A tale of three tapes

A few weeks ago, I wrote about the infrastructure, effort, and expense of big TV v. small. Lately, I took along my video camera as I did a few things with ABC 20/20, Frontline, and CNBC.com and, as a demonstration, whipped together this little video. I tried to show the effort that goes into a simple interview in network news: four pros who spent hours setting up and taking down a shoot and who put great effort into getting it just right (and they were all nice enough to put up with me taping them). I wanted to make fun of the TV convention of B-roll, in which they get allegedly casual footage of you being yourself so they can use it in editing (and then I made two seconds of my own). And I was fascinated by CNBC.com’s smaller TV for the internet. My video quality is crap (something to do with getting video off my old camcorder, since replaced) and my editing is amateurish — but then, that’s the point.

Go here to get shareable links.

: LATER: A commenter thought I was being snarky about the guys having to wait between shoots. Not at all. Want to make that clear. As I say in the video, these guys are real pros and they do their jobs extremely well and they were also terribly nice explaining some of what they do to me. Ditto the Frontline people. It’s not their fault that the form has come to expect B-roll. What fascinates me is the contrast between the time-honored way to shoot TV and the new possibilities. That’s my point.

  • Nice job, Jeff. I think with a field producer, a camera and sound person and some makeup artist and some decent equipment, you could be a hit on YouTube. By the way, if you want to see way over the top production, go on a commercial shoot. Unlike a news story shoots, commercials have catering and if certain “artistes” are involved, the catering demands can sound like rock musicians riders on dressing room contracts.

  • skipc

    no audio? which laptop is shown? thx. best…skip

  • Well done Jeff,
    A few video tips:
    * Some of the clips were extremely washed out. You can change the exposure on the fly or turn on the “zebra” function to let you know when there is too much white.
    * Also, the last shot seems a bit out of focus. You can either turn on the autofocus, or better yet turn on the manual focus. This is where it is easier to have a helping hand to zoom completely into your face with the autofocus on, turn off the autofocus once you come into focus, and then zoom out.

  • The issue is that those that “make” the video are technicians. This fits the usual TV model which is that the medium is more important than the message. The same thing happens in print. Time magazine is famous for the number of hands a story goes through before it appears in print. Editors need to justify their presences by editing, videographers by camera work, etc.

    If the aim was to transmit information instead of entertainment the evening news would look more like the BBC. Instead the verbal content is overwhelmed by visuals which illustrate every noun the presenter mentions. Stories which deal with ideas or things that don’t lend themselves to pictorials don’t get much air time.

    Another example of video not knowing what to do with itself shows up in broadcasts of orchestral concerts. From an audience point of view there is almost nothing to watch, so the TV producers zoom around the orchestra trying to correlate the picture with the music. This is such a bad fit that static music concerts have all but disappeared from TV (declining audience is only part of the problem). Pop music has done a much better job by inventing a whole new genre of visuals to accompany what is usually a bunch of guys with guitars.

    Let’s face it most TV “reporters” are terrible. Standing out in a street in front of site of a (long gone) car crash is not going to attract the most thoughtful types of journalists. The TV sitcom “The Class” has an air-head reporter character who spoofs the entire field perfectly.

  • Make this shareable!

  • Kent,
    Thanks for the tips! The washed-out video I blame on a DVD camcorder; I now have a new miniDV.
    Yes, I didn’t do the focus right (or lighting).
    I’m trying to learn — and having fun doing so. Thanks for the help.

  • Duffer

    Twenty-five years ago, the cable guy and I tacked up some black and white pictures of political candidates at the head end of the cable system. As I read the results of the different races he would pan back and forth and it went out to cable subscribers.

    Later a fellow publisher asked in front of the owner of the group of newspapers why I did it. I think I floored them when I responded “because it was fun and I got to be on TV.” The owners response was gratifying. He said he was glad someone was doing it because we need to have fun and learn new things.

    Sounds like you have succumbed to the same siren call. And I think you and I are about
    the same age. What’s your point? TV is TV? And my high school newspaper was a newspaper. So?

    How much of this interest in TV by newspapers is the same ego trip that cause car dealers to appear in their ads? I think a lot. It’s cool to have a studio in your newspaper.

    But it’s not cool to be a MoJo.

    Of course, it’s cool to be an anchor, and a little less cool to be in the field.

  • Duffer

    “…most TV reporters are terrible…”
    All generalizations, including this one, are wrong.
    What a cheap shot!

