Tracking News Cruisers/Videographers, The Debate over One Man Bands/VJs and The Big Rumble

I always felt sorry for the folks working the assignment desk in a TV newsroom as they had a tough job.  Not only did they have to monitor the scanner and juggle news crews in the field to get them where they were needed, they had to play a game each day.  The game?  Where In the World are My Photogs? A number of shooters I worked with never really let the desk know where they were or the true status of the shoot they were on.  I was even admonished by a shooter once when I told the desk we were just about to wrap up with a shoot and headed for lunch.  “Never tell the desk that” I was told.  And much like the military, I was told never volunteer.  I know some shooters would wrap up a story and park their vehicles on the back side of the building in the parking lot where there wasn’t a lot of news room type traffic.  If the desk called, they wouldn’t answer the radio.  If they were beeped, they would say they were tied up and couldn’t be bothered.  Granted, some shooters really abused the system but others used this bit of subterfuge because they said if they didn’t, they’d never get a chance to eat lunch.  Hey, I never gave them away.  The reason I’m posting about this is because a growing number of news operations are tracking news cruisers with GPS devices so they always know where everybody is.  Some just use the cell phones they issue the reporters and videographers to keep up with everyone.  Dirty pool?  Not when stations pay for the vehicle, the insurance and the gas AND allow a shooter to drive a vehicle home.  It’s just like being able to read what you write on a station owned computer or monitor what calls you’ve made on a company issued phone.  It’s their money.  I don’t know if any of the Memphis stations have started tracking their news cruisers but if they haven’t, don’t be surprised if they do, especially as gas hits four bucks a gallon.

I’ve said for some time that I think many stations will start easing into the Video Journalist mode or what I used to refer to as One Man Bands.  There are some trying it and there’s a great deal of resistance but I think the technology has vastly improved and as stations seek to keep costs down,  the trend will move in that direction.  Don’t get me wrong.  I don’t think a station can go completely to VJ/OMB because some stories lend themselves to a two man crew.  But, (and this IMHO is a big but, not to be confused with a big butt) the key to a successful VJ/OMB operation is for the folks involved to have a “beat system” and be allowed to turn stories maybe three times a week.  If you have these folks merely turning stories each day because you are too cheap to keep enough folks on staff to fill the daily news hole then you are setting up these folks to burn out quickly.  With a beat system, they can develop stories that have some merit to them.  Otherwise you will burn up their interest and enthusiasm and suddenly find yourself with a newsroom full of malcontents and moaners and morale will plummet.  Just saying, that’s all.

And I got a call this Friday morning from a friend who wanted to know if I had felt the earth move this morning while I was in bed.  At first I thought that was a rather personal question until he explained that there was an earthquake centered in Southeastern Illinois. I told him I was NOT aware of the earthquake.  I was tied up for most of the day so I didn’t see the local news in Memphis so I can only speculate that there was “team coverage” as local news rooms revisited the earthquake issue here in the MidSouth.  Did anyone dispatch a crew to New Madrid, MO?  I can just about bet that someone paid a visit to the Earthquake Research facility at the University of Memphis State University.  Then there would be a story on local building codes and what would happen if “the BIG One hit.”  How do I know all of this?  I’ve been there and done that.  One doesn’t spend 16 years in Memphis TV News and NOT do an earthquake story.  That’s like living in Memphis and never doing a story on Elvis.

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5 Comments on “Tracking News Cruisers/Videographers, The Debate over One Man Bands/VJs and The Big Rumble”

  1. Todd Says:

    One of my all time favorite assignment desk editors has a screen saver on his computer, It’s of a flustered Rodney Dangerfield, wiping his wet forehead.

    Does that not say it all?

  2. JD Says:

    Now Joe…You mean to tell me that there are folks, brave and courageous enough, to have actually told Ethel S.(when she worked at 3) an outright bald faced lie about their location? Could only have been “Hutch!”

  3. joelarkins Says:

    Far be it for me to cast any dispersions on the good name of anyone much less the former chief photographer at WREG. I can say that the veterans of the newsroom (as a group but not everyone mind you) were perhaps “slower” to respond to a call from the desk than the new kids with the cameras. The new kids would eventually learn the lesson but only after they got “abused by the desk” as some called it. Some shooters would wait for ten minutes or so giving the desk a chance to pull somebody else off a shoot before they replied which meant they wouldn’t be placed on the new story. Granted there are a number of occasions when videographers really CAN’T get right back to the desk but I’m talking about intentional efforts to “hide”. Call it “economy of motion”. It’s the same philosophy used by “Wally” in the Dilbert cartoon.

  4. Ryan Vaughan Says:

    Ha… That seems like a fun game. Guess the packages of team coverage! I didn’t watch “a lot” of the coverage, but I think you nailed a few of the stories I saw on the news or during the “teases”.

    You can always guess the packages during a heat wave and cold snap too.

  5. Pam Crittendon Roberson Says:

    Joe, this one reminds me of a conversation I had years ago with a former Memphis TV reporter who went to the ‘big leagues’ in Chicago. She told me that it was SOP when working with union videographers to NEVER tell the desk you’re breaking for lunch or volunteer for another shoot. Any reporter who did so risked creating highly uncooperative shooters who could make you life hell… or at least more hellish than usual.

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