Hannah Campbell is a reporter/multimedia journalist at KAIT, in Jonesboro, Ark. She’s been on the job for three weeks. I was interested in hearing from Campbell on what it’s like, how she’s adjusting and how her college training prepared her for the role.
Hannah Campbell is a reporter/multimedia journalist at KAIT, Gray’s ABC/NBC/CW affiliates in Jonesboro, Ark. (DMA 183). She had been on the job for three weeks when I spoke to her recently, where she was joined by her news director, Josh White.
“Call them VJs, backpack journalists, or ‘one-man bands’,” said a 2008 article in Next TV. “Whatever you call them, these do-it-all reporter/photographers are turning up all over at stations trying to cut costs, broaden coverage, or simply put more flexibility and options in the news director’s toolkit. The ideal VJ knows how to report, write, shoot, and record good sound, then edit the resulting video on a laptop computer and transmit the story back to the station – typically using a broadband cellular modem rather than a traditional microwave truck.”
According to new research from the Radio Television Digital News Association (RTDNA), the use of multimedia journalists, commonly referred to as One Man Bands, is up a couple percentage points from last year, with almost 64% of all TV stations reporting they mostly use MMJs. The biggest change over last year is that in the top 25 markets, almost 35% say they mostly use MMJs vs. just under 20% from last year.
Al Tompkins, a senior faculty member at the Poynter Institute, said there’s no doubt the growth of MMJs has been a significant development in the last decade.
“Technology makes it easier to capture high quality video and audio on smaller devices along with the ability to go live using backpack bonded-cellular from anywhere. The advantage of MMJs are you can work in a lower profile and not draw attention to yourself. Some people love the artistic freedom of doing it all themselves.”
Plus, local TV newsrooms have to fill hours and hours of content.
“Tightfisted companies are always looking for efficiencies,” said Tompkins.
“In that way they are not different from every other industry that is willing to take a compromise on quality to get efficiency.”
But Tompkins cautioned, “Some stories are too dangerous for one person to go-it-alone.”
In my time working inside local TV newsrooms, reporters were always accompanied by a photographer. So I was interested in hearing from Campbell what it’s like, how she’s adjusting, and how her college training prepared her for the role.
Like the job description says, being an MMJ is “you have to do everything,” said Campbell who is still in the training process.
The typical day for her is attending the morning editorial meeting, “where you pick your story ideas and then you go out and try to see what sources you can get. Sometimes you already have those lined up. Sometimes you have to call, e-mail to try to get those interviews lined up and you go out, shoot that, write your story and put that together, and that is pretty much what the day is like.”
Campbell makes it sound easy, but I wondered how much experience she had behind the camera.
“I interned at WAFF (Gray’s NBC affiliate) in Huntsville, Ala. They use the same exact camera. So I was able to get a little bit of training there on how to use the functions of the camera.”
“We make sure that they are manual white balance, manual focus, manual iris. We try everything in the world to take all of the auto stuff off.”
Learning to master a professional grade camera in a run and gun situation like most reporters face is a tall order. If I were an aspiring MMJ, I would take the camera everywhere and be able to operate it in the dark. If you don’t get good pictures consistently, you might be out of a job.
“I took a lot of movie production classes, so I did have camera work experience,” Campbell said.
“I have the control over my own shot, complete creative control, so it’s like your own little miniature documentary. It can be a little challenging when you go out there and you are trying to set up your shot but I do think it is a good way to be creative and it’s fun.”
Editing’s no small feat either. In the old days when the reporter had a photographer, when they arrived on the scene the cameraman knew what to do—shoot an establishing shot, capture some dramatic B-roll — while the reporter started to line up interviews. Later, in the truck, the photographer drove while the reporter logged tape and starting writing the story.
At KAIT, they use the Edius edit system. Does Campbell have to edit in the field or a live truck?
“What they are training us to do is you can edit remotely in the field and then you upload it so the producers can get the video. You can also do that on the desktop as well. Since the coronavirus pandemic, a lot of the reporters are remote so most reporters are editing on their laptop. That’s what they have been training us to do.”
Campbell said the biggest adjustment is time management.
“In college, you will have like a week to turn your package,” said Campbell. “In the real world, it’s a lot different. It’s usually a couple of stories a day. It’s a learning curve.”
Campbell said colleges need to “push the actual reporting side, actually getting out and not being afraid of the camera, not being afraid of a tripod, actually picking it up and just doing it. Go out and practice shooting, running, editing because that is what news directors will look at when you graduate. In college, people were just terrified of the camera, terrified of breaking it.”
What do news directors look for in an aspiring TV MMJ?
“We hire everybody on potential,” said White. “Who do I think has the most potential and then we try to make that happen.”
And how long does it take usually before the new MMJs are making it happen?
“There is nothing formal or set on paper. I mean we have our standards that we hold everybody to, but it is how quickly things start to really click for people. If they dig in, and really bust their butt, they can be up and running in less than a month. But it all depends on how quickly they grasp everything. Do they make the same mistakes and if they do, then we keep working on that. If they make new mistakes every day, then that means that they are learning and progressing and we like that.”
White said he cautions new reporters about their first few months.
“I tell them there is an unspoken formula that for the first three months you are going to hate life because nobody calls you back, no story ideas come your way and you have no idea where you are going or how really to do anything each day. Then about three months to six months, something starts clicking. Then you try to do everything to prove to the bosses that you are worth the hire, worth all the training and critiques.”
And Campbell has just one word of advice for those in college looking to break into the broadcast business.
“Internships. Internships are definitely important.”
At KAIT, all the reporters are one man, or one woman bands.
Click here to go to Hannah Campbell’s YouTube page.
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