The Four Cs


Brandon Follett prepares to ‘Bourdain’ a roach in Thailand….

I spent most of yesterday screening submissions for “What’s Your Trip”, a new series we are producing for The Travel Channel.

It is a weekly compendium of ‘User Generated Video’, from people who travel all over the world with video cameras (and who does not bring one). It is not, however, home video.

We are trying to create a new genre here – sort of ‘video postcards’ from around the world. And of course we are paying for the video we air.

As a result, my eyes are bleary from screening hundreds and hundreds of these.

Often, to break away, I will scan the web for my favorite sites – Lost Remote, Buzzmachine, TVSPY and of course, is a site for professional videographers.

I was invited there several years ago by someone named ‘Ivan’, who seems to have disappeared, but it is populated by a wide range of characters and regulars. They all share one thing in common – they all have a deep passion for ‘the craft’.

It is a craft that is under assault; an assault driven by technology. Now, cameras are in the hands of many – and that number is going to keep growing. The multiplication of platforms escalates the demand for content, and the ease with which one can upload means vastly more video is now in the public domain. Theses trends will only continue.

For the men and women at b-roll, this is a problem they are grappling with.

What they represent is the best, or at least an aspiration to the best, in terms of quality. That is something that will never go away, no matter how many others suddenly enter their field. The pie only grows bigger.

Yesterday, one of their contributors posted a comment on the VJ Revolution which I think is worth reprinting in part here. This is from Eb:

I have been thinking about video journalism and what elements go into it. Why? Because if we cannot define what value our work has, then we can’t “sell” it. The VJ model is being sold to management. Michael has defined it, and promoted it, and will continue to. It’s time for us to define and sell the value of high quality. How? Obviously, the NPPA has been an advocate for our craft. But beyond the NPPA, is there a selling point of our value?

I have singled out Four C’s of Video Journalism: Content, Craft, Creativity and Comittment. Content has value, no matter who shot it or how it is shot. Anyone can capture compelling content – even with a cell phone. But not on a consistant basis. So when there is no compelling content, Craft becomes important to viewers. If you shoot quality, it can be seen. Craft has great value (look at photographs in magazines, then look at the average person’s.) Creativity also has great value and is recognized, as long as it doesn’t get in the way of the story. And a Commitment to video journalism is needed from inception to air – for a quality story to be produced. Commitment not just from us, but from every person in the news room. (This is lacking in many newsrooms now.)

These Four C’s can be directly used to compare any piece of work. Whether shot by a solo VJ or a three person crew. Consumers know quality and like variety.

Craft, Content, Creativity and Commitment.

Works for me.

As I screened through the hundreds of submissions it occurred to me that that is exactly what I was looking for as well.

Now… back to the search.


10 responses to “The Four Cs

  1. I have been studying video journalism, from a video journalist’s point of view since 1982. The NPPA provided great education and inspiration. It still does. I would advise any serious video journalist to try to watch quality video storytelling – journalism – no matter how it is shot. The Craft can be studied. I work on it daily, and some stories turn out better than other stories.

    Yet, Content is king. If we could all, on a daily basis, go out and find incredible Content, then hey, we’d all be set for employment. Those who seek out strong compelling content usually have work. The problem is, content does not just “happen” anywhere, anytime. (Unless you are working in a war zone.) Journalists need to find content. That is part of the enjoyment…the hunt for stories.

    Content can be shot by anyone, or anything. A security camera can capture the most stunning video of a girl being kidnapped before her murder. Or it can capture the effects of an earthquake, or a crime. It doesn’t take a person to gather content in these instances. But for the other 90 percent of air time, it takes us to gather, shoot, edit and write content. So it is important to know and understand how to do it, and how to present it clearly and concisely.

    Many news outlets now rely on these “easy” types of video images to fill the news. They then put as many graphics as possible on the screen, get as many talking heads as possible, add scary music…and present it as a news cast. That is too bad for video journalism. Video journalism has become a low priority in many newsrooms…I think. They have left behind quality visual storytelling…of important stories…that are not as sexy or devastating….or easy to do in an 8 hour day. There are exceptions of course. I don’t want to sound too negative, because through the NPPA there can be seen many examples of quality visual storytelling.

    If anyone is Committed, they can focus and tell a great visual story, whether a VJ, or a network crew. Commitment is lacking by the management of many networks and local stations. That Committment might easily be filled by the new revolution of VJs. A single VJ might be given more freedom to produce and create. So this is where I think a separation starts to exist between the current brands of news, and the new breed. A Commitment to visual storytelling has value.

