Who’s bright idea was this?- Where did it start and where is it going?

Video Journalism was (arguably) the brain child of a man called MICHAEL ROSENBLUM…(more on him later)
But the story of the origins of Video Journalism Im sharing with you comes through the eyes of a man called Dirck Halstead.

Halsteads personal website introduces him as…

Dirck Halstead is a freelance photojournalist and filmmaker based in Austin, Texas.  Halstead holds the record for the most TIME magazine covers shot by any single photographer.

He is also one of the most prolific advertising photographers for the motion picture industry. His clients include Warner Brothers,  Universal Pictures, Tri-Star, 20th Century Fox, Paramount, and DEG. Other corporate clients have included ITT, Merrill Lynch and IBM.

He has been a leader in the transition from still photography to High Definition Video, and has produced stories for ABC, The State of Texas, and AARP.

Halstead is also Editor and Publisher of The Digital Journalist , and is a popular lecturer on photojournalism on college campuses and before corporate groups around the world.

In the depths of the Archives of the Digital Journalist are documents called “The Platypus Papers” In this excerpt from part 2 Dirck talks about his introduction to Michael Roasenblum and Video Journalism…


The Platypus Papers – Part Two

by Dirck Halstead

On a spring day in 1994, I received a call from a friend, Nick Nicholas, who had been the CEO of Time Warner, and was now embarked on being a venture capitalist.

He asked me if I would meet with some guys who were trying to sell him on helping to fund a start up venture called VIDEO NEWS INTERNATIONAL.

In Nicholas’ fifth avenue office I was introduced to Michael Rosenblum, a former CBS producer, and Paul Gruenberg an entrepreneur who had made his first million the year he graduated from the University of Pennsylvania when he sold a concept he had developed as an undergraduate, The Video Yearbook, to the Readers Digest Company.

Rosenblum, who had acquired a reputation as a maverick in television news circles had a vision . . . that he could create a new form of television news that would do away with correspondents, cameramen, soundmen, and producers. He had personally pioneered the methodology of training journalists, whether they be print, photo, or radio, in the basic television news techniques and the use of the new 3 chip high eight cameras.

Nick wanted me to hear their pitch and give him his opinion on the viability of the ideas . . . he had also solicited advice from one of his other photographer friends from TIME, David Hume Kennerly.

As Michael and Paul Gruenberg pitched their idea, I found myself strangely attracted to it. They had recently been the prime consultants to Time Warner in creating the nation’s first all high 8 news station, New York One in Manhattan, and were actively engaged in building a similar operation in Europe.

At that time, I had been covering the White House for more than twenty years for TIME, but with sharing that beat with my colleagues Diana Walker and Cynthia Johnson had eight months of year free to explore other ideas. In addition, the increasing budget constraint on the magazine was leaving us all uneasy about exactly what the future would hold.

Michael gave me a Sony EVW300, a smaller, High 8 version of the standard ENG camera to try out. Over the following weekend, I became fascinated by the ability to capture sound. I was also intrigued by the fact that when I would “sneak up” on people in Central Park rather than run in the opposite direction as they would when they sighted a still camera trained on them, they often would go into a “performance” for the camera . . . this is when I first began to understand that most people want to be on television.

In the months that followed , both Kennerly and I started to do experimental pieces for VNI. Kennerly scored the first major sales to ABC Nightline, where producer Tom Bettag demonstrated support for the concept of videojournalism. Meanwhile, I was busy on various documentary projects, including one of former Vietnam nurse Diane Carlson Evans whose heroic efforts had managed to produce the Vietnam Women’s Memorial.

In those days our efforts were pretty dreadful . . . we had received no formal training, so we learned in on-the-job lessons from Rosenblum and trial and error . . . but we managed to demonstrate the potential of videojournalism well enough that enough investors were found to launch Video News International.

Opening an office in Philadelphia VNI began to recruit “VJs” as they were called. Over the next two years, they trained nearly 100 photo, print, and radio journalists for three week classes, 10 people at a time.

