Let’s get this right out of the way: Jake Gyllenhaal’s character in the new movie, Nightcrawler”, is not a news reporter or for that matter, even a news photographer. He’s a stringer. A stringer is not an employee of any TV station but rather a freelance photographer who attempts to make money by capturing footage of an accident or crime scene at times when TV station staffing is light (overnight).
This is a tough, tough way to make money. Many TV stations don’t pay stringers, and those who do don’t pay much. Usually anywhere from $50 to $200 hundred dollars, based on the exclusivity and high profile nature of the crime or accident. Those interested in doing stringer work need a good smart phone with a police and fire scanner app and lots of energy. That’s because you will be working overnight every night, especially at weekends, when crimes and accidents are more frequent. You will also need a broadcast quality HD video camera, mic, on-board light, and probably a laptop, so you are able to upload footage quickly and transfer files to a thumb drive or other means for the station. These necessary stringer tools will set you back several thousand dollars by the time you are done.
Here in Phoenix, the sixth largest city in the U-S, the stringer market is light to say the least. There just aren’t many people who do it, because it is so difficult to earn a living and the business is so unpredictable. If you really want to be a “nightcrawler” try LA, San Francisco, Chicago, New York or Boston.
But please don’t refer to stringers as reporters or new photographers. It’s something else entirely.