The Digital Journalist

The Platypus That Ate Hamburg
Media Convergence and the death of print may
give birth to a new breed of visual journalist.
by Tracy Baker

Back in the early '70s at a seminar sponsored by the National Press Photographers' Association (NPPA), the National Geographic showed off a brand-new light-gathering video that operated from the light reflected by a slide projection screen and the speaker predicted a day when we would be sent out with cameras liked that, electronically linked to editor at a terminal back in the office who would direct us through our coverage, punching out whatever images he wanted on his desk screen.

Back then that was something to snicker - nervously -- about.  In these days of whirlwind change, of computers, digital cameras, instant cell-phone communication, Palm Pilots and the Internet, it's not so funny anymore . . .

 BIG CHANGES AND BUZZWORDS

 One of the biggest forces of change has been the advent of digital technology in its full width and breadth - in computing, communication, photography, television, information transmission and in publishing.  Digitalization has changed how we gather, process, present and communication information, including the information that has traditionally been the daily fare of journalists and photojournalists (PJs).

Other forces have been at work over the last thirty years, too -especially in the last decade.  The news business isn't what it used to be just a few short years ago and photojournalists have been among the hardest hit by the changes.

Huge, sometimes multi-national corporations snapped up one publishing house after another, taking the reins of control from journalists and giving them to bottom-line accountants, bean-counters and MBAs.  World-wide, companies, including newspapers and magazines, have done their best to slash costs, trim expenses to the bone, to maximize their profits, profits that were already high despite spiraling paper, production and distribution costs.

All the while, readership numbers and circulations have been shrinking, a trend that. combined with the drive for maximum profits, has, all too often, had fatal results for papers and magazines .  The trend has been especially noticeable in the United States, where the mournful roll call of dead papers and magazines goes on and on, more than a two hundred gone in a decade, not counting the demise of Life magazine and United Press International, one of the two great American wire services.  The readership crisis hasn't hit Europe as dramatically - yet - but again in 1999, German papers reported yet another drop in circulation.

To fight those trends - and probably also driven by a gut-level instinct to go for the very bottom line in expenses - the new business-school masters of the newsroom have tried everything they could to save money, not infrequently at the expense of quality. They've laid photographers off, slashed staff jobs, even tried outsourcing, relying on independent contractors instead of staffers for their pictures, their words and in some cases even their editing.  Free-lance rates have either stagnated or been cut and the big magazines and newspapers have tried increasingly high-handed rights-grabs for copyright, republications, syndication and CD and Web usage.  But trying to cut production costs art newspapers and magazines still proved to be a hard nut to crack.

For the bean-counters, the new digital technology couldn't have come at a better time - and maybe for photojournalists too.  Far beyond saving deadline time and production costs, say some world-famous photojournalists, the dawning era of digitalization will mark a paradigm shift in gathering and communicating information and will usher in what they predict will be a new "golden age of visual storytelling."

As so often happens when something new explodes on the scene, new buzzwords, words like digitalization, arrive r with it - and often, by the time those buzzwords earn widespread currency, they've also become yesterday's news.  On the cutting edge of photojournalism, for instance, media convergence is quickly replacing digitalization as the hot topic.  That convergence, those photojournalists say, is the key to the changes they foresee.

MEDIA CONVERGENCE AND DEATH OF PRINT

Media convergence is the phenomenon we now see emerging, on the Internet, the World Wide Web and (especially in the United States with its dozens  or hundreds of special-interest channels) on cable television, still looking for its -at least temporarily - final form.  As developing digital technology enables broadband digital communication on the Internet, that will spur further convergence. Elements of traditional print media and television will fuse with elements from the text-driven Internet and the graphically driven Web, say experts.

As the media fuse at ever-faster speeds, the question that so many photojournalists have been asking for at least the last two decades - is photojournalism dead - seems more and more pointless. The big question now, say some, is how long it will take for the print media in general to die off, taking with it traditional photojournalism and the staff jobs that so many photojournalists have enjoyed or striven for up to now.

The answer, according to many newspaper and magazine editors and managers, technical consultants and digital gurus, is 'faster than you think.'

Time Magazine editor Dan Okrent is one of those gurus.  Okrent's no cyber-eyed young techie, but he should know what he's talking about.  Despite having served as Time Inc.'s editor of new media from 1996 to 1999, he's a self-described print man from way back, a stereotypical ink-stained wretch who started his journalism career working on one of the United State's most prestigious student newspapers, The Michigan Daily, while majoring in journalism at the University of Michigan in the '60s.  After nine years as a New York book editor and several more as an author, he spent 14 years as a magazine editor before taking over Time's new media operations.  In late 1999 he returned to work as a word editor in Time's print operation.

"The old media mean a lot to me," Okrent said recently in lecture (to students at Columbia University.  "I believe they are, after food, clothing and shelter, and after our family relationships and our friendships, the most important things in our lives.  And I believe one more thing: I believe they and all forms of print, are dead. Finished. Over."

