Men At Work


Cameragod writes to us from New Zealand noting:

Ok so tell two men they each have to race dig a road.
One gets a 10 year but still working fine old bulldozer and the other a brand new state of the art ergonomic shovel… the guy with the shovel is not going to win no matter how good a craftsman he is and if you tell him a poor craftsman blames his tools you are likely to end up wearing that shovel.

The construction crew analogy was driven home to me two days ago, when I was interviewed in rapid succession by Ray Snoddy from BBC 2 and then by Mark Lobel for BBC Radio 4.

Now, Ray Snoddy is an old, very well known and respected journalist with The BBC.  He’s hosting a show called Newswatch on the beeb, and I’ll take the blurb right from the BBC’s website:

One of the country’s most respected media commentators, Raymond Snoddy has been covering the news industry for a variety of publications for the past 25 years and presents the BBC’s NewsWatch programme.

(You know it’s authentic. Look at how they spell program!)

In any event, when Ray came to interview me, he came along with Andrew, his BBC cameraman and Dave, his BBC producer.

Ray and Andrew (in grey shirt) and Dave and Me

Ray apologized that he was now forced to hold the ‘dog’ or the ‘doogie’ as they call it in Scotland, which is the big furry microphone. No more sound guys, apparently.

In any event, an interview, which will probably at best produce a few 30 second bites (or this being The BBC, a minute at most), took the better part of an hour. We had to all meet up. Ray was on time, but the producer was late.  Then we went to the assigned spot, but the cameraman had gone missing. Once we were all in the same place, the interview began.  Ray and Dave conferred over the questions.  Andrew, the cameraman’s opinion on this was seemingly not important.  Shot angles were discussed. But then Ray kept getting the hair of the ‘dog’ in the shot.  He was obviously new at this sound thing, but cuts must come where they must.

This is, of course, the ‘old’ way of grabbing a few sound bites. Tried and true. And it certainly works.  But upon reading Stephen’s comment above, I cannot help but think of all the road crews you pass where it seems an army of workers are there to dig a single hole.  There is, indeed, one guy with a shovel, but plenty of on-scene ‘management’ to get the job done.  This seems, if you look at it objectively, a very very expensive way to manufacture a few 30- second sound bites.  Expand the model outward to all content creation and you can see why The BBC employs more than 24,000 people.  Perhaps they could produce more content with those folks if they were employed in a slightly different manner?

The contrast was driven home to me just a few minutes later, when I was then interviewed for BBC Radio 4 (my favorite, even with The Archers). Journalist Mark Lobel (who normally is a producer for Newsnight, the BBC’s equivalent of Nightline) was doubling for Radio 4.  He took out his tape recorder and we headed for a quiet spot.

Where’s the rest of the crew?

Now, in point of fact, BBC Radio 4 interviews were once done by a crew.

But that was a long time ago.

Technology made that a waste of people’s time.

Now, give producer Mark Lobel a small digital video camera instead of his digital audio recorder and what do you have?



28 responses to “Men At Work

  1. I’ve just co-produced a documentary for Radio 4. A version also ran on TV. I fimed the interviews on a Z1 and a fair proportion of the TV audio was used in the radio documentary. There were no issues at all with Z1 sound quality for R4.

    It was a fun and an efficient way to work. The only consideration is that TV footage doesn’t have to explain any background noise or actuality because you can see what’s going on, whereas this kind of noise can sometimes become an issue in radio audio.

    Hence Mark (above) looking for a ‘quiet spot’ to do his interview. But the ‘quiet spots’ aren’t always the most visually exciting ones. So if was equipped with a camera he might end up doing his interview twice.

    Having said that he would still be working alone – without the guy with the ‘doogie’ and without Ray Snoddy and Ray’s producer etc, etc.

  2. Im struggling with the analogy, considering I never saw a bulldozer at a shoot unless it was a parliament media frenzy in NZ but I bet my guy didnt have a shovel he had a bobcat and the results with a bobcat can be outstanding with skill, and appropriate to the job at hand..

