Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Bloviating Owens

I’m fairly positive Howard Owens means well. A newspaper guru and early arbiter of on-line video, he’s made quite a name for himself espousing his medium’s embrace of moving pictures. That’s cool by me; there’s plenty of room for newcomers and the fresh take they bring to visual newsgathering. Trouble is, Owens likes to disparage those of us on the TV side (for what on Earth could we know about telling stories with pictures and sound?). That’s certainly his right, and God knows television news is an easy target - but if Owens wants his intended wisdom to resonate outside his group of converts, he needs to brush up on modern broadcast tactics. Take his recent posturing on why newspapers can beat television stations in online video.

Owens: In large markets, newspapers can equip more reporters with video-capable cameras, and you don’t need expensive cameras to produce good online video; in small markets, TV isn’t going to cover many local stories.

You don’t need expensive cameras to produce good online video, but you do need a certain skill set. Granted, it ain’t rocket surgery - but handing out camcorders to people with only a cursory grasp of the fundamentals will result mostly in noise. Not all will suck, but my money’s on those who already know which end of the lens to point toward the action.

Owens: TV can’t cover a story without sending out a “crew,” which means they cover only stories that they’ve pre-screened as being video worthy, worthy of the time to send a crew out to a location, which means they miss a lot of good stuff that “print” reporters will naturally stumble across — quantity means more choices for online video watchers, which is a distinct and huge advantage.

Monday through Friday, I strike out all by my lonesome to produce news stories that will air later that very day. Most times they do, but if things don’t work it in the field I call my bosses and quickly move on to more fruitful subject matter. I’m not all that unique either. Every sizable market has a couple of journeyman photogs who operate outside the traditional confines. Generally newspapers do have larger staffs, but with more print outlets slashing staffs than ever before - that advantage could quickly erode.

Owens: For newspaper reporters, there is no pre-conceived idea of perfect TV video, so any experiment goes…

If I do have a pre-conceived idea of perfect TV video, its because my resume tape fairly bristles with the stuff. With new deadlines every day, experimentation isn’t always possible, but given the time I’m fairly certain I can best the efforts of that IT schlub who always thought he’d like to direct music videos. TV stations would be smart to follow the newspaper industry’s tactic of unshackling their best photogs from the daily grind while re-thinking expectations.

Owens: Newspaper reporter shooters can give sources a chance to speak for themselves, making the video more personal and more meaningful than what TV will do with the same material.

Why newspaper folk would produce more meaningful stories than those of us with more experience is a great source of mystery. Granted, a fresh perspective can bring new energy to well worn terrain, but new doesn’t necessarily mean good. At my shop, we regularly produce pieces four to six minutes longer than your average news story. This doesn’t always result in better stories, but they certainly are more substantive than the very worst examples Owens likes to trot out.

I don’t know if Owens watches local TV news, but I’d invite him to peruse the websites of medium market stations, who don’t suffer from the rank amateurism of beginner markets or the often frenzied sloppiness of the top TV towns. If he would, perhaps he’d see that - like newspaper video - not all television news is created equal. At my station, we take our craft (but not ourselves) very seriously. While our hearts may not be as pure as all those fine newspaper folk unpacking their new camcorders, I’d put my team of photog-producers up against anyone. Features, investigative, consumer, profile, or late-breaking crime and grime, we do it all - everyday. Most of our work goes on-line as well, though since it also airs during a broadcast, most newspaper folk dismiss it as warmed-over dreck. Most TV photogs however will judge whatever you put in front of them on its merits - not some silly prejudice regarding its origins. We just wish the omniscient print pundits would return the favor.


turdpolisher said...

What a blow-hard!

I've read his tripe before. If he knew half as much as he spouted, he'd be doing rather than bloviating.

Mark Hamilton said...

As a sometimes print pundit I'm more than willing to give props to TV news shooters. ('ll go farther: I wish all you folks actually got on-screen credit for the good work you do.)

An I don't think that the mere fact of more feet on the street is going to give newspaper vid shooters any kind of advantage given the disparity in skill levels.

But I also don't think the model of TV news is the only way to do video storytelling and that's where newspapers do have an advantage: they're not locked into formula and are free to more fully explore video storytelling. I don't know what the situation is in any market other than my own, but what I see night after night is story after story after story old not through the visuals but through the reporter.

If some smart station out there would use the 'net to break out of that formula and let their visual storytellers free (and give them the time), I suspect we'd see stuff that would match and surpass some of the best of the newspaper video storytelling.

John said...

Frankly, Owens is one in a long list of print folk making up theories which all end with them keeping their jobs even if they don't have a clue about how to do the job.

He's writing more for himself than others. Fooling himself with obvious false assumptions which will lead only one direction for him and others like him.


Newspapers are all running towards video and the traditional print folk are desperate to claim they know how to do it better, even though there is not one newspaper which can compete with eyes on video, web or broadcast, compared to the traditional, existing television news outlets.

Let him enjoy his hopes and sit back to watch his predestined failure. He won't be able to avoid it and any concerns and/or corrections from those of us with actual experience will only fall on deaf, arrogant, and soon to be out-of-work, ears.

in-gun-ear said...

I am not a shooter, but being around the industry for some 25 years and TV for 15, and married to an award winning radio journalist (well no supper tonight now I know!) I would LIKE to think I know a LITTLE bit about the news biz and I would LOVE to see Mr. Owens out in the field with a camcorder putting his "theories" in practice. I would wager afterwards, he would be "rethinking" his theories about video storytelling a little.

And many in the print media wonder why the electronic media (aural and visual) look upon them as elite thinking smucks? They can thank Mr Owens and others like him for that.

Oreo said...

I've got to say that I have much respect for those on the radio side of things. I was once featured in a story on NPR about Hurricane Rita, and the reporter did one hell of a job with capturing and editing natural sound. It was like a good TV piece, but without the pictures.

If I could get more of the less experienced among us TV people to realize that the sound is just as important as the pictures, we might actually get better stories from them.

Rusty Shackelford said...

I'm surprised Owens hasn't found and blasted you on your blog yet ... he's got a lot of time on his hands for his blog and I see him popping up wherever his name is mentioned online. Which says a lot about the guy, if you ask me. Howard Owens is all about Howard Owens. He really missed his calling as a blathering cable talk show host who just cannot shut up.

And if you did ask me, a print editor, I'd say that Howard Owens is a confirmed bloviating ass hat with all the social grace of a drunken frat boy. He comes from the original school of blogging, which means his goal is to insult and aggravate to draw attention to himself and his ideas, however he can. It certainly has worked.