The Digital Journalist
After the Platypus,
the Deluge
November 2006

by Dirck Halstead

It's been nearly 10 years since I started to write about the Platypus. The idea was that eventually photojournalists would move to video to tell their stories.

At that time, I imagined that photojournalists would start to turn to video to do in-depth stories. I was thinking about network shows, such as "Nightline," where the unique perspective of these storytellers could be used in a conventional TV format.

Recently, I spent the day at the Dallas Morning News, where David Leeson is in the process of reconfiguring that paper's photojournalism. He has moved 12 photographers from the daily staff into his video journalism production department.

I went there thinking that photojournalists would soon need a new camera. One that would have the capability of recording both high-definition video, and yet still have the feel of a standard 35mm camera, that could record high-resolution digital images with the push of a button.

What I discovered is that the Dallas Morning News has already moved past that need. Leeson's intent is that within the next year ALL photographs for the paper will be recorded on video. There may be a few still photographers left to do special sections, such as food or fashion, but otherwise everything will be done on video, which the News has already demonstrated can be turned into 4- and 5-column images in the paper. There are currently 27 staff photographers, seven of whom are shooting video, with four more to be added by the end of the year. Leeson expects another five to be added to the photo staff in the first quarter of 2007.

NBC announced in October that they were going to cut some $700 million out of their prime-time programming budget next year. They would replace expensive dramatic series with game and reality shows. The News Division would also find its budgets dramatically slashed.

These developments reflect a major change in media. Newspapers have traditionally made their money from selling advertising…not copies of the paper. Across the country, these papers find their circulation in freefall, along with advertising. They need to migrate their assets as soon as possible to the Web, and devise a new advertising model. Video becomes crucial to the success of this move.

In prime time, networks have seen their numbers fall off the cliff. Increasingly, viewers are now watching their favorite shows not on television, but on the Web, where they can easily move the content to their iPods to watch on the train or bus on their commute.

But as the networks begin to transition their dramatic content to the Web, major questions arise. If the show is now shown on the Internet, who is going to provide the millions of dollars in production costs, which now average more than $1 million per dramatic segment? What is the advertising model?

I am a fan of the NBC series, "Jericho." I never watch it in "real time." Instead, I record it on my DVR, and may watch it weeks after its broadcast. The numbers that will make the decision of the network to continue the show are under consideration right now. But as I watch these episodes over dinner, I am aware that the networks have taken a very simple concept (what happens if one small Midwest town survives a catastrophic nuclear attack?) and stretched it out over countless hours.

Already, the networks are moving shows that have been cancelled, such as "Smith," to the Web to finish their run.

But if Web casting becomes the prime broadcast model (what will we do with all those TV sets in our kitchens?) it is clear that these shows will have to undergo a dramatic change.

It will not be possible in the world of the Web to fund 13 $1 million shows (the basic order by a network for a series). Instead, these shows will have to become self-contained – 120 minutes at the max. Actually, Hollywood figured this out a long time ago. They were called "movies."

© Dirck Halstead
Editor and Publisher of The Digital Journalist

Dirck Halstead was Time magazine's Senior White House Photographer for 29 years. He now is the Publisher and Editor of The Digital Journalist, the monthly online magazine for visual journalism, and a Senior Fellow at the Center For American History at the University of Texas in Austin. His new book, MOMENTS IN TIME, published by Harry N. Abrams, will be in bookstores in December, and available from