Back in April of ’99, I was asked to document the history of B Roll Online for the AR&D Website. Here is what I sent to them.
I’m 27 years old, and got into television in 1991 while going to college at Salisbury State University. My first station was WMDT (ABC) in Salisbury, and then I moved across town to WBOC (CBS). In November of 1994, I came to WVEC (ABC) in Norfolk where I’ve been for the past 4 ½ years. (my resume is available online) In January and February of 1996, WVEC sent me with a reporter for a 3 week trip through Spain, Italy, and Bosnia. Our project was to cover our local Navy sailors in the Adriatic Sea, and in Tuzla, Bosnia. It was the most incredible project in my career, and one of the most exciting things I had done in my life.
When I returned to the states, I was loaded down with tons of still photos from the trip, and many stories to tell. I had just recently purchased a computer, and was interested in experimenting with this new thing called the “web.” I set up a small web site on AOL called “B Roll 123 Online” (BRoll123 was my AOL screen name at the time) and told a number of family and friends that they could see the photos from the trip.
Eventually, I realized that no one on the web was interested in my life personally, but they may be interested in what I do for a living. I dropped the personal photos, and the “123” from the name, moved the website to another server, and “B Roll Online” was born.
As I surfed the web, I didn’t find many web resources geared toward the working TV News Photographer. The closest thing I could find was the National Press Photographer Association, or NPPA. I have nothing against the NPPA, and I am a proud member, but the discussions on their sites were geared more towards print photographers, and their advice pushed for a perfection that isn’t truly possible in today’s television newsrooms.
The “run and gun” news photog is the norm rather than the exception in this country, and I decided we needed a voice on the web. What did we need to know? What did we want to share with each other? What would help us in our daily lives?
At the first station I ever shot for, I remember how eager everyone was to grab the newest issue of “Electronic Media.” We would hunt down the mailman, and grab it from him and go directly to the back page Classified Ads. We wanted to see what jobs were available. The job listings offered hope. Even if you never applied for them, it was nice to know that other opportunities were out there.
Keeping this in mind, I decided to set up a Job Listings page. I scoured the web, searching for any photog jobs I could find, and then posted them on B Roll Online. I wanted a place shooters could use as a free job resource. Eventually, as word has spread, stations began sending me their job listings directly. I’ve received many compliments from those who are hiring, and those who get hired. The Job Listings page is probably the most popular page on B Roll Online, and I take great pride knowing I’m able to help hardworking photogs move up to bigger and better things.
Other sections of the website came about as topics I and avid readers were curious about. As our station began the transition into digital, I posed the question, what is the best digital format. Many good debates began to fly. I then began to catalog what various stations were shooting on, and now the Format List page is one of the most thorough resources for that information on the web.
About a year ago, I made a leap in technology and purchased a laptop computer. Now I can take B Roll Online on the road. On the past few extended trips I’ve taken, I’ve kept daily journals of the events as they unfold.
Last fall while covering the USS Nassau, I was able to uplink to the website from the ship in the middle of the Mediterranean Sea. I’m actually writing this report from a hotel in Bari, Italy. Hopefully it’s as exciting for the readers as it is for me to put together.
B Roll Online has now taken on a life of it’s own. Discussion forums develop on their own, and issues I didn’t even think about come up. Most recently, a few readers began asking for opinions on what type of vehicle they should have as “news cars.” This created a whole new section on what vehicles photogs have, and what gear they keep in their trucks. I even received photos of a Swedish TV shooter’s fully decked out Volvo station wagon. The life of a photog isn’t very much different no matter where you go. Even foreign countries operate much like we do here in the states. So far I have sold a few ads for products that have interest to TV photogs, but I refuse to charge the readers to access the site. Many other websites charge to read job listings or share stories, but I have always felt that limits the free flow of information. I haven’t figured out how to make enough money to cover the expenses of B Roll Online, and have been running it for the fun of it. I’m always looking for ways to make the website better, and more accessible to readers. I do as much as I can, while still working as a full time photog.
I owe a lot to avid readers. Their comments and suggestions keep me excited about what I’m doing. They make me want to do more, they make me try new and different things. From their response I can tell that B Roll Online is making a difference. It’s bridging the gap between markets. The photog in a small 200 market now has the same access to information as a shooter in a top 10 market. At the same time, we realize that no matter what size market we’re in, we all in the same boat. We all have similar problems and stresses. Shooters everywhere have the same problems with reporters, producers, and management. We also have the same celebrations and achievements.
Here at B Roll Online, we can celebrate why we chose to be Television News Photographers. We share stories with those who understand our profession as only fellow photogs can, and that make all the work worthwhile.