Some experienced print photographers are too dismissive of video and multimedia opportunities, a veteran visual journalist told me in an email.
The journalist messaged me privately after my post last week about the Chicago Sun-Times firing its whole photo staff. I asked the journalist if I could use the email in a blog post. We agreed I would use it but not identify the sender, who did not want to offend colleagues (so I have edited lightly to take out identifying information):
As a former staff photographer now working mostly in video, I surely empathize with the staffers who were let go, I also understand, but don’t agree with the business model that’s playing out at the Sun-Times.
While I agree that photojournalists are in fact the best-equipped members on staff to assume a visual leadership role for video, I’ve also witnessed first-hand a reluctance by newspaper staff photographers to take ownership of all things video.
Too often I’ve heard videographers referred to as camera pointers by still photographers. I’ve witnessed staff photographers operate with reckless abandon as reporter/videographers try and record natural sound or a quality A-roll interview. Until photographers develop a full respect for the medium, they can never assume the leadership role that many feel entitled to.
Photographers shouldn’t just assume they are the best-equipped to carry the torch, that torch has to be earned. Fact is, there’s much more involved to producing quality video than just best photography practices. Often, reporters are better equipped for conducting the subject interviews and are also better at identifying the storyline and doing on-camera stand-ups.
My advice to photographers would be not to act entitled but rather respect and embrace the changes that are happening in our industry. The role of a – visual journalist is to work seamlessly as a functioning member of The Team, not a lone wolf or fly on the wall whose sole mission is to get the shot for A1 or post a random photo gallery.
Instead of asking what time should I arrive on scene to get the best photograph, visual journalists should be acting as integral part of the entire story process. Does the story warrant a reporter stand-up? What kind of mic approach is necessary? Got proper exposure and white balance? It may be easy to color-correct a single still image but not so much an entire video.
Is the story going to be driven by natural sound, a character, reporter, or a combination of all three. What’s the best way to keep the story moving visually? What’s the beginning, middle, and end. Reverse storytelling? Is a slideshow the best way to capture the story?
I think a major change is needed in our approach to visuals. I believe video should be the main responsibility of photographers when possible. While I understand the necessity of having reporters shoot a lot of their own videos, I believe today’s technology provides photographers with the ability to do both under most circumstances. For example, I regularly use frame grabs from video out of a high-quality progressive scan HD DSLR Canon camera to run as still photos in the paper.
As a visual journalist who’s endured over 20 years of constant change, I regularly think video first and still photos second, often through frame grabs. In my opinion, this is undoubtedly the direction things are headed. A team approach is definitely the best approach!
I appreciate the input from someone who clearly understands both the value of visual content and the urgency of change. I don’t know whether resistance to change or a failure to change fast enough contributed to the decision at the Sun-Times. But I think every journalist, whether specializing in words or images, needs to work on building new skills. We all need to be constantly expanding and proving our value.