Crushing dreams for being realistic?

We all have dreams. A better life. Being thinner, richer. Sometimes material things. Sometimes something else. Hopefully though we all have a way to balance our dreams with the real world and not spend life wallowing in regrets.

When I look back at my life I see that many of my dreams never materialized through either my own poor judgement or circumstances, but I don’t let it bother me. Much more than a twinge…and then I move on. I’ve been lucky enough to have two careers that totally absorbed me. Three girls who have grown into women I could never have imagined…like me they forged their own paths. And a husband who is so much a part of me that I can’t imagine life without him.

Enough about me though…here’s the rub. How do you explain to the upcoming generation how to balance reality with dreams?

I’m a cheerleader for our young people. Volunteer with high school and college age students, nudging them to excel. Mentoring more young people via the Internet, again nudging them to think about their choices. And I like to think I’ve never told a young person that they can’t do something. All things are possible. If they prepare themselves.

Now in the case of the high school students my advice is primarily take the right courses and focus on passing with a good enough grade they can move on to college and a career. In some cases I’ve actually told students they can flunk. Harsh? If you take a student who has flunked English or math or science from middle school forward pep talks don’t work. Tutoring can help but not with every student, especially if their life and home situations place barriers to becoming better. So I give them permission to flunk with the following advice.

Sure – flunk English. But you want to be an auto mechanic (or warehouseman…or beautician)? Then learn how to write a solid resume, learn how to write a business letter. Pick up a good solid workplace vocabulary…know the language of the career path you have chosen.

Sure – flunk math. But learn how to add up services and products to write a receipt. Don’t forget to include tax (a percentage of the total). Know how to write an estimate for repairs. Understand how to read your paycheck…not just the total or amount after taxes. Have a handle on all those niggling little details like FICA and state and Medicare (how big a bite those deductions take out of your hard earned money).

And now. On to college.

There are students who you know just naturally are gonna make it. They may struggle with this course or that course but they are willing to give it their best shot. Take the core hard classes and go into class with the intent not just of passing but learning. I am very proud to be acquainted with a number of these golden youth.

And then there are … the others. Those with a dream, but unwilling to be realistic. Those who just know they are going to be great but are unwilling to put in the time and effort to pay their dues at the bottom in order to earn their way slowly up the ladder to success. (Success by the way, as defined by me, is not money…but happiness in both your career and life paths.)

I run into them both on campus and the Internet. Had a discussion with a young man from India (much) earlier this morning. He tried to join a professional site I moderate which doesn’t allow students…after explaining that to him, he told me he really wanted to learn how to be a travel journalist…and after more probing, a travel cameraman. One – he is studying to be an engineer. He has no background of any kind in any phase of journalism. Not insurmountable, but his dreams are not going to happen soon.

And then more…he desperately wants to get away from home (and possibly his down-to-earth parents), travel to a foreign county (Europe or the US) and go to journalism school. And become a glamorous travel journalist/cameraman.

The implication that all a cameraman does is point and shoot. Anyone can do it. I heard that so many times over the years from folks with a home handycam…”Hey, I’ve got a Sony too. Bet I can do your job. How to I apply?”

Not. Gonna. Happen.

So more guiding…and explaining the complexity of the job. Shooting, research, scheduling, logging, transcribing, writing, logging, editing…all with the intent to pop out a concise visual story. He is much subdued but listening to the advice to consider going into engineering and working on his passion weekends. A paying job and a dream to work towards.

Meanwhile the on-campus students. The students who don’t “do” tripods. Or want to know manual controls. Just pick up a camera and wave it. Or sit in front of said camera (maybe with a shaky friend holding it) and pretend to be a celebrity interviewer. Forget about light, audio, exposure, sequencing, framing, writing, editing. It’s all in the moment.

Unfortunately that moment isn’t even their fifteen minutes of stardom. It is a momentary flash seen only by themselves and a few friends.

Yeah…the terminal termagant is crabbing today. Again…I never tell students they can’t. But also never lie to them and say they can…

Dreams are flights of hope and passion…but making them real takes dedication and work.

