Commentary

The following are reflections on the evolving world of journalism, my experiences in the business, and the future of storytelling.

The MMJ Survey: What MMJs want non-MMJs, managers to know

Last week I posted the results of the MMJ Survey. I heard from nearly 100 currently solo video journalists about how they view their job and industry, and I wrote an accompanying column with eight revealing takeaways.

In three days, that column became the fifth-most popular post in the history of my blog.

It also became the source of countless messages, both online and in person, about the importance of providing a voice for such an overlooked position.

I believe strongly in developing that voice for solo video journalists. It’s why I speak so passionately about MMJs at workshops and conferences, and it’s why I wrote an entire book, The Solo Video Journalist, to provide the kind of specific guidance that is lacking for the position.

I want to use this post to give more space for those voices to shine.

The MMJ Survey ended with a series of open-ended questions that pressed respondents to speak out about their position. While I cannot publish every answer, I present below the most frequently heard themes from today’s solo video journalists.

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The MMJ Survey: 8 revealing takeaways about solo video journalists

For too long, the job of a “TV multimedia journalist” has been defined and viewed in its simplest terms … at least by those who have never worked as one.

Outsiders typically view the MMJ as a two-for-one combo package of reporter and photographer. Technically this is true; a one-person crew, by definition, handles the responsibilities traditionally assigned to multiple people.

But solo video journalists face unique challenges not experienced by – and not immediately obvious to – their colleagues in more traditional roles.

I have worked as an MMJ for my entire career, and I currently do so for the NBC affiliate in Atlanta. But I have devoted much time away from the newsroom to shining a light on this widespread yet often overlooked position. I have written about the challenges on this blog, interviewed renowned MMJs on my podcast, and recently authored a book, The Solo Video Journalist, that serves as a how-to guide for one-woman and one-man bands.

My latest offering is aimed not just at MMJs but also everyone else in the newsroom.

In January I conducted the MMJ Survey: I crafted a list of questions designed to get a better understanding of how solo video journalists view their jobs. I heard from 96 MMJs, with diversity in age, gender, and market size. They offered responses that often showed a clear consensus – and unearthed some conclusions that may surprise their newsroom colleagues.

Here are eight takeaways from the MMJ Survey:

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The MMJ Survey: Full results

In January 2017, I released a survey for solo video journalists to better understand how they view their jobs and their industry. I heard back from 96 MMJs, all of whom answered anonymously.

Below are the results to the survey’s multiple-choice questions. Most of these questions were accompanied by open-ended follow-ups, which are not included here due to complications with transfer from the Google Forms apparatus. For insight and analysis, check out the following article:

For more information about the data and survey, you are welcome to reach me by e-mail.

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5 little-known stories that show the greatness of Brenda Wood

For nearly eight years, I have worked in the same newsroom as an Atlanta TV legend.

But I have only witnessed a fraction of what makes her one.

Brenda Wood has been the foundation of the 11Alive newsroom for two decades; she has been an institution in Atlanta for nearly three. Her last day Wednesday marks the end of a 40-year career in television news – one filled with more honors, distinctions, and trailblazing moments than most of us can hope to accomplish.

Through my much shorter time at 11Alive, I have shared many conversations with Brenda while admiring the command and vision that set an example for so many in our newsroom.

Only recently did I learn the extent of that vision … and how far it goes back.

I was fortunate to interview Brenda for nearly an hour for my Telling the Story podcast. In that time, we covered many topics, and Brenda told some fascinating stories about how she developed into the woman she is today.

Those stories, to me, illuminated what makes her so special.

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How it feels to cover the Super Bowl without seeing it in person

My eyes are bleary.

I am three hours and 200 miles away from finally returning home from eleven days on assignment in Houston. In the last two days I have slept ten hours, which is the same amount of time my co-workers and I have spent driving back to our station in Atlanta.

(As I write this, we still have three hours to go. Hello from Greenville, Ala., by the way …)

The Super Bowl is worth it.

I wrote last week how I had dreamed as a child of covering the Super Bowl, the undisputed biggest event in sports. My dreams had strayed as I grew, I wrote, but I still recognized in this trip the chance to fulfill this original one.

Now that I have, I find myself still trying to take it in.

In more than a week, I have covered nearly every corner of Houston to tell the stories of the Super Bowl. I interviewed players, fans, and celebrities; I attended events; I ate some of the best food of my life; and I stood at the center of the sports’ biggest week.

