Making a Symphony as a One-Man-Band

Screen shot 2015-01-15 at 10.55.06 AMYou’re going to be working by yourself.

Multimedia Journalist. MMJ. Backpack reporter. One-Man-Band. They all mean the same thing – you’re going to have to do it all as a TV reporter.

People have an antiquated perception of how we work as reporters; they picture us wearing a fedora with “press” on a note card stuck on the brim, alongside a beefy fellow who’s carrying a camera and wearing a backwards cap. Then they imagine we hand off our video to a curly-haired man with a five o’clock shadow who edits the video in a dimly lit room.

News flash: it hasn’t been that way for a decade.

Today, reporters are expected to do it all. We come up with our own stories, we shoot our own video, we write our own scripts, we edit our own footage, and we present our stories live on the air. And it’s not going to stop there. More and more, TV stations are cutting back on live truck operators, and now expect reporters to set up their own live shots using backpack equipment similar to the LiveU.

And when that reality sets in, the complaints begin to flow.

Who is going to shoot my standup for me? How can I get everything I need by myself? Why can’t they bring on more people? This isn’t fair!

In a perfect world, there would be plenty of people to fill every position and put news teams together. But the unfortunate reality is, that’s not the way things are going.

So you can complain about it, or you can embrace it!

Being a one-man-band gives you the freedom to produce a story exactly the way you want it, and gives you a chance to improve the unique ways you can tell a story. It gives you a platform to separate yourself from other reporters and make a mark as a visual journalist. If you can succeed as a one-man-band in local news, you can succeed in any job.

For further proof, just look at Joe Little of 10 News in San Diego. Joe is one of the best one-man-bands working in news today, and he’s made a career of embracing a backpack reporter-mentality. Every day, Joe makes stories that are compelling, emotional, informative, and visually stunning, and he does it all by himself. It’s one man, one camera.

Every year he posts his best standups, and the 2014 edition is out!

From the very beginning of that video, he shows how to use the right equipment and the right positioning to tell a story.

The first shot is from a GoPro on a stick, followed by a shot from his news camera giving a different angle on the same scene.

The shot at the 0:21 mark shows his whole setup – he’s just got one news camera, but he combines it with a Go Pro mounted to a railroad arm.

Screen shot 2015-01-15 at 10.55.39 AMDon’t have a Go Pro? Look at the standups beginning at the 0:27 mark. Use your news camera to shoot from unique angles, like into a cup’s reflection. Or approach the camera and cover it with a plastic bag.

Your camera isn’t just a stick you have to point yourself toward. It’s a tool, and if you know how to use it right, your stories will look better because of it.Screen shot 2015-01-15 at 10.55.52 AMYour editing system is a tool as well. Combine it with your great camera work, and it can result is something spectacular. At the 0:49 mark, Joe shows how to shoot and edit a SIX-PART standup!

Screen shot 2015-01-15 at 11.09.11 AMIt takes moving your camera to different positions and knowing how a sequence of events should look. It’s like shooting your own little mini-movie: just stop and start each take and tell a complete story.

The standup at 4:29 isn’t as flashy, but it demonstrates how to use the objects around you. Joe set things up so that a water fountain was between him and his camera. The result is great depth of field.Screen shot 2015-01-15 at 10.57.45 AMThe 6:00 mark is another good use of editing to demonstrate something. It could have been one thing for Joe to simple talk about your buddies in your car distracting you. It would have been good just to have his friend sitting there from the start. But Joe used his editing to take it a step further, and have his friend “pop up” at the right time. It makes his point, it’s a surprise for the viewers, and it’s fun.Screen shot 2015-01-15 at 10.58.02 AMAnd finally, at 6:28, he’s just showing off. First, Joe shoots five different shots in which he is positioned differently. He never overlaps where he was standing in the previous shot, so the frame can be edited cleanly with him in five different spots. Then, he puts the whole thing and lays it over a new standup with him holding his phone, making it appear like we were watching it on the screen the whole time.Screen shot 2015-01-15 at 10.58.22 AMThat’s why he’s the master.

Being a one-man band doesn’t mean your hands are tied. It just means you need to tell stories in a different way. If you want to get a job as a reporter, you need to know how to shoot, how to edit, how to write, and how to present yourself on camera. And if you know how to do all of those things on your own, in ways that enhance your story, you can get any job you want.


6 thoughts on “Making a Symphony as a One-Man-Band

      • When I was Managing Editor at Q, my GM asked if I would consider helping out his pals at GU. A prof went on sabbatical and never came back, and it was two weeks before the start of school. Every Tue/Thu I would leave the station from 10-2 and teach. One semester in, Fr. Bob asked if I would consider doing it full time. I loved my time at Gonzaga, and told him I’d definitely consider. When the convo turned to salary, Fr. Bob said ‘You’ll never be this happy being this poor’. He was right on both accounts.

      • Yes. The cool thing was Gonzaga was willing to take a chance on me and bring me on with the understanding that I would complete my graduate degree and move into a tenure track position. That would not happen under the current system. No one will even sniff at you w/out an MA. So get cracking Steven!

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