"Twenty, thirty, at the outside forty years from now, we'll look back on the print media the way we now look back on travel by horse and carriage," says Okrent, supporting his predictions with two arguments - the same inexorable march of technology that put an end to saddlers and blacksmiths and the financial imperative facing publishers.

That future, or a close variant, may come even faster.  At least one Japanese computer electronics company already has a semi-flexible, centimeter-thick, glare-free tablet about the size of an open magazine in the works, able to connect to the Internet - an Internet that will soon be capable of high-speed, broadband, real-time delivery of words, pictures sound and moving images - via cellular phone or over cable modems that deliver streams of broadband transmissions at speeds hundreds of times faster than today's ISDN lines..  Research on a still more advanced version of the tablet, he says, a tablet that feels like paper and can be crumpled up to fit in a pocket, is also under way.  At Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Joseph Jacobson, assistant professor of media arts and sciences, and his colleagues have already devised what they call electronic ink, a layer of digitally changeable molecules that sit atop a a paper-like surface called, not surprisingly, electronic paper and can arrange themselves into paragraphs and photographs  - and ultimately, moving pictures.

As for the financial imperative, Okrent cites the billion dollars that Time Magazine alone spent on paper and postage in 1998.  To avoid having to shell out money like that, says Okrent,, major publishers will hand out their receivers free or almost free as soon as the technology is rife, much like subsidized cellular phones are available for a few cents today for people who sign a two-year cell-service contract.

WAITING FOR THE OPPORTUNITY

The publishers themselves are ready and waiting for the opportunity, in Europe as well as in America.  One of Germany's most prominent national newspapers, "Die Welt," prides itself on its "modernity," says its chief editor, Mathias DíÄùpfner, including its open attitude toward the new media.  DíÄùrpfner says he's excited by the prospect of practicing journalism in a world where "Print and On-Line fully  blend together".  "Those are scenarios, with which we make ourselves realistically distinct from one another," he said in a recent interview, adding "I am ready and willing to make a newspaper, which is not printed on paper - with the greatest of pleasure."

Even publications with a less clear-cut vision of the dawning future know something is happening out there and they're doing their best to get ready for what's coming, whatever it is.  The number of publications around the world running their own World Wide Web sites, often richly illustrated with still pictures and often with video clips, has skyrocketed.  Some, like Oslo's Aftenposten, have begun producing video pieces especially for their website, pulling a staff photographer with video training out of the daily schedule for a month at a time to produce the pieces.  Others papers, like the Orlando, Florida, Sentinel, have bought into cable news stations in addition to running their own Web sites.  The Sentinel's photojournalists produce both stills and video for a story when needed, but traditional print photojournalism still gets first priority when a choice has to be made.

At the same time that these changes have jarred the traditional print industry, the broadcasting world has been facing its own crisis of change. A little more than a year ago, two TV pros weighed in with observations on what is going on in broadcasting. One is Steve Nelson, former engineering supervisor at CBS in Washington and now senior systems engineer at Telecast Fiber Systems, designing fiber optic systems for broadcasters at major events. Telecast is heavily involved in digital and HDTV systems. The second is Wayne Wicks, former special events engineering supervisor for ABC and later CBS.  Now national production projects coordinator for TCI, the second largest cable provider in the United States, running more than 20 cable networks from its seven studios and 37 control rooms in Littleton, Colorado.  They say the days of broadcast journalism as we have known it are over. Television networks in the US have been hit by the same imperatives that have driven downsizing in the print media: shrinking budgets, proliferating competition and diminishing viewership.

Cable television, they say, delivered the first blow, luring viewers away from traditional network television to cable.  As the '80s ended in the United States, the three major American networks offered viewers a total of 64,000 hours of viewing annually.  In the '90s, the cable boom hit.  Within a few years, hundreds of cable channels offered more than 2.5 million hours of viewing per year and lured many of the high-paying sports contracts away from mainline television.

That burst the networks' bubble.  Suddenly, news budgets shrank, foreign bureaus disappeared - and the viewers had even less reason to stay loyal to the old networks.  Now studies show that people are spending less time in front of their televisions in general and more time on the World Wide Web.  When broadband digital delivery systems are the norm and real-time streaming video is the norm, the computer (or whatever replaces it as a receiver for digital information) will take over from today's television sets, say the two experts.

At that point, convergence will have become reality and the converged media in that new, 500-channel world will have a voracious appetite for video - news, feature, sports and documentary.

More and more cable television and Internet service providers are offering services like those right now in the United States. Media multinationals like Microsoft or AOL - which just swallowed up the American publishing giant Time Warner, Inc. - have already started trying to gain or expand their footholds in Germany's cable market, and when they do, the changes that have already started in North America will hurdle the Atlantic and land with both feet in the Old World. That will probably happen sooner rather than later. At the same time, digital technology hit the video world just as it hit the still world - suddenly, a visually literate journalist could use a $5,000 digital video camera to shoot tape and record sound that looked even better than the network standard material produced by $60,000 Betacams.  Using a laptop and a software program to edit the take, that same solo visual journalist could produce what might have cost a television station's crew several hundreds of thousands of dollars for about $10,000.

