Blog on the Run: Reloaded

Friday, December 12, 2008 10:30 pm

Stop the presses (or cameras): More work, less money

Filed under: Journalism — Lex @ 10:30 pm
Tags: , ,

The Washington Post reports that WUSA-TV’s news operation will become the first in that market to compress the traditionally separate roles of reporter and camera operator/producer into one job, a person who will “shoot and edit the news singlehandedly” for both broadcast and online.

This isn’t the first place the approach has been tried, the article notes, and its  track record is, well, mixed:

[Competing WJLA-TV’s Bill Lord] says stations in Nashville and San Francisco have used multimedia journalists on an experimental basis in recent years but have backed away because of “falling quality” and declining ratings.

That’s not to say it can’t work, given the right combination of talent, training and equipment. A new generation of journalists is coming up that will have known no other way of working. I’m not being condescending when I say a little child, figuratively speaking, shall lead them.

The move is hardly a surprise. Newspaper operations, including the one I work for, also have experimented with this. Currently, our main man is John Newsom; before him, it was Amy Dominello, now working in a similar capacity in Washington. And given the hard economic times facing media organizations, anything that would allow consolidation of jobs will certainly be getting a hard look and almost as certainly be given a try.

And local camera jock/producer/ace interviewer Stu “Lenslinger” Pittman has been talking about this trend for a while. (Based on both my own experience covering a story alongside him and the report of an acquaintance at Alamance Community College who recently found himself on the bright side of Lenslinger’s lens, I’d say Stu will thrive just fine in the New World Order.)

What did surprise me is that the union at the station signed on to a new agreement that will pay the newly designated multimedia folks between 30 and 50 percent less than reporters there traditionally have been making. (It wasn’t clear from the article what effect the agreement will have on the salaries of camerafolk who also make the switch. On-air talent typically makes more, all other things being equal, so I’m guessing it means less of a cut for them and might even mean a raise, although I’d be surprised at that.) The finances of the station must be in the toilet if holding them over the heads of the union, if that’s in fact what the station did, was enough to convince members to agree not only to the job consolidation but also the major pay cut. Given housing costs in that market, $90,000 ain’t as much money as it sounds like.

But then, a lot of dollar figures ain’t as much now as they used to sound like. And if it prevents layoffs, I’m sure reporters will be all too happy to start mastering Final Cut Pro and camera operators will be all too happy to learn more (most already know quite a few) aspects of reporting.

And you don’t often hear me rooting for TV news, but I hope both jobs and quality can be maintained.

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