Responding to

The website just ran a piece by Randy Tatano, in which he talks about the one time he picked up a camera in a newsroom and ended up shooting his feet. His advice to an aspiring young journalist is to get a good cameraman and work on your on air skills.

This is great advice were this 1977, but it isn’t.

I wrote to Mark Holloway, founder and owner of and asked him to post this response:

With ‘Just Shoot Me’, Randy Tatano gives wonderful career advice to a young journalist who wants to enter into the business in 1977.

Alas, this is no longer 1977, and the world has changed a great deal. It has even changed a great deal since 1997, and this is due to the nexus of three technological arcs. Pay attention to this, because if history tells us anything, it tells us that those who ignore the impact of new technologies do so at their peril. Just ask the folks who used to work for Kodak!

In 1977, there were essentially three networks, ABC, NBC and CBS producing television. They distributed their product through local stations, both O&Os and affiliates) and there were local stations. Because television had to be delivered through the air, the physics of the electromagnetic spectrum limited the number of stations that you could have. In 1977, the total demand for television production was about 64,000 hours. This was a number that could be easily handled by the networks and stations themselves, with the oddball indy producer making a few things for PBS.

Those few stations nightly divided a viewership of an estimated 100 million American homes. This meant that on average, any network could nightly deliver to an advertiser 30 million homes, give or take a few million. Advertisers were, of course, wiling to pay a fortune to advertise in this environment and everyone got rich. News divisions were awash with cash, and it was not unusual for a news division to lose a few hundred million dollars – in fact, it was expected. (Read Ken Auletta’s Three Blind Mice for a wonderful study of the era).

By the 1980s, cable had come along. Now, the former 3-7 channels had been replaced by 500. The total ,demand for content produced each year had gone from 64,000 to 4.5 million hours. Do you have any idea how much content 4,5 million hours is? Your entire life is only 760,000 hours long. 4.5 million hours is an incredible amount of content. And who was going to make it? Because at the same time, audiences were suddenly fractionalized. In the ‘old days’, a show that got less than a 10 rating could be pulled. Now, in cable, a show that gets a .10 is a success. As audiences got fractionalized and ratings fell across the spectrum, income per hour also dropped. As income per hour dropped, the amount that networks and cable could afford to pay for shows also dropped. But the demand for content accelerated. This gave rise to an explosion of independent boutique production companies. Almost all shows you see are cable are produced by these small companies – a few guys with cameras and edits. This entire industry simply did not exist a decade ago.

Now, along comes video online. The web suddenly has the capacity to carry video. What does this mean? It means that we will soon go from a 500 channel environment to an environment in which there are, literally millions of channels.

Everyone will have to be on the web. Newspapers, magazines, want ads, personal ads. TV stations. Everything will be delivered online. And when there is a web that is in video, everything that is on that web will have to have some kind of video component.

What does this mean for our young journalist?

It means that the sand is shifting very fast under her feet. The formerly stable world of local news that you are preparing her for will most likely not even exist twenty years from now. You may have noticed that many local stations are for sale. You may have noticed that NY Times Company sold off their stations, CBS group sold off a number of their stations. Did you notice the prices? Did you see that in the CBS Group the investment banker buyers paid less for all five stations than the CBS group had paid for just one of them 5 years ago?

Local stations have diminishing value. Why is that? Because in a world where the web carries full motion, real time, VOD video, the networks don’t need or want the brick and mortar and overhead of a local station to deliver their product. They can do it direct to people’s homes.

Remember Kodak! Remember that you are not in the local tv station business – you are in the business of delivering product to people’s homes to generate ad revenue. This is suddenly a much more competitive business and a very different landscape. You ignore this at your peril.

This does not mean that there is no market for people who can create the product, or that they will suddenly be reduced to working for minimum wage. Very much the opposite, actually. But it is going to be a very very different work environment.

Now, back to our young journalist.

As everyone moves to the web, and as video moves to the web, journalistic organizations will also move to video. Just look at The Washington Post (which now fields 50 VJs) or The New York Times… soon you will see Time Magazine Video, Business Week Magazine Video – (trust me). And all of this video is going to be produced by VJs. They aren’t going to turn into TV networks, but the product that they put online will have a video element to it. It will become a very rich blend of video, graphics, text and interactivity.

The technology of small HDV cameras (and they will get both smaller and better) and laptop edits (no one seems to argue with this one), will give rise (is already) to a generation of very good journalists who can shoot, edit and deliver online with no problem.

This is going to happen. It is happening now.

The job opportunities for young journalists who can work in this way will be limitless.

However, the market for someone who ‘needs’ a cameraman, an editor or a producer to get that product on the air (or online) will be increasingly slim to none.

As Andy Grove, the former Chairman of Intel wrote, “listen to the technology. It will tell you what to do”.

Or for us journalists, in the words of Walter Cronkite, ” and that’s the way it is”.


3 responses to “Responding to

  1. well, did he publish your response?

  2. not yet… but it’s early.

  3. Besides, all that clawing one’s way to the top of the (network) ladder is sooooo unhealthy, and makes for journalists with way too much attitude. Take that icky icky hag, Judith Miller, for instance. Talk about your dubious role models for today’s techno-inclined gals who wish to “do journalism.” Look what garden path a lifetime of committing journalism took her haggy butt down!

    Now me on the other hand, I’d much rather just sit on my couch, watch Oprah, eat bon-bons and do a little YouTubing when the mood strikes me. Will surely make for a much less stressful online “experience”, eh?

    Heck, let’s just toss out that ‘ole ugly word “journalism” entirely. Just thinking about getting up off my ass to go anywhere to cover anything, sticking microphones in all those nice people’s faces, chasing down pointless leads, knocking on doors in the middle of the night, listening to psychotic weirdos eat up hours and hours of very expensive Beta tape, riding with those uncouth cops in neighborhoods you’d never in a million years step foot in otherwise, 3am wakeup calls from interns on the GMA desk to chase down runaway brides and crack heads that read “A Purpose Drive Life” to murderers in BF Duluth, GA… good grief… it all just makes me way too stressed and agitated.

    Yep, I agree. Better just leave the journalism totally out of it and let the technology do all the work!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s