I had a great time on my three day trip to Nashville. My hosts were nicer to me than I could ever expect.
There was a reason I went. It was my curiosity about what’s going on at WKRN. It is a Petri dish for a change in local TV news.
As I said before, the most obvious change has been to combine photographer and reporter into a video journalist or VJ. In and of itself, VJs or “one man bands” have been around for a while.
My own boss in Connecticut pointed out he had done this at NY1 sometime late in the last century. Small market stations do it all the time to save money.
Early in his career, one of our anchors in Connecticut was a ‘one man band’ in South Carolina. He didn’t relish doing both jobs because he felt he couldn’t concentrate on reporting if he also had to concentrate on shooting.
Having VJs can increase the body count of cameras on the street. Here’s what Michael Rosenblum, the guru of this technique said in an interview at LostRemote.com.
In a typical TV newsroom, there may be 70-100 employees while fielding 5-6 Betacams. This is as insane as having a newspaper with 70 reporters but only owning 5 pencils. The cameras are the pencils — they are the thing we make TV with. The thing that is actually on the air. When you only field 5 camera crews every day, every story must make air. It makes people very conservative. Very nervous. We can’t take risks. We can’t ever fail. Good journalism requires the ability to take a risk and fail from time to time. Creativity requires the ability to take a risk and fail.
I expected this increase in cameras to be what I noticed first. It wasn’t. The difference in what they’re doing in Nashville that hit me has more to do with reporting technique than anything else… and that was the nuance of this concept I missed from Connecticut. They go out to shoot stories differently and certainly go about the editing process differently.
Michael Rosenblum: In 1988, I was a producer with CBS News. But the more I produced TV news in the conventional way, the more I felt like I was involved in some kind of fraudulent activity. Producer, Reporter, Cameraman, Soundman, Editor. There was no way to get close to any character and no way to spend time on any story. So I quit. I bought a small video camera and went to live with a family in a Palestinian Refugee Camp in the Gaza Strip. I stayed there for a month shooting every day. Even though I had been a TV producer for years, I had never touched a video camera before. (Union rules). But it was not hard to learn, and in a few days, I had some pretty good stuff. And by living with the family, 24/7 I got their trust and got a kind of access and intimacy that you just can’t achieve in conventional TV.
I watched 3-4 stories that I know were done by former photographers (one was old enough to be my contemporary!). By and large, they were great. One, about a girl with cancer and her team’s support for her, nearly brought me to tears.
The stories were more personal, more close-up. I was impressed by the better use of natural sound, allowing people to speak their emotions. There was no dropoff in quality from using little DV cameras and laptop edit stations.
I wish I could say I missed the reporter involvement, but I didn’t. I’m not sure one day is enough to make that judgment and high profile reporters can often bring additional weight and credibility to a story.
I didn’t see much hard news done this way and I’m not sure if the technique can work as well. It might be, for harder news, two man crews still offer an advantage.
Watching a few newscasts, I didn’t come off with the feeling that something was different. However, there were differences I would have probably latched onto over time: less repetition and more stories covered from more locations. People complain about repetition and missed coverage now.
Is this the coming trend? Absolutely. There’s no way to hold this back over the long term.
The question will be more how to let it happen. There are unions (I am a member of AFTRA, for instance) and contracts with work rules. No one wants to be squeezed out. No one wants to be marginalized. No one wants to be made less important or earn less money. Certainly no one wants to lose their job.
What is the obligation from company to employee, or employee to company, after a relationship of years or decades?
Though WKRN hasn’t cut back on staff while transitioning to this technology, it has to be something managers and owners look at. Certainly Michael Rosenblum, the force behind all this makes his disdain for our large legacy TV operations known.
This is a trend I will follow with great interest. But, like I said, whether I end up liking it or not, it will come. It can’t be stopped.