  • Robert Feinman’s comments are curiously irksome. I suspect he’s worked as news management as he delights in margainalizing seasoned professionals using the term “technicians” in the pejorative. He states: “Editors need to justify their presences by editing, videographers by camera work, etc.” OK does that translate to: “bloggers need to justify their prescence by blogging” That was just a dumb thing to say.

    Jeff, in your typically smart-ass style you bring up the nat-sound of the camera crew talking about food. You try working 14-15 hour days and not bring that up. Did the crew know you were shooting them?

    Transparency Statement: I am a network news cameraman for NBC’s Washington Bureau. I happen to be one of the most sought after cameramen at NBC as a matter of fact. PRECISELY becuause I’m not just a technician as Feinman would have you believe

    I don’t need to “justify” my prescence by doing photography. I make a valuable contribution, recording the footnotes of history. Sure, there is bloat in any news orgainization. But I assure you it’s not the salaries of the people who actually make the television.

    Those technicians, by the way (or at least the ones I work with), bring tremendous editorial strength to the table. Do I believe that a BBC model is appropriate sometimes? Of course! But I’d damn sure give that job to seasoned news cameraperson over a eager-beaver 25 year-old.

    As I crossover into my business venture, I’m the cameraman/reporter/producer/director/graphic artist/chief evangelist/editor/writer and i LOVE it. In fact, I suspect a lot of smart “old media” people will be bursting on the scene collaborating with “new” media darlings like yourselves. I think that’s wonderful. I really think it’s quite vile though, to beat up on the worker-bees of traditional media. We get enough of that from the visionless oafs who sign our shrinking paycheks.


  • Jim,
    You misinterpret me. As I said on the tape, these guys are great professionals and I’m sympathetic to their need to wait. That’s show biz. I mean no disrespect whatsoever; quite the contrary. Worse than waiting, these poor folks had to listen to me blather ad nauseum. They were great guys. Clear? I agree that we all bring skills, talents, and experience (and clearly I need help with these ‘technician’ talents, wouldn’t you agree?).
    I’m also fascinated with your new venture and would love to hear more about it. Interesting stuff on the site.

  • Jeff –

    What I love about this example is that it demonstrates how big tv is about perfection – when you are managing media from top down and have a brand and talking heads and expertise to defend you need to manage to this perfection. Small tv comes with different sets of expectations – but the good stuff (dare I say it – content is king) gets attention/audience/customers (whatever). There is a time and place for both.

    Cheers, D

  • Ahhh b-roll! A producer’s bane. Woe to the one who doesn’t deliver the correct kind though. I was just commenting on this very topic. (Click name to get to entry on the SGR.) Then again, if there were no b-roll moments, then where would the “talent” (some call ’em correspondents) put all their pithy words? After all, they’re paid the big bucks to write ’em. And look pretty, of course. Also, they can use up plenty (of words) in the studio (showcase the multi-million dollar talent too) with set-up chitchat if need be. Morning shows are great at that formula.

  • And I hear ya, Jim Bro-In-The-Field Dude. As I’ve always said, lunch is the part of the job I do best. I would NEVER trust a cameraman who didn’t start whining for food, ’cause if he didn’t then I would have to start whing for it, and producers are NEVER supposed to reveal any human characteristics. Or sleep, editorialize, take a bathroom break, comment, emote, object, snort, snark, roll one’s eyes, etc. And woe above all woes to the producer who, gasp, blogs!

  • jeff,

    sorry for misinterpreting you. and sorry for shorthand. writing from bberry now. as i still reside in the msm trenches, i tend to respond frm the heart on these matters, perhaps not as deliberately as i should.

    i neglected to metion that i liked the video too. fwiw i may not agree with every post, but i ALWAYS read buzzmachine. ill send u a quick emai l bout my new adventures

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  • Jim Long:
    My connection with the media is no more than a viewer (since 1948). During that time I’ve seen news go from thoughtful to trivial. I’m sorry that you think I’m demeaning your profession, but tell me does the camera operator make editorial policy? Does the camera operator decide which stories to cover? Does the camera operator write the copy heard on the air?

    Now the choice of what to shoot and how it is presented can have a big influence on how well the story is presented, but I still consider this a “technical” matter, as is editing. This isn’t an insult just a fact of life.

