As a major market One Man Band television reporter, the question I’m most often asked is something like: “How the heck can you do anything that passes as legitimate TV reporting if you’re busy driving, shooting, editing and posting to the web?”
Washington Post and CNN media critic Howard Kurtz recently spent part of a day with me and arrived at this conclusion: “A one-man band is cheaper, quicker and more nimble — but cannot produce the deeper sounds of a small journalistic orchestra.”
Many of the readers who commented were not nearly so kind.
Obviously, the answer to putting the “multi” in multimedia journalism is efficiency in how I do my reporting; how I shoot and edit; and in how I put new technology to work.
As critics of One Man Banding always point out: “there is only so much time in the day”.
But the “wireless revolution” and a new model for TV news reporting can, on some assignments, allow me to do more after coffee than I used to do in an 8-hour shift.
Even so, it’s not all Back to the Future. I also rely on the tried-and-true, time-saving, shooting and interviewing techniques that experienced reporters and photographers have employed for decades to collect solid video and sound that is easy to edit in a hurry.
The balance boils down to this: Every minute saved in logistics, shooting, editing and producing, is another minute I can devote to collecting information.
With all that in mind, here are the Top-Ten Tips that have helped me become a more efficient One Man Band multimedia warrior:
1) GO TO THE NEWS not to the Newsroom: My Blackberry means I don’t need to waste time being in a newsroom to “set up” a story. I’m also empowered with a vehicle and take-home gear. That way I can ditch the “morning meeting” and drive immediately to where NEWS is happening. I make calls on the way. Web research and email is done on the handheld. No source ready to talk yet? I might get out of the car and knock on doors while waiting for the returned call. People who see me shooting b-roll may approach with information. Bottom line — (with some notable exceptions) being there almost always beats being on the phone at the station. My office is my vehicle.
2) Leverage Your Digital Tool Box: My Tool Box includes a laptop with wireless broadband capability and AVID Newscutter editing software. This laptop is my lifeline because once in the field, it allows me to stay in the field to finish the job. Broadband Internet access makes it a virtual office. I can edit my packages without returning to base. With a strong cell signal, and FTP capability, I can feed my edited video without even going to a live truck. In a pinch, I can even go live via Skype from that same laptop — no truck or crew needed.
3) Always Edit and Feed from the Field: Where I work in the Washington/Baltimore area, driving back to the station to write and edit can cost me as much as an hour behind the wheel (traffic willing). As a traditional reporter, I used to be able to write while my partner drove back to base. Not anymore. Thanks to my digital connectivity, the solution is to STAY IN THE FIELD until the very end. A nice side effect is that the longer I’m at the scene of a story, the more late information that might come my way to distinguish my story from others who have left for home. If I am not assigned a live truck, my digital tool box allows me to feed a video file wirelessly, or via whatever WiFi I can find nearby.
4) Post to the Web First Whenever Possible: For too many TV reporters, the web is an afterthought. It shouldn’t be. Writing to the web first serves as an early outline for my TV story. It focuses me on the most important elements of the story. What’s the lead? What are the critical facts? Writing an early web story helps me take a moment to clear the clutter of logistics and shooting to focus on the information. Occasionally, I realize there are questions I have failed to ask. If I write early, I’ll have time to recover if I’ve come up short.
5) Don’t Waste Time Shooting Stuff You’ll Never Use: This is always easier said than done, but it’s a critical skill to develop. I try to think about the emotional hook every good story needs and build the shooting around that, rather than the press conference or “official” sound bite. For instance, a school board event about test scores is really about kids. That’s why 3 cut-aways and a single soundbite from the superintendent is all I need. Then I’ll muster the courage to quit rolling tape and bolt to a school or library – where I can use the time and tape saved to shoot sequences with kids that capture the pride (or disappointment) as they experience success (or failure) trying to read for me aloud.
6) Ask Open-Ended Questions: A good line of questioning starts with: “Tell me about ….(X) ? - or- “What are your thoughts on …(Y) ? -or- How would you characterize ….(Z) ? These kind of open-ended questions force the interview to put their thoughts into a declarative statement that’s more likely to produce a productive sound bite that can also be held up to scrutiny in follow-up questions. In short, don’t waste tape on video note-taking (Who? What? When? and Where?) – that’s what pens and pads are for. Instead get to the point and ask an open-ended question that gives your interview a chance to shine (or hang himself) in the shortest time possible.
