Moments of Revolution

The power of empowering the masses

Today we had a visitor at the Travel Channel Academy.

A representative from an O&O in Philadelphia, she said that the local news station was starting to get concerned because The Philadelphia Enquirer (which fields about 125 reporters a day), was starting to equip their print reporters and photographers with video cameras.

Her station fields 6-8 cameras a day to cover Philly.

It’s a realistic concern.

The local news station is going to get buried alive unless they can change their approach to news coverage.

But a great deal of their problem lays not in the technology, but rather in the mentality. A kind of arrogance – we are the nobles, the elect, the elite of electronic news gathering.

It’s an interesting idea, but it won’t take them too far.

In 1798, France was in a shambles. The Revolution had shaken the country to its core, and the nobility, who had previously made up the military, were dispersed and soon to be executed in The Terror.

Before 1798, armies had been made of highly trained professional soldiers. Career soldiers. Nobles – a concept derived from knights and the cost of maintaining each soldier. It was a nobleman’s career. Not for the peasants. They tilled the field.

Napoleon’s genius (among much genius) was to empower the peasants and create an army from their ranks. No one had ever done anything like this before. Had there been no Revolution, no execution of the Bourbons, it would never had been tolerated. But moments of revolution create moments of opportunity for the bold. And Napoleon saw the potential in Citizen Warriors that no one else could see.

When street rabble rose against the National Convention at the Tuileries, Napoleon organized them and took control, and hence an idea was born.

Napoleon would ultimately raise an army of nearly 1 million men, an almost incomprehensible force in an 18th Century Europe in which an army of 30,000 was considered large; and wielding that power, would come within a hairs-breadth of conquering all of Europe. Even so, he would stand astride Europe, from the Atlantic coast of Spain to The Lebanon – a feat that had not happened since the Roman Empire.

This was the power of the Citizen Army.

I look at the local TV station with their anemic 6 crews to cover a city of several million people. Then I look at training room for The Travel Channel Academy. In this one room is 6 times the power of an entire local news operation, and this is only scratching the surface. There are millions who would ‘take arms’ (in a digital sense), for the cause of a better public discourse.

Who will have the vision and the courage to do for journalism what Napoleon did for military power?

6 responses to “Moments of Revolution

  1. Michael,

    I’m all for training people who want to work in a video enviromont so that the product looks good. Some of the product you are showing is good for the experience levels of the people producing the product.

    That said, I’ll take up the issue of this post.

    Number 1 –

    If the Philly TV Stations are only fielding 6 to 8 crews a day then they suck.

    We field more than that every single day here in little ‘ol Market 47, Greensboro/Winston-Salem/ High Point, NC.

    Number 2 –

    Sometimes we have a hard time finding a story for all of our crews to turn. Sometimes we have to pull an evergreen or BS story out of our asses to fill the hole.

    Even scouring the 3 main papers and the variouse other small town papers it’s tough to find a good story that can be turned in a day.

    I know, I know, if we had more crews we wouldn’t all have to turn stories in a day. Yeah, Yeah, but that’s where we’re at.

    Still, what I’m saying is that MOST of the stories that the however many hundreds of reporters at the Philly Enq are turning aren’t made for TV. Certain Stories are made for TV and some aren’t.

    The biggest difference I seen between TV and Print is the information that can be gleened in an impersonal, no camera rolling, one on one conversation.

    To do a print interview all a reporter needs to do is get someone on the phone, or run into them in a building or walk into their office. Even the most unwilling of subjects will give some type of information to a journalist without a camera. But as soon as you ask about video recording the person for a story big brick walls get built really fast.

    The subtlety that it takes for us to finesse our way into getting sound for the print stories that we hate to follow on TV takes a lot of time. Not to mention the lack of an easy and quick to shoot visual element for political, governmental, topical, paper trail type of story.

    But then there are the stories that are made to be on TV. The type of stories print or web will NEVER beat TV on. Breaking Weather. Breaking Traffic. Breaking anything where the need to know is now. Not when we can print the next edition and not when Joe Blow can get to his computer, but now, in front of him on the screen in living color. Yes the web will get faster and people can watch it online, but over the air will always have the best infustructure in the most dire of circumstances. In the midwest flooding most people can still get a TV OTA signal. Some may be able to get web service but the majority of the news to those flooded out will come from TV, over the air.

    Please know that I’m not one bit against having more cameras on the street. I’m all for more folks digging for good stories.

    I’m even all for more extended interviews to go with the print stories that shouldn’t be force edited into a boring TV story.

    What I’d love to see is combo TV/Newspaper/Web newsroom with experienced pros working in their niche for the most part with a readiness to do other tasks when needed.

    People read and watch good stories. Yes good can be done cheap…I’m told Ray Croc did that. But some people like Applebees and others like their dinner even fancier.

    You may say you can give a camcorder to an experienced print journalist and they can easily produce video but I can also give a pencil and paper to my 3rd grader.
    Those ideas are not going to win them a Pulitzer or Emmy….but it may get them both a job at the drive-thru.

  2. nice comments Chris, makes me think a lot about what you have written. I am most intrigued by the difference between the way print and tv work at the moment (ie, just get some type of information and then the print reporter processes, whereas in tv we tend to shoot ‘a story’. Interesting.

  3. hate to pop any bubbles Michael. But Napoleon doesn’t work too well for you here.

    As you know Napoleon was defeated by Wellesley, who like 99% the officers in the British army of the time purchased his commission – and he never lost a battle to the French.

    So if you want to argue entrenched elites versus talented citizens – perhaps leave Napoleon out?

  4. Yes Peter
    But small pro armies were swept away generally – in 1815 Napoleon was at the end of even the resources and will generated by the Citizen Army and the Draft.

    The revolution only ended post WWII and we are now back to Citizen armies beating the pants of Pro armies

    Michael – I love your use of History
    Rob (KETC Channel 9 St Louis)

  5. Before 1798, armies had been made of highly trained professional soldiers.

    I suspect Gen. George Washington would have found that statement laughable.

  6. No, not really.
    Of course, the American Revolutionary Army was indeed revolutionary. Sort of the predecessors of the Viet Cong. Very unconventional, it must have annoyed the British no end. Lafayette, of course, tried to instill traditional order and training to the rather ragged troops, with some beneficial results. On the other hand, Washington crossing the Delaware in the dead of night, sneaking into the Hessian officer’s christmas party and shooting up the drunken Hessians on Christmas Eve was probably a bit more terrorist than we care to talk about today,

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