  3. My simple question, why didn’t the radio guy shoot the interview on a small camera and use the audio for both radio and television?

    Seems to me both examples prove the BBC has a long way to go in figuring anything out.

    And this is a company constantly pointed to as an example of already embracing Rosenblums ideas of how things should be done!

    Show me any reference to Rosenblum and he never fails to trumpet claims abot how he’s already changed the BBC!

    It sure seems like it didn’t happen to the extent he would like us to believe.

  4. The radio guy did not shoot the interview and then use the video (although this is a good idea) because they came from two totally different parts of the BBC. One was from TV, BBC 2 to be specific. The other was from Radio 4. (there is also radio 1-3). The BBC is a VERY big organization.

    When I started working with The BBC, they covered the UK (domestic television news, called Nations and Regions) with 84 beta crews every day. When we finished adding the VJs, we fielded nearly 1,000 cameras every day. This was a very big project, but compared to the size of the whole BBC, it still leaves us a long way to go.

  5. Do you have a link to the BBC 2 story? Maybe it was worth it to have everyone there.

    Anyway let’s try some math… Its ruff and I’m rounding up so feel free to correct me

    84 real crews shooting 4 stories a day = 336 stories a day
    1,000 VJ shooting 2.5 stories a week = 357 stories a day
    But wait there is Michael’s 30% VJ failure rate for content or un-air-able stuff so that’s 250 stories a day.
    So 1,000 people to make 250 stories a day that still look worse than the real crews work.

  6. Dear Stephan
    Boy, you guys in NZ really work your cameramen to the bone. Do you really do 4 stories a day for local news? Wow! At the beeb its a bit closer to 2. As for the VJs, sometimes they only do 2.5 a week, sometimes, they do 2 a day. Depends on the news day. See, these guys are really flexible, cause they can do everything, depending upon what is needed. And of course, they don’t have to wait for the ‘team’ to assemble. Nor do they require a van… or lunch for everyone.. or if they travel a lot of hotel rooms and stuff like that. What you say about the failure rate is quite true. With so many ‘crews’ in play, you can take a risk. Good journalism requires the ability to take a risk. Your NZ crews, cranking out 4 stories a day barely have time to go go the bathroom. Well, I guess that is how it is when the production side is so short handed.

  7. Actually I was thinking of when I was working for the BBC 4 stories a day was not unusual. In NZ where travel time is not as much of an issue I can shoot up to 9 stories. Of coarse the reporters only do 1 or 2 stories.
    Shouldn’t you know how the current system works?

  8. Mike, understand that sometimes you dont need a crew to tape a simple interview. As we know in the US Navy, not every toilet needs a 600 dollar toilet seat.

    But contrary, arent there times when you you need the whole gang; when a boyscout with his pocket knife just wont work?

    good post

  9. Dear Stephen
    9 stories in one day!
    Well, that exactly underscores my point and no wonder the BBC so embraced my ideas. Its not about saving money as much as it’s about taking some time to do stories better.
    9 stories in one day. What is the most you can do? Show up, shoot a few stand up takes? A few sound bites a little b-roll and a few shots of police tape. Then, time to move on to the next. What kind of reporting can you do when the camera is not there? Limited at best – wallpapered later. Camer and reporting have to work together, this is a visual medium. So why not simply give the reporter the camera and be done with it? That’s the concept.
    9 in one day! All that tells me is that your resources are way over stretched. Why don’t you send me the name of that ND and I will see what I can do to help out.
    Always happy to lend a hand. 🙂

  10. As much as I would love to think that reporters spend the whole day sitting on their backside, surfing ebay, drinking lattés while they wait for me to become available I know they are working away, research, calling, setting up shoots and much, much more.
    You really have total contempt for journalists don’t you Michael?
    Today as part of a team I shot 3 political reports, 1 sports story, an art auction story, a travel feature for the weekend and a business story for tomorrow… as well as 2 live stand-ups. I didn’t break a sweat and I doubt you can show me a VJ story that looks as well shot as any of them. As to the standard of reporting each was done by a dedicated reporter any of whom I’d back against any multi tasking VJ.