WHAT IT IS AIN'T EXACTLY CLEAR

What does all this mean for today's photojournalists? Certainly it means big changes coming fast! More than a few of those photographers fear they're living out the last days of photojournalism, a fear that Time-Warner Inc.'s recent decision to close Life Magazine does nothing to allay. Others, though, have begun thinking that the broadband, digital world of cable, satellite and World Wide Web would soon hunger for exactly the kind of single, personal vision and individual storytelling and reportage that they had always produced - if they could just keep up with the dizzying pace of evolution.

To do that, almost certainly, they'll have to start getting very friendly with DV camcorders very soon, and get used to carrying a double load of equipment on at least some assignments. And they'll have to start making the choice of when they put the still camera down, sacrificing whatever pictures they might have made with it, so they can go to work with the camcorder instead, just like the bad old days when they had to carry one body with black and white film and another with color film and hope the decisive moment would happen twice so they could get it on both emulsions.

Given the speed of technological development, the two-rig stage probably won't last too long. In fact, a representative of one of the two major Japanese pro camera makers recently said his company has a new professional body in the works, scheduled for release in two or three years. That camera, he said, will probably be the last pro still camera the company ever makes. After that, he said, the quality of pictures made with the "still photo" feature on camcorders will be good enough to meet reproduction standards - and that will put an end to carrying double loads of equipment. 

The idea of a wide-spread, basic shift to video, though, seems inevitable. "Because newspapers are seeking ways to make their web sites interesting," says Vin Alabiso, the Associated Press's executive director of photography, "newspapers are going to be looking for video from their photographers." But if broadband delivery, streaming video and Okrent's near-future visions of foldable, pocketable, paper-like receiver-tablets combine, which they almost certainly will in one form or another, newspapers and wire services like Alabiso's own AP will need a steady supply of good video not just for their web sites, which they still all too often treat like poor stepchildren, but also for their flagship products too - for their daily papers and their main news wires. In fact, if Okrent and other electronics, computer and new media gurus are right, computer terminals, Web television, electronic paper tablets and other new technologies under development will depose printed editions from their thrones relatively soon - more bad news on the doorstep for still photojournalists. 

Or is it?

American photojournalist Dirck Halstead shares the view that photojournalism is dead - and that doesn't bother him very much at all. In fact, he's downright upbeat, excited about what he sees as the dawning future for what he calls "visual storytellers."

LOOK ON THE BRIGHT SIDE

"If you had asked me three years ago about the outlook for out profession, I would have been pretty glum," Halstead wrote recently, "[but] today I think we stand on the threshold of movements that will allow us to take this medium into new and wonderful dimensions . . . We are only beginning to comprehend the implications [of the digital revolution, broadband delivery, the World Wide Web and the convergence of media] for visual journalists or visual storytellers. Empowerment is at hand and it will allow the photojournalist to transcend the current marketplace, whether it is in newspapers, magazines or even television networks."

Pretty optimistic talk for a guy who says in his lectures that photojournalism as we know it is dying if not dead. But Halstead's been around the business long enough, and in high-enough places, that he should know whereof he speaks.

Halstead is Time Magazine's Senior White House Photographer. With a record 48 Time covers to his credit, more than any other photographer, he is responsible for directing Time's visual coverage of the Clinton White House. He began his career working as a photographer for United Press International, where worked in Dallas, Philadelphia, New York, Washington before becoming UPI's first photo bureau chief in Saigon in 1965 during the early days of American involvement in the Vietnam war.

Returning to the United States in 1966, he was named UPI's first roving staff photographer, covering stories around the world. In 1972 he left UPI and accepted a contract from Time Magazine to cover the White House. In 1975, he won the the Overseas Press Club's Robert Capa Gold Medal by the Overseas Press Club for his coverage of the fall of Saigon. He's a five-time winner of the White House News Photographers Association contest. His other major awards include the NPPA's Pictures Of The Year contest, and the Front Page Award of the American Newspaper Guild.

When he says that photojournalism as we know it is dead, Halstead stresses the phrase "as we know it." "When I speak of photojournalism being dead, I am talking only about the concept of capturing a single image on a nitrate film plan for publication in mass media," he says. "The days when Life and Look still published weekly editions and photographers might hope to become part of a [profession and business] culture that would allow them to use practically unlimited expense accounts to follow the stories of the day to far-flung regions of the world at the expense of a huge publication that would then help them display their images over page after page of editorial space have passed" But, he predicts, it is just the traditional form that will die, not visual reporting or storytelling itself. "In the near future, visual stories will primarily be told through moving images and sound, both on television, and the web, which will, itself, replace to a large degree printed media."

Halstead has become a leading advocate of making the transition from traditional still photojournalism to multimedia visual journalism. In 1994, he helped found Video News International (VNI) which the New York Times company bought in 1995. VNI trained photojournalists in the then-new High 8 and digital technologies with the aim of revolutionizing television news gathering. 

