Use of one-person news crews grows modestly, survey says

The use of one-person news crews by local U.S. TV stations has grown modestly with the greatest increase occurring at station newsrooms in the smallest TV markets, according to a new RTDNA/Hofstra survey.

While many news consultants and industry observers have predicted declining revenue and the desire to boost story count would propel local newsrooms to increase their use of one-person crews — also known as VJs, video journalists, multimedia journalists and one-man bands — the reality is that newsrooms have not embraced the concept as ubiquitously as anticipated.

“It appears that with one-man-band usage, a lot of stations are more talk than action, according to the numbers,” said survey director Bob Papper, professor and chairman of the journalism department at Hofstra University.

According to survey findings, the percentage of stations saying they “mostly use” one-man bands for newsgathering has grown from 22.3 percent three years ago to 31.7 percent today. Among stations saying they make “some use” of one-person news crews, the percentage has grown from 26.9 percent to 29 percent this year.

The percentage of stations saying they make “not much” use of one-person crews declined from 22.3 percent to 21 percent this year, and those saying they “do not use” one-person crews dropped from 28.6 percent to 18.3 percent, according to the findings.

Most of the growth in the use of one-man bands from 2007 to 2010 occurred in the smallest markets and in the smallest newsrooms. Conversely, only 8.5 percent of the largest newsrooms (those with 51 or more employees) said they “mostly” use one-man-bands.

“Expected use” of one-man bands is where there is the biggest change, up to 43.1 percent this year from 27.7 percent three years ago, Papper said. However, he warned that it is necessary to use caution when interpreting the results. The “expected use” numbers are the same as the year before, and the actual growth of one-man bands was far more modest than the expectation, he added.