Afterthoughts added later…
Getting into a job as a videojournalist takes time and talent and work and to some extent luck. My crabbiness comes from seeing and listening to young people who think “anyone can do it”. Truth be told, anyone CAN do it. But to do it professionally (for pay) and in a style that compells people to actually WANT to watch you work (meanings strangers, not just friends and those who love you) takes more than a shaky hand, a dream, and being clueless.
And the journalist part is just as challenging. Knowing and understanding your legal rights. Being able to write in clear, concise English (or whatever language you own). Knowing what facts are and not “expanding” or “enhancing” them to make the story better.
Sure, I was a dreamer once. But I sweated blood and tears some days to even get in the door (which btw was pretty much closed to women in 1972 when I forged out into the work world).
Just remember all you need to do is work until you can’t move, learn until your head hurts, and aim for perfection.
Now that’s not too hard, is it?

Paying it forward…and back…

…to the next generation. Truth is I’m nearing the end of my career. Went from shooting production stills to news film and video to teaching broadcasting to retired and working part time with high school students and freelancing as a camera/shooter/videojournalist. Within the next year all of this will slow down…but never really stop. (I view doing nothing as the beginning of death.)

A friend and I did a presentation some months ago for the the local community college video production class. Now this is the place I graduated from decades ago when it had one of the best photography departments in the state. Sometime (I’m guessing in the 80s) it developed an RTV (radio TV) department that never quite got off the ground. Classes were offered and yes students learned but it always seemed to lag somehow. I know it wasn’t for lack of instructors trying…could have been lack of support from the admin or a plethora of other issues. But it seemed more like a holding cell than a jumping off point.

In the last year things started clicking though.

There’s been a move to regain the license for the radio station…adjuncts were brought in with a wide variety of skills and experience. And the student showcase “TV” program went from zero to a kazillion in the past semester.

All of this piqued my interest.

So I went back a second and then a third time to check things out. And may have found a new retirement gig. Mentoring the up and coming video-gen. Specifically those interested in news shooting and editing.

What is making this extra-enticing is that not all of the youngsters fit the suit and tie Ken and Barbie mold of the past. They remind me of the Viet-Nam era gang on campus back in the late sixties. Everything from quiet and middle class to bright and bold to right off the street and gangbusters going forward.

I’m heading out in a week with the latter…a musician with a personality too big to fit in a suit with a flair for what is important in his world and his city and his people and a vision to open people’s eyes up. We shall see where this takes us…whether he can tame his inner beast and funnel it through into a viable version of storytelling that has the potential to explode and open up news to an entirely new style. Or not. I’m hoping for the former.

Calling all (prospective) VJs in Egypt…

I kind of keep an eye on my blog stats and was surprised to see a sudden increase in hits from Egypt.  Considering the events there the past week, I kind of understand the desire by those caught up in the conflict to get the word out.  So consider this a primer – a quick and dirty lesson in telling a story and getting it out to the world audience.

One.  Your safety is paramount.  Watch your back, your sides and have a friend or friends with you to ensure you don’t go down.  A dead voice is an unheard voice.  (Please take care of yourself.)

Two.  KISS/keep it simple silly.  If you see something, record it.  Keep it to at least a minute, no more than three or  four.  Keeping it simple now will make it easier to upload later on.  Hold your camera (cellphone, whatever) steady and keep on the action.  For your protection you may want to tape over your LCD screen to it is not as evident you are shooting/you are masking the light from the screen.  Shoot a series of short clips.

Three.  Get it out.  If on a cellphone, post to youtube, vimeo…upload and get it off your device for the world to see.  You can add comments later.

Breaking news is simple.  Be honest.  Show what is happening.  Do not exaggerate or pontificate.  

And I return to my original message.  Take care of yourself.  Be careful.

Think global…work local…

The VJ world is heating up, albeit primarily in the world’s hot spots.

With the ever shrinking network budgets and a growing need for accurate coverage in the nooks and crannies of our expanding world, videojournalists are becoming a prime commodity. Why? They work locally. They know their area and its politics. Most importantly, they know how to get around/work around what might be barriers to outsiders.

What I’ve noticed in viewing stories from abroad is that they seem to be more factual and more organic. The story is allowed to breathe and develop. Strange, because often they are not much longer than the standard minute thirty story here in the States.

And they travel lighter. Camera. Mike. Tripod. Computer. When I asked VJ Ruud Elmendorp about what kind of lights he used, his comment was that there is light everywhere. Makes sense when you’re traveling in a region of the world where electricity may not be the norm. Ruud is a Dutch VJ who (as his LinkedIn account states) is “reporting on conflict and development from the African continent.”

