One of the classes I will be speaking to at the University of Iowa today is a “Global Images” course. I will be discussing changes in visual journalism in the digital age. Some of the differences I wanted to address are the necessities of multitasking, online promotion and entrepreneurship.
Jonah is a designer and photojournalist who fits perfectly in the Global Images course. In the past year or two, he has worked in Algeria and China, and has produced stunning images from both countries. Carmen is a freelance journalist struggling to make a living with writing and photography in the South. Her Fearless Journalist blog about her travels and struggles is one of the most compelling personal chronicles about journalism that I have seen.
As a good blogger does, Carmen answered my questions with a blog post that I will let speak mostly for itself. She offers lots of practical career advice for photojournalists, like this nugget:
Learn to like numbers. There’s a tendency among freethinkers to eschew all things that smack of corporate ennui. But here’s the thing: Those boring spreadsheet columns ARE freedom. Take as many business classes as you can, even though they’re not required.
Jonah answered in an email, which he gave me permission to post here. It follows in full, lightly edited, with my questions in bold:
First, a general description of how I am navigating the visual business world today. I have two Web sites — a blog and a more commercial style showcase site (formerly kesselimaging.com, now merged into jonahkessel.com for SEO purposes).
My heart is in editorial photography and multimedia storytelling. However, to get by financially as well as stay employed as a staffer (and having benefits) my work spans an enormous range of visual fields including wedding photography, commercial food photography, videography for television and private businesses, Web and print design as well as commercial advertising including billboards or product photography. Last year I redesigned three newspapers including the China Daily (The National English Language Newspaper of the People’s Republic of China), La Voix de L’Oranie (a French daily tabloid in Algeria), and Sawt Al Gharb (an Arabic daily newspaper in Algeria). Previous to this I had designed and redesigned tabloids, broadsheets and magazines in the US.
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What sort of traffic do you get from the site?
The following stats are not counting bots. Over the past 6-months my blog received over 5,000 unique visits with an average user visiting 7.63 pages. The average user spent 6:05 on the site. The commercial site received over 7,000 unique visits in the same time period. Some of these stats are a little deceiving because of Flash. One page might have 50 images on it, but the analytics will only count 1 click with the user only visiting 1 html page.
Of this traffic, 46.79 percent came from direct traffic, 43.71 percent came from referring sites and the remaining 10 percent came from search engines.
From the 43.71 percent of traffic coming from referring sites, 15 percent came from Twitter, 15 percent came from Facebook and another 15 percent came from other social media aggregators such as ShareThis, hootsuite, visualeditors.org, etc.
Does it generate freelance business for you, or do you sell any pictures from the site? Or is it mostly a place to showcase your portfolio for prospective employers?
Both the sites generate freelance business as well as help sell prints and licenses. Print sales are minimum; however, there is no effort involved in the print side – I’ve been using free automated services that print and ship. On an average month I’ll take in $100 with prints – on a good month $500.
The big goal is to sell licenses to use photos. One license, depending if it’s an editorial use or a commercial use, generates anywhere between $50 to $800. When I have images which I feel will be useful to an individual person or company I setup direct URLs for potential customers and send them links like : http://www.kesselimaging.com/stevebuttry.
I then monitor these pages individually to gage how much interest the potential buyer has in the images – or if they even look at all. Once that link is hit, and I haven’t given the link to anyone else I can track the visiting IP address to confirm if its who I’m trying to sell images to. If I then see 10 IP addresses on the images with 300 hits, I have a heads up on them that they are interested and can gauge a price. I’ve sold images to an enormous variety of people like this from commercial airliners to political parties to restaurants.
I also use this method for weddings. Before I left the US, about 15 percent of my income was coming from wedding parties. These days I’m busy enough I don’t have to do this anymore, but for years of being paid poorly in the US, this was a pretty helpful tool to gaining extra income to buy gear.
