NBC12’s Laura Geller is among a handful of local TV reporters who report, shoot and edit footage on their own. Mike Freeman photo
Like their musical counterparts, the "one-man bands" of television news do it all.
They investigate and gather information, cover events, shoot video, conduct interviews, write the stories, appear on camera and edit the final pieces themselves.
A combination of technological advances — such as smaller, lighter cameras — and diminishing newsroom budgets has meant the traditional two-person, photographer-reporter teams are disappearing. Some stations in other markets now rely exclusively on one-man crews.
"It allows you to have more people on the street covering the city on any given day," says Bill Anderson, news director at CBS-affiliated WTVR-6, which has two full-time one-man bands and two other reporters who pull the duty on some assignments. "No one has a crystal ball, but logic would dictate that this is going to become an ever-increasing trend."
One of WTVR's solo journalists is Jon Burkett, a Richmond-area native who picked up his skills as a video-journalist working as an anchor and reporter for the Armed Forces Network while serving in the U.S. Navy. Working alone can be physically demanding because of the hefty equipment he is required to carry and set up, but conversely, it also lets him be more nimble when events unfold quickly.
Burkett was the first TV reporter on the scene at the Ponderosa Steak House in Ashland when snipers terrorizing the corridor from Richmond to Washington struck there in 2002. Already nearby on another assignment, he was able to get there, set up a satellite truck and camera and start reporting before most other media outlets even knew what was happening. His live feed was picked up nationally.
"I drove that live truck like the wheels were coming off," he says. "Cops were passing me like I was going backward, so you knew it was something big."
Nancy Kent Smith, news director at NBC-affiliated WWBT-12, which currently deploys a single one-person crew, says the practice is less about cutting expenses than taking advantage of emerging technology and being able to offer more content for today's "three screens": TVs, computers and mobile devices.
"The issue is where are you going to deliver news in the future," she says. "There is a lot of material that is being repurposed on the Web. It's a broader issue than just cost."
Some argue that a one-man band can produce more cohesive stories than a two-person team, which can suffer from an inherent disconnect that occurs when a reporter is writing a piece but isn't directly aware of what sound and video have been captured.
"There is an advantage to whoever goes out and shoots it coming back and knowing the story very well," says Lisa Melton, news director at ABC-affiliated WRIC-8, who was taking applications for a solo-journalist position in mid-February. "They know their video, they know their sound better, they can put the story together in a better way. I bet the viewer doesn't even know it's happening."
With eight years of resourceful one-man-banding behind him, Burkett has even found creative ways to overcome certain downsides, such as the inability to offer movement during a live shot while the reporter is standing in front of the camera. Once, while covering a traffic snarl on Interstate 95, he stepped aside. Explaining he wanted viewers to see the full scene, Burkett panned and zoomed the camera with a free hand, then returned into view to close the story.
"My news director said, ‘I've never seen anything like that,' " Burkett says with a laugh. "You've just got to improvise."