    It is the nature of bureaucracies that people need to justify their employment. As work gets more abstract the number of people doing intangible things grows. It took me many years to realize that there are whole layers of middle “management” in organizations whose sole function is to prepare reports, studies, statistics and other paperwork that is then sent up to the next higher level. During the big wave of downsizing in the 1990’s many of these people were eliminated and the firms continued to operate as before.

    The one I most remember was the elimination of 10-20,000 people at AT&T. Afterwards the telephones worked just as they had before. So if you have four people on a news crew, four people will find something to do. If you have two (as I see around the streets of NYC frequently) then a story will be created with two. Will the “product” look the same. Probably not, but is the objective to have Hollywood lighting or to deliver current events to the viewer? As I said originally TV has shifted from a focus on content in the early years to a focus on visuals now. The latest news shows even have virtual studios so the presenters have images floating around them as the talk.

    I spend a fair amount of time trying to keep informed and the place I spend the least amount of time on for getting the news is TV. My primary sources are the NY Times, BBC radio, online news feeds, weekly and monthly opinion magazines and stories covered on various blogs and information sites (like Josh Marshall’s talkingpointsmemo). I gave up the nightly news somewhere around the Huntley-Brinkley era. I gave up the 10PM local news about two years ago when it became all shooting and car crashes. What takes them an hour to report is covered in four or five paragraphs on page A12 in the Times each day.

    Apparently I’m not alone, TV news has lost audience and credibility and the networks are not interested in investing enough money into the operations to restore their stature. The results have not been pretty. The US has engaged in a number of unwise policies both domestically and in foreign affairs over the past several decades without any critical review by the broadcast media (and slight review by the press either).

    This is a good way to bring democracy to an end.

  • Duffer

    It’s call photojournalism. These people behind the camera are journalists. They tell the story visually. Can you grasp that concept? Have you even thought about it?
    Of course the answer to your initial questions is no (except about writing copy.) But reporters don’t make those decisions either, nor do photojournalists.

  • Robert,

    I won’t bore buzzmachine readers with an endless “I’m smarter than you and here’s why” type of thread. In my capacity at NBC News, I’ve worked a one-man-band conducting interviews in the field, and have been part of elaborate setups where I “justify” my existence as a mere cameraman. So I wholly disagree with your assertion that my job is merely technical. You simply don’t know what you’re talking about here.

    Is TV news in need of re-tooling? Of course! Do I think the people who gather the news elements are simply “justifying” their existence? Certainly not all of them. Is there bloat? Clearly! My colleagues and contemporaries at CBS News are aghast at the size of the Katie Couric entourage that migrated from our network.

    A final thought here…Robert you are quite an observant fellow. In an era of the empowered media consumer, shouldn’t people like you be helping to shape the new model of democratized networked news, rather than just pointing out the problems of the old one? I mean that in the best of spirits.

  • Jim Long:
    Thanks for the complement! As for what a single person can do, I have my web site where I post essays on society (not very many on the media, however). You are invited to visit.

    The issue (which Jeff Jarvis tends to overlook) is that having something to say and being heard are two different things. For every popular blog like DailyKos there are hundreds (thousands?) which get hardly any traffic at all. Freedom of speech doesn’t mean much if there isn’t also freedom of “listen”. The mass media still controls the direction of discourse and therefore the dumbing down of the news has serious implications for an informed electorate. As the media outlets have all been taken over by huge industrial enterprises the chance for reporting that breaks with the conventional wisdom becomes more remote. One doesn’t expect to see stories about GE on NBC, and one doesn’t. But by a sort of gentleman’s agreement there aren’t such stories on the rival networks either.

    It remains to be seen if the internet and other emerging outlets can open things up again. So far their affect has been minimal but it is still a new avenue.

  • First, disclosure: I work in Sports Broadcasting as a Audio Mixing Engineer.

    I love Internet TV and its raw form. The “unplugged / unproduced” look is one of the mediums most defining elements, and ironically the first item that seems to go further and further away as the people producing the content start to get more interested and, occasionally make money from this medium.

    Lets look at your piece… Why have you invested money in lights, upgraded your camera, bought a external microphone(s) or even bother editing? After all, its on the internet and as long as you have compelling content, people will watch, right? Now that you have spent the money on equipment, lets look at what it took you to produce this piece? It is heavily edited and why include B roll at all if your trying to point out that B roll is to staged / unnecessary?