VNI, after surviving several years of birthing pains, evolved into NYT-TV (New York Times Television) with new staff and new management. Halstead has moved on and since then, in addition to his work as a still photographer for Time Magazine and other clients, he has created interactive on-line sites for such major organizations as Time, Pathfinder and MSNBC. He's also devoted much of his time to combining his still and video work into a new multimedia form that he calls visual journalism, continuing to develop, polish and hone the concept behind the old VNI idea of visual reporting or visual journalism in the new media. 

Visual journalism, says Halstead, is a metier tailor-made for today's photojournalists. "It takes the classic disciplines of the photo essay and recreates them for use in a broadband world," he says. "The only thing new is the ability to use sound and motion." 

SEARCHING FOR THE PLATYPUS

Photojournalists, he says, are used to working alone, developing story ideas, researching on scene, making contacts and developing and pursuing leads - unlike a video cameraman working in a team with a field producer, reporter and sound person. The ability to work alone and inconspicuously, to not intrude on a situation or event as a team might, makes it easier for them to get closer to their subjects. Beyond that, Halstead says his experience in VNI classes which trained several hundred still photojournalists, print and radio reporters in visual journalism proved to him that the traditional photojournalists had an edge on their counterparts from print and radio. "They had EYES," he wrote, "they knew what made pictures and that showed right away."

By mid-1997, Halstead was on his way to becoming one of the movers and shakers in the developing world of visual journalism, lecturing at a number of workshops and seminars in the United States, contributing regularly to the National Press Photographers' Association list and publishing a monthly e-zine called The Digital Journalist. And he'd come up with a punchy nickname for the digitized and computerized, jack-of-all-trades VJs he envisioned today's still photojournalists evolving into. He dubbed them platypuses - Schnabeltiere - in honor of that strange-looking, web-footed, duck-billed, egg-laying Australian mammal (Ornithorhynchus anatinus) that so confused zoologists when British Dr. George Shaw discovered it in 1799 that it seemed to defy classification as mammal, reptile or fowl because it had some characteristics of each class. (Shaw himself, by the way, thinking the dead platypus he had before him was a fraud, took a pair of scissors and tried to cut it apart, expecting to find a duck's bill and feet stitched onto the pelt of some Australian beaver.)

Now Halstead has established himself as one of the internationally recognized moving forces in contemporary visual journalism. His e-zine, The Digital Journalist, complete with its archives, offers more than 1,700 pages of thought-provoking reading including essays and editorials, multimedia stories by photojournalist-platypuses like David Alan Harvey, Gerd Ludwig, Martin Lueders and Magnum's Paul Lowe, Fred Maroon, David Hume Kennerly, Mary Ellen Mark and David and Peter Turnley. Unlike VNI's earlier video journalist concept in which a photojournalist swapped his cameras for a Betacam and morphed into a one-man band producing video-only stories, Halstead, whom some have dubbed the Platypus Father, wants his fledgling platypuses to be able to move back and forth between the media and able to combine both of them, along with sound, in a single production when appropriate. One of those fledglings, Washington Times photographer Roger Richards, a 1999 Platypus Workshop graduate, has created The Digital Filmmaker, a sort of a sister Web publication to Halstead's Digital Journalist. Richards, who met and married his wife while covering Sarajevo for his paper, is currently producing an one-hour Platypus documentary, "Sarajevo Roses," that includes still photography and video along with sound. 

Halstead has also been the moving force behind establishing the Platypus Workshop, a two-week workshop for would-be platypuses that includes participation in the NPPA's Television News Video Workshop at the University of Oklahoma. The second annual Platypus Workshop, which featured instructors like Rolf Behrens, a former Sky News cameraman now an editor based in Washington, D.C., former Life magazine photographer and National Geographic contributor Dick Swanson, and, of course, Halstead himself, ended in March.

Charging $1,200 to participate as one of the 10 shooter-editors, the Platypus Workshop is one of the pricier photojournalism workshops in the United States, but the cost doesn't seem to have stopped the stream of registrations. Thirty established photojournalists signed up for the 1999 workshop, 29 more signed up for the just-ended second annual conference. (Tuition for workshop observers, by the way, drops down to $750.) The list of participants in a special Platypus workshop held on the Apple Computer campus in California in January included a a number of high-profile photojournalists, among them Rick Smolan, creator of the Day in the Life of . . . book series, National Geographic contributing photojournalist Jim Sugar and the Chicago Tribune's Assistant Managing Editor for Graphics, Mark Hinosa. Chris Jackson from Associated Press's London bureau was there too - and made no secret that he wanted to find out for AP how Halstead and his crew train their fledgling platypuses. 

