Wednesday, August 06, 2008

After a Career in Video Journalism Part III - The Crunch

Make no bones about it the Video Journalism crunch will appear some time.

The market place has simply expanded too fast, exploded beyond anyone's perception that the pro (paying) sector of this new industry will need a "correction".

In part market forces will play a role as newspapers start to level out costs.

Those making video because their rivals are will find reasons to trim back; something's got to give.

The advertising cake will only allow for so many cuts.

So whilst the 90s held to an arcane system, the TV industry treating VJs as lepers: "They didn't understand TV enough" one ITNer said, today the concept is welcomed with open arms.

On the one hand creating a new tier of news makers is a mightily good thing, on the other hand it could quite easily create a false sense of our own worth.

VJ: "Yeah I'm a VJ"
EXEC:"So how much do you bench?"
VJ:"4 minutes average, 40 views"

Furthermore, what's the point of producing a new breed of journalists, if their modus operandi and news agenda coverage mirrors that of old.

Regional newspaper publisher Northcliffe takes the above point in attacking the BBC for its pending launch of hyper regional online TV, claiming the BBC will not add any new value to what existing newspapers are already doing online.

The greatest travesty to video journalism is how narrowly it's being used to chase what might be construed as traditional stories or that it's used to produce material in a tried, yet tired format.

One of the most powerful yet overlooked models for video reportage would be to marry Pew Centers late 90s discursive insight into news gathering in Civic Journalism with Video Journalism.

Le Crunch
The VJ crunch will get managers thinking in different ways.

While TV does Mipcom and Vegas selling formats, only a few newspapers focusing on cross content, will sleep well knowing their product has legs: the triple play, Online, TV and mobile.

What happens when you launch your piece? If it's not exactly peripatetic, well...

The badge of video journalism, should be one of the most envious from other professionals and in the 90s it held that ambivalent monocle.

Journalists might ridicule it, but quite a few envied the format's independence.

Where else would a journalist have so much power to craft a piece from start to finish.

Standing on the college green, next to the Houses of Parliament interviewing politicians, one news maker openly remarked how envious he was that we could pick and choose who we wanted to shoot without the wait.

Video journalists, by default, are the decathletes of modern media. That's not a boast for supremacy, just as a decathlete would deem to be no more superior than a 100m sprinter.

It's comparing apples and pears. But the myriad skillset is a pre-requisite to doing extraordinary things.

Rather tongue in cheek if you could apply the talents of a decathlete in a survival game: run, hurdle, long jump that river, pole vault that fence, visualise that escape route, that would be something.

Similarly, a VJ should be able to read this: "Entry into Guantanamo Bay has been allowed, but you will not be able to interview detainee and many areas will be off limits" and see the film unfold.

This was the basis of Bachenheimer's award winning report

Better still, as the visual theme for your film starts to go belly up because the authorities aren't being so cooperative when you get there, plan B, C, D and so on should kick in.

There's no opportunity here to ring up the programme producer; the director; or camera operator and ask for help.

Small wonder that some of the best Video Journalist's I have come to know, also shoot long format, commercials and docs.

The Channel One trait
Inset pic VJ Julius Ceaser, 1994, now a top Ecomomics presenters at the BBC
The new crop of VJs that sprang onto the market in 1994 attempted to buck the notion that you could be a jack of all trades and master of all.

But short termism almost got in the way. Many of the VJs from Channel One could have done away with the hierarchy of TV making, but then had to eat pie.

At Channel One's demise, many went into television.

Few of us would practise VJ any more.

If VJ had given anything it was was a lingua franca to speak to different sectors of the production process.

Could you pull focus? Could you L cut that and crush the blacks? Your inflexion stress is on the wrong word.

Editors, camera operators, and reporters, now had a singular interpreter that could translate geek speak for everyone to understand.


In turn, Channel One's ex VJs got back into the hub of mixing ideas, exchanging views and learning from others.

The editor's editor, the producer's producer, the reporter's reporter, if any became your friends you knew you were strengthening your hand.