    Creativity and variety in story selection and styles can break the monotony of a news cast.

    The NPPA over the years has used a critique sheet of what to look for when judging stories (quarterly contests.) On that sheet, we mark different areas to critique. Things like steadiness, smooth moves, shot variety, use of natural sound, natural moments, in sync with reporter, apparent effort, storytelling, beginning middle and end, use of light, sound quality, etc…

    But “content” was never on the list.

    And that is where the NPPA TV contest has been criticized. Many claim the NPPA only recognizes stories for the “NPPA Style.” Yes, the craft is important, because Craft does affect viewer’s perceptions of stories. (Especially when content does not carry the story.)

    But what if Content DOES carry a story? Yet it is shot poorly? Shouldn’t content have weight? Of course it should. I have tried to get the NPPA to move toward recognizing “Content.” When the World Trade Centers were attacked…you saw probably the most compelling and important content this generation will see. Yet none of those images were entered in the NPPA contest. Why? Because the NPPA TV side doesn’t have a place for content. I think it should. I am actually on the committee that makes this decision…but I haven’t been able to get the support. So I am stuck writing about it here. 😉 Thanks for letting me expound.

  2. …Commitment might easily be filled by the new revolution of VJs. A single VJ might be given more freedom to produce and create. So this is where I think a separation starts to exist between the current brands of news, and the new breed. A Commitment to visual storytelling has value.

    Excellent perspective Eric. For me, you describe what I have known but haven’t been able to put into words.

    I was watching the Travel Channel’s “No Reservations” episode about being caught in last summers Beirut uprising. Shots of the crew (yes, I concede there were two shooters) showed them using what appeared to be either Panasonic DVX100’s or HVX200’s – hand held the majority of the time, yet, I find the craft, content, creativity and commitment are all there – and yet, it is quite similar to the new VJ paradigm – what are your thoughts on this? Other detractors would seems to say that this diminishes the craft due to so called “unprofessional” equipment – yet, this is top rate broadcast programming (nominated for an Emmy) – far above the lack of craft I have seen from other so called professionals.

    Thanks for the insights.

  3. is that a regular roach or maui wowie?

    my eyes ain’t too good.

  4. Ironic.

    Cliff, I too watched the end of that show last night. I have seen his show a few times, and the Content keeps me interest.

    Pure and simple. Content matters. Whether it is shot by a security cam, a VJ, or a Sony High Def XD camera which I use. If I shoot crappy content – and put it on the local news…. it’s crappy content and people will know it. Even if they are smoking thai stick. 😉

    Content holds viewers. The trouble is, when content becomes average, then quality craft really matters. If you fail to provide quality content…then you sure can’t hold them with poor craft. There is value in visuals…aesthetic value brings real enjoyment to viewers. So practice the craft…and don’t diminish the value of quality craft. Because it carries us through the average stories.

    “No Reservations” is a unique concept and provides interesting content. Other Travel Channel programs are certainly shot better and are appreciated for their content AND craft.

  5. GUYS, I go it. This is it. This will surely revolutionize television. Hear me out. Instead of settling either for good content or good photography, let’s have it both; just picture it guys, a television pieces that doesn’t have to sacrifice anything. Let’s get a great photographer who really knows about environmental and artificial lighting, composition, color harmony and all those elements that create quality images and let’s team him up with a truly dedicated journalist, one who knows about investigative reporting, one who can put together and deliver compelling and comprehensive stories. It will be a match made in heaven. Picture this, one can concentrate entirely the photography and the other on the content of the story. Just think for a second, two of them can deliver a great story that also looks great in half the time that it would take one single person to do it but considerably better. Think about all the money that the station could save in efficiency, two dedicated, qualified and well trained professionals, two brains instead of only one and twice the intelligence into a single story, I would call it “P&J Team”, that’s Photographer & Journalist. What a concept, “quality meets content”, teamwork on TV. WOW a station doing this could get way ahead of the competition.

    And listen to this, you know about all those fancy sound systems on today’s super duper television, let’s not let it go to waste, let’s make pieces with incredible great sound by adding a sound-tech to the team.

    I don’t know, maybe I’m getting way ahead, do you think that the public is ready to see quality work?

  6. Quality.
    Across the board. Quality.

    I don’t think anyone will argue with that.
    I won’t.

    The fact is sometimes quality content is produced without quality pictures and sound. Sometimes it is easier to shoot a story with a small camera by yourself. Sometimes it is more economical. Sometimes it produces different results.

    The fact is technology and the internet has changed the playing field on who can shoot, edit and publish video journalism.

    These are not my opinions. They are facts.

