I grew up in a house where the news was always on.
To this day, hearing the opening of NBC Nightly News still takes me back to the days when Brokaw might have well have been a member of the family. Maybe that’s what initially pushed me towards the business, I’m not sure.
I went into college knowing I wanted to be reporter, never switched majors, never had second thoughts. My mind was made up. I had visions of gallivanting across the globe with a network team, telling stories that mattered and making change. And while those dreams still very much exist, I quickly learned news is not as seen on TV.
Post-graduation, I applied to 70 stations across the country. That’s right, 70 and I only heard back from three. Ultimately, I decided to start my career as a multimedia journalist in a place I couldn’t find on a map. 22, clueless and terrified, I lived by the motto “fake it till you make it”. Something that’s hard to do when you’re tossed a camera and told to figure it out.
The summer before I graduated, I interned under a fantastic MMJ in a major TV market. He should have gotten some type of award for enduring my never-ending stream of questions. He tried to prepare me as I watched him work, but MMJing is hard to teach. You’ve got to get your hands on the camera and do it yourself
Working solo is not where TV news is headed, it’s where it already is. And if you have any plans of getting into this business, you need to realize that.
Like many small market reporters in their first jobs, I started off struggling to keep my head above the news water. One day my white balance would be off, the next I’d get back to the station and realize I had no audio in my interviews (there’s no feeling more horrifying, trust me). But I kept on trucking, figuring the hard work would pay off and I’d eventually land a photographer.
Then – the unexpected happened. I started to enjoy the solo life. I’d find myself hosting internal “who shot it better” competitions with the photographers at my station. Every now and then someone would ask, who was your photog on that story? Also known as the best thing you can say to an MMJ.
I made the decision to MMJ because I wanted to, not because I had to. And that changed everything.
After two years in market 143, I was lucky to jump 120 markets to Charlotte, North Carolina. (TV viewing areas are divided by Nielsen Media Research into 210 markets across the country, depending on population. Market one being New York City and market 210 is Glendive, Montata) I’m convinced that only happened because a news director saw my passion for working solo and doing it well. I was searching for something that set me apart and embracing what so few wanted to was exactly it.
There has been many an argument about the one-man-band model. I can tell you a reason or two why it doesn’t work in certain situations. Believe me, I’m a night-side MMJ in a breaking news market, I get it. But working solo is not where TV news is headed, it’s where it already is. And if you have any plans of getting into this business, you need to realize that.
My words aren’t meant to scare, rather to prepare. My decision to embrace MMJ life changed my career path. I’ve gotten opportunities to tell stories around the world because I’m self-sufficient.
Don’t get me wrong, there are tough days. Covering breaking news up against two-person-crews is challenging. Lugging around equipment that sometimes feels bigger than I am made me give up wearing heels a long time ago.
Unless you do it every day, it’s hard to relate. That’s why I created the MMJane Facebook group over the summer. In just a few months it’s grown to nearly 800 members. Some currently working at stations across the country and others hoping to.
MMJing is often looked down upon in this business. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve arrived to an interview to hear something like, Oh. What did you do to get your photographer taken away? But hearing the countless inspiring stories of women in my shoes makes me hope that can change someday soon. Because I’m a proud one-woman-show.
Here’s the bottom line. I still mess up and have a lot to learn. But I promise you this: There are few things more satisfying than stepping back after weaving together a perfect story, knowing you did it yourself. No one helped. It was all you. Think about that and maybe you’ll make the decision earlier than I did.
Sarah-Blake Morgan is an Emmy award winning storyteller for WBTV in Charlotte, North Carolina. With only her camera and tripod, she’s reported on major news stories across the country and in places like Cuba, Haiti and Ecuador. Sarah-Blake is passionate about empowering other young women to embrace and thrive as multimedia journalists. I’m passionate about spreading the MMJ spirit. If you have questions or would just like to chat, feel free to reach out to me at [email protected]