Monday, January 05, 2009

Open Letter to Photogs Everywhere...

It's early 2009 and Michael Rosenblum is once again vexing the Photog Nation. The man who wants to take the 'crew' out of news crew has long been a pariah among the sore shoulder set; his contention that visual data can be better gathered by tricked-out soloists than trained specialists has made him the most hated man in TV news scrums. Now he's offering a 15 thousand dollar prize for the best news story gathered by a crew of one and he's opening it up to classic news shooters everywhere. Why, the nerve! Anyway, at the risk of incurring the wrath of my fellow photogs, I'm saring my own conflicted feelings - if only because a hero of mine called me out. Sorry if it's too much inside baseball, I'll move on to something cuddlier tomorrow...
Normally, I’d sit out these Rosenblum discussions, if only because I’m so torn when it comes to the man and his message. See, Rosey’s a salesman, a thinker, and something of a demagogue. I may not agree with everything he says, but I find him endlessly entertaining and welcome the opportunity to one day knock back a few highballs with the diminutive man in back who’s become B-roll’s Most Wanted. I suppose that makes me a heretic in may of your eyes. I can live with that. I can also live with the fact that what Rosenblum peddles strikes fear and loathing in the hearts of so many photogs. He’s openly derided your methodology, held you up as all that’s wrong with modern-day broadcasting and earned some righteous coin at your ( and my) expense. But if you scrape away the conjecture and sales pitch, you might find that the man has a point.

VJ’s are nothing new. Any of us who framed our own stand-ups back in the 80’s (or earlier) can attest to that. But while TV newsrooms have always utilized the occasional solo-newsgatherer, collaboration between drama queen and A/V geek have been the preferred method. This is a good thing, I suppose. Most of the best television news has been produced by a crew of at least two. That, however was then; this is now. Ever shrinking fancycams and the twin tubes of the internet are changing everything we know about local news. Throw in a faltering economy and you have the perfect storm, an uncontrollable maelstrom that may very well flatten whole affiliates in its path. Thus, we’d look as foolish dismissing the VJ continuum as those lacquered, logoed nimrods we strap to hotel balconies and count backwards to cue.

There are many, many pros on this board who - with the assistance of pretty partners - make far more elegant TV than me. From their lofty spots, they view the solo-idiom as nothing short of blasphemy. I get that - and no more wish to engage them in debate than I wish to make a star out of yet another sorority chick. What I am concerned with is the mindset of the next generation. I work with some younger photogs who feel they can point, shoot and nod off ‘til someone tells them otherwise. I worry for them, for that ain’t gonna cut it for very much longer. Likewise, I’m concerned for the junior shooters who gather here and nod in agreement while village elders paint Rosenblum as evil incarnate. That’s an incredible disservice to young men and women who will never know what it’s like to have a soundman, a live truck operator or even a reporter to bounce ideas off of.

Rather, they take everything expressed here with a huge shaker of salt - or better yet log off altogether and get busy adding to their skill-set. I’m no towering authority, but I’d be happy to share what little I know. Better yet they can consult the latest CNN photogs’ product and see how the cable pros are doing it. For that you see, is the brightest version of the future I’ve seen: journeyman photogs using full-sized cameras to create lens-centric stories that have absolutely nothing to do with cheesy talent cut-aways. That’s the kind of news I want to be and part of; it’s the kind of news I already produce. It may not be your idea of a perfect product, but it damn sure beats carting around some failed actor more concerned with their glossy head-shots and latest escape tape than whatever the subject of their story has to say.

Wanna work in TV news ten years from now? You ain’t gotta be a VJ, but you damn sure better learn to do more than look good in a fishing vest. At my shop, we have quite a few attractive ladies who can melt a teleprompter at fifty paces, along with some truly brilliant photojournalists. To one degree or another, all are worried about what the future will soon bring. Not me - I’m too busy making myself invaluable by working harder than I have to. If that bugs you, know that I’m protected by the fact that - deep down inside - I don’t give a shit what anyone thinks - but I do like how I feel at the end of the day, when -win, lose or suck, how my package looks is solely on me.

As for contests, meh - I’ve always found them a bit distasteful. I know too many shooters (some - not all) who doctor their product after the fact, then otherwise phone in their performance whenever their assignment of the day falls short of shiny mantle trinket status. Feeling that way makes me no better than them; I just get my kicks elsewhere. That said, 15 Grand will buy an awful lot of Happy Meals and were I not so very, very slack when it comes to pulling together my efforts of yore, I might even enter myself. Probably not, though. After all, I got blog posts to write...


Chris said...

Unfortunately, he does have a point. Not being a photog (I am the pointy head engineer type) I have little to add regarding the technical merits of one man band vs crew. What I can say is look around. If your station is anything like mine, the days of an engineer driven truck, cozy and waiting at the live location with your cable strung, are long gone. Gone with the tape-ops, gone with the ever shrinking floor crew, gone with the rooms of "I only edit" editors, gone with "press only" days at the zoo and museums.

I can't wait to see what TV turns into, I just hope I still have a job when it gets here.

turdpolisher said...

Wewll said slinger. . .and Chris.

These days yo gotta do more than just shoot. Anyone in the biz longer than a week knows that. It just ain't always easy hearing it from someone like Rosey.

His ideas are sound, even if his methods suck. Just wish I had thought of it first. Maybe I'd be pulling in that righteous coin.

Miami Fan said...

Well written SP.

You once again prove you are a thinking man with talent.

Thanks for sharing your valuable insights.

Rosenblum said...

Hi Stewar
Many thanks for the blog....
(keep under your desk...)

I am hopeful that many talented photogs will indeed apply. The Europeans don't really 'get' great storytelling. The Swedes think long lingering shots of boats are just great. Really long and really lingering.

I have a longstanding belief that these small cameras can be like Leicas, in the right hands. That is, what Leicas did for photojournalism in the 1930s (Cartier Bresson, Magnum, etc...) the A1U and its ilk can now do for video journalism... in the right hands.

I think the right hands are probably right here.