Tag Archives: backpack journalist

Small Crew, Big Danger

15guerrilla01-600It’s no leap to see that the arrests of Euna Lee and Laura Ling in North Korea have a lesson for the legions of backpack journalists covering local news stories across the country.  One-man (or woman) bands are cheaper, and for the journalist, clearly more dangerous when things go bad.

For Lee and Ling, reporting for Current TV, little is known about the exact structure of their support system.  We do know that Current does not have the around-the-world network of bureaus that can jump into action and get phones ringing in New York, London, and Washington when a crew fails to report in.

CBS' Kimberly Dozier in Iraq

CBS' Kimberly Dozier in Iraq

When CBS’ Kimbery Dozier and her crew came under attack in Iraq, it was their bureau chief who started sounding the alarms, and it was the intervention of powerful CBS brass in New York who were able to arrange evacuation and treatment for the critically injured Dozier. [Note: If you haven’t read Dozier’s book on the attack, the loss of her crew, and her struggle to survive, pick up a copy. It’s called “Breathing the Fire,” and it’s a courageous book]

The freelancer working for an internet news operation, even one with a high profile name attached like Al Gore, just doesn’t have that kind of backup available.

And neither does the local news reporter who goes it alone.  I can recall several times in my reporting when a photographer and I got into a sketchy situation, and we needed each other.  Once, in Birmingham, my photographer was targeted by an angry police officer after the shooting death of a cop.  The officer was upset, and vented on us.  He picked a fight with my photog over where he’d been standing, and then pulled out his handcuffs.  Knowing he’d done nothing wrong, the photog handed me the camera and told me to get it all on tape.  You can’t do that when you’re alone.

News directors love one-man-bands, and eager journalists are taking the jobs.  There may, at times, be managers who think, “we shouldn’t send a backpacker into that situation alone.”  But I’m sure it will happen anyway.  Maybe you saw the YouTube clip of the one-man-band reporter doing his own liveshot who got caught in a gas station’s sprinkler system.  That was amusing.  But that shot showed how often things go wrong in the field–and how hard it can be for a person doing it all him or herself to get out of harm’s way, even if this time it was just a soaking.

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Making Multi-Platform Work: Building a Brand All by Yourself

If I said to you, “hey, check out this reel of a guy’s one-man-band standups,” you might feign a kidney stone and run.  But the above video’s rightfully burning up the proverbial YouTubes.  It’s the work of KGTV/San Diego phenomenon Joe Little, a backpacker who doesn’t use that as an excuse to do boring standups.  In fact, he’s more creative by himself than the vast majority of two-person field crews shooting standups today.  Far more creative.

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So as we talk about the inevitable spread of multiplatforming one-person content machines, think about Joe Little and what he represents:  the complete lack of downside for the determined reporter, willing to lug his own gear, but also willing and ready to get the upside… a unique brand that is yours and yours alone.  Nobody’s asking Joe Little, “hey, who were you out with today, that standup was great!”  It’s his thing.  And right now, he owns it.

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Fearing the Backpack? Here’s the Skinny on Going “DJ”

Longtime Backpacker Kevin Sites

Longtime Backpacker Kevin Sites


Yeah, sure, you can sit in the newsroom and bitch and moan with co-workers about how sure you are that “it’ll never happen here,” but odds are, the longer you stay in local tv news, the more likely it is that somebody at some point is going to hand you a small camera and laptop and ask you to do it all yourself. We used to call ’em one-man-bands, now you hear “multimedia journalist” or “digital journalist.” And it’s not just for small markets anymore. CNN calls them “all-platform” journalists, WNBC’s “Content Center,” of course, is modeled on the MMJ format, and WUSA in Washington used multimedia journalists on the biggest of big local stories: the Inauguration of Barack Obama.

NBC's Mara Schiavocampo

NBC's Mara Schiavocampo

Deborah Potter, whose NewsLab is mandatory daily reading, has a great piece up on advancingthestory (companion to the book of the same name) about how backpackers like NBC’s Mara Schiavocampo are getting the story–and getting themselves on franchise media titans like the NBC Nightly News. Even if the idea of it gives you sudden rush of thoughts like, “how bad could PR really be?” this post is worth a look.

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Liveshot? Yes. Livetruck? Nope. Vol. 2, The Obama Inauguration Edition

Lauren Squires Goes Live by Skype

Lauren Squires Goes Live by Skype

I should probably label these posts NSFW, since if your news director sees them, it could spell trouble:  another Skype-enabled backpacker doing it all and going live…no photog, no truck, no satellite window, nada.  (Can you hear the dripping sounds of local tv news managers salivating?)

Lauren Squires, a bureau reporter in Dubuque for KWWL/Waterloo got a big gig:  the inauguration of Barack Obama.  She traveled to DC with a local group of Iowans and, in keeping with the multiplatform ideal, she blogged, shot her own packages, and even whipped out the laptop to do liveshots via Skype: 

“I traveled (26 hours) via bus with the Dubuque Colts Drum and Bugle Corps. They were selected to play in the Inauguration parade. I was an embedded journalist, who slept on a gym floor with hundreds of members of the corps (Alumni and current members, marching and spectators).   I blogged from the moment we left Dubuque on Saturday to the moment we arrived back to Iowa. http://addins.kwwl.com/blogs/scribbles/

Check out her work.  And think about it.  Seriously.  Think about it.  One day soon you’re going to get that tempting offer–“hey, we’d like to send you out of town…”

FULL DISCLOSURE:  My attempt at backpacking my way through the Obama Inauguration, complete with laptop, blogging and Twittering, was, shall we say, somewhat less successful, with snowstorms and bus breakdowns.  Read about my sad saga here.

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