Rabble-rousing at its finest

You gotta love Michael Rosemblum over at The man knows how to make the media cogs squirm in their seats. 

The web offers not just another platform for distribution of product, but rather an entirely new calculus for how an online media company can be run. By its very nature, it changes the construct of most media businesses. Migrate your newspaper to the web completely and you suddenly lose the cost of ink, paper, presses, pressmen, delivery trucks, distribution and paperboys. Tell your writers to work from home and you can lose the building, the desks, the lights, the cleaning services and most of the management as well. Cut all those costs, and suddenly your ad based web revenue can look pretty good in comparison. Its the overhead that is killing you. Lose it. You don’t need it.

Heavy words, but alas, I think this is what will eventually befall our industry. Thankfully we’re not there yet. But if traditional newspaper advertising continues its year-after-year declines, you have to wonder when that line will be crossed–that it becomes more economically viable for publishers to cut the overhead and just publish on the web.

For this transition to happen though, a lot of blood has to be let. It will be gut wrenching for the truck drivers, paperboys, pressmen and others who will lose their jobs. But after this transition, what happens next? Will a journalism renaissance take place or will the brand names of newspaper mastheads fade into the noise of the web? 

If you haven’t perused Rosenblum’s blog you should. He pulls a lot of weight in the media industry. Rosenblum and his VNI (Video News International) colleagues of the mid-nineties were the first to push the idea of using the video journalist concept. Small digital video cameras in lieu of big broadcast betacams, One man bands. Produce from the field not from an edit suite. This new workflow has encountered a wall of resistance from traditional TV news shooters, who for some reason, are uncomfortable with losing all that weight they lug around.

The interesting thing here, is that the VJ model has been embraced by us newspaper video shooters who know nothing of lugging twenty pound tripod around or editing tape to tape. Rosenblum is a rabble-rouser, a square peg trying to change an industry one TV news station at a time. He loves to pick on Katie Couric and the whole TV news anchor paradigm:

Perhaps the last gasp of a defunct and completely out of touch management was Katie Couric’s pornographic $15 million a year salary – to work 22 minutes a night reading what someone else had written. The sheer stupidity of this, the sheer short-sightedness of it now becomes obvious to everyone. For Couric’s reported $15 million, CBS could have (could have) hired and fielded an astonishing 150 Videojournalists worldwide, paying them a quite honorable $100,000 a year to report for CBS News. CBS News could have (could have) placed itself on the cutting edge of the digital news revolution. Instead they opted to become the dinosaur poster child of the end of old media. Goodbye Tiffany Network. You blew it.

Rosenblum is moving forward with his vision. His ongoing Travel Channel Academy video workshops are full of people wanting to learn to produce video for TV and the web. He is helping newspapers integrate video storytelling into their websites. The momentum is in his favor. As the hinges on the foundations of traditional media start to break away, those of us that have embraced the VJ model will hopefully be left standing long after Ivory towers have come crumbling down.


9 thoughts on “ Rabble-rousing at its finest

  1. Having gotten rid of all the overhead costs– ink, paper, presses, pressmen, delivery trucks, distribution and paperboys, building, desks, lights, cleaning services and most of the management–what exactly has a newspaper publisher left to offer?

    Those writers who would then working at home produce the content. If they combine their efforts with some ad sales (and perhaps partner with an ad salesperson), why hand their work ovedr to a publisher.

    it looks as though the old publishers can finally be led to the block. (Being so shortsighted, most won’t see the ax falling.)

  2. Rosenblum has certainly stirred things up in the television industry. While I praise the man for thinking out of the box, his ideas of a newsroom comprised solely of VJ’s is largely unworkable in the television industry. Many of the stations that have gone the way of the VJ have ditched the idea when quality and ratings suffered.

    While there are many stories that are tailor-made for a one-man-band, there are too many that benifit from the combined vision of a photographer and a reporter to entrust an entire newsroom to the backpack journalist.

    As for giving up the heft of a betacam. I have, and you can have my babycam. I’ll take the boat anchor any day. Not for it’s size. Take a look at my X-rays to see what 20 years under a washing machine with a lens can do. True, the electronics inside my babycam will run circles around the dinosaur I used to schlep, but that little lens just doesn’t cut it shooting real world news. The zoom is too short to grab a hostage stand-off from two blocks away, and there are no real tight shots, only sort of close medium shots.

    Until someone makes a small camera with a decent piece of glass, babycams ain’t worth their paultry weight in platimum. At least not for shooting news.

    As for filing from the field, that’s something television news has been doing for decades, only with the added heft and hype of microwave vans and satellite trucks.

    I welcome Mr. Rosenblum’s ideas and his moxy to change an industry long in need of a fresh paradigm. The loss of hair-do’s and the breathless smotherage is something we can all agree on.

    But let’s see a VJ shoot, report, set the truck, and go live from the latest school shooting or chemical plant explosion. It ain’t gonna be pretty.

