Keeping the journalism in videojournalism

by Nicole Lampa

I love being a journalist. I don’t love being a videojournalist.
Four years ago, I agreed to become a videojournalist after stints as a producer for Report On Business TV in Toronto and Calgary.  It was an opportunity I couldn’t pass up. For years, I had dreamed of becoming a television reporter. Now, I had the chance.  Though I fully realize my journalism career is in its infancy, I already feel burned out because of my job.  

Don’t get me wrong: I do not regret my decision.  I do, however, wish that a more seasoned videographer would have explained the role to me and truthfully outlined its demands. Taking on the dual role as reporter and shooter on a daily basis is fatiguing. When you perform the tasks of two people, it’s only natural that exhaustion will kick in.

It can be difficult concentrating on reporting the story when you are a VJ.  Constant technical concerns and the sheer physical demands of carrying equipment take their toll. My interviews must wait while I set up the equipment.  The journalist in me yearns to have the time to carefully pre-interview my subject because it often results in new information or other story ideas.  Pre-interviewing also gives me a chance to make my interview subjects more comfortable. Instead, I’m usually tinkering with white balance issues and audio checks instead of talking to my subjects.
For me, the toughest part of being a VJ comes when I cover traumatic stories.  It’s never easy, for example, to knock on the door of a murdered boy’s home to ask his mother for a comment or a photograph, but imagine having to do that while asking the grieving woman to wait as you set up the tripod.   You simply cannot do this gracefully, and it can be an emotionally draining experience for the videojournalist, too.

Still, I have gained some advantages by doing my work, and I have learned much. VJ’s who survive a year on the job gain respect for photographers and for editors and a deep understanding of their work. My technical skills have improved, and I know how to shoot more compelling video and to capture the great natural sound that brings TV news stories to life.

The economics of TV news seems directed toward hiring more VJs or videographers who do the work two professionals did previously.   In my view, it is always essential to remember that doing good journalism is the first objective.

This job is demanding and frustrating at times. When I think of VJ-ing, I recall an article I read that described the work best. “VJ-ing is like riding a unicycle while trying to shoot a sniper. You can pull the trigger. But rarely do you hit the target.”

Link to Nicole Lampa’s CTV website.