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Thinking of Becoming a TV News Stringer?


Question: I casually came into a conversation during a networking event after a local news director heard I had a camera and was into video. He asked me to be a news stringer and if I wanted to earn extra cash. I didn’t want to embarrass myself and act like I knew what he was talking about. My first question is: What is a news stringer 2. how do I get started and 3. how much is the normal salary?

Answer: In the journalism world, a stringer is a type of freelance journalist, videographer or photographer who contributes reports, video or photos to a news organization on an on-going basis but is paid individually for each piece of published or broadcast work.

As freelancers, stringers do not receive a regular salary and the amount and type of work is typically voluntary. However, stringers often have an ongoing relationship with one or more news organizations, to which they provide content on particular topics or locations when the opportunities arise.

The term is typically confined to news industry jargon, and in print or in broadcast terms, stringers are sometimes referred to as correspondents or contributors. At other times, they may not receive any public recognition for the work they have contributed.

How to become a stringer

First scout the market. Call your local television stations. Find out from whom they obtain their stringer footage. In some markets, when you have a news worthy story, you’ll have to approach the stations directly. In bigger markets, you’ll be dropping your footage off at an agency that will supply the footage to the stations via a feed.

Step 2 Get yourself a quality ENG electronic news gathering package. However it is possible today to get by with a far less expensive DV camera. Be sure to get one with at least 3 CCD’s, the bigger the chip, the better. The detail of DV is comparable to Betacam although the color isn’t as good.  As a stringer you’ll be doing a lot of hand held shooting, so choose a camera that can mount on your shoulder for stability. You want a long lens, at least an 18x, or one with an extender so you can get good sized images if you’re not allowed to get close. Make sure that your camera can accept external microphone inputs. You’ll need a good quality mic to conduct interviews.

Step 3 Get a non-descriptive vehicle. You don’t want to show up on a crime scene with a flashy car.

Step 4
Since you are strictly working on spec as a freelance shooter, you have to know what sells. As you’re listening to your scanner, here are the stories that are most marketable:

Disasters likes major fires, earthquakes or tornadoes, acts of terrorism, hate crimes, celebrities behaving badly, shootings, murders, violence against family members especially children, police shootings or brutality, rescues of pets or kids, or fatal car accidents.

Don’t bother with routine medical emergencies, minor traffic accidents, natural deaths, overdoses or suicides unless they involve celebrities. As you see you’ve got to have the fortitude to cover people at their worst.

Step 5
Overcome what ever natural reticence you have to get interviews with witnesses. Remember the basics, asking Who, What, When, Where, Why and How. Get your interview subjects to spell their names on camera and give permission to appear. Even if you’ve never written more than an email, get used to the fact that to sell your video, you’ll need a hook that will interest the news directors or producers at your local stations. A story titled “Joy Riding Drunk Teens Cause Death of Family of Four” will grab somebody’s attention more than “Four in fatal accident.”

Step 6 Look at my other postings on how to tell a good TV news story and get clear audio. You need to be able to tell a story with your camera. Whether or not you ultimately make a dime for your efforts depends on how good your video is.

Step 7 Finally, make sure that you treat first responders right. You plan to make this a career so don’t alienate them. They have a job to do and will respect your attempt to do yours if you’re friendly but deferential. If by any chance you arrive at a crime scene before the police do, proceed with caution. A lot of people aren’t too keen about being exposed on camera. Be sure to leave the scene with your expensive gear, before the cops depart.

How much do they pay?

It depends on what you get, how early you get it, who else shot it, what else happened that day and want kind of a mood the news producer is in. If you get a plane crash and you are the only one with early shots (plane burning, rescuers pulling out victims), go for a four figure amount. If someone shoots a cop and you are the only one with shots of the cop before EMS takes him away, go for a three figure amount. If you shoot a single fatal MVA, be happy if they offer you $75. If you shoot someone famous in trouble, go for a five to six figure amount. How much they pay all depends.

The average monthly income is- maybe – $75 or Maybe $7,500. Really it depends on how much time you put in, how many people are working in your area, luck and how hungry the news producers are

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  • Billy K. said:

    Chas – great write up, you sound like a go getter for hanging in there 16+ yrs. Salt of the earth I’m sure.

    I did freelance private eye work for almost 10yrs. A bit different than the stringer work, but many parallels – random hours, interviewing people, stakeouts (following people around), videotaping, serving people court papers (toughest part of the job for me) and sometimes being an errand boy for your local attorney who needs case related stuff in a hurry.

    The hardest part of the job was getting paid.

  • Chuck said:

    Chas B what type of camera would you recommend for news stringer these days? I would really appreciate it if you could let me know please,thanks.

  • Chas B said:

    I have been a news stringer for a bit over 16 years. your info needs to be updated beta is a dinosaur everyone I know uses non tape type gear i myself use the Sony NX5U.

    Flashy car then I’m in trouble a KIA Soul with 6 LED spot lights on top.
    Friends with most of the cops helps.

    As for showing up on scene I wait til police and fire are there reasons for waiting you dont want to park in a crime scene and then be told you cant leave. you dont want to make it appear as if the police and fire where late getting there. if its a crime you dont want to get shot at if the cops arent there yet. finally if its a fire you dont want them stringing hose and you have no way out til the hose is picked back up.

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