During the last few years, more and more newsrooms have begun producing multimedia stories and video for their websites. Videojournalist Jennifer Utz has been among the pioneers mastering new forms of media in order to keep up with the transformation of journalism and the news industry. A freelancer, Utz has worked for BBC America, France 24 and CBS News, among other news outlets. A frequent contributor to The Huffington Post, she is working on a documentary about Iraqi refugees in Syria and the United States.
In an interview with IJNet, Utz shares what it's like to be a freelance videojournalist, the importance of learning multimedia skills and the expanding media market for multimedia stories and videos.
IJNet: How has video journalism developed over the past few years as news organizations began adding more short videos to their websites?
Utz: Well, for starters, it seems that nearly every news package that airs on television is also posted on the web, so traditional forms of media are finding second homes and new audiences with web viewers. People who might not normally watch the NBC evening news broadcast may still catch some of their news packages online.
But in addition, a number of print publications have started video journalism departments, most notably, the New York Times, the L.A. Times, and the Washington Post. Their videos are, most of the time, a companion piece for a print story. And then you have places like The Nation, which has some original content, but also aggregates video from other news sources
IJNet: What are the differences between a news story in print and a video script of the same length in terms of cost, time and material you use?
Utz: Creating a video news package as a "one-man-band" video journalist requires that you can research and write scripts, as well as shoot and edit video.
Producing a video news piece is more expensive than a print story. As a video journalist, I've had to invest in my own equipment. A high-definition video camera will cost into the thousands of dollars. Then you need microphones for different situations, a lighting kit and a tripod. A computer and video editing system will cost you a few thousand [dollars] more. And then there is the cost of tapes or memory cards for your footage.
As far as time is concerned, video is arguably more time-consuming than print, because you are dealing with the technical aspects of storytelling. As a video journalist you need visual representation of all those details that enhance a story, and that takes time.
IJNet: Do the news organizations cover all of the production costs of a freelance video journalist? Or do they provide the equipment?
Utz: In my experience, news organizations that buy finished packages are not covering the cost [of] equipment. Generally I'm paid a flat fee per package, regardless of the cost of production. Occasionally, I've had jobs where I'm paid a day rate and use the employers' video production equipment. But with situations like this, I typically have less ownership over the finished product. Being a one-man-band freelance video journalist is a harder life than [that of] a staffer. You're expected to cover the costs of travel, equipment, fixers and other incidentals. But on the other hand, you have more ownership over the final product.
IJNet: How much video do you shoot for a 5- to 6-minute piece?
Utz: My typical shooting ratio is probably about 20:1. So for a 5-minute piece, I'm shooting 100 minutes of footage. Shooting ratios vary depending on the story and the person shooting. I imagine that spot news reporters have a much lower shooting ratio, because they have to respond to a quick turnaround.
IJNet: When you work as a multimedia reporter, how much does it help to know Flash? Does it make sense that a reporter do all the reporting and editing and also all of the Flash? or is it better to have multiple people and work as a team?
Utz: I've found it very helpful to know Flash, because I can envision a project from start to finish. However, it's not necessary. What I would recommend is that a journalist who wants to make multimedia pieces take a short course on Flash online, not with the intention of learning the program, but in order to get an idea of the capabilities it can offer. It will help them better visualize their own story. On another note, doing everything yourself can get exhausting, and you can often get caught up in the technicalities of a video and lose sight of the story. It's easier to work with a team, especially when you're out in the field.
IJNet: Many news organizations have laid off a number of their reporters that cover international affairs, due to the financial crisis many of them are facing. Has this opened up more opportunities for freelance journalist?
Utz: The downsizing of newsrooms has not necessarily made life as a freelancer easier. From what I hear, news organizations are training the ones they keep on staff to do more than one discipline. A lot of my staff photographer friends are now expected to shoot video as well. From what I can tell, they are not being asked to do any post-production yet, though.