WUSA to adopt one-person ‘multimedia journalist’ model for newsgathering

December 19, 2008

WUSA, the Gannett-owned CBS affiliate in Washington, D.C., will begin fielding one-person multimedia journalists rather than traditional news crews of a correspondent and a camera operator early next year.

The change means journalists will begin shooting and editing their own stories, while camera operators will take on the added responsibility of reporting and editing. Last week, new agreements with the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists and the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers cleared the way for the station to become the first in the nation’s capital to move to one-person news crews, “The Washington Post” reported online.

According to the report, the move to multimedia journalists is coupled with a cut in the salary of reporters. Multimedia reporters will make 30 percent to 50 percent less than what traditional reporters were earning, with top salaries reaching about $90,000, it said.

Other stations taking similar newsgathering approaches in San Francisco and Nashville, TN, have done so to put more feet on the street, gathering more news and providing consistent coverage of beats.

“One of the self-proclaimed goals of [Gannett Broadcasting President] Dave Lougee’s group for those television stations is to get more people on the street gathering content from their communities. This is a clear path WUSA will do that,” said Jerry Gumbert, president and CEO of AR&D Consulting, a media consultancy group that has advocated for and assisted stations with employing the multimedia journalist model.

While AR&D Consulting did not consult with Gannett on WUSA’s decision to transition to multimedia journalists, Gumbert applauds the move. “This is a giant step in the right direction as an industry,” he said.

The approach, however, is not without its critics. Much of the pushback comes from news anchors and reporters who see being asked to shoot and edit their own stories as diminishing their status, Gumbert said. To proponents of the new approach, that attitude must change if TV news is to succeed. “We are an industry that has to stop whining and move forward,” Gumbert said.

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