Friday, March 2, 2012

Is the Mark III What I've Been Waiting For?

In the middle of the night last night, those sneaky folks at Canon unleashed the new 5D Mark III.

This is something I expected to see last year at NAB, but folks were saying that development was delayed in part due to the devastation caused when the tsunami hit the island of Japan.

Fast forward a year later.  In the meantime, I have had the opportunity to shoot with a 5D Mark II as well as with a 7D.  Pretty pix, all right, but I had a laundry list of things that would cause me to "dislike" the cameras if they were Facebook friends.  For example:

  • Hate the "clicky" iris control that doesn't allow me to roll my iris around without it showing up as camera shake.
  • Really?  12 minute clips lengths?  I shoot docs.  EVERY interview is longer than 12 minutes.
  • No audio controls or meters?   Really?  
  • Audio input is a stereo mini?  Who am  I, Jenna Marbles?  

So along comes the Mark III.    I haven't touched one yet, but the good news according to Canon is that they have fixed 50% of my gripe list.

  • Mark III has a 30 minute clip length.  Ok.  I can live with that.
  • Mark III has audio controls.  Hello, can you say professional features?  

So I will join the jostling throng at NAB to get my hands on the demo model  for .3 seconds.  Will I buy it?  Dunno.  At $1,000 more than the 5D Mark II, I think Canon just hasn't quite made enough improvements to justify the cost.  If it was the same price or a couple hundred more than the Mark II, I would be buying one of these ASAP.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Missing Stacey!

It's been a few weeks now since anchor Stacey Bell left the studios for the final time at WJW Fox 8.   Now Tracy McCool is settling into her role next to the inimitable Bill Martin.  I am certain that eventually, I will find that Tracy has taken Stacey's place in my news-viewer heart.   But, first, about Stacey.....

Right now, I am still missing Stacey.  Too often today, local TV news presents the latest random nonsense dug up from Reuter's "Oddly Enough" file as if it's legitimate content.  It's not.  It's nonsense.  The Smoking Toddler, the Werewolf Boy, all of these stories are nonsense, not anything that really matters to local viewers. 

It may be boring, it may not test well with the consultants,  but what we need to hear is what our local elected officials are doing about our streets, our sewers, and our water.  That really matters to our lives.  Sorry, but The Smoking Toddler doesn't matter.   (And by the way, that's not to say that the kid shouldn't knock it off.)

So what does this have to do with Stacey?   Because Stacey knew it was nonsense.  Her mere silence at the end of such tripe spoke volumes.  Her quick pitches to Mr. Goddard after such stories were silent, sort of non-judgmental judginess about the newsworthiness of the preceding story.   She knew.  And we knew that she knew.  Just the look on her face made it clear.

Miss ya Stacey.  And your silence.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Is the new way the old way?

This week let's think back to the good old days....the days when TV news shooters carried film cameras, mags of film, and separate audio recorders. 

Probably no one alive then wants to recall those days warmly.  But after having several conversations lately with people about "the new revolution" in video, I am transported back to those olden days of yore. 

Nearly every young producer or hotshot shooter today is haranguing me about shooting video with a still camera like the Canon 7D or the Mark Series.  Now, I will grant you, the large imager and beautiful Canon glass makes some very pretty pictures.  Just take a look at this clip, forwarded to me by another friend who is pushing me to adopt the "new" way of shooting:

Stunning depth of field...beautiful latitude, beautiful sensitivity.   You will get no argument from me that this device produces some truly impressive images. 

But please, stop telling me this is a "new" way to shoot.  It's not.  It's reverting back to 1967, when I was busy playing in my playpen, but when most shooters lived with film mags and audio recorders.

This "new" way of shooting requires several compromises.  The first compromise is shooting a highly compressed HD file to a compact flash card.  Depending on the compression you choose and the size of your card, you might only get about 15 to 20 minutes on a single CF card.

Sound like a mag of film to anyone?

The second compromise is the audio recording.  Although you can record audio on some of these devices, it is generally mono using a mini-pin connector.  So most pros use an outboard sound recorder like a Zoom or similar device. 

