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HDV video journalists just right for KRON-TV

By the end of the year, KRON-TV in San Francisco will make a radical departure from traditional field newsgathering techniques by sending one-man-band video journalists (VJs) into the field to set up, shoot and report by themselves.

Together with WKRN-TV in Nashville, TN, the Young Broadcasting stations are shifting to VJs to put more reporters on the street, collect more information, shoot more footage and, if all goes as planned, deliver a fuller newscast with more stories.

At the same time, KRON is in the preliminary steps of converting its on-air presence to HDTV. HD Technology Update caught up with KRON-TV president and general manager Mark Antonitis to discuss the transition and whether or not a single reporter can deliver the quality of product with the quality enhancements HD offers.

HDTU: Please explain the rationale for transitioning from a traditional two-person field crews to the VJ model?

Mark Antonitis: We feel this is an opportunity to greatly increase the amount of content coming into KRON and make it available to our viewers. What we plan to do is put our VJs on the street, double, triple and even quadruple what others are doing in the market.

HDTU: The Young Broadcasting announcement about the transition said the VJ model will provide you with the chance to develop beat reporting. Can you elaborate?

MA: There will be two styles of beats. One is geographical. This is where the VJ lives and gets to know the people in an area and be a part of the community.

The other part is a more traditional beat. We still have people covering city hall, and the police, but we are moving away from general assignment.

As things are today, it’s difficult for a reporter to walk into a situation with knowledge about a community. Reporters have to learn a community and the intricacy of a story with very little time and be able to communicate that in the story to the viewer.

The problem is reporters are never able to truly focus on one or two things. Beats allow them to focus on where they are most interested, or in our case, a particular area. So we are narrowing focus in two ways.

HDTU: Reportedly you will give your VJs Sony (HVR) Z-1 HD camcorders to take into the field. How do you reconcile the seeming inconsistency between the desire to present viewers with the superb quality of HDTV and the fact that the VJ model eliminates the shooter, whose job was to ensure the utmost video and sound quality?

MA: First, we are rolling HDTV out now in local programming. We do a number of local programs that we are very close to using the new HD equipment on. Clearly everyone is going to HD eventually.

We view the new smaller, less-expensive HDV cameras as a good solution for HD field acquisition for that reason. The quality is high and in most cases, the viewers will be extremely happy with pictures. We are looking forward to the exciting opportunities using these small HDV cameras will present.

Second, I am a former news photographer for 10 years, and I know what setup is like. The setup with traditional equipment is complex and specialized. We don’t expect VJs to do that by and large.

What we don’t want to do is recreate the complexity of old gear with new portable equipment. The reason you had to do that with old gear — the reason it was complex — had to do with setting up audio and lights. With our VJ approach, the tripods and lights can be set up in minutes, and you’re ready to go.

We are learning and evolving. Some of the things we believe now will prove to be false. Some of what we suspect will turn out to be important. We just don’t know which is which at this point. But we are very enthusiastic about the possibilities.

HDTU: This move to VJs is a radical departure from business as usual around the newsroom. What’s been the reaction?

MA: The reaction would be what you think. Some are very skeptical, some are enthusiastic, but all of them are willing. And they are giving it the chance to settle in, and they are listening closely to what we have in mind.

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