It’s Time to Pass on the Wisdom of CNN’s Victor Hernandez

Victor Hernandez, director of domestic newsgathering for CNN, gave some suggestions to early and mid-career journalists attending the Society of Professional Journalists Green Eyeshade Awards at Kennesaw State University. The self-proclaimed ‘backpack executive’ says journalists have to move past conventional storytelling thinking about the next way consumers will get their news and develop “passion projects” that may not be the biggest breaking news story of the day.

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I’m just back from a weekend trip to Kennesaw, Ga. where I had the opportunity to hear a question-and-answer session with Victor Hernandez, director of domestic newsgathering for CNN, which includes a 50-person assignment desk, 10 U.S. bureaus and more than 900 television and newspaper affiliate partnerships.

As a television producer a decade ago, I’ve worked at CNN affiliates in Richmond, Va., Cincinnati and Atlanta.  But, that was the before the time of the “all-platform journalist,” a two-year-old creation of CNN to put more reporters on the ground to tell storytelling in a new and compelling way to is less tied to traditions of television.

Hernandez was the keynote speaker for the Society of Professional Journalists  Green Eyeshade Awards, a regional program that recognizes outstanding journalism produced in the states across the South.

While I’ve posed some questions about the All-Platform Journalist program in an earlier post,   I thought was important to summarize the wisdom of Hernandez here as I prepare to give a quick update to the University of Alabama students enrolled in my cross-media reporting and writing class.

“A Backpack Executive”

One of the appeals of Hernandez for me is that we both came of television news.    Before joining the CNN operation in Atlanta seven years ago, Hernandez worked on the assignment desks at local television stations in Fresno and San Diego.

On Saturday night, he told stories of carrying his laptop from conference room to conference room at CNN and editing videos for presentations on Final Cut Pro, a highly popular nonlinear video editing platform.

So, he lives and breathes what he preaches in terms of digital media at CNN where in 2008 they hired five all platform journalists.    Hernandez reported Saturday that those five all-platform journalists produced a total of 130 stories in 2009 alone.

Hernandez’s Wisdom in a nutshell

1.  It’s not just a three-screen strategy, but a FOUR-SCREEN strategy

In the last two years, broadcast executives have used the “Three-screen” strategy to refer to need to produce for three screens– television, the World Wide Web and mobile.

Hernandez reports that he and his colleagues at CNN have been looking at what he called “the tablet difference, ” referring to the way users with devices such as Apple’s highly successful iPad view news.

“It’s arrived and it’s probably here to stay,” Hernandez said.

The key is knowing how the consumption experience is different on a tablet PC than on a mobile phone or online.

2. Move past the Quick and Dirty 1:30 or 800-word news story

The conventional  one minute, 30-second news package has been a staple of television news for decades.    Likewise, the 800-word print story is what many news operations shoot for in conveying the news with text.

Hernandez says a hallmark of the all-platform journalists content is the innovative ways they’ve been able to do storytelling by creating “new entry points” for the users, especially online.

As noted in an earlier post today, that’s evident just from a quick review of the content of some of the stories produced by the five all-platform journalists.

3.  Learn Final Cut Pro, even if you’re not going to use it in your job

This was a bombshell.   For years, we’ve been telling our students that Final Cut Pro is overkill for a one-minute video that needs minimal editing.

For years we’ve said that the higher-end editing software if more appropriate for editing longer, documentary-style pieces and unneccessary when there’s simpler, consumer-line software like Apple’s iMovie or Windows equivalent– Windows Moviemaker, available.

“I recommend all journalists learnFinal Cut Pro, even if you don’t go into a field that requires you to edit,” Hernandez told the audience Saturday night.

But the BIG point here is that Hernandez encouraged early and mid-career journalists to pick up such skills like that on their own using what he called “Professor YouTube” and “Professor Google”  or taking advantage of the relatively nominally-priced One-to-One sessions and workshops held at Apple Stores.

This struck a chord with me as a multimedia instructor trying to pack in basic nonlinear video editing in a course primarily focused on reporting and writing.    I’ve used the Apple One-to-One training and found some great tutorials online.    I just returned from a summer workshop where I edited my first video piece using Final Cut.

(Note: Hernandez did note that CNN offers some Final Cut training for its employees)

4. Experimentation, Experimentation, Experimentation

Hernandez’s first piece of advice for early and mid-career journalists was to take it upon themselves to go above and beyond what’s required in their jobs right now and teach themselves new digital skills that will be in demand for tomorrow’s journalist.

His lists the popular consumer-line camera, FlipCam as a piece of equipment to teach oneself how to shoot and post videos.   Social media applications and Final Cut Pro were others.

“We’ve got to take more risks, we’ve got to make more mistakes and not get comfortable in what you do everyday,” Hernandez said.

He used the term “passion projects” to describe some of the news generated by the All Platform Journalists that drew on their own interests, but were not based on the same news conference or breaking story that other news organizations were covering.

5. Aim higher

Instead of striving to be the next big-time correspondent that one sees on the air right now,  Hernandez says early and mid-career journalists should be thinking about the job that nobody has right now.

Understanding what the current younger generation, the so-called “idea generation,”  is doing, Hernandez  urged those in the audience to focus on “the next big way that people tell stories or consume news.”

“I’m hiring for the future,” Hernandez said.

A Final Note

It’s worth noting that while initial reports in 2008 indicated that CNN planned to add 10 All Platform Journalists,  Hernandez only reported on the work of five such “APJs” in 2009.

One might conclude that in hiring for the future, CNN did not find enough people who had the digital skills to do the job for which there are few models out there.

Yes, ABC and NBC, have hired so-called “digital correspondents” and companies such as Scripps Television are training their reporters to shoot their own packages.    But, it would appear that in “hiring for the future,” CNN is looking for willing to do more than “think outside the box.”

They want people who will create a whole new box based on their own experimentation, who are comfortable in operating in a world where “Mobile” is the dominant platform, who can conceptualize an iPhone application just as much as they can conceptualize a news package.

Author: George Daniels

George L. Daniels is an associate professor of journalism at the University of Alabama. After spending eight years in the local television newsroom working as a producer at stations in Richmond, Virginia; Cincinnati, Ohio; and Atlanta, Georgia, Daniels moved from the newsroom to the classroom. He’s conducted research on diversity issues in the media workplace and change in the television newsroom as well as media convergence. Before going to work in television news, Daniels worked briefly as a freelance writer for The Richmond Free Press in his hometown of Richmond, Va.

1 thought on “It’s Time to Pass on the Wisdom of CNN’s Victor Hernandez”

  1. Allow me to say that this info alone has inspired me to achieve a level of success that is attainable in journalism. Its true that the impact in technology has advance but the people capturing the news have slowed down a bit in presenting those historic moments in our past and present day alloying APJ to prosper….In other words sign me up

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