The International community is coming together…

…on facebook. Inevitable.

Michael Mandela/Kenya

Michael Mandela/Kenya

Like seeks like…and I like a number of pages that allow me to communicate with those with similar interests. They include everything from BEA/Broadcast Education Association to videojournalist (thanks Ruud Elmendorp) to Global VJs and then find a journalist…around the world (which I help administer) and others.

I learn so much about how news is covered in other countries and by other cultures…the similarities in the process and the varying struggles with both gear, law, and ethics.

Suparna Gangal/India

Suparna Gangal/India

But the grand thing is the open discussion among professionals with a passion for storytelling. Interestingly enough gear is the least discussed. Where and how to find work tops the list…followed by a need for comradery and a willingness to help each other. And the need to keep it professional and focused on providing genuine journalism…real stories. Stories that allow those elsewhere to glimpse lifestyles which draw us together as a world community.

Ruud Elmendorp/Nairobi

Ruud Elmendorp/Nairobi

…and to be called friend – as in a real friend – by videojournalists I have never encountered in the flesh…is meaningful.

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.

Business…

Photo courtesy Kathleen Newell (http://www.kathleennewell.com)

Heads up – this is a “shameless self-promotion” posting. My visual storytelling business is up and running.

While small (with intentions to stay that way), I have plans to make it big – in quality. Although I’ve dabbled a bit with video production and its many challenges, I find my love of news and storytelling is leading me back into news – both feature and general.

So…if you want to keep up, check me out at the following sites:
My visual storytelling business site.
thinknews facebook site
twitter account
Vimeo

Just FYI: work is progressing on The Basics of Videojournalism, although life is getting in the way some days.

And I will continue to post from time to time here on this blog – my first and favorite. Thanks for dropping by.

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.)

What’s new is old is new again…

I remember when CNN started up in the 70s. Friend of mine (a camerawoman) came up to me one day and said, “There’s this guy from CNN who said he’d make me a star!” She was smiling and I laughed. A cameraman a star? Seemed like a podunk idea…going nowhere fast. But THAT sure didn’t happen. CNN went on to become a worldwide organization.

Well what’s old is new again. Michael Rosenblum, the alleged “father of videojournalism”, is starting up a new network. (I say “alleged” in a friendly spirit…although he didn’t create the role or coin the term, he has most definitely promoted the concept.)

Here’s what’s out: it look as if this dream of his will be based in Nashville, where he is looking for staff. It appears contributors will be based on the VJ model. Beyond that…well we all get to wait together. Been having fun speculating with friends about where this is headed (and where it might head), and while ideas abound, real facts are kind of hard to nail down.

What I will say is, I hope it breathes some fresh air into a career that is sadly lacking at times. While there are some truly great cameramen and VJs out there and some stations and organizations that truly support them, they are in the minority. If Rosenblum is willing to pay a living wage to get the best, I wish him and his cause the best. If he is willing to support quality and ethical storytelling, go for it! There is a need for something beyond the bland flash that passes for news and visual storytelling today…dare we hope this is it?

(Transparency: along with probably thousands of others, I’ve tossed my resume into the pile headed Rosenblum’s way. With caveats of course. He has his standards and may reject me. Ditto my side re my requirements. Being retired does have its perks.)

The Basics of Videojournalism

…okay, time for some overinflated self-promoting grandizing.

A bud of mine – Larry Nance (no not THAT one, THIS one) and I have been working on and off for the past five or more years on a textbook on videojournalism. We kind of slowed down and resumed normal life for a while, but then decided this year to make the push and get it done.

Problem is technology has changed so much we’ve pretty much had to do a major re-write. So we’re each writing a chapter or so a week and meeting weekly to discuss what to do next.

Larry – he’s the artist, video production guy, and businessman. Me? I’m the newsie.

But between us we harbor a wealth of information and tips.

The book is becoming a reality – I almost want to say, “Slowly.” But that aint’ the truth. It is moving along at a respectable pace and (fingers crossed and don’t hold us to this deadline) may be done with the writing portion by the end of May.

What’s up next? Planning and shooting the visuals (stills) and accompanying video (examples and raw footage to practice editing). That will add on another month…and then.

….publish…???…yeah, right. PUBLISH!!!

If you want to have input, go to The Basics of Videojournalism and check out the Knowledge Base. Let us know if there’s anything we should add or delete or change. Time’s a-wastin and once this puppy is done…well I’d like to think it is done…but reality tells me we need to stay on top of it and make sure it stays CURRENT.

Look out for them predators!

A year or two back I started seeing job postings for “predators” for broadcast news shows. Did not have a clue…originally I thought they wanted hungry workers willing to do anything to track down a story.