Sound like using an old Nagra?

And most pros recommend using prime lenses, so the ability to shoot on the fly in a variety of situations is compromised. 

Sound like an old turret lens to anyone?

Now, don't get me wrong.  I am not sitting around saying this new technology is a bad thing.  In fact, I absolutely love the images I've seen from these cameras.  But between the issues above, and many more (like the rolling shutter problem because of the CMOS chips used in these cameras), I just don't feel like it's the right moment to make a switch. But there is no doubt in my mind that the moment is coming. Soon.

But until then, don't tell me about this being a "new" way to work.  In fact, this is just about as desirable a way to work today as it would be for me to dig out my old plumbicon tube camera and portapack recorder.  Call me when the large imager is in the right form factor.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

I'm Alive, Tape is Dead.

It's been some time since we have posted here on The Media Doctor site...but we're back now with a vengance.  Let's talk about the Death of Tape.

For years now, I have been eagerly awaiting the death of video tape.  I have been so excited about solid state technology that I often tell classes at the University of Akron that I will have a party when the last piece of video tape rolls off the press.  Call it a tape-based funeral!  Free head cleaner for all!

But after nearly a year of working with solid state media, my opinion has changed.  Fact is:  tape is good.

What caused my change of heart?

Well, back in the ancient days of video tape, I would go out and shoot.  Then I'd capture the video into my trusty Mac Book Pro.  Then I'd edit.   Then I'd spit the edited version back out to tape.  My original tapes would sit on a shelf for years.  All was well.

Today I am shooting mostly on Panasonic's P2 format.  Cards are still ridicuolusly expensive, at several hundred dollars each, for maybe an hour or four's worth of space.  Total cost of several hours of DVCPro tape?  Maybe $60.

But that isn't the real problem.  No indeed.  The real problem is this:  once I copy all my P2 media to a hard drive, I need to re-use the P2 cards again almost immediately.  So I wipe them clean and start the next shoot.

And my investment in shooting the previous material is left to the whims of my hard drives.  And anyone who has used hard drives for years will tell you that as storage space has climbed and prices have plummeted, the trade off has been shortened drive longevity and stability.

So, this past spring, while shooting on location in Trinidad & Tobago, I came back to the hotel room each night and moved data onto several hard drives, making multiple copies.  Flash forward to a couple of months later and the drives wake up one morning all confused...."This hard drive must be formatted" says my Mac Book Pro.

WHAT!?!?!?!?!   $15,000 in travel expenses down the drain?  In a panic, I call the manufacturer, who tells me to buy a piece of software to rebuild my drive's file allocation tables.  If successful, I MAY get my data back.   

I do.  I make a total of SEVEN complete backups of the data on five different drives in three different physical locations.

And today I yearn for the days when those original tapes would be sitting safely on a shelf somewhere, ready to spring to life again for anyone with a working deck.   I hope we can avoid that tape funeral for a long time, even if I am living in the world of the hard drive.  It was a simpler time.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Going to The Desert to Find Some Hope

Today's Lesson: Going to The Desert to Find Some Hope

Every April, I make the annual trek of nearly 2,000 miles to Las Vegas, Nevada to attend the combined National Association of Broadcaster's trade show and the Broadcast Education Association's annual conference. The 2009 session will mark the tenth year in a row that I have made the trip.

I have been going long enough now to have seen the event in the good times and the not so good times. For example, in 2002 attendance dropped in the wake of the attacks on 9/11. Then in 2008, conference mainstays Avid and Apple both dropped out as the economy weakened.

What will 2009 hold? I don't know yet. But if hotel room rates are any indication, I suspect the attendance will be somewhat lower. Already I have received emails about cuts in hotel rates during that week. This is normally a time when hotels raise rates, rather than lower them. But after a drop in attendance in 2008 to 105,000, maybe the 2009 conference might dwindle to levels lower than 2002, when attendance was even lower.