I did everything … except see the game itself. (more…)

SUPER BOWL STORIES: Hello from Houston!

I have been fortunate to receive some dream assignments through the years.

My current one was once an actual dream.

I don’t watch as much football as I did when I was a kid. To be fair, nobody watches as much football as I did when I was a kid. I loved the NFL, and — growing up in New Jersey — I particularly loved the New York Jets.

In fact, one of my first journalistic exploits came when, in seventh grade, I started a weekly newsletter called The Jet Weekly. I even convinced my friends to write regular columns.

My football infatuation didn’t stop there. In high school I wrote full-length magazines previewing the upcoming NFL seasons. I turned down the volume before Jets games and did the play-by-play into a microphone (and recorded the audio on a cassette player). I simulated seasons from start to finish, and I never missed a game.

But as those years have grown more distant, so has my devotion to the NFL. In my career, I transitioned from a full-time sports guy to a full-time news guy (who, through some extraordinary assignments, gets to dip his toe into sports every so often). In my life, I went from a two-time fantasy football champ and NFL Red Zone devotee to someone who watches the occasional game. I no longer view the league through a lens of infallibility, and I often struggle to separate my enjoyment of the sport with the controversial baggage it carries.

I still, though, enjoy the game. And I particularly love the way a winning team — in any sport, including the NFL — brings together a city.

It’s happening right now in Atlanta. And it’s why I’m spending this week in Houston.

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Solo video journalists: take the MMJ Survey

I have spent my entire career as a multimedia journalist, or MMJ.

And because of that, I know all too well how little attention and instruction are paid to the position, even as it becomes one of the most prevalent jobs in local TV news.

In the past few years, I have taken major strides to rectify that. I have devoted many entries on this blog towards analyzing the quirks and challenges of the solo life, and this past fall I released a book, The Solo Video Journalist, which serves as a step-by-step guide through the storytelling process for aspiring MMJs.

Now I want to take the next step: this survey.

The MMJ Survey will provide a comprehensive look at how solo video journalists view their jobs, their industry, and themselves. I plan to compile the results and present them on this blog in the next few months.

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Ten years later, revisited: what I learned (and didn’t learn) in J-school

Nearly four years ago, and ten years removed from college, I embarked on a project to help young journalists in ways I felt I had missed.

I started the “Telling the Story” blog and used one of my first posts to reflect on my college experience. I titled the entry, “Ten years later: what I learned (and didn’t learn) in J-school”. I spoke of how my time at Northwestern University did not prepare me for the day-to-day realities of TV news, nor did it prevent me from feeling overwhelmed at my first job. It did, however, encourage me to think big, both about and beyond my career, and I have never forgotten.

Of the hundreds of posts I have written, “Ten years later” remains among the most popular.

Now I have unveiled a new project: a book called The Solo Video Journalist. It also aims to assist young storytellers; it does so by providing a how-to guide to the fastest-growing position in our field. Nearly every broadcast journalist who enters the field today must shoot and edit his or her own stories; many embrace that challenge and turn it into an advantage. My book draws upon my experiences, as well as those of eleven other MMJs, to offer foundations and solutions to the unique challenges of the solo life.

I had not connected the book with this post until I was approached about re-publishing “Ten years later” for the web site School Video News, in conjunction with a review of my book.

But as I re-read the post, I see how true it remains — and how much it informs The Solo Video Journalist.

The post notes how no college experience can stop a young professional journalist from feeling overwhelmed. The book takes direct aim at that problem by working to make that life more manageable. Operating as a one-woman or one-man band can be daunting, especially while also adjusting to adulthood and figuring out the rest of one’s life. I want my book to help ease that transition, all while encouraging young journalists to think big about what they can accomplish in this profession.

As for this post, I am now four years removed from writing it — and 14 years removed from attending J-school — and I completely stand by it.

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When people find out I work as a TV news reporter, they often ask where I went to college.

I tell them: “Northwestern University; the Medill School of Journalism.”

Then they ask: “Did you like it there?”

I tell the truth: “Absolutely.”

Then, assuming we do not start talking about the always-promising Northwestern football team, they usually say something along these lines:

“That’s a great school for journalism. You must have learned a lot there, right?”

I always give the short answer: “Yes.”

But I always wind up thinking later about how the long answer to that question is far more complicated.

This week marks a big anniversary for me. Ten years ago, I finished my last class at Northwestern. I graduated in June 2003, and I started working at my first TV station in July, but I left Northwestern’s lovely Evanston, Ill. campus in March, carrying all the ambition and eagerness expected of an aspiring journalist.

