In recent weeks, Black Star Rising has interviewed photojournalists, editors, teachers and students on the subject of video — specifically, the steps newspapers and their photographers are taking to transition to a future in which video will play an increasing role. This is the first of two reports on what we’ve learned.
Whereas once newspapers tried to ignore or downplay the impact of the Web, they are now diving into online media as if it were a lifeboat — the last great hope for their brands. Focusing on page views, length of stay, and which stories are e-mailed the most has become the new obsession for newspaper execs who would rather not think about falling subscriber totals and advertising revenues.
Everybody — even media execs — knows that video is where the Web is going. It already drives the length-of-stay metric, and its impact will continue to grow as bandwidth becomes more plentiful.
This puts the staff photographer in a position of power, theoretically. It is photographers, after all, who must lead the charge if newspapers are to succeed with video.
In reality, many photographers feel frustrated and vulnerable. Working in newsrooms where budgets are tight and training minimal, being handed a new set of responsibilities and expectations is not necessarily a morale-booster.
The Sequence, Not the Special Moment, Tells the Story
The transition to video isn’t the first technology-driven shift for photographers in recent years. Before mastering video became an imperative, photojournalists had to come out of the dark room to learn digital photography.
Richard Pruitt, a photographer for 39 years, says that going from stills to video is the more difficult transition of the two.
“Going from film to digital, you are using about the same type of camera, lenses
and the way you shoot is about the same,” says Pruitt, who recently began shooting video for DallasNews.com, the Web site of The Dallas Morning News. “You are looking for special moments that tell the story.
“When shooting video, you are looking for sequence to tell a story.”
Michael Ainsworth, a fellow photographer-turned-videographer at DallasNews.com, agrees. He thinks the transition has been a bigger adjustment because more time is required to produce a quality product.
“It is a different medium and requires a totally different work flow,” he says.
He adds: “I kind of feel like a swimmer in the ocean. I have to swim with the current or else I will drown.”
Education by Trial and Error
Since video is so different from photography, and because it is deemed so important to the future, you might assume that most newspapers have adopted formal training programs for their would-be videographers.
You’d be wrong.
“Most papers are doing this as a way to make more money in tight times and are asking their entire staffs to produce just to get Web hits,” says Heather Hughes, a photographer for The Daily Press in Virginia.
“I will be more in favor of the transition when, hopefully, papers realize the value of good video journalism and start to allocate the time, resources, and training to do it right.”
Training for photojournalists in video varies from newspaper to newspaper — but at many papers, it’s been spotty at best. Most photographers say sufficient training and the time to learn are seldom provided.
While some newspapers send their staffers to attend industry conferences, and others offer in-house courses, many staffers say they mostly learn through trial-and-error on the job.
Even though The Daily Press has a professional videographer on staff, for example, formal cross-training classes have yet to materialize. Staff photographers making the transition to video are given editing software to learn and use; the rest is up to them.
The Dallas Morning News — considered one of the newspaper industry’s leaders in the transition to video — does provides a formal training course. The course, however, has received mixed reviews from those attending. Pruitt recommends additional training, such as the NPPA workshop held annually at the University of Oklahoma in Norman.
“A very limited number of Morning News photographers have been able to get outside training such as myself,” Pruitt says. “I attended the NPPA News Video Workshop and a Final Cut Pro editing class at the expense of the newspaper.”
The dearth of training appears to extend throughout the photojournalist supply chain. Aspiring photographers say they aren’t learning much about video in college classrooms, either.
Carter Rose, a photojournalism student at the University of North Texas, says his professors “aren’t bringing up the need for video. The programs seem to be ignoring it.”
Rose has moved to learn video on his own, however — something that many other photography students are doing as well.
David Weintraub, a Black Star Rising columnist who teaches photovisual communications at the University of South Carolina, says, “We don’t have to worry about getting too far ahead of our students, because they are probably much more flexible and adaptable than we are.”
Quick Web Hits at the Expense of Storytelling
Not all photographers are excited about the video future. If they had wanted to be videographers, some say, they would not have become photographers in the first place.
And they are concerned that newspapers are sacrificing quality storytelling in their rush to focus on video. Hughes, of The Daily Press, says the transition has the feel of a knee-jerk reaction.
“I think we are getting distracted with Flash, slides and sounds, and the bells and whistles of the Internet, and it is getting in the way of capturing moments and doing our jobs as photojournalists,” she says.
“And we all know what precipitated this shift; looking back, it was a long time coming. The Web is the driving force. Most editors want Web hits and hold their staffers responsible for producing content as quickly as possible to get hits.”
Still, Hughes believes there is little option but to adapt.
“We are told again and again that hits equal money because of the ads put at the beginning of our videos, and while advertisers are still paying less for online ads than a print ad, newspapers are convinced that this will generate the needed income to save newspapers.”
Will Newspapers Listen to Their Photographers?
In theory, newspapers should value their staff photographers today more than ever — because they need their photographers to shoot compelling video to drive Web traffic. Unfortunately, training and support across the board often appears to be an afterthought.
Let’s hope that news organizations will listen to what their photographers are saying, and will provide them the tools and resources they need to prosper in this new medium.
[tags]photojournalism, videography, newspapers, photographer training[/tags]