If I had a hammer…

Catching up on more reading I had a trip over to Michael Rosenblum’s web site where, as VJ Cliff Etzel put it :

A lively dialog has developed over at Michael Rosenblum’s blog about how the so called “Lower class” VJ paradigm equates to those who learned to read and write back in the 1700’s, and as a result, saw the upper crust aristocracy for what it truly was and made rightful changes to their society.

Rosenblum’s post was a typically combatative view of old school TV vs. the VJ army through a comparison with the Peasants revolt.

The printing press unleashed a revolution unforeseen by Gutenberg.

The ‘people’ were suddenly in control of information.

And those who had until then complete power over information did not like this at all.

Of course VJ is the Guttenberg and, from what I can make out, Rosenblum is possibly Menocchio? Modern TV is the church, broadcast camera people the bishops etc. etc. I lost the thread of it after a while.

I have been struggling to put my finger on what makes me uneasy about Rosenblum’s approach but this post clarified it for me.

A colleague of mine has a great saying – “ everything looks like a nail when you have a hammer” – and Rosenblum is packing a very big hammer which he is using to demolish (or so he would have it) the old monoliths of TV.

My problem is that he occasionally stops battering away at the TV stations and tries to use his hammer on web video. With all the typical zeal of an evangelist, he sees his way of working as the solution to everything – no questions asked.

I agree that it seems a pretty good solution to the lazy hegemony of the broadcasters (although no where near as radical or abhorrent to the mainstream as he would like to think). But we are talking about TV here. To try and apply it to anything else isnt helpful. Keep the hammer away from web video please.

But whilst Rosenblum is working hard to dismantle the edifice, other parts of the industry seem to be working towards rebuilding it.

Recent discussion on the Newspaper video list prompted Davin McHenry to post details of how the Bakersfield Californian is handling the throughput of video

Our system has evolved. At first we thought reporters were going to edit their own videos, but we ended up with issues of quality and efficiency. It just came down to the fact that a seasoned video editor could turn out a video in half the time and it usually would be more polished.

A few people though this was a great idea. Angela Grant though it was the “only sane way to do it” and Mindy McAdams asks “Logical, isn’t it?”

I’m not sure.

In broadcast journalism there used to be a very clear divide between the journalists, camera people and editors. Then the journalists started shooting and eventually editing their own stuff. The old school editors even got renamed ‘Craft Editors’ to differentiate between their work and the work of VJ’s (yes Video journalists – those things the mainstream media invented).

If you search hard, you will still find craft editors in newsrooms but they are, unfortunately, a dying breed. Blame technology, money, loads of reasons why. But those that are there are used sparingly and often in isolation – a reporter will drop footage off, they will cut it and then the reporter comes back and adds a vo. Not very creative and probably the reason we see so much generic stuff on TV news.

That’s not the craft editors fault. The system is forcing them and their skills out of the loop.

So when I here about the ‘production line approach’ it seems like we may be at risk of rebuilding that system in reverse.

I’m not saying that Davin’s approach will drag us back in to a TV structure. They produce some great content and, as he points out:

We still have a few reporters edit their own stuff, but it always gets a final proof by one of our video editors.

But I do think we need to work hard to keep the journalist in all stages of the loop. The technology and the fluid nature of the medium means we can do that. We can make new rules here. Journalist can do it all. They need space and training to do it. But they can. Otherwise we are just rebuilding the old TV way of doing things and missing out on an BIG opportunity.

Worse still we may be in danger of building something Rosenblum can legitmatley take his hammer in to.

7 Replies to “If I had a hammer…”

  1. Interesting post – there are certainly advantages to "division of labor" it is after all what the productivity and wealth of all the large economies are built on.

    But there are also efficiencies and other advantages in having one person take a from concept through completion

    1. Just like a photographer a videographer has a feel for the money shots – he doesnt need to review the whole tape.

    2. All the responsibility for the finished piece lies with one person.

    3. The "voice" of the piece is often stronger with a 1 man show.

    Obviously cohesive team and good communication can overcome all these problems.

  2. Hi Peter.

    I agree. The division of labour is a valid reason to go the team approach and you’re right a cohesive team is they key. I think most newspaper outfits are working (by necessity) in a good balance but I do worry that some of the bigger outfits will find themselves getting so far in the production line that it resembles TV practice and then there is a whole world of mistakes to make there.

  3. I subscribe to Rosenblum’s blog, but I find it really hard to read his talking-in-circles style of writing. I have too many other things to read to try to puzzle out that mess of metaphor and philosophy.

    I’m not advocating cutting anyone out of the loop of video production. I would NEVER want another editor to touch the stuff that I shoot. I know that some reporters/photographers who take up cameras will have the same feeling. My all means, let them edit!

    However, not every video must be an award-winning documentary piece. Most will just be short deadline videos that just serve the purpose of complementing a story. The reporters who shoot them will be really busy and won’t always be able to fit video editing into their hectic schedules. A video editor will keep things running smoothly and allow news orgs to produce a ton of videos.

  4. Hi Angela

    I suppose that when I generalise I inevitably end up having to add a lot of caveats to what I write. In some respects comments help me do that and yours is spot on and I cant disagree with any of what you say.

    In the context of the comments I was making about Rosenblums approach I think we can all recognise that a lot of effort being made to dismantle the huge machine that is video news (and here Im not just talking about Rosenblums purge style but also the cold hard econmics that have seen many big news orgs ditch their TV investments). Talk of producing a "ton o videos" just makes me hope that we don’t fond ourselves mimicking the rolling video days of old.

    I don’t think we will in any major way but it doesnt hurt to say it.

  5. I certainly would hate it if I had to forego producing hard-hitting documentary types of pieces to instead produce a whole bunch of senseless video snippets. Then I would argue against it. But why can’t we do both? Have some people who work on the deep projects, some who produce mainly dailies in addition to other responsibilities (like writing), some who may occasionally do both? It seems like news orgs have enough people to do all of that.

  6. Hi Angela

    We can do both. My point was to makes sure that we always bear in mind that we want to do both and don’t let the economics of supply and demand get in the way.

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