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.
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.
Embedded with other journalists on the US Naval hospital ship Comfort, I was among those who ventured ashore to document the stunning medical crisis that had unfolded in Haiti in the wake of the January 2010 earthquake.
(January 22, 2010) Jugard DeCastillion lay dying before my eyes. The 21-year old man’s mother fanned his face as if it might force more air into his failing lungs. He gasped. An embolism, the doctors said. He’d been crushed by falling walls when the earthquake struck in Port au Prince. Eight days on, it had come to this.
A portion of one hand was amputated. His organs were likely damaged and failing now.
Infection. A young man’s last hours. There was struggle to breathe but no panic.
He gasped again, and rolled his eyes toward me. Who was this guy standing over him with a video camera asking his mom muted questions in broken, elementary French?
He was lying in a steel-framed hospital bed apparently salvaged from the wrecked hospital. It had been carried outdoors into the courtyard of the St. Francois de Sales hospital in Port au Prince. The blue plastic tarp that shielded him from the sun gave the light a surreal tint.
Thank God it hadn’t rained.
At least 86 other men, women and (mostly) kids shared this outdoor hospital ward. Mercifully, a light breeze carried the stink away.
Women sang rhythmic hymns in Creole as they wrapped bandages.
Less than 50 meters away, the main hospital building was a stack of broken slabs. The bodies of at least 35 patients and staff had been buried somewhere under the ash-colored rubble, according to one of the doctors.
The survivors couldn’t get to all the victim’s bodies. But they did find a way to tunnel through a section of the pancaked building’s remains to break into the wrecked pharmacy and recover what medications and supplies they could.
I visited other makeshift hospitals too. Places where amputations, Cesarian sections and even brain surgery had been performed, by necessity, outdoors in shocking, non-sterile conditions. Volunteers pulled doors out of rubble and used them as litters and operating tables.
Thankfully, I didn’t witness any of this horrible surgery in progress. But I saw the survivors who would either heal or die under tarps, with their families clustered around to shoo the flies away, feed them, and carry off the stinking bedpans. There were tens of thousands of horribly injured and sick people all around Port au Prince.
Back at St. Francois de Sales, several one-story wings and annexes to the original main building still stood on the hospital grounds, but frequent aftershocks reminded patients and doctors why they preferred to stay outdoors despite the flies.
Some Polish soldiers had arrived with relief supplies. Volunteers from Catholic Relief Services and the Archdiocese of Baltimore had found their way here to help.
A padlocked iron gate kept the chaos outside the hospital grounds away.
The wounded at Gettysburg or Shiloh had it about the same nearly 140 years ago, I thought.
Maybe a miracle would save the man gasping for breath who was lying before me.
Working alone, now it was time to shoot the video, knock out the interviews. Show the world. Give ‘em a look at reality. Keep your cool. This was just one tragic vignette and our local guide was offering to take a small group of us to see more of his shattered city if I hustled. A fellow reporter held the camera for two quick standups. Above all, I had to make it back to the landing zone for a flight back to the Navy hospital ship USNS Comfort to write, trac, edit and feed before 11 p.m. back in Washington.
News doesn’t sleep. After witnessing this, sometimes neither do I.
Video: the following report aired about 10 hours after I visited St. Francois De Sales. A second report summarizes much of what I witnessed in Port au Prince and on the USNS Comfort.
Postscript: James Lea, a North Carolina-based freelance journalist who is also in his third year of medical school consulted with doctors at St. Francois de Sales about DeCastillion. A decision was made to have Lea accompany DeCastillion in an ambulance back to the field medical evacuation station at Verreaux where the Navy had dropped off embedded journalists by helicopter that morning. Thanks to Lea’s advocacy, DeCastillion was flown to the ship. However, the Navy’s admissions records do not match the ID information DeCastillion’s mother gave me. As a result, his fate is a mystery to me.
“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?!!
You’ve been a traditional television reporter for 6, 12 or even 20 years. You’ve hop-scotched through small markets to finally land where you can make a living. You love your job and you’re proud of what you do.
