The OJR’s hatchet job on VJs

Mark Glaser’s normally astute and insightful series of articles for the Online Journalism Review (OJR) is interrupted this week by a hostile, opinionated, and outrageously inaccurate wiki treatment of the most divisive issue confronting TV newsrooms — the idea of using Video Journalists (VJs) instead of all two-person crews. This is beneath the quality of that publication, and I sure hope the finished product turns out to be a little more balanced than this hatchet job.

But, hey, it’s there, so here’s what I submitted in response to the ongoing saga:

In the BBC model, the newsrooms are hybrids with VJs and two-person crews. Why the either/or mentality exists is simply a matter of ignorance and fear.

The term “one-man band” is exclusively pejorative when used by anybody at the worker level in TV newsrooms. It doesn’t belong in this discussion, because the baggage implied doesn’t apply.

The argument that two people can “do better” than one is specious and irrelevant. The same two people — WITH TWO CAMERAS — can outperform any crew with one. It’s a matter of splitting roles and teamwork.

The arguments about two-person crews working better in the current news environment presupposes that this is the way it “should” be. I would add to the argument that viewers have been voting with their remotes for the past decade that this ISN’T the way it “should” be. Talk to people who don’t watch anymore. Not only don’t they give a shit that you’re using two-person crews, they can’t stand what you’re doing with them. Everything about our systems is designed to create a consultant-driven homogeneity of a “scare the crap out of ’em,” run and gun, spot news frenzy that people see right through for its marketing realities. Arguing that what we do is what a shrinking audience wants is ridiculous.

The argument that greedy management is obsessed with making money is a little like arguing that a robin is obsessed with worms. Like, welcome to the planet, man.

Finally, the people who shout the loudest about Michael Rosenblum have never met the man or heard his vision in its entirety. The vilification of this guy absolutely amazes me, especially coming from people in a newsroom, for crying out loud. If there is a place on earth where ideas can and should be discussed, it’s a newsroom. It’s truly sad.

I know everybody involved in the wiki, so I’m very interested in what they have to say. It’s interesting to note who’s been excluded from the conversation, however, the VJs! Or how about somebody from the BBC?

And finally, I haven’t a clue as to the purpose of including the Travel Channel show in Mark’s original “story.” WTF does that have to do with the idea of VJs in a newsroom? Nothing. It’s just another vehicle for taking a cheap shot at Rosenblum, and he doesn’t deserve it.

(Ongoing disclosure: WKRN-TV is a client of mine.)

Comments

  1. Terry,

    As you know I’m participating in the wiki, despite still being rather torn over Rosenblum’s proposal. Michael has taken alot of heat on-line, mainly from those frightened at being replaced by VJ/s. I personally don’t think it’ll ever get that far.

    Rosenblum (who has yet to sound in on the wiki, I believe) has held his own on b‑roll.net and endured lots of unneeded venom. That’s regrettable, but no real surprise, as the VJ idiom strikes at the very core of the personality-soaked, star-making machine that local television has evolved into. I’m not saying it’s right, but there you have it.

    We probably both agree that our industry is played-out and in dire need of a revolution. I’d love to think the solo-newsgatherer will be at the forefront of that change but so far, Rosenblum and WKRN have left me reluctantly unsold. Perhaps that will change. I’m certainly open to hearing more.

    BTW, thanks for your thoughtful answer to my question the other week. It meant alot.

  2. Stewart
    I am down in Nashville for the next few weeks. You are not that far away. Why don’t you come down one of these days and take a look at what is going on, talk to the VJs and the staff and see their work. I think it will help put you over the line.
    best
    Rosenblum

  3. Terry, I know you know this, but for those who don’t, lets not forget that “one man banding” is something that has been around for a very long time. Like many others in the TV news busines, I lugged around some large and heavy equipment (old generation cameras, tape decks and tripods) for a number of years while reporting in small markets, before working in markets where the stations hired photographers and editors. Those who are forced to “one man band” may not like it at the time, but for those who must do it for a time, they become better journalists as a result.

  4. There have been historic, uncomfortable moments in broadcasting before and expanding the VJ movement will undoubtedly be another. All of this pre-judging of the final product and ill-informed assumptions on processes is such a waste of energy.

    From what I have seen/heard thusfar, no one involved has sprouted horns or had a red ‘VJ’ tatooed on their forehead. If I were on the side of the aisle where opposing voices seem to be loudest, I would be more fearful of answering the question, “What if this actually works and people start watching the TV news again?”

