The award that Western’s David Mills didn’t win

CBC sportscaster Scott Russell, who hosted the retirement event, is flanked by David Mills and Wendie Crouch. For hundreds of Western journalism alumni, Mills and Crouch have been enormously influential instructors.
CBC sportscaster Scott Russell, who MCed the retirement event, is flanked by David Mills and Wendie Crouch. For hundreds of Western journalism alumni, Mills and Crouch have been enormously influential instructors.

The 2013 journalism award season is nearly over, except for the annual Michener Awards, to be held at Rideau Hall in Ottawa on June 18. The Ontario Newspaper Awards were given out at a gala in Waterloo, Ont., on April 27, The National Newspaper Awards were celebrated in Ottawa on May 3 and the Canadian Association of Journalists honoured its best the following night in the same city.

For anyone who attended Western University‘s graduate journalism program at any point over the past 35 years, however, one of this year’s most important journalism milestones arrived at the end of April with the retirement of broadcast manager David Mills. Though not officially deemed “faculty” at the school, Mills was one part of a dynamic duo that gave hundreds of students the practical, hands-on training that allowed them to blossom as fully formed multimedia storytellers. The other, as any Western alumnus will quickly tell anyone who asks, was media specialist Wendie Crouch. It is nearly impossible to overstate the importance and impact of Mills and Crouch to the Western program.

All of that was evidenced by the warm and spirited retirement reception for Mills hosted by the university’s Faculty of Information and Media Studies at Western’s Great Hall on April 25. Effusive tributes flowed. Professors emeriti came out. There were tears of joy and appreciation. And testimonials from graduates, both in-person and via video, spoke to Mills’s long and deep reach into the successes of the program’s alumni. Among the characteristics most frequently mentioned were his patience, resourcefulness and friendly mentorship. He was a master of the Socratic method: He taught by helping students think through their difficulties and challenges, rather than by simply answering their questions.

David Mills was a significant part of the education of hundreds of Canadian journalists who have gone on to win nearly every type of award in the national panoply: NNAs, CAJs, ONAs, CABs, Geminis, Canadian Screen Awards and dozens of lesser-known honours. If ever the Canadian journalism community were to create an award for an instructor who has had a significant, long and lasting impact on both individual journalists and their craft, candidates such as David Mills would win it. He didn’t — only because it doesn’t yet exist.

Tips from video producers for student entrepreneuers

My Conestoga College colleague Steve Roberts, coordinator of the school’s broadcast television program, did a wonderful job on Friday, for the benefit of his students, of convening and moderating a panel discussion on independent video production. He graciously allowed students from other programs to sit in — something that my broadcast journalism class said later they very much appreciated.

The seven panellists, all members of the Media Producers Group of Ontario (mpGO), discussed a series of prepared and spontaneous questions for two hours before moving into less formal setting with Roberts’ television students. Among their tips for students hoping to make a go of it as independent video producers:

Interior of The Rip, by Ontario artist Robert Wiens

Passion and persistence are keys to success. Never stop pitching, adapting, networking and learning to use new technologies as they come along.
• Prospective clients will Google you. Be sure your virtual profile is up-to-date and professional in tone. That includes social media as well as websites.
• It’s a growing industry and there’s room for everybody.
• Internships are opportunities to try people out. Prospective employers will be asking themselves not only how good are you, but how well do you fit into their mindset. As one producer put it, “We look for like minds.”
• Hone your writing skills. Writers get paid the most; it’s an invaluable skill that has a profound influence on the shape and look of any production.
• Learn to discern what clients need, versus what clients say they want — that’s one of the biggest communication challenges of independent production.
• Real networking seldom involves parties and martinis. It’s all about who you know and your reputation in the field.
• Don’t turn your nose up at small jobs. A $300 job can lead to a $900 job can lead to a $2,000 job can lead to a $5,000 job can lead to a $10,000 job, etc.
Budgeting is the most difficult part of your work. Do it fastidiously, then track every dollar and hour spent, and charge back for it. If you don’t get paid, you don’t get to play.
• Get used to having to juggle multiple jobs and multiple demands on our time each day. It’s part of the life of an independent producer.
• Attend meetings, but as few as possible. They are usually the most unproductive time of each job.
• The target audience is a big deal. Writing styles must adapt to clients and then be tweaked for client’s different audiences.

Thanks to the producers who participated in the panel: Paul and Paula Campsall of MetaMedia Productions; Rob Currie and Carol Ann Whalen or C to C Productions; Von Darnell of Huckleberry Film Studios; Tom Knowlton of TCK Production; and Peter Shannon of Memory Tree Productions. And, of course, to Steve Roberts for his initiative and hard work in convening the event.

News photographers scramble for Rafferty pic

Great news photography is often about split-second timing. Such was the case outside a  Woodstock, Ont., courthouse yesterday as Michael Rafferty, accused of first-degree murder in the death of eight-year-old Tori Stafford, made an application for a change of venue for his upcoming trial.

With police shielding Rafferty from public view (more for his own safety than concerns about his image), it was a tough assignment for any news photographer to get a clear image of the accused. Several tried, with varying degrees of success. The Woodstock Sentinel Review‘s Elliot Ferguson captured Rafferty’s fleeting appearance between courthouse and police van. London Free Press reporter Randy Richmond got a photo that landed on the next morning’s page A1.

Perhaps the most impressive shot, however, was that of freelance shooter Dave Chidley, hired by The Canadian Press to cover the court appearance. Chidley, who planned to review the assignment and his technique today with his news photography students in both the print journalism and broadcast journalism programs at Conestoga College, said the assignment was a challenge. The resulting photo, used in newspapers and websites across the country, was captured by a combination of great anticipatory timing and a motor drive that shot 10 frames per second. Only two of those frames revealed Rafferty’s face, Chidley said.