7) Reactions are Just as Important as the Action: A burning barn is compelling action, but the reactions of the people watching the fire are equally important to compelling storytelling. Laughs, Tears, Shock, Fear, Anger and Joy are all reactions. To get them you’ll need the judgement and courage to turn away from the action just long enough to capture some of these moments in video and sound. No matter how compelling the action — don’t forget to think about the reaction.
8) Don’t Waste Tape Panning and Zooming: There is a time and place for panning and zooming — but too much of this can make your story look like amateur video. In addition, pans and zooms can be time-consuming to shoot and hard to edit to the rhythm of the short broadcast sentences you write. Better to build your story with sequences of solid tripod shots: 1 good wide to establish the scene and context; then a series of tight shots to focus on surprising details. Hold them all for 10 to 15 seconds – perhaps just long enough for some action to play out in the viewfinder. You’ll thank yourself for the time saved in editing.
9) Ask “Show Me” to Create Action: I create action in my stories by asking people to “Show Me”, rather than asking them to stand still for an interview while holding a stick mic in their face. Instead, I put a wireless lavalier mic on them and ask for a little tour with questions like: “Show me where the car ran off the road?”; “Show me what’s left of your barn after that tornado?”; “Show me where you heard the gunshots?” Afterward, shoot some tight shots to match what your interview just said to use as cut-aways in editing. It will all feel a lot more real to the viewer.
10) Listen Carefully, but Pretend You’re Deaf: There are lots of times I hear someone say something that would be great in my story, but they said it while I was shooting something else. This is when I swing the camera around, cock my head like a spaniel and say: “ I don’t hear so good. What’s that?” Many people will automatically regurgitate their comment without thinking they are being recorded. If you are lucky, and close enough, you’ll pick up this pure gold on your shotgun mic. Moments like these put the reality in the original reality TV.
Internships are THE critical gateway for students who hope to work in television news. This is where students may have their only opportunity to acquire the two most important cornerstones of a career launch – EXPERIENCE and CONTACTS.
Best not waste the chance.
Even so, a TV newsroom can be a harsh and intimidating place. The internship is where the people who just “want to be on TV” are separated from the students who are actually interested in NEWS. The latter are the ones who will make it. Many of the rest are better suited to sales, marketing or PR.
I say this because in 27-years of working with interns, I’ve seen a shocking number of students come into newsrooms clueless about major current events — and who key newsmakers are. If you are not someone who makes a daily habit of logging onto a news aggregator to read major metro dailes and look at NEWS video, you might as well change majors now. This business is not for you.
For the rest, here are some tips to help you make the most of your TV News Internship:
- Take Initiative. Don’t be a “potted plant”.
- An internship is not a class where teachers monitor and take interest in your progress. In fact, because of the extreme pace of a newsroom, you may find almost no one with the time to mentor you. This means YOU will need the courage to step up and offer to help, rather than waiting to be asked to do something.
- Take advantage of “just answering phones”.
- In this your first important “networking” opportunity. Here you can memorize the NAMES, FACES and PERSONALITIES (as well as the phone extensions) of everyone in the newsroom. Deliver messages in person so you get to know them. Then offer to help trouble-shoot, find answers for, or even call back some of the more problematic callers.
- Take accurate notes. Record the time, name, number and even e-mail of every person who calls. For days nobody will ask, notice or care – but on the day someone needs a critical contact you’ll be the one who saves the day, (and maybe gets a job).
- Be aware of the major events of the day, and the stories reporters are working on.
- This way you are able to recognize the important callers and even “pre-interview” them as you screen and manage calls. (I’ve worked with interns who have blown off newsmakers because they had no idea who they were talking to.)
- Ask to sit in on editorial meetings.
- This is where you’ll gain an understanding of how decisions about “what is news” are made. Note the big stories of the day. Then, during down time read up on them to background yourself on what’s going on.
- Become a master of “posting to the web”.
- Virtually every television station in America is short on web producers to add to and manage content on the station’s website. Find the web producer and get a lesson in how to add text, photos, video , links and other media to the website.
- Offer to assist reporters and producers in converting their TV content into web content. (Perhaps the reporter is still on a live shot and has not filed to the web yet. Can you take information by phone or e-mail and help? Yes you can.)
