Exploding TV: The BBC hands over its air

A few weeks ago, the BBC’s premier news program, Newsnight, invited its audience to make short films with the promise that the best would make it to air. (I contrasted the effort then to CBS News’ closed and now all-but-closed-down “free speech” segments.)

Their OhMyNewsnight competition has just concluded and the winners are mostly quite good. Some of the finalists are rather sophomoric or simplistic. But Newsnight Editor Peter Barron — responding to an Observer curmudgeon who growled that “Vodcasts and blogs are to the noughties what graffiti was to the Seventies: mindless scrawls reading: ‘I woz ere.’ It says: ‘I’m a moron, but worship me anyway’ ” as well as to one of his own presenter‘s sneers — concluded: “As far as I can see there’s not a funny animal or a moron among them.” He added later:

I’m bewildered that anyone could seriously suggest that allowing our viewers ten
minutes out of the hundreds of hours of airtime Newsnight produces each year to tell us what they think is important is somehow a negative development. At the very least we’ve had a great debate about the value of user-generated content, which has surely been the media story of 2006.

The winner is a film by rock musician Joe Blanks — who even made a Google video promoting voting on his video — about a school lunch program in Malawi inspired by George McGovern. I like it.

Peter Barron’s personal favorite was a shortened version of a riveting film about how cocaine is made.

This finalist makes a simple statement about multicultural London; this one a rather dutiful statement about being nice to people on the dole; this one tells one woman’s story as a hurricane approaches Cuba. I watched all the semifinalists. This one, about the evil of ID cards, was simply silly. This one, about the carbon neutralization industry, was interesting. Here’s a good interview with a homeless man who, because he doesn’t have problems (drugs, alcohol), he has a bigg problem: no help. This interview with a newsstand operator could be the start of a good series of first-person tales.

I only wish that Newsnight had had contributors tag their submissions on YouTube et al, for then we could have watched them all. I went searching and found a report about cross-race adoption and an effort at parody that was overtaken by Newsnight presenter Jeremy Paxman’s own.

Is any of this up to Newsnight’s par? Of course, not. That’s not the point. So what is? Well, not all cameras in the hands of amateurs are cultural weapons meant to feed the home page of YouTube and TV blooper shows. Give the people a camera and they can give us reports or perspectives we otherwise may not have seen.

I’m spending the weekend watching and grading similar videos made by my students at the City University of New York Graduate School of Journalism. Some of them are even rougher. But as I told the students after we screened their first efforts: There, now you’ve made TV. Now you can make it better. And that is the moral to the story of Oh My Newsnight.

: SOMEWHAT RELATED: Videoblogging in Iran.

  • Hasan Jafri

    This is great stuff. The joke is on the moron who called these citizen journalists morons. Good for Newsnight, and more power to it.

  • http://www.joeblanks.com Joe Blanks

    Firstly, good comments by Jeff Jarvis. I too would have liked to see all the entries; people went to so much trouble to make these reports – about subjects they really care about – that they deserve to be seen. It might be a good idea if, in future, people entitle their films ‘Oh my Newsnight’ then at least they will show up when people search.

    As time goes by I also feel that the quality of this kind of reporting is bound to improve – Greg and I (makers of ‘Malawi’) are very young and inexperienced but already see big mistakes that we made which could be improved upon.

    Joe Blanks

  • http://www.blog4brains.com Pat Lowery

    Being new to blogging, I am excited about all the content consumption. And you are absolutely right that we would not have had the opportunity to see what George McGovern says about school lunches or how cocaine is made. I found both to be very intriguing and informative…something the mainstream media never could have brought me. But that is exactly the point, in a world of infinite possibilities, there are infinite stories waiting to be told. The mainstream media cannot tell them all. But I, for one, will be telling some them.

    Thanks for the story…and great videos.

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  • Jack Crain

    When I read the article the second video would not play. Was it deleted because of its content?