Thursday, December 22, 2005

Much ado about the one man band

At one time, one-man-band reporters were an idea relegated to small TV markets with even smaller budgets. Today, more newsrooms are hiring these reporter/photographer combos, in markets as large as San Francisco. Even here in this market, we've got three one-man-bands. Self-styled "gurus" call this The Next Big Thing in broadcast journalism.

Proponents of the "video journalist" model say it frees up a newsroom to do more stories. After all, if you have five reporters and five photogs who one-man-band, that's ten people out in the field. And let's not forget the fact that it saves money, by combining two jobs into one, and keeping the salary the same.

Those "guru" news consultants say this is inevitable, that technology will force us into their way of thinking. It's funny, though, how the only companies "forced" into the VJ model are the ones losing money left and right. Are they looking for a magical new way to tell stories? Nope. They're looking for a way to save a few bucks.

And what happens to story quality? Let's face it, there are great reporters who can't shoot, and there are great shooters who can't report. A news director will be hard pressed to find someone with the qualities of a Tom Powell and Jack Scannella wrapped into one.

But again, overpriced news consultants like Michael Rosenblum defend it. "You can get pretty good quality this way, it just takes a lot more time," he writes. With the amount of newscasts a station does in a week (just look at WNEP), "a lot more time" doesn't happen in local news. One-man-band reporting has its place in television news (features, etc.), but for the everyday job, it just doesn't work.

I'm all for technology, but I'm against ways for stations to slash their budgets and cut their staff, without addressing the real problems: bad business decisions and idiotic news management policies. Investing money and actually covering the community works much better in the long run. It's too bad the bean counters don't see this.


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