- Learn to produce web-based graphics. (If you don’t know what this is, ask. Most TV stations use them – and the producers and reporters will LOVE you for helping out on this.)
- Become a master of research.
- Reporters often need help developing background and finding contact phone numbers in a hurry. This is often easier said than done. If you don’t have a grasp of current events, you may be hard pressed to even know what key words or names to type into Google. Again, read the paper and the station’s website to know what’s going on.
- When asked to research something – look for the key people being quoted in background source material – then figure out how to contact them.
- Quickly learn to find “media” or “newsroom” tabs on websites of all kinds. This is where you’ll find the professional public relations people who may help you or your reporters quickly find the newsmakers you are looking for.
- Do all your business by e-mail. — messages – research – answers to questions – everything. You’ll have better luck finding that lost name and number for a scatterbrained reporter if its saved in an e-mail somewhere.
- Ask to shadow the people you are working with – then on your own time, produce your own versions of the product.
- Go on stories with reporters, photographers or MMJ’s. Ask to keep the raw media. Later, write and edit your own story AND ASK FOR A CRITIQUE.
- Sit in on video editing sessions – same as above.
- Ask the reporter, photographer or MMJ if you can shoot your own standup in the field, then add it to your own story.
- Sit in the control booth when a broadcast is on the air.
- Learn to shoot and edit video. It is VERY unlikely you will land a job where you are a traditional TV reporter with a photographer to shoot and edit your stories for you. If you don’t relish the idea of shooting and producing your own video — change majors now.
When all is said and done, make sure you leave the internship with the numbers and emails of everyone you worked with. Friend them on Facebook, follow them on Twitter, and get connected on LinkedIn. Now that you’ve worked in a newsroom, join a professional organization such as the Society of Professional Journalists. Engage with these people. Show not just your interest, but your knowledge. Be patient. There is still room for smart people. Good things will happen.
Extended snowstorm coverage means hours of carrying the ball on-air and a big focus on roads, power outages and safety. What’s shut down? How big are those drifts? Who’s stranded in life threatening conditions? When might they be rescued? (And in the recent mid-Atlantic region blizzard — what buildings have just collapsed under the weight of record-setting snow?)
This is where a One Man Band can blow away traditional competition with mobility, flexibility and creativity.
Forget about locked down traffic cameras. As a One Man Band, I’m talking about reporting live on-camera from behind the wheel while moving from one breaking news event to another. It’s compelling television and webstreaming content any way you cut it. (And yes, I’ll be commenting on the safety aspects of driving and reporting before I’m finished here.)
With the help of 2 laptops, wireless broadband access, Avid editing, Skype and live webstreaming I was not only reporting live on-camera while driving – but I could simultaneously feed the view from the dashboard of my car while navigating snow-covered interstates. Often, I could also toss to edited voice over video, or even a package, that I has just shot and fed to the station via the same laptops using FTP.
At the scene of one building collapse, I was able to feed video of an imploded historic church — and present the story live from the front of the building, while competitors were still struggling to get snowbound live trucks to the scene on nearly impassable city streets. Later I fed the mayor’s press conference live from a laptop placed on a plastic bag in the snow. By the end of the day, I could compile the information, video and sound I had collected into a clean package for later broadcasts.
I did all of this working completely alone. Many of my colleagues at WUSA are pushing breaking news boundaries in Washington D.C. in similar fashion.
We do this using a combination of hardware and webware including web cams, dv cams, audio filters, skype, livestream, cell phones and laptops.
By leveraging this technology and being flexible, self-directed and creative in reacting to events, WUSA covered more ground, more quickly and more thoroughly than our competition — with a sense of behind-the-wheel immediacy that others could not match.
Here is a typical behind the wheel scenario:
1) Laptop A is connected to a dash mounted web cam pointed at me in the driver’s seat. A microphone is also plugged into the laptop via an XLR to USB filter and adapter.
2) Laptop B is connected to a dash mounted web cam pointed out the window. No microphone is needed here.
Connecting and Getting on the Air:
Both laptops are capable of connecting to the internet from virtually anywhere there is 3-g cellular service via internal wireless broadband cards. This is a simple matter of opening the software and hitting the connect button.
1) Once connected, I use Skype, the popular video calling platform installed on laptop A, to call the TV station. The video call is punched up full screen at the station on a computer that is routed through the director’s board to take as an on-air source. I use this to report from the driver’s web cam and microphone.