    To prove my point, consider how much time this last piece took you to shoot / edit / produce / upload compared to the first piece of video you did for the net?
    YouTube now lets you go strait from WebCam to the net now and I am sure that opportunity will allow even more people who cant “ Shoot, capture, edit upload “ to start producing their own compelling content, which I look forward to watching.

    Much of what you have pointed out is the result of companies making LOTS of money and re-investing that money to make their content more attractive to keep you from simply tuning past. And you seem to be showing us that it doesn’t need to be done that way anymore. But ironically you are taking the early steps down that same path to the same end.

    I applaud everyone for taking control of media on their own. News / Blogs / Publishing / Music / TV. This is one of the most exciting and liberating times in the media industries and I actively encourage my son and daughter to create their own shows and music everyday.

    In my job I average 7 hours of setup before the game, 2 assistants in the arena, 11 announcer microphones ( for 4 announcers ) , 22 courtside microphones ( NBA ) and 52 tracks of audio coming off of video tape / audio playback equipment to make every effort to bring the “aural reality” of the event as close and realistically to the viewer as possible. Is it all necessary, NO, but my motto is, if you see it on camera, you better hear it as well. And that’s what I create for compelling content in an effort to separate us from the other broadcasts you might choose on any given sports night.

    Kyle Clements

  • Oh yeah, one other thing, now that you are being watched on a regular basis, you might get a knock on your door from someone who wants to give money to you for adding in a front end ad or graphic bug, espescially since people are just TiVoing past their current old school ads…. but they want you to create X amount of content per week. Now you dont have time to write, shoot, audio, produce, edit and upload… what are you going to do to keep that money coming in? Hire a crew to do some of the work. And how are you going to make sure they dont stand around waiting for that talking head? Have the talking head stand around and wait for the crew? Probably not.

    As much as we all would love to see compelling content that remains free of sponsorship, it simply isnt going to happen. It wont be in the same format as current tv, but manufacturers of goods will always need to advertise in new and creative ways.


  • Hey Jeff,
    You might want to try turning those umbrella around to shed more light on the subject.

  • baker

    Mr. Jarvis, I agree with you 100% on the democratization of blah-blah-blah, however…

    I don’t need to be a licensed carpenter to build a coffee table. I just need the tools and some general idea of how a coffee table is built. However, if I have any intention of building a coffee table that doesn’t suck, it’s my responsibility to develop a command of my tools (no matter how reasonably priced they were) and study any documentation that will enable me to build the best coffee table possible.

    Today, online video journalism is a bonanza of poorly produced first drafts — too often I find that web journalists don’t know how to use their tools and it’s reflected in their work. Unless they’re capturing some breaking news where it’s a matter of content over quality, I find this inexcusable. And of course, we can thank YouTube for helping to drastically lower everyone’s expectations of what video should look like online, both from a production standpoint and from the encoding side. I would argue that this is not a good thing.

    Anywho, 5 years ago, Tim Kennedy wrote a clear and concise guide to shooting for the web. I send it to everyone who approaches me about shooting video for online use. Here’s the link:


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  • Peter Ferling

    I do corporate video for training and promotion. I think we as viewers have been trained to believe that programming can only be presented in this manner of ‘professionalism’. Using a crew of several, having camera’s and edit stations that cost more than a loaded SUV, etc. etc. Anything that strays outside this form of ‘control’ must not be legit (trustworthy), or believeable.

    Then along comes Youtube and everyone with a camera willing to capture the moment. Now everything is news. We don’t get stories that are guaranteed to draw a huge viewership, that will increase ratings and hence increase revenue. No. We get stories about average people strange things. Everything from silly to insane.

    So what’s the big sell here? Same thing as always, entertainment. The difference is that it’s practically free.

    But why should that bother the pro’s? Well, the whole big idea behind any form of media or entertainment has always been access and privileage. As in the past, you had to pay for that privileage to have access. However, youtube is changing that model, and quickly.

    I’ll close with this: I remember having interesting discussions in 90’s about how the internet may prove someday, to be the downfall of local libraries. Well, we never saw this coming!

  • Ms.

    I get your point. Anyone that has the few necessary tools can make T.V today. It is no longer hollowed ground only for the professionals. I enjoy youtube so much that I spend more time watching it then any T.V. show or news. T.V. like eveything else is being changed by technology. Move over professionals, the people are speaking and people like me (baby boomer, teacher with a M.A) want to hear what they have to say.