Sunday, 9 November 2008

Where does journalism go now?

I worked as a radio and TV journalist for a number of years back in the late 1980s to mid 1990s.

I loved being a radio reporter, found being a videojournalist not really my cup of tea (face made for radio, as they say) but loved storytelling with moving pictures and words.

Back in 1994, many people mocked what the station that I worked for, Channel One, was doing, using journalists who filmed their own material. I was lucky to be part of the launch-team and it was a once-in-a-lifetime experience. 

I was reminded of this recently because the man who taught us VJs how to be multi-skilled, got in contact with me from his New York base. Michael Rosenblum was an award-winning journalist in the States who couldn't see why journalists needed a large and unwieldy team to help make a news report. As he used to say, imagine a newspaper journalist needing to take along a PA to news conferences to write everything down. So, Michael bought himself a cheap hi-8 video camera, went off to the Occupied Palestinian Territories (as they were called then) and made a film. From this he won more awards and started to preach his style of working, which he called videojournalism.

When I joined Channel One on September 5th 1994, for the first day of training, I had left behind a blossoming career working at BBC Breakast News. Most people there thought I was nuts leaving a national newsroom to help start up a small local cable TV station.

However, I could see the potential and it seemed irresistible. Of course, a few years later Sony introduced DV, which made videojournalism a practical way to news gather. We had begun humping around huge Betacams, the type you tend to see camera operators wielding. A few years ago the next evolution took place and high definition entered the equation. Indeed, we have invested in three high def camcorders at school, and these are yielding a great benefit to the sixth formers who are using them.

Over the last six years or so the power of laptops to cope with digital video, together with the software to edit and manipulate content, has grown at an incredible rate, while falling in price at the same time.

The end result of this is that anyone now can be a VJ, and the rise of audience contributed content to news bulletins on TV and the web continues. Indeed, the popularity of You Tube shows us what a cultural shift affordable camcorders, editing software, and broadband access have made possible.

Which brings me to the title of this post. Where does all of this leave mainstream journalism? It's an important question, because no matter how easy it might be to slate the tabloids, or deplore seemingly falling standards and an incessant obsession with celebrity lifestyle, the truth is that a healthy democracy needs a healthy press. 

With advertising rates plummeting, the move to online amongst consumers happening at an ever-increasing speed, and the whole communications landscape appearing to change its appearance every six months or so (last year Facebook, this year Twitter for example), newspapers in particular are scrambling to find their place in the world.

Roy Greenslade, a pre-eminent journalist, academic and media commentator, has written this week about this subject. His article is worth a browse, as it highlights a number of the issues that confront newspaper owners and editors at a time of unprecedented audience shift and financial turmoil. 

Where, then, might we look for signs of the 'new' journalism about which Roy writes in his article? I would suggest my colleague and one-time videojournalist, David Dunkley-Gyimah.

When we left Channel One in 1997 David took a path that was unique amongst those of us who had acquired new skills and then tried to find a place for them in the old-guard landscape of mainstream broadcasting. David learnt web-design, Flash animation, at a time when these technologies had just emerged.  He took his many years of experience in film making, reportage and documentary, combining them with the fledgling skills of the new media.

Since then, he has found an eminence as a producer, trainer,  and academic, investigating, promoting and designing new ways to communicate. He's studying for a PhD at present, looking at ways to embed links within video content itself, amongst other things. He's a fascinating man and I'm hoping to get him into school early next year. 

Check out his excellent online multimedia journalism site, View Magazine. You can also find a profile of David on the Apple website.

Finally, if you're interested in seeing what life was like for us as trainee VJs back in 1994 then check out this film clip, which David has posted on his site. If you look carefully, you'll even see me in a couple of shots! 


Rosenblum said...

Hey Man
Nice blog!
I am in Bristol today, speaking at the Society of Editors Conference. All the big names are here from the Guardian and the Daily Mail, but they're all saying exactly what you have said here. It's a new world.

david said...

Sacha, :) got your email. Will come back to you in a tickerteboo.

Sacha van Straten said...

Hi Mike,

I'll post on your blog - how long are you in the UK for? It would be great to meet up.

Sacha van Straten said...


That's great news.

I'll look forward to hearing from you soon. S