Why does the greatest innovation to media continually go begging? Pt.I

Author in Russia training journalists

nvestigate Facebook and Google’s dominance in advertising. Launch a new watchdog to monitor news and tech, and find the money publicly to fund local journalism.

One of the UK’s most highly respected academics recommended these, and some, in a report released today. Dame Frances Cairncross was tasked last year by the government to look into how quality journalism’s future could be safeguarded.

She’s right, and who might I be to say otherwise, but in this ongoing review about the state of journalism, isn’t something obvious being missed?

Here’s my beef, if that’s not a strong word.

If we’re going to talk about innovation in journalism you and I could start by helping the public, the consumer, just a tiny bit. What d’you mean by journalism? It seems a simple and unnecessary task perhaps, and one that has yielded enough research books to likely reach Pluto.

But I’d bet consumers understand brexit better than they do this chasm in journalism. Has it become excessively theatrical and less about explaining the complexities of the world? Was that ever universally part of its schtick. CNN has a trick [er yes I know its and it’s].

News Needed

If news was so needed by consumers, would it be in the state it’s in? I’m speaking mainly about television here and by chasm, I mean this.

In Japan, news journalism operates one way as I found out speaking to friends at NHK (read also Prof Hargreaves’s Journalism — a very short introduction). In Russia, TV News is something else; in the US the lack of a regulatory body for impartiality mixed with the first amendment gives an interesting edge to their TV News, coupled with the exuberance for show business (see Neil Postman’s Amusing ourselves to death).

And in Ghana how about this from one of its most innovative journalists Anas Aremeyaw Anas featured in this month’s The World Today published by Chatham House. He sees his goal as solving society’s ills.

if I do investigations that involve criminals and I have the evidence I collaborate with the police service. I give them the evidence and then we make the arrest together and I go to court and testify. This might sound a bit unrealistic to western journalists because he will think what’s your job? He will say just write the story and let them read it in their bedrooms and it’ll be fine. I say no to this because I know my society.

Journalism is about solving society’s ills, just like an ex-Masters student of mine from Ghana (Daniel Kofi, at 1.05') said in this diary I recorded in 2006.

There’s no hippocratic oath. Journalism isn’t a unitary body.

Different regions, networks, executives around the world may reasonably be confident news journalism is about gathering and disseminating reports, and even putting truth to power, or at times informing or entertaining. How it gets there or thereabouts, or its end goal vary widely and hence it’s highly contestable.

Doctors attend to your health. Engineers solve problems and build things to help societies, generally. And journalism? Well to the consumer, the Daily Mail, Fox TV, CNN, BBC or ABC News practise journalism — deconstructing and restructuring reality. But which one?

Massive Public Education (MPE)

So here’s my big idea, just like mass inoculation, or civic campaigns, here’s Funnel Out Friday. One friday every three months universities across Britain empty their buildings and funnel into communities to explain to the public things. Yes! things. No agendas, the knowledge of different perspectives, a skill set of teaching — brilliant!

They’d answer such questions as: Is the standard of journalism measured by the Western model, and even so is that UK, EU or US?

Then this. One of the interesting things in the development of say art or literature is how different writing styles or art emerge as a zeitgeist towards understanding or addressing social and political issues in an innovative way. Both in some way foregrounded changes to society.

Hence in literature you can trace the development of the essay-novella and equitone and literary works such as Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe; the novel in Gustave Flaubert’s Madam Bovary, biographies and multilayered approach, the conscious streaming and reflections in Ulysses and poetics of excess in Marlon James’ reggae-influenced in context and language A Brief History of Seven Killings.

In Art, you can chart Renaissance, Neoclassical, Realism, Impressionism, Cubism, Expressionism, Art deco, and Pop Art as styles that foregrounded new thinking in the way of reflecting societal changes.

Impressionism in the 1860s broke the stranglehold of the Academy to state there’s more than one reality, and it’s dependent too on what the author thinks. Pop Art’s kaleidoscopic colours captured the exuberance of consumerism.

In TV journalism, it’s difficult to name different acknowledged style, and I’m not referring to different fields or categories e.g. political journalism and digital journalism. In the 1970s there was Action News (if it bleeds, it leads), and in the 1980s the BBC introduced ‘mission to explain’, but what else? Interesting too as you consider this, that if a doctor or engineer works online they’re not referred to as digital doctors or engineers, a journalist works online and they’re a different animal — a digital journalist.

Pt II follows: Innovation to the people, and the endemic problems with TV News

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.


Forethought — Looks to the future and reflects through past learning, storytelling, media and tech evangelised by Brit journalist, storyteller and senior lecturer David Dunkley Gyimah, embracing the wisdom of crowds and sharing

david dunkley gyimah

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


Forethought — Looks to the future and reflects through past learning, storytelling, media and tech evangelised by Brit journalist, storyteller and senior lecturer David Dunkley Gyimah, embracing the wisdom of crowds and sharing