2) Meanwhile, computer B is busy feeding video from the dashboard cam via another web-based platform called Livestream. Livestream recognizes encoded video routed from the webcam through Adobe Flash Media Live Encoder software. This can also be punched up full screen and routed to air.
3) I can now report live on-camera on computer A via skype, while from computer B the director can take the shot from the dashboard of live road conditions from the web via Livestream whenever he or she wishes – or all this can be presented simultaneously in a double box with graphics.
4) I take IFB from my blackberry cell phone to an ear bud.
Skpye can be a little finicky about its audio sources. By default, it wants to take audio from the web cam or from the internal microphone in the laptop. This is not usable for television. In its current configuration, Skype will not recognize many types of external microphones used for broadcast. However, an XLR to USB audio filter will do the trick. I use a filter called “Blue Icicle” that I purchased online at Guitar Center on the recommendation of WUSA’s technology manager Richard Gorbutt. Skype is more than happy to recognize this device, although you must go into its options menu to select the proper video and audio sources.
Livestream requires Adobe Flash Media encoding software to be installed on laptop B. It’s important when setting up encoding to limit the stream to 300 kps or less. The options in the encoding software are straightforward, but like any options menu, one bad setting can ruin your day.
You do not always have to rely on web cams. I frequently present traditional looking live shots off tripod using a Sony HVR-V1U connected to the computer in my front seat via firewire combined with the “Blue Icicle” audio source I described above. This was the case when reporting from the scene of the church collapse in Washington. Don’t have a firewire port on your camera? Just about any broadcast or consumer camera can be connected as a video source to the computer using a Canopus conversion box.
An AC power source in the vehicle is also important. Batteries will do in a pinch, but the reality is that the computers need power for the long live streaming sessions required during extended coverage. A wide variety of power inverters can be found at any auto parts store, from models that plug in to cigarette lighter ports, to units that can be permanently installed in the vehicle.
Video and Audio Quality:
No, it’s nowhere near perfect. There are glitches, frozen video, fuzziness and audio dropouts. I make a point of explaining to the audience that we are “pushing the boundaries” of our technology to cover unfolding events. In fact, it may be that the roughness adds a compelling sense of urgency and edginess that isn’t there with the usual locked-down live shots at snowy intersections. In the history of doing this at WUSA, there have been NO viewer complaints about video and audio quality.
Obviously, you cannot open software, fiddle with cameras and microphones, and establish connectivity and IFB while driving. Pulling over to a safe spot is mandatory (and I don’t mean the shoulder of and Interstate — I mean a rest area or gas station). However, once the laptops are up and running, the shots are established on Skype and Livestream, and IFB is connected on cell phone — I consider the driving distraction risk minimal for a comfortable professional broadcaster.
This is no more distracting than talking on a cell phone with a hands free device. In fact, This is done with BOTH HANDS ON THE WHEEL and EYES ON THE ROAD. It’s as simple as driving and talking.
New results from a recent RTNDA/Hofstra University survey showing only 38% of TV and radio news directors say their staffs are “really on top of new technology and where they’re headed” is not encouraging for either management or people in the field, particularly for One Man Band TV journalists.
With the rapid adoption of one man band journalism, many senior news managers are finding themselves in uncharted territory. These managers never served as MMJ’s themselves because the job didn’t exist back in the day. With no “battlefield experience” to call upon, now they can only imagine what it might be like. (Hint: air traffic controllers at O’Hare aren’t nearly as busy).
Even so, newsroom execs recognize the gems in their organizations when they see them — those motivated one man band reporters who are aggressive and productive. These flexible masters of reporting, shooting editing and web posting leverage their new digital tools to routinely beat their traditional competition. Despite working alone, they turn up surprising elements in otherwise mundane event-of-the-day stories.
To develop a whole newsroom full of these performers remember this formula for the proper care and feeding of these unique news animals: Autonomy + Empowerment + Feedback = Motivation.
Autonomy: The most efficient MMJ’s are the ones you rarely see at the TV station because they are maximizing time in the field. The time wasted by traditional crews “gearing up”, “making calls,” sitting in morning meetings and otherwise being around the station is time a One Man Band can ill afford to lose . A properly equipped MMJ has no need to report to the TV station to get to work.
