I love it when thoughtful management sees potential in employees and asks them to become Videojournalists. Chosen properly and allowed a reasonable amount of freedom in their work, VJs can produce stories as well as and often better than two-man crews. Take a look at Lenslinger, Stanley Roberts, and Michelle Michael. And they’re only the surface.

OK…so I hate it when management stomps in and tells nearly everyone in a shop they will become VJs because they are “underperforming.”

This news came from a trusted source and and first evidence I saw of it was then a KXTV crew showed up at an event with….a babycam? From the look on the shooter’s face, this was NOT the camera of choice. Heck, the entire body of the camera was about the length of his former camera lens.

Now you know I’m a big advocate of lean and mean and Videojournalism. But in the right place and at the right time. And punishing an entire staff and forcing what is essentially a cost-cutting hatchet job on them is not the best motivator.

Although, apparently, keeping your job may be the part that motivates.
I’m guessing it was a take this or shove your job move by management.



Stacking the studio show…

Audiences love both novelty and familiarity. They want consistency, but also look forward to change.

Here’s how to make these opposites work.

The consistency/familiarity are the format of the show. Have a recognizable format. Here’s mine:

One minute bars/ten second countdown (not part of the show/professional requirement)
Show open
Anchor intros
Pledge of Allegiance or Patriotic Moment
More announcements
Anchor farewells

The audience knows they will get a consistent product each day. They know when to watch (for sports, Patriotic Moment, credits) and when they can tune out (I hope not).

The variables include:

Show open – each week I change out an anchor. We shoot the new anchor and include them AND the entire crew in the show opening.
Each day we are required to either have the student body pledge the flag OR recognize a historical fact or current event that contributes to student knowledge/understanding of our country.
Pledge of Allegiance – run at least once a week. We broke the Pledge down in to separate phrases and had different students/groups of students each recite a phrase. I plan to keep changing out parts of the Pledge every month to include new students.
Patriotic Moment – produced by students. Students are required to use history.com to find an interesting fact each day and then they must research it, write a short script, find (copyright free/open source) visuals and then produce a :30-1:00 narrated segment.
Sports – anchors read script while scrolling credits roll with duplicate information (sport/date/time/opponent).
Credits – this is where I hook my audience. We change this daily and tease it at the top of each day’s show. My goal is that every student on campus can say at least once a week, “I was in the credits” or “I know someone who was in the credits.” Credits run :30-1:00 and have included animations by my students, an English field trip to “West Side Story,” stills of the cross country team, video of finals in a French class (focus was on food of France and food was served), a male beauty pageant.

Staff tells me that students look forward to the daily announcements now and still (relatively) quietly while they are on.

So when you get your show up and running…remember to break it into manageable segments and remember also that your audience wants to be included. Personally I feel that one reason the news media may be in trouble today (and this is only one of the reasons) is that they have disconnected with their audience. Regional and national news do not serve local audiences…and unless the regional or national news impacts a local audience, they will tune out.

Basic studio setup…

I will admit I’m blessed with a pretty sweet setup at my high school. The TV studio was actually (somewhat) planned and built for a purpose – to be used to teach broadcasting/multimedia and to produce a daily program.

So the configuration works. There’s the studio floor and the control room. We have more gear than necessary for a basic show (ignore my occasional whining…).

But what if you’re just getting started and you have to work in a space not designed for studio production?

I’ve seen “studios” that were almost as low-end as you can get and still get a show out. Sheets hung from the wall in a long narrow room with one camera shooting directly to tape using the built-in camera mike. And yes, that works. Skills learned include teamwork, directing, script reading, eye contact. I would never scoff at those with less than me if they do the best with what they’ve got.

But let’s assume you want to move up in the world a little. Play with two cameras and real clip-on or desktop mikes. You can make this work without a switcher or audio board…I did for a few weeks when our switcher went down.

Just work with your camerafolk so they know who is shooting what at what point in the script. You could start with camera one on a two shot, then go to camera two on one anchor…while that anchor is reading, have camera one go in for a one-shot on the other anchor. Edit the two tapes together, add in titles, FX, etc.

Want to add more? Again, I am lucky to have a studio com (communications) system so that the director in the control room can communicate with the floor director and floor camerafolks.

A cheap alternative might be some two-way radios with headsets so that the “director” (who may just be in the back of the room with a script) can “talk” to the floor crew.

Moving up the scale again. Lights. (Thank you LUSD for my light grid.) Room lights are okay…but with a fairly low cash outlay you can add some light for a more professional look.

Here’s three ideas, in order of cost. Go to your local feed store or hardware store and find one of those cheap scoop tin lights – we use them in the shop or for heat for baby chicks. You can put up to a 100 watt bulb in them and they clamp on to anything. Around $9-$15.

