Paul made it clear that he wanted it to be helpful to visual journalists who might be coming in with limited previous exposure to multimedia storytelling and the tools required to support it. At the same time, he wanted those in attendance to view the story development and editing processes as experimental “play spaces”. In that kind of environment, it was important that attendees felt free of performance anxiety but rather were free to focus on the process of creating, learning, and growing.
Below are the rules that Paul handed out on Day One:
John Cage: some rules for students and teachers
RULE ONE: Find a place you trust, and then try trusting it for awhile.
RULE TWO: General duties of a student – pull everything out of your teacher; pull everything out of your fellow students.
RULE THREE: General duties of a teacher – pull everything out of your students.
RULE FOUR: Consider everything an experiment.
RULE FIVE: Be self-disciplined – this means finding someone wise or smart and choosing to follow them. To be disciplined is to follow in a good way. To be self-disciplined is to follow in a better way.
RULE SIX: Nothing is a mistake. There’s no win and no fail, there’s only make.
RULE SEVEN: The only rule is work. If you work it will lead to something. It’s the people who do all of the work all of the time who eventually catch on to things.
RULE EIGHT: Don’t try to create and analyze at the same time. They’re different processes.
RULE NINE: Be happy whenever you can manage it. Enjoy yourself. It’s lighter than you think.
RULE TEN: “We’re breaking all the rules. Even our own rules. And how do we do that? By leaving plenty of room for X quantities.” (John Cage)
We tried to follow these rules throughout the four days we were together. While the results of the final pieces may have reflected some of the pressures of time for field work and editing (24 hours for reporting and 48 hours for editing), and the limitations of working through various aspects without a lot of prior knowledge and experience, it was clear that all involved were excited by the collaboration process underway and the sharing of ideas and energy that were taking place.
I believe the workshop’s spirit had a positive impact on all concerned and that Cage’s rules are applicable to newsroom cultures as much as educational environments. Certainly in the latter case, there is no excuse not to operate and engage this way.
I believe management in most news organizations is about “playing defense”, avoiding profound risk and the consequences of mistakes. As a result, very little innovation occurs easily, with strong management support.
Contrast this with Cage’s instincts about his own creativity and work, framed in a lecture at the height of his creative powers, after long years of experimentation drawing on his own life experiences. In the 1957 lecture Experimental Music, he described music as “a purposeless play” which is “an affirmation of life – not an attempt to bring order out of chaos nor to suggest improvements in creation, but simply a way of waking up to the very life we’re living.”
Paul’s instincts in framing the workshop based on spirit of Cage’s suggestions, are also about the power of trust implicit in any collaborative attempts.
If people are told that collaboration means being fully transparent and present to each other in the moment, and that results will not be judged from an ego-driven, critical perspective, then people are freer to engage in genuine creative discovery. Many of the speakers at the workshop touched on this theme in their talks as they showed multimedia pieces about ordinary people told principally through the subjects’ voices.
As journalists struggle to reinvent themselves and the mechanisms they use to reach an audience with the fruits of their labor, these seem to be valuable lessons to keep in mind.