Monday, September 01, 2008

Wanted Video journalists - Grensons and Manolo Blahnik 's need not apply


By the time James had picked up his camera, paused to inspect its array of galactic buttons then train his eye on the view finder, the panel of three had pretty much made their mind up.

You can teach a young man to fish, but there must be instinct and curiosity, otherwise all the will in the world will fail to yield a profitable worker.

Holding the camera upside down didn't help either.

It makes you ponder.

It sounds unfair but with 100 more applicants to filter, that will do.

The attractive presenter who entered the fray would probably not have known, but she barely had time to stoop. It was the blahnicks wot done it.

She might have taken a cue from a friend in DC who turned adversity into admiration.

Walking up to the interviewers in her points, she stumbled, toppled over from snapping her heels and immediately remarked to fits of giggles: "Well I made a right heel of that then didn't I ?"

She got the job she wanted and wore sneakers almost all the way through her contract working as a fairly active press officer.

City recruiters hiring for some of the posher traders around London's Thread Needle Street know a thing or two about your footwear.

Your shoes are a mirror into your soul and leather soles ala Grensons and Blahniks say more about your fiscal ambitions and a penchant for the good life. In the emerging world of video journalism, you'd do well with more practicable footwear.

Ones that allow you to show a quick set of heels trailing that rogue defendant outside the courts for a quote.

The beginnings of a multimillion pound industry? Video Journalists aficionados and practitioners gather at the 2006 VJ Awards in Germany. Top upper left corner, David filming the event. For the 2008 awards and submissions go here


Are you a video journalist?
The application says "Video Journalists Wanted" and often lists a string of personal skills, qualifications, knowledge and experience one must exhibit.

" We're looking for reporters who can film and edit", one newspaper editor told me.

"Filming's not so important, we can teach them that, but tenacity and an enquiring mind is what we want" said another at the Press Association's Video Journalism Training camp in Howden.

The criteria is loose - a reporter with the obligatory film skill plug-in.

Of course there's some logic here, but its weak spot lies in assuming the new shiny video journalism training is about re purposing reporters, though understandably many are trained this way.

It may work short term, but for the long term it renders video journalism's where next trajectory stifled.

Managers often believe you can unbox a videojournalist just as you can his or her gear that has just been delivered by UPS.

You could draw an analogy with newspapers making their text available for their print edition and the web.

Until recently, many editors believed, and some still do, that 50 word paragraphs culminating in 2000 word articles that appease city commuters, will equally do for the web.

Step forward Jakob Nielsen, who's been proved right so many times, it's any wonder his name hasn't become a verb. "Can you Jakob that mate? You know make it tighter".

Today, the emerging consensus is different. We read differently on the web compared to the physical print.

It's a fairly level playing field at the moment as most recruiters do a fair bit of groping around for what they actually want.

Plus, really, the terms of employment are for the now, more or less, happening in-house with reporters, designers and photo journalists being trained up.

But it won't always be so.

Just as broadcast networks ask specifics for their reporting, producing and whatever other jobs, and newspaper eds want examples of your clippings before testing your knowledge of Mosley Vs News of the World, Video Journalism will soon get busy.


I made this, but then how could you be sure? 20 second sting for interview with the BBC's Peter Horrocks, Head of News and Multimedia Newsroom.

A showreel illustrating short and long piece and stand up may be a pre-requisite, though as Channel 4 executive Stuart Cosgrove talking about the value of showreel for reporters said to me some time back: "They can be of relative little use, as you've no way of verifying who really made it".

Surely, in today's open-access self policed net, you'd have to go to some lengths to disguise what's yours and what isn't, though you'll always find those driven enough to fake it.

VJ Camera mounted on a weighted pod or manfroto with some practise provides the perfect steady cam effect to provide floating shots for stand ups/ piece to cameras. More from the video journalism Manifesto.


Difference in Video journalism
The two broadly speaking VJ packages call on different strengths: one for fast turn overs, the other for considered, well-honed pieces.

Broadcasters make that distinction within their own parish: the news reporter's 1.20 min package makes them King and Queens of the complex issue turned simplified package, though not everyone makes the cut.


Video journalism circa 1995 from David's archive - a one paragraph note in a civic newsletter prompts David to talk to a local citizen who has won a major battle with her council to remove road humps.

Whilst the doc feature maker is the maestro of the complexity and confusion of the exposition made accessible. Both are as similar as chalk and cheese.

The latter is akin to watching hetero cyclic chemistry breaking down into its constituents on a good edition of hit US drama CSI

Sorry! I remember doing that as Chemistry undergrad: it's left an impression on me for life.

So Video journalism begs schizophrenic quality. Can you do long and short? And are you a natural on screen.

Never mind soon also specialisms will become part of the landscape e.g. Gardening VJ, and Crime VJ to name a few.

Though I'd argue the distinction between whether you're a one or 15 minuter producers appears to me to be less onerous for seasoned video journalists, and for a reason.


A synergistic working relationship exists between photojournalism and video journalism. Here in Germany where video journalism is practised extensively by newspapers and broadcasters, it's easy to spot pieces inspired by a photo journalistic bent, rather than a broadcast one.



