Video journalist responsibilities

olsenBeing a VJ means that you are totally responsible for what the viewer sees. That’s how Eric Olsen, a video journalist at The New York Times, describes his job in a post at Digital Journalist.

I’ve always thought of it as something akin to an acrobat working without a net, but that’s not entirely the case for Olsen. While he typically works alone when shooting stories in the field, as a Times staffer he’s not exactly a solo journalist.

VJs actively seek each other’s opinions on the use of a particular shot or the direction of a narrative. We also have lunchtime viewing sessions where we watch and critique each other’s work, as well as the work of our competitors. This proves to be amazingly helpful, as almost every story has something about it that could be done better, and there are few people as good as a peer who faces the same challenges to set you straight and provide advice. We also get a tremendous amount of feedback from our senior producers, all of whom have substantial documentary experience and who have a remarkable ability to tease out the essence of a story and help you trim away material that (as naturally happens) you may have become too close to but which is not integral to your story.

That’s an advantage many VJs don’t have. But it’s a good reminder that feedback can help you improve. Even if you’re not working for a collegial organization like the Times, you can seek feedback from other photojournalists, like Angela Grant at News Videographer.

Olsen, a former ABC News producer, describes himself as largely self-taught, which took a lot of time and practice. What helped immensely, he says, were freelance gigs he took on before starting his job at the Times.

The Web has made this particularly easy, since there are many Web sites that are thrilled to receive video alone or with a written story. Short travel-related pieces worked particularly well for me. I also had one of my early pieces run on “Current TV,” which can be a great outlet for VJ work. The key is to always be working on something – shooting, writing, editing – whether it’s a paid project or not.

To be successful as a VJ, Olsen says you have to be able to think on your feet, plan your shots (especially if shooting on digital cards), and keep your footage organized.  Those skills help him produce stories like this one, a profile of the artist Maya Lin:

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Olsen says being a VJ is one of the most rewarding jobs in journalism. “Each one of us is still learning,” he says, “and it’s hard to imagine a time when that won’t be the case, given the rapid changes in technology.”