Time Has Told… The Era of the One Person Crew Is Upon Us

Mitch Roberts/WKRN VJ and Anchor

Mitch Roberts/WKRN VJ and Anchor

It’s always educational to take a step back, turn around, and look at where we’ve been.  It helps to see where we’ve come from, and how we’ve gotten to this place.  In thinking about the spread of–call ’em what you will, one man bands, all-platform journalists, multimedia journalists, backpack journalists–single person crews, I looked back at the debut of the form, if you will.  The early reactions to the off-Broadway version of the show that’s now getting decidedly mixed reviews, but somehow selling lots and lots of tickets to news managers and corporate suits looking to find a way–any way–to cut costs and keep the profit in local news.

The first station group to go “VJ,” as they called it, was Young Broadcasting, which put cameras on reporters’ shoulders at WKRN/Nashville and KRON/San Francisco, copying a news-on-the-cheap model that had seen success elsewhere, notably at outfits like New York’s local cable newser, NY1.  Variety wrote about the “Crew Cut in News Biz” in 2005, quoting a WKRN anchor: “It’s like they took the rules here and hucked them out the window.”

Steve Schwaid/CBS Atlanta

Steve Schwaid/CBS Atlanta

A lot of rules have gone out that window, especially lately.  In addition to the expansion of one man banding to stations like WUSA/DC and WNBC/NYC, WGNX/Atlanta news director Steve Schwaid recently updated his Facebook profile to read:  “Steve is looking for one person bands – send dvds to me at CBS Atlanta.”  The whole stations, he says, won’t be going OPB;  he says “there will always need to be some working in teams and some can work by themselves…back to the future – we worked like this when I worked at whio in the late 70s.”

The mere suggestion of one person field crews drew fire on Facebook, with one person commenting on Schwaid’s profile page, “Nice BS-ing around the reality. One person does 2 times the work for less pay. That is the reality.”  Schwaid responded:  “hey, the reality is the business model as we know it is dramatically changing…so you can be working for the last company that made the buggy whips or looking ahead…I prefer looking ahead.”

Is KPIX Next?

Is KPIX Next?

And he’s clearly not the only one looking ahead and seeing lots more reporters with cameras on their shoulders (or photographers reporting, however you want to look at it).  Word is KPIX/San Francisco is bringing the one person crew into the mix, and some say it will soon show at NBC O&O’s like WRC/DC, and WMAQ/Chicago as they undergo the “Content Center” transformation.  (So, in DC, you’d have a Content Center competing against an Information Center?)

Is there any way to argue now that this isn’t happening and won’t keep spreading?  Did naysayers suggest the three-person crew would never end?  (before my time)  And what, pray tell, is the union strategy in all of this?

As the Nashville anchor said waaaaaaay back in ’05 (remember the good old days, when we didn’t fear for our jobs every minute of every day?), the rules, they’re getting “hucked” out the window.

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4 Comments

Filed under Cutbacks

4 responses to “Time Has Told… The Era of the One Person Crew Is Upon Us

  1. Chris

    This isn’t altogether different from the change in cockpit crews decades ago. It used to be that every airliner had three crew members: pilot (Captain), First Officer (co-pilot); and Flight Engineer. Newer planes coming along in the 1980s and since have done away with the Flight Engineer. Even the 747 and A380 are flown by 2-person crews. The trend toward ‘OMB’ in TV news is a necessary evil…doing more with less. The issue is whether this falloff in advertising and viewership is here for good or whether it’s simply a down cycle. I think for every person believing it’s a ‘cycle’ there are ten who feel that this is the new reality.

  2. Ben

    I worked with Mitch Roberts in Vegas a few years ago. Great guy.

  3. Chris,

    That’s a really interesting comparison, and the parallels between the airline industry and television are probably good, and disturbing. Business will survive, but a lot will change… not as many people up front flying the plane, out goes the “experience” and “elegance” of the industry, and in comes the low-cost churn.

    Sigh.

    Mark

  4. Pingback: Why Unions Should Embrace the “One Man Band” « One Man’s Band

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