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Want to be a video journalist?

Never-ending travel, covert shoots for breaking stories and features on the big guns keep a video journalist always on the move. Vimal Chander Joshi tells you more.

education Updated: Jun 16, 2010 10:41 IST
Vimal Chander Joshi

While making videos of middle class weddings in the bylanes of Kolkata, Gokul Nanda had no inkling that his skills would one day catapult him to a well-paying job at a national news channel where he would be capturing the Tsunami tragedy of 2004 and the anti-Nano campaign spearheaded by Mamta Banerjee in Singur in 2008.

Nanda, who now works with CNBC (Network 18) scaled up the career ladder quick because of two reasons. One was his knack of handling camera with precision and second was a desire to learn continuously, which made him quit wedding photography work and enroll for an 18-month course at the National Institute of Film and Fine Arts, Kolkata.

The job is fraught with risks and a fair amount of unpredictability. “When you are alone at a spot for a story, you face the risk of being manhandled by unruly crowds. Once, in the middle of the night, I went to a ghetto in Kolkata where communal riots had taken place. I was the only mediaperson covering that riot and was mortally afraid of being caught by the instigators, which fortunately didn’t happen,” says Nanda.

It’s very important for a cameraperson to be vigilant to avoid missing any important piece of information. Narendra Gudavalli, executive cameraperson, NDTV explains with an anecdote: “During a cabinet meeting of the NDA government in 1999 at 7 RCR (Race Course Road, the Prime Minister’s official residence), where camerapersons are given less than two minutes to shoot, I recorded a discussion through an ambience mike in which the then petroleum minister was heard giving his resignation. That recording, without the audio, would have been a plain visual but because of little vigilance; it had become the breaking news of the day.”

Travelling with a camera and tripod can be somewhat tough. Though with advancement of technology, lighter and sophisticated cameras have penetrated the lives of video journos, “some of them can also fall victim to backaches or spondylitis. We have a colleague who has been bed-ridden for two months because of severe backache. I also suffer from spondylitis,” adds Nanda.

Sometimes, in a scuffle or during cases of public unrest video journalists and their expensive cameras can suffer great damage. While covering the 2003 elections in West Bengal, Nanda happened to be near a polling booth where rigging was taking place. “As I was shooting the people doing the rigging, someone pulled me back. I fell on the ground along with the camera, and its light broke,” he adds. “The video I shot was flashed on Star news (his previous employer) and I got a call of appreciation from the Mumbai head office.” That day, Nanda also lost his gold chain in the scuffle and learnt the important lesson that a cameraperson should never travel with valuables while on the job.

Being a qualified cameraperson helps you grow faster. Ameyo Pani, a video journalist at the Bhubaneshwar bureau in the CNN-IBN has also doubled as a reporter on several occasions. “When I had to cover the Rath Yatra (when Lord Jagannatha travels out of his famous temple in a chariot once a year amidst much festivities) in 2007 and 2009, and the reporter who had to file the story was travelling in London, and so the head office, with immense faith in me, asked me to carry out the job of a reporter-cum-cameraperson,” says Pani, who studied law, political science and journalism at the PG level from Utkal University.

Travel is inherent in the profession. Though the news channel has bureaus at all important places, a video journalist many a time will have to travel long-distance within or outside the state to cover major events such as a bomb blast, riot, earthquake or critical political developments.

Nanda also travels to the far off corners of India for work. He has been to foreign locations (Bangladesh and Hong Kong) too in his seven years in the news business. While taking stock of the damage in the wake of the Tsunami, Nanda visited Car Nicobar, (Nicobar Islands) and was aghast at what he saw there.

“The island is an Air Force base and there were 100 government quarters, all affected by the Tsunami. I saw a house, which had a photo frame of a young boy hung on the wall, there was a cycle parked outside, I could also see the rest of his belongings, but not a single human soul could be found either in that house or on the entire stretch of island. It was completely ravaged,” says Nanda.

What's it about?
A video journalist is a cameraperson usually attached with a TV channel where s/he shoots the content for news shows and documentaries

Clock Work
9 am: Go to office
10 am: Check the news updates to find out the day’s likely news to be covered
11 am: Editorial meeting wherein day’s assignments are given (sometime they are given the night before)
11:30 am: Leave for shoot; discuss the story with the reporter for the likely shots
12:30 pm: Shoot the video in cohesion with the reporter
3:30 pm-5pm: Leave for office
5:30 pm: Submit the recording to the reporter to be sent for editing
7 pm: Leave for home

The Payoff
Initially you earn a modest salary which is somewhere Rs 10,000 to Rs 15,000 per month as a fresher. The salary grows with time and experience and after five to seven years, you can start earning Rs 30,000 to Rs 40,000 or even more. The salary also depends on the channel. If it's a local channel you might not get paid much, while in the national channels you can earn as much as Rs two lakh per month after you prove your mettle. "The salary grows at par with that of a reporter, and sometimes it is even higher," says Narendra Gudavalli.