  11. Man, nine in one day given that New Zealand is slow on news any day, to do nine pieces, unless they are stand ups we (as in NZ where I live)must have declared war in the past and I must have missed it to get that much news…. nine! im a little incredulous must have been a day from hell, or as I said we declared war!

  12. This is where the real world vs VJ ideal don’t intersect. I know that no news management team would look at 84 real crews, another 84 journalists and 40 editors and say “cool we now have 208 VJ’s we can put on the road…”
    oh no the will look at the wage bill and say “if we could do it before with 84 teams and a VJ is a team of one then we only need 84 VJ’s in total.”
    So what happens is instead of 208 people shearing the load and working together as a team you have 84 desperate VJ’s chucking stuff on TV to fill the gap. Then management will convince themselves that it’s if it’s good enough for youtube it’s good enough for the under 25 demographic… what ever lofty ideals you have Michael are lost in the management landslide to save money…
    I guess I trust journalists a lot more than I trust management.

    Ludio would you like to come see a newsroom and how it works?
    5 Bulletins and channel 7 24hour news, there is a lot to cover even on a slow news day.

  13. Dear Stephen
    I know of one major news organization that looked at the model and understood its impact immediately and that would be The BBC. Another one would be Dutch Public TV. Another would be ARD in Germany. Another would be TV24 in Switzerland. In fact, there are quite a few who did just that, and from my email and meetings, I expect there will be quite a few more. Off to Brazil next week, so stay tuned.

  14. Rosenblum: “I know of one major news organization that looked at the model and understood its impact immediately and that would be The BBC. ”

    Ah yes, the BBC who, when it came time to interview Mr. VJ himself, didn’t send a VJ to do the job.

    Either for radio or television.

    Seems they didn’t embrace your idea as much as you’d like everyone to believe.

  15. Dear $
    Even training 1,000 VJs out of a population of 24,000 leaves room for… well, more training, Fortunately.

  16. Except I’ve talked to BBC people and most of them have either never heard of the VJ or it was a course they did and then ignored once they got back to the real world. A 1000 people sitting in on a course is not that same as creating 1000 VJ’s.
    If you are wrong about the BBC, and you are, then how can I believe any of the other climes are not just more Hyperbole? Or some of the same smooth talk that got you hired as a Middle East reporter?

  17. What network pencilgod?

  18. Dear Stephen
    Of course, you are writing this from NZ, and I am answering from England where I have spent the past week with BBC people. But that is besides the point.

    What I am curious about is the 9 news stories a day schedule you shoot. Even if you work a 12 hour day, if we deduct travel time, set up time and lunch (which I assume you eat), this makes me believe you spend about 15 minutes actually shooting each story. How can you possibly achieve any depth or quality of reporting? Unless of course they’re all just b-roll and stand up. Or maybe just press conferences or photo ops?

  19. Rosenblum: “How can you possibly achieve any depth or quality of reporting? ”

    Too funny seeing you of all people write something like that.

    Someone who has little or no care in the world about quality in the first place.

    You’re all about doing it cheaper at the expense of quality!

    You’ve promoted that from the beginnning!

    Now you want to try and insinuate otherwise?

    The BBC has shown they have no use for your VJ ideas.

    They don’t even send one to interview YOU.

    Seems like a false claim you’ve made of success has been exposed as, let’s say misleading at best to be polite.

  20. Luglio I’m freelance so what would one you like?

  21. I’ve yet to meet one person from the BBC and we get a lot over here in NZ, who has one good thing to say about VJ’s at the BBC. That’s if they have actually had anything to do with them. I was talking to an ex BBC ND last month. In his words VJ was: “A failed experiment that was a waste of time and money.”
    “It never worked. We got endless complaints from the public. Especially those crap up the nose interviews.”

