Commentary

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

Mighty Ivy, Jerry & Susie, and finding three dimensions in tragedy

“Find the emotion.”

TV reporters and photojournalists hear that refrain often. Our medium, after all, lends itself less to in-depth analysis and more to visceral video. As such, we often receive assignments that offer the greatest potential to witness raw feelings.

But rarely are we asked to push beyond those feelings.

We are told to put our most emotional moments at the front of our stories, not set them up with context. We are sent to horrific scenes and given little time, both on site and in newscasts, to get a sense beyond the basic. We are pushed to keep things moving.

So often, though, such a philosophy produces reports that only connect on a surface level – and, while powerful in the moment, are almost immediately forgotten.

I want my stories to be remembered. More importantly, I want the people in my stories – the ones who open themselves to news coverage at extremely vulnerable times – to be remembered.

This past month, I received two specific opportunities to tell such stories. I tried to produce pieces that would provide both powerful moments and the depth and poignancy to earn them.

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MMJ Survey leftovers: burnout, a shout-out, & a look (way) back

The MMJ Survey has been catching quite a bit of attention.

In the past few weeks, I have released the results of — and written several pieces about — the MMJ Survey, in which nearly 100 solo video journalists in local TV news said how they felt about the job and industry. I conducted the survey in part because I had never seen anything like it before; I know how unique the MMJ life can be, and I wanted those in the role to feel enabled to make their voices heard.

Thankfully, I have been able to amplify those voices far beyond this blog.

In the past few weeks, I have written a column for one web site and been interviewed for a column on another. I want to share them here, and I will return with the regular rotation of columns and podcasts starting next week.

An MMJ Life | Battling burnout (TV News Storytellers): I was able to reach such a large swath of solo video journalists for my survey by posting on a pair of Facebook groups. One was MMJane, a group exclusively for female MMJs; I interviewed their administrators, Sarah-Blake Morgan and Katie Eastman, on my most recent podcast episode.

The other group is TV News Storytellers, whose founder Matt Mrozinski joined me last year on the podcast.

Matt and I spoke about me writing a column about the survey, and I chose to isolate the very real issue of MMJ burnout. I went through it as a young journalist, and I write in this piece about how I got through it.

MMJs love their jobs, often don’t feel safe (NPPA.org): This article, written by Tom Burton with the NPPA and News Photographer Magazine, tackles another glaring result from the MMJ Survey.

It talks about safety.

Burton interviewed me about the survey and seemed particularly interested in the concerns of many MMJs about being placed in potentially dangerous situations. That said, we covered a variety of topics, and Burton hits most of them in this write-up.

The cameraman who works alone: I was not interviewed for this piece, and I have no idea from where it came.

I just know this: it’s from 1964, and it’s outstanding.

Amanda Emily, the historian extraordinaire for TV News Storytellers, unearthed this chapter from Fred Mooke, then the managing editor at WTVJ-TV in Miami. Mooke discusses the rise of the one-man band … more than five decades ago.

I don’t want to spoil any of it. But solo video journalists out there need to give it a read. It’s amusing, to say the least.

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.

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.

***

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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