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.