Smaller stations in smaller markets have always set the benchmark for getting the most out of an individual, but over the years the One Man Band concept has gradually crept its way into the larger markets around the nation.
As the equipment gets smaller and the quality continues to rise, more and more TV News Stations or Cable News outlets are hiring reporters who shoot for themselves.
Call them what you will, One Man Band, Video Journalist, Backpack Journalist, the definition is the same; A Television Journalist who shoots, writes, edits and voices his/her own stories. A slight variation on this idea is a photojournalist who will do all of the above except voicing the story, instead letting an anchor or another reporter lay a polished voice track on these self produced pieces.
There is probably at least one Solo Crew at every TV station in North Carolina. And many photojournalists, like myself and Lenslinger shoot and write stories on our own all the time.
Here in the Greensboro, Winston-Salem, High Point, NC market there are a several One Man Band VJs at all the stations.
Most notably however was when Gannett owned WFMY advertised last year for 2 of what they titled Backpack Journalists. This position was a reporter/shooter position where the shooter would use a Sony DVCam Handycam unit to gather news video and edit in the field on a Laptop NLE computer.
One of the Backpack Journalists that WFMY made was Heidi McGuire. She is a local girl who grew up right here in Thomasville and has now made her way back from South Dakota where she was also One Man(woman)Band at KSFY.
I ran into her recently on a shoot and asked her about the appeal of being a OMB VJ and her answer was simple and straight forward.
"When it looks good I get all the credit, but when it looks bad it's all on me too."
She also said something about not having to work with grumpy photographers, but I was too busy griping with my reporter to care what she meant. ;)
Today's Video Journalists like Heidi are carrying a much lighter load than the one man bands of the 80s and 90s. The pictures on a $3000 'Handycam' that weighs about 8 pounds are nearly identical to the picture produced on the 16 pound, $30k shoulder mount like I carry.
I personally like my bigger camera and wouldn't want to work with such a small camera everyday and it has nothing to do with masculinity(OK, maybe a little).
My beef with a smaller camera is about quality and ease of holding a steady shot. The capacity to have full manual control of the camera is also important to me and I don't like having to deal with itty bitty controls.
But on the other side of the coin, McGuire would rather let the camera do the work while she focuses on the journalism. She says lugging around a gigantic camera while trying to perform the delicate dance that is news, interaction with the public, gathering information and keeping up with a bunch of heavy equipment is just too consuming when there is this smaller alternative.
And as far as shooting steady video, she says she has gotten used to the feel of the smaller camera. It just takes a little more finesse.
Her equipment list is fairly simple. The 8 pound camcorder with a wireless microphone setup, a shotgun mic, a lightweight tripod and a small light kit for indoor interviews.
And then there's the VJ Van from which she can write and edit her stories and wait for a photog who brings her a Live Truck and shoots any Live Shots.
With moves like the one KRON is making in San Francisco by only having one person news gathering crews on the streets, you may think McGuire is in favor of filling up her shop with a bunch of other VJs. But she says it's a bizarre step to eliminate 2 person crews and not the way a TV station should approach news gathering.
She is more than happy and up to the challenge of gathering stories solo, but there are those days when being alone makes getting the story nearly impossible to do well, if at all.
While Heidi and other VJs love what they do, I would have to agree with reporter Caron Myers, who I work with the most, who put it this way..."As a VJ there is going to be a compromise, whether it's the video, the journalism or the on air appearance of the reporter. Something's gotta give."
But for now I will say that Heidi and Gail, the other VJ Back Pack Journalist at WFMY, are doing a great job, in spite of flying solo on a flight sometimes meant for a crew.
Now about the VJ deal at KRON. Coming in the next few days...An interview with a former KRON photojournalist who is currently working at another TV station in SanFran.