New York videojournalist Shaminder Dulai works with a DSLR, Canon G12, and even his iPhone in a pinch.

“This works for me because I usually do photo and video on the same assignments, so it’s easy for me to switch back and forth. And a note about why I used Canon, it’s only because I’ve already invested in Canon lenses. I firmly believe it’s not the gear but the eye that matters.”

Shaminder says he is bored by gear talk.

So many of us get absorbed by talking about bokah and video jelly, but I say: okay, we know about it, adapt and go tell a great story with what you have now, rather than whine about what you don’t have.”

(Side note: he has been robbed twice with most of his gear stolen.) His theme is backed by others.

Bud Wichers (Netherlands) says his goal is “to shoot a video that stays in peoples’ minds for at least 24 hours.” He diverges from Shaminder…Bud feels that “You can make poor shots, your sound can be terrible, and the lighting totally crap, but, if your story flows, you can still captivate your audience from start to finish.” His take on this comes from covering major breaking stories (including war zones)…which I know from experience may have you trying to watch your back to protect yourself while dodging whatever is thrown your way as you shoot. There is profound truth to his statement.

The Netherlands is a very VJ friendly country and Bud says he is often booked in advance, in addition to covering breaking news. If not booked often he will go to an assignment and shoot it, then sent it to his global list of clients, who often purchase it.

Jonah Kessel is accredited by the New York Times to work for them in China. And he, along with many of the other global VJs, is more than bi-lingual. Working in a multi-cultural world, they are often tri, quadra, multilingual. Since VJ-ing is all about communications, knowledge of the local language is essential.

Why does Jonah drive himself as a storyteller?

“The drive to tell important stories has been embedded in me for a long time. As an individual it’s hard to have much impact in the world. However, as a video journalist or cinematographer I do have the ability to reach mass audiences through my work. So my entire goal is to tell important stories and to help create better awareness of the world we live in. Without awareness, education, and information the world’s problems will only get worse.”

Being driven to tell stories and getting paid to tell them are two separate discussions. Ruud says there are several pathways to get assignments – the first being to find and produce stories and then offer them to a variety of organizations (TV stations and online sites). The second is working with organizations on smaller projects, which often lead to larger assignments. The third is based on spontaneous assignments based on his online presence.

Ruud is all over social media – and he uses it during shoots, “maintaining a series of tweets and posting on several platforms, and reply to comments. Really, at the end of the day you’re completely knackered.”

Arturo de la Pena (Multimedia Journalist with Heraldo Estado de Mexico) says his work is about 40% assignments and 60% covering whatever he wants to. He uses good old fashioned business cards when he meets people, and “starts asking questions. After I have something to build up, I ask some of those questions again, in front of the camera.”

Let’s take a look at the gear used by global VJs. The “Father of Videojournalism”, Michael Rosenblum, has trained thousands of VJs in the over 25 years and says, “the equipment has changed incredibly.”

With the advent of webcasting really surpassing broadcasting in terms of final platform for most of this stuff, we’re seeing that smaller, lighter and easier to use are the driving factors in gear. Pretty much everything shoots to HD.

Rosenblum is currently doing some training at the U.N. using iPhones…cutting on iMovie or FCPX. He emphasizes minimalist gear.

Never use lights. Too much to drag around. If essential, a small litepanel mounted on the camera, but try to avoid it. The rule here is small and as lightweight as possible. Likewise with tripods. simple simple simple.

Ruud travels light, with the basics of camera, mike, tripod, editing laptop. Arturo shoots with a Canon T4i and Sony NX30, edits with Premier Pro (no word on lights or mikes). Los Angeles (CA, USA) VJ Chrisy Wilcox (gotta love her) uses a Panasonic AG-HMC150 (my camera of choice), Canon Mark iii, Sennheiser wireles lav, Lowel light kit, Zoom H4N, Mac with Final Cut Pro as her basic kit. Also from LA is investigative VJ Paul Huebl who uses a JVC HM100U with Zoom H4n, Sennheiser wireless kit, iPad telepromter, lights and a Macbook Pro with Final Cut X. Bud smartly shops for used gear (you can get some great finds if you’re a careful shopper)…using a Sony JVR Z7 camera, Sony HVL-LBPA LED camera light, some Rode shotgun mikes, Electro Voicce stick mike (the choice of anyone traveling who wants a nearly unbreakable mike)…actually most of his list is audio gear. I’m not even getting into Jonah’s gear list – which is extensive (but he is forgiven).

