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.

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


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.)


The next generation…

Interesting…as newspaper VJs move towards more complex and larger camcorders, broadcast is downsizing to smaller, more mobile cameras.

In the beginning newspaper photogs were learning video – all about motion and audio. How what they had been shooting their entire lives had to be rethought once they stopped aiming for a moment in time and instead were aiming for a sequence and telling a story with flow of motion and sound. Video is more complex – more akin to weaving elements together than stopping time.

As they got better at their new craft, these new VJs, OMB, backpackers got better and better gear…and some of their gear is even redefining standards for moviemaking, not just news (think 5D here).

The opposite has been going on over on the broadcast side. The one man band has always been part of TV news…kind of the poor cousin. OMBs were used by the smaller stations or even larger stations in their outlying bureaus.

Mike Rosenblaum (among others) broke the collar of shame, re-coined the craft as Videojournalist and rightfully set things straight…VJs can be masters of vision. On my side of the coast KRON in San Francisco raised them to star status – and buddy Stanley Roberts showed that even the toughest glare-you-down street shooter could masterfully craft stories all on his lonesome.

Now the camera is following the craft. In a much earlier post (which I’m still looking for) I asked why TV stations weren’t allowing their VJs the freedom of smaller cameras (Stanley by the way does use a compact size Sony).

Earlier this week a major player in broadcasting announced that it was ramping up use of prosumer cameras by its staff.

Hearst Corporation’s Next Generation Newsroom Project portends a major shift in thinking for television news room. Beginning with three stations in 2009, moving on to six this year with six more projected to come on board next year, JVC GY-HM100 cameras are marching into the hands of camera crews.

These crews (according to Hearst) will NOT replace, but rather will augment the traditional broadcast newscrew…aiming at the Internet audience rather than the (again, traditional) front of the tube group.

The good – overburdened crews get a respite for their backs…and hopefully this move will continue so eventually all crews get the more portable cameras. Laptops to edit…this camera natively imports to both Adobe Premier and Final Cut. Hearst is going the PC route with Dell laptops and Premier (which is dual platform by the way). The camera is a three-chipper with 1/4 inch CCDs and has both XLR and mini-jack audio inputs. Best yet, it shoots to SD cards (don’t know if you have to use the nearly $300 SDHC cards or can get by with less expensive ones).

The bad: one little line buried in the end of the press release:

…the GY-HM100 is the ideal camcorder for the Next Generation Newsroom Project, because it is a full-featured professional camcorder that records to inexpensive SDHC solid-state media, yet it is not intimidating to non-technical personnel.

Yeah…those three words at the end. Non. Technical. Personnel. Hmmm….reporters? Interns?

(Thanks to b-roll for the heads up.)

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