A REAL TV Cameraman
Goes to the Platypus
and Enters
November 2008

by Shawn R. Holmes
NBC NEWS 4, Columbus

As a television photog, you are always looking for the next big story. "What spot news event can I leave my mark on today?" we continually ask ourselves. Always being on edge trying to capture the right moment in time with little, if any, regard of the story, we sometimes more often than not miss the real stories. The new Digital Journalist already knows how to do this with still photos, but now they are learning and achieving this with great video accuracy. Just as they are completing and grasping these skills, the way they view and cover the news of the day is beginning to reshape the newspapers of tomorrow and, soon, our very own online viewing habits.

The local newspaper photographer has an upper hand when it comes to sniffing out good story ideas and content that can be expressed by visual characters with tons of flare and great one-liners. However, how many times have we as photojournalists been on a story and had someone come up to us, telling us about something they are doing, or about someone who has a great story? We always tell them that if we had the time to talk to them, we would, but the station and/or the paper is pushing us to do "this story instead." Or we tell them to call or e-mail us later and we will pass the information on to another reporter, photographer or producer to make the call or follow up on the story.

Well, those days are soon to be over! No longer will we be able to bypass those stories that our stations and papers deem "not hard-hitting enough," because Digital Journalists will be waiting on the sidelines looking for just this type of content to fill their Web sites and on-demand video coffers.

© Aaron Vogel
Shawn Holmes filming his final story for the workshop.

The traditional news philosophy that assumes viewers only want to see what we show them is quickly transitioning to "what more can you provide me?" With the convergence of television and the Internet, content users are learning very quickly that we (mainstream media) are not the only shows in town anymore. Many of our viewers are avid and proficient Internet users and know how to get the content they desire and how to get their stories told. With the constant rise of newspapers, magazines and cable network sites offering content-driven accessibility, online video on-demand services are catering to every aspect of life through video genres. And with the tremendous footprint being made by Web sites like YouTube and Vimeo as well as vBlogs, Mogulus and Current TV, the public viewing audiences are no long slaves to the traditional local news outlets waiting to see if they can share their stories with the world; they are taking it to the world for themselves.

The Platypus Matrix. Starring Dirck Halstead as Morpheus: Captain of the USS Hotel 71 and who believes that somewhere in this world we call video journalism, there is a prophecy waiting to be fulfilled. PF Bentley, starring as Agent Smith: the dominant adversary to Morpheus and his plan to find and bring "The One" into the Matrix to save television photojournalists from extinction. Agent Smith is very powerful and has never had any television journalist survive a standoff with him before now. Featuring The Brooks Institute T.A.s as Trinity: The right-hand support personnel for Morpheus and most trusted group within the Matrix. They have been informed of the existence of "The One," but have yet to confirm his presence. And Introducing Shawn R. Holmes as Neo: "The One." He has been freed from the mundane world of television news and exposed to a future that is more complex than anyone had suspected. His job is to lead his fellow television journalists in the fight against poor Web video content and to deliver custom-mixed media via the Internet and accept his role as "The One."

During this adventure, there are two realities to consider: the jobs we currently do for mainstream media and the jobs that we are aspiring to have when the transition to video journalism is complete. One of these realities is a dream that we are about to be rudely awakened from and the other is the Digital Journalism (Platypus) Matrix.

In order for Neo – Shawn – to fully understand his role and the journey that he is embarking on, something within him must die first. It is not his actual death, but his willingness to let go of preconceived notions about the Web, its users and the decline of mainstream media. He must not allow his work ethic, content quality or journalism judgment to become compromised. Put simply, this idealistic death will signify a changing of the times for the betterment of his craft.


As I got the Platypus Workshop I had no preconceived ideas or agendas. All I was interested in was perfecting my craft and expanding my storytelling knowledge base. That vision was destroyed when upon my introduction to the other participants, I was singled out as the first "real" television person to participate in the workshop.

Seeing how hard it was to find any workshops, training sessions or seminars dealing with the Digital Journalist transitioning from today's current workflow situations, I found that statement about me being "the one" not much leverage to stand upon. I have heard so much about the Digital Journalism transformation from my managers and newspaper colleagues over the past several months, but no one really knew when the metamorphosis was going to take place or when it would be competed.

After a station meeting one afternoon with our President of News, I found myself in the fortunate position of already being ahead of the curve and well on my way to honing my skills.

Mr. News President made mention of the "Platypus project" and how it was creating a buzz within the industry as the platform to build a strong foundation for the Media 2.0 upgrade. Little did many know, I had already signed up for the workshop and was looking at it as more of a "refresher course" in how I do my job, with a heavier emphasis on the technology of posting and working more directly with Web content. Well, ladies and gentlemen, strap yourselves in; this was way more than that.

Once I was able to get through the pressures of being the first photog, the materials presented and covered over the course of eight days did more to inspire me than create a sense of fear. As I was preparing for this workshop, I had recalled the numerous meetings we had as to our fates as television photojournalists; the expiration dates were appearing everywhere. This at first kept me from believing in my true talents and skills as a good photographer.

The assignments that we were given are right out of the NPPA handbook on storytelling. I understand why we do these but at the same time, a lot of the critiquing that was done was mostly subjective.

