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Video Journalism Is a Big Story for Reporters

Television journalists used to report the news with a crew of support people, including camera operators and sound technicians. Now technology has made it possible for television reporters to film their own stories. That technology can mean more opportunities for those interested in becoming reporters. Video journalism is one of the fastest-growing segments in the journalism world.

But this same technology also means that anyone who witnesses a newsworthy event -- and is carrying a cellphone with a camera -- can create their own news story. Some wonder if the rise of this "citizen journalism" means the end of reporting careers.

If you're interested in a reporting career, you'll want to know about video journalism. Whether or not it's your field of interest, everyone agrees that it's a powerful trend in the media. A good starting point is finding out how to break into this field. What does it take to become a videojournalist?

Danny Globerman has witnessed a lot of changes in his reporting career. He is a video journalist. He has been a reporter for nearly 30 years. Globerman started his video journalism career with a large, heavy Betacam.

Globerman says that having the right equipment isn't all you'll need if you want to work in videojournalism.

"There are two types of journalists at our station: cameramen who learned to report, and reporters who learned how to shoot," he says. "Being a reporter learning to shoot is easier than being a cameraman learning to report.

"Reporting skills are subtle and complex -- not that shooting isn't an art and a tremendous skill, but there's subtlety to the editorial side that is really difficult."

"I always compare video journalism to radio or print reporting," says Mara Schiavocampo. Formerly, she was a digital correspondent for NBC Nightly News with Brian Williams, but now she a correspondent for ABC News.

"A print reporter can go out with a notebook and a pen and get the story done. They don't need somebody to take notes. A radio reporter goes out with a mic and a recorder and does the story that way. Video journalism is allowing TV to work at the same level."

She says most video journalists now prefer lightweight mini-DV video cameras.

"You could get a used camera, something really respectable that does quality video, for about $1,000. Non-linear editing software like Avid or Final Cut Pro is kind of expensive because you're paying for the licensing fee.

"But Mac computers come with iMovie installed. That's a really basic editing system that you can probably teach yourself in an hour or two. People have cut whole documentaries on iMovie. You're not going to do anything fancy on it, but you can get the work done."

While Final Cut and Avid are expensive -- $1,000 to $1,200 -- she says lower-end versions of Final Cut are available for about half the cost.

Once reporters have the equipment, they have to find a story. And the portability of that equipment makes it easier than ever.

"It's made the news more mobile, spontaneous," says Scott Lambson. He's an independent video journalist based in Salt Lake City.

Lambson remembers covering a local mall shooting. Without a crew slowing him down, he was able to get into the mall, shoot footage and conduct interviews. "I stayed up all night editing it and sent it to Current TV first thing in the morning. Didn't have to rely on anyone."

That independence and mobility make traveling easier and create more opportunities. "I've gotten into a lot of places that a crew would never get into, because one woman with a camera is kind of low-key. People don't pay much attention. But if you go in with a sound guy, a camera guy, a correspondent and a producer it raises eyebrows," Schiavocampo says.

"You can be in the middle of an earthquake where no media can get because of the disaster, but you have your cheap camera -- it's as good as the cameras the major media have -- you now become the media. Technology has allowed citizen journalists an opportunity to shoot great-looking stuff. It's allowing those who have been the story (earthquake victims) in the past to actually tell their own story today," Lambson says.

"[But] you still have to know how to tell a balanced story, how to frame a shot, how to convey your message, how to edit and how to be fair."

Noting that CNN's Anderson Cooper got his start by lugging a camera to war-torn countries and submitting freelance reports to Channel One, Globerman says there can be virtue in citizen journalism. "But it's also difficult because [viewers] don't know what's true."

Because of this uncertainty, while several news organizations encourage citizen journalism, most separate it from hard news.

Schiavocampo doesn't think citizen journalists intentionally subvert journalism. "A lot of people don't realize there are rules you have to operate by. There are ethical rules. There are rules to maintain the integrity of your work, to make sure your facts are right, to make sure your sources are credible.

"I would temper any enthusiasm with saying make sure you know what the rules are. If you don't, you're not only hurting the field of journalism -- an influx of people getting the story wrong is going to hurt us all -- but you're hurting yourself because you may never get hired again."

She advises checking out professional journalism organizations online to learn about journalistic ethics and rules.

Globerman suggests volunteering with a local broadcaster. "Perhaps a university radio station or local cable access. Work for free if you can, and learn all about the technology and techniques because it will give you a leg up."

That's what he did. "I did a lot of work. Never got paid. But when it came time to apply for jobs I had experience. It literally got me my first job."

"This is an amazing time for students who are interested in a career in video journalism," Schiavocampo says. "While you're a student you don't need a steady income and there's no pressure to turn in two pieces a month or a week. If you do one or two pieces a semester and get them aired anywhere, it puts you in such a strong position when you graduate."

She says the ever-expanding number of places needing video content gives students opportunities past generations didn't have. Local and national news outlets, even newspapers, have websites that need original video content.

"The web is another tier to try and sell your work. It's not like broadcast where they have 30 minutes and that's it. On the web, there's endless time and endless space," Schiavocampo says.

Finding the right market is important. "You never want the person you're pitching to to have to think too hard about saying yes," Schiavocampo says.

Study the types of reports various news outlets air and focus on those that suit your subject and style.

Whatever the medium, journalists must be inquisitive, knowledgeable, impartial and good listeners. Lambson says history and geography are important. "To understand what's happening today, you need to know the historical backdrop and where it happens, because where it happens has a lot to do with why it happens."

"Know as much about the world around you as you possibly can," Globerman says. "If you're not an inherently curious person -- about politics, the environment, business, sports, entertainment, everything -- then this is not the business for you."


International Journalists’ Network
Current information and trends from the world of video journalism

The Art of Storytelling
Articles and advice from video journalists

Media Smarts
An organization that promotes critical thinking about the media
Links to a variety of journalism resources and related organizations

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