For a long time after I left, I thought mainly about what I had not learned — what I could not possibly have learned in my four years at journalism school.

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Looking back: The most popular posts of 2016

With the year wrapping up — and with me out of town this week on vacation — I made an executive decision regarding the blog:

It’s time for a compilation list.

I have experienced and written about quite a bit this year, and I have been heartened by the massive response I have received from people within the journalism community. I started this blog four years ago with the intent of helping storytellers and journalists improve at their craft. I hope entries like these have provided some guidance for doing that, through either my personal examples or those of others.

Here are my five most popular posts of 2016, along with an excerpt:

5) Remembering Clem Ferguson, the 96-year-old flight attendant (4/27/16)This was one of the more touching stories I got to tell this year. Clem Ferguson made a huge impression in a short amount of time.

Most television news reporters try to avoid clichés, but we tend to stumble upon one when people ask what we love most about our jobs.

The recurring answer? “Meeting people and telling their stories.”

I can’t deny it. I love that part of my job. Nearly every day involves meeting someone new; nearly every meeting involves learning something new. I continuously meet people who make me think, laugh, smile, and even cry.

And on the rare occasion, I get to meet someone like Clem Ferguson.

This past April Fool’s Day, I was assigned to tell Clem’s story, and it was a great one. Clem, I was told, was a lifetime Georgian who had finally received the chance, after 96 years, to live her childhood dream.

That dream? She had always wanted to become a flight attendant.

4) 5 Great Stories: the all-Boyd Huppert edition (10/31/16)This post was so popular — and received enough comments asking for more Huppert classics — that it was immediately followed by a “5 More Great Stories” edition.

It’s time to pay tribute to a legend.

This past Saturday, KARE-TV feature reporter Boyd Huppert received the coveted Silver Circle award from the National Academy of Television Arts & Sciences. The honor often reflects longevity — a lifetime achievement award, if you will.

But few journalists have reached Huppert’s level of achievements.

In fact, that same night, Huppert won his 100th regional Emmy award — one of 11 he received for 2016.

In addition to his Emmys, Huppert has won 14 national Edward R. Murrow awards and three Sigma Delta Chi awards; he has received, on seven occasions, the NPPA’s Photojournalism Award for Reporting. Beyond that, Huppert has inspired thousands of journalists through both his teaching and his example, and he has touched millions with his heart-warming stories.

A far less prestigious achievement? He is by far the most mentioned reporter on this blog. In nearly four years, I have tagged Huppert in 23 posts — the majority of which have come as shout-outs for his work in this “3 Great Stories” segment.

3) My Olympics Journey: I tried a coxinha, and Brazilian Twitter went wild (8/3/16)I could never have anticipated this being the 3rd most popular post of 2016. But I could never have anticipated that a simple Tweet would become such a joyous moment.

I can barely believe it, but I have already been in Brazil for nearly a week. In that time, I have done multiple reports and made numerous posts to Facebook and Twitter, cataloging some of Rio de Janeiro’s most iconic sights and elaborate Olympic venues.

But nothing has gained as much attention as a seemingly innocuous Tweet about a Brazilian culinary staple.

On Wednesday, a large group of us went on a day-long tour of the city, and midway through we stopped at the famous Selaron Steps. As we wrapped up and awaited our buses, one of my colleagues began talking with a Rio resident and pointed at an item in her hand from a street vendor.

It was a coxinha.

I had no idea what a coxinha was, but my colleague described it as a chicken hush puppy. Then she started passing it around.

I had to try … and I’m glad it did, because it was delicious. Within minutes, I posted the proof of my culinary victory to Twitter. It received a few likes and re-Tweets but quickly sank into the ether, like nearly every other Tweet, never to surface again.

Except it did.

2) Logan lives on: the triumph of a heart-warming story (9/7/16): This entry is a lesson in so many things, from the importance of pushing past first impressions to the power of social media.

I just spent most of August covering an event that captivates the world. I worked at the 2016 Summer Olympics for three weeks, produced 36 packages, made dozens of social media posts, and wrote 13 entries for this blog. Many of those packages, posts, and entries spread a great distance and performed very well both on-air and online.

But my most-read blog post from last month? It had nothing to do with the Olympics. It wasn’t in any way new; I had written it ten months earlier. And it was read nine times as much as the second-most popular post.

