Interview: Yermi Brenner on his early work in China and the steps to becoming an independent multimedia journalist

Yermi Brenner is a self started, independent multimedia journalist. His work has been published on international websites Video Journalist Movement (VJM) and Huffington Post and on the Israeli news outlets Channel 10, Ynet and nana10. Much of his reporting is dedicated to raising awareness of issues related to Israel’s conflicts with its neighbours. He is based in Tel Aviv and self shoots and edits all of his video reports.

LHG: How did you set yourself up as an independent multimedia journalist?

YB: In May 2007, as I was about to graduate from journalism school, I decided to buy a small semi-professional video camera. I had never before done any filming or even photography. I decided to buy the video camera to improve my chances of finding work as a reporter. Use of video reports in online news outlets was at the time – and still is – growing and developing in a fast pace, and I hoped that, if I can offer myself as a text and video reporter, it will increase my chances of making a living off journalism.

In the next few months after graduation I practiced using the video camera and the editing software (Premiere CS3). I learned by doing. I made several video reports; choosing a topic, going out to shoot, and later editing at home. As I was a beginner in both filming and video editing, I asked many questions and got answers from friends and from Google. Non of my first 5 reports were picked up by any media, so I created a blog and posted them there to get some feedback from friends and family.

I guessed that if I can make a video report that shows something that is not often shown on Israeli media, than there is a much bigger chance that a Israeli TV/online news outlet will buy it. So, after practicing filming and editing video for a few months, I decided to travel to the Balkans. At that time – December 2007 – Kosovo was on the verge of being recognized by the UN as an independent country. I traveled to Pristine and to Belgrade, filmed some interviews, collected visuals and edited it as a 4 minute report. I then wrote an article based on the investigation and interviews that I did, and offered it as a multimedia report to Ynet (Israel’s leading news website). They were happy with it and bought it from me. This multimedia report (in Hebrew) was the first report I ever got published in a news outlet.

But I still did not succeed in finding a steady job in a news organization.

The most interesting place in the world at that time was China, a massive rising economy that was 8 months away from hosting the Beijing Olympics. I offered myself as a China correspondent for Israeli online news website Nana10. I suggested to them that they would hire me to report from Beijing – producing weekly text/video reports about the preparations for the Olympics and on the Chinese society. They agreed to hire me but on a very small salary. I was happy with that – living expenses in China are quite cheap – and bought a plane ticket to Beijing.

I reported from China from February 2008 until September 2008. During this time I produced 3 video reports per month and posted regularly on my “Beijing Diary” blog which appeared on the Nana10 website. I was still using my small semi professorial video camera, but did buy a better quality microphone to make sure my interviews come out clean.

When I look back at some of my reports from China, I am embarrassed and proud. In some of the video reports I look ridicules and unprofessional when doing my stand-ups. But some of the videos showed really interesting angles on Chinese society and Chinese people and I got several replies from people thanking me for providing material which is usually not available for the Israeli media consumers. One of my reports was picked up by Israeli TV channel 10. It was a video report about Chinese university students preparing to be Olympic volunteers.

Once I got back to Israel I was back to being an independent journalist. I started making reports for VJM – a non profit organization (based in Amsterdam) whose goal is to promote magazine style video reports from different parts of the world. I suggest story ideas to VJM, and once an idea is approved I produce the video report from start to finish. I like working this way because I work only on stories/topics that are interesting to me. I do all the stages of production: researching, investigating, coordinating, scripting, interviewing, filming, editing, narrating, and translating. I do learn a lot for the guidance of the VJM editors who view early versions of my reports and give me feedback on my work.

The most recent step in my development as a journalist came one year ago (March 2010) when I started blogging for the Huffington Post. It is very important for me to regularly write articles/posts, and not only do video. Practice makes perfect and from my experience the more I do something the better I become at it. While for VJM my reports are only video, Huff Post serves as the stage for my text along side my videos. In the Huff Post blog I embed the video reports I make for VJM and add next to it a text which compliments that video and add  more information or interesting angles that were not presented in the video report.

LHG: What would you say is the most memorable project you’ve worked on to date?

YB: The most memorable project for me is a multi-format report (text, video, photos) I prepared about a renewable energy project initiated by an Israeli NGO in villages of Palestinian peasants in the West Bank.

For this report I spent three days in South Mount Hebron documenting the construction of solar panels and a wind turbine in a small village. Living in Israel, I rarely have any communication with West Bank Palestinians. I enjoyed working on this report because it gave me the chance to communicate with Palestinians my age and older, and learn about their lives and thoughts. It also taught me a lot about the reality in the West Bank, as I experienced first hand the friction between Israeli soldiers and local Palestinians.

LHG: You produced a piece about the Israel Defense Forces’ new media unit last year. If the internet is increasingly a mouthpiece for the interests of international states, what are the main difficulties facing an independent online journalist?

YB: The internet serves as a mouthpiece for states, and also for organizations and people. I try to keep in mind that there is always an agenda behind information spread online. The difficulty I face is to comprehend and make order of the endless stream of information which at times includes tweets/posts/reports that contradict each other.

Yermi Brenner’s steps to becoming an independent multimedia journalist:

  • Teach my self multi-format journalism. I started out doing only text, but then bought video camera and editing software and slowly learned how to use them efficiently.
  • Create a blog to post my stories. This way the stories have a stage even if they are not bought by a media.
  • Work for very low pay in the beginning in order to gain experience and recognition.
  • Offer material that is attractive to news outlets reports (for example video reports from other countries).
  • Constantly pitch story ideas to news organizations, even if 90% of the times I don’t even get a reply.
  • Make stories all the time, even if they are not commissioned. That is the most important thing in my opinion.

Laura Heighton-Ginns

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