Wednesday, March 25, 2009

A thread I started at felt so right, I'm sharing it here...

Job Fair Frame GrabI covered a job fair today. You know, people in dress clothes milling about with résumés in one hand and free donuts in the other…not exactly an Amish Dance-Off. Still, I hustled on over, lest The Suits change their minds and send me on a walking tour of the new urinal factory - or worse yet, court. Anyhoo, two thoughts struck me as I tried not to club any of the great unwashed with my tripod: 1) Our nation is in dire peril. For a community college job fair, there were more forty-something Dads with lost looks in their eyes than at Home Depot on a Saturday morning, and 2) the average news crew has dropped a lot of weight…

Of the four fancycams in attendance, three were being operated by teams of one. Not by shooters sleepwalking through their third spray-job of the day, not by college kids with lenses the size of yo-yo’s, but by reporters who shoot, shooters who speak (and one jack-ass photog who thinks he’s Hunter S. Thompson). My point: The future is here. With on-air advertising in the cellar and TV stations about to go through the same cutbacks now eviscerating the newspaper industry, the solo-newsgatherer now walks among us. If that very fact boils your blood, you’re not gonna like the following paragraphs. But with what’s about to hit broadcasters, not digging my drivel will be the least of your problems.

I don’t work in a large market. I’m not a freelancer. I’ve not jetted around the globe with a sound-man, a make-up chick and three skeevy handlers. I don’t know dick about unions. What I DO know, however, is medium-market TV news and how it’s never going to be the same as it was even a year ago. Just ask the Gannet staffers across the street. Most of their two person crews now seem to work without the aid of each other. Ask the weekend anchor now learning to edit, the super-hot news bunny studying meteorology, the news director trying to wrap his head around Twitter. They’ll all tell you, “This ain’t your Father’s Oldsmobile.” Yes, age old assumptions are falling by the wayside as budgets shrink and individual expectations grow. Will it make for better television? In most cases, NO. But here’s a real newsflash:

It doesn’t really matter.

Now before you flame me for dismissing any and all vestiges of quality, hear me out: I wish unemployment on no one. (Well, that’s a lie. There are few folks I’ve worked with I’d like to push in front of a bus, let alone hand a pink slip.) Whereas Rosenblum seeks to burn down our huts and villages and Nino lies in wait to blowtorch him back, I just want to make good TV and get paid for it. I suspect most of you on this board wish to do the same, and while many of you have developed skills that far surpass mine, I’m more concerned with the younger ones among us. I worry they’ll drink Rosey’s Kool-Aid and trade in their tripods for black turtlenecks, or believe his many detractors when they say he’s simply out of his gourd. He’s not. He’s got a version of the future he’d like to sell you and while I differ with him greatly, I certainly see where he’s coming from. And where this silly business is headed.

Take MY bosses for example. I’m not entirely sure they know who Rosenblum is. But they damn sure know about diminished revenue streams, managerial mandates and the low-cost lure of all those baked-potato cams. So far, they’ve yet to shove one in any shooter’s hand and while I’m not volunteering to be the first, I know that day is coming. Not because some self-proclaimed prophet said so on the internets, but because the quantum leap in technology and giant sucking sound up in Sales will soon demand it. Hopefully I can keep a grip on my heavy glass, for its functionality liberates me. But while I cradle my XDCam in one arm, I’m busy scooping up new skills with the other. Why? Not to impress you schlubs, but to keep the steak and bourbon money flowing into Casa Pittman. It’s really that simple…Like your job? Fine, learn another one while you’re at it. Maybe they’ll let you keep both of them.

You know, I talk lots of smack about certain reporter-types. Two decades of dragging prom queens of widow’s porches will do that to a fella. Still, I value the role reporters play and hope they never disappear completely from our ranks. That said, I’m more than happy to work without them, provided my bosses continue to grasp when the solo shtick is warranted and when it simply sucks balls. Newsrooms that can crack that nut will continue to hoard relevancy long into the Nuclear Winter that is about to decimate our population at large. So, I beg you junior shooters out there: Add to your skill-set. Take a stab at writing a script, even if it’s just connecting the soundbites with sentences that pop in your head. Learn every non-linear editing system you can lay hands on. Commit your particular region to memory. Pass out business cards to contacts and encourage them to call YOU - not that putz on the desk. (You know, the one who’s learning your job on his off-hours.) Do this, and you stand a much better chance of retaining a logo’d pay-stub than that semi-hottie who never thought she’s ever have to lift anything heavy.

But please, don’t take my word for it (I can be a bit of a blowhard). Instead, turn to b-roll elder Richard Adkins, known better here as RAD. If you’re like me, you read his steady updates of bliss-inducing gigs and think, “How does this dude score all these sweet shoots?”. I’ll tell you how: Dude hustles like it’s his first week on the job. He interjects himself into the editorial side of news-gathering, not just the pretty pictures and nifty nat-pops. Most of all, he writes his own scripts much of the time, freeing himself from the shackles of a talking hair-do so he can go turn far-flung epics, watching lighthouses move, riding on submarines, catching White House Christmas trees as they fall from their mountainside homes. You want a career like that? Free reign of an entire state while still sleeping in your own bed most nights? You can still have it. All you hafta do, is do it ALL.

Most of it, anyway.


Anonymous said...

I agree with you 100 percent. I teach all facets of journalism/media tech at my high school (1700 pop.) from photo-j to broadcast, and from newspaper to desktop publishing and web design. A lot of other j-teachers think I'm nuts. But I'm always out to learn a new skill, both to keep myself employed and give my students opportunities. This summer it is learning more about Java scripting.

cyndy green said...

Relevant - very much so.
I know this is the make-or-break year for print.
I certainly hope it does not mean the same for broadcast.
Hang in there.

Anonymous said...

Sad, but true.

Kids out there, this is VERY GOOD ADVICE, and best of all its free.

Here's a suggestion-take it.

Photogrl said...

As someone who has weathered the storm when 2 of the big 3 combined in my town, this is my reality.

Our newsroom now consists of 2 reporters and 10 VJ's. And me, a 10 year photographer...I find myself producing the news. *gasp*

Learn all that you can, and do it all well. That is the only way to stay afloat.

Anonymous said...

Do what ya gotta do, but it ain't ever gonna be as good as it was. what's the cliche? jack of all trades, master of none.
During my TV newsboy stint, I worked with some incredibly talented videographers and thankfully learned what I could from them and now I do it all in a government setting, but it comes with it's own set of skills. Like lighting and framing yourself for an on-camera shot. Always a challenge and what doesn't kill ya makes you stronger. okay, enough cliches.