What we can learn from TV news shooters

For the longest time, still photojournalists loved to talk smack about the TV lenslingers that would often get in our shots. But as newspaper photojournalists transition to shooting video, they should realize our TV brethren have something to teach us. The cultures of TV news and newspapers are finally starting to blend. We are both looking to achieve the same things– bring our viewers news and information in the quickest way (form) possible. For newspaper journalists, it means  changing newsroom workflows, where deadlines are now and not in the late afternoon.

When I first started shooting video, there weren’t a lot newspaper videojournalists working full-time. I looked for inspiration in TV news stories. I realize that most of what TV news does is not something I or any other newspaper video shooter would want to emulate. Stand-ups and live shots are not for us. But back in the early 90’s, lenslingers of old, were able to do some incredible nat sound pieces. That was before the insultants and producers got a hold of the newscasts and jammed Eleven-Stories-in-Eleven-Minutes into our collective eyeballs. I think too many of us believe, as we’re huddled in our supply closet video editing suites, that we’re actually inventing a new way to tell a video story. The fact is, the cream of the TV shooter crop, has done this for decades. Do a search on You Tube for of any of Charles Kuralt’s On the Road series. He was a master storyteller. In the hay-day of the TV nat sound piece, TV news shooters were able to roam their communities alone, looking for those small stories that rarely got told. The boy hawking lemonade (a classic– anybody have a link to this?) where a wireless mic and a young boy was all that was needed to create TV magic.

Last month, at the Northwest Video Workshop, my co-instructor Kurt Austin of KGW in Portland, Oregon, showed his recent nat-sound pieces. A story on how Nintendo Wii is being used by senior citizens for exercise, and a fun story of a guy who dresses like a clown, blowing a trumpet from a traffic island for morning commuters, reminded me of the nat stories I watched in my youth. Both these pieces connect to viewers in ways the new style of live-shot journalism doesn’t. The sad thing for a talented videojournalist like Austin, is that he only gets to do these type of stories rarely now.

Thankfully, newspapers are picking up the torch for the lost art of the natural sound piece. We are giving it our own spin. What we can learn from TV photojournalists, is how to tell a more effective story. One of the things I, and most every newspaper shooter needs to learn, is how to edit for pacing. Many of our stories wander around, never getting to the point. We fail to edit in the little magic moments and surprises that keep a viewer staying to the end of our masterpieces. We create epics, because we can. We are afraid to use are own voice to objectively narrate our stories. So where do we turn for help?

For me, I like to watch the masters work. Checkout the yearly BOP TV news winners, dissect the edits. Watch closely how a story is paced. Is it frantic or precise? Does it match what is going on in the story? Look at the sequencing of the video. Count how many seconds a b-roll clip stays up. How many of us have used a one-second video clip? Not many I bet. Look for the nat sound pops. That one or two seconds clip where a subject says something profound or the camera focuses on a tight shot with great audio. These make great transitions, but we on the newspaper side rarely use them. Does the narration work? Or does it get in the way?

For other inspiration, check out this Youtube like site for professional storytelling video. There are some gems to dissect and help you improve your editing and storytelling.

17 thoughts on “What we can learn from TV news shooters

  1. Pingback: Notes from a Teacher: Mark on Media » Sunday squibs

  2. Thank you Colin for the acknowledgment that TV photographers are NOT to blame for the stories seen on TV news programs. We have souls and dreams…but the times changed and the producers and (love that term) insultants now rule. At too many stations the craft of storytelling is lost in the rush to pacify the audience with more and more of what passes for news. I know many of my old compatriots are hurting and looking for a way out of the hell they now live and work in.
    Editing and sound are half or more of shooting…and most VJs I know are creating the story as they shoot…getting the sound they know they will need, the tight shots…building sequences.
    One strange fact I’ve picked up as a teacher: students with a love of music make the best editors because they understand pacing.

  3. Thanks for the subliminal nod, Colin. It’s a refreshing change from the usual derision of the latest converts. You I like. But not just becasue you flatter me but because you speak the truth. NPPA and the growing B-Roll TV repository are excellent places to see the very best of TV (much of which comes from medium market shops, I might add – not always the larger ones).

