WTVF Nashville put its news photogs in front of the camera to talk about their jobs and how they covered the biggest moments in 2023.
Local TV news photographers don’t get much ink. And unless they’re MMJs, there’s little face time as well.
That’s a shame because they have a unique perspective to the TV newsgathering process that is the fundamental essence of local TV news — the visuals, the images, the emotion, the sound and the fury.The local TV news photography business is often a 365-day, 24-hour industry, and there’s no such thing as an average day.
These photogs are on the front lines of breaking news and disasters, car wrecks, fires, shootings, tornadoes and floods, often before the first responders. They see it all unfiltered. And they sometimes have to put their cameras down to wade into high water to make a rescue or dug among the ruble after a tornado to pull out a survivor.
In addition, they must be highly skilled camera technicians and visual artists, and they must be versatile enough with sophisticated video editing software to turn stories around quickly for hard, fast deadlines.
They run and gun in all types of weather, the camera hand-held and steady, because they don’t have time to use their sticks — tripods — to capture the action.
They often must visualize the story and the sequence before the story’s even told to make sure the reporter and the viewer have the images and the sound that make it news.
They’re not robots, they have emotions, and they have something to say.
Nashville’s WTVF, a Scripps CBS affiliate, allowed its news photogs to go in front of the camera in a 30-minute special, Behind the Lens, to talk about their jobs and how they’ve covered the biggest moments in Nashville and Tennessee in 2023. Behind the Lens aired twice during December 2023.
What do the WTVF news photogs want people to know about them?
“There is a beating heart behind the camera,” says Catherine Steward, WTVF’s assistant chief photographer and the producer of Behind the Lens. “We live in these neighborhoods we cover, we have our own families, and we get impacted by big stories whether we are covering them or not.”
Steward says Behind the Lens gives viewers a chance to know that WTVF’s news photogs “care about their jobs and what they are doing, and they do. Maybe down the road if they meet one of these people from WTVF, they’ll be able to trust them.”
Mike Rose, WTVF’s chief photographer, says Behind the Lens is a step toward transparency.
“We have done a lot of work towards informing people how the news works,” Rose says. “The general public may be skeptical of the news these days and this is a way to show that we go through the similar stresses and pains and joy that they do. This is a look at how we try to be authentic and make authentic connections with people.”
TV news photogs often work crazy hours in a job that is highly stressful. So why would anyone want to be a TV news shooter?
Rose says he enjoys being “out in the field and a part of my community, seeing what’s going on, good and bad. Just having a pulse on the day to day.”
Steward says the lure for her is “I do something completely different every day. I genuinely do not know what I am going to do from Tuesday to Wednesday. I totally thrive off that and I think everyone here does.”
In 2023, Nashville experienced school shootings, a military helicopter crash, deadly tornadoes and upheaval in the state capitol. How do photojournalists deal with seeing things no one else sees, as one says in the special.
Rose says there’s a photographers group text to help manage stress and monthly staff meetings to check on emotions and feelings.
“You have to be healthy emotionally,” Rose says. “And giving people an opportunity to clear their palate a little bit, talk things out, is pretty important to me.”
Steward leans into the heavier stories as a way keep herself from getting jaded. “I try to let myself feel the heaviness of whatever is going on because I feel like that makes me better at my job, trying to be as in tune with the feeling in the moment.”
Both Rose and Steward say there are days when they question whether they want to keep doing this job.
“But you never know the moment that is going to turn out to be a historical moment,” Rose says. “You are witnessing the struggle of humanity. You sit back and you think, wow, I just caught a piece of history.”
NOTE: I asked both Rose and Steward to submit a couple examples of their favorite or most memorable stories.
“The people in these stories are in my head a lot,” Steward says.
“Here are two stories I shot and edited that I think capture the human spirit,” Rose says. “It’s the ones that are in the moment that are the best.”
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