Putting the VJ Army to Work


Adam Kaufmann, VJ at work on Drew Carey’s Sporting World…..

In 1990 I formed a company called Video News International. By 1992 I had trained and equipped about 100 VJs around the world. No one had ever heard of a ‘VJ’ in 1992.

In 1992, John Ford, the new head of The Learning Channel called me up.

He had just read The Hot Zone by John Preston in The New Yorker. It was the story of an Ebola outbreak in Zaire. Ford wanted to know if I could do a documentary for TLC about viruses around the world. He did not have much money.

I had my VJs around the world, so I said, ‘sure’ and I picked up the phone.

The asset I had was a team of great journalists globally, all with video cameras.

In the ensuing 6 weeks, we shot virus related stories in Australia, Africa, Asia, Brazil and North America. 7 locations in all. Alan Tomlinson, an NPR radio reporter now armed with a video camera (hi8!), headed off to Zaire, where the Ebola outbreak had occurred.

In 6 weeks we turned out a global documentary of very high quality. You can imagine what it would cost to send crews and researchers and producers all over the planet. And how long it would take. We delivered the hour in 6 weeks, from first phone call from John Ford to air. The total budget was $135,000. And what made it even more impressive was that Killer Virus won the National Emmy for News and Documentaries for TLC, beating out NBC, ABC and CBS. It was pretty impressive.

VJs can do a lot.

Now, we have registered 835 VJs around the world.

They are on every continent (except Antarctica).

That makes us one of the largest, if not the largest, video newsgathering agency in the world.

They are great journalists who can shoot, cut, write, report and deliver.

Now, we can start putting them to work.

In any given moment we can take a global snapshot on poverty, or the environment, or the condition of child labor, or a thousand other issues of concern.

Its a new kind of journalism. Its also a new production paradigm for programming.

Let’s say, for argument’s sake, you wanted to do a series about ‘best restaurants’ around the world. Well, you could ‘turn on’ 100 of our VJs, who happen to live there… or you could send a single crew and producer to 100 different locations, pay for hotels, airfares, meals and fixers (probably our own guys). Which works better – particularly in the world of the web?

Our VJs live in the countries they report from. They speak the langauge. They know the culture, the history, the contacts, the story. And they are video armed and video literate.

They are also the voice of the planet.. and the voice of the future.


One response to “Putting the VJ Army to Work

  1. Michael – You have been an inspiration for my becoming a Video Journalist. Your philosophy rings loud and clear in many areas I have felt as strongly about.

    The GOB’s of the major news outlets are either going to have to adapt or go the way of the dinosaur – Keep doing what you’re doing – I’m all for it!

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