City of Sound is about cities, design, architecture, music, media, politics and more. Written by Dan Hill since 2001.

Robert Krulwich

Note: This is a summary of a talk given at Postopolis!, taken in real-time, with minimal editing. Reader beware! Postopolis! was organised by BLDDBLOG, City of Sound, Inhabitat, Subtopia, and the Storefront for Art and Architecture in New York, and ran from May 29th-June 2nd 2007. Flickr group for photos here. YouTube videos uploaded here. All Postopolis! posts here.

Krulwich is a journalist working across numerous arenas – an ABC Nightly News correspondent, also NPR’s Science Desk, and many other shows, conducting a form of anthropological journalism, and often on the media itself, and the way that journalism works. Smart, articulate, and funny, he was an excellent speaker, as well as a devoted reader of quality weblogs.

Much of his talk concerned ‘framing’, and the way the media handles inclusion and exclusion, and how it creates spaces of framing. Also political campaigns uses and abuse spatially, in order to portray a different sense of space. For example, Krulwich showed some great footage from the early 90s, of Bush the Elder’s campaign of the time, and the various tactics involved in building a crowd i.e. hire a 354-person band; hand out tickets to locals, imploring them to come by calling them VIPs. And then, most interestingly, creating a smaller space downtown by fencing off areas – as the rally organiser says “it makes the crowd bigger”. By closing off streets, building a large stage, creating barriers as illustrated in the following photo, taken from a tower block overlooking the event.

Robert Krulwich

In this way, the crowd is malleable concept, because of the space and the framing of the space. Bush’s campaign reported 20,000 people present. The local police reckoned 5-6000. Onsite, Krulwich’s team counted 2000 people. Once you subtract the band, staff and journalists, there were only 1400 ‘actual people’ in the audience. But framed on the news report, it looked massive.

Krulwich describes this space as “essentially a piece of faux-architecture” … “we will create the space – and frame the space”. Which is how political campaigns and media create an image.

Using footage that I’d heard about but never seen, Kruiwich then went on illustrate a more recent example of this, based around the iconic images of Saddam Hussein’s statue being toppled in Baghdad. The news report Krulwich broadcast for ABC shows how this situation came about; how the image was framed; how journalists were rather too embedded, perhaps; and the important role of the US Army in this event.

After a couple of guys started to climb the statue with a ladder found somewhere (somehow?), the US Army appear to step up and use an APC to effectively pull the statue half way, as if loosening the lid of a bottle, such that it can be pulled down by the crowd. We actually see a US soldier shooing away locals, and climbing up to put a US flag over the face, covering the head, with ropes around it, as if a noose; an image of US conquest. We then see the soldier being told to take the US flag off, by someone off camera, and instead place an Iraqi flag around the neck, as if a scarf. When the statue comes down. no flags are visible at all, and Krulwich indicates how a good half of the crowd kicking the statue along the ground are in fact journalists … It’s fascinating and brilliant reporting.

Robert Krulwich

So framing the space is something the professional media does, not just architects and urban planners. He thinks it’s “schoolyard learned behaviour” – it’s an emergent behaviour within the news media. There is no ‘architect of framing’. It becomes dangerous to break the rules around these things, so they reinforce each other.

(I wonder if citizen-based mobile phone journalism changes this? i.e. the Virginia Tech shootings, 7/7, and mobile footage. That creates a form of multi-perspectival space, which could be considered almost like a photo-montage – akin to David Hockney’s ? Framing may be altered by this, if one considers the reporting of an event over time, and from multiple sources.)

Krulwich then talks about creating a news story on the anniversary of the 9/11. Of course, the main news item was a clichéd piece featuring a solitary trumpet, images of the President with hand on heart, tearful fire service widows etc etc. But a day later, Krulwich managed to create a piece covering the memories of the WTC from a different angle. He talked to a scientist who had been monitoring the sun’s movement across New York, and who’d noticed that the sheer size of the WTC meant that, you got an extra 2 minutes of sunlight at the top of the WTC. You could watch the sunset move up the WTC at a rate of one floor per second. They were, in effect, “giant sunset clocks”. And that’s what he missed. A great example of reporting from an oblique angle, which has way more resonance than the more clichéd presentation.

Aside on bloggers: “They will show you everything but themselves”. This is somewhat ironic, considering the warts-and-all attention seeking often associated with blogging, but I know what he means when it comes to more serious weblogs.

I hugely appreciated Kruliwch’s stance, as a political voice within the media. Not separating and criticising from the outside, but reporting with great effect from the inside. He recognised he was part of this machine but attempted, as he put it, to “walk with dignity” through that. That he does.

Robert Krulwich

Lest that sound pompous, as a form of encore, he showed an unbelievable video of how octopus and cuttlefish can hide by mimicing their surroundings, and how he’d managed to smuggle this footage into a new story about Saddam Hussein in hiding. Not his proudest moment, he says, but hugely entertaining.


2 responses to “Postopolis!: Robert Krulwich”

  1. robert krulwich Avatar

    wow, I just read this entirely accurate account of a talk I just gave off-the-cuff; when I left I wondered what I’d just done, and now, thanks to this marvelous iteration, I am suddenly very taken with myself. I guess what I’ve always wanted, but didn’t know it, was a Dan Hill in the House. If you’re for rent, I’d put a deposit on you.


  2. zolie Avatar

    Robert Krulwich, aka “that interesting guy on TV” at my house – please do more radio & TV, we miss your frequent insights!


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