Uniting Research and Practice
By Angela Graham
Expertise Exchange brought together five academics from Cardiff University School of Journalism, Media and Cultural Studies with five television professionals in a fresh format. The pairs were asked to engage with each other ahead of the event in a dialogue based on the academic’s work. The aim was to have a topic examined from two perspectives and to share with the audience the essence of the dialogue.
On the evening, each academic gave an 8-minute presentation and the professional made a three-minute response. There was no Question and Answer session in the conventional way but an invitation to the audience to do two things: First, to be a genuine audience, listening in a spirit of openness, not imposing their preconceptions between the speakers and themselves, being present to the experience without distractions – in other words, seeing themselves as partners in a dialogue rather than passive recipients of expertise; second, rather than posing questions in expectation of an answer, posing questions as a contribution to an ongoing dialogue, as well as offering comments and corrections .
In the written feedback the word ‘enjoy’ occurred frequently: ‘I really enjoyed it”; “it was so enjoyable”. The consensus was that more would have been welcome, that time flew by, that it was novel and positive to have a pair of perspectives offered. People were invited to stay on after the allotted seventy-five minutes and many stayed for more than an hour on top of that, till the building closed.
I conceived of Expertise Exchange as a way to bring together academics who study TV and TV professionals as a small contribution to reflection on TV in Wales and beyond. I am a TV producer and have been teaching documentary-making skills one day a week at JOMEC since January 2009. I believe I’m not unusual among TV professionals in finding that academic work on television doesn’t exactly fall across my path – yet, as time has gone by (more than 30 years now), and I’ve gained a perspective at least in terms of time, I’ve realised how important it is to make a record of what is produced.
Why? For one’s own sake, as consolidation of things learned; as a way of assessing the influence of the zeitgeist on production choices and, most importantly, as a way of understanding what I’ll call the cultural politics of television – the intersection of one’s own work with the audience and with the audience’s context, that is, the country, the world, to which one broadcasts – and the ‘policy’ politics, that is the legislative and regulatory frameworks within which broadcasting and communication exist and flourish, or not.
If our work as TV professionals is worth doing at all then we believe that it affects the audience. If it doesn’t, then we are wasting our time and theirs. If we are potentially affecting large numbers of people then we ought to care about what those effects are. Furthermore those who are properly serious about their work care about what it might have to offer to younger generations of professionals, about what can be distilled from experiences in order to contribute to the development of the industry.
But TV professionals are extremely busy people. One project is not ended before the next is underway. Conferences eat up time and money. It’s not easy to justify time spent on reflection and we no longer work exclusively in large corporations but in small units where it’s hard to find a critical mass to assess where we’re going as an industry.
We need academics to help us in this. They have the opportunity to consider topics in depth, to note what we are doing, to hold us to account about claims made and content delivered, to scrutinise what the television industry is doing to the country it serves and/or makes money from.
Academic study of television should connect thoroughly with those who work in television. It fails to fulfill itself to the extent that it remains sufficient unto itself. In an exchange of expertise in a spirit of mutual respect and, I stress, not in a spirit of opposing forces clashing, professionals and academics can enhance each others’ work.
I’m delighted that three ongoing projects are resulting from Expertise Exchange: Prof Jenny Kitzinger and Erika Hossington on a potential storyline for ‘Casualty’ about people in vegetative states; Dr Ross Garner and Mike Talbot on producing TV for the ‘mainstream’ in Wales; Dr Cindy Carter and BBC Broadcast journalist, Huw Foulkes on news production for young teenagers.
Expertise Exchange is a light-footed format that can be used in other disciplines. It’s cheaper than attending or organising a conference. It works well where there’s mutual desire for genuine engagement with one another. It can spread the benefits of dialogue while inviting the audience to open up too. Is there an industry professional you’d like to have a dialogue with but haven’t got round to approaching them or an issue on which you’re looking for another perspective? Try Expertise Exchange.
The event was hosted jointly by JOMEC and the Royal Television Society, Wales. RTS events, held monthly, in Cardiff and elsewhere, are open to non-members and are an excellent resource for anyone interested in television.
Taking part in Expertise Exchange, October 2013 were:
Professor Justin Lewis and Llion Iwan, Content Commissioner, Factual and Sport, S4C
Consumerism, the hidden driver behind all TV production?
Professor Jenny Kitzinger and Erika Hossington, Series Producer, Casualty, BBC Cymru Wales
How can TV drama represent family experiences of long term ‘coma’?
Angela Graham is a documentary producer/director. She is also on the Executive Committee of the Writers’ Guild in Wales.