Sunday, October 25, 2009

Videojournalism - I'm not the camera guy

Memo from Director of Programmes after leaving the UK's first and only Videojournalism- driven programme

The phone call from the news desk gave the location. An event- an accident - and could you make into a package.

The package is the unit of a broadcast report comprising different interviews and locations. Then there were other times, usually an event of such insignificance that I'd wrestle how and what I would do with it.

Two things emerged. If you're a broadcast or newspaper manager who's never packaged yourself as a videojournalist then you ought to. Videojournalism does not start or finish with news gathering.

Camera men and women have their own gripes, within the pool room. Slow news days can be torturous as another "cat in the tree" story emerges.

Fifty grands worth of camera gear, a remortgaged house, years of experience and it boils down to this.

Reporters too often don't get off lightly. At some point you will begin to curse your manager's ineptitude at planning that story. Another "cat in the tree" package.

It's not that you wouldn't want to show moggy being rescued by the fire services, but that "cat in the tree" is a metaphor and even when it is the real deal, there are only so many ways you can package this singularity without seemingly adopting a supercilious tone or being cliche-ridden.

Years on the job and you're still stuck with: .." and so as Molly the cat is lured into the arms of his anxious owner to applause, due credit to Notts firefighters. Molly may be safe now, but she truly has lost one of her many lives".

Groan! Next time a friend stops you in the pub to say how exciting your job is you can tell em to go blow.

The bad luck of videojournalism
Videojournalism gets it in the neck even worse. That's because to management you're life's stenographer: a lonesome, couldn't cut it as a camera operator, working minimum wage.

When it comes to chasing ambulances, you're the person with the bright orange cap. Your manager will dump on you, the camera crew have found the person who's going to take all the drudge stories, and the reporting team can walk tall knowing, "you get Molly next time".

These circumstances are not. But the present predicament stems from the misnomer classifying videojournalism; that it's cheap and a poor substitute of television.

You're not a real journalist, they'll say. Laugh loud now because soon you won't be able to.

Think it through. You want to become a film making. In the past you researched, associate-produced, produced, produced/directed, directed a series, waved goodbye to executive producing, then sought out your first independent film.

Now, you research with the caveat you must be able to use a camera, then you associate produce with the use of a camera, then if you're lucky you're made a videojournalist. Then you're stuck there for life.

Forget the idea you have producer qualities. To management you're rapid deployment. Don't think, do. So, OK there are a kerzillion ways of becoming a film maker, but many will have recognised the aforementioned route with the odd changes here and there.

Videojournalism's stuructural flaws
Videojournalism doesn't come with a career structure. As yet there's no such thing as a senior videojournalist, chief or maestro videojournalist. Once you're known as the guy or gal with the camera, every walking zombie of a piece of so-called-news is yours to be sent off to scavenge and make sense of.

Most outfits still understand when to use the big band and when the trio with the synthesisers can take centre stage. The BBC for instance does not let its videojournalists ambulance-chase.

Yep that's official so I'll say it again: no ambulance chasing.

Sky News recognise videojournalism, but won't be using it any time soon, with minor exceptions for particular projects. Yep that's official as well. I got that last week visiting Sky.

The best videojournalists often have backgrounds as camera operators or photographers and for that you'll be equipped with a technical proficiency that most can only wonder about.

White balancing, black balancing, back focus, light rigging, reds, blondes, may be terms that are a little unfamiliar and without the prospect of interchangeable lenses, you're not quite in the league of camera operators. That much they'll tell you. That much I always got told in the early days circa 1994.

Truth is if you had your way, why would you want to be called a videojournalist? The most recent tweet I RTed from @yemisiblake was "The art of photography is imagining. It’s very related to poetry. Suggestive and fragmentary."

I then suggested film and videojournalism be added.

Where do you want to be
There's never going to be a consensus. Videojournalism will for a forseeable time be the low hanging fruit. I don't work in the news machine any more, so I can naively state my luxuries.

And for me, man or woman with a movie camera is an artistic practice; a multidisciplinary agent which if used well can yield high gains. And artistry requires motivation and intelligent perception of what the outcome should be.

That's the message in the Zero Principle.

Sadly, we're a long way from where we want to be, yet and by dint of having a camera,will still be asked to grab footage of Molly the cat before she loses another life.


Videjournalist David Dunkley Gyimah is an artist in residence at the South Bank Centre