You can (and should) read the entire article here

So it was that the concept of Video Journalism was born*. By the end of 1995 Video News International had been sold to The New York Times, and in spite of all the early energy and enthusiasm for the production concept the operation failed to carve the niche it had hoped for. Not long after, in spite of all the new aspiring VJs (or Platypi as Halstead calls them) being deployed around the world the operation was all but closed down. What had started in a blaze of enthusiasm had so quickly, it seemed, fizzled out as fast as it had ignited.

In spite of this setback Rosenblum was determined to prove that the VJ production method still had a future. Over the coming years Rosenblum set himself up as a media consultant with his company ROSENBLUM.tv– spreading the word of VJism and evangelising about its benefits.

He started a similar VJ news channel to NY1 in London: CHANNEL ONE TV and there again, amidst the huge blaze of publicity, the arguments with unions and all the other energy that went in to the set-up, the service soon disintegrated and yet again the operation seemed to be a failure – however each time a new channel/service was started – whether it succeeded as a business became less important than the fact that it deployed a new batch of intelligent, multi-skilled VJs into the field to begin gathering news and telling stories. One of the VJs from the London Project CH1TV is David Dunkley Gyimah.

David publishes two websites Viewmagazine.tv which is the repositry for all the VJ projects David is/has been involved in and mrdot.co.uk where David introduces his training and consultancy offering.
The Mrdot.co.uk website introduces David as:

David Dunkley Gyimah was one of the first Video journalists in the UK (1994) and has since worked or consulted for a number of bodies. More recently they are:

• Press Association: The UK’s only video journalism programme for training newspaper journalists to become VJs.

• Nato’s War Games: training would-be foreign correspondents in the field of conflict

• BBC’s Journalism Training College co-producing interactive training programme.

In his 20 year media career he has worked or freelanced for BBC Newsnight, WTN, Reportage, ABC News, BBC World Service, Channel 4 News, PowerHouse, Breakfast New, Channel One and dotcoms. He is a regular conference speaker and presenter on issues of next generation TV and video journalism.

Having met David at the Circom regional conference in 2008 in Bilbao, Spain I have to say he is one of the most clever, radical thinkers Ive had the pleasure of meeting. His view of the future of media and video journalism is well beyond the scope of my perception – I can honestly say – that even if he is incorrect in his predictions his ideas are certainly serious brain fodder and warrant further consideration. His production style is very filmic /dramatic. The majority of the footage on his viwemagazine site is shot handheld on a Sony A1e and he uses lots of post production grading and effects to enhance the dramatic effect of his footage. Feedback from the editors Ive spoken to would suggest that the packages are too dramatic in their production style for the evening news – which is probably correct – but then again David never intended for them to be broadcast on TV…in many ways he is leading the revolt into accepted norms for tv production and rewriting the methodologies and perceptions on the way.

In the last few years Micheal Rosenblum has taken his focus off introducing Video Journalism to tv news stations and instead has begun to focus his attention on the failing newspaper/print industry. Nowadays his idea is to shut down the printing presses, save the trees-sure but more importantly save money and redirect those savings into up-skilling the print journalists to become full vjs – producing multi-media news reports for the news paper website.

That project will undoubtedly keep both David Dunkley Gymiah and Michael Rosenblum busy for the next few years. The newspaper industry is even more frought with “old school thinking” so the struggle will undoubtedly be uphill.  While that continues where does the remaining/future potential for video journalism reside?…TBC.

The closing words of Dirck Halsteads’ Platypus papers read:

“The future is uncertain, but there will be major changes. For those who want to take advantage of these changes to tell stories , there will be wonderful opportunities. There is a lot of work to be done, and little time to waste. Good Luck.”

PS.NOTE The strange thing is as I read back over this I sound like a detractor – an enemy of Video Journalism -Im anything but..I have long lamented the typical “wallpaper” news story. I have taught and encouraged far more talented people than myself in the early steps of storytelling. I believe empowering people to use a camera and a laptop to produce stories is something that sould not be elitist but rather a new form of dialogue, If YouTube can boast that there are 24hours of material uploaded every minute of every day then all I can aspire to is to hep people tell their stories in a better, more visual way…


About vjmentor
Innovation Lead, RTÉ | VJ & MoJo (Mobile Journalism) Trainer -Circom Regional | Photographer | HDSLR shooter| Views are strictly personal, not those of my employer.

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