Loosen the management leash by:
- Issuing “take home” gear to MMJ’s and allow them to dispatch directly to assignments with no diversions
- Encouraging participation in morning meetings via e-mailed story pitches and phone calls, not in-person appearances.
- Encouraging editing in the field, and “snap feeding” by WiFi or broadband or live truck rather than returning to the station to ingest tape and produce.
- Allowing MMJ’s to clock out from the field, saving management the overtime required for travel back to the station to “gear down.”
These critical time savers provide the One Man Band the time needed to accomplish what used to require two (or three) individuals to do.
Empowerment: To be autonomous, One Man Bands need to be empowered with a full tool box, always on hand — and a team to back him/her up. Investments in “take home” vehicles and gear will return surprising dividends in productivity, overtime reduction and motivation. Arm them with the following:
- Camera, audio and light gear
- Laptop computer enabled with the following capabilities:
- Wireless internet access — broadband and WiFi
- Skype or other application that allows MMJ’s to stream to a web-based receiver live from any location with broadband, WiFi or network cable access.
- Editing software able to ingest recorded and live video from camera in the field.
- Applications allowing reporter to “snap feed” packages from laptop to the station via internet.
- Handheld device that is phone, Internet, e-mail and video capable.
- A team at the TV station to assist in developing information while the MMJ is tied up shooting and editing.
Feedback: Let your MMJ know you’re keeping track with occasional “‘atta boy” emails or calls — as well as instant feedback when he or she is not living up to expectations. Try to balance these categories carefully, as the stress level in the field is high.
- Critique stories frequently. Remember your MMJ is working alone. Without a partner to collaborate with in the field, management feedback is more important than ever.
- Track web postings. Did your MMJ file to the web first, before producing TV? Tracking is the best way to let him/her know this is a priority.
- Since you have assigned your MMJ take home gear, ask for a quarterly inventory of equipment and keep a watchful eye on gas and mileage. In return, support him/her with quick fulfillment of requests for tapes, batteries, reimbursements and other needs.
Motivation: Journalists are generally go-getters. Autonomy, empowerment and feedback breed a deep sense of internal responsibility to perform at the high level required for the extremely demanding role of a One Man Band. The best managers will be as flexible as the MMJ is in getting the job done.
“There is no doubt there are certain types of stories that I’m less capable of getting, in terms of developing contacts, than I might get if I had a partner with me.” Scott Broom in AFTRA Magazine Summer 2009 ((pp 16-17))
In her recent article for the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists magazine, AFTRA national manager of communications Leslie Simmons takes on the labor union’s struggle with the coming age of the One Man Band in major market local television.
Simmons quizzed me and my WUSA colleague Bruce Leshan for some insight into what its like in the trenches of reporting shooting and editing unassisted. We both agreed that despite the important focus on workplace issues like compensation for additional work, the most critical part of the debate for reporters and society is the impact on journalism itself.
As my quote above indicates, at WUSA in Washington D.C. its undeniable that One Man Bands can be at a disadvantage.
But not always.
The journalism with a capital “J” debate is not as straightforward as it may appear. Trade-offs are being made and the search for equilibrium remains elusive.
Like other television outlets, WUSA is attempting to strike a new balance by adopting the “Information Center” model. The WUSA version seeks to turn nearly all newsroom employees, regardless of classification or technical area, into “journalists.”
There’s been a lot of cross training. For example, photographers, editors, producers and assignment mangers have been educated (or re-educated) on the basics of writing, libel, ethics, and creating a beat. The goal is to create a news organization with a lot more professional “journalists” on hand.
In theory, the journalistic shortcomings of the One Man Band in the field should be balanced by the greater ability of the expanded team in the Information Center to collect and sift facts on any given subject.
Predictably, in practice this has been challenging to implement and has not yet fulfilled its promise. WUSA continues to work on it.
The best results were seen during a lethal Metro commuter rail collision in June of 2009, when the station was able to flood the disaster zone with more people than the broadcast competition and therefore collect more factual information more quickly.
In my case, thanks to the nimbleness of my gear and a strong wireless connection, there was a long period where WUSA had the only live picture of the scene. It was being fed from my camera to a laptop I’d carried to the location, solo. This was long after live trucks and their crews had been shooed away by rescuers. (Helicopters were also excluded thanks to the no-fly zone around Washington). It was a nice win for WUSA’s TV and web products.
