Two to one

Blayne Alexander, WXIA

Recently, an Atlanta TV reporter told me that she had been offered a job in Washington DC.  She said she was interested in the market — Our Nation’s Capital has some uniquely intriguing qualities, certainly — but she declined the job and opted to sign another contract in Atlanta.

“They wanted me to shoot my own stuff!” she lamented.

No doubt, that Washington TV station had a large stack of resumés from applicants.  Perhaps more than a few of them were from reporters eager to be one-man-bands in the nation’s eighth largest market.

I suspect my employer, WXIA-TV, has plenty of applicants for reporter positions.  With few exceptions, our new reporters are introduced as “multimedia journalists,” or backpack journalists or one-man-bands.

In March, Lionel Moise produced a behind-the-scenes piece on Blayne Alexander, a one-woman band hired a year ago out of Augusta, Georgia.  Blayne is smart, sturdy, hard-working and is extraordinarily blessed with natural talent.  I fully expect her to leapfrog the rest of us, career-wise, by the time she’s 30.  And I’m not kidding.

No pressure, kid.

Given Blayne’s relentlessly (and authentically) cheery disposition, the question might be:  Why would one balk at becoming a one-man-band?

What, are you afraid of a little hard work?

WSB and WAGA have resisted hiring one-man-bands, apparently concluding that a) day-to-day TV news coverage in Atlanta requires a team performing specialized functions, and b)  America’s ninth-largest market can still support two-person crews.  When Blayne goes solo out into the world, she encounters competitors who typically bring two-person crews to their stories.

Blayne and numerous other one-man-bands from WXIA and WGCL show this conclusion isn’t ironclad.  Many of them, like Julie Wolfe, Jerry Carnes and Matt Pearl, show that one-man-bands can shoot and edit lovely, stylish stories.

Perhaps those of us accustomed to the specialized work of two-person crews are spoiled.   In two-person crews, reporters are able to work the editorial content of stories (and schmooze newsmakers) while photographers handle armloads of gear.

Reporters in two-person crews can use the internet, make phone calls, fact-check and access contrary viewpoints while photographers safely drive vehicles from point A to points B, C and D.

Reporters in two-person crews can write (and sometimes even edit) stories in transit as a photographer drives.  Note the moment in the above video at 1:47.  Blayne isn’t the only MMJ out there who manages to write and drive at the same time.

There are many stories that are well-suited for one-man-bands.   They tend to be controlled, less news-y, less competitive, more one-stop.

There are also many instances where it makes sense for reporters to edit their own stories.  If the reporter is with a photographer, and there’s material that has to be shot close to deadline, the reporter needs to be capable of deadline editing.   Any reporter who can’t edit is very handicapped.

Likewise, a reporter ought to be able to shoot.

Perhaps one-man-bands are, in fact, the future of local TV news in Atlanta.  Certainly, those who manage TV station payrolls want to believe it.  As a reader calling himself Savannah Bob pointedly commented on this blog recently: “It’s a good thing I’m not your boss. I’d trade you for three MMJs and a cheap camera.”

But WXIA-TV just hired a photographer, an actual shooter from Asheville.  It’s a very, very encouraging development.

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About live apt fire

Doug Richards is a reporter at WXIA-TV. This is his personal blog. WXIA-TV has nothing whatsoever to do with this blog, under any circumstances, in any form, zero, zilch, nada. For anything written herein, Doug accepts sole credit and full blame. Follow him on Twitter: @richardsdoug. All rights reserved. Thanks for visiting.

9 thoughts on “Two to one

  1. tvb

    I don’t get it.

    If I read this correctly, she shoots her own stuff in Atlanta but didn’t want to in Washington? All things being equal, I think she is being foolish. Washington is a much different market and offers all sorts of opportunities not available in Atlanta, particularly when it comes to career advancement.

    I know shooting your own stuff sucks, but it’s happening all the way up the food chain these days. It may not be the network correspondents carrying the backpack, but it is the producer, particularly on the campaign trail. The only way to really avoid it is to get into a union shop and that’s not even a sure thing anymore depending on the job title you get stuck to.

    In a world where news directors think it’s acceptable to lead with video shot by a viewer on a camera phone, I’d say look at the opportunity that the job presents and not at the weight of the backpack. Washington has a lot to offer the media professional (as does Atlanta – but DC has everyone there so the networking is phenomenal) and it’s a shame to pass that up.

