzzled looks disbelieving at the hand again and then behind you, by which time you’ve disposed of the ball. This curiosity, falling for the same trick all the time is a bit like the illusionary presence of Father Christmas. But at some point the illusion cracks.
Somehow in today’s journalism, generally the audience can still be viewed as a toddler, not necessarily in the telling of stories, though this happens, but in the illusion of presenting the “entirety” of an event. What’s not happening in the frame, behind your back hides much needed information.
There was a moment in a BBC political interview programme called On the Record, circa 1990s presented by John Humphrys, when the camera moves away from the a face shot to below the table where you can see the politician desperately wringing his hands. His veil had dropped.
Should we continue to call them newspapers, the free press, or impartial broadcasters at all? A wider debate, but as we head towards 5G and the consequences of ultra low latency, deeper relay remote control, A.I. and what Professor Mischa Dohler from Kings College describes as the coming of the Internet of Skills how might journalism and societies tackle wedging?
Perhaps, as this draft moving image of me presenting news superimposed with data arrays illustrates, we need greater co-creating between multi-disciplines e.g. engineering, neuroscientists to reveal the underlying, which I’ll refer to as the fourth wall. Stats at your fingerprints to debunk human perception, and if you haven’t watched Akala’s surgical delineation of knife crimes in London here, in which the media perceive as a black on black problem, do.
Journalism’s so called higher level of proof is under assault and its response has been exposed as woefully inadequate. Because thus far, so long as you can cite others who support your POV, or persuasively frame a point to massage people’s irrational behaviour (War is good at all costs and repatriating Black brits (Windrush) will bring back a semblances of Great Britain), it’s OK. So long too that you have circulation you can pretty much say whatever you want. And so long also that you meet the minimum threshold of what a news story might look and sound like, you’re quids in.
But perhaps like the toddler seeing through the hand trick, audiences should have the opportunity to see into the fourth wall to gauge the iniquities of hybrid interference. How so?
@ledbyDonkeys describe themselves as four friends minded by the level of hypocrisy in British politician’s rolling back, even denying comments they made. So, they took to first plastering billboards with politicians’ quotes about what they previously said, and now crowd source funds to paste their ripostes. They’ve been successful.
This is activism journalism. It should be obvious journalism. @ledbyDonkeys attempt at exposing duplicitous narratives can only travel so far. And this form too, billboards, good as it is in exposing duplicity, is limiting.
What journalism, the public, and journalism studies requires is a visibility of event’s fourth wall. This is not a semiotic exercise in alternative meanings, but a way of revealing, bringing into the foreground, the outer often discarded rims of events.
This is craft work. Take Luigi Pirandello, a Nobel Prize author and dramatist. In Pirandello’s innovative theatre, the audience is given access to the thinking in the conceiving of the play. They become active participants.
It’s the equivalent of showing the guts of television and its operations at work, the type of transparency demanded in academia. How did you get there? Jeff Jarvis sees greater transparency and accountability within various solutions and social journalism. In 2014, as one of twenty global experts invited to CUNY by Jeff to share a vision of television of the future, I explained a new model of journalism through digital storytelling and cinema journalism. “I like your idea”, Jeff said afterwards, “it’s unusual”.
It’s not uncommon for many a journalists to go out to an event, only to observe it’s not the story the editor wants. All background material, dissent, self critique, out-of-the- ordinary is junked for the spectacle of the performance in mind.
On the rare occasion the fourth wall becomes the obvious story, as when a Trump supporter attacked a camera crew at a Trump raleigh. But watch how quickly the camera adopts the conventionalised reality of journalism again in the clip.
Below, an independent camera catches out-of-the-conventional-frame- material, but the larger spectacle of the 4th wall is also ignored, which includes glimpses of the absurdity of the press operators tightly penned in together — Trump’s target for his charade.
In effect it would be difficult, though not impossible for organisations to reveal their own fourth walls — as all this would be is a continuum of their own agendas.
But what if just like @ledbyDonkeys, a crowd sourced network deconstructed what main hybrid interferers were doing? In Latvia, a prime time show Melu Teorija is dedicated to revealing spins and untruths made up by Russian active measure operators. In the Ukraine their show is Stop Fa̶k̶e̶ News
And this is Lithuania’s attempt to fight Russian Active Measures operators by launching a collaboration between Lithuania’s Military Strategic Communications (STRATCOM) and Elves — the equivalent of trolls.
But what if the distortion is inside, and how much more could you deconstruct a fourth wall to expose what’s going on? In effect, in UK institutions, 4th wall journalism hasn’t much started, and the public and a new generation of journalists are walking into ever complex wedgings.
Furthermore how can you guarantee people will watch/read what you’ve made? Not unusually too that logical argument you’ve constructed may fail to convince those acting irrationally. Perhaps, a friend said, a new form of A.I for irrational arguments needs building. Emotional Intelligence and engagement also is key.
In the meantime, a combination of innovation in identifying new (digital/ investigative) tools, and also in the production of the stories is merited. Story constructs that takes elide within and out of the ecosystem that guardians frame so tightly as “journalism”, taking us into wider realms of Factual Storytelling or Occured Events Digital Storytelling (OEDS), a term coined to delineate from the multi-verse of digital storytelling.
I’ll explain further in the next post. Other observed trends can be gauged from this short video.
Dr David Dunkley Gyimah is an international award winning innovator, and videojournalist. He’s a top global writer in Journalism on @Medium and has worked in the media for thirty years with some of the top brands in the BBC and Channel 4. Profiled on Apple’s front page for innovation, he’s based at the Cardiff School of Journalism. You can find out more from his reputation medium post.