Next up – shop lights on stands (or clamps)…probably around $35-45 or so. They’re nice for the younger set cause they come with a screen to keep hands away from the hot area…you can cut the screens out with wirecutters if you don’t want the pattern they make. Low and high level settings and pretty balanced light. Only problem is they can’t go much higher than three feet.

Finally…getting into pro lights. If I were to go buy a kit, I’d avoid the scoop light kits altogether (why not just buy from the feed store for a lot less) and go straight to lights with focus (spot to broad) and more light (250-1,000 watt).

Gotta run for now…but back later with the rest of how to get your studio set up…

Okay…went through the relatively simple stuff. Hopefully for the rest you have cameras that will work.
Audio – right up there with video as part of studio needs. Don’t make your audience struggle to hear information. So your cameras must have mike inputs OR you need a way to feed audio from the studio floor into your “control room” (or equivalent) mixer or switcher.

Mixer – takes two or more audio sources and allows you to set levels for each so that they are matched.
Switcher – generally refers to a video (or audio/video) switcher that allows you to choose from a variety of sources…cameras, tape decks, DVD players. When you switcher video, the matched audio follows.

At this point in the game you should start looking at what you’ve got and what you need for a very basic control room. This includes:

A switcher
Two (or more) cameras
Record/playback deck
Audio mixer
Necessary cables (XLR, RCA, S-VHS, coaxial, etc)

And now you need to be prepared to spend some money. If you get a box setup (like Tricaster) you’ll still need your cameras, mikes, playback decks. If you piece your control room together, you’ll need monitors to track each visual input and a preview/program monitor.

Preview shows you what you’re doing/about to do.
Program shows what you are actually recording.

Choosing a switcher can be a bear. There’s a relatively new toy in the gamebox called “Tricaster.” Broadcast studio in a box – you feed your audio and video cables in and it contains the monitors, switcher, mixer. Costs begin around $3,000 and up. These little boxes are gaining popularity in the broadcast industry too for their simplicity and ease of setup and use.

The other alternative is a separate switcher – my studio boasts a Focus Enhancement MX-4. Now that it’s working properly, it is a dream. We can preview all effects…got the greenscreen up and tested today. Audio feeds through a mixer (mixer takes in two wired mikes, a wireless, DVD player, tape playback) which feeds the audio into the switcher.

Switchers can run the gamut…from $1,000 to the sky.

If you’re new to this, find a reputable company to walk you through the gear, what does what, what connects to what, how they mesh. Ask for a barebones system and then ask for a list of upgrades to get you to your final goal. You don’t have to start with a complete system.

Even though I have most of the goodies I need, my students are currently working only with switching two cameras – for a reason. I’m still working on getting the bugs out. We have on again/off again impedance problems with one of the mike lines. We’re trying to standardize our scripts and instructions for the floor crew. Each week brings new anchors and new crew who need to be trained.

The goal is to start simple and add on challenges every week or month as students gain experience.

Next post: How to format a show that keeps the audience looking forward to more.

High rolling times are over…

Some reflection on the Bay area buyout/layoff story. It is a shocker – and I feel for everyone involved. Can’t be easy to be the guy making the announcement…or one of those receiving the news. But it begins to come back to me…once upon a time local TV news was gushing money and everyone was grabbing their share…this was in the seventies and eighties. Advertisers were throwing money at the stations and life was wonderful. But somewhere in the nineties it all ground to a stop. Belts were tightened…trips cancelled…expenses reined in.

I got laid off – twice in less than five years. The first time I was on staff at KQED/Channel 9 – the PBS west coast flagship station. We depended on federal funding…and the honchos looked two years down the road – federal funding was for two year periods. One dark day in September 1980 (I had to be out town at the time) the announcement came in – the news show was being cancelled. We had two weeks notice and “A Closer Look” was no more.

The second time I was on staff at KTXL in Sacramento. Budget cuts and two folks had to go. I was the last hired photog and reporter Pat McConnahay (now at KVIE in Sacramento) were called into the office and given our walking papers.

Gut wrenching. Sucker punched. The first time I was in good company…my very first baby shower was attended by a ton of folks looking at unemployment checks (by the way…including a young intern named Bill Whittaker). The second time I actually cried. I loved news and felt as if I’d been abandoned. But it wasn’t personal…got a call about a year later. They wanted me back and had the money to prove it.

So the good times come and go. Losing a job is an experience I wouldn’t wish on anyone. There are lessons to be learned…if you are good, you move on. If your rep is good, you get a job. You hunker down and look and network and eventually something turns up. The time to look is now – before the ax falls. As a result, I always have a ready resume and tape…and either can be online or in the mail before the ink dries on any pink slip headed my way.

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