The Slow Journalism Night at the V&A: Protest and Dissent was hosted by V&A Connects and Delayed Gratification to coincide with Disobedient Objects, the V&A’s recent exhibition on protest, political art, communication and revolutionary artefacts.
Delayed Gratification is a British publication that was established in 2010. As a publication their aim is to return to media stories three months after they were originally covered to see how the story and situation has developed. So rather than slow journalism it could just as easily be referred to as ‘fast history.’
The evening speakers included contributing journalists and photographers from Delayed Gratification. The evening began with journalist Alan Rutter who discussed the concept of Digital Dissent, he was followed by journalist Sakhir Al-Makhadhi who explored the Arab Spring and finally photographer Ed Thompson who covered the Occupy Movement.
Some of the stories covered in recent editions of Delayed Gratification have included insights into Anonymous. Many features have been written about this group of Guy Fawkes mask-wearing bandits who possess the determination to bring down enormous corporations. Delayed Gratification have also covered Wikileaks, exploring the footage of diplomatic cables that have been leaked into the public domain and its subsequent impact.
Alan Rutter reflected on some of the international stories he had uncovered for Delayed Gratification, which have included a lively account on a Mexican standoff. He recounted a story where a notorious drug cartel were responsible for the murder of journalists and bloggers for publishing information on those involved in their illegal activity. This lead to the cartel taking a journalist hostage. Because a lot of officials involved were corrupt it made it harder for authorities and governments to respond appropriately. Anonymous took charge of the situation by declaring to have information on the cartel’s political, authoritative and financial associates and threatened to release this to the public. This extraordinarily resulted in the cartel releasing the hostage.
Rutter explained the value of “making the mainstream aware.” He referred back to Anonymous describing how their unidentified status affords them power. He explained the power of being faceless and explained the importance of collaborative work and a collective ethos, clarifying that “individuals don’t have the power of institutions.” In regards to newspapers he cited The New York Times and The Guardian as examples of publications that have journalists that are able to bring controversial stories to light but have the security of a larger publication backing them. Rutter concluded by noting that with anonymity, there is both the temptation of being unknown but that its power can also be easily misused.
Sakhir Al-Makhadhi primarily spoke about the Zaatari refugee camp in Jordan and examined what the story of the camp tells us about the Arab Spring. Zaatari is the world’s fourth largest refugee camp. It was originally opened in July 2012 to host Syrians fleeing from the bloodshed and ferocity of the ongoing Syrian civil war that began back in 2011. Today there are currently 84,615 refugees living on site and has grown into the nation’s fourth largest city. Zaatari hosts the biggest radio show in Jordan embracing free speech, so in some ways the camp provides a democratic platform for uncensored expression.
Al-Makhadhi explained the many hardships and complications faced with residents and the “loss of control” that they experienced when they first moved into the camp, as they thought it was a temporary position rather than an ongoing living framework. At the beginning, this caused a lot of tension between the refugees and the aid workers as the refugees were living in “awful conditions” and many verbalized that they were dying a “slow death” (Ali and Mohsen residents of the camp) whilst others vented their frustration through violence due to their “fury at the living conditions.”
Al-Makhadhi spoke from first-hand experience when he acknowledged the many changes in the running of Zaatari which came in being when Kilian Kleinschmidt was hired by United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). Kleinschmidt was brought in “to help stop the spiral of chaos in Zaatari.” Al-Makhadhi explained how Kleinschmidt’s “unorthodox approach” soothed the brutality and “calmed the violence.”
Kleinschmidt is certainly not a typical UN official. He chose to live away from his family with the residents of the camp so that he could relate to the population of Zaatari that he became responsible for. For the duration of his position he spent three evenings a week walking around the campsite talking to residents to gain an insight into their visions for Zaatari. Under Kleinschmidt’s supervision of the camp a huge internal economy developed. The camp grew from 30,000 inhabitants to 120,000 in one year - which exemplifies how he had transformed the camp. Zaatari became so successful that people wanted to return rather than escape. Kleinschmidt made it a better space as he provided an infrastructure to those living in what could be seen as a city in exile.
Ed Thompson was the final speaker, he considered the Occupy movement with an authentic understanding. For the duration of Occupy London, Thompson spent each night on site photographing. The imagery he presented captured the diversity of Occupy, as much of his work dealt with perception and reality. Thompson explained how “sensationalist imagery gets attention” and as a result of the digital age it is crucial for photographers to “shoot local, think global.” Thompson was keen to encourage the audience to consider the importance of an idea and he claimed “you can’t evict an idea.”
The evening provided a great insight into the impact journalism has on a movement. It gave the audience the opportunity to reflect on the importance of continuing to read up about ongoing struggles. It made it clear to the audience that despite a story no longer being the most prominent feature in the news, it doesn’t mean the issue has been resolved. Delayed Gratification provides a platform for the untold stories giving a voice to those that need to be heard.
Grace attended the Slow Journalism event as a member of CreateVoice. To find out more about the opportunities with the V&A youth collective email firstname.lastname@example.org
Words: Grace Radford
Images: © Delayed Gratification