An insiders view of VJ’s
Q. “Where do you stand on Video Journalists..?”
Many years ago I would have given a negative response. As a broadcast TV news cameraman and therefore part of a team, I feared for the future as a standalone news cameraman. As a freelancer with my own (very expensive) kit, I figured that the broadcasters would give all the journalists a small camera the size of a baked potato and turn them loose with little training in the finer arts of news photography and filming.
And they did.
For a few years, freelance work took a dip and my worst fears were slowly being realised by the use of wobbly, out of focus, poorly lit shots filmed by journalists who suddenly found themselves on their own with no cameraman. Mistakes were made on a steep learning curve.
Journalists were setting up, filming and editing their own films in a team of one. Some of them took to it like a duck to water, but having spoken to many journalists at that time I found that many were not keen on being VJ’s. They had trained to be TV Journalists, and many didn’t want to film and edit on top of that. Many felt coerced into being something that they didn’t want to be.
Fast forward to today and VJ’s are very much a force in the broadcast news industry. However, so am I. So are a lot of the cameramen and women who were there before the so called VJ revolution. Those that are good at being a VJ and cope well with what that entails get on with it. They have become good at what they do, but those that can do it well are very few and far between in TV news broadcasting.
Those that didn’t get on so well with being a VJ still do it, but only when really necessary or the news producers freelance budget is running low. Even the good VJ’s tell me that they still prefer on most occasions, to be working with a cameraman. They tell me on a regular basis that it frees them up to concentrate on being a good journalist and to get the story right without the hang ups of trying to concentrate on filming, sound and other tv news logistics.
Without doubt, the VJ is here to stay and even grow a bit more as broadcasters and publications struggle in an era of budget austerity. I do however think that the TV news cameraman will not go away, despite the protestations of the likes of Micheal Rosenblum, who believes that we are dead in the water, along with big newsrooms. He’s been saying it for years that everything can be done on an iphone, but we are still here. Not just me, but most of the cameramen and women I knew when I started in this industry in 1997 are still working… Regularly.
We are still here because working as a team still works. A journalist and a camera operator is still the best way of news gathering for the TV news. Not the cheapest, but the best. Cheap shouldn’t mean change.
But i have learned over the last 6 or 7 years that the VJ is also a good and necessary tool in the industry. In cost terms alone, and efficiency of purpose. Small, cheap high quality cameras and laptop based edit software are everywhere. Hell, you CAN even film the news on an iPhone if you’re good enough to do it, but the situation must be amenable to filming with one. I no longer have a problem with it.
Most people who work in the TV news industry will tell you that most newsgathering situations are not amenable to filming with an iphone. Good sound must be a consideration for a start. But enough of the iphone bollocks…
The kit isn’t the problem. The idea of VJ’s aren’t a problem. I will use the best piece of filming gear I have to get the job done. I will work and gather the news on my own. I have done it before and i will do it again. The problem I have with the VJ concept is the fact that 1 person is doing the job of 2 or 3 people, but that’s down to new technology and the ease of its use. It’s sharper, quicker, cheaper and is inevitable that one person can do it easily, but that doesn’t mean that they should.
Here is my gripe… I worked in a mid level newsroom for two weeks solid a while back. The journalists were all VJ’s and the newsroom was run on a VJ model. (And still is.) Most of them I observed over that period were constantly knackered. Always on the go during long hours of producing, researching, writing, filming, travelling and editing. Every day. They didn’t have time to talk or be sociable and ate their lunch at the edit suite or in the car. They looked stressed. They looked tired. They had to do it again the next day and the next. I knew from asking them that family life was erratic.
I wouldn’t want to see most of them in 5 or 10 years time. Burnout. Lack of enthusiasm creeping in for a job that gives them no enjoyment, time to be creative or the time to produce something outstanding by concentrating on one aspect of work. They crank out the news, day after day. Many of them I know only wanted to be a journalist, not a cameraman or editor. I know many who feel that having to VJ stands in the way of being able to grow into a damn fine TV journalist.
New technology, its ease of use and cheap production methods doesn’t mean that this is the way TV news should be done. Newsrooms however, are run on ever diminishing budgets.
In my opinion, the biggest and most noticeable change in our industry is not how, or by whom the news was gathered, that is now a side issue. It is the speed with which the information gets out. The desire to be first and the quickest.
You only have to look at the last big international story (Boston bombings) to see the outpouring of crap on the Internet via Twitter, forums and other online outlets. The internet and social media is the way a great many people now get their daily news fix.
True journalism gets buried in a pile of shite based around the desire to be the first to tweet the latest supposition or snippet of YouTube User Generated Content. (UGC) Newspapers can be the worst offenders, but TV news is rapidly catching up in the spreading of bullshit, misinformation, rumour and get it out there quick journalism. Worse still, news outlets with a political bias or agenda.
TV news and the process of making it are now technology driven. I believe though that it is the speed of breaking and sharing news, not the VJ concept, that is to the detriment of good TV journalism and newsgathering standards.