  5. The rampant villification of Rosenblum isn’t called for — but there are two truths herer that cannot be ignored. For actual newsgatjering — finding facts, not much pix, VJs as an everyday model are a huge step back. You can’t be digging for background on the serial arsonist when you’re shooting the firefighters putting out the flames. And — theory aside, no station is embracing VJs in order to send two, camera-equipped VJs to the same story. Ain’t gonna happen. So — in the REAL world, the J part of the equation will suffer. Same argfument applies to Rosenblum’s claim that in NAshville VJs will now only ned to turn out 1.5 stories a week and there will be room to assign iffy stories that can be junked. Again — c’mon. The financial imperative that rules newsrooms says otherwise. Can a few VJs be employed as part of a larger traditional operation for specific purposes (WHICH IS WHAT THE BBC REALLY DOES) — sure. Groundbreakinks, trafic accidents, etc — or ‘inside the life’ features, etc. But as a main newsgathering tool, they will save money and produce inferior journalism.

  6. Terry,
    Sorry you see this as a hatchet job. I think I’ve given ample room for Rosenblum and others to voice their opinions and give their side. In fact, I’m allowing Rosenblum the chance to actually edit the entire story before it’s final — including giving him the last word. In this case, I don’t really feel that there’s a “winner” and “loser” but that this is a gray issue where VJs might provide a new way of doing things without being the revolution they are advertised as being.

    As for the Travel Channel content, I believe it’s relevant because they are selling that series as a new, cheaper way of creating entertainment television. If that relates even in the least to the way news will be “reinvented” then it’s on the table, in my mind, and something to be watched very carefully and criticized when it’s bad or formulaic. Watch the series yourself and tell me otherwise.

  7. Terry,
    Great comments. Manpower issues have not been discussed beyond the point of who has the camera.
    I was one of those loudmouth Photographers who never could seem to keep his mouth shut. If I thought of a question I asked it. I did not whisper it to my reporter. Many times it appeared that I was better informed than the wisp of a reporter sent with me. During my Chattanooga period (WDEF-TV 90–93) It was often amusing to see and hear my question becoming the lead angle on all three stations! GReasy, slimeball photog and live shot monkey wins one for the working stiffs!
    I do not give a damn who asks the question. I care about what the response is. Too often I have been in the press gangs where not one fat butted reporter has asked the obvious,“Why is the emperor nekkid?” We were given brains and expected to use them. As a photographer/ soundman, I was trained to listen to what was being said. Too often our reporters are not trained in listening to what is being said. Too many times reporters could not accurately transcribe bites. WOrds would be put into what someone said and tempers would flare. Not good for the blood pressure nor the audience for which we are the most humble of servants in a noble profession.
    In early 91, I boldly suggested as a sweeps story a photo essay from the photographers as part of the entire sweeps package. It was a hit and while we had some really dumb stuff we also had great nat sound pieces that told the story in the words of people who live it every day. They spoke from the heart. No fancy words here.
    I have continued to do this one man band style to this day and it helped me earn a Master’s degree. As a one man band you have to think as a Visual/audio Producer and writer. You can not just seek the perfect shot or sound blip. You actually have to tell a story.
    I think the larger issue facing the use of one man bands is one of
    rethinking the newsroom model as we have it today.
    If a story is large enough, then yes, two man crews are mandated. A major fire and casualties certainly would pull in additional resources. But where are your field producers? I firmly believe that producers need to be out in the field as often as possible. They can pull in the file video, make the phone calls and direct the coverage. Few of them do that at many stations. These producer positions are a level in between the field crews and the audience. If you are going to get the possible use of your one man band crews then on a big story you need that extra pair of hands. How many of us photogs would commandeer family members, girlfriends, boyfriends, cops, and firefighters when we needed help?
    So there are situations in which it will be useful for newsrooms to have a producer who can assist in the field on a story.
    What one man bands are forcing our industry to do is to rethink how we are structuring our management.
    Not Every Photographer is comfortable with asking questions and not every reporter is comfortable taking pictures. But news gathering is not about comfort. it is about bringing the audience to the story.
    I agree with the sentiments on the swipe at VJ BAshing in the earlier column. It’s relevance to newsgathering was specious at best. Given my own personal disgust at such entershit falsity I am not a neutral observer on that small point. But I think the more important issue here is that the quantity and quality of items of note needs to be increased. IF using one man bands does that Go for the top!
    Will be following this discussion fairly closely as I plan on using this technique of story telling to teach English in China this year. It’s a terrific way for a person to gain confidence and learn about the language while having a real product to show for the effort.
    Keep Up the Good Work.

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