Now I didn’t go into a lot of depth on their gear lists…trust me, there was more than shown above. But the basics are there. A solid working camera they trust. Generally a second camera for backup – and in some of the remote areas these folks hit, backup is essential. A tripod – they all have them. Audio gear. Right up there with a good camera. The basics. (Paul of course breaks the mold with a teleprompter, but hey – that’s Hollywood.)

And while some of these VJs have plenty of work, others are constantly looking. I suspect it is feast or famine in the global VJ community. Although Shaminder does work with Newsweek, he also funds some projects out of pocket and seeks grants to fund others. Paul works primarily for criminal defense lawyers (due, he says, to TV newsroom budgets being so tight these days). And poor Ruud – his problem is having too much work apparently, with clients asking why he isn’t pitching stories anymore. The choice seems to be to “Either say no to assignments (which I think is killing) or to hire assistants.” Not something he wants to do, but he is thinking about it.

I’d like to thank the VJs who contributed…and honesty they sent me so much material I see a second posting in the future. I also plan to do a bit of investigating from the other side – how does a media organization vet (verify) a global VJ they’ve never seen.

Freelance VJ sites

The blessing and bane of being a VJ is getting paid to do what you love. If you’re lucky, you have a staff job with an understanding news director or editor who knows that you will give your all if s/he treats you right. That means a living wage and a reasonable amount of time to do stories you love mixed in with the day-to-day assignments.

But that’s not the reality for most current and aspiring VJs. Love is one thing. Earning an income is another.

I’ve been checking out some sites that purport to channel VJ videos into potential cash flows. Although most cater to breaking news, there is room for other types of stories too. Read carefully and check each out yourself before leaping on board.

And while you’re checking out the organizations, also be aware that some charge a commission – a flat fee or percentage – on your sales while others pay a flat rate to you and others may have different ways to make money.

Cont3nt.com_First up is cont3nt.com. Founded by former National Geographic employee Anton Gelman, cont3nt.com is the new kid on the block. Like most of the sites below, its emphasis is on breaking news…getting your just-shot breakers up on the site and out marketed to a global market. He has a variety of contracts from short-term limited to total buyout. Nice part is that if you have current clients he won’t horn in on them…but he does open up new market potential. All business is transacted directly by the freelancer and the client…cont3nt.com does not get involved in anything beyond providing the platform and collecting a small fee per transaction. They do require (as most do) that you sign an ethics statement. cont3nt.com also has a ratings system for their VJs…the more experience you have and the more and higher quality stories you provide, the higher your ranking.

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CrowdMedia specializes in sifting through twitter feeds, looking for photographs at news events and venues. You can’t apply – and rates are low by professional standards unless the event is major (see below).

CEO Martin Roldan has this to say about his site:

Our marketplace is only for photos right now. Contact is made through our platform directly, with images coming from Twitter. Direct upload will be open as soon as our unique “Authenticity Detection” will be fully operational. This is to make sure we only get photos depicting real events and that people uploading them are the rightful owners.

Since we are focusing on the value of real-time events, images are at a fixed rate of $20 during the first 48 hours and $5 after that time. A photo of a major event could be purchased more than 1000 times.

ELANCE-NEW-LOGO eLance seems to be a meeting place on steroids for those seeking temporary workers and freelancers of all ilks, not just videographers. Potential employers post a job then view the matched freelancers. They have to deposit the full amount of the quote from the freelancer plus the commission to eLance…freelancer paid either when the job is done or when milestones are reached. Not just a VJ site though you may find the occasional gig there.

emphasis empahs.is is a crowdfunding platform for visual journalists. You have to provide the usual: a short proposal of two or three sentences, one page proposal outlining the scope/relevance of said project, your personal (short) bio, links to your work and a video pitch. Offhand this looks more like a still visual storyteller site…but check it out and let us know what you find out.

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gothamist-logo Geothamist serves hyperlocal major metropolitan areas around the world…if you live in or near one of those listed there may be opportunities for you.

Newsmodo, again, has a similar platform to most of the others.