Teneycke, Harper and managing news media

Kory Teneycke
Kory Teneycke

The resignation of Kory Teneycke as Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s director of communications brings to at least five the number of people tasked with managing the information flow between the Prime Minister’s Office and the news media since early 2006. All have had remarkable short tenures.

Teneycke says he’s leaving the PMO in order to spend more time with family. He’ll step down as soon as a replacement is named — which should be soon, given the possibility of an election campaign as early as this fall.

Clearly, however, the job of handling communications and the media for Harper is not for the faint of heart. The Prime Minister has now had more communications directors than there were press secretaries in the Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan and George H. W. Bush administrations combined (a total of 16 years).

Harper is well known among journalists, political observers and even his own caucus as one who tightly controls media, messaging and information flow. At a conference in London, Ont., shortly after the swearing in of the Conservatives’ first minority government in February 2006, CBC News chief correspondent Peter Mansbridge labelled the new prime minister a “control freak” who was determined to change the fundamental relationship between the PMO and the news media. Evidence of that manifested itself through new rules of engagement established by the PMO early that year that dealt with scrums and news conferences (see CBC producer Ira Basen’s piece for Pressthink on the controversy). Many experts see the Harper strategy, when combined with the party’s own inventory of websites, new-media tools and consultants, as an effort to “decertify” traditional news media as agents of communication between government and citizens. According to those who work closest to Ottawa’s inner orbits, the working relationships between the news media and the Prime Minister remain delicate and mercurial.

Nixon press secretary Ron Ziegler
Nixon press secretary Ron Ziegler

Whenever the matter of communications and government comes up, I can’t help but remember the impossible task of White House press secretary Ron Ziegler during the final years of the Richard Nixon administration. Ziegler had the unenviable job of managing media relations through the Watergate years and the many headlines that eventually led to the president’s resignation. Contemptuous of the Washington Post, which was constantly on the leading edge of the story, Nixon held the threat of dismissal over Ziegler’s head, should he allow any reporter or photographer from the Post onto the White House grounds.

The ultimate embarrassment for Ziegler, however, came during a visit to New Orleans on Aug. 20, 1973. As Nixon was about to enter a convention centre to make a speech, he grabbed Ziegler by the shoulders, turned him around and shoved him in the direction of nearby reporters, who were shouting questions about the unravelling Watergate affair and Nixon’s role in it. The incident was captured on film by CBS cameraperson Cal Marlin, and it aired on the national newscast that evening. Dan Rather set up the clip by saying, “What you are about to see is a rare glimpse in public of presidential irritation. . . . The president’s aides deny he is nervous or testy or anything.”

Ziegler was the communicator who invented the term “photo op,” tried to dismiss the Watergate scandal a “third-rate burglary” and had a penchant for declaring previous statements, proven to be misleading or untrue, as “inoperative.” He died in hospital near his home in Coronado, Calif., in 2003 at the age of 63.

Al Tompkins’ 10 commandments of shooting video

Back in the mid-1980s, when I was in graduate school, journalism students shot video on three-quarter-inch tape, using (if they were lucky) electronic newsgathering (ENG) cameras that weighed in at about 13 or 14 kilograms — even without the cumbersome battery belts. Those not so fortunate lugged bulky cameras and hefty tape decks with them wherever they had to shoot. As for editing audio for radio, we did it by cutting — literally — half-inch magnetic tape, using grease pencils and razor blades.

Al Tompkins
Al Tompkins

Digital media have made everything a lot simpler and more accessible to the average consumer. When it comes to shooting video, however, a few laws still apply for those who plan to take raw video and audio into some form of post-production.

At a seminar this week for college educators, Al Tompkins, left, on faculty at the Poynter Institute in St. Petersburg, Fla., offered up his own version of the Ten Commandments — not a moral code but series of laws for those who want to shoot video, especially the kind that provides coverage of a person or event. Tompkins is Poynter’s broadcast and online team leader, and a highly regarded practitioner and consultant. I fully expected what was the cardinal rule of videography when I was in J-school to be high on his list: Don’t ever “cross the line” (an imaginary line that runs through the spatial plane on which your subject is positioned). Alas, it wasn’t there at all, although I suspect it’s still important for many types of video photography.

Here, then, is his list for those still fairly new to shooting video:

1. Thou shalt not zoom or pan. When these techniques are used, they must be motivated — there for a reason. Otherwise, stay clear. Don’t use those buttons just because they’re there.

2. Thou shalt compose thy shots in thirds. Frame your photos in interesting ways by keeping your subject in one of the screen’s “thirds.” Forget your mother’s commandment to centre the subject in the frame.

3. Thou shalt keep each and every shot steady for a least 10 seconds. Otherwise, you’ll kick yourself in the editing process.

4. Thou shalt seek subjective sound bites. Get your subjects to open up and talk.

5. Thou shalt shoot cutaways, sequences and transitions. Again, they’re invaluable in the editing process.

6. Thou shalt focus thy story into three words. Who did what? Noun-verb-object. Unless you can express it that way, you don’t yet have a clear idea of what the story is.

7. Thou shalt always wear thy headphones. Otherwise, you don’t know what sound you’re recording — or if you’re recording any at all.

8. Thou wilt seek great natural (or ambient) sound and wilt shut up while shooting.

9. Thou shalt honour great natural lighting and put the shadow side to the camera.

10. Thou shalt look for a strong open and a memorable close.