Monday, 10 November 2008

The new face of well worn

Ok, so maybe I'm on a roll here, but it needs to be said.

Back in 1994, when the old guard at BBC news laughed, when I trundled off to learn how to be a videojournalist with Michael Rosenblum, news visionary extraordinaire, I felt like I was getting to live in the future, only now. If you see what I mean.

Reading the following entry about how the Society of Editors is up in arms, about the BBC's plans for national rollout of local VJs, to produce content for its website, I feel a warm schadenfreude-filled glow welling up inside me. Why? Because although I pity those struggling to make a living from a dying medium (and let's be honest, how often do you read a local paper?) it makes me smile to see the use of VJs under the spotlight once more, not this time because of the nature of the job, but because of the job itself.

No-one seems to be arguing that being a videojournalist is a bad idea. In fact, it's a great idea. What the news editors are angry about, gathered together at their annual conference in Bristol, is that the BBC is muscling in on their territory.

So, here is a radical idea...why don't we ditch the videojournalist tag, agree that content production and reporting skills/styles have changed forever, and just call these guys journalists? A journalist could be making audio, video, print, or graphic content. If we move beyond thinking that the medium is the message, as McLuhan postulated, and consider that the medium delivers multiple versions of the same message, then all of this nonsense could be resolved.

There is, of course, the issue of the BBC leveraging its behemoth like weight, aided and abetted by the billions of pounds raised in Licence fees, to distort commercial markets. On that score, the editors have a point, although the BBC's riposte that it is delivering on its Public Service Broadcasting remit, is an interesting one. Does video online count as broadcasting? Answers on a big postcard please....

Certainly, if you're in the newspaper business, and especially at the local end, now isn't the time for bleating or idle ideology. I'm lucky. I'm an educator these days, so I can sit on the sidelines and not worry about when and where the next commission might appear. If I were trying to make an honest buck in the current climate I'd be looking at integrating every which way. Link to Facebook, add audio, video, Twitter text, whatever you can imagine to make connections with an audience on the run from the product you've been touting for the last century.

For those of you in the business and thinking that maybe I'm shooting from the hip, without any backbone to support my argument, let me tell you something. The students I'm working with now, even aged 11, are making films and podcasts that I would have been proud to call my own a decade ago. They're moving into making their own motion gaphics and they are hungry for change.

Technology and rising media literacy means the next generation of paying subscribers will know the production tricks, will be able to deconstruct the machinery behind the content, and they'll be adept at making their own content too. Text on a page just ain't gonna cut it.

To conclude then, change must happen and it must take place fast. Strangely, I look at what's happening, remember the derision that greeted those of us who speculated a decade ago that this might be where we'd end up, and wonder why it all seems to have become so difficult?

Like I said at the start, it's the future waiting for now - but some of us were there yesterday.

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