This matters to me as an educator because one of the chief things I get from attending NAB is the chance to sit next to owners of broadcast outlets and ask them about their plans in regard to hiring. This year, amid a sea of horrible news about broadcasting, I am going to NAB to find hope. And I go not just seeking short-term hope, in the shape of jobs for my graduating seniors.

No indeed. This year, I go to NAB hoping that I will regain my optimism that broadcasting will matter in the future. As the pundits argue about how bad bad is, and the owners shout about localism saving broadcasting, I go to Las Vegas hoping against hope that radio and TV are not about to be relegated "has been" status by mobile and the web.

Now that internet penetration has achieved about 75% of the U.S., it's becoming something that could possibly supplant broadcasting's somewhat higher 99% penetration. In my lifetime, this is the first real challenge to broadcasting's dominance in terms of reaching people in a mass audience. say the internet is good. I won't argue. I spend ever-growing amounts of time using it for nearly everything. I have even stopped delivery of my local newspaper in favor of online news. But once things calm down for the day and I want to relax, I ain't sitting in front of the computer. I fire up the tube and let the warm glow wash over me. Mmmm....television-y.

A recent Nielsen report stated that "the average time a U.S. home used a TV set during the 2007-08 television season was up to 8 hours and 18 minutes per day, a record high since Nielsen started measuring television in the 1950’s"

So right now, TV matters. But I feel kind of like this is the final turn on my favorite old rollercoaster...things are slowing down and I can see that the ride is almost over. And over by the parking lot a brand new, bigger, shinier, faster roller coaster is being built.

Dr. Phil Hoffman is General Manager of The University of Akron’s Z-TV. He will do his best next week to blog from the convention and let you know if there's any hope to be had.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Everything I Needed to Know About Working in Radio I Learned From Nick.....

Today's lesson: Everything I Needed to Know About Working in Radio I Learned From Nick

My first job in radio was at WSLR-AM/WKDD-FM in Akron, OH. I was a cocky college sophomore, 19, and ready to set the world on fire with my deep understanding of Kajagoogoo and Thomas Dolby's artistic sensibilities.

I worked for a guy named Nick Anthony. He was the PD/OD at the combo, and in the four years I worked there while finishing up college (I was on the 5.5 year plan), Nick taught me a lot. Not that he sat me down and lectured me, but I was watching him all the time. Here's what I learned from working for Nick, all lessons I try to share with my students every day.

1. Be Persistent.
One of my college buddies, Doug, was working at WSLR and told me they needed another part-timer. He gave me Nick's name and told me to call him. Well, Nick was just about impossible to get a hold of...he was working, running 2 stations. In order to get the job I finally had to march my resume down there and put it in his hands. You children of today, sending your emails. I had to DRIVE there. With a resume that I had to PAY someone to print. Bah....

2. Ratings Down? Tighten the Playlist.
First, I should say that the mid-80s WKDD rarely had low ratings. But I remember sitting in the studio one day and in comes Nick, pulling carts off the wall. "What's going on?" I asked. "Ratings went down," Nick answered. He was pulling out anything that was slow, or old. It seemed to me, a music geek, like the response of a crazy man. The guy had clearly lost his mind. Next book? Ratings back up. That taught me that though it might seem counter-intuitive for me, a guy who wanted a huge play list, the audience for WKDD didn't care that much about depth. Play the hits and shut up!

3. You Want to Threaten to Leave? Have Your Bags Packed!
So, I'm on overnights. There's this guy working 6-midnight. He's 16. I want to get off overnights. One morning, I'm complaining to the morning drive guy about how I'm gonna go into Nick's office and tell him he better move me to 6-midnight. Or else. The morning drive guy says "Or else what?" I said "I'll quit!" "Better have your bags packed kid. If you threaten something like that, you're gonna be outta here."

I was shocked. You mean, I can just go in and tell my boss how to run the station? What??!!

I never went in to Nick's office and threatened him. And I never forgot that if you're gonna threaten to quit over something, skip the threats. Just go find another job.

