Journalism could not have had it so good. Readers and viewers as individuals didn’t much matter as the paper or broadcaster’s pockets were doing well from the masses. Mass media is where it was as a fairly fixed audience.
That was in an age that seems like eternity, less than two decades ago. Plurality too was welcomed, but to your honest editor today this multiplicity of outlets, with Facebook and Google hoovering up their advertising spend, is ridiculous.
Where is the public when you need them? If as a rough guide you could measure media’s relationship with them as a manner of public journalism, this N-gram from Google tells a story.
Time to innovate then? Except journalism generally has a lengthy aversion history towards innovation. Exhibits follow, and I’m sure you can come up with some examples, but…
- Storytelling — borrowed that from cinema, docs and newspapers.
- Studios — got the idea from chat shows.
- New cameras — borrowed the equipment of the cinema verite and direct cinema lot ( Watch the video below I produced as part of my doctorate thesis who created the agile TV camera.
- Satellites — Submarine tracking and launching weapons
- Multiskilling and videojournalism — Yep stole that too, but hated it
- Online — Never work, but wish we’d had a Netflix
- Twitter — ( blank. I mean really!!!)
If you’ve ever been laughed out of a meeting talking about how the web would disrupt journalism, then you can join me for drinks. I’m paying at my local.
Heard about how Google in their embryonic stage looked to news outfits to work together? They were turned down. Wired Magazine Kevin Kelly writes about how ABC News executive glazed at him when he spoke to them about the web in the 1990s. At least buy your url ABC.com he told them.
Societies might change, new economic superpowers may emerge, a nation’s population may diversify, yet generally the views and sets of values adopted by media stay the same.
It relies on the application of age-old and trusted methods to shape its stories. Who tells it, which subjects are chosen and who shapes the output is more or less the same as it was in 1970s as it is today.
If you wanted to innovate, you could save forking out a shilling by looking within your organisation. Innovation is a peculiar topic. Three hundred years ago if you were called an Innovator/ Novator you’d either sue the person if you could or held your head in shame as you slunk back into obscurity. Today, it crowns its subjects as bringers of new ideas within tech to commercialise a product.
The Goldie Effect
This above is without question one of the media and BBC’s greatest pioneers. Grace Wyndham Goldie, a radio producer, who turned to television and was among the few executives to create factual television and television news in the guise you know it today in the UK. Her ideas would assist ITV which interacted with its US TV news counterparts. One of ITN’s illustrious editors Geoffrey Cox lifted the TV News story idea from the US, claiming he could make it better.
In Goldie’s book Facing the Nation, we see glimpses of a debate from the 1930s onwards which bedevils the industry today. In constructing a style of storytelling which was no mean feat and which would become a universal norm — the news package — viewers were learning to understand a new system.
Tell a story in about two minutes was a tall order back then, as documentary, newsreel’s languid style and radio set the tone. Yet to save boring the viewer TV News had little choice and eventually cracked it. How?
Executives took the tools and framework that made cinema (a loaded form of storytelling); the shot, distance and framing, B-roll, pans, cut -away, narration, and placed in a constrained television box.
But they ignored the depth and elasticity of meaning making the viewer would bring to interpreting what was on screen. It didn’t matter at first, because the viewer was learning to understand this new medium and whatever it was it saved trundling off to the cinema to watch news.
By the 1970s that medium they borrowed without any public education (and why should they as each generation was merely following the other) would come back to bite them. This was what Stuart Hall’s reception theory, Brian Winston’s Glasgow (University) Media Group and Direct Cinema pioneer Robert Drew were talking about.
Television news was constructed from the langue of moving images, whose source was, and is, cinema, or if that disagrees with you, moving image storytelling. As this clip from Deborah Turness ( then at ITN, now NBC senior news executive) shows she, and others, are looking for that something else.
Innovation by any other means. D’you mean art?
One of my most favoured media quotations comes from one of the most revered media figures in history, Marshall McLuhan in Understanding Media, who asks
If men were able to be convinced that art is precise advance knowledge of how to cope with the psychic and social consequences of the next technology would they all become artists. Or would they begin a careful translation of new art forms into social navigation charts. I’m curious to know what would happen if art was suddenly seen for what it is namely the exact information and how to arrange one’s psyche in order to anticipate the next blow from our own extended faculties.
I’m a juror for the most revered television journalism awards in the UK, the RTS. And it’s the winners and competitors who exhibit works of art.
Largely television journalism refrains, or doesn’t want to admit any connection to news as an art form. New forms are put into social navigation charts e.g. mobile journalism or otherwise the work of talented journalists aren’t viewed as a way to arrange our psyche to anticipate the next blow. Surely if that was the case, the news industry wouldn’t time and time again be gamed by spin, marketeers, lobbyists and politicians.
When it comes to innovation, bar the new shiny Star Trek studios, television journalism has been found continually lagging behind the pioneering curve.
In 1994, in the UK, a little unheard of outfit, the brain child of one of the UK’s most respected news editors, Sir David English ( see here in this rare archive at the station cracked it. Helped on by a disruptor back then, Michael Rosenblum, they did with a reboot what News avoided years earlier. That’s the focus of part III.
But in the meantime, Innovate or become invisible? There’s a clear path toward a world that we can create together writes Gina Bianchini — an influencer on linkedin behind Mighty Networks and it’s one driven by networks, not audiences,.
Data the secret sauce of the time will upend the journalism screen like a Bloomberg market watch, except this time, the date being analysed is you and the reporting team. In you’re in television this and another innovation around brain science is calmy seated in the foyer, about to walk in. If you’re in education, then everyone should be learning computers, coding and data — no question.
Pt III follows: the teutonic innovation you’ve never heard about.
Author Dr David Dunkley Gyimah is a winner of the Knight Batten Award for Innovation in Journalism, and National Union of Students Teaching Award. He’s a former BBC Newsnight, Channel 4 News and BBC World Service Journalist, whose work is featured in several academic books.