Now it seems the predator is the employer…hiring producer/editors. Once again merging the jobs of two people into one.

Where have I heard that before? Oh yeah – from the sixties and seventies models of four man crew (producer, camera, reporter, audio) that shrank to three (camera, reporter, engineer) to two (reporter, camera) to one (videojournalist). Strange thing…as the jobs merged, it was always the cameraman who absorbed the work. The end result: one person doing it all. If the fit was good, the job was done with flair. If the fit was wrong, you had a reporter who could barely shoot and edit or a photographer struggling with words and narration.

This new beast on the market takes a producer (writer/researcher/arranger) and merges it with the editor (corrects words/edits tape). Stick them in a feed room and let them loose…they’ll grab stories and blend words and visuals and pop out a polished story.

Um…unless they are clueless about the art of editing. Or (here it is again) struggle with a basic vocabulary and the intricacies of language.

Saw another variation on predator today…producer/shooter/editor. Three-in-one.

While I’ve pushed…and still do push…for the VJ model – knowing all aspects of your profession and aiming for excellence in storytelling, it’s not for everyone. There is a place for it. Wayne Freedman and Stanley Roberts on my half of the coast are good examples. One a reporter turned VJ and the other a broadcast news cameraman turned VJ. They make it work…and partially I suspect because they were exposed for years to excellent examples on the distaff side…and they listened, watched, and learned.

But in the long run, this is all cyclical. Industries and jobs evolve, change. We can’t hold on to the past just because WE like it.

(But I still don’t like that word “predator”…)

Um…I have been corrected and stand humbled. The spelling on that obnoxious word should be P-R-E-D-I-T-O-R. “I” not “A”.

VJs: villains or victims?

Makes you wonder…when an industry pins its hopes on the very people it is perceived as victimizing.

Yeah…I’m talking VJs here. Videojournalists. Video. Journalists.

Envisioned originally as stellar members of an elite cadre, they were meant to be the ultimate in visual journalists – one person, a camera, computer and the ability to see and tell a story on their own.

The concept threatened the traditional shooters in broadcast and challenged many in the print industry to take on a new role.

And then there were the haters. One person can’t do it all. They’re taking jobs away from (you name it).

Management saw dollar signs…one station, KRON in San Francisco…even going so far as to completely switch the the VJ model, claiming its reporters and even some anchors would learn how to perform as VJs.

Well now the final tally is in – and guess what? KRON is embroiled in the Chapter 11 filings of its parent company and VJs are taking part of the heat – at least in KRON’s case – for the fall.

In an article posted on the NPPA website…

“The station became mired in debt, was impotent in the market after losing its network affiliation, and the VJ newscasts lost in the ratings against stations with traditional news crews.”

So Superhero VJ was not able to save the day. They’re just plain folks, you know. Kinda like you or me. Pinning hopes on a single model…which I saw newspapers scrambling to do a few years back as they shifted to video…is not THE answer, but possibly only part of the answer. At the SFBAPPA Digital Day this pas December, Sacramento Bee photographer Manny Cisneros said that he hopped on the VJ bandwagon, but something happened along the way and he is no longer shooting video fulltime.

VJs are one of many options…and news should provide as many of these options to the audience as it can so it will appeal to all possible readers/viewers.

Supermen we ain’t.

Sideshows & rollar coasters…

I was just talking with a friend here at my school, telling her that this is the most revolutionary time in news and reading since the invention of the printing press when it hit me – it IS. This is a watershed time in communications…with the news of the massive buyouts in the San Francisco/San Jose area; with revenues fallling and everyone desperately racing to claim their stake on the web…can you think of anything even remotely close? Andy Dickenson is right – this is the year that will make or break print media…with broadcast media following.

My high school kiddos are writing opinion statements this week. The more popular topics are abortion, school lockers (we don’t have them), school start time (they want it later), and sideshows…illegal street racing and performing. My guy groups are very much in favor of sideshows because they are exciting, despite the dangers. So I showed them part of The Perfect Storm…a movie based on real events with a violent rescue at sea. Now some of them are interested in joining the Coast Guard – they thrive on excitment. My point? I thrive on excitment too – I miss the daily deadlines…the near misses…the ecstacy of the perfect edit. I see a period which may never be rivaled in history and I want to be part of it…and am even thinking about moving from the sidelines this summer if I can find a paper to put up with me. Haven’t seriously shot stills in decades but I can outgun a lot of folks with video.

To those of you out in the front lines…keep fighting. As with any battle, if you stay in one spot your are a target, so keep moving. Somebody…some paper…some station…is going to find the magic formula that will move news profitably to the web.