mmj

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.

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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.

PODCAST EPISODE #51: Sarah-Blake Morgan & Katie Eastman, MMJane

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I have never been to the page of the Facebook group run by my guests on this podcast.

I can’t get into the group.

And that’s a really good thing.

Sarah-Blake Morgan and Katie Eastman run MMJane, a Facebook group that provides a platform and community for its nearly 1,000 members.

The members are all women, and they are all solo video journalists.

Such a group is long overdue. A few weeks ago, I released the results of the MMJ Survey, in which nearly 100 MMJs gave their anonymous thoughts about how they view the job and business. I discovered a massive gender gap in the responses. Female MMJs consistently gave lower marks to statements about the solo life, most notably to the statement: “I see myself as an MMJ ten years from now.”

This is a huge problem for the future of our business.

Eastman and Morgan are my guests on Episode 51 of the Telling The Story podcast.

I spent 45 minutes chatting with the MMJane administrators about ways to better cater to female MMJs and give them a stronger voice in local TV newsrooms.

Only afterwards did I realize: they have already taken a giant step towards doing that.

The mere existence and ownership of MMJane is a massive victory for the one-woman band community — and, thus, our industry as a whole. Underrepresented groups advance more quickly when they develop a unified voice and receive positions of power. MMJane provides both.

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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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Ladies and gentlemen, some changes — and exciting news!

You have probably noticed: the site looks a bit different.

After taking a few weeks off for an international vacation (more on that in the next few weeks), I decided to shake up the appearance of the Telling The Story blog. As much as I enjoyed the previous look, I wanted to adopt a new presentation that offered more visible links and a more modern feel. I hope you like the changes.

You will notice, on the right sidebar, a group of essential entries that showcase, I believe, my best work from the first two years of the site. Below that is a complete list of podcasts, from #1 with WXIA-TV reporter Jon Shirek to #27 with WFAA-TV reporter Mike Castellucci. I look forward to adding to this list and welcome any suggestions for potential storytellers to interview.

I also have an exciting announcement: one of my stories has received a national award! I found out this weekend that my story about Bryant Collins, the Madison County, Ga. man who found a baby crawling on the side of the highway, was named the NPPA’s story of the year for Solo Video Journalist General News. This piece went all kinds of viral last June, and I am thrilled that it has received such strong recognition. As my friend (and podcast interviewee) John Kirtley said to me, “The NPPA is THE standard for storytelling, and this is on the national level,” so I am honored.

In the meantime, I will return with new entries next week and look forward to your feedback. Thanks for your readership, and enjoy the new site!

“Embrace your autonomy”: advice and a tip sheet for MMJs

I always appreciate the chance to speak with storytellers about this wild profession of ours.

In the past few years, I have received several opportunities to talk at conferences, and I particularly relish those moments. I believe in giving back as a general philosophy, but even more so when I can reach those in my profession who are eager to improve and learn.

And no topic delights me more than backpack journalism.

I have been a one-man band my entire career, starting when, at 22 years old, my first boss turned me into a one-man sports department. I have worked at several stations in numerous roles but have always been labeled a “multimedia journalist”, or MMJ. This is because, for the most part, I do it all — I shoot, write, and edit nearly every story I produce. This past year I was named the NPPA Solo Video Journalist of the Year, and last week I was asked by NPPA Quarterly Contest chair John Thain to reflect on the stories that got me there.

Watch it below (but try to ignore the choppy video):

As I spoke with John during that interview, I was reminded of how my “do-it-all” ability has truly catalyzed my career. At every stop, my versatility has made me valuable. And when I look around at other MMJs who have had major success in this business, I notice the same thing:

Most of them have embraced their autonomy.

When I get the chance to speak to journalists, particularly MMJs, I always send that message. (more…)