The worker bees in television news
My thoughts today are with Andi Ricardi Jatmiko and Emilio Morenatti – journalists who were injured by a roadside bomb while embedded with the US military in southern Afghanistan.
Andi is a friend and colleague from the press corps in Jakarta, Indonesia, where I worked from 1998 til 2003, and he is a cameraman for Associated Press Television News (APTN), where he sometimes goes by the nickname “Andi-cam.”
He broke two ribs and has suffered some leg injuries in the blast, while Morenatti (whom I don’t know personally) suffered more extensive injuries resulting in the loss of a foot.
As an American journalist who has worked exclusively overseas, I’m often surprised by the perception within the US about who-journalists-are and what-journalists-do and the reality – especially when it comes to international news.
Too often it seems, the perception veers between “personalities” like an Anderson Cooper or Christiane Amanpour on one end — and paparazzi chasing Britney Spears on the other. (And for the record, I think both Anderson Cooper and Christiane Amanpour are better journalists than that perception, which came about in part as a function of CNN branding. But that’s another post.)
The fact of the matter is, the bulk of the press corps are worker bees.
To chat almost exclusively about television, for a minute…
Andi, for example, is a cameraman for APTN, which provides daily satellite feeds of news video which networks – a CBS, NBC, ABC, BBC, ITN, and others – subscribe to. (Reuters TV also provides the same service.)
In many cases — if not most cases for the US networks – they haven’t got a correspondent or cameraman on the ground where the action took place. The material Andi gets - in this case, from an embed with the US army on patrol in the days leading up to Afghanistan’s presidential election - is then fed via satellite or internet to APTN’s London office, which in turn sends it out to the networks (who pay for their subscriptions.)
Simply put, the existence of “the agencies” like APTN or Reuters TV is what allows a CBS, NBC, ABC, FOX, BBC, ITN to essentially even call themselves news broadcasters in the first place.
They rely on cameramen like Andi (and photographers like Morenatti, who obviously serves newspapers and news web sites) who are out there, doing the grunt work, day in and day out.
Or, let’s say for example, a network has a correspondent in London. There’s a bombing in Spain. The correspondent isn’t there. But APTN or Reuters TV sends their local cameramen to the scene as quickly as possible. The correspondent can use the video footage – which he or she already knows their network will have access to – to file a story.
Put most simply: the agencies let the networks report on an event without ever even being there.
Even within media, “the agencies” (again, like APTN, AP photo and print, along with their competitors in Reuters, Agence France Press, DPA) - are too often thought of as a “public utility.” They provide such a huge foundation of daily news material that other journalists draw upon, that they’ve come to be taken for granted.
Unless they’ve paid for their own correspondent or crew to cover it, the agencies are what allow a news executive on West 57th Street in New York or Bush House to say, “What have we got out of Afghanistan today?” Or, “Have we got any footage of that car-bombing in Iraq?”
It all comes from the worker bees.
Get well soon, Andi and Emilio.