There’ve been some long gaps in my blog posts in recent months. Hopefully this post will explain much of that.
I’m writing a new book.
I’ve mentioned this to many of my friends over the past few months, but I promised that I wasn’t going to make any public announcement until I had at least 100 pages. I’m now at 250 pages, which should work out to just under 200 when finally published.
The first half of the book is completely written and edited. The second half is mostly written and is being edited. As with my first book, Naked Filmmaking, I am both author, editor and publisher, with my wife Bonnie editing my editing for accuracy.
The title of the new book is One-Man Newsman: Being A Television Journalist In The Digital Age & Getting A Job In TV News. It has been registered on Amazon and should be available in softcover and Kindle in the early months of 2012.
My first book Naked Filmmaking came out exactly a year and a half ago in March 2010. As with any new book that comes out, especially one without publicity and only relying on word-of-mouth and social media marketing, beginning sales were slow. Almost too small to even term them “sales. But then after Thanksgiving the book started taking off, which I totally attribute to Christmas gift sales. (Thank goodness for holiday commercialism!) I put an awful lot of work into that book and into getting all of the movies — Dog Soldiers, Year and Nightbeats — mastered as fully-loaded DVDs with loads of extras, so that everything would be available on Amazon at the same time.
On New Year’s Day of this year Bonnie was having coffee and reading the paper while I looked over the sales for December. Amazingly, Naked Filmmaking had sold ten times the number of copies than it had in any of the previous nine months since it began publishing. My hope was that this could get the ball rolling and if enough people read the book and liked it and spread the word about it then maybe this could be the beginning of wave.
Cutting to the chase: it did. Ever since then Naked Filmmaking has been selling steadily, as have the movies, both on DVD and as digital downloads. It’s going to be a long, long time before the combined sales could ever recoup the investment we have in making the films and the expenses of writing the book.
The cost of writing a book? How much can that be? Well, figure the cost of a laptop, a pocket digital camera for taking photos to illustrate chapters, software for writing, software for photos and graphic design, software for converting to digital downloading. Still, not nearly what it cost to finance the films, but enough to add up. I can report that Naked Filmmaking has earned it’s investment back and we’re now working at paying down the credit card that we’re still carrying from making Nightbeats–but we’re getting there. And thank you to everyone out there for purchasing the books and DVDs and trying the films as downloads. We hope that you felt the investment was worth it and that you’ll be interested in this new project.
On that New Year’s morning Bonnie started to feel more confident that all of our work, time and effort might have been worth it. She said to me, “Okay, what’s the project going to be for this year?”
“Well, I’ve been working on a script of another film.”
“I think you need to do another book.”
“Another book? About what? I’ve already written about how I make movies.”
“I think you should write a book about what you do. I think you should write a book about TV news and how you do it. The first book was interesting because it’s about the way you make movies, which is based on how you do TV news — doing it all yourself. I think you should do a book about how do your news stories, where you shoot them and report them and write them and do the whole thing.”
So I gave it some thought. I looked on Amazon and there are a lot of books about TV news, celebrity memoirs by network anchors and reporters and academic books about how (so they claim) TV news works. But I couldn’t find anything that dealt with the new direction that broadcast journalism is heading with the one-man/one-person Digital Journalist — the reporter who is also their own photographer and editor. It’s often easy to pick out the DJ (Digital Journalist) or VJ (Video Journalist) or MMJ (Multi-Media Journalist) because they’re shooting with a camcorder and are better dressed than the other cameramen.
One-Man Newsman is about the biggest mystery of all in TV — how to get a job. Getting that first job in TV is going to be one of the hardest things you’re ever going to do. In Naked Filmmaking I described how I got my job, which went on to be my education and film school. I go in much more detail for this book, as well as what my first year in the business was like. It’s certainly unlike any other story you’ll read about – and it’s one that I don’t recommend. That said, it’s worked for me and it’s given me a career for almost three decades now.
Also, One-Man Newsman is more than just my story. The book includes ten interviews with people who are or have been working professionals in TV news – reporters and news directors. They talk openly about how they got their first jobs, how they work and, in the case of the news directors, what they look for when they are looking to hire people.
It is also about everything involved in being a one-person reporter-photographer: how to shoot, what the news gear is that you’ll be using, how to conduct an interview (it’s both simpler and trickier than you’d think), and how I write stories, complete with my log notes, first drafts of news scripts and why I cut them down the way that I did.
For anyone who’s ever been curious about how the news works and for any high school or college student interested in TV news as a career, this book will be a must-read. I’m writing what you need to do to get a paying job in a real TV station, how to do the job and how to keep the job. I also tell many things about the first jobs that nobody ever thinks about, like the fact that you’re going to have to go to a nothing place where you don’t know anybody and you’re making almost as much as the person taking your orders at McDonald’s. After reading this book you may decide that this business is not right for you — which is what no other book on journalism out there will do. You’ll also learn that you’re going to have to find more strength and resolve and determination than anything else you’ve ever done before, and that many of the people who are closest to you will try and talk you out of. But if you want to work in TV and if you have dreams of being on TV as a news person, this is a book that will be worth having and reading — and re-reading.
If you haven’t bookmarked this website, please do so now to keep posted on developments and publishing date of One-Man Newsman.
Here is a sample, from the preamble of One-Man Newsman:
“The Business” —What People Think News Is & What News Really Is
Working in TV news is commonly referred to as being “in the business.” News, as much as being a craft or profession, is a business. That’s why it pays. And it’s a small group.