Later I was able to interview Washington Mayor Adrian Fenty as he walked through the area and turn a reaction package unassissted. This freed other colleagues to focus on everything from medical triage to rider reactions.
In this case, and other notable spot news events, our journalistic efforts were helped rather than hurt by the One Man Band model. The next step is to flex this into more sophisticated endeavors such as investigations and daily enterprise where more coordination and back-up from the newly-trained “team” in the information center is needed.
As Bruce Leshan put it in AFTRA Magazine: “There are stories that require a tremendous amount of journalist work. If you’re driving and shooting and editing, you just don’t have the time in the day to do the old journalist stuff.”
Meanwhile, Simmons reports that AFTRA is now adhering to a principal of “gaining something of substance” as it negotiates the implementation of Multimedia Journalists (a.k.a. MMJs or One Man Bands).
In this regard, AFTRA has it right. For instance, a deal with WRC in Washington to give explicit primary AFTRA jursidiction over the internet and secondary digital channels is a reasonable bargain. Membership and future bargaining power is strengthened. The overall quality and professionalism of the people creating “content” will be higher. In the end that will be a critical factor as we flex new technology to defend the capital “J” in journalism.
The Newseum in Washington D.C. has added me and my brand of “One Man Band” journalism to exhibits chronicling the dramatic changes in the news industry.
I’m featured in the Bloomberg Internet, TV and Radio Gallery on the third level of the Newseum in an exhibit called “Digital News Revolution”.
The exhibit reads:
“Get Your Local TV News From a “One-Man Band”
“Television stations are changing the way they gather and deliver the news.
“To cut costs and take advantage of new technologies, some traditional news crews are being replaced by “one-man band” operations. TV reporters shoot and edit their own stories using Web cameras, laptop editing programs and the Internet.
“Some TV stations will soon start delivering local news live via mobile devices such as cell phones, GPS units and MP3 players. These devices will pinpoint your location through a tracking system and pass on information about local news weather and traffic.”
Being enshrined in a major museum comes with mixed feelings. Naturally, I’m honored to be recognized on the cutting edge of a mass medium. By the same token, critics might note that I’m now literally the poster child for cost cutting.
Ironically some might say, the exhibit is just around the corner from a display devoted to Edward R. Murrow who once said: “We cannot make good news out of bad practice”.
But Murrow also said: “A reporter is always concerned with tomorrow. There’s nothing tangible of yesterday.”
At their best, the technologies brought to bear by a skilled One Man Band can beat traditional crews in speed and flexibility. My experience tells me that One Man Banding is not “bad practice”. Rather, it is a new practice, that allows a creative journalist to inform a global audience by leveraging wireless capabilities to deliver video and text on-air and on line in near real time.
Remember, Murrow’s signature broadcast was named See It Now. Surely, Murrow would have no argument with the unfiltered reality that this technology is capable of delivering so the public can do just that.
Inevitably when there’s talk about One Man Band TV reporting, the issue of safety comes up.
In my career as a traditional TV reporter, I’ve dealt with everything fron knife weilding nutcases to angry neo-nazis, crazed dogs and stinging insects. In the old days, I usually had my partner (photographer) covering my back, and vice versa. Obviously, working alone leaves me playing man-to-man D in any tough situation that comes up.
Below is a little memo I wrote to my co-workers recently about a situation that could have got anybody killed, working alone or not. It had nothing to do with dark nights in a bad neighborhood. But it does illustrate that you are your own safety fail safe.
Nowadays, I try to remember the most experienced, level-headed partners I have worked with — and ask myself, “what would they be thinking right now?” — before I get out of the car. (Speaking of cars, driving is clearly the most dangerous thing we do on the job everyday.)
The memo titled “Live Wire Safety” is below:
I had a little storm chasing experience that I thought I’d share, partly as a safety reminder, and partly to get over the “willies” by telling someone.
For background, I’ve sat through a lot of mandatory safety seminars over the years — and like many of us, I feel like I’ve “been there, done that” in just about every situation. Yesterday, I learned how dangerous that attitude can be.
I was headed to a downed live wire and arrived simultaneously with first responders. Its a situation I’ve seen repeatedly in 27-years of reporting. Recognizing the danger, I resisted the instinct for up close nats with firefighters, and took the following actions:
*I stayed safely in the electrically insulated car and retreated at least 50 yards.