If you got to work with Charles Wheeler, Bruce Goodison or Paul Greengrass and scores of other talent, Christmas had arrived.
Note: (Paul Greengrass ( Bourne films) was a Producer on ITV's World In Action - an incredible current affairs show. Bruce Goodison is one of the UK's most talented documentary/film directors and the Late Charles Wheeler, a reporter was unsurpassable)
That's not to say as a VJ you need TV for validation, but you did, I felt and still do, need somewhere to replenish and swap ideas.

Video Journalism's current overlooked problem is it's become a one-size-fits-all.

You can be a VJ in the US, the UK or in Australia with altogether differing standards but hold firm views as a master video maker, though other territories might think you're pants.

If you "cross the line" in the UK, you'll get slated in the US. Nice huh!

In the UK if you're picture rather than chronological, eyebrows are raised.

These two observations are generalisations, but they show how TV's umbilical chord is nurturing video journalism. Good thing... bad thing?

Curiously communities of film makers, amateur or otherwise see creativity as integral to the script. Perhaps it's because film is working a more matured language.

As yet there are not nearly enough evangelists, though Rosenblum, Halstead, Streich, are up there.

And if I have unintentionally left your name out, apologies, but do correct me, the above list is a snap shot of those who have contributed by organising awards.

Also, something that perhaps needs looking at, there is no professional bodies safeguarding the interests of the movement, if that's what it is - a movement - and why should there be you might argue.

TV may have it's director and camera's guild, but VJ's, well don't be stoopid.

It's not serious news making is it?

But that's the rub.

How can Video Journalism begin to measure it's own success?


Yes! So when the ONA says it's setting up a VJ award that should be applauded.

When concentra hold their yearly VJ bash, we should all celebrate and when Sabine Streich dares to be the first to want to celebrate this new art form as she did in 2002 with her now acclaimed Video Journalism award, throw her own medal.

Awards at very least expose strengths and weaknesses.

It makes us privy to different genre, varying attitudes which in turn should lead to a healthy debate amongst practitioners.

So when Michael Rosenblum attempts to build an agency along the lines of Magnum for VJs, throw him a medal too.

Video Journalism where next?
Moby, a one-man band experimental musician, much like video journalism interviewed by David in Washington.
Surely we can have no idea of the potential of Video journalism, it's only a toddler or to the first wave, a teenager.

It may suffice as status quo video news.

And just as the front page photograph is bold and arresting, embedded video - though I had my own take at the Batten Awards - may become a standard, but it's the content of the film and its execution which will lead us to consider video journalism is a killer app.

Truth, though Vjism was a the moment it hit the market.

Video Motionists
If you've been shooting for more than you care to remember you possibly occupy this rarefied ecosystem of seeing sequences unfold before you.

Human movement becomes particle physics.

You've probably acquired that sixth sense of marrying film, light, music and dialogue that makes you the Kitano Takeshi of Video Journalism.

Japanese multi talented film maker Takeshi is renowned for shooting three times as many scenes as other film makers, because he works so fast and often shoots one take.

Video journalism is in fact a misnomer, because at some point you're a DV film maker, a latter day Dogme.

But for the genre to push it needs to be allowed to be creative, make mistakes, test shoot, reinvent itself, do to for video what film makers do for film or the Moby, with his multiple synthesisers does for music.

It needs a coming together of idea sharing; it needs a mixing of different formats and it requires stake holders, distributors, young people to take ownership.

When video journalism first arrived on British shores in 94, courtesy of Rosenblum it had ambitious ideas.

It was not television, but at every turn executives tried to make it so.

Video journalism is the spoken word of TV or to pad out that analogy, it's the language e.g. English you'd learn from native speakers and not from a book.

Chinese visitor with English translation book: "Very nice to meet you. Please indicate how I get to Harrods edifice"?
Spoken word translation: "Hello there, where's Harrods?"

Video journalism is contemporary parlance that organically develops and it's still developing.

Maybe, it actually needs a crunch to sort that out.

Tomorrow, Video Journalism's new Art

David started his career for the BBC in 1987 before turning to Vjsm in 94. Years later he went back into TV: Channel 4 News, BBC Breakfast News and Politics programme PowerHouse, and then returned to Vjism with a passion.

If you'd like to to book David for talks, drinks, reminiscence- damn it - about them days, email him before he gets really boring.

Versions of the last post with video are on

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