The cutting and slashing is going on right now at ABC News, where they’ve decided to do without the professional services of 3 or 4 hundred people. Most of those who will lose their jobs – or who have seen the handwriting on the wall and will “take the buyout” – are photographers and producers.
This is the future of TV news.
My wife was an on-camera TV reporter for many years, and before that, she was the Assignments Manager at Channel 3 in Madison. Before that, she hung out with some smart-mouthed guy on the radio (me). So I have some inside knowledge of how the biz works.
If you’ve ever been interviewed for a local TV news story, you probably met two people in person and possibly talked to another person on the phone. The person you may have talked to on the phone was the Assignments Manager; if not, it was the reporter, asking if he or she could do a story with you.
If you agreed, when they showed up, it was two people: the reporter and the photographer. The reporter asked the questions; the photographer ran the camera. Then they went back to the TV station, wrote and edited the story, and some producer massaged it a bit.
The way the network TV operations do it, it’s with THREE people: the reporter, the photographer, and the “producer” (or “field producer”). As I understand it, the role of the producer is to line up the story, coordinate the “shoot”, and get soft drinks or coffee for the “talent” (reporter).
Think of the movie “Groundhog Day”: Bill Murray is Phil, the weatherman/reporter; that pretty lady Andy McDowell is Rita, the producer; and Chris Elliot plays Larry, the photographer. Truth to be told, in the non-Hollywood world, it would have just been the reporter and the photographer, since they worked for a TV station and not a network; but that wouldn’t have made for much of a movie.
Things have changed vastly in the TV news business. Even here in Madison, more and more times, reporters have to “shoot” their own stories. They have to go out into the field to get the story, and they have to set up and run the camera.
This is not a good time to be a “photojournalist”. It’s not exactly what you’d call a growth industry. ABC News is the first of the network operations to downsize its in-the-field news teams, but I have a feeling the other networks will soon do the same thing. It doesn’t take a corner-office “suit” with an MBA to figure out that two people instead of three is cheaper; and one person instead of two is cheaper. One person instead of three is MUCH cheaper.
Through the years, I’ve come to know some Madison photo-journalists pretty well – been in their homes, partied with them, shared war stories with them, even borrowed power tools from them. Folks with names like Kathy, Don, Jay, Bill, Doug, and others. I stand in awe of their talent. They have an “eye” for pictures, and know how to tell a story with pictures alone, and how to enhance a story with the RIGHT pictures.
They notice subtle things that most of us wouldn’t, and have an artist’s eye for what’s a “good” shot and what’s not. It’s a real talent. It’s the difference between a “snapshot” and a “photograph”. But ABC thinks that kind of talent is dispensable.
Broadcast news is enduring the death of a thousand cuts.