*I put the car safely out of traffic.
*I put on my reflective vest.
*I checked the power lines and trees above for any signs of instability before getting the camera out to begin shooting.
Only then did I start shooting action so distant I was on full zoom.
So how did I almost get electrocuted for a routine 30-second vo?
I made the critical mistake of parking less than 10 feet from a galvanized steel guard rail, which happened to be in contact with the wire more than 50 yards away.
It’s an obvious hazard I never considered, until electricity arced from the rail right nearby — at about the same time a firefighter warned me the rail might be hot.
Thankfully, a guard rail is obviously grounded, but had I parked a little closer and swung the car door into contact with it, or touched it in any way, I would be cooked. (Ironically, for safety, I often make a point of putting a guard rail between me and traffic by climbing over to the other side — or I’ll lean against one to steady an off tripod shot).
The visible arcing was a sign that even the rail’s contact with the ground was not enough to handle the current.
It was, as they say, a close one — and I should have known better, because I’ve been trained on this.
Lesson learned: In live wire situations — think about ALL the ways that electricity reach out to get you. Distance from the arcing wire is not the only consideration. (And thinking you’ve “been there, done that” is not a smart approach).
This weekend I lamented the loss of the Tucson Citizen, and wondered why the media industry hasn’t invented a model to save itself yet.
The cruel irony here is that papers and broadcasters are closing up news shops at the very same time they are being seen by more eyeballs than ever, thanks to that darned ‘ol internet. It’s nuts. The product is distributed intergalactically, but begging for money locally.
Everyone knows the answer is to stop giving it away. (And while we’re at it: stop letting aggregators like Yahoo and Google sell ads on their “news” sites without paying the providers of click-through content.)
Oh right, I remember. Everyone also knows the first one to charge for content instantly gets ZERO hits, as the users simply go to the sites that are free.
Okay then. Time to get serious and think collectively.
A New Model
The AP is a “collective” model for sharing legitimate professional content among paying member news organizations, small and large, for the benefit of all. Can we create a similar model for our users?
Example: create or combine with an aggregator (like Yahoo) to centralize access to ”member” news organizations from the New York Times to the smallest market TV station. Then, charge users an affordable “subscription” for access to all the members on the web. In exchange for this “one-subscription gets all” model, members agree collectively to eliminate independent free content. This will encourage users to route through the subscription-only aggregator.
Here’s how it might work: To become a “member” organization, the aggregator charges the content provider a licensing fee based on web traffic routed to the member’s site. This up front financial stake eliminates non-professional content providers while allowing the big and the small news organizations to swim in the same very large pool.
Again, the member agrees it will no longer offer free content of any kind. Users either access the product through their subscription to the aggregator — or they pay to read the member directly.
Meanwhile, the aggregator uses its huge traffic rates to sell national/international advertising and shares a substantial part of its revenues with members (who continue to sell local ads on their individual products).
Oh, and any blogger who decides to cut-and-paste entire articles gets sued.
Bottom line: This industry must work together to take down the free websites, or die.
Stop giving my work away, will ya?!!
What does a local investigative journalism team do when their paper, the Baltimore Examiner, abruptly closes up shop?
They re-incarnate themselves as The Investigative Voice, a web-based digital publication that has reporters collecting information, shooting photos and video, and posting online whenever anything new breaks.
In six short weeks, the team of Stephen Janis, Luke Broadwater and Regina Holmes have exposed the city’s pension board approving trips to the Caribbean during a fiscal crisis, uncovered the roots of a chilling gang-related killing in the leafy suburbs and broke national news of the Secret Service getting one of its vans booted and towed by Baltimore’s finest. (The agents are providing protection to former First Daughter Jenna Bush who, the team pointed out, is not entitled to such security service.)
With no budget and little more than social networking promotion, the site has acheived 20,000 visits and 60,000 page views. Clearly there is a long way to go, but the team is looking for collaborators in Philadelphia, D. C. and New York to broaden the market as quickly as possible.
They are the kind of “One Man Band” digital journalists evolving from both the print and broadcast sides of the business. Free from the superstructure of corporate ownership, they are evolving more quickly than anyone imagined, and proving to traditional media dinosaurs and naysayers that quality competitive journalism is entirely possible under this new paradigm.