Leaving WKDD
Eventually I got canned from WKDD/WSLR after three dismal months on the sales team. I was a very poor salesman. I deserved to get canned. But I learned a lot while working there. And I learned that sales just wasn't the place for me.

And to this day, I still think Nick is great at his job. Akron-owned Rubber City Radio group (WQMX/WONE/WAKR) is one of the few remaining local groups that's still alive and innovating.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

To Teach or Not to Teach?

Todays Lesson: Henry Ford and Buggy Makers

I cannot get a recent response from a reader of the always excellent Ohio Media Watch blog out of my mind. I have tried, trust me. But this comment simply will not leave me alone.

Responding to a recent post on OMW about declining jobs in broadcasting, an OMW reader named Ann posted this:

"Are there still people rushing to broadcasts (SIC) schools hoping for a career on-air? Is that like studying to become a buggy-maker in the 1920s?"

Ouch. I am one of the nameless horde that has left broadcasting (on a full time basis, at least) for the hallowed halls of academe. I admit this is a question I have struggled with since starting at U.A. in July of 2000, long before the current downtrend began.

Why teach students to go into a field that I left willingly? Why encourage them even though it wasn't until after I was out of broadcasting that I was able to discover the joys of being home on Christmas morning, or of relatively steady cost-of-living pay raises?

Given the recent steady stream of downbeat news about jobs in broadcasting, one might well argue that Ann is only too right. It may be that iPods and cell phones and Twitter posts are the popular entertainments of tomorrow. You may even hear folks arguing that TV will be relegated to a minimized status like the's still out there, but who really uses it anymore?

And if that is the case, of what value is anyone trained to be a broadcaster? Someone who can write, edit, shoot and produce? If anyone can pick up a camcorder and post video to their blog...then why even bother with paying someone to do that work? If major market news product will pop You Tube videos into their mix, why do they need any employees other than engineers and sales folks?

Oh're breaking my heart. Am I guilty as charged? Am I training buggy makers while demand for that skill is about to be crushed by Henry Ford's Tin Lizzie?

I recently read a post from Dr. A. Gordon Ray about this very issue: the failure of companies to innovate and thus risk becoming a relic of the past. Dr. Ray suggests that organizations use the "Three R's" to help avoid becoming obsolete: Review, Request, Restructure. (It should be noted that Dr. Ray is a motivational speaker, so of course there may a be a bit of self-interest in his web posts...but I would argue that his basic premise is sound.)

His basic idea is that your organization should review your mission, request info from your customer base about their needs, and then restructure based on this information. Seems simple.

In our case, the review part is under way. We are already working through a thorough evaluation of what we're teaching based on what the industry tells us they want. We are also conducting other evaluations to meet state mandates for solid data about our program. We have had many lengthy conversations about this very topic. We are reviewing our tails off, and I think our faculty is quite sincere about asking ourselves hard questions about what we're doing and what we ought to be doing.

Ah, but Ann....what am I to do when we have more students than ever coming to us telling us they want to work in broadcasting? Our enrollment growth at U.A. has been astonishing...particularly in our media program. We keep adding sections of required course to "eliminate the backlog" of students who need those classes, and then the need never goes away. Our "customers" want our product.

Do we simply deny them entry? Can we be sure that they will never succeed? Do we know for certain that the industry won't grow again when the economy recovers? The state may see these programs as redundant, serving to train students for jobs that may not exist in ten years, but the students don't see it that way. Who's right?

It seems that the restructuring will come...either intitated by us as innovation, or initiated by the economic woes that will push state funding to U.A. to the point where hard decisions have to be made about programs.

But still....what about what the students want? Lost in all this discussion about what the right thing to do is the simple fact that lots of students still want to work in radio, tv, and film. I dunno Ann...I just dunno. People may see it as building more buggies when the automobile is about to take over...but that's hindsight. We don't know that these buggies are useless just yet. There may still be some life left in them.

Dr. Phil Hoffman is General Manager of The University of Akron’s Z-TV. He is really trying to review, request and restructure.