solo video journalist

I’m a journalist, and I’m going back to school. Here’s why.

In my career as a journalist, I have gone through numerous job interviews, as both interviewer and interviewee. I have never heard the following question:

How come you only have a Bachelor’s degree?

Most aspiring journalists try to enter the workforce as soon as they graduate, and they are not required to continue their schooling. Most news managers value experience and performance, and they expect their employees to develop in the “real” world, not the academic world.

Yet here I am, more than a decade removed from my last class at college, going back to school.

This week I officially became a student again, beginning a low-residency MFA program at the University of Georgia’s Grady Journalism School. For the next two years, I will attend several weeks of on-campus classes and meet remotely with various mentors and instructors as I earn my postgraduate degree in narrative nonfiction.

I will also continue to work full-time, marching forward as a reporter at WXIA-TV in Atlanta.

Does it sound like a lot of time? Does it sound like a ton of responsibilities to juggle at once? Does it sound like the type of effort that may go unnoticed by potential employers?

It sure does. But I welcome the challenge.

In my first years in the business, I often toyed with the idea of one day returning to school, but I never truly considered it. I faced more immediate career demands, wanting to establish myself as a journalist and advance to a market and station where I could — at least in the short term — settle down. (I also was scratching to afford rent and food, let alone five semesters of grad school.) Even after arriving in Atlanta, I never sought out additional education because I assumed it would require me to sacrifice my full-time job.

But in the past few years, my feelings began to change. I learned about programs at top-rated schools that catered to working journalists, and I watched several of my peers take advantage. I developed a passion for teaching, and I knew I would likely need a postgraduate degree if I ever wanted to join academia full-time. I came upon a program at UGA that hit every other check mark: it focused on in-depth and long-form nonfiction writing, featured a faculty full of journalism success stories, and required students to be on-campus for just two weeks a year. (It also offered a price tag that wouldn’t put me into debt.) I discussed the idea with my wife, and we decided I should apply.

So here I am, back at school … minus the lunchbox and No. 2 pencils.

I do not plan to use much of this space to discuss my UGA exploits, and I do not necessarily encourage other journalists to follow my path. This program enters my life at a near-perfect time both personally and professionally; I did not apply for it until I knew I could handle it.

But I do want to convey a broader lesson to my fellow storytellers: think beyond the usual.

Our business often forces its participants to think small. We face daily deadlines and increasing responsibilities, and we exert so much effort at work that we feel tempted to push aside any outside pursuits. But this can be short-sighted, especially in an media environment that demands versatility and flexibility. We should feel encouraged to stretch ourselves and take ownership of projects that take advantage of our skills and knowledge. Such a mindset, for example, is what led me to start this blog, develop a podcast, and write a full-length book about solo video journalism.

And I’m not alone. Last month I spoke on a panel with MMJ all-stars (and former Telling the Story podcast guests) Anne Herbst and Sarah-Blake Morgan. I realized we had more in common than simply shooting and editing our own reports. We have also built fulfilling projects outside of the newsroom. Morgan is one of the founders of the successful MMJane Facebook group, and Herbst runs an annual Women in Photojournalism conference. They didn’t ask for permission, and they didn’t worry about feeling overwhelmed. They used the same flexibility that helps them succeed as MMJs and applied it to new avenues.

I cannot speak for Herbst or Morgan, or for any of the other journalists who have pushed their limits to follow their passions. But I can tell you how I feel to have followed mine. I have been rewarded by every project I have tackled, from the blog to the podcast to the book. I approached each one methodically, thinking big and then taking the small steps to reach my goals. Beyond that, in each case, my work outside the newsroom has benefited my work inside the newsroom.

I expect those rewards to continue as I begin towards my MFA degree. I cannot say what this next big challenge will bring, but I am excited to see how it colors my perspective and improves my production as a storyteller.

I would encourage any journalist who feels the same to follow a similar path, no matter how you choose to do it.

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The Solo Video Journalist is available for purchase. You can find it on AmazonBarnes & 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.

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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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 #48: Best of 2016 edition

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This is a special podcast.

Normally I have one special guest from the news industry, offering insights about his or her career and advice for young journalists and storytellers.

This time, I have four.

Episode #48 is a compilation of some of my favorite clips from the past year’s episodes of the Telling the Story podcast. I chose snippets that specifically focused on advice for those just getting into the business — all from some of the best in the business at their respective positions.

You’ll hear from Jed Gamber and Catherine Steward, two photojournalists who in 2016 were named the NPPA’s Regional Photographers of the Year for the East and Central regions, respectively. (Listen to the full episode.)

You’ll hear from Boyd Huppert, the 100-Emmy-winning, world-renowned feature reporter for KARE-TV in the Twin Cities. (Listen to the full episode.)

And you’ll hear from Joe Little, who provided great insight for both the podcast and my book, The Solo Video Journalist, which is a how-to guide for young MMJs like Little and myself. (Listen to the full episode.)

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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.

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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.