The two most prominent Platypus alumni so far, though, are the Turnley brothers, David and Peter, both of whom took part in the 1999 workshop. After a year of studies at Harvard University on a Nieman Foundation Fellowship in 1997-1998, David resigned his long-time position at the Detroit Free Press and moved to New York. In 1998 he began working in video as well as still photography. He used both media in a documentary shown on CNN entitled The Dalai Lama: At Home in Exile, which was nominated for an Emmy award, American television's equivalent of an Oscar. He has since produced four more pieces that incorporate both his still and his video work shown on ABC's Nightline, one of America's prime television magazines.

Apparently a solid convert to the Platypus concept - though not a fan of the name itself - Turnley convinced STERN Magazine contributing photojournalist Hans-Jurgen Burkhard to sign up for this year's Platypus workshop. Burkhard, had to catch an airlift out of war-torn Chechnya to get to there - "otherwise I will have to wait until next year," he said, "and that is too late."

Turnley has recently hired on at Corbis, serving as the managing director and international executive producer of Corbis Documentaries, a new agency within the company which, he says, plans to provide a haven "for a small team of some of the world's most talented and committed photojournalists and filmmakers to tell documentary stories with a strong visual and social sensibility." As for the Platypus name, he says he prefers the less-whimsical tag "visual journalist." "Photographers have worked to hard to gain respect as journalists," he says, to endanger what they've won by letting themselves be though of as anything else. 

All three of the Platypus workshops held so far have been in the United States. Halstead has yet to bring his traveling Platypus salvation show to Europe, but he says hopes to hold one in Frankfurt am Main later this year.

 . . . CHANGES, COME AND FACE THE CHANGES

The sum of all the digitally-driven changes Halstead foresees in the worlds of mass media and photojournalism - including changes he foresees in the financial models on which Internet commerce and advertising operate - mean "enormous opportunities for journalists and artists to create their own publications and even broadcast outlets on-line," he says. "Whether in text, photography or video-driven journalism, the digital age has proven an extraordinary leveler in cost and opportunity."

One of those changes involves ways of developing reader loyalty. In the world of traditional periodical publishing, developing and maintaining the loyalty of readers to publications they trust and like and that fill their needs has long been one of the highest priorities. That's still true in the new, broadband, digital Web publishing venue, but some techniques for doing it have changed, says Halstead. In the old days, one way publications built that brand loyalty was through beats, scoops and exclusives. No more, says Halstead - the savvy Web publisher of today builds brand loyalty by creating "mindshare" through other Web publications that in turn promote the original "brand" or publication. He calls that technique co-opetition - a mix of co-operation and competition that Germans might call kooperatives Wetteifern or Wettkooperieren. 

When The Digital Journalist got exclusive rights to David Hume Kennerly's photo essay on the ending of Seinfeld, a top-rated American situation comedy, explains Halstead, one of the first things TDJ did was to offer six of the pictures and associated audio to MSNBC on-line gratis. In return, MSNBC agreed to link back to TDJ to see the rest of the story. As a result, on the day that MSNBC ran the six pictures on the front of its "Living" section, hits on TDJ jumped from 1,000 to 18,000 per day. In essence, says Halstead, he leveraged MSNBC's greater following to benefit the TDJ brand. The higher TDJ traffic, he says, means greater interest on the part of TDJ's sponsors which means more cash flow which means TDJ can afford to commission more stories. "On the Web," he says, "you can't think in terms of sequestering your images but rather how you can share those images with other sites to help your numbers." Eventually, Halstead predicts, major media companies recognize that they too can benefit from "mindshare" and will start to "aggregate" websites, picking the best and helping them to find common advertiser dollars.

As for how soon those media companies will stop thinking of Web programming as their poor stepchildren, Halstead says that is already starting to happen. One of the major driving forces in the media world has already gone to work on electronic media leaders in the United States - pressure from advertisers, the people who pay for almost everything, be it in print, Internet, radio or television. At the 1999 convention of the National Association of Broadcasters, says Halstead, "the heads of major U.S. advertising agencies told pained broadcast executives that 'every major client now asks us what we're doing for the web.'"

Currents of similar changes are rippling through Germany's media world as international players try to stake out their own claims to parts of that market. The Bertelsmann Media Group, Microsoft and Rupert Murdoch's News Corporation have been among the contending bidders for some of the nine regional networks into which the Deutsche Telekom has divided its aging cable network. The British-American Betriebsgesellschaft Callahan Associates International has already acquired the network in Nordrhein-Westphalen, closing that deal in February. All the companies competing for a share of the German Kabelnetztorte have said they plan to invest the billions lit will take to modernize the Telekom's Kabelnetz into a forum for interactive television and E-Handel. 

Another major change in the business model for PJs and VJs may grow out of an idea that came up near the end of the first Platypus workshop, says Halstead, when the 30 fledgling Platypuses there began discussing the financial and business implications of what has happened so far and what seems likely to happen in the near future in the world of photojournalism and video journalism. 