    My opinion is that quality – in whatever area – is worth pursuing. So nobody is stopping you from producing it. If your clients or management want quality.

    But if your management does not want quality video journalism, then you can’t produce it. That can be frustrating for some.

  7. The fact is technology and the internet has changed the playing field on who can shoot, edit and publish video journalism.

    These are not my opinions. They are facts.

    Once again – you have put to words something that many who are moving to the new VJ paradigm have known but haven’t been able to put into words – myself included.

    Remove the roadblock of expensive complicated equipment and by doing so, the VJ can focus on developing/improving their content creation skills. That is the essence of what the Solo VJ paradigm is about.

  8. “The fact is sometimes quality content is produced without quality pictures and sound. Sometimes it is easier to shoot a story with a small camera by yourself. Sometimes it is more economical. Sometimes it produces different results.”

    The key word here is “Sometime” it happen and when it does mean that somebody did not do his job, or most likely did not know how to do his job. Maybe it’s has become a standard way of working, but not on my watch. I accept no excuses, if I did probably I would still be shooting news and making 60K a year, but I got out of that 30 years ago and I’m doing considerably better. Accepting nothing more that the best would be like telling your children to go to school and try your best to get a “C”.

    Eric, when was last time that you saw a VJ piece that had any of those four Cs?

    I posted this today on B-roll.
    “Please, let’s no generalize the industry with the assumption that the public don’t care, as I said before, this is nothing more than a lame justification from those who can’t do nothing more but mediocre work using the excuse that nobody care. There are a lot of great photographers out there doing superb work and making ten times more money that those with limited thinking and the kick is that most started their careers doing local news, for them good enough just wasn’t good. Putting the blame on management is the next lame excuse. Yes, management don’t care because they don’t know any better, they are pencil pushers and have no clue of what creativity is all about and how it can make everything look better, eventually even the bottom line. When they don’t see improvements coming from the field then in their mind they’ll believe that that’s the best that it can be done. They are not going to change, it is our responsibility to show them that we can do much better because if we don’t then the doors will be wide open for the Rosenblums of this world with claims that they can do just as good but cheaper. The best way to fight competition is to put enough distance in quality between you and them, we have the opportunity, let’s not waste it.

    Don’t think for a single second that management in the past went to their photographers and requested to start creating a 20/20 style shooting, or 60 minutes or ESPN Classic. We the photographer created those styles and management loved it.

    I stopped shooting for producers and clients 15 years ago and I’ve been doing it for myself ever since. On every job I plan to do something different and new, nothing major, just one baby step each day but over the years it has a remarkable cumulative effect. Producers and clients don’t know what creative minds can do for them, it’s our responsibility to teach them that there’s always a better way to do it because there always is; and if you think that for whatever excuse there are no ways to do it better, then learn to be a VJ and learn to live with much less.”

    “The fact is technology and the internet has changed the playing field on who can shoot, edit and publish video journalism.
    These are not my opinions. They are facts.”
    Eric, can you show the actual facts like any work done for the web from somebody that actually got paid to do it, and how much.

    I posted this on B-roll few weeks ago; you can read the entire thread.

    “Last week I had a 3 days commercial shoot for a large British company. This was my very first shoot exclusively for the web and on the contrary of what the common believe is that small cameras and cheap production are okay for the web, this producer proved to me the contrary.

    This guy was really sharp with many international shows to his credit and he was getting paid very well to produce these web programs. This was a two cameras Digibeta shoot and he insisted that the cameras be equipped with HD lenses. This was a full scale production that also included a 12×16 green screen and no short cuts.

    Being a British company and in view of the alleged successes of the VJ system in England I had to ask. Why weren’t they using small cameras and existing light as it has become typical of web videos? Apparently they also tried that route too, as they tried everything else and it did not work, or at least not to the level that is could be considered acceptable professional work. He showed me samples of all the different systems and formats that they’ve been experimenting with, and after seeing direct comparisons I can safely say that large formats and good lighting is even more critical for web productions that it is for broadcasting. Even the HD lenses on SD cameras made a visual difference. The next step will be for these shoots to be done entirely on HD, probably 1080.

    He also added that the company had over 60 executives flying in from all over the world for this four days meeting in one of Disney World’s resorts and the result of these meetings will be part of a training program on the web that will be viewed by thousands of employees worldwide, it would be foolish trying to take any shortcuts on the production of these programs and trust the results to crews with limited skills and substandard gears.”

  9. For those skeptical about what I posted above about how important video quality is for the web, read what Apple CEO Steve Jobs said about the web and HD quality.

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