News Directors Get Poynters for ‘One Man Bands’

By Arthur Greenwald

“We’re totally booked for all three days and we’ve got a waiting list,” said Al Tompkins, one of three instructors for One Man Band Reporting, a 10-hour course designed to teach news executives “the single-person crew skills that they are now asking their staffs to learn.”

Tomkins is also Group Leader, Broadcasting and Online for the Poynter Institute, which created the curriculum and runs the hands-on workshops at NAB.

The students are predominantly “news directors, assignment editors, senior reporters along with some college seniors,” says Tompkins. Only weeks away from graduation “the college students know they need to master this stuff even to land their first job.”

But mastery is not really the point of the day-long course. The news executives, says Tompkins, are as motivated as the young job-seekers. “A lot of these guys last cut a story on tape or even on film, if at all,” says Tompkins. “They genuinely want to become better managers by learning what it really means to cover a story beginning-to-end and to do it all one-man band style.” Tompkins, a 26-year veteran of local TV news (most recently as news director at WSNV Nashville) is well-versed in all styles of production.

Officially, the course goes from 8 a.m. until 6 p.m., but students often stay much longer to finish editing. “No matter what, we make them finish the story — just like in the newsroom,” says part-time Poynter instructor Lynn French, “so when they finish, it’s like a personal victory.”

French is more frequently found at KPNX Phoenix where she’s assistant chief photographer, giving her a rare perspective on news executives both as employee and as teacher.

“Most are surprised to discover the process is much slower than they imagined,” says French. “They quickly learn you can do only so much in a day.”

Such lessons are immediately reinforced by the very real challenge of memorizing the controls of the Canon A-1 cameras, spotting the diference between a Firewire and a USB cable, or conquering the complexities of seemingly-simple tasks such as inserting a graphic super (The abbreviated instruction manual reduces this maneuver to a mere 10 steps.)

News executives also discover the practical limits of multitasking, says French. “When you’re shooting, you can’t be making phone calls. When you’re editing you can’t be writing or running a live shot.”

Students also quickly discover that “B-roll doesn’t magically happen. Sometimes you have to go out and find it,” says veteran shooter French.

Neither is good audio a sure thing, as current student Kevin Finch discovered when his interview with outgoing RTNDA President Barbara Cochran was rendered silent by a bad audio cable.

“Intellectually, you already know things can go wrong,” says Finch, who is news director at LIN Broadcasting’s WISH Indianapolis as well as “But this gives you a gut-level appreciation of what can happen when there’s no second person to help out.”

But the course also underscores the upside to “multimedia reporting,” according to Finch. “If you don’t think of it as half the resources, it can be a much more flexible way of working. The reporter can be much more nimble and exercise far greater control over the telling of the story.”

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