Co-opting a name…

Photo means light. Graph means writing. Video means see. Tele means at a distance. Phone means sound. Root word are great – you can mix ’em and match ’em and come up with lots of new words with more complex meanings. So photograpy means, literally writing with light. And “journalism”….

Journalism, the business or practice of writing and producing a newspaper or periodical (journal), is a descendent of diurnal, from Middle English, meaning “of or pertaining to the daytime” or “occurring every day”. Diurnal stems from Latin dies or day. (

I kind of love the way words come into being and how they change with time. My high school freshman English classes get to play the game sometimes…I’ll ask what some popular slag words are and then toss in some from my youth or slang from other countries. But enough of this…what I wanted to focus on today is how TV camerafolk co-opted the term “photojournalist” from the still photogs and now how the still folks “own” the term “videojournalist.” Wow. It’s kinda hard to tell who the players are unless you see their dogtags.

Originally photojournalism meant (and still pretty much means the same today) telling a story with pictures. Still pictures. But the TV folk, after wading through being called cameramen and then shooter wanted more…more respect? Who knows. When I worked at KQED in San Francisco in the late ’70s I was officially a “film craftsperson.” It kinda felt nice…sophisticated. I wasn’t just a hack – I knew a “craft.” But there was no reference to what I really did, which was news. I know I wanted to be thought of as more than a technician when I began referring to myself as a photojournalist in the late 80s. And, along with many in TV news, I was telling a story with pictures. Moving pictures with sound. Yes, I did co-opt the name, but it fit.

Today still photogs have taken the term “videojournalist” and made it theirs before the real videojournalists – TV folk – were even aware it was a word. Again, there is a very practical reason for this – still folks want a distinction between what they usually do – take photos – and what they are exploring – shooting video. Makes perfect sense to me.

There are a coupla other terms out there that are more accepted than videojournalist in TV news. There is “one-man-band,” which is kind of derogetory. Means one person slaving away, doing everyone’s job. One-man-bands have been around almost since TV began. A reporter with a wind-up Bell & Howell. A cameraman holding a mike out to get an interview. Today the one-man-band has returned as the “backpack journalist.” Today it all fits in a backpack…camera, laptop, whatever is needed to get the story.

Who knows what is next….as for me, I’ll take on the name that fits. I’m a teacher, an instructor, a mentor…a shooter, a videojournalist…a curious mind, nosey. There’s really no way to end this except with my favorite short poem, by Stephan Crane.

“Think as I think, said a man,
Or you are abominably wicked;
You are a toad.”
And after I had thought of it,
I said, “I will, then be a toad.”



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