Pro video blog…Produced by Philip Johnston DoP/Editor


The last few weeks have been taken up with the YES, NO vote in Scotland so I decided to see if the independent model within our own industry fits a similar criteria, in other words does independence lead to a better quality of programming.

I take the BBC as an example because it is run out of London and has many stations throughout the UK versus the smaller independent company profile in this case based in Scotland.


Lets start with news…The BBC have moved down the path of VJs which are self shooting reporters while the independent company like myself have a cameraman, sound man\assistant and reporter and come supplied with the latest technology. On health a safety alone the independent approach is far safer even in this case (below) we have a cameraman, reporter and assistant.


The independent approach within news offers a safer environment and in most cases a better end result because the person behind the camera is a professional camera person giving the client far greater confidence during the shoot.

On the other hand the BBC are “streamlining” their resources for daily news, cutting corners to the extent that health and safety is now being breeched in a daily basis…why ?

Video Journalists don’t have anyone looking out for them…safety in numbers…nor their equipment, they have to rely on a single bag of kit, camera and usually a lightweight tripod.

I as an example have spare mics, radio and shotgun, cables, lights, sturdy carbon fibre Miller tripod and usually a portable OLED Sony SDI monitor if I use an LED panel light I also have lighting sand bags for the legs, this level of kit cannot be afforded by a single operator.


Channel 4 news sent us up to the Scottish Labour Conference during March this year to get an interview with Chuka Umunna this was recorded in HD and output in SD to a satellite truck, I had to configure the camera via the menu to output SD, VJs do not work at this level of sophistication.

Right away the independent news scenario gives extra employment, better standard of filming and a safer environment to work in.

Ah but the broadcasters are all using XDCAM camcorders, Scottish Television have only recently replaced their (DVCPRO) with Sony PMW-400’s which are now being superseded this week with the new PXW-X500.


Scottish Television had their DVCPRO camcorders for just under 20 years, now some may say that was a testimony to Panasonic but it’s the broadcast mentality …run the kit into the ground, this attitude only leads to a poor end result with kit that soon becomes unreliable.

The indépendant freelance market replace their camcorders at least once every 2-3 years giving the client the best and most up to date reliable kit.

One last thorny topic I will cover is if you own your own kit you are ten times more likely to look after it and make sure everything it spot on the night before a shoot…like renting in general if the kits not yours you are far less likely to care about a camera if you have not had to spend 10K upwards to buy one…sad but true.


During the Commonwealth Games this year I noticed this newspaper journalist using an iPad to interview the Renick sisters but as you can plainly see its a very impersonal way to interview someone.

Newspapers are fighting to get content on their websites no matter how…send someone to a presser and come back with pics and a half baked interview, this is worst than a VJ, at least the VJ has had some training.

How could the independent media sector help the “no money” newspaper, by getting better video content for their web pages, we are set up to film, edit and upload.

Not one newspaper has ever approached me to enquire about video content yet we are the obvious first port of call they insist on making 3rd rate video footage and complain when no one spends time on their web space.

That’s just two examples of how independent producers excel in filming content for news but news is a small part of a big production marketplace but also proves the point that if you want quality rather than quantity the independent model is the better road to go down.


Having been working in the video business since 1988 I have amassed a great amount of knowledge of both the kit and production values over the last 30 years.

8 thoughts on “The independent model in Media Coverage

  1. I think the root problem is the general population does not appreciate quality reporting.

    This includes the quality of the reporting and the quality of the video/sound.

    Corporate ads are another thing entirely.

  2. I couldn’t agree more about local newspapers and video content. I produce video reviews of new cars and have tried to syndicate video content to newspaper websites (which could then attract sponsorship and advertising). The videos were, apparently, very appealing, but paying anything for them wasn’t.

    HDW : Newspapers are very short sighted animals but in your case get someone to sponsor the video then you can add their name through the footage and give it away for nothing.

  3. Most of this revolves around costs, as it’s far cheaper to send out a single “VJ” style reporter than a 3 person camera crew plus reporter.

    The one big difference between these models is that the independent crew won’t get hired again (and might even be sued by their client) if they F-up the shoot, while for the broadcaster it’s all water under the bridge.

  4. I tend to agree that the ‘VJ’ does not have very much technical knowledge and to most of them the camera is more of a hindrance than a help, most if you speak to them will admit to having been forced down that route by employers keen to save a buck or two, unfortunately the general current perception of news footage is that content is better than quality, therefore an i-pad will do. It doesn’t help either that some of these i-pad toting wonder kids truly cannot see the difference.

    Just the other week at an Edinburgh Fringe launch event, I had to help the STV VJ, armed with a Sony Z5E, (set to SD mode) sort out her audio feed as she’d no idea why the supplied audio line feed wouldn’t work with the camera’s audio input set to ‘+48v mic’. STV would rather send this level of experience to a flagship event, and send it’s actual news crews to stand outside a court room all day waiting to do a live down the line MCU of a reporter, for some strange reason.

    As for multi operative news crews ? I haven’t worked in or seen one since the mid 90’s, maybe they do still exist somewhere, most probably not in ENG though.

  5. I agree with what you are saying but, if the average viewer is getting what they want (and pay for) then isn’t the model working?

    HDW : Owen if I take your synopsis lets train monkeys to film news, better still you don’t have to pay them…standards are poor lets not drop them any further. The only people pushing your propaganda are accountants (bean counters) who don’t give a monkey about quality.

  6. But is the average viewer complaining about quality? Maybe they are, I have no idea, just curious.

  7. Hello, the affair is similar in Euskal Herria (Basque Country). People wants to see good videos in the newspapers online editions, but they don´t like to pay. The philosophy of “everything free” has been, and is, a disaster for videojournalists. Lonng live to free Scotland!

  8. I am with Owen .. it may be the average viewer simply does not care.

    If that is the case then no point faulting the BBC.

    Those of us who like to put out quality work may need to find a different audience who appreciate quality.

    My grandmother used to say “you can’t make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear”

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