Now that I’ve posted a definition of backpack journalism, the next question might be, “So what does it take to be a backpack journalist?” Here are the requirements, not necessarily in the order of importance:
VISUAL TALENT: The backpack journalist needs artistic talent to recognize compelling images. Images are the engine inside this medium. Edward R. Murrow reportedly said once that television is nothing more than radio with pictures. He was wrong. Good television, as well as good video on the Internet, is powerful images that drive the message and that are complemented by clear natural sound and connected by intelligent narration. But it’s images first.
TECHNICAL SKILL: The successful backpack journalist must know how to make the camera produce on tape or on a computer chip the images that his/her mind’s eye sees.
PHYSICAL STAMINA: This craft presents a physical and an intellectual challenge. Even with the lightweight, hand-held digital cameras of today, working the craft properly demands a significant amount of physical stamina. You can’t practice the craft effectively if you’re not in shape.
COURAGE: And I’m not talking about courage under fire, although in some instances the backpack journalist might need this kind of courage as well. What I mean here is courage to practice a fundamentally intrusive craft despite what may be a lack of understanding or cooperation – or downright opposition – from people who just don’t want to be filmed.
WRITING AND VISUAL NARRATIVE SKILLS: To quote one of my earliest journalism professors, “Good writing is clear thinking made visible.” Stated differently, if you can think clearly and know how to use a typewriter, or a computer, or a pencil and pad, then you can write well. The successful backpack journalist not only can write well but also has the ability to visualize and tell a story with pictures.