During the discussion, the idea of VJs and PJs abandoning the 50-year-old practice of charging day-rate against space rate and instead seeing themselves as "producers/" providing "packages" of story or information content to a publication or broadcaster. The PJ (or VJ) would produce the entire story package - on assignment, working under a pre-arranged budget that includes expenses and fees and based on the value of the story package to the publisher. The producing platypus, as the workshop participants envisioned things, could license his or her story package under negotiated conditions ("first-time publication," "two showings" and so on). At the same time, the new platypuses would be entering a territory totally unused to dealing with visual journalists like them, and they would introduce the concepts of creator's copyright and per-use licensing into that virgin territory. 

A few years go much of what Halstead predicted was largely just his own personal future vison, shared and shaped perhaps by his time with VNI. "At the moment, there is virtually no job market for a video journalist [working with a small camera like then.current High 8 cameras]," said Halstead writing in 1996, though even then, he says, some still photographers in Bosnia and Chechnya were making extra money by carrying as many as three High 8s in those war zones for various organisations as well as all their still gear. 

"This will change," he said then, and some of the changes have already come. As far back as 1989, the world's first television station to work solely with video journalists had begun broadcasting in Bergen, Norway. Admittedly, those were pre-Platypus VJs with no background as still photojournalists. 

In Hamburg, 29-year-old video journalist Anja Steinbuch - who studied German and English in Heidelberg - says she always knew she wanted to work in journalism, be it at a newspaper, television or radio station or magazine. After graduating in 1998, she landed an internship at the regional television station Hamburg 1 (HH 1). When her new bosses told her that the internship could turn into a steady job, she was pleased, and when they told her that doing her own videography would be part of her duties, she was surprised, especially since she had no background in either photography or videography. She trained with some of HH 1's experienced Videoleuten, two or three hours a day of OJT (on-the-job training) and within two months she was working in the field on her own. 

Steinbuch agrees that experienced competent still photojournalists could have a leg up on the competition if they decide to make the move to video journalism, and of course with their previous experience, they'd have the technical and intellectual skills to move back and forth between the two media. She's less sold on the idea of routinely combining still photographs with video though she says she and her station often incorporate historical pictures into their reports. On the other hand, Halstead counters, David Turnley has used that very technique with telling effect in several of his multimedia pieces including the ones which aired on Nightline and on CNN on the Dalai Lama and a refugee family from Kosovo. 

PLATYPUS SCHLARAFFENLAND DEUTSCHLAND?

New platypuses may flourish in Germany's current media climate, says Steinbuch, pointing to the crop of new regional television stations springing up all around Germany - stations like TV Berlin, NRW TV and N 24, though she cautions that the media situation is still fluid and can change fast. Beyond that, the German media have a long tradition of drawing material from free-lancers and independent film production houses, and as the number of outlets climbs, so too will the demand for content - including the demand for information. 

More than that, says Halstead, the ability to work in and combine both media will soon be part of the price of admission to work for most newspapers, magazines and even wire services either as a staffer or stringer. He underscores his point by recalling the recent remarks of AP photo chief Alab¬°so about the growing importance of video and multimedia productions at his service, an statement also made by Chicago Tribune AME for Graphics Hinosa while he was at the special Platypus workshop in January. A quick look at AP's publicly available World Wide Web report, The Wire, accessible through the Web sites of almost any American newspaper that is an AP member, confirms that that the service is matching many stories with with QuickTime and RealAudio and video clips as well as still pictures. 

One more sign from the Associated Press camp that seems to underscore the speed with which interest in the broadband, streaming environment in which Halstead thinks platypuses can build their new nests: In mid-April, FasTV, Incorporated, announced that it has licensed Internet video and other intellectual property rights from AP, bringing together FasTV's proprietary online video search and archive capabilities with AP's comprehensive content. The rights cover AP content licensed directly to FasTV, including national and international video, audio, photo, graphics and text services, as well as select AP content used in the creation of news broadcasts by AP-member TV stations and networks that participate in the FasTV.com and FasTV Newsroom services. The multi-year agreement allows AP-member TV stations and networks to partner with FasTV and enjoy fully cleared Internet rights on AP intellectual property. 

In Scandinavia, interest in multimedia Internet journalism and the platypus concept is running high, too.

Since last December, says Stephen Petrie, technical consultant for new media at Oslo's Aftenposten, his paper's photography department has been breaking staffers with video experience out of the daily schedule and assigning them to produce video pieces for the paper's Web site. The reports produced so far include one to two minute long pieces on art, a dive to a sunken World War II U-Boot and coverage of a fire. Other members of the department have attended the annual Visual Edge workshop jointly run by the Miami-based Poynter Institute and the NPPA.

The Aftenposten's multimedia Web photojournalism program is still in its infancy, Petrie points out . The paper is still training its staff, assembling the right combination of equipment and deciding just what it wants the program to accomplish. The plans, he says, are not set in concrete and can change if the changing situation in technology and the world of multimedial visual journalism warrant it.

Scanpix, the Norwegian picture wire service, has also developed a high interest in mulitmedia visual journalism, says Managing Editor Gunnar Lier, who attended the National Association of Broadcasters convention in Las Vegas this spring. Lier agrees with Halstead's belief in the inexorable and rapid approach of broadband - "I think it may boom within a year or two," he says - and calls Halstead's concept of the competent, traditional still photojournalist as platypus visual journalist both "very interesting and convincing."