It was about a young man who has now touched hearts as worldwide as the Olympics.

It was about Logan.

If you have not heard or seen the story yet, let me catch you up. Logan Pickett is a teenager from Ringgold, Ga. who was diagnosed at a young age with autism. He struggles in social situations and, for a long time, had difficulty getting involved at his school. But his mother got him involved as a manager for the middle school football team, and he continued doing it into high school.

Logan absolutely awakened. He became a force on the Heritage High School sidelines, exhorting the crowd to, as he says, “Let me hear you!” But he never got to play … until last fall, when Logan’s coach conspired with an opposing coach one week to let Logan suit up, take a handoff, and score a touchdown.

1) Introducing The Solo Video Journalist, a how-to guide for aspiring MMJs (11/16/16)I put an enormous amount of effort into The Solo Video Journalist, a book I wrote and had published this year. I have been so gratified by the positive reaction from those in the storytelling community.

I am a television news reporter for the NBC affiliate in Atlanta, Ga., the 10th largest TV market in the country. But I am also my own photographer, shooting and editing the video that becomes my pre-produced reports. From the start of my day to the finish, I am almost always on my own.

And I represent a growing reality in TV news.

The term “multimedia journalist” gets thrown around in the news business, but in television it has a clear meaning. It refers to a journalist who produces a report from start to finish, combining the jobs of a traditional reporter (researching, interviewing, writing) with those of a traditional photographer (shooting, editing). We now occupy a substantial part of TV newsrooms; per the latest survey, roughly nine of every ten local network affiliates use them in some capacity. When aspiring television journalists go to college, they are warned they will almost certainly start their careers – and likely spend a good chunk of them – as one-woman and one-man bands.

Yet no book exists that offers a comprehensive overview of what the job entails, with the insights and authorship of journalists working in the business.

So I wrote one.

I am proud and excited to announce the release of The Solo Video Journalist, available now on Amazon and Barnes & Noble. It is a how-to guide for a position in TV news that is long overdue for such analysis: the multimedia journalist, or MMJ.

svj-cover-2

The Solo Video Journalist is available for purchase. You can find it on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and the publisher’s web site.

Matt Pearl is the author of the Telling the Story blog and podcast. Feel free to comment below or e-mail Matt at matt@tellingthestoryblog.com. You can also follow Matt on Facebook and Twitter.

Every piece of advice I’ve ever written for aspiring storytellers, MMJs (almost)

I started this blog 45 months ago as a resource for all journalists, but I specifically aimed to reach the younger ones looking for guidance as they embarked on their storytelling careers.

Now, 45 months later, I have taken the next step in that process: writing a book designed to help aspiring solo video journalists, or MMJs.

The Solo Video Journalist is available now on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or my publisher’s web site. In honor of the book’s release, I have compiled a collection of every blog entry and podcast that deals with life as an MMJ and how I approach the job. I hope you find it useful.

PODCASTS WITH SOLO VIDEO JOURNALISTS

Episode #1: Jon Shirek: It’s only fitting that I began my podcast interviewing a solo video journalist. Jon Shirek is a tremendous co-worker and an inspiration in so many ways. He, like many of the guests in this list, wound up as interviewees for my book.

Episode #3: Anne Herbst: When I interviewed Anne Herbst back in 2013, she was working as the assistant chief photographer at KDVR-TV in Denver. She’s now the Senior Multi-Skilled Journalist across town at KUSA. She’s a terrific resource (and another interviewee in my book).

Episode #19: Ted Land: Yet another MMJ who I interviewed in The Solo Video Journalist, Land has won national awards for writing and is one of the more methodical, analytical storytellers I know. This episode is a winner because of his expert understanding of the craft.

Episode #27: Mike Castellucci: This dude shot a half-hour special on an iPhone. He’s a smart, offbeat guy with a passion for storytelling and a willingness to take extreme measures to do it.

Episode #34: Ben Garvin: I love Ben Garvin. He’s a solo video journalist in many ways, but mostly he represents the creativity and versatility that should be desired traits for any aspiring TV news storyteller.

Episode #42: Ellen Crooke & Scott Livingston: TEGNA and Sinclair have both become leaders in their usage of MMJs. In this episode, recorded at the NPPA Southeast Storytelling Workshop, each company’s VP of news addresses the topic and many others.

Episode #46: Joe Little: He is an annual YouTube sensation thanks to his montages of solo stand-ups. He’s also a pretty darn good MMJ who hustles harder than most.

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