My Media Day: Danny Livingston, news cameraman, STV

DANNY Livingston is a staff news cameraman at STV, based in Glasgow. He started as a trainee sound engineer in 1978.

He submitted this on Monday, October 8.

What exactly is it you do?

I work as a news cameraman, based in Glasgow, covering all content for our STV news programmes and websites. Sports news is a major part of my regular work.

What did your working day today or yesterday comprise?

Today started with a photocall for the Krankies and John Barrowman, who are promoting their panto at the Clyde Auditorium. Brilliant professionals, knowing exactly what they need to do to make a picture and a soundbite. Nobody does Krankie better.

We did ask them if they had worked with Jimmy Savile, but they reckoned they had no experience to draw on, so didn’t want to engage with that tricky subject. Fair enough.

Next up was a feature at the Jubilee Hospital in Clydebank, celebrating 20 years of heart transplants in Scotland. A nice picture opportunity with 60 transplant patients gathered together in one room – really representing 120 people if you think about it. A wee interview with a patient, a doctor and a quick piece to camera from our reporter, Laura Miller, and it’s off to the next job.

Since one of our Edinburgh crews is in Glencoe today, following up the Savile story, I’m off to pick up shots of a suspicious death story in Armadale near Bathgate, getting these back to base in Glasgow in time to be edited for the six o’clock programme.

How different or similar was it to your average working day when you started in post?

None of the stories I mention above are significantly different to stories 30 years ago. The huge difference is in the how, rather than the what.

Thirty years ago, news shot on film needs to be processed in a lab before transmission, so deadlines were much tighter.

In Edinburgh the last news rushes of the day went on the three o’clock train to Glasgow, to make a processing lab deadline of four o’clock.

Stories after that time were for the next day, or involved big overtime costs to keep the lab running for the late news.

Our last days of film were around the time of the miners’ strike, where we were routinely beaten to late breaking stories by opposition with new-fangled video cameras.

Even by the time of Lockerbie, we had to drive video tapes to Carlisle for transmission to our newsrooms, as the time to set up ‘line-of-sight microwaves’ on the hilltops ruled out live connection until the morning, which as far as I know was our first live single camera news transmission without an outside broadcast unit directly involved.

‘Line of sight microwaves’ refers to a system of relay hops using microwave radio link dishes. These need to see each other in order to pass the TV signal to the next hop. In a town like Lockerbie, which is in a valley, you had to beam a line of sight transmission to a nearby high spot, then possibly to another which it can also see, before linking in to a network junction like the tower at Cowcaddens or the TV mast at Blackhill. It was enormously difficult and costly compared with a single man in a sat truck. In our World Cup coverage in Mexico in 1986, we used seven mid-points to get live pictures from the team HQ at Teotihuacan to Mexico City, then by satellite to the UK – the most expensive live link I’ve ever worked with.

Now, satellite trucks have changed the game considerably, as we can have a truck on site and file pictures almost as soon as we have finished shooting. We can simply connect up and go live from almost anywhere we can safely put a camera.

How do you see the job evolving?

Our website started as a second outlet for our material, but is now quite clearly the front line of news dissemination.

Twitter has changed things enormously, as the audience finds the content it needs the moment it becomes available. It’s also great for watching stories break, and even sometimes seeing quickly that a rumoured story lacks substance, saving deployment on stories that are not worth the resources, and getting right to the action on the ones that are.

Nowadays, my camera phone is becoming increasingly important for grabbing ‘placeholder’ still pictures which the web team use to break a story, updating as the better quality video rushes get back to base.

With better data connections, we will eventually see usable live streams from newsgathering cameras without sat trucks, which will give the web team even better material in much less time: a long way off, but not exactly wishful, ‘blue sky’ thinking.

The other evolution is in the jounalism side of the job: don’t expect to start a career in TV if you’re not able to have a go at working a camera, and competently edit your own stories.

Constructing a narrative in a video edit timeline is as much story-telling as writing a sharply-crafted paragraph, and the days when the journalist sat to explain his story to someone else who edits it are swiftly passing.

The ‘video journalist’ shoot/edit approach is producing some fine feature material, but we are aware of its limitations: it’s difficult, for instance, to interview a football manager from behind a camera at the back of a busy press conference when all your colleagues are sitting in eye contact at the front row. So for now, there appears to be a continued need for the dedicated cameraman role on the bigger stories and live events.

What gives you most job satisfaction?

Innovation. There’s no substitute for trying out something which gets a story to the audience before anyone else does. Once, that might have been devising a place to land a helicopter to get the film to the labs, or taking a calculated detour when the roads to an incident are closed. Nowadays, it might be satellite internet or a live, two-way interview on an iPad. Whatever the technology, the job in essence has not changed in the years I’ve been involved in it: get to a story, get the best pictures to tell the story and get them back as soon as possible. Simple isn’t it?