Vivien Morgan

The advent of new technologies and the changing nature of journalism have given rise to a generation of amateurs and professionals who are using increasingly advanced videorecorders and digital cameras to document history as it happens. A new book titled “Videojournalism: History, Pioneers, Theory and Practice” examines this timely subject in detail. Kayhan London spoke to its author, Vivien Morgan.

What is the main point of the book? 

The book is about understanding how to be a good video journalist: a storyteller who can skillfully combine recording pictures and words. Whatever your objective in recording video, this book will help you as a professional to produce reports and films for news networks and programs, for your organisation’s website, or as an amateur [capturing] footage of friends and family. I detail the key skills you need for a career as a digital multi-skilled journalist, media officer, communications or social media manager.

The journey that I made from TV producer-director to pioneer video journalist, from documentaries to news reports, means that I can share practical tips as well as the background story on how the discipline of video journalism evolved. It’s a fascinating tale of how, in one year, changes in video technology, the ending of unions’ grip on the television industry, and the dramatic political reshaping of Eastern Europe and the former USSR all [happened] together – offering opportunities for a new way of filming and reporting the news.

Who is your primary readership, and what do you want them to take away from the book?

My reader is anyone who wants to learn more about the history of video journalism and the broadcast industry – but mainly those who want to be filmmakers themselves and produce creative video content.

They can read interviews with video journalists (VJs) and mobile journalists (MoJos) , learn tips on filming and careers.

How do you see the future of video journalism?

Video journalism keeps being reinvented along with changes in technology. It’s accepted as a discipline now, part of journalism, and [increasingly] in demand as a skill, which is good for those seeking a career in communications, students, activists, those in conflict situations, and anyone who wants to record and share events. As the demand for website content grows, newspapers are training their journalists to be multi-skilled in producing video for their online sites. Traditional broadcasters continue to employ professional camera people to film video for their newsgathering operations. But a percentage of content is coming from non-professional or ‘citizen’ reporters who record an event live, as it happens.

Diversity is the future for producing video content. There will be videos shot using smartphones, camcorders, and drones, and in all different formats, including 360, virtual reality and 4kHD.

Vivien Morgan with video journalism students in Iran.

The exciting aspect of mobile journalism and the rise of the so-called Mojo alongside the VJ is that it’s something everyone can do. So besides being creative and a way of recording personal and family videos, it’s a democratic tool for this digital age.

The hope is that the sharing of content can help bring about change for those fighting for equal rights, peace, security and justice. Social media is a key player in political mobilization towards regime change, and for pro-democracy movements – helping shape social protests, demonstrations both online and offline at the local or global level.

For media students studying [as part of] the hundreds of courses in the UK and the thousands globally, the future in terms of careers has never been stronger. VJs are now a part of every news organization, part of press offices and communication teams. They have moved into the mainstream, promoted by the digital needs of our working world.

You seem to see a “perfect storm” of union busting, newsroom budget cuts, and technological advances to explain the rise of video journalism. Are these the main causes?

Not budget cuts: it’s more the lack of newsgathering crews to cover events in the years after 1989.

Remember that 1989 was the biggest year in world history since 1945. In international politics, everything changed: there was the end of apartheid, the fall of communism in Eastern Europe, the collapse of the Soviet Union, and Tiananmen Square.

This opened the door to German unification, a historically unprecedented European Union stretching from Lisbon to Tallinn, the enlargement of NATO, two decades of American supremacy, globalization, and the rise of Asia.

The year 1989 also brought us Ayatollah Khomeini’s fatwa on Salman Rushdie – the rise of Islamic fundamentalism, which has morphed today into ISIS. [Meanwhile,] three things converged to revolutionize newsgathering: Sony produced the first handheld video camera for consumers, the monopoly of the media unions broke, and there was political upheaval in Eastern Europe as the Berlin Wall came down.

What has been the impact of video journalism on journalistic standards?

The debate about using non-professional footage at the birth of video journalism was one about standards and quality. While quality remains an important issue for the BBC and other broadcasters, for other international channels, it is of less importance than [getting] coverage of events.

Peter Barabas, editor-in-chief for news at Euronews, says his organisation has “started using user-generated content [UGC] dramatically over the past two years. The war in Syria made it very clearly a necessity because there is no way for us to cover Syria other than UGC.”

Examples of where UGC footage has extended TV coverage of events include: the siege and killings at the Bataclan club in 2015, Paris, France; the Marriott Hotel bombing in Islamabad, Pakistan’ and the June 2015 killing of tourists on the beach by Islamists at the tourist resort near Sousse in Tunisia.

With the advent of mobile footage too, broadcast standards have been brushed aside in favour of footage that shows live action unfolding.

I would argue that determining whether footage sent or used by broadcasters is real or fake is the new concern.