The Solo Video Journalist

In 2016 I authored The Solo Video Journalist, a how-to book for aspiring storytellers and multimedia journalists. In this section, you will find advice from myself and fellow MMJs on tackling the challenge of solo reporting and becoming a stronger storyteller.

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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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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PODCAST EPISODE #47: Heidi Wigdahl, solo video journalist, KARE-TV

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I’ll always remember the first time I was asked to speak at a major storytelling conference.

I flew to Minneapolis/St. Paul in 2014 to talk about solo video journalism at the Ignite Your Passion workshop. It immediately became one of the most joyous and fulfilling experiences of my career, and it sparked an evolution that led to me co-directing a similar workshop two years later.

This past fall, Heidi Wigdahl received that same opportunity.

The KARE-TV MMJ discussed the do-it-all process with Twin Cities colleague Adrienne Broaddus and WITI-TV’s Jonathon Gregg. She cherished the opportunity to reach a regional audience of solo video journalists, many of whom are — like her — in their 20s.

Wigdahl has a pretty impressive story to tell. She has risen up the ranks from Rochester, Minn. to Knoxville, Tenn. to her current location, Minneapolis/St. Paul. She now works at a station that is widely respected for the storytelling acumen of its reporters, photojournalists, and MMJs.

Wigdahl is my guest on Episode #47 of the Telling the Story podcast.

We discuss a wide range of topics but focus on one of the biggest logistical struggles for many MMJs: how to dress for the twin challenges of appearing on-air and shooting quality video. I interviewed Wigdahl about that topic for my new book, The Solo Video Journalist, available now through Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and the publisher’s web site.

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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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PODCAST EPISODE #46: Joe Little, solo video journalist, KGTV

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Last week I made an exciting announcement that, I hope, will greatly benefit the journalism industry.

I introduced my new book, The Solo Video Journalist, dedicated to providing a unique how-to guide for TV multimedia journalists — also known as MMJs, backpack journalists, one-man and one-woman bands, and VJs. The book can be found on AmazonBarnes & Noble, and my publisher’s web site.

Throughout the book, I interview some of the country’s best MMJs — and journalists period. I use each chapter to break down a specific step of the storytelling process, combining my advice with that of the journalist I interviewed for that chapter.

In the case of shooting solo stand-ups, I knew exactly who to call.

Joe Little of KGTV is my guest on Episode #46 of the Telling the Story podcast. He has gained notoriety in media circles for his annual YouTube compilation of his stand-ups that have continued now for more than half a decade.

(I actually just got sidetracked writing this post while watching one. Check it out …)

He brings creativity and fearlessness to a task that would deter many solo acts — myself included. I shied away from shooting my own stand-ups for a long time but have seen from Little and others how they can benefit my work. Now I do them regularly, and I am more empowered because of my solo status.

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Introducing “The Solo Video Journalist”, my how-to book for aspiring MMJs

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.

(… or backpack journalist, or VJ, or any number of titles bestowed upon this position through the years. I went with “solo video journalist” because I think that term most accurately describes the job: producing video stories and journalism on one’s own.)

I have held this title since I entered the business more than a decade ago, and I have remained astounded at the lack of explicit instruction exists for those who do it. So many, both inside and outside the business, continue to envision newsrooms full of traditional reporters and photographers, neglecting the vital role MMJs have come to play.

The reality is far different.

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PODCAST EPISODE #42: Ellen Crooke, TEGNA; Scott Livingston, Sinclair

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If you work — or wish to work — in local television news, you will want to hear this hour of audio.

Last month John Kirtley and I hosted and directed the NPPA Southeast Storytelling Workshop, at which a sold-out crowd heard from a bevy of the best storytellers nationwide. One of the highlights was a panel discussion featuring two people of tremendous influence at the nation’s largest broadcast media groups: Ellen Crooke, VP of News at TEGNA, and Scott Livingston, VP of News at Sinclair.

I have known Crooke for more than a decade; she has hired me twice, and I fully admit to being a tremendous admirer of her passion for storytelling and desire to change the landscape of TV news. I met Livingston for the first time at this workshop, but I am a huge fan of his photojournalistic mindset and the storytelling culture and teamwork that exists at many of his stations.

During this panel, both offered tremendous insights into:

  • the current TV news landscape and what’s being done to improve it
  • the ways in which both enterprise and in-the-mix journalism can be done better
  • the types of journalists who stand out to them, and the ways in which young journalists can make themselves valuable in a newsroom

Among the highlights:

  • Crooke on the state of local news: “There are times when we look at our local news product and say, 80% of it, I’m not interested. Twenty percent of it is extraordinary, but there is too much that is the assembly line and the factory, and we’re experimenting with ways to break that assembly line.”
  • Livingston on building a storytelling culture: “It is a privilege to tell stories that matter. It is our responsibility to tell a story that’s relevant. So we go back and ask, ‘What’s the ‘why’? What’s the ‘So what’? What are the questions we need to ask?'”
  • Crooke on what journalists can do to position themselves for the future: “Embrace ambiguity. We are going into a new territory in our industry, and it’s the people that forge into the ambiguity that are going to change our industry and move our industry forward. If we only do what we know and what we’re comfortable with, we will never change.”
  • Livingston on building trust and establishing transparency: “We want to be transparent. We want the viewer to be able to watch the piece, go to the web, and here’s the PDF; here’s the court document so you can see for yourself.”
  • Crooke on one thing every newsroom gets wrong: “I see us hiring people from outside our business because we want to be different … and then we suck them into our vacuum of sameness. We don’t let them change us. I just see it happening over and over again.”
  • Livingston on what keeps him up at night: “It’s our future in late news. In morning news, we’re doing great. But with late news, because of all the devices, everything thinks they know everything before. Also, I think we all need to be prepared for the post-network world. That’s why we are trying to touch people on other platforms: so we create such a sense of belonging with our brand that our network lead-in becomes irrelevant.”

I hope you enjoy this segment called “A Look at the Landscape”, and I urge you to leave your thoughts in the comments below.

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