Where I See Myself In Five Years: The Pitfalls of the MMJ

Every person selected for a weekend anchor stint at KOMU has one piece of drudgery that goes along with the glamor (and I use the term loosely here) of the anchor chair:  a “VO patrol.”

It’s not like I was worried about it, it’s not even like I hated doing it. But when I was planning out my afternoon, the rundown went something like this: arrive at the story, shoot five minutes of video, grab one interview, leave about twenty or thirty minutes later, write a script in ten minutes, edit the story in fifteen, and be done by 7 p.m. before I took the anchor seat at 10.

Of course, things have a way of going differently than planned.

I was sent out to cover the closing of a gas station. But when I thought I would find nothing but a shuttered store and the bad video it offered, I found the owners surrounded by a group of kids helping clean out the place.

I introduced myself, the owner and I got to talking, and it was clear that there was a good story here — it turned out the kids were foster kids. The owners of the gas station had bonded with the kids and their foster parents, would park cars in their lot during Mizzou football games, donating all the proceeds to their foster home.

On my way back to the station, I called my producer, who thankfully said we had enough time in the show to turn what was going to be a 45-second story into a 1:45 story. I returned with my video, worked out a script, and put together this story. It’s not the greatest story I’ve ever done by any stretch, but I’d put it up there as a solid piece of reporting for the amount of time I had to complete it, and the other responsibilities I had for the night (many of which I neglected, like basically all of my normal preparations to anchor a newscast!).

In many ways, this is where I hope to be in five years: a reporter or reporter/anchor, for a local news outlet.  I had a lot of fun putting this story together, but I also got a glimpse of how rare reporting shifts like this are going to be.

Broadcast students at Mizzou talk about getting a job as a “multimedia journalist” (or MMJ).  It’s a position known by many names: backpack journalist, one-man-band, video journalist (which is the dumbest of them all), multimedia content producer, roving journalist.  Whatever you call it, graduates here see it as a way to make a greater leap to a bigger market straight out of college — to leverage their way into their dream job while they’re still dreaming about it.

But from a logistical standpoint, think about me doing this reporting shift as an MMJ with a story like this:  I got to the station at quarter-to-five.  If I were working as an MMJ, I’d probably have to go out and do two different stories (who knows, maybe more?) in a single day.  I wouldn’t have the time to give to a story like this, no matter how good it is.  I would like to think I’d have the working relationship with a producer to say what I said to my producer on Saturday — “This story’s great, can we run it as a package instead?” — but I don’t know if I’m in a bigger market that I’d be able to do that.

It’s the paradox of the MMJ:  We send out journalists to find more stories, but they can’t tell them when they get there.

That isn’t to completely strip the MMJ position completely of their merit — it’s great in breaking news situations, for covering events, and going hyperlocal.  But what use is it as a storytelling tool when I’d have to abandon telling the stories I want to tell?

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