I also track IP addresses for potential employers. I’ll send links to interactive resumes, or even PDF resumes and can watch if potential employers click on them. Especially after college trying to get jobs, and applying to hundreds, I found that at least 75% of job offers never even looked.
Now, I rely heavily on my sites for potential employers. I believe it would almost be impossible to get a job in today’s market without having some type of Web presence for employers to see. The days of sending out photo books and portfolios are long gone – either people already know who you are and or you have to sell yourself online. In the past when I have been applying for jobs, I have designed entire Web sites specifically directed at a single potential employer that may include flash animation, html, video and photos.
Any insight you have on photojournalism today? Your observations on photojournalism and consumption of photography from your
Well – that’s a broad question – here’s a couple thoughts:
ON GLOBAL MEDIA: On a global scale, we don’t all share the same definition of what the media is, or what its supposed to do. The role of journalism in China is very different to the role it has in Malaysia, Madagascar or the US. It’s completely normal for a journalist in Africa to only write articles when they are paid to do it directly from a source. It’s also normal for that same journalist to sell the story to three different newspapers with three different bylines. The openness of the media in Germany might make the US media look mild hitting at points. I’ve seen articles be translated 4 times before it goes to press. More than words can be lost in translation.
This can complicate global communication and create a lot of misunderstanding when a journalist reports from one society back to another often implementing their values onto another set of cultural beliefs.
As the globalization of mass media increases, I see more commonalities in the look of the media we consume. However, a wolf in sheep’s clothing is still a wolf. There are very deep-rooted cultures behind the media we consume.
ON GLOBAL PHOTOGRAPHY: Although photography is highly subjective in nature, I used to believe we could all agree on “what a good picture was,” although we might disagree on “which the best picture was.” Working internationally I believe that thought isn’t so true. Our inherent cultural understanding of society which is heavily influenced by the environment which you grew up in makes this subjective nature even more subjective.
When I got to Algeria, newspapers would blur out almost all faces appearing in a photograph. When I asked “why?” I might get a response like “we think it looks better” or “we don’t wan’t to upset anyone.” There were no legal requirements to do this, but everyone was doing it. After months of discussions on what the public benefit might be to showing faces, we began showing them. After one newspaper did it, other newspapers started to follow. Often with 3rd world developmental journalism you try to make change on a micro level with the hope of others following suite to foster change on the greater media environment.
Family values in China are so strong — if you show a Chinese photo editor two photos, one with children in it and one without — they’ll choose the photo with kids in it the vast majority of the time. The value of representing youth here is so high it out weighs the visual importance of the other image.
A have lots of little examples of different tendencies in global visual communications. When someone dies, its very normal to use a black screen behind the copy. It would be extremely offensive to make a tight crop on a Chinese politician – yet, we would have no problem cropping Obama’s eyes out and using it 7-columns wide on a broadsheet (that would get you fired here if you did that with Hu). Insetting a person’s mug shot into a dark photo would imply that that person was dead in Asia (which is ok with me because I hate insetting photos). On a day of mourning, a newspaper in Asia might only print in black in white.
ON PHOTOJOURNALISM TODAY: Today’s world of photojournalism is fiercely competitive. I believe in today’s media environment a photographer needs a solid understanding in HTML as well as sound engineering, video shooting and editing and the ability to wield social media’s power in making content viral … and of course, just because you create images doesn’t mean you don’t need to know AP style and be able to write stories and cutlines. The rapidly growing mobile industry also means we have to think about many platforms. My new commercial site has different entrances for Flash users, HTML users, blind Internet users, mobile, iPhone and iPad users. If your not visible on a mobile device, your not visible enough.
Attitude may however be the most important thing. With converging media, you need to be able to work cross platform happily — I don’t know too many photographers that only shoot still pictures. You need to be able to collaborating with citizen journalist and other staffers – rather than compete with them. This isn’t an easy task. Having a positive attitude really helps with the challenges we face.