Adam Westbrook // ideas on digital storytelling and publishing

Video Journalism: are two heads better than one?

Posted in Freelance, Journalism by Adam Westbrook on June 8, 2010

Video Journalism has become intrinsically connected with terms like Solo VJ, One Man Band and Backpack Journalist. A video journalist, as we understand, works alone, exploiting the benefits of being light on the feet: a small, nimble unit.

With more photojournalists experimenting with video, this idea of the VJ as a solo-worker is being accentuated.

But what if this isn’t the best way?

A cinematographer friend of mine got me thinking about this last week. We were talking about the merits of the new range of small digital SLRs, shooting HD video – the Canon 5D, 550D and Nikon D5000.

“My only worry” he said, “is you become more preoccupied with the video and not the journalism. When you look back on your day do you say: ‘I’ve spent most of my time thinking about the journalism’, or ‘have I spent most of it thinking about depth-of-field?'”

Now don’t get me wrong, I usually prefer solo working, and I have long been a proponent of the solo video journalist being far more efficient, fast and value-for-money than larger crews. I don’t think the journalism suffers necessarily with a One Man Band (well, it depends on the journalist of course); but…could it be better if there are two people on a story?

Lois & Clark

Let’s imagine for a second a Lane/Kent type scenario. Instead of working alone finding, researching, treating, shooting and editing stories, the solo video journalist finds a talented partner.

Perhaps a print journalist with some but not much experience in video, they are good at the researching, the phone bashing, the setting up and asking the tough questions. That leaves the video journalist to focus on the shooting & editing and together they work to craft an engaging visual narrative.

This is how some newspapers already work with video – pairing a reporter with a video producer, and papers like the New York Times and the Guardian have produced some of their best results this way. What if independent freelance video journalists teamed up on a regular basis to work like this?

Two heads of course reduce the chances of mistakes, factual errors and clouded judgement.

But it’s all about the pairing. As a veteran of long backpacking tours gone horribly sour when two ill matched travelers inevitably fall out, it often isn’t pretty. The pairs would need similar interests, similar backgrounds maybe, and similar ambitions. They would both need the determination and the resolve to carry on through the hard times.

The duo could go beyond and market themselves together as a brand – you work with one, you get the other.

I’ve talked a lot this year about collaboration, and I have the privilege of working with quite a few talented producers, reporters and presenters already. The idea of a talented pair of multimedia journalists seems to me to be very tempting; what you do you think?

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8 Responses

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  1. Mary Kay McFarland said, on June 8, 2010 at 11:53 am

    Students at WVU have been working on team multimedia projects for a couple of years in a class that sends them out to do storytelling in rural areas of West Virginia. The best part of the experience for many of them is learning from each other. Broadcast students learn from print students. Photographers learn from videographers etc.

  2. rosenblumtv said, on June 8, 2010 at 12:04 pm

    Adam
    The term ‘videojournalist’ can be a misnomer. We often confuse it with OMB or Backpack journalist, which bespeak solo journalism. That’s not the idea – at least it was never my idea. I think that the idea of ‘video literate’ is a better approach. I like a newsroom where everyone is video literate. As a society we’re all print literate. And sometimes, in writing an article for a magazine or a newspaper or even a book, we partner with one or more other people. As we all speak the same language, we can all read and write, we can join our forces together to create something greater than the sum of the parts. The same should be true for Video and videojournalism.

    The empowering part of videojournalism is that it encourages authorship across a broad spectrum, as does print. Each person, with their camera and edit can now create their own personal vision. If two such empowered people wish to join up, all the better, to share their vision and skills.

    However, what we don’t want to do is return to the days in which a technician was there to record the work of a journalist. This is a case in which the end product is very much less than the sum of the two parts.

  3. [...] – Adam Westbrook asks the question:  Are Two Heads Better Than One when it comes to creating video journalism.  I think that it is very hard to do it all yourself [...]

  4. David said, on June 12, 2010 at 1:48 am

    Don’t two heads cost twice as much? Isn’t that what is driving solo journalism, backpack journalism or whatever people call it? It went from teams of a journalist and a photographer or a reporter and a video crew to solo multimedia journalist because the industry is under financial stress. Going back isn’t so much groundbreaking as counter to the prevailing trend. I think the situation is one of one person getting a story that’s not as complete, contextualized, or fact checked as we used to get 2, 3, 5 years ago, but good enough for today’s short attention spans. Clay Shirky talks about this some: http://bit.ly/cKHBMo .

  5. Deborah Bonello said, on June 13, 2010 at 6:00 pm

    Interestingly, the model you’re talking about is basically how TV has worked over the last few decades, in some ways.

    Coupling video/camera people with producers has long been the way for putting together TV packages, and still is. VJ-ism developed mostly as a cost-saving measure, as David above points out, as well as being a result of the fact that the dropping costs and weight of video and editing equipment means it can now all fit in a few small bags, or one big one.

    I’ve worked on my own as a solo-VJ, as well as as a producer with a cameraperson and a correspondent, and also as a producer + cameraperson with a correspondent, and the results are all different. A lot of it depends on the story and the demands, and you have to weigh all of those things up if you DO have the luxury of putting more than one person on a video story.

    I love working alone too, and I think the tendency of freelancers (I was one for years) is to work that way so as to keep journalistic and creative control of the project. BUT it is possible for us lone guns-for-hire to team up in the same way that traditional media organizations have been putting their people together for years. Such collaboration would yield great results but, as they say in the world of international relations, political will and diplomatic skills would be required because it also means sharing the credit and the fee (will that be costed for two heads, or just for the one project) as well as the workload, and being able to work as part of a team…..which is harder than working on your own in some ways.

    That said, I DO think that there is a lot of potential in freelancer collectives that as a group function more efficiently than lone journos……..

  6. [...] Video Journalism has become intrinsically connected with terms like Solo VJ, One Man Band and Backpack Journalist. A video journalist, as we understand, works alone, exploiting the benefits of being light on the feet: a small, nimble unit. With more photojournalists experimenting with video, this idea of the VJ as a solo-worker is being accentuated. But what if this isn't the best way? A cinematographer friend of mine got me thinking about this l … Read More [...]

  7. [...] Westbrook asks the question last week about whether online videojournalism would be better if the photographer paired up with a reporter instead…. Perhaps a print journalist with some but not much experience in video, they are good at the [...]

  8. [...] Is video journalism better when the VJ works with someone else? [...]


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