Document Type

Article

Publication Date

11-1999

Abstract

The rise of the 24-hour regional cable news channel has focused attention on "oneman bands-also called video journalists (Beacham, 1996; Colman, 1996; Lieberman, 1998). An increase in the number of journalists who report and shoot their own stories has been attributed to, among other things, economic pressures and technological advances (Sherer, 1994; RTNDF, 1995; Dickson, 1997). Television stations in very small markets have traditionally required reporters to make contacts, interview sources, record the video and sound, write the script, and edit the taped material into a finished product (Lindekugel, 1994). In most markets, however, the concept of a newsgathering team has served as the norm (Smith, 1987; Cremer, Keirstead and Yoakam, 1996). There is some evidence to suggest that the use of video journalism in local television news organizations may be on the rise (RTNDF, 1995).

Technological advances in newsgathering equipment offer news managers the option of utilizing only one person to fulfill newsgathering tasks (Rosenau, 1988; Brodie, 1991; Calcm, 1993; Langman, 1993; Sherer, 1994; RTNDF, 1995). Television camera manufacturers offer increasingly smaller, lighter, less expensive but more sophisticated, camcorders (a camera/videotape recorder unit in which the recorder is built into the camera housing), and videotape formats that make it easier for one person to cover a news story (McConnell, 1996; Jessen, 1996a; Beacham, 1996).

The purpose of this study is to explore the current status of photographers in local television newsrooms to see if video journalism is a regular practice and whether it is associated with other news gathering routines and professional norms. Much of the research into the television news environment has been ethnographic in methodology and critical in analysis (Epstein, 1973; Altheide, 1976; Tuchman, 1978; Gans, 1979). Television news research has also focused on the effects of individual, organizational, institutional and societal factors on media content (Shoemaker and Reese, 1996). There is less research, however, into the effects of some of these factors (individual, organizational and institutional) on the organization itself, its structure, and personnel. Traditionally, the organizational structure of television newsrooms has been divided among news managers, news gatherers, and other newsworkers who hold little journalistic influence or editorial control (Weaver and Wilhoit, 1996). As a news gatherer, the reporter's "primary function is to collect and to frame information into one to two stories or packages per day" (Goedkoop, 1988, p. 33) that inform and engage the audience. The photographer's responsibility has been to illustrate the stories with appropriate and interesting pictures-that is, to complement the written and spoken information (Lindekugel, 1994). The question is whether photographers deserve to be included among news reporters or strictly as newsworkers.

This study explores elements of two structures, "selecting" and "processing," via the perceptions of news photographers. The first refers to the situations in which decisions are made concerning the choice of news material for broadcast (the product); the second "refers to the application of work routines which affect the nature of this product as it passes through the 'chain' of decision-making" (McQuail, 1994, p. 212). Both often occur, suggest Cremer et al. ( 1996) during the morning editorial meeting, the catalyst for much of the day's activity. Whoever attends the meeting is expected to "bring hard material-stories, segments, series that are or will be ready to run-and to contribute to general discussion of how scheduled stories and breaking news will be covered" (p. 265).

Since organizational structures are created by human actors, they are open to change through human interpretation and application. Established norms reflecting influence, professional values, and superior-subordinate relationships are examples of structures that exist through application and acknowledgment. Comparing photographers' interpretations of the various work patterns explored in this study may uncover structural factors that support or challenge assumptions about some of these established norms.

Publication Title

Feedback

Publisher Statement

Copyright 1999 Feedback, published by the Broadcast Education Association.

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