This week, I will be visiting various institutions, organizations, and publications around Manhattan to learn about their role in the world of photojournalism. This is an exciting opportunity for my peers and myself to network and get an idea for different career paths.
Our day started with a visit with Brian Storm, Founder and Executive Producer of MediaStorm, in downtown Brooklyn. This visit was very exciting as Brian’s enthusiasm to shake up the status quo in the media world was contagious. MediaStorm has a current staff of 17 people, has existed in its current state for less than ten years, and is direct competition with the massive media conglomerates that held control of the industry in the 20th century. Brian encouraged all of us to start our own businesses and do journalism that is meaningful, sharing his business model with us and claiming that, with his model, there is more than enough work to go around. The size of MediaStorm would not have been achievable in the past because of technology. But, since the company has taken advantage of a rapidly changing world, they are able to create content that matters eliminating all the bureaucracy, politics, and institutional complexities that exist for large media corporations. A Long Night, MediaStorm’s new 72 min film about teen runaways struggling with prostitution in Seattle, is stuck in limbo because of it’s length. Brian wants it to reach a larger audience, but is frustrated with the bureaucracy and slow process of working with big names to get it to the television audience.
In this rapidly changing world, Brian emphasizes the importance to diversify revenue sources. MediaStorm produces publication videos and interactives that have important moving content and display stunning cinematography. But, they also create revenue through client-funded work, having a software platform that generates income and maintains independence from outlets like YouTube and Vimeo, and have an online training program. Brian says that under-promising and over-performing on every job will keep clients returning. While MediaStorm has developed a revolutionary business model, it was apparent from our visit that Brian’s passion for beautiful, important, and emotionally compelling journalism is at the root of their growth. The company is purpose driven, not profit driven, and we were encouraged to always look ways to improve our story telling. Even if a piece won an award, it can always be made better. It will be exciting to see how this company continues to grow and how similar small companies will start to pop-up, quite possibly one started by myself or my peers at RIT.
Starting off the day on this very exciting perspective was refreshing. The MediaStorm philosophy of low volume, high quality, is working and making a dent in the industry. If this philosophy can replace its opposite, we can make organize the chaos of our media-filled planet into content that makes a difference and inspires. Brian encouraged us not to waist our time starting from the bottom and trying to fight our way up. He believes that we can start doing what we want, right out of school, under one condition: We need to collaborate. He emphasized the importance to be honest about your skills and where they are lacking. Finding a group of people that have complementary skills and are willing to be a team is vital to this new business model.
Visiting the New York Times, James Estrin shared his experience watching the evolution of photojournalism. Advice that resonated with me is that good photography is not about the product, but the process. Estrin expressed to us the importance of knowing why we photograph, and photographing a lot. If our motives are right, and we work on our craft, the pictures will follow. He also shared with us the few themes that make a photographer stickout to him. Employable photojournalists are hard workers, good story tellers, problem solvers, and reliable. An emphasis was also placed an making photographs that make us feel something. In our media-saturated world, the photographs that make a emotional impact will be the only ones remembered. We also talked with Leslye Davis, a recent WKU grad, working at the NY Times full-time on multimedia. It was clear that she possessed the hard work and dedication the Estrin cited. Her presence and involvement also showed us that young people are getting hired in this industry.
Estrin was the man who crafted Lens Blog and has helped make photographers the center of the conversation about photography, which either had been lost for decades. Since Lens has started, virtually every news publication in the world has followed. Estrin embraces the endless flow photos across the internet. It has never been easier to have our work seen. But, because there is so much to sift through, the work itself will not get us a job. We need to be someone that people enjoy working with and make that obvious.
We ended the day with a lengthy stop at Reuters filled with a diverse group of photographers and photo editors. Adrees Latif, Editor in Charge for the United States, shared his raw take from a day commuting to work and a day jumping out of a helicopter. The act of looking at this digital contact sheet reeinfoced what we learned earlier at The Time’s, that photography is about the process. Mitch Koppelman, Vice President of Broadcast Services for the Americas and RIT alum, also gave us a warm welcome and shared his career path with us. We heard talks from two Reuters freelance photographers. Alan Chin, showed us work from early Taliban years, work from the disaster that was the Hurricane Katrina response, and a long-term personal project on his family’s hometown in China. and Lucas Jackson, who showed that persistent young photographers can do well if they work hard and tackle opportunities.
Stephen Mayes, New York Head of VII Photo Agency, shared with us on the current and exciting evolution of visual storytelling. Mayes encouraged us to experiment, remain adaptable and to capitalize on the power of social media. Frank Fournier, who has worked for himself for almost the entirety of his photographic career shared the importance of passion in every story, the pursuit of self-understanding, and the value in patience. Fournier has done a large amount of work on HIV/AIDS or “the virus” as it was referred to in the 80s. Fournier emphasized that the stories we do are much more complex than we will first see, and that working at a pace that allows sensitivity, empathy, and understanding about the complex realities that people are in is important. Fournier also said that being “successful” will come and go, but to always be working. We will never know when our photography and our stories will be vitally important down the road. Fournier told us that the most important thing is to remember what we feel. Reoccurring themes today were the need to collaborate, the importance of using or at least considering all the available tools to tell stories (not just the still photograph), to be hard working and flexible, and to genuinely care about the work we do. Going back to nearly everything we learned to today, being open to our gut and our emotional connection to the story and it’s importance will drive work that effects others in the same way.