OPINION: Not degrees, but ability to use digital media tools is what matters

Friday, June 09, 2017

With the latest video camera and editing tool available in The Gambia of 1990s, it takes at least three hours to produce just a three-minute television report and weeks to work on 30-minutes documentary.  Thanks to digital media revolution, as highlighted in this article by the UTG SJDM, works that used to take hours, days and weeks now takes just minutes and seconds, and in future, one’s level of literacy would be determined by how he is conversant with digital media tools.

When The Gambia has its first television station, Ebou Waggeh was among the first cohort of people there as editors and producers.

But even before the television, Mr Waggeh, now a media consultant and film producer, had been working on media and tele-visuals.  He used to work for the Gambia Cooperative Movement on a project to bring agricultural news to the farming communities. 

However, instead of showing farmers, he was writing to them for audiovisual gadgets were not readily available in the country and the resources not enough to be able to buy it from out outside.

It was thanks to a Norwegian organisation that bought the cooperative movement camera and a projector. 

“So I move from pen and paper to using a camera and a projector to inform the farmers; it was a VHS camera and it was the first of such gadget I used to work on a video production,” Mr Waggeh said. 

“I started shooting good agricultural practices from one region using the VHS camera and showing it to villagers using the projector in another region.”

VHS camera used VHS tapes and shoots VHS shots which were not very good, not very sharp.

In 1996, at the completion of the cooperation movement’s project, he started job at the newly established national television station. 

By this time, media technology had evolved. 

“At the television, I was using Umatic cameras and as time went on and as evolution continued, we started to use BetaCam camera,” Mr Waggeh said.  BetaCam camera technology was an improvement on the Umatic.

“We used BetaCam for a while but afterwards, we were introduced to a type of digital cameras we used to call the triple Cs; these cameras would shoot using smaller tapes – the BetaCam cameras used to take bigger tapes.  The triple C cameras used smaller tapes, meaning it was also an improvement to the BetaCam but it was still analogue.”

As time went by and as digital evolution continues, digital cameras came into the scene.  Waggeh now uses HD camera which is now perhaps the second best quality of filming in the world. 

“The transformation of technology from VHS, which I started with, to HD camera is like from Banjul to Yew York,” he said.

But it was not only the video shooting equipment that changed, but also the editing tools.

Mr Waggeh said:  “When we started editing, we used to use linear editing.  On linear editing, when a picture is transferred on the editing machine, you cannot change the order again: you cannot mix, you cannot take what you have in the fourth sequence, for instance, and bring it to the second sequence, once you placed it, it can’t be changed. 

“It is like sewing a shirt, once you put the hand, you cannot remove it again and put it somewhere.”

The linear editing also phased out with VHS, Umatic and BetaCam camera technologies.  Now, it is the non-linear editing technologies.  The non-linear editing makes use of a computer.

Waggeh explained that using the non-linear editing, if you feel like you have put one sequence before another, and you want to change it, it takes about two seconds to do so. 

“With the computer editing, you can separate everything, the sound and the picture, so you can put multiple sounds on one sequence easily, you could not have done that on a BetaCam editing machine which is linear,” he said. 

“So the transition has been so transformative that I can’t even imagine what I was doing using the linear and this transformation was just from the 1990s to the 2015.  If it used to take me five hours to do a three-minute report for TV, now its takes me just 15 minutes to do it.”

The most important benefit of the technological transformation, in addition to saving of time, is that now video producers now do not use videotapes anymore.

“Now you don’t put a tape in a camera, shoot and bring the tape out and look at what you have in the tape and start editing, no,” the media consultant said.  “Now you don’t capture anymore.  The camera I use now uses a memory chip, so everything I shoot, the sound and picture, comes to the chip and so when I get to the office, all I do is put a wire on the camera, connect it to my computer and just transfer what is on the chip.  Even if I shot 10 hours, it will just take seconds to transfer it to the computer for editing. 

“Previously, when I shoot 10 hours of video, I will need another 10 hours to transfer it: 10 hours in, 10 hours out. But now less than 1 minute, you take it out of the camera and start editing so you can image how fast that can be; technology has really improved when it comes to television journalism.”

Comes the internet

When Mr Waggeh produced his first documentary in 1990, a 30-minute documentary, it took him several weeks to complete. 

“At the time, I have to shoot every shot I wanted but today, I don’t have to, I can find footages on the internet; I can go on to Youtube and get footages of the minister of justice, for instance, when I want to use him in my story,” he said.

Previously, this was not possible.  Waggeh would have to send a cameraman to the minister’s home to take picture of him, bring it to the studio and edit it.

Smartphone

Ebrima Baldeh, producer at the Gambia Radio and Television Services (GRTS), said thanks to digital revolution, one does not even need to a video camera to record a television programme.

“Now you can record with your Smartphone, use a USB cable to transfer it on a computer and send it to the studio for production,” he said.

“The digital system of journalism has come to revolutionalise the 21st Century journalism unlike the 15th Century or the Stone Age when journalists, particularly TV and radio journalists, have to go with tape recorders to every programme.

“The digital revolution has given fresh impetus to journalism practice whether in Africa or developed world.  You don’t need high heavy duty cameras to record a program, you also don’t need a real tape to take to a programme, all you need is a small Smartphone to take digital videos and images.”

Momodou Jallow, an IT Technician, said the technological revolution has done so much today for journalists as they can convey and distribute their messages seamlessly.

“You can be in a remote area where you cannot take transport to come back to your office to submit or distribute your message, but you can easily use your Smartphone or laptop to drop your message or story,” he said.

“Some gadgets such as digital recorders are now so unique that they come with internet connection and it does more than just recording.  Technology comes with such rapid development that cannot be compared with anything in this world.”

Abdourahman Touray, founder and chief executive officer of Pristine Consulting, said one of the things that the evolution of digital media technology has done is that it brings people closer than ever before. 

“With technology, you can have a grandmother in Basse talking to a granddaughter in New York through WhatsApp,” he said.  “So the digital evolution has bridged the gap between generations, bridged the gap between people who are separated by water, oceans and distances and it makes people come closer.”

Mr Touray said technological evolution has brought about whole new industries; industries that 10 years ago were never thought of but are in existence today. 

“A good example is the Gambis project,” he said.  Gambis is an integrated multi-documented identification platform which Gambian national documents such as ID cards, driver’s license, residential permits are issued, on the same platform.  It is created by Pristine Consulting in The Gambia.

The future with technology

Mr Touray said, going forward, digital media would make the world more democratic “in the sense that since people have access to more information, they would be able to make better judgment”.

Secondly, he said, it would bring about new class of wealth, in other words, it would create opportunities for people for employment and this would make the society as a whole wealthier.

Thirdly, he continued, it would bring about health revolution because with digital media, now there is the ability to distribute information that can be helpful in the medical arena so that somebody who is not very skilled can perform things that hitherto would have been very difficult to perform.

“We should embrace the evolution of technology, we should make sure that we encourage our kids to embrace technology, we should invest in giving access to technology for our kids much more than sports because in the future if you not well verse with digital technology, you would be considered an illiterate because you would lose value and it would be very difficult to function in the modern world,” Mr Touray said.

By Aisha Jagne, Lamin Jahateh, Malick Mboob, Abdoulie Sey, Balla Musa Saidy, and Mustapha Mbye