Skills
. You must be a very hard working person. Carrying (and sometimes running around with) a heavy camera which can weigh up to seven kilograms needs physical
strength and stamina.
. Nose for news. Many a times, a cameraperson gives story ideas to the reporter. S/he ought to keep her/his eyes and ears open.
. Agility. You can find an eye-popping video anywhere - from a roadside dhaba to 7, Race Course Road.
. People skills because a video journalist always works with reporters. It's very important to have a good rapport with every one you work

How do I get there?
. Take up a camera-journalist course at a reputable institute where you can learn camera usage. After you are adept at that, you can apply for a cameraman's or
trainee's job at a local news channel
. All major channels now run their own institutes for camerapersons. The India Today Group and NDTV run training academies in New Delhi
. But the only flaw in these academies is that they don't assure placements. Around half of those who study here fail to get the jobs in the news channel that runs
the academy

Institutes & urls
. Diploma in camera from the National Institute of Film and Fine Arts
(www.niffa.in/courses.html)
. PG diploma in electronic journalism from the Asian College of Journalism
(www.asianmedia.org)
. PG diploma from NDTV (send email to ndtvmi@ndtv.com. This year's admissions are already over)
. PG diploma from TV Today, Delhi
(www.aajtak.intoday.in)

Pros & cons


.

Money is good in the long run


.

Very strenuous as you have to keep on your feet all the time There can be long working hours, especially when you are travelling


.

You are assured wide exposure. Just like in other streams of journalism, you get to meet new people, and get to travel to different places


.

One must consider health hazards. Many video journalists tend to develop back problems and spondylitis due to the loads they carry while shooting



Pictures speak volumes

A battle-hardy cameraperson shares the joys and travails of a job that takes you places — literally

Narendra Gudavalli, executive cameraperson, NDTV, talks about his experience in the news industry where he has covered a host of historical events from demolition of the Babri Masjid to the loss of lives in the Afghanisatan war and from carnage of Gujarat riots to the running of terrorists’ training camps in the Afghanistan-Pakistan region.

When it comes to TV reporting a reporter takes away the credit of the story most of the time and it is believed that only a reporter is responsible for the entire
package.

That’s not true. Pictures speak volumes about stories. In television, visuals are more important than words. It’s the job which a cameraperson chooses consciously. I always wanted to stay behind the camera and I enjoy that. I can handle the camera well; the camera listens to me.

Is the job quite strenuous? Some camerapersons complain that it’s too demanding and one can’t run around so much after the age of 45. What do you think?

It all depends on your attitude towards the job. I am 52 and still prefer to go out for stories than doing a desk job at the studio. I even got an offer to work in office, to which I said no.

What does one need to be a success in the profession?
One has to take a (keen) interest in the job. That makes your work simpler. You should know which politician will use which gate to come out of Parliament and accordingly you can do the shoots.

As a reporter does most of the talking and s/he ends up building contacts and his/her network grows wider. A cameraperson doesn’t make many friends and normally lurks in the shadows? How true is this?
Well, it depends how you perform your job. You must talk to people and add that extra bit in your job. If you work only as a typical cameraperson then you may lose out.

You have to behave like a reporter. Many a times, when the beat reporter is not around, I am asked for the contacts of press secretaries etc, which I normally have.

What advice do you want to give to the aspiring video journalists?
The profession is good but you can’t find the best job initially. You must prove yourself before that.

It’s not easy at all. You have to cover riots, go to Kashmir, and cover wars. We only cover extraordinary events. I was sent to Afghanistan (post 9/11) at a short notice of less than 24 hours for two months. There is a lot of travel involved.

In the last year itself, I went to Afghanistan thrice. When you travel, there is always a possibility to do better and find new stories.

Among all journalists you have worked, who did you enjoy working with the most?
I have worked with Barkha Dutt, Rajdeep Sardesai and Arnab Goswami. All of them are hard working people and would never say ‘I am relaxing in the hotel, you go out and shoot’.

Narendra Gudavalli Interviewed by Vimal Chander Joshi