Two views (or more) of VJs…

Newsreel Man (Charles Peden in front with sound equipment)

In the beginning there was the Newsreel Cameraman. Hauling around more gear than a pack mule, he (no shes back then) covered the news and view of the nine-teens and twenties, joined by an Audio Man in 1927.

That was the original VJ. Rough and tumble, but always got the story.

These NR guys held on tenaciously through the birth of television, only getting phased out in the 1960s when the majority of the public chose the boob-tube over the big screen for their daily dose of what’s happening.

In the meantime a new term sprang up on the broadcast side of news: OMB. One man band. A reinvention of the NRC, they (once again) hauled around a camera, audio gear and enough love of news and what’s happening to gather the news in their markets for a hungry audience. I’m guesstimating maybe late 1950s with film and optical audio through…hmmm, today’s digital workflow.

And now we have divergence.

Sometime in the 1990s print photographers discovered an entirely new unheard of medium. They called it multimedia. It was all new – if you could actually believe editing sound with your still photos and then playing it back. Wow.

Then these brave pioneers moved on to an even greater discovery. Something they called video. Imagine, if you can, moving images with audio embedded! Why the world had never seen the likes of it before. But what were they going to call themselves if they no longer shot stills?

Well there were a number of options. Out of the nation’s capitol came the term Backpack Journalist. Made sense because (theoretically) you could fit camera, computer…your entire office into a backpack. Visual Storyteller was another one. Multimedia Journalist or Storyteller was another choice. But most of them went for Video Journalist. And so they laid claim to this new territory as original and new and totally theirs.

Um…but what about those broadcast folks? Weren’t they shooting video too?

Not the way we are, chimed the (print) VJs. Our style of storytelling is unique. We’re not TV.

Looking at it from afar (and for a while from the middle of it) I’d say the two are pretty much doing the same thing.
Similarities?

1) Both use cameras
2) Both gather sound
3) Both work alone to gather and disseminate visuals stories to their audiences

Differences?

1) Broadcast VJs tend to use cameras meant for “run and gun” shooting with easy to access exterior controls, professional audio connectors, and good zoom lenses.
Print VJs opt for hybrid DSLRs that shoot both stills and video. While they have more control over depth of field with a wide variety of interchangeable lenses, they must also add-on audio accessories and other gadgets.
2) BVJs generally run on a tighter schedule with more packed into a day and more expected of them. Anything from a single package to a few VOs and VOSOTS to a combination of all of the above.
PVJs may have to shoot multiple stories daily also, but often seem to use video for more long form stories or VO/VOSOTS.
3) A good BJV can turn an exquisite daily story using a variety of options from a NATS pkg to pkg complete with narration and stand-up. Day after day, week after week.
A good PVJ can turn an exquisite story in a few days (from what I hear and see on the professional boards) generally a NATS pkg using the voice of the interview subject rather than narration.

You may have guessed two things by now. I tend to favor the BVJ…but there are some equally damned good PVJs out there. The good ones have more in common than not. They live and breathe visual storytelling. They see the kernels of truth, the compelling images, and understand the flow of time and words well enough to go beyond the basics. And more importantly, they learn from everything…from each other, from their subjects…each story is an opportunity to get better.

Why this posting? Just had to get it out of my system. Don’t want history written up improperly with the lineage of VJs lost to the most vocal shooters. Those quiet guys behind behemoth hand-cranked cameras deserve their place in the books too. (And don’t forget…many of them were former still photogs.)

4 thoughts on “Two views (or more) of VJs…

  1. Stills is pretty good at curating their history….TV not so much. The vast majority of the still shooters know who giants like Ansel Adams and Robert Capa were.

    Go ask an average TV photog who say Marshall McCarroll (inventor of the mult box) or Charlie Mack (the fact he was friends with Joe Costa is why the NPPA isn’t a stills-only org as well as shooting virtually all of the famous CBS Murrow stories of the 50s-early 60s) were, they’d likely give you a blank stare.

  2. By the way, the photog behind Chic, John “Bocky” Bockhorst, started his career in 1917 I think…have to go look the exact date up. Anyway, the silent era where he worked alone instead of a crew with a soundie. He made it to television…contracted out by Hearst Metrotone/News of the Day to CBS for Murrow’s See It Now until he was killed in a fire.

  3. With your help (and your book) maybe we will all become more aware of our past. We are getting names that are known…and don’t forget the Ernie Crisp workshops (I attended one taught by him in 1975 in SF…he said women would never become TV news cameramen because they couldn’t handle the heavy gear.)
    But Les Rose is known…as well as Michele Micheals. The biggest problem TV shooters (and editors) have is getting past the star factor of their acomplices.

  4. Norm Alley once upon a time was more famous than (and even upstaged) Ed Murrow…

    As for that book, it only covers a small percentage of the working newsreelers of the era.

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