I spent Day 1 afternoon in the Feedback session for '18 days in Egypt' led for Jigar Mehta, whose frustration was palpable. It's clear that he feels a great sense of responsibility regarding achieving a completeness of the story-- gathering as many as possible and putting them together but also frustration of wanting to do something/ being expected to do something really cool with the material.
'18 days' represents every truly journalistic challenge and promise of a more traditionally journalistic idoc*: temporal to archival possibilities and aspects of following an issue over the arc of one's career, utilising on the ground resources to tummel the situation as it emerges, to relational aspects of the broader world.
I don't envy Mr Mehta his task. Indeed his frustration with trying to figure out what to do next -- even if it completes (what's the exit strategy-- represents the challenge of entrepreneurial journalism less in monetisation but more in 'entrepreneurial' planning. Mehta himself commented that His project is more of a lean startup than an idoc at times.
Several things struck me, these might be inaccurate or ridiculous but I'm going to throw them out there:
First, there seemed to be an odd consensus that '18 days' need to be "cleaned up" into some kin of consolidated narrative organisation. The opposite occurs to me for the simple fact that the nature of revolutions are messy and cobbled together -- why are we looking for something that's 'neat' in nature? To say nothing of the fact that anyone who has ever lived in an Arabic culture for even a little while quickly learns 'what is, is not' (this was told to me in Jordan, the phrase phonetically 'mish-mush-key-la').
Mehta feels a pressure to tie people's stories together, to make a beautifully complexity of the events. He is thinking of all the rich possibilities we are presented with but I wonder-- and frequently so in my plans for my own project-- if just because we have the capability to link data together in all these really cool ways if perhaps we should at all?
Earlier in the day Brian Winston's presentation of interactivity in analogue interactive documentary** struck me in its simplicity, in the simplicity of the human connection that without the flashy media and digital data augmentation I felt so much more emotion in the experience! And indeed, one of Mehta's 3 challenges as he presented to us is how to make more of an emotional connection with the material; he thinks this will be done in 'cleaning up' the site but I'm not certain this will be achieved if it's done by features. We face the danger as an idoc community of getting lost in features and flashy media.
Mehta wants to be able to 'complete' the story of the Egyptian Revolution of 2011, to make links between people's stories so that we have a 'complete' view. This sounds great, on its face, and in theory all the data out there and all the data that the '18 days' site is collecting should make this possible? But are we complicating the story in making it 'complete'? And by complicating, I mean making it so complete that we work the emotional connection out of it by not allowing room for imagination -- the point at which our own narrative entry and thus connection is made.
I might be completely off base but I think it's worth thinking about. It's that construction that happens with blank space in a story that allows us to connect sometimes. Can it be over-done, even in the interests of journalistic accuracy?
The wisest words ever spoken to me about storytelling were from my college freshman english professor, herself a former journalist: 'show, don't tell the story.'
Turner, M. (1998)
Wright, A. (2007)
Schwartz, P. (1991)
Wolf, M. (2010)
*I'm not entirely certain what I mean by this, but probably something along the lines of the spectrum of interactive documentary which includes art-docs and docutheatre.
**Winston presented old material of mining strikes in the US and talked about how those films made their way to Wales, where both communities began dialoguing with each other and the topic, to emerge a more complete understanding of their places within the larger story of the evolution of the mining industry.