Wednesday, March 12, 2008

VJ's....No, Not the MTV variety

Video Journalists. That's what they're called. Another phrase for the term is "One Man Band," or nowdays, a "Backpack Journalist." It's a TV reporter who goes out by himself to cover a story, shoots his own video and then returns to the station to edit his own story. All of this instead of sending out a reporter and a photographer. It's a cost cutting measure to provide greater coverage quantity-wise, with half the payroll normally expended. It's a relatively new concept....or is it.

When I broke in TV news in the early 80s in Jackson, Tennessee, I did it all the time. We had some photographers, but not enough to go around. Many stations still use a mix of crews and "one man bands," including at least one in Knoxville, among other markets. In Jackson, the few photographers we had went with the female reporters and mosts of the time, I shot my own stories. To be sure, in some ways it was a hassle and sometimes it probably resulted in a lesser quality story. After all, 2 heads are better than one, especially if the reporter gets to work with a really talented, bright photographer. The upside is that I learned a lot about the photography end of the process and became a better photographer myself. I even shot my own stand-ups (the part where you see the reporter on screen talking in the field). I simply set up a light stand to about my height, put it where I was going to stand, focused on it, then started the camera, moved the stand out of the way, stood in it's place and spoke that part of the story. The VJ concept has always been around.

These days, more and more stations are doing it to save money. It's not always enough. Just this week, a station in Reno dropped its newscasts and fired the entire news staff because they weren't making enough money off the shows. Most larger stations make a lot of money off their local news advertising revenue. Some smaller stations though, are going the VJ route to try to keep their profits as high as possible. In some cases, they're doing it simply to keep their operations profitable. With increasing competition from cable, satellite dish TV and the internet it's a real scrap to compete for the almighty advertising dollar. Add to that the state of the economy in general. Will we see more of this? Probably. It's not necessarily a bad thing, but it's indicative of the changes ahead in broadcast journalism. In other words, "Kids, better learn how to shoot!" I'll let you borrow my light stand so you can still see yourself on teevee!

Speaking of competition between stations, this is one of the best videos I've seen in a while. It comes from El Paso, Texas and features 2 of those big, bulky, SLOW microwave news vans involved in....a drag race! Hilarious! This could have been used in a "promo" about getting to the story first.

Sadly, I heard at least one of the photographers operating/driving one of the "Live Units" was fired because of this video. Oh well, I guess we've now got at least one more reporter having to work as a VJ.

American Idol Update: We bid farewell to David Hernandez, who lap-danced his way into America's hearts, if only for a few weeks. Oh well, I guess now, for David, it's back to the daily "Bump and Grind."

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