    Reply
  2. MH

    I am not a news journalist. I work in entertainment, but this kind of development is happening there too. My previous job required me to write, shoot and edit my own pieces (when we occasionally did them). My current job, which demands much more on air content, requires me to fill functions that no one asked just one employee to do a decade ago. In fact, many entertainment networks say that they are only interested in “preditors,” someone who writes, produces and edits their own pieces. As full time positions (and production budgets) get more scarce, the amount of work expected of one person continues to increase. And with more people searching for fewer full time jobs, I expect that this is a trend that is here to stay.

    Reply
  3. bk

    The discussion should not be about what’s the best career choice for a TV reporter, but what is best for the audience. What is the best way to report the news accurately, fairly and quickly? Decisions by station owners pushing “multi-media journalists” have little to do with the quality of the product and everything to do with maximizing profits. That said, some a simple fact. Not everyone is good at everything, nor should they be. Photography and videography, as well as professional quality audio, require a rare combination of technical and artistic skills. Good reporting, including research, interviewing and writing, require an entirely different skill set. It’s great when individuals understand how to use them well. Few are blessed with all of them.
    Finally, the best part of a collaborative effort in the field has nothing to do with the skills, but with the ‘reality check’ two or three people have on interpreting events and making judgments about what to select and what to set aside. Two heads… in the field, not in an office far away from the story unfolding… are better than one.

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  4. Pingback: on the media « Walk In Brain

  5. bp

    BK makes some good points. Having worked as reporter in a team with a videographer and at times an audio engineer, there are definite advantages to collaboration and specialization in the field and the edit suite. I’ve also been a one-man band, and enjoyed those opportunities as well. It’s important to evaluate the best approach based on the type of story and skills of the staff. Ms. Alexander is clearly very talented and capable. But overall, I think one-man bands can be part of a staffing approach, but consumers are shortchanged if it’s a stations exclusive strategy.

    Reply
  6. Zach

    This post was a great read. I think you nailed it, Doug. MMJ does not have to be a bad thing. There are some stories where it works very well, and others that are much better for a traditional two-person crew. I’m currently working in Kansas City as a MMJ and I’d say I shoot my own stuff about 75% of the time. What we struggle with sometimes, is when I get a photog. If it looks like I’ll be a lead and will have content in multiple shows (we have 3 early evening shows), I’m much more likely to be working with a photog. But if a story is more set up, it’s likely I’ll be working alone. I’ve found several advantages (believe it or not) when I’m flying solo. I think people find it easier to open up to me. I don’t have this huge hulking camera and it’s just me, no photog. Much less intimidating for people who might be a little camera shy and it makes the reporter more “real.” For young reporters, I also think being a MMJ has many advantages. For example, I started in market 31 after two years in market 150. I think when you can do it all, you can climb the market ladder faster. I’m also at an advantage over some other reporters here because MMJing is all I’ve ever done, so it’s not a big deal.

    Reply
  7. arky

    I find it interesting when people say one-man banding lets interview subjects trust you more. I never found that to be the case. It is true that people tended to be slightly embarrassed for me when I struggled with three armfuls of equipment and only two arms. There was also the downside that, as an MMJ, people were always very cognizant of everything I was doing and shooting. But when I had photogs, they would eventually kind of slip into the background, and subjects usually would forget about them. It made for much more interesting b-roll.

    Also, I always had a problem that, when an interview was over and I was trying to get cutaways and b-roll, subjects naturally wanted to keep talking to me to fill up the awkward silence. That ruined my nat sound, but asking them to be quiet understandably sounded rude.

    One thing I never did was write while driving. Stations need to be realistic about what it takes for MMJs to make slot for 3 stories a day. All it will take is one traffic accident with serious injuries to others, and all of that money saved by dropping photogs instantly goes down the drain.

    Reply
  8. turdpolishertv

    I’m a converted photog — been doing the OMB thing for two years. Softer, one or two stop stories are much easier than running down 4 sources at 5 different locations. Out of town travel is also tough. You can’t exactly log while you’re driving.

    My experience has been a good one. I owe that mostly to my ND and AE. Before I started on this journey, we talked at length about the kind of stories that are better-suited for one person. I still run on breaking news, but if it turns into something big, I get a reporter. Same goes for stories with a lot of digging. It just works better that way.

    I must admit, I was one of the loudest voices against OMBs when stations first started turning that way. Now, I wouldn’t go back. I still enjoy working with reporters, but I like setting my own pace, plotting my own stories, finding my own surprises. The biggest change I’ve found is that there’s no one to point fingers at if the story ain’t up to my standards. It puts the pressure squarely on my shoulders, and it’s improved my work.

    It’s not for everyone, but it works for me.

    Reply

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