Chinese philosopher Mencius said: “Friendship is one mind in two bodies.” This is the basis of why I tell young and/or inexperienced reporters that their best “friends” in a newsroom should be the photographers they work closely with every day. Being of “one mind” about the stories you tell on a daily basis is the difference between below-average to average TV news stories and great, memorable storytelling that gets viewers to pay attention and your work noticed.
Whenever I move into a new newsroom, the first thing I do is take inventory of the photography staff. Who’s good? Who’s average? Who’s motivated? Who’s not? And most importantly… who gets “it?” Do you know what I mean by “it?” I mean simply: storytelling. It is THE number one thing that can take your career as a reporter to limitless heights. (For more on storytelling see this article http://survivetvnewsjobs.com/?p=306) Most of us know it when we see it and you should definitely look for it whenever you start in a new shop as well. Once you have identified the “players” among the photography staff, buddy up with them! Why? Because they can make your daily life easy as well as set you up for a successful career path. On the opposite end of the spectrum… news photographers can also make your life a living hell if you dis them. Think about that last point for a moment. You work your tail off turning your story (or in most cases today, stories) for that night’s newscast(s). You find good “characters”, ask all the right questions and write a gem of a script. You get it copyedited and it’s ready for the photog to edit into a masterpiece of local news storytelling. But there’s one problem: You are the reporter who gives “orders” to photographers rather than asking nicely when you need something from them. You are the reporter who sits in the truck playing on your smartphone while the photog busts his/her butt breaking down the live shot in the cold. You are the reporter who calls every story “my story” rather than “our story.” So, guess what, Mr. or Miss Photog is magically having “editing problems” or just can’t get an edit to take. Suddenly, that masterpiece of storytelling that was filled with characters and nat sound becomes just another news package slapped together so it can make air. Think it cannot or does not happen? Wake up Alice, you’re in Wonderland! It can and does.
On the other hand, what if you’re the reporter who always helps carry equipment and break down live shots? What if you’re the reporter who ends every recorded interview by asking the photog if they have any questions for the interviewee? What if you’re the reporter who asks the photographer to brainstorm ideas on making the standup different and visually stunning? And what if maybe you’re the reporter who always, and I mean always, tells the photog what a great job they did on “our” story today/yesterday or last week with another reporter? Well, suddenly Mr. or Miss Photog is busting their hump to get some extra nat sound and a few extra tight shots to really make the story sing! Keep it up, make it a habit and you’ll soon be getting that effort everyday when you work with that photog. Then, that photog will tell the others on staff how cool it is to work with you and you’ll start getting the same effort from every photog you work with. Next thing you know you’re work is noticed as excellent by your bosses and eventually the newsroom you target as the next stop on your march to TV news greatness!
The best friend I’ve ever had “in the business” is a photographer. He just so happens to be what I would consider among the absolute best in the business too with an entire room filled with Emmy and other high level awards. But there was a time when neither one of us knew what it meant to make really good TV. We didn’t even know the term “storytelling” much less what it took to do it. But as our friendship developed so did our relationship as co-workers. We discovered that we both wanted to know what it took to be really good at making really good TV news stories. So, we set about teaching ourselves. We constantly challenged each other to learn and try new things in our stories. It didn’t take long for both of us to start down the path to great storytelling. Had we thought of each other as “just a photog” or “just a reporter” rather than as the most important part of the daily equation, neither one of us might have gone on to the successful and long careers we enjoy.
Unfortunately, there are many, many people in this business who do view TV News Photographers as “just photogs.” Don’t be one of these people. TV News Photographers really are THE most important part of the equation. TV news is at its best when it truly harnesses what no other news medium can harness: effectively blending moving pictures, with sound and words. When it makes you feel like ”you are there.” A reporter can write the words and even say the words. But without a photographer there is no way you are grabbing all three and making viewers feel connected with great TV news storytelling. So don’t forget about your true “best friends” in the newsroom. As Mencius suggested, be of “one mind in two bodies.” Make sure you make it clear to photogs that you know how important they are to making everyone in the newsroom more successful. Your job today, and career down the line, will not be sorry and you just might come away with some really good friends too!