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.


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.


Ten years later: what I learned (and didn’t learn) in J-school: “My professors and leaders at Northwestern focused on teaching what I would not automatically learn as a professional. Through everything mentioned above, they ingrained in me a sense of the tradition and power of journalism. What we do is important. What we do is valued. What we do is a time-honored touchstone of society.”

Advice from college journalism professors, Part 1: “I appreciated the idealism in the professors who responded. As the landscape constantly changes, the people who train journalists seem to admire their students’ youthful enthusiasm.”

Advice from college journalism professors, Part 2: “Try. You will never know how much you can accomplish unless you take a risk. Try to capture a story in sound, images and video as well as text. Know that no one has your voice and the world needs to hear from you.”

The toughest question to answer for college journalists: “I struggle to give a rosy-cheeked answer when asked about that balance. I never sugarcoat the challenges and steep odds that come with the business; I give as realistic a picture as I can, and I stress the need to be passionate about journalism if someone wants to build a satisfying career of it.”

Embrace your autonomy: advice and a tip sheet for MMJs: “In short, the excuses are going away quickly. MMJs can win awards, do great work, and cover meaningful stories. For most of us in this wild profession, that’s a wonderful career.”

Interns (or, the value in thinking out loud): “I often point out how this industry offers little opportunity for introspection. Journalists are faced with repeated deadlines that demand immediate action; they must make an extra effort to incorporate long-term reflection into their workflows. Interns have a way of changing that.”

Interns, Part 2 (or the time I almost became famous): “The process of “making it” encompasses much of one’s 20s and early 30s; one then must spend the bulk of one’s adult life “keeping it”. The initial challenge evaporates, and the day-to-day job remains.”


Going gold for Silas, and the value of repetition: “Journalists always talk about catering to our audience, but sometimes we must check our egos in the process. Sometimes we cannot be too proud to call for our audience to listen to us.”

The Emily Bowman story, and finding honesty in heartbreak: “When people welcome us into their lives and allow us to tell their stories, we must do so as honestly as possible. That sounds obvious, but it can often be a challenge; as journalists, we get used to doing the same kinds of stories and telling them the same way, even if the textures of those stories are far different.”

Tad and Mary, and the quest to capture emotion on camera: “People get nervous or hesitant for a whole host of reasons once they know they will be recorded. For the most part, they simply do not have experience with having their actions documented, and often they respond by behaving how they feel they “should” behave, instead of how they genuinely want to behave.”

Embracing the unpredictable, and producing better stories: “I have learned during my early career the value and necessity of embracing the unpredictable. To be sure, experience is almost always a benefit when telling stories and interviewing people; a wise storyteller learns from every assignment and uses that knowledge as perspective in future pieces.”

Why heart, in storytelling, is stronger than horror: “Even during the cavalcade of crime and destruction that fills most newscasts, the most memorable stories require a three-dimensional telling. They require care from the journalists assigned to tell them. They require an understanding of why their subject matter might resonate with someone watching at home.”

Logan’s big play: watching one story reach millions: “We talk all the time about the power of social media, and we often view it in more personal matters: the ability to keep in touch with friends, to share the moments of our lives, or to rally communities around causes. This was something different. This was watching a single story — and a beautiful video of Logan — reach a global audience and affect a number of people I could rarely otherwise reach.”

Logan lives on: the triumph of a heart-warming story: “I honestly wish people could experience Logan’s story the way I have: through a seemingly never-ending barrage of likes, shares, and comments that have left me humbled as a journalist and heartened as a human being. No matter where my career leads, I can say with some certainty that I will remember the journey of Logan as a major highlight.”


Introduction: the Storyteller’s Manifesto: “I have heard the following adage more than a few times: ‘If you can tell a good story, you will work forever in this business.’ I believe that statement; ultimately, journalism is about knowing to connect with others.”

Five lessons from five years of reporting in Atlanta: “I came to Atlanta with a lot of potential, early success, and rough edges. I have spent the last five years building on my strengths but also sanding out those rough edges and weaknesses. As the business evolves, new challenges will arise, and I will need to adapt.”

Squirrels, Steve Hartman, and storytelling through details: “A common complaint about TV news in particular is a seeming inability to be relatable. Stories fly by as mere wallpaper to a viewer’s day, mainly because the viewer cannot seriously connect with those stories’ subjects. The people in these pieces become cartoons — stereotypes or archetypes with little substance.”

The balancing act: journalism and stress: “Being a journalist requires me to know about the issues. Being a good journalist requires me to care about them. And I want to be a good journalist. So I must often allow myself to absorb the stress that comes with access.”

The all-around wisdom of “Think big, start small, act now”: “If you are not careful, the news business can send you flying. It can have you filling numerous roles without ever getting the chance to think about your own long-term hopes and expectations. Journalism is a beautiful field in which so much can be accomplished; journalists should never shortchange themselves, or their individual capacities to make an impact.”


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.

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