The world is full of talented TV News reporters. I’m lucky enough to work with some of them. But there’s a trend afoot I find most disturbing and it’s ushering in the age of the VJ. I’m talking about laziness, plain and simple. It’s not a trait most people would attribute to such a high profile profession but it’s one that runs rampant in many modern day correspondents. Voicing this of course will win me no friends. That’s okay, I got enough friends. What I’m running low on is patience, patience for people who’s only goal is to accomplish as little as possible while looking good doing it. But before I go any further, let’s synchronize our watches:
Oh look, it’s 2011! Across the broadcast universe, stations are slashing their staffs in half. Producers are cutting footage, photographers are learning to write and reporters are being handed cameras the size of baked potatoes and told to go make TV. If you’re one of the lucky ones who still has a photographer to do the dirty work, Congratulations. Chances are that won’t always be the case and too many of you have brought it on yourselves. If, however, you’re a hard-working, enterprising reporter, you’ll probably always enjoy some form of technical support. Feel free to skip to the end. The rest of you...
You might not believe this but there was a time a reporter got OUT of the car while the photographer shot video. Not every time, but sometimes. Crazy shit happens when you do: people speak, birds chirp, news ensues.You’d be amazed what passes for life outside your makeup bag, or Blackberry or whatever it is that so glues you to that shotgun seat.
Say you’ve made a few phone calls, but can’t stir up any news. What do you do? If you said ‘sit at my desk and do my hair while the producers find me a story‘ then you are EXACTLY the person I’m talking to. Once upon a time, a reporter knew enough to leave the station, story or no story. After all, news doesn’t happen in a newsroom. Those of you who rely solely on others for ideas should use that free time to look for another job, for an industry as crippled as ours has no more room for your dead weight.
No one hates useless live shots more than me, but the fact of the matter is your employer bought lots of live trucks and until they’re totally replaced by laptops, they’re gonna use them. So if your sole goal everyday is to wiggle out of that six o clock dog-lick live shot, understand this: you’re insuring your own extinction. Live shots are the one thing (most) photogs cannot do. Yes, standing outside some empty building at dinner time is a drag, but it beats standing outside the unemployment office wondering how you’re going to afford that fancy new iPhone you bought.
As a TV News photog, I’m expected to shoot clean video, edit quickly, find any address without GPS, set up a live shot in seconds flat and a growing host of other duties. I’m up for all these challenges and take quiet pride in doing them well. But one duty I’m more than willing to refuse is carrying your dead ass one. more. foot. You wanna be on Tee-Vee, get a chance to anchor, maybe wind up on a billboard someday? Fine, bring something to the table other than your workmanlike dedication to doing as little as possible every shift. That simply doesn’t cut it anymore. It’s a crime it ever did.
If you’re wearing a power suit and holding a big ole logo’d microphone, you have little business asking ME “What do you think I should say?”. Yes, collaboration is key and together we can come up with some pretty clever lines, but if time and time again you simply repeat my words verbatim into the lens, then you deserve to hold MORE than the microphone. How about the camera, the tripod, some batteries, a few lights...
Look at it this way: We drive around with thousands of dollars of sophisticated recording equipment in tow. You can’t phone it in EVERY day. Sure, there are times we can shoot a story in half an hour and spend thrice that amount of time on lunch. But that’s hardly a way to build your reel, let alone foster the kind of working relationship that can make reporter-photog collaboration an absolute joy. Remember, you have to work up some speed before you can coast.
And speaking of that reel you’re building... There was a time that even a reporter who didn’t know how to edit could press Record and dub themselves off a tape. No more. With non-linear editing, most on-air people don’t even know how to access their last package. So you find a photog who can help you and most often they do. Well, don’t ask me. As much as I‘d love to see you leave my shop, I have better things to do. Besides, foisting you on yet another TV station goes against my creed, much like wrapping up an extension cord goes against yours.
Still want to be a TV reporter? Cool, go find a story no one else has, convince a reluctant witness to talk on camera, melt the Rain-X off my lens with your scintillating presence. I’ll sing your praises from on high, when I’m not following you into the fire. Otherwise, go sell Mary Kay, real estate or perhaps your own plasma. As it is, you’re bringing me down, robbing the product of any relevance and proving this industry’s many critics correct with your unbridled lust for mediocrity. Back to you...