As part of Scanpix' preparations for its own move into digital video, Lier says, he surveyed 10 of the company's major clients, primarily large dailies or publications that have already moved deeply into the world of high technology. Some Norway papers have, for instance, already established Web-based subsidiary publications - perhaps an especially good idea considering the vast empty spaces in Scandanavia's that would drive delivery prices for a printed edition sky-high for the few readers up there.When he asked if they were interested in becoming test sites for a daily digital video report from Scanpix that would supplement its regular daily picture report. The response, he says, was overwhelming - everyone wanted to become a test site.

"I think the train is at the station, waiting for the passengers to board," Lier said, "and I want [Scanpix] to have at least an economy class ticket." Right now, he says, the He shares Halstead's vision that "broadband is coming like an express train," and says he thinks its arrival will mean more work for competent visual journalists, including traditional still photojournalists who have become platypuses. With Norway's strong tradition of using staff photographers instead of freelancers, that would almost certainly translate into more staff jobs with all their fringe benefits - perhaps a package including company-supplied equipment and car, paid vacation, company-paid health and retirement coverage. But, he says, it would certainly also mean more work for free-lancers too, especially in the less-populated areas in the north. In central, eastern and southern Europe, where the practice of using staffers has never managed to establish itself, he predicts it would result in more work for freelancers.

One major precondition for photojournalists hoping to metamroph into platypuses, he emphasises, is that they be competent photojournalists - and he puts the accent on competent and journalists. "I think I see photographers coming out American and British universities who are very good photographers, very aware of esthetics and so on, but who are no good at journalism." Not only do they have to be good photographers who can make pretty pictures, they also need a good nose for a story and know how to tell that story visually.

Larry Nighswander, director of the School of Visual Communication at Ohio University, one of the leading photojournalism schools in the US and a former picture editor at National Geographic, shares those concerns. He says he fears schools of visual communication - at least in the United States - have become so concerned about keeping pace with the rapidly evolving technology that they have been neglecting content. "We're focusing too much on the technical skills and too little on the intellectual abilities," he says.

James Kelley, who teaches photojournalism at Southern Illinois University agrees that content has to be paramount. "I teach reporting with a camera," he says. "My students learn how to analyse situations, research story ideas, how to work with people and how to tell stories through the medium of photography . . . we're here to educate them about visual journalism - they'll spend the rest of their lives learning [and keeping up with constantly changing] tool skills."

Attending the Platypus Workshop helps photojournalists keep up with those changes. "It makes a you a professional novice," Halstead likes to say. His students leave the course with a well-developed set of basic skills that they will have to continue to hone through personal projects, continuing education and some OJT. But, he says, that's all right. Both he and Gunnar Lier agree that broadband delivery, streaming video and media convergence are coming fast - but both also agree that it isn't here yet. Lier says he thinks all three may boom in a year or two, and Halstead suggests that the wise platypus or traditional photojournalist use that time to get ready.

Some people have their doubts about several aspects of the platypus concept. Ohio University's Nighswander questions the wisdom of trying to do too much at once, for instance. "If someone is trying to take pictures, record audio and shoot video all at the same time, something will probably suffer," he says. David Turnley agreed that could be a danger - though his own recent work proves it needn't be.

Shane Iseminger, part of the faculty for the NPPA's Visual Edge and Electronic Photojournalism workshops, moderator of the NPPA-L discussion list and Internet and Web consultant at Ethosmedia, fired off a broadside of questions and comments in a recent message to NPPA-L.

After starting his comments by pointing out that the pipelines for broadband delivery are still a long way from being in place and functioning - "If there's any constant at all with new technology, it's that it never happens as fast as its proponents promise," he wrote - he questions how well video and stills work together: "The jury is still out on how video and stills will play out in electronic media, and I dare say that anyone who thinks they can predict this is fooling themselves." But, Halstead would counter, the primary point of the platypus has never been that stills and video have to be integrated into a single production, though David Turnley and Roger Richards have shown how effectively they can complement each other. Rather, the Platypus Father has argued that traditional still photojournalists "can be better at this new paradigm, is [because] they have been trained to see visually, and have experience in converting that vision to storytelling."

Going farther, Iseminger questions how quickly the "500 channel world" that Halstead and to some extent Lier think is coming will actually arrive - and whether, if it does indeed arrive, just how many of those channels will want news and documentary content. "As media expands and diversifies, each outlet becomes more specialized. This isn't a prediction, it's a historical record. This is why we have channels for, say, weather, shopping and cooking 24 hours a day," he says.

Doubts aside, says Iseminger, photojournalists should always be alert for ways of broadening storytelling skills. "Whatever helps one to a greater understanding of the storytelling process is good. So if you want to expand your skills, do it. If you want to move more into video or hybrid storytelling, do it," he wrote, but cautioned, "But do yourself a big favor and don't fall prey to the FUD (that's Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt) factor that seems to have people thinking they'll becomes obselete if they don't learn video."