According to Managing Editor Ryan Jones, Newsmodo is a free global platform for freelance journalists. newsmodo He says, “We offer journalists around the world the opportunity to work for big and small international media companies. They set assignments for you to pitch to OR you pitch unsolicited and they commission.”

305549_980 reportersunited is not just for the word folks…it’s actually targeting VJs. Like cont3nt.com it seeks breaking stories, but also wants good factual features. And I’ve worked with their team just enough to know they will seek clients if you have a good idea…and they act as an intermediary between VJ and client to ensure the story fits the need. What else you need to know: independent video news agency, adherence to journalism standards of facts/conduct/ethics, global distribution (all of these sites provide that).

storyhunter5 storyhunter was founded by VJs and although you can provide story ideas, they also provide assignments you can sign up for. They do screen, so no newbies here. Their emphasis is serious work and breakers for working VJs.

ttm_tumblr_profile transterramedia is another global site that accepts pitches from VJs and matches them up with clients. They do breaking news but accept hard-hitting general news and features. They do screen before allowing VJs on board and do work closely with their contributors (this from experience).

vourno_logo Vourno is fresh off the press…came out less than two weeks ago. It is a crowdsourcing platform aimed at “Vournos” or video journos. They solicit “pubs” to provide support and funding for projects you propose. The VJ owns the rights to their work…what Vourno does is provide exposure for VJs and their story ideas to a public willing to pay to see a story through. This is not an income stream where you are paid to work…your story is funded for what it will cost to produce and then you are free to market it to clients once it has appeared on the Vourno site for a specified amount of time.

Realize that I’ve vastly condensed the information and approach each of the above sites is taking…but the bottom line is they are potential money-makers if you have the skills, ideas, and commitment to follow through and provide what you promised.

In addition to these there are job/gig websites, including staffmeup, productionhub, mandy, mediamatch, journalismjobs. You can find others by doing a web search with the type of job you’re interested in and “job board.” These offer short and long-term gigs and even full-time jobs. Pay ranges from (what else) free to union scale. (I’ll be updating this list and adding urls over the next few months.)

And Facebook has opened up some possibilities, although with disclaimers. Many gigs are in conflict zones on pages like “Find a journalist…around the world.” Other sites are mainly for discussion with the occasional gig – videojournalist, Global VJs and TV Freelancers. In many cases you have to ask to be added because they are closed groups and you may even be screened to ensure you are a professional.

So as bleak as the full-time staff market may be…if you are enterprising and industrious you may be able to make your passion a paying profession.

Looking for stories…

images …is the name of a site I was directed to this week.  While the concept may not be original (one story a week) the execution is amazing.  Joan Planas and Ana Salva’ have a vision of producing a story a week focusing on people. Plain people who have stories to tell that educate and inform the audience about their community and country.

I like that they spend the time to get to know their subjects over a day or week and the entire story is told in the subject’s own words (with subtitles as necessary).  

But what I like even more is their artistry…their use of motion and exposure and music to make each story unique and real.

So check it out at HERE and let me know what you think.

Marrying old and new…

…technologies that is.

So in my gear bags I have stuff that is more than a decade old that can be married with my new toys. We’re talking June-December weddings here folks. Analog and digital. Fresh out of the box and faded with time.

My mainstay tripod/now too heavy for everyday use (purchased in 2002) is firmly fixed to the short jib I got a year ago. Old heavy tripod is a perfect base for a jib. Can hold the twenty pound weights and give a stable platform for shooting.

Ditto the XLR cables and Electrovoice mike. Old technology…heck dating back to the seventies (not mine but the concept). It can be married to any out-of-the-box camera.

I guess what I’m getting at is that while new is nice and in some cases better, some old stuff just won’t die.

I have a Canon ZR10…picked it up on ebay a few years ago. I have fond memories of my first digital camera…same camera…that I got right after bailing from news in 2002. Just couldn’t live without a camera in hand and it was affordable at the time (on a rookie teacher’s stipend).

That little baby still works and I pull it out occasionally just for old times sake. It has an amazing zoom, audio inputs…and while the quality is most definitely NOT high def, it puts out an acceptable image.

My gear bags are a combination of new and old, fresh-faced and creaky-old. I keep what works and find ways to marry it with what is current to make images that matter.

So if you’re out there in dreamtime wanting the best and newest, realize that it’s only gear. What really counts is your vision…what comes out of using the gear. Videojournalism is NOT about having all of the toys. It is about telling the story.