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.
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.