"I'm not 'thinking up' this new convergence," Halstead wrote, countering some of the objections. "This process is inevitable, with or without the Platypus. That is the point. You either get on the wagon, hopefully as the driver, or you get left behind. You're either the bug or the windshield. You can either try to lead, or wait and watch what happens. The Platypus recommends the former. Railing against the darkness will not help. Dawn follows.

Halstead concedes that the Platypus concept isn't a panacea. "Not everyone can be a platypus," he tells participants during the workshops. Workshop participants, he says, scored up an extraordinarily high success rate, so high that it surprised even him. "But what we are talking about here are very special individuals who have a gift," he says, "similar to the gifts we saw in the classic photojournalists of our time, that will enable them to go beyond the confines of routine coverage and create new storytelling works of art."

Halstead says starting opportunities for would-be photojournalists will still be there as staffers or still freelancers and David Turnley agrees that there will always be a place for still photojournalism. The problem will be moving on from entry-level staff jobs in this era where those jobs are disappearing and papers dying from shrinking circulation. Freelancers, if they want to specialise in photojournalism, face a similarly difficult situation as publications' dayrates continue to stagnate while editors and publishers demand more and more usage rights for those rates. In fact, Halstead points out, considering the inflation that's occurred in the 20 years since some of those rates were established, today's rights-grab-oriented publishers actually want more and more for rates that sometimes amount to less than half the purchasing power they originally represented.

"What we have in major-league photojournalism is an ever-narrowing base of opportunity for photographers, but just over the horizon a new means of telling stories and a new market that hungers for those stories," Halstead wrote recently, adding "Draw your own conclusions."

In Halstead's scenario, visual journalists, platypuses graduates among them, who have a history of working relationships in print can now start to put that behind them, waddling out into an area where few still photojournalists have gone before - broadcast and on-line journalism. They will be the pioneers exploring the Wild West of a new journalistic territory, a terra incognita for them but also for the publishers for whom they'll work, a new land where new standards, laws and customs are still waiting to be made.

With them, they take their eye for pictures, their nose for news and stories - and their tradition of owning their own productions, films, frames and copyrights. Their future, say Halstead and others, can be bright if they, like pioneers of old, stake their claims while the area is free and then defend them.
 

PLATYPUS INFORMATION 

Zoologists named the platypus Ornithorhynchus anatinus.

The Fossil Record: Based on a fragment of lower jaw found in opal deposits at Lightning Ridge in New South Wales, a type of ancestral platypus (Steropodon galmani) existed alongside the dinosaurs about 110 million years ago.

In 1991, a fossil tooth belonging to a different kind of ancient platypus (originally described as Monotrematum sudamericanum but now probably regarded as another Obdurodon species, see below) was discovered in the Patagonian desert of Argentina. The tooth was found in sediments deposited over 60 million years ago, at the time when Australia and South America were still joined as part of the southern supercontinent Gondwana.

Fossils belonging to three other extinct platypus species (Obdurodon insignis, Obdurodon dicksoni, and Obdurodon sp. A) have been found in Australian sediments deposited between 25 and 15 million years ago, while a leg bone from the first close relative of the modern platypus (Ornithorhynchus sp.) has been dated to about 4.5 million years ago. 

The earliest known remains of the platypus in its current form (Ornithorhynchus anatinus) date back to around 100,000 years ago.

The platypus is sometimes described as a "living fossil" because of this ancient lineage and its combination of mammalian and reptilian features.

Aboriginal legend: According to Aboriginal legend, the first platypus were born after a young female duck mated with a lonely and persuasive water-rat. The duck's offspring had their mother's bill and webbed feet and their father's four legs and handsome brown fur. 

Scientific recognition: In 1799, the platypus was first described by a British scientist, Dr George Shaw. His initial reaction to this original specimen was that it was an elaborate hoax. He even took a pair of scissors to the pelt, expecting to find stitches attaching the bill to the skin.

Platypus names: Early British colonists in Australia called the platypus a "water mole". Prior to the arrival of European settlers, Aboriginal people had many different names for the animal, including "boondaburra", "mallingong" and "tambreet".

Dr Shaw, in his scientific description of 1799, gave the name Platypus anatinus, from Greek and Latin words meaning "flat-footed, duck-like". However, when it became known that Platypus had already been used to name a group of beetles, a new term had to be adopted. The official scientific name became and remains Ornithorhynchus anatinus, with the first word meaning "bird-like snout".

Although the name "duckbill" was widely used as a popular description for the animal, the abandoned scientific name "platypus" gradually became the accepted common name for the species. 

The preferred plural of platypus is either "platypus" or "platypuses", depending on which dictionary you consult. (We use the former for the sake of simplicity.) The term "platypi" is no longer considered to be valid. 

There is no accepted term - equivalent to pup or cub - to describe a baby platypus. One possible name recently suggested is a "platapup"

          Platypus -- take 1
 
 

 


 
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