Tag Archives: one man band

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.

Advertisements

1 Comment

Filed under Local News 2.0

WUSA/DC Local Newser Puts Himself on “Permanent Furlough” via Blistering Resignation Letter

Alan Henney said what others clearly felt:  something’s changed–and not for the better–at WUSA/DC.  “We are doing less news gathering these days and more information posting,” Henney writes in a memo to the WUSA news staff posted on DCRTV.  “Somebody needs to be driving the news machine at all times, actively pursuing news leads. We’ve lost our focus.”

WUSA, as most who follow the evolution of local TV news already know, recently replaced traditional news crews with one-man-bands, and converted its newsroom into an “information center” devoted to fast-paced, multiplatform news production:  getting the story told fast, in a variety of ways, from Twitter, to blogging, and sometimes even on a regular old newscast.

Henney, a weekend assignment editor at Channel 9, says the “shock and awe” digital campaign has come at a cost in the most basic of places:  doing the news.  “WUSA frequently lacks the discussion that is vital to the success of a vibrant news operation and falls into this model. Many of us are reluctant to say anything, and the suggestion box on the first floor is not enough. The consultants and out-of-touch corporate management have ruined the newscasts with repetitive Web clutter, endless sidebar packages, and their preoccupation with the Internet. You won’t find a blog anywhere that will generate enough revenue to support a news operation of this size, there are simply too many. We’ve heard regular speak of “Web Winners,” but what ever happened to the “News Winners?” A dying breed?”

Web Alert:  Is Anybody Doing the News?

Web Alert: Is Anybody Doing the News?

Henney’s letter has sparked a massive debate on the dcrtv site, and among DC local newsers.  It’s an important discussion, and sadly sparked by a man who felt his only option was to walk out, leaving the weekend desk after nearly a decade.  “Any corporation that allows employees to blog as an excuse for not reporting to work on time is not an organization with which I want to be associated. Effective immediately, I am placing myself on permanent furlough from the Gannett Corp,” he wrote.

DC newsers:  if you’ve watched the content coming from the Info Center, do you agree?  Has WUSA traded reporting for Twittering?  Can stations successfully do both?

2 Comments

Filed under Cutbacks, Furloughs, Local News 2.0, Social Media

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.

4 Comments

Filed under Cutbacks