    I applaud all the VJ’s out there getting it done every day. There are days I envy their independence, their freedom, and their lack of a blow-dried partner. But there are some stories that are better suited for the old-school news crew.

    The newsroom of the future will surely look nothing like those of today. I’m quite sure the most successful will be some hybrid of Rosenblum’s vision and the crotchity old grumps like me remembering the good ole days. It’s the smart news manager who will know how to use all the resources available.

  3. “This new workflow has encountered a wall of resistance from traditional TV news shooters, who for some reason, are uncomfortable with losing all that weight they lug around.”

    Therein lies the rub.

    I’m all for solo newsgathering. In fact I’ve been doing it for the better part of my 18 year career. I enjoy the autonomy of working by myself; my work features none of the talking hairdo schtick and there is much I find viable in Rosenblum’s endless sales pitch. But I tend to blanch when arbiters of the VJ movement dismiss the value of a full sized broadast camera. It’s not the heft we yearn for; it’s the quality. Shoot with a full sized rig for any amount of time and you’ll realize the current babycams feel like mere toys. Again, I’m a big fan of working solo; I”ll take my standard broadcast set-up and smoke just about anybody. Hand me a scaled-down camera with half as many control functions and little reach and I quickly lose interst. It’s like trading in a Corvette for a Tercel and expecting the same kind of ride.

  4. Rick and Stewart,

    I remember old stories of how still shooters, faced with the arrival of the mini Leica 35mm cameras, didn’t want to give up their old Speed Graphflex cameras with their big potato masher flashes. “Too small and the quality isn’t as good as my trusty 4×5,” the old press dogs said. Then the young rebels started shooting with the newfangled Leicas. Photographers, like W. Eugene Smith were able to take pictures (moments) like none captured before. A photojournalist could now become fly on the wall, capturing real moments that would have been lost if someone had blasted off a flashbulb. F.8 and be there soon would became just a part of photojournalism lore. The old dogs faded or were converted. Soon after, modern photojounalism was born….

    Gawd, I’m sounding like Rosenblum now.

    Anyway, I’m still not getting the quality issue here. I use a three year-old Sony Z1U HDV camera. I have recently transitioned to shooting everything in HD. The video quality, to me, seems on par with most of the stuff I see broadcast on local TV news. I have two separate XLR based channels of audio. I use my wireless just like a standard broadcast set up. I have a decent tripod ,which I am using more– thanks to Stewart’s advice. I would like a longer, and wider lens, but that seems come with units in the 7k to 10k range. I am looking at the new Sony XDCAM EX1 as my next replacement. It has better lens and a tapeless workflow that will allow me to start editing almost immediately. I’m not saying you guys should give up what works for you. I just feel that video camera technology is moving toward smaller, lighter and better quality– all for less money. Babycams, as you call them, aren’t going away, but will improve with each generation. All things considered, I bet I could beat you both in a foot race to a fire scene schlepping my gear versus yours:)

  5. Again, I’m not hung up on size. Give me a scaled down camera with all the functionality I’ve come to rely on and I’ll be a happy photog. Until then, it’s hard for me to take it seriously. I understand the correlation between now and the rise of video/death of film but I’m still not willing to downgrade my weaponry.

    And yes, with a babycam in tow you could beat me in a footrace to a fire, But once the cops stop us both at the yellow tape, I can absolutely slay you with my lens’ reach, not to mention my trademark lifer photog patter.

  6. “I just feel that video camera technology is moving toward smaller, lighter and better quality– all for less money”

    Smaller? YES.

    Lighter? YES.

    Better Quality? Not yet. Not by a long shot.

  7. I’ll have to agree with ‘Slinger here. Its not the size, its the quality. The electrionics in my babycame is great. I love being able to throw it around with one hand. I love my small Cartoni sticks. It’s the lens.

    My Panny HVX200 is a great production camera. Its perfect for studio use where a photog has control of everything — light, distance, focal length, background, and depth of field. On the streets shooting news it’s a hinderance.

    If there’s a babycam out there with a 16x lens with a 2x converter and low light capabilities comperable to my old Cannon, count me satisfied and a babycammer for life.

  8. I can see losing the paper, ink, etc but I wonder about losing the newsroom. I’m all for embracing a new medium but would reporters working by themselves from home, essentially in a vacuum, foster the kind of discussion that occurs in a healthy newsroom? That back-and-forth talk helps people find fresh approaches to their stories. I don’t think discussing things over IM with an editor at their house would necessarily accomplish the same thing. Journalism is about people and isolating ourselves will not improve the product.

  9. What absolutely drives me nuts about Michael is he takes a grain of truth and builds a theme park wonderland on top of it. If you point at the inadequate foundations he says “But it’s got a cool rollercoaster on it and if you don’t like it you are just a chicken.”
    There is just no arguing with him as he clucks to a different tune.

    Last week I saw a grown man crying with frustration as a biggest story of his life was happening too far away for his handycam to see, while rest of us flipped in our extenders and locked of the tripod.

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