And now its ALL about to change.
Management has announced the staff will be turned into “backpack journalists” (BPJs), “mulitmedia journalists”, (MMJs) or “digital correspondents” (DCs). Whatever the title, they all stand for “One Man Band.”
We are not talking an entry-level “community” reporter, here. Management means to turn their front-line, senior “talent” into this new kind of journalist. Right or wrong, its happening. Cast your eyes now to WUSA in Washington D.C., where the transition is well underway, and where I’ve made the leap after 26 years as a traditional “coat-and-tie” TV reporter.
The crew is gone. I report alone, shooting and editing my own video. I write and deliver content on all platforms all the time. I file text, video, and photo updates to the Internet throughout the day via wireless broadband. I Twitter followers when anything new occurs to drive traffic to the website and broadcasts.
Oh, and by the way, I appear on camera, often live, and almost always in multiple broadcasts. Later, I’m encouraged to blog in an effort to solicit feedback comments from readers who’ll have additional information that might result in follow-up content.
Should such an announcement come in your newsroom, you’ll likely be trying to suppress emotions ranging from panic, to anger, to hopelessness. Getting another TV job or changing careers in this economic environment? Forget it.
If you’re convinced its the destruction of our industry as we’ve all known it, save it for the blogs. Buck up, Bucko. In my case, management had already made the call, and the union could do little more than negotiate the buyouts.
So if you’re facing a similar situation and trying to decide whether slinging a camera and laptop editing system is for you, here’s the first fear to set aside: YOU CAN DO THIS — AND YOU MIGHT EVEN LIKE IT.
In fact, in the abstract, you’ve already been doing the video part of this job for a very long time.
Remember, you have been on a thousand stories and screened uncounted hours of video. You’ve sat in the booth with your editor and watched over his or her shoulder for years. You know what a good shot looks like. (They look the same in a viewfinder) You know what a cutaway is and how its used. (Now you’ll insert your own.) You’ve cursed certain under performing partners for failing to sweeten your packages with nats and extra shots (Now there will be no excuse).
However, you’ll need to learn how to push the buttons yourself. A challenge, yes. Impossible, hardly.
Even so, you are right that this is probably not for everyone. There are those of us who decide to leave the business, and they do so with my respect.
The debate about the overall quality of our product is an important one. Keeping the capital “J” in journalism is clearly made much more difficult when you’re doing it all yourself and trying to feed the web and the broadcasts simultaneously. There are days when you just can’t make all the calls, and information is missed.
But on other days, I’ve found my more nimble capabilities allow me to cover more ground – and my reliance on new tools such as Twitter allow some information to move more efficiently. It’s been a trade off with mixed results.
Regardless, the bosses have already made the decision, so there’s not much looking back.
You just need to decide if you’re going along for the ride.
Here’s my 20-20 hindsight. Ask yourself why you like being a TV reporter, and be frank.
For many of us when we were younger, a big part of it was simply “being on TV.” The ego stroke. The stage actor’s thrill of “performance” and recognition. There is a little bit of Will Farrell’s “Anchorman” in all of us. The question is, how much?
For me, as I matured in the television business, I came to realize that I stayed in for a different reward – living my life through experiences.
When a big hurricane comes, I don’t want to watch it on CNN. I want to be there. Same goes for everything from a city council meeting to interviews with kids on a ball field. Being there and experiencing it makes my life richer.
I also like puzzles. Well, in this job, juxtaposing just the right pictures and sound in a limited space to make someone laugh or cry beats the daily crossword every time.
In the end, with a camera in my hands, I’m just as close, or closer, to the experience – and my ability as a storyteller has actually been enhanced.
Yes, I can look like a wedding photographer with my little Sony HV-1 and sound bag. Without the crew, there are times I’m treated like the help in the kitchen.
But, sometimes newsmakers say things in front of the help they would never say to the New York Times. And if you’re a storyteller, that’s when this “One Man Band” thing can end up working out pretty well.
