Watching Your Favorite Magazine

Yesterday we spent the day with one of our corporate clients. I don’t want to get into any names here, but suffice it to say they are a major publisher and you would recognize their magazine titles anywhere.

It’s  no secret that print publications are moving to the web in vast numbers and record time. Just last week, Arthur Sulzberger, Jr., publisher of the mother-of-all print publications, The New York Times said he was not sure if there would even be a paper – a physical paper – in five years time.

They are moving to the web because it is a vastly easier, more efficient and far cheaper way of moving their information than printing on paper and physical distribution.

And as they move to the web, and as the web concurrently moves to video, these publications realize that they are going to have to produce a certain percentage of their material in video.  (This, of course, is where we come in).

The irony, at least from my own perspective, is the comparison between news organizations that have traditionally worked in print and those that have traditionally worked in video – that is, local TV news stations.  The magazines and newspapers have far less problem adapting to video; at least in the VJ model – that is where the reporter carries their own small camera and laptop, and produces their own stories.  The magazines and newspapers ‘get it’ right away because this is they way they have always worked.   Newspaper journalists have never worked with a crew.  They have never had to wait in a reporting situation for ‘the pencil to arrive’.

In most local newsrooms in this country, we field an average of 8 camera crews in any given day.  That means 8 cameras to cover a city like Tampa or Houston or Nashville.  Can you imagine what would happen if a newspaper were suddenly reduced to covering Tampa with 8 pencils?

A reporter might arrive on a location to do an interview.  The subject would sit there, waiting anxiously.  “Can we start?” the subject says.

“Not yet” says the reporter.  There is a pause.  “I have to wait for the pencil to arrive”.

Finally, after a seemingly interminable wait, a blue van pulls up.  The name of the newspaper is emblazoned on the exterior of the van, and from inside emerge two men carrying a large metal case. Inside the case, is the pencil.

They come into the office and very professionally start to set up their gear.  Tom has been a pencilman for the past 20 years.  He’s very good at what he does.  Joe is the paperman. He feeds Tom sheets of paper.  Its a tough job, (and dangerous. Papercuts can kill if you don’t know what you are doing).  There used to be  a third person on the crew – the eraserlady, but a round of cutbacks have now only served to dimish the quality.

As soon as Tom and Joe get set up, they indicate to the reporter they are ready.

“We have lead” they say, and the reporting can begin.

The advantage of working with a crew is so that the journalist can concentrate on the story and not have to worry about all those technical things like spelling, or punctuation, or broken pencil points. Tom and Joe take care of all that stuff. And, as the journalist does not have to balance the pad in his lap… and take notes – he can keep good eye contact with the subject and not be distracted from his work.

There are some, (so I am told), newspapers and magazines that are asking (forcing!) their print reporters to carry their own pad and pencil and take their own notes and even write their own stories!  By themselves!  The trend is called PJ, or Printjournalism.  But we all know this is just a way to save money and cut staffing.  We also know that the quality of the reporting really suffers when just one print reporter has to go out and cover a story on their own (not to mention the safety issue… or who will gurantee the integrity of the reporting without a crew present)?

No, we better stick to what we know. How else can we deliver quality?

Well, there is a reason that print publications, as they adapt to video (and they are moving fast), are going to bury their former television competitors.  They understand the model of how to do good journalism already.  It is far easier for them to replace their pencils and laptops with cameras and laptops. The process of reporting goes on pretty much as before.

For conventional TV news, the shift is far more traumatic. They have to adapt to a whole new model of journalism; one that newspapers and magazines have been using for years.


8 responses to “Watching Your Favorite Magazine

  1. Ah an attempt at humor. Still doesn’t change the fact that in all the years you have been pushing VJ’s you have yet to have one success. So the VJ system is not really a joke, more of a tragedy.

  2. As someone who reports freelance stories that he proudly shoots with his own camera (see examples on the Video Clips page of, I can only wish that operating the camera were as easy as using a pencil.

    A newspaper reporter having to draw his own illustrations with that pencil while reporting the story would be a more apt analogy.

    Shooting and reporting entail completely different skillsets, both of which must be performed at a high level if you’re going to produce anything worth watching. If your station’s news ratings are already as low as they can go, I can see turning to VJ to fill the same amount of time for less money. That’s better than shuttering a news operation altogether.

    The strength of television news shows is that they show people the things you’re telling them about. The problem when trying to find ways to produce the shows more cheaply is that viewers have grown to expect a certain level of both technical and editorial quality. Few enough people can do either task well. Even rarer will be the one who can do them both simultaneously.

  3. Well if he can make stuff up about us then lets look at a typical Consultants day.

    “Hi I’m a consultant and I’m going to tell you how to win the national Lottery without buying a ticket.

    Imagine the lottery ticket is a pencil. Pencils are cheap right, not like consultants, so if you gave everyone a pencil and got them to write out their own numbers then eventually one of them is going to get the winning numbers. See it’s simple. Any questions?
    But we haven’t bought a ticket? Look that is outmoded thinking you @#$% dinosaur.
    The Web is coming!!! Don’t you get it?
    Bill Gates. He’s a smart guy.
    Has it worked anywhere? is a good question and that’s what is so exciting you could be the first to win the lottery without having to buy a ticket. Cool.
    Albert Einstein, he was a smart guy, he would have got it.
    Actually there are some guys on the moon who did win it and spacemen are real smart but if you call them to ask they will lie and say it doesn’t work because they want to keep all the moon rock cheese they won with my system to themselves.
    Trust me I’m a consultant.
    Look you better sign up before everyone in the world has won the lottery but you…
    Sigh, pencils, lottery, fish, headstands and Bill Gates… connect the dots guys, the sky is blue and some pencils are blue that proves it the sky’s the limit!!!
    You can now thank me for my time and I’d like my cash please.”

    Pencilgod [Razz]

  4. Rather than making fun of Mike – whom I don’t know and have some disagreements with – you might try and see the larger point.

    The world of picture making is changing; it doesn’t mean there will be no room for craft and professionals. It does mean you have to share a place at the table with lots of seedy, unwashed amateurs and wanna-be’s who – God forbid – might actually have good ideas, well carried out.

    It also means that the traditional notions of ‘good’ news video are headed for the same melt down that good journalism hit with Tom Wolfe, and good photography hit with Lee Friedlander.

    Where I break with Mike is – and which John touches on – there are only so many really gifted people to go around. Part of what the traditional reporter/photographer arrangement does is make tv news doable by mere mortals. We’re gonna have to find/bring up/mutate an entirely different kind of pro to go forward.

    (On the other hand, the mutants have existed in nooks and crannies of journalism for a long time, especially overseas where freelancers have often had to balance a couple of different skills.)

    The real question is: what does a pro bring to the table in 2007?

    Scott A.

  5. Pingback: BuzzMachine » Blog Archive » Waiting for the pencil

  6. Pingback: media blog » Blog Archive » Holding back video innovation by holding onto outmoded standards

  7. Late to this party, but this touches on things which I’ve also posted about on Lost Remote.

    I’m a news / media consumer. I don’t think the VJ concept is going to hurt journalizm one bit – as long as you report the news and you do it a way that I can rely on (factual and timely for instance). In a 30 second news clip I don’t have time to judge your cinematography skills – I’m watching and listening to get the information, not to see pretty pictures. So for me, once a VJ learns enough to frame the picture, and do some half-decent editing, it’s good enough.

  8. Pingback: The Aase Switch « Lines from Lee

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