Saturday, April 19, 2008

Video journalism - what does it take to be one - before and after the web?

South Africa circa 1994. The whole world holds its breath for THE elecction to consign apartheid to the history books.

I'm in South Africa multiskilling, working with ABC News, independent production companies and filing radio reports to the BBC World Service.

I have a hi8 camera and Sony recorder I'm using in the townships in areas like Katlehong described as the murder capital of the world.

Nine months later, a total of 18 months in South Africa, I'll be in London going through the ropes on this new thing video journalism.

We often talk about the tools to become a videojournalist, but what about the qualities?

Back then:

  • Alpha male or female. You needed to be scrapping with national news for stories and the few crews who'd lob insults at you for debasing the craft of TV news making.
  • Passion and a self starter. You had to know how to solve problems, find a way to bring the story in.
  • Some appreciation of journalism - Generally broadcasters including the BBC took newspaper journalists and trained them to become visual. Most of the VJs were at the start of their careers and came from newspapers.
  • People's person. You had to like people and know how to banter to keep an interviewee occupied or open up an interviewer.
  • Tough skin. Had to know how to take (constructive) criticism.
  • Ambitious. It's no coincidence that Video journalists went on to work and are still at the likes of BBC Breakfast, News 24, Sky, BBC London, CNBC.
  • Relentless. We all had pagers and mobile phones and were in regular contact with the office, often filing two stories a day using track and rushes. In one year 500 stories was not uncommon.
  • Fearless, but not reckless. I did night duty for three months starting at 9 p.m. till 9 a.m. On one story in Brixton my car with tripod was broken into and a group of three were after my beta camera.
  • Creative. We did not have archive stock so had to be innovative on feature length stories.
  • Stiickler for facts. You owned your story and needed to be on top of ethics and the law. We were governed by the guidelines of the ITC now Ofcom, which overseas television.

    And what about the qualities today. Much the same I guess with noticeable exceptions.
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