Recently I was asked by a major Washington DC strategic communications and crisis firm to weigh in on the stunning changes now occurring in local affiliate broadcast journalism. I jumped to the conclusion that this might be a good starting place for my own efforts in the blogosphere to contribute to the conversation. The following is the discussion as it appeared in Levick Strategic Communications Bulletproof Blog on March 9th of 2009:
“Each Monday, Bulletproof Blog now features exclusive interviews with thought leaders on issues of critical importance to companies and countries. This series provides insights on current communications challenges, how best to deal with them, and what we can expect down the road. This week, we feature Scott Broom, Digital Correspondent for Washington D.C.’s CBS affiliate WUSA-TV.
Mr. Broom is a new breed of journalist tasked with accelerating the industry’s shift from traditional television news broadcasting to high-volume web-based, video, and text communications. An expert in how digital media are changing the local TV news landscape, he shared his thoughts with us:
Given the recent troubles that have befallen print journalism in the digital age, how is TV news evolving to meet the needs of a shifting media landscape?
Scott Broom: As “big print” collapses, TV operations believe they have a once-in-a-generation opportunity to compete as the dominant media force in their markets.
One evolution is the “information center” concept. This is a web-first philosophy that is designed to make the TV station the primary source of highly-localized, moment-to-moment text, graphic, and video news online as well as on television.
Because searchability is such an important part of cutting through the clutter of cyberspace – and because search engines put such a premium on newness and traffic – we know that a constant flow of new updates and content is absolutely essential to survival in the digital age.
This is one reason interactivity with users through Twitter, blogging, and other social networking tools is encouraged for all our reporters. User comments and submissions of photos and videos are all sources of “new” searchable content. The importance of interactivity was underlined when the first pictures of the “Miracle on the Hudson” landing came via a cell phone camera and Twitter. Meanwhile, our station culls the highest-interest and most visual content flowing through the information center for use in its traditional flagship television broadcasts.
As a reporter for a leading local news network, what does a story need to have to pique your interest and that of your viewers in this new environment? Are there specific elements that you look for when deciding what is newsworthy and what isn’t?
Scott Broom: Here is my list in order of importance: local, timely, surprising, visual, compelling, and “news you can use.”
In addition, there is a huge demand for stories that are likely to produce more “new” or “breaking” developments – anything that will repeatedly engage online users throughout the entire day is a hot commodity. In this regard, quickly placing a client as an “expert” to comment on events of the day can be as effective as it always has.
There is also demand for stories with linkable, interactive “news you can use” elements – such as a mortgage calculator for a report on falling interest rates.
The reason that most pitches end up in the “delete” folder is a failure to provide local, real-world context. For instance, I was recently pitched on behalf of a law firm’s divorce expert regarding how the real estate crisis has couples fighting over who “doesn’t” get the house. That’s great story – but not without a couple willing to be interviewed in front of a home. The firm couldn’t produce one – and, thus, got no story.
What’s next in local television news? Are there developments on the horizon that communications professionals should be aware of?
Scott Broom: I’m a prime example of what’s next. After 25 years as a traditional “coat-and-tie” TV reporter, I’m now what WUSA-TV in Washington calls a “Digital Correspondent.”
The crew is gone. I work alone, shooting and editing my own video. I write and deliver content on all platforms all the time. I file text, video, and photo updates to the Internet throughout the day via wireless broadband. I twitter my followers when anything new occurs to drive traffic.
Oh, and by the way, I appear on camera, often live, and almost always in multiple broadcasts. Later, I may blog in an effort to solicit feedback with additional information that might result in follow-up content.
If it sounds insanely busy, it is. This is one reason communications professionals need to have messages and clients more sharply focused than ever. There is very little time for “context.”
If I had to pick one development that is most important to communications professionals, however, it is to understand your adversary’s ability to undermine a positive report with the instant feedback we encourage. On many TV outlets, feedback offered in the form of tweets will even be used on the air.”