Death of the news shooter: do camera people have a future in a rapidly changing industry?

I recently finished editing a series of films for a project looking at the “Future of news.” It was a wonderful opportunity to hear what brains much bigger than mine thought about where our industry is heading. It was exhilarating to realise that I’m not the only person in the world who feels that the format of TV news is out dated and formulaic.

“For those of us who shoot pictures for a living I think the job is changing but with that change comes exciting new opportunities. . .”

So what do I think? Well firstly TV news seems to be a dead man walking. . .When there is breaking news I, like many others, now turn to Twitter, facebook and live blogs. News channels are no longer first with the news. I think the nightly TV bulletin has a slightly longer shelf life because of its ability to curate the days events into a digestible thirty minute slot, but I think it too will eventually die out. I now create my own bulletins by going through the Youtube pages of my favourite news providers, creating a list of films that take my fancy and then streaming them to my TV via a Google Chromecast dongle. And that’s the thing, video news (as opposed to TV news) is growing in importance. The statistics for the growth of web video are staggering. For those of us who shoot pictures for a living I think the job is changing but with that change comes exciting new opportunities.

It is actually a hell of a lot easier for an experienced cameraperson to make a film on his or her own than it is for a reporter who is still trying to remember how to focus and white balance. . .

So in this new world will there still be a place for the traditional news cameraperson? That’s a tough one. . .My heart gives a resounding “yes” while my head grudgingly admits that it’s unlikely. Love it or hate it the VJ/Sojo/Video producer model does make sense on a lot of levels. The problem for me is that too many traditional cameraman see this model as a threat to be avoided instead of an opportunity to be grabbed with both hands. Over the last ten years there has emerged a pattern of news crews standing by, complaining as producers and reporters pick up cameras and begin to shoot their own reports. Hay, I get that and have been guilty of it myself — until I realised that we can do it too. It is actually a hell of a lot easier for an experienced cameraperson to make a film on his or her own than it is for a Reporter who is still trying to remember how to focus and white balance.

Me working as a traditional news cameraman (copyright Christian Parkinson)

My background is as a cameraman and picture editor, I’ve done it for fourteen years at the highest levels. Now I work as a video journalist for an International news channel, there is no way I would have got this job without my technical skill and experience behind the viewfinder. Believe me, in a world where video is king, our skills are valued and can lead to exciting new gigs. I’m not a great writer and I’m certainly not confident standing in front of the camera, but as news changes I think that is less important. Most of my films I make have no voice over at all but allow the subject to tell their own story, I use text and graphics to fill in any gaps and if I do need a Piece to Camera I eschew the traditional stand-up in favour of a rough and ready “selfie” style PTC that celebrates the fact I’m not a traditional news reporter rather than hiding it.

TV might be dying but video will be king for a long time to come. . .

Of course I still think there is a place for multi person teams. For example live broadcasts will always benefit from an extra person to organise the details, watch the kit and hold back crowds. Big stories and in depth films that need deeper context will also benefit from two heads coming together. As multimedia becomes more prevalent it is too much to expect one person to shoot, edit, report, take photos, design graphics and code the data visualisations that will illustrate the stories — this is where team members with different skills and experience will be invaluable.

In conclusion my point is this — TV might be dying but video will be king for a long time to come. Camera people need to embrace the changes, learn new skills and make sure that they are at the forefront of the news business as it tries to find its feet in an ever evolving world. . .I just hope that our pay reflects our willingness to adapt and change — but that is another story.


I’m Christian Parkinson, a filmmaker and writer exploring the possibilities that technology offers to video journalism. If you are interested in modern video journalism, cameras, editing and technology then you can register for my mailing list and receive your free eBook “50 lifesaving travel tips for journalists” — http://bit.ly/1JsfLGp

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