For almost thirty years I’ve watched journalism students pass through newsroom doors on internships, spend a semester or two with us, observing how real news is done, trying their hand at the job, maybe putting together a demo reel to get a job after graduation. A few go onto careers in the business. A couple have even come back as reporters and worked alongside me as colleagues.
As important as I think it is for this book to be read by aspiring journalists, even more importantly it should be read by the parents of children with dreams of being anchors and reporters so that they can get a sober idea of what this business is really like, what it will take to get their foot in the door, and then just how demanding the business is on their lives.
For the vast majority of these students their dreams and ambitions of working in TV and being on-air never get any farther than their brief newsroom internship. After having spent four or more years in college, taking every journalism class available—not to mention having spent tens of thousands of their parents’ dollars on tuitions or racked up tremendous student loans in the process—that’s as far as most of them ever get.
Television news is a tough business and people who dream of being a part of it need a dose of tough love and be honest with themselves.
Percentage-wise, the number of journalism students who go on to earn a paycheck in this business is less than 10%, probably less than 5%. This gets down to individual student drive and initiative. Recruiters don’t set up booths on campuses looking for people to be in TV news. You’re going to have to push yourself to get out there and work at getting a job in this business.
When you’re looking at a college, ask how many people who graduated from there actually go onto careers in journalism. And be sure to get names of who they are so you can do follow-up e-mails to some of these “success stories” and ask what they think of the education they got.
Many people who’ve been raised on a broadcasting diet of 60 Minutes, 20/20, Dateline and countless others think that everyone in TV news is an “Investigative Reporter.” The truth is that most people working in television newsrooms, both locally and around the world, are just regular people covering regular stories in their communities. The only difference between what we do for a living and what so many other people do and is that our jobs put us in the public eye. And having worked in TV stations since I was twenty, I have to confess that I still think it’s pretty cool.
Our work schedules, on the other hand, are not for the faint hearted. If having nights, weekends and all the national holidays off to hang out with family and friends is important for you, then news is not for you. While our jobs are also based on five-day-a-week work schedules, the days of the week and the shifts can be all over the place. News is broadcast and published seven days a week. We work nights, early mornings, weekends and holidays. That includes Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year’s, Easter, 4th of July, Labor Day, every day.
I was in the business for years before I had Christmas off and that was only because I’d slipped on some ice and injured my knee a while covering a winter storm and the doctor ordered me off my feet for a week.
This also extends to overtime. You could be wrapping up your shift when there’s an earthquake, a tornado, a plane crash, a fire breaks out, a shooting or standoff situation happens that requires you to rush to a scene and start going live. You could be on for two hours or ten hours or all night. It doesn’t happen often, but it goes with the job. And it pays the bills.
TV news stations post video stories to their websites along with text versions of the stories, while newspapers adding video stories to news copy on their websites. The great divide between broadcasting and print is rapidly narrowing.
Every single news department across the country has scaled back—local and network television, newspapers, radio and Internet operations. More cable channels to compete with means fewer advertising dollars to go around. News budgets have to adjust, meaning consolidation—fewer people juggling more duties.
Attention spans are shorter. If a story isn’t holding a viewer’s interest they hit the remote. Viewers in their thirties and younger are simultaneously surfing their iPhone’s, iPad’s or laptops. Many of today’s youth are completely bypassing TV, getting all their information from their phones and the net.
There was a time where if you wanted to work in TV news there were plenty of opportunities—as a cameraman, soundman or editor. However, as these jobs have condensed over the years, we are rapidly approaching a time where if you hope to work in TV news you are going to have to be able to write. If you’re not interested or willing to write, then TV news is not for you.
The only way to survive in broadcasting today is to make yourself invaluable. The bottom line in journalism is the written word. The written word, whether it’s on a printed page or a computer screen or an iPad or a Kindle, is where most people get their information. If you can write you are valued much higher on the newsroom ladder. As newsrooms across the country are consolidating and having reporters learn how to shoot their own stories, the most dispensable person in those newsrooms becomes the photographer. For photographers to survive, and keep drawing a paycheck, they must crossover and learn to become reporters as well.
Many larger market stations have taken a stand not to go the one-person digital journalist route, determined to maintain a staff, if not reduced, made up of reporters and photographer teams. Even so, nobody expects the status quo to remain forever. As senior reporters and photographers move on or retire, I find it difficult to imagine that their positions won’t be gradually replaced or augmented by multi-media journalists. It only makes financial sense. Stations can still have their star reporters but can maintain bureaus and cover general assignment news and other beats with single-person digital journalists.
Change is inevitable and broadcasting is constantly shape-shifting with each new advance in technology, from AM radio to FM, to TV, black & white to color, 16mm film became ¾” U-Matic video tape to Sony Betacam, and now digitally recorded High Definition and stories being shot with iPhones. But the basic essentials of TV news storytelling—the shooting, writing and editing—are still a constant.
Recently I shot half of a story with an Android smart phone using the camcorder app. I was covering a snowstorm in the Sierra Nevadas and had become mired in ten-mile long traffic pile-up, which became the story. Inching along, bumper to bumper, I simply held my Android out the window and recorded. Just a few years ago I could never have covered a story this way. Perhaps next winter I’ll be shooting whole packages on a smart phone.
One thing we can be certain of is that over the next couple of years TV news will be done differently. It’s imperative to be able to adapt and change with it or start looking for another career. TV is a steamroller—you learn how to drive the machine or get run over by it.
The MMJ (Multi-Media Journalist), MMP (Multi-Media Producer), VJ (Video Journalist), DJ (Digital Journalist), reporter-photographer, whatever the job title, is a position that has rapidly evolved and is now a firm part of the broadcast journalism landscape and is only going to become more and more prevalent.