I understand that it was not personal, but it sure felt that way at times. Dirck and PF are two very knowledgeable individuals who have won numerous awards and have been to countless assignments throughout their careers. We were shown video clips of their past works and current endeavors, but at times these tended to blur the lines of instruction and understanding.

There were several comments made that the materials that were used as examples in the class violated all of the parameters that were set up for us. Also, many of the techniques used were those of many photogs and of myself. This left me wondering why they were always trying to "beat" those tendencies out of me.

One thing that I wished that I was able to keep a strong hold on during this workshop was the unpredictable element of time and situation that always arises when you least expect it. The process of delivering our projects for this workshop was that of "competition piece." That is how the exercises and critiques were viewed by a few others and myself. What I was trying to communicate at times during my sessions was that in order to maintain a sustainable work ethic and skill set, there are elements of normal ENG that are going to prevail versus cinematic storytelling.

We all want to tell the best story we can with what we have, but just as we in television news have found out, the management will only allow for so much time to be spent on one story when we need to turn around three to four stories a day.

Digital Journalists have the luxury now of not working under the stringent time restraints that we face in television, but that is soon to change. Currently our Web site (nbc4i.com) has a tight timeframe in which to work and to be updated by. We are constantly sending updates on the hour and sometimes on the quarter-hour. It all is starting to feed upon itself. I think that once Digital Journalists understand the basics of video storytelling, then and only then will they be able to fully appreciate their skills and abilities in turning content-driven stories.

The Platypus Matrix is not only a state of mind, but it is also a new way of living through our art of storytelling. Dirck – Morpheus – is a legend in his own right and has many disciples who have followed his path to the "truth": the truth that visual storytelling is alive and well only when one truly believes in the story that they are telling.

Shawn – Neo – is reluctant to follow blindly, seeing the tremendous challenges that lay ahead for the traditional thinker and how newsrooms are starting to fear, yet embrace their destinies. Shawn has many suspicions and yet he is very concerned about his own future, hence he is going to start to "believe in himself."

The Platypus Workshop put on by Dirck and PF is a very well thought out and intense eight days of in-your-face video journalism. We in mainstream media sometimes still observe the personal space barrier that surrounds our subjects and ourselves, but the DJ not only violates this comfort zone, it relishes within it.

Case in point, during our very first video assignment we were instructed to go and gather MOSs (man-on-the-street interviews). This would have been an easy assignment for me any other time, but since I was going into this whole adventure with no preconceived notions I proceeded with an open mind.

Now, I know how to shoot and I know just what questions to ask of a subject to deliver substance for a story, but upon my review by Dirck and PF, you would have thought that I was anything but "the one."

After getting up and wiping the mustard off his face, Shawn was able to make a crucial decision that would allow him to no longer fear what lies ahead. Shawn would face PF – Mr. Smith – who uses his VJ talents as a way to astound and terrify the still uncertain Neo.

Day three would be the time when Neo will begin to "free his mind."

The Platypus Workshop has a leg up on most other programs being offered to date. The exercises are very productive and allow for the participants to experiment, within limits, not only with the equipment but with different story ideas as well. One of the things that I was finding hard to wrap my brain around was the lack of access to project resources within the city of Chicago. I thought that taking this workshop in one of the most opinionated and responsive cities in the world, people would jump at the opportunity to "be on TV!" Not so much.

I think that due to the fact that we were in such a big city in the middle of a major political presidential election and financial turmoil, many people were sick and tired of seeing those "reporters/bloggers" running around with their tiny cameras telling everyone that their opinion matters and that they might be on TV. Who wants to be on TV anymore?

All in all, the instruction and information that I gathered from this workshop was very insightful and career –guiding. When I made arrangements to attend this workshop, I was at a crossroads in my career. I was not finding any ray of sunshine from my local newsroom and many of my colleagues were struggling to put together resumes for career changes. There seemed to be no reason to go on within the industry because newsrooms were going to be looking at doing more with less and pay a whole lot less to get that done. Dirck and PF instilled in me the extraordinary powers and intelligence to manipulate my surroundings for my benefit.

I have let it all go… fear doubt and disbelief. The Platypus Workshop is creating a world where those who believe in it and allow themselves the chance to experience it will then be able to "free their minds" and pursue the "real truth" of visual storytelling.

If we as video journalists allow our minds to die and not believe in the jobs we are doing, then no matter the amount of skills we possess, the body of works will no longer exist.

I want to encourage all those who are looking to enhance their storytelling skills by taking a refresher course in the art form of visual storytelling, then the Platypus Matrix – I mean workshop – is for you. Be sure to leave all of your doubts at the door because if you do not, then you would have wasted your time and definitely your money, thus being left behind for sure.

So, in conclusion, just as Neo was able to find and then believe in himself, the truth became his reality. The real truth is… "there is no spoon…." Video Journalism is the true matrix and it has changed everything as we know it today. "… now, I'm going to hang up this phone, and I'm going to show these people what you don't want them to see. I'm going to show them a world without you ... a world without rules and controls, without borders or boundaries. A world ... where anything is possible…" This is the Platypus Matrix!

blog comments powered by Disqus

© Shawn R. Holmes

Shawn R. Holmes is a TV photojournalist for NBC 4 Columbus in Columbus, Ohio.