Journalists are being equipped with compact cameras, tripods and editing equipment that they use by themselves to help TV stations make the transition to 24-hour-a-day news operations. Outlets are producing stories not just for a few newscasts, but also for Web sites and mobile platforms without having to add cost to tight budgets.
More TV reporters than ever before are being equipped with compact cameras, tripods and editing equipment and sent out on their own to shoot, report and edit stories for TV news outlets.
Call them what you will — one-man-bands, multimedia journalists, mobile journalists (MoJos), video journalists (VJs) — the do-it-yourself reporters are helping TV stations make the transition to 24-hour-a-day news operations that produce stories not just for a few newscasts, but also for Web sites and mobile platforms without having to add cost to tight budgets.
“The whole notion of having a [separate] cameraman is an anachronism; it should just go away,” said Michael Rosenblum, CEO of Rosenblumtv, which produces digital media news content and trains VJs. “Technology has made that job superfluous.”
Broadcast and cable news outlets seem be taking as many different approaches to equipping MoJos as there are cameras at the NAB and CES.
“For as little as $10,000 and as much $22,000, a station can outfit a multimedia journalist with all the tools that they need to gather content,” said Jerry Gumbert, president-CEO of Audio, Research & Development (AR&D), a Dallas-based local media consulting firm.
That includes a camcorder (an SD unit at the low end of the range, an HD at the high end), a laptop with a lot of processing power and editing software.
“About 25-30 percent of the time you have to have a two-man crew because the story isn’t static,” he said. The rest of the time the MoJo “can turn on a camera, lock it down and have a very detailed conversation without having to worry about the technology.”
Ten of Cox Media Group’s 15 TV stations do news and all of them use some form of mobile journalism, says Sterling Davis, vice president of technical operations for the Cox Media Group.
“Each station gets to choose how they do things,” he said. “We don’t mandate how they shoot news; we do mandate that they keep costs down and [mobile journalism] is certainly a mechanism to do that.”
In general, he said, Cox field reporters use inexpensive, lightweight camcorders and edit the copy on laptops using Avid and Grass Valley software.
The only problem with small cameras is that they are hard to keep steady and can yield “herky-jerky” images, he said.
Field editing software has evolved to where an off-the-shelf laptop computer in a car can be an inexpensive editing bay.
It used to take two broadcast tape decks to edit a field story, said Ed Casaccia, director of product marketing at Grass Valley, which offers two different professional editing software package, Aurora and Edius.
“Now it takes $800 worth of software on a $1,500 laptop. This has lots of news operations working towards the idea of crews never seeing the inside of a newsroom.”
The elements are all there, agreed Jim Frantzreb, senior segment marketing manager-enterprise solutions, at Avid, a competing editing software provider.
Avid also offers two different software packages: Media Composer, which goes for $2,500, and the full-featured NewsCutter, at $5,000.
Smart, connected cameras make it a “relatively simple step to get video into the editor,” Frantzreb said. “You could build a pretty sophisticated package in the field. You don’t have to be in the studio.”
Vendors like Panasonic, Sony and JVC have added the smaller camcorders to product lines and that’s where most broadcasters are looking.
Even so, as stations cut costs they’re also eyeing off-the-shelf gear from non-traditional vendors like Nikon and Canon, said Rosenblum, who advocates a scorched earth policy in transitioning to the new equipment.
“I tell the clients, sell all the crap they have and go down to Best Buy or the Apple store and get laptops and a bunch of Sony HVR-A1U cameras and you’re in business for 1 percent of what it cost before,” he said.
The equipment may be smaller but broadcasters still need professional equipment, said Jan Crittenden Livingston, product line business manager, Panasonic.
The smaller, less expensive cameras do a nice job, said Jerry Campbell, director of remote operations for Time Warner’s New York News One, who noted that “price-wise, quality-wise, they are 85 percent of what the big camera is.”
“The most basic television stuff, press conferences and things like that, the small camera fits perfectly,” he said. “Most of our reporters will go out and shoot their own stories.”
News One reporters equipped with multi-functional Panasonic cameras can view content on the camera or download the information to a PC, hard drive or disk, he said.
Galen Culver, who’s been flying solo for KFOR Oklahoma City since 1991, uses a low-cost Sony HD camera and Apple FinalCut Pro software in the station to edit his story.
What he wants is a laptop so he can edit in the field. “Someday soon it will make a guy like me able to pop on live from some unique location and do some really interesting stuff.”
Multimedia journalism is “the future of a lot of TV reporters because you have the technology to make it happen,” he said.