Many media outlets use one-person reporting crews in the field. These folks are often referred to as Multimedia Journalists (MMJs), Video Journalists (VJs), or Backpack Journalists (BPJs). They have to master a wide range of technical skills and be solid reporters. It’s quite possible that your first (even second or third) job will require you to shoot, edit and write stories by yourself. It’s not easy to juggle all of these tasks. In fact, it can be extremely difficult and very exhausting, but so is working in a coal mine or pouring concrete every day. Folks who do those jobs probably work a lot harder than any MMJ.
There are actually some advantages to being a MMJ, believe it or not. You have a sense of ownership of the story. You did all the work, so the story truly reflects your effort and skill.
When you’re shooting, you can change camera angles whenever you want and make other adjustments on the fly. You don’t have to run your ideas by a videographer or ask them to shoot more/less video. Just figure out what you need for the story and go get it.
When you’re editing, you have access to all the raw material. No need to chase down a co-worker to locate important audio or video clips. It might even be easier to write the story since you conducted all the interviews and shot all the b-roll. And you don’t have to ask an editor to change a shot or re-cut the sequence. You can structure the story how ever you want.
Even though the emphasis is on individual effort, a good MMJ will work closely with news producers to make sure they don’t make factual mistakes. MMJs need to get a second (and third) set of eyes to watch the story before it airs. Get feedback from your peers in the newsroom. Then you can quickly make adjustments if needed.
Here’s a glimpse at the work routine of two MMJs — one at a TV station, the other at a newspaper.
Here are some tips for beginning MMJs from the pros:
In this article from TV News Storytellers, reporter Mitch Pittman from KOMO-TV in Seattle explains how he shoots interviews from a variety of angles while working by himself.
Here’s an example of what Pittman is talking about. Notice how he establishes the main character in the story (a woman waiting for assistance after a tornado) and uses the camera to record her soundbites. It doesn’t even feel like the woman is being interviewed. It’s very natural and candid as if a hidden camera is simply observing her while she waits for service. And that’s the key: to make your camera more invisible so you can capture natural moments with your characters.
Using Natural Sound
MMJ Kevin Torres of KUSA-TV in Denver has a message for aspiring video journalists: “Don’t be lazy! Be creative.” In this video, Kevin explains how he took extra time and effort to record natural sound for one of his stories, which helped him get out of a creative rut. Watch Kevin describe how he recorded the sound and then watch the entire story.
Here is a feature story produced by another MMJ. Her name is Michelle Michael and the story is about people who save money by repairing their cars themselves. Pay close attention to her stand-up, which involved several shots from different angles.
Now, watch this video where Michael explains how she shot the stand-up by herself.
BTW: you should be reading everything on the NewsLab and TV News Storytellers. They are two of the best places to go for tips on writing, shooting, editing and just about everything else related to broadcast/digital journalism. TV News Storytellers even has a page devoted to MMJs.