Reporter or Camera operator DNA
If you cast around, many of the more prominent video journalists who've made names for themselves most exhibit particular traits.

While front of camera work requires screen confidence which can often lead to the "celeb-ego", behind-camera work is about letting the film speak for itself: style and substance.

It may be a generalisation but most admired VJs place a higher quotient on their film work.

Celebrated one man crew Scott Rensberger would prefer if being on screen wasn't always an ask.

"Sometimes I'd have to go wash, get a new shirt on then get back on location to do the stand up" he told me at the EUs regional TV Summit.

Video Journalists, tend to be comparatively less image conscious: you only have to place the photo journalists in your organisation alongside the reporter to know what I'm talking about.

Either way being humble helps a load, firstly because frankly there is no one descriptive methodology for video journalism packaging, so frankly no one holds the golden fleece. There's technique yes, but a multitude of emerging styles; some good and some, er, leaving room for improvement.

You would not have Spike Lee tell Clint Eastwood he's a rubbish film maker even though they clashed, head's buttin,g over Flags of our Father.

But a fair few VJs enjoy a public scrap over films. Personally, it's just not cricket.

Being humble, the hallmark of veteran media personnel, does not underscore other traits: namely a quiet steely confidence; the self starter; the go-it-alone or team worker who can do marvelous things in the most trying of circumstances.

Being industrious is a huge boon.

After her camera seized to work from shooting a piece in sub zero temperatures, one Channel One Video journalist used a hair dryer to get 5 Min's of work time before the camera sized up again.

How to shoot a piece in 5 Min's?

It's doable just as I'm forced to create a piece from the standard 3 minute EktaChrome cartridge stock from my Nizo Schneider Super 8mm. What a mouthful of a camera!


Vicky and Andy represent the norm for the next generation of video journalists. Formerly both print journalists, after a fruitful period as newspaper video journalists, they've moved over to television, Setanta Sports and Border TV, where the VJ format, particularly in sports, allows for greater creativity and maturation, if so be, into directing long formats and promos. etc. More from the video journalist revolution


Watching out for the nascent video journalist
Asked about books or novels you admire, most of us wouldn't struggle for an answer, citing the novelist to boot.

But questioned over your favourite film and then the director how would you score?

If you're one of those that has to be kicked out of the cinema because you're still reading the credits for the director and DP and Editor, then you're a film buff, even a nascent video journalist.

If you can cite your favourite reporter as well and why, then your Brownie points are on the up.

If you can take a decent photo and know how to bring it alive, then you have the "kwaa".

These might count as identifiers.

To know how to play football, you've got to play football.

"Bo knows football"; he was passionate about what he did and you could tell.

If you're a reporter going into video journalism drop the mac coat and the "reporter alert" halo.

Working low key or even stealth will often bring you better results, if not more verity from the event.

Award winning photo journalist Yannis Kontos is all of 6.4", but appears invisible to his subjects, working so fast and appearing so unassuming, where as the archetypal sound bite set up shot in broadcasting can often eat into your schedule and look staged.

This is a profession that requires getting into the trenches sometimes and getting your hands dirty. There's nothing glamorous about it, even when you're covering the glam stuff like film premiers as Sky's LA correspondent Dionne Clark will tell you when she Vjed Dream Girls for Viewmagazine.tv

Exciting yes. Glamorous uh uh!


At Al Jazeera to see friends, an impromptu interview for a job takes place around me, with managers asking how I might package a report. Often when any new technique fails to confirm a professional's own reporting style it can be dismissed out of hand. Video Journalism interested the managers, but they couldn't see what it might creatively offer.


Recruiting ads and methods differ.
The Telegraph's trainee super reporters go through a rigorous psychometric test, not as their executive put it so they're all the same, "but to eke out different leaders, so even if we get one nutter in there we won't be displeased, we want them to be different".

With the maturity of video journalism, candidates moving about jobs will most likely be required to show a level of creativity and workpersonship ( tis a word?) unknown at present.

Writing here Peter Ralph at Shooting by Numbers commented:

"One thing that has surprised me about the award winning VJ work I have seen is how conservative it is - in aesthetic/stylistic terms. Especially in light of the explosion of creativity in cinematography in TV and the movies.

Unfair to criticize a nascent craft for not pushing the envelope obviously. But without a new aesthetic is VJ condemned to just look cheap? Is innovation
the provenance of the big bucks brigade: Top Gear, John Adams etc?"

FT.com Editor James Montgomery sees this too and acknowledges that in time it'll develop; he wants video journalism at the FT to mirror the standards and style of the newspaper.

And that visual gene is one which will become prevalent amongst many outfits with video journalism at its core.

Only question is what footwear will you wear at your interview?

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Footnote: if you're interested in online teaching as a video journalist instructor for one of the world's most renowned photo agencies and you've the relevant experience drop me a line in early September and I'll pass your details on.

David Dunkley Gyimah is a VJ Trainer who has trained broadcasters and newspapers all over the world since the mid 90s. He is set to consult for FilmMinute - the 1 minute international film festival, which is looking to become the biggest online film festival in the world

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