Adam Westbrook // ideas on digital storytelling and publishing

A little bit of history repeating

Posted in Journalism by Adam Westbrook on January 24, 2010

This whole multimedia journalism thing seems very new a lot of the time.

We’re always being told we’re breaking new ground, doing things no-one has done before. But that’s not necessarily so:  some of the ‘innovations’ we have come accustomed too have been around for decades.

Citizen Journalism

When do you think the first citizen journalists appeared? Did amateurs start recording news events a few years back? 2004? 2002?

How about 1940?

BBC Four in Britain are screening a series of programmes called Shooting The War, about how ordinary soldiers and civilians used the first cinecameras to record daily life during World War II. People like Leslie Fowler and Derek Brown provided us with an intimate portrait of life in Britain in the run up to, and during the early years of the war.

Their footage shows Home Guard preparations for a possible invasion of England in the summer of 1940.

The documentary describes amateur film-making as an unusual hobby in the 1930s, but it was still there.

One-man-bands

Now what about solo-journalists? The one man* film-maker, out in the field on his own with a camera? 1990s? 1980s?

How about the 1940s again?

During the war, the British government became aware of the extent to which the Wehrmacht had been using propaganda films to accentuate their sudden invasion of Western Europe. Realising the potential of this, they created a new division in the army: the Army Film and Photographic Unit. It trained ordinary soldiers to carry their own film cameras and shoot activity on the front line.

As well as lugging their weaponry and everything else, they were carrying a huge wooden cinecamera and probably loads of film too – and then filming entirely by themselves, something most of us didn’t think could happen until Betacams in the 1980s.

Multimedia

And number three, what what the first newspaper to go multimedia? Was it the NY Times in 2000? Or the LA Times in 2003?

Nope?

What about the Observer…in 1951?

I’ve spent the last two weeks documenting a project at the Southbank Centre in London, the home of what was once called the Festival of Britain. In the festivals last weeks in the summer of 1951, the Observer paper (the Guardian’s Sunday edition) commissioned a 15 minute film called Brief City. You can watch it here too.

It explained how the Royal Festival Hall was built, and how it was used. It is a stunning piece of film making of its time, with its own specially orchestrated score.

So that’s a newspaper investing in moving pictures to tell stories. In 1951.

It’s a shame they all forgot pretty soon after how to do that.

*sorry ladies, it is still the 1940s after all

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  1. David Stone said, on January 25, 2010 at 2:35 pm

    Absolutely fascinating. The only difference is the scale of audience.

    It’s suprising how much of today’s technology originates from the Armed Forces. I was once told Plasma screens were an invention of military necessity. I’d imagine the guys in Afghanistan have a few bits of kit that’ll be implemented into consumer electronics over the next five years.

  2. […] The newspaper doing multimedia journalism…in the 1950s […]


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