“I think its going to be viable.” said Janis Tuesday, though he admits the team is getting by on savings and help from relatives for the moment. “Its basically the future, so one way or another we’re going to figure it out,” he said.
TV stations have already taken to copy-catting stories, and Janis now appears as a regular guest on one station, Fox-45 in Baltimore, to promote his content. It’s an indication that these are the kind of digital journalists television stations hope to create in the future for their own operations. A more extensive partnership with local television outlets is an idea the team is pursuing.
There is no question about the quality of reporting. Janis’ credentials include winning the 2008 investigative reporting prize from the Maryland, DC Press Association. Editor Regina Holmes is a 20-year veteran of papers such as the Miami Herald and New York Post and an alum of the Columbia Journalism graduate program. Broadwater has a fistfull of journalism awards as well.
They buzz-market their content by using Twitter, Facebook and email blasts when a new story posts. They are building web revenue in partnership with Advertising.com and by soliciting readers to become supporters. They are even selling T-shirts. The content is, and will be, free, according to Janis
“We’ve got several plans to make this work,” Janis said. “If this one doesn’t pan out, we’ll try another.” Janis said team can go afford to go about a year before they really need The Investigative Voice to bring in more substantial income.
But the revenue bar is low. It’s an almost no-overhead operation. The team has no office, and works in a “virtual” newsroom via laptops and cell phones. “We meet at Regina’s apartment when we need to be face-to-face,” Janis said. Yet the product is high quality, a bit edgy and certainly compelling.
My opinion: The Investigative Voice is a wake up call to traditional print reporters and broadcasters. As outfits like The Investigative Voice become forces by stealing eyeballs in their markets, big media owners will figure out how to copy and leverage the power of such “One Man Band” digital reporting. In the meantime, Janis, Broadwater and Holmes are showing the way.
The Gasbags on NPR’s Diane Rehm Show were at it again this week as they discussed President Obama’s prime-time press conference Tuesday. There was Rehm sniffing that the major networks provided “no analysis, no nothing” and a guest explaining ”they had to go right to entertainment programming and make their money.” Earlier a guest said of Americans, somewhat self-importantly: “most people do not absorb all the media that we in this room or your listeners absorb”.
The guest, of course, is wrong. Americans “absorb” more media than ever in history, just not the kind of media the gasbags think is “important” and “serious” enough for Americans’ own good.
Meanwhile establishment media got stiffed by the President recently, when Obama blew off their annual Gridiron Dinner and roast in Washington for a quiet night at Camp David doing – nothing. Talk about telegraphing to the self-appointed gatekeepers of information are they not nearly as important as they view themselves.
I point all this out, as we in traditional local TV newsrooms grapple with dramatic change. Many of us now being converted to “Digital Correspondents” wonder bitterly how its possible for the Internet to save us? How can buzz-marketing through Twitter and social networking – or blogging – possibly lure enough eyeballs to to pay the bills at a local affiliate TV station. Why are our owners slashing investment in the flagship TV product by turning us into “One Man Bands” and chasing the Internet with no proven model to monetize the product?
For the big picture on some of this, I look to no other than the President of the United States.
People today consume news as bits of information from mainstream and niche sources and from one another, driving a White House intent on shaping the news to an innovative communication strategy. Blogs, on-line news sites and ethnic media have grown dramatically in size and influence, even as newspapers disappear.
In recent days the president has bypassed traditional media by appearing on The Tonight Show and a Latin music awards show. He conducted an on-line “town hall” where more than three million votes were cast American Idol-style for the top questions to be asked. Via the Democratic National Committee, he e-mails millions directly. And yes, The President is on Twitter.
This is all in addition to the president’s traditional media appearances on 60-Minutes and his prime-time press conference (where, by design, he used up the entire allotted hour to prevent gasbag analysis by the networks).
Obama’s people are working all the angles. And that, it seems, is what I’m doing in my small media world too. Whether all the Twittering, live-streaming chats, blogging I’m doing as a “One Man Band” Digital Correspondent in an “Information Center” (formerly a TV newsroom) will amount to the eyeballs my employer needs remains to be seen. Recent data reported in Broadcasting and Cable raises new questions about blind faith in new media.
Indeed, there are a lot of days when I’m skeptical. Obviously, Obama is not. The question is, can we in the media business adapt as quickly and effectively as the President has without throwing the baby out with the bathwater?