    You’re also correct about the golden age of the Nat Pack. It has passed – for the reasons you stated. Still, I make a pretty good living cranking out just the kind of lens-centered (not reporter) stories you pine for. They’re not nat sound pieces, off-camera anchors voice them. Neither are they anywhere near the level of the Apostle Charles Kuralt’s holy canon – and I mean that sincerely. But they’re not graffiti either.

    I’m not the only veteran camera monkey turning these ‘smaller’ stories. Across the fruited plain, photogs who talk are roaming the eart, along with the soon to be extinct two person crews and the ever vailant one-man band. Oh, I’m sorry… VJ, backpack journalist. Old gig – new name (Who knew I was a pioneer fifteen years ago? I thought I was just some schlub with a necktie and a fanny pack.) Where was I? Oh, yeah – as technology continues to shake things up, veteran lenslingers like myself are hopeful that the last vestiges of vaudeville might finally fall away from our chosen craft.

    Now we just have more company. Good to have ya…

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  5. Pingback: Learning from TV news « Advancing the Story

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  7. Thanks for the mad props for all the lenslingers out there. I’ll echo Stewart “Lenslinger” Pittman’s sentiments when I say much of the quality in local news is buried in the middle markets. That’s where you’ll find photogs with passion working hard to take it to the next level only to have their dreams of newsroom nirvanah dashed by insultants and accountants.

    It’ll take serious competition from the likes of the new breed of storytellers on the web to force television away from car crashes and back to telling people’s stories.

    I’ll be watching you.


  8. Colin,

    Thanks for the respect and a chance to provide you with the link to one of my favorite TV nat sound packages “The Lemonade Kid.” It was shot by photographer John C.P. Goheen and you can watch it by going to http://www.terranovapictures.com under the televsion projects tab. I heard John speak and show his work at a seminar more than 12 years ago in Atlanta. I had never seen this type non-narrated story before. John does some of the most amazing television photography I’ve ever seen. I would jump at a chance to spend more time learning from him. I steal all my best ideas. By the way, I’m a TV news photographer working in Orlando, FL. I’ve been shooting video for 13 years now. See you out there.

  9. Colin,

    Just discovered your blog. If you shoot as well as you write, well all I can say is that I’m adding you to my list of favorites.

    Thanks for the kind words about us TV shooters.

    Mark Neuling
    CNBC News Camera

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  11. Pingback: Thank you Colin Mulvany! « VideoJournalism

  12. At last, someone peeked past the talking head on a video news story or feature and recognized the importance of the person lashed ahead of the talking head.
    On a climb of Half Dome they are hanging from rock pins, climbing and shooting. More times than not they work a story alone, meeting the talent for the stand-up wrap that puts the reporter/chief expert in the story.

    Responsible, steady in impossible situations, and able to get the sound, pictures and necessary coverage; the shooter is the only man (or) woman in the journalistic fox hole expected to get the shot. Period!

    For years we have lit the countless press conferences and staged city hall ambushes. Our still shot counterparts sat in the back and waited for f/5.6 to magically to bloom. They snapped half a roll of black and white and blew the pop stand.

    TV Video News is still a holy calling for people who love the sound of claxon fire engines and roaring crowds and amazing digital video cameras. Total adrenaline freaks, the new shooters are doing a great job. They utilize the new technology with style, and tell the story some clever way, even though
    most “breaking news” is the re-hash of an event beat to death for the last ten years.

    Truth is, most shooters would work for free if they get to be “7 On The Scene!” First! with an accurate report and bragging rights. If everybody could do it, they would.


    Jer Reeves
    Chief News Cameraman, Director of Special Projects, Freelance, 1966 -2003. Seattle, WA

  13. Pingback: In search of “The Lemonade Kid” « Mastering Multimedia

  14. Good column. I hope some of your readers will consider joining us at the NPPA’s Advanced StoryTelling Workshop at Texas State University in April. Among our faculty are John Goheen (Lemonade Kid and 3 time NPPA video Photographer of the Year) and Kathy Kieliszewski, Deputy Dir. of Photography at the Detroit Free Press.
    This is our link for those interested in more information.
    Steve Sweitzer
    Past President of the NPPA

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