    As to time management it’s called division of labor. While I’m shooting the reporter is doing reporter stuff. We each concentrate on doing our job, complementing each other as a team, getting a lot done, a lot better and a lot faster.

    Look I’m not saying there aren’t slow, lazy, incompetent cameramen out there. I just don’t understand why you want to make them into bad reporters as well as bad cameramen.

  22. Answers a lot about workload when you are a freelancer, it is akin to taking a contract in any employment situation, productivity is generally far higher, given the above example no doubt they as in employer are maximising their return or you get paid on a pro rata rate hence your workload.
    The argument about making cameramen reporters is the opposite of the concept of VJ work which is reporters become cameramen, or if the inclination fits as per your example which can occur but not what generally occurs (Michael?).

    Most of the media savy youth of today, can adapt and exhibit a hunger that these new tools create. Im not a huge advocate of VJs for hard news, but I believe it will happen as experience increases and the avenues for this increases. Old paradigms are changing just like music has…its coming, what shape it folds into is the most exciting, this change will speed up, and as Michael says the barriers to access are falling quickly. I say bring it on, cause Im tired of old style news not enough investigation, or angles to each story…

  23. “Michael says the barriers to access are falling quickly. I say bring it on, cause Im tired of old style news not enough investigation, or angles to each story…”

    None of which is fixed by VJ’s. What happens is you get the same crap only shot worse.
    There are a few fixes for the newsroom, none of them are VJ.

  24. Ah… how many different music types do you listen to pencilgod…the world of music today is more varied albeit some of it does not make the surface but I can guarantee that some of todays top acts were happy that technology enabled them to start in their garage..
    Unfortunately the access to greater exposure has been held back by the gatekeepers. In Tv by the networks, and their money making advertising (TV3, Sky, or their so called charter TVNZ) the net has created an avenue for this distribution, the likes of the Flight of the Conchords would not have made it internationaly without the enabling technology created in the last few years of the net, and I bet some of the great journalism stories will keep coming out of reporters using this new technology well and offering a different viewpoint Kevin Sites comes to mind. ..

  25. Flight of the Conchords took years to get going. They took out the Edinburgh Festival, did an award winning BBC radio show all before going to HBO. I don’t think you can credit technology with their success… more talent I would say.

  26. “More talent I would say” illustrates the argument well, they as in FOTC have used all sorts of media to get exposure, some of which was not available in the last decade. The fact that the networks of NZ did not see their potential is an illustration of the point of a limited vision of old (gatekeepers) as in continuing to serve what currently is and has been placed for years. New tools,new talent create new opportunities, one shouldn’t hinder any of it …..

  27. I’m not defending the gatekeepers. I don’t think TVNZ will ever live down rejecting FOTC not once but 3 times, ‘Its not our demographic’ should haunt them forever but a lot of what Michael sells in not new, just the same old repackaged in a way to make management feel good about cutting costs. This isn’t about delivery. The gatekeeper are still there, nothing changes but the workload of the poor VJ expected to do everything with nothing.

  28. It is an interesting time….AsI have stated before that Im not an advocate of VJs for breaking news, there is a type and place for both models. The carte blanche adoption of such is misguided, but I find it difficult to not adopt new avenues of creating better content. News in itself is a hard business model to take to a public, especially in NZ (not enough happening to generate leads) all the networks here struggle to bring quality journalism to the public, in fact most leads are from the newspapers, which doesnt bode well given Fairfax reduction in journalists across both sides of the Tasman. No doubt shareholders demand a return on their investment, which given all news outlets paper,radio and tv seem to have weathered the so call recession well with advertising holding up generally in NZ. It seems within Nz the ability of media to carry out its task of advocacy and its implicit ability to frame political issues is lacking, but that probably happens worldwide. Blogs are more courageous and forthright and adoptive of new technologies but equally I wonder as we progress that Im reminded of a quote I recently read from Martin Nisenholtz (NY Times web operation)…
    “How do we create high quality content in a world where advertisers want to pay by the click, and